Issue 4 (Summer 1995)


Psychoanalysis bears witness to the unhappy reality that underpinning the subject of knowledge is a radical yearning for ignorance. Who should want to know that moment in suspense where the person comes to the meaning of his existence, if it is trauma in its different guises which fires us? The subject-in-suffering is bom when the object is lost and so we are all products of that moment and in that sense too each of us may be said to have a good wound, to paraphrase Aristotle.

The question of trauma is what unites the various authors in this edition of The Letter although of course they never intended it………………………

This issue covers quite a range of traumatic experiences both implicit and explicit, thereby demonstrating how the particular is linked in an inexorable way to the universal and vice versa.

The absolute loss from which the subject appears in the Symbolic is the theme of Guy Le Gaufey’s paper. Implicit in Le Gaufey’s argument is that the object a creates a space of illusion where even trauma itself can be borne with fortitude…Continue reading

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THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 1-12

For many reasons, we are led to translate the Lacanian objet a into the English-Lacanian object o, picking up on the first letter of the little other, as Lacan in fact did to arrive at that naming. But I also think that the expression object a could remain as such in English, at least if we hear this letter ‘a’ as the first letter of the word ‘any’. The objet a is not ‘any’ object; but I’d like to convince you that this object a is the first step towards mastery of this very important piece of the symbolic order which this ‘any’ is; that is, the ability to conceive what a variable is. You might fear that this new link between this very obscure object a and this very intricate notion of a variable is going to immediately give us all a headache. But, for the time being, I’m still confident that bringing them closer is much more likely to throw some more light on each of them than to thicken the darkness surrounding them. We’ll see.

Firstly, when beginning to tackle the object a , take note of where the main difficulty comes from. It arises in relation to the fact that, at the end of the fifties, Lacan was looking for a resolution to the problem of conceptualising non-narcissistic entities in the structure of the speaking subject. As a result of his endeavours, emerged this new subject ‘represented by a signifier for another one’, and a new object related to it: our object a.

The difficulty with these arose then from the fact that there is an immediate, strong and natural equivalence between narcissism and the representational order, a representation being something which is one thing only because it is narcissistically cathected. I well know that this assumption is not obvious to everybody today, but if you would trust me just a little, we could consider the unity of any representation…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 13-26

Reflecting for a moment on the title that I found I had chosen for this paper today, it occurred to me that, for those of us whose mother-tongue is English at least, this phrase Through the Looking Glass immediately evokes a reference, – not to Jacques Lacan, but rather to Lewis Carroll and his Alice’s adventures. Following quickly on this, it occurred to me that really Man did not have to rely on the emergence of psychoanalysis in order to grasp the means by which he could come to realise the full weight of the mirror’s effect on his being, or the possibility of a life beyond the looking glass. Even if psychoanalysis had never existed, man’s reflections on his relation to his image would still be available to us in the field of the Arts and especially so in the field of the Letter. If Freud had not written about the ego, narcissism, the image, the eye, the automaton and Man’s curious relation to his optical instruments in The Uncanny , we would still have Hoffman’s tale of Nathaniel and his beloved doll in The Sandman, and we would still have Dostoyevsky’s sad account of Mr Golyadkin in The Double. If Lacan had never seen fit to describe for us what is involved in his famous looking-glass phase we would still have at our disposal the essence of what is at stake in a work penned by our own Oscar Wilde. I am of course referring to his short novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and in particular to the following passage:

Dorian made no answer, but passed listlessly in front of his picture, and turned towards it. When he saw it he drew back, his cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure. A look of joy came into his eyes, as if he had recognised himself for the first

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 27-43

I put my title in the form of a question initially; that was because there is something about this Freudian concept of the death drive that always raises a question. Do you ‘believe’ in it or not? Do we really have to think about it, can’t we just take the rest of Freud’s writings without having to consider the importance of Beyond the Pleasure Principle? l The death drive is a point of doubt for many analysts; they can’t quite stomach it. It is a spanner in the Freudian works. It doesn’t fit in, it doesn’t work, so we try to explain it by means of Freud’s depression, his grief over his daughter’s death, and so on. Well, I am trying to explain also – though I have found that I haven’t really succeeded in answering my own question. Yet in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where Freud introduces the idea of the death drive, he discusses some of the most pertinent of clinical questions, in particular two not unconnected topics, trauma and repetition.

Repetition, in the context of analysis, and the human act, is something that is always puzzling; it doesn’t make sense and so science is invoked to explain it. the story of the woman who returns again and again to her battering husband, or the man who repeatedly selects women who let him down, all these stories are familiar to the analyst and commonplace in the clinic. One often hears the explanation given ‘She learnt it from her father who was a wife-beating alcoholic’, ‘He learnt it from his mother who abandoned him when he was young’, and so on. But it is a mistake to use learning theory in this way, since the acts of the human subject are radically different from the behaviours of animals…


THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 44-58

It is remarkable at an international psychoanalytic congress to have to opt for English or French and not be able to use the language of Freud. Something has happened to the language of Freud through which he saw another language – lalangue. The formulation of psychoanalysis by Freud drew not only from German – from which Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt in his book Quand Freud voit la mer. Freud et la langue allemande starts off -but also influenced the german language. It brought new elements (word usage, vocabulary) into the langue and also changed the language as a means of elaboration of the knowledge of lalangue.

When one speaks of Sprache , ‘language’ in German, one refers not only to language (langage) but also to tongue (langue). Only in selective speech is the word Zunge used for Sprache (tongue, langue), as one might say, a ‘strange human tongue’. Almost exclusively what one means by tongue is that slippery organ of touch and taste, one of the objects of gratification of the sucking child, and at the same time the organ of the production of sounds – think of the problem of the English ‘th’ sound, or the rolling ‘r’. Still German idioms consider the tongue the place from where speech issues, – the representative of a threshold or barrier which the Word must overcome but which, at times, it fails to do when, for example, a word leads to a repelling image: ‘he has his heart on his…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 59-75

Two women have fascinated me for many years: I use the word women’ deliberately for, though both are in fact literary creations of Shakespeare, both, from my first ‘meetings’ with them, evoked in me a great sense of wonder at their power and frailty and a deep desire to unravel the enigmas that both presented.

Lady Macbeth was introduced to me in my last year at primary school! Modern educationalists would question the efficacy of such a practice but I can still taste the morbid appeal of Lady Macbeth to my eleven year old self. Unable to fully understand the words used or articulate a response I, nevertheless, chilled at the horror of Lady Macbeth’s depravity yet openly wept for her in her lunatic sleep-walking at the end. She was much more fearsome than any witch of fairy-tales!

As part of ‘A’ level studies, I met the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Despite the acquisition of some elementary tools of literary criticism, it was not Shakespeare’s skill as a dramatist that consciously thrilled me; it was Cleopatra herself who filled me with delight and frustration. The great puzzle was to discover who she really was. The Romans called her ‘gypsy’ and whore’; Antony referred to her as ‘wrangling queen’, Enobarbas saw within her a spark of the divine; yet, when she herself appeared on stage she could be as insecure, petulant, cruel and infatuated as a teenager but, in her laments upon Antony’s death, she would rise to heights of dizzying passion and lyrical beauty. ‘I am all fire and air’ she asserted as she approached death – and I, like many others, – was captivated.

Now, many years since these first highly personal responses, I return with great joy – and not a little trepidation – to stand once more before Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra. However, I wish to don, as it were,…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 76-98

The argument advanced in this paper is a tentative one, based on patterns of resemblance rather than one of a confidence in the clarity of consequences derived from well grounded concepts. Nevertheless, the cultural and political importance of the issues involved stimulate me to gather together some of the ruminations on the nature of capitalism from diverse sources and to compare them with theses advanced by J.-A. Miller on the structure of obsessionality.

The first point I would like to look at is the difficulty which late nineteenth century historical sociologists found in characterising the personality traits appropriate to the human individual in the emergence and consolidation of a capitalist economy and polity. I shall take the work of Werner Sombart as indicative of the dichotomy which they attempted to reconcile. Sombart regarded the flexible opportunist qualities associated with entrepreneurship as essential to the success of the capitalist form. Yet he also noted that a contrary spirit of personal qualities, the bourgeois spirit, was also required:

The spirit of enterprise is a synthesis of the greed of gold, the desire for adventure, and the love of exploration, to mention but a few elements. The bourgeois spirit is composed of calculation, careful policy, reasonableness, and economy.

He considers that the latter spirit is predicated upon the quantification of phenomena, and this in turn is intimately related to the rise of systematic book-keeping. Firstly, …

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 99-114

This paper is a contribution to the debate concerning the enigmatic, baffling and paradoxical phenomenon of eating disorders in general and of anorexia nervosa in particular. Also in the light of the complexity, fragility and dangerous pathology of the syndrome of eating disorders, it does not question the necessity and value of strictly medical, psychiatric and other types of therapeutic measures and strategies. The discussion that follows does not specifically and explicitly address the clinical issues concerning the syndrome under consideration and its therapeutic treatments, rather, the paper aims to articulate some theoretical suggestions that may help the task of mapping the complex, somewhat mysterious and rebellious land of eating disorders. It explores the phenomena from a psychoanalytic point of view, in order to outline what I consider essential features of the ‘deep structure’ characteristic and generative of the ‘surface structure’ of the symptomatology of eating disorders. As will become quite obvious, the paper adopts the pre-supposition – to be verified in its results – that, to coin an expression, ‘salvation comes from the Unconscious’, just as – I believe – the pathological syndrome stems from unconscious roots. Those roots, I argue, are wrapped around the core of otherness (as if a seed not yet fully metamorphosed), hence around the promising constitution of self-ness in its unavoidable dialectics and dialogue with otherness.

The paper can be fruitfully read – as initially conceived – in the wider context of the theme of desire in the story of the psyche and as a particular instance of the dialectics of desire, that story and narrative, amply articulated with deep insight by Jacques Lacan in particular, found in Hegel its incipient voice. Even in our reflections on the structure of eating disorders and their aetiology, Hegel’s considerations on the nature…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 115-125

Few would now question that Sandor Ferenczi was an important pioneer in formulating psychoanalytic approaches to trauma. Unfortunately, however, this critical celebration is accompanied by a set of grossly distorted readings of Ferenczi’s texts, as well as by serious misrepresentations of his radical transformations of psychoanalytic technique to work with trauma victims. The main distortions are that Ferenczi re-discovered the ‘truth’ of the seduction theory at the end of his life, so advocated that many mental disorders in adult life related to the traumatic experience of sexual abuse in childhood. Of course, it is neither hard to see why this argument has become so current, given the discovery of the importance and extent of child sexual abuse during the last decade; nor, in this context, is it hard to see why Ferenczi has become characterized as the one analyst who was prepared to say that abuse was real, as opposed to constructed through fantasy, though in fact he said nothing of the sort. Moreover, this view of Ferenczi as the discoverer of the reality of trauma – has led to equally distorting conceptions of his so-called ‘radical’ revision of psychoanalytic technique to adapt to this increased awareness of real sexual abuse: particularly prevalent here is the notion that championed empathy, and advocated that analysts should go out of their way to be warm and understanding with their patients in order to facilitate the trust needed for disclosure of the trauma. According to some variants of this view, it is quite acceptable to hug or hold patients when they are distressed, or to loosen the boundaries between the…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 126-147

It is not an easy task to resolve the dilemma whimsically expressed by Lacan when he said: ‘A psychoanalysis is the treatment one expects to get from a psychoanalyst’, and his remark, in counterpoint, that the former determines the latter.

I appreciate Lacan’s little joke because it connects the question of Freudian psychoanalysis with the practice itself rather than with a programmatic, defined conceptualization which would limit our leeway, given where we are now in terms of psychoanalytic study. This may explain why a reference to the dogmatic and even religious notion of orthodoxy is surprising for those of us who are still the lay people that Freud wished us to be.

My feeling is that clinical psychoanalysis is the analysis itself insofar as its very existence depends on that of the couple analyst-analysand. This point of view leads me to consider the psychoanalyst as a part of a clinical unit. From the topological point of view the cure organizes a space in which unconscious knowledge is worked over and tested in the transference, which is never unilateral. This means that the analyst himself holds a position in the unconscious within the cure; it is this asymmetrical, unstable position that the analyst holds in the unconscious of the transference space that should be made operative.

The psychoanalyst cannot define himself in terms of some kind of the specificity of his unconscious, and this fact evokes several questions: how does this unconscious function in the direction of the cure? How can we isolate it? Isn’t this where the double meaning of the term formation, that of the shaping or moulding, and that of the productions of the unconscious, come into play? What use can be made of analytical…

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 148-150

It seems appropriate that a congress on Freud’s Pre-Analytic writings, recognised as crucial to the history of psychoanalysis, should be held in a city that is itself so eminently ‘historic’. A distant view of Ghent is dominated by the spires of St. Baaf’s Cathedral, St. Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry reaching toward Heaven. The streets are cobbled, and the older, inner part of the city is reminiscent of a Breughel painting. Each ancient building is meticulously composed of tiny bricks and slates and seems forever on the verge of toppling into its neighbouring canal. The awe inspired by the height of the Gothic Belfry gives a taste of the sheer terror invoked by a precipitous view from its peak. Some of these sentiments were certainly evoked by the Congress – its breadth and ambition were certainly awesome, and a certain amount of anxiety (if not terror) was detectable in those of use who presented papers.

The Congress was held in Het Pand, a restored Dominican monastery which is now owned by the University of Ghent. About 250 people attended, with participants predominantly from Belgium and France although there were speakers from the United States, England, and of course, five Irish participants. Although the subject of the conference was what might be termed an historical one, it…

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