Issue 6 (Spring 1996)


In accordance with the custom established last year, the third and final number of volume II of our journal is given over to the proceedings of the Annual Congress of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland (APPI). This issue of The Letter contains most of the papers presented during that November congress at St Vincent’s Hospital, the topic of which was Anxiety and its Co-ordinates.

The opening paper, delivered by Cormac Gallagher, essentially set the tone for much of what followed on that day. It draws attention to the theoretical and clinical challenge that anxiety poses to psychoanalysis, situating the centrality of the phenomenon of anxiety in Freud’s developing theory both with relation to what is at stake for any human subject and what is constandy at work in any psychoanalytic practice, and drawing together the innovations which Lacan brought to the study of the nature of anxiety which culminated in his conceptualisations with respect to the object of all objects, the object o. Insofar as the paper launched the congress and insofar as it constituted an encouragement to analysts to resist the all-too-tempting flight from anxiety which erupts in the course of analysis, for analyst as well as for analysand, this paper could well have been entitled ” Hi! Anxiety” as response to an encounter with “High Anxiety”.

The closing remarks at this year’s congress, the final paper in this issue of our journal, were made by Dany Nobus, who deserves special mention in that he was called upon to step into the breach and gather together the threads of a long day’s debate at little more than a moment’s notice, the scheduled speaker Charles Melman…Continue reading

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THE LETTER 05 (Autumn 1995) pages 91-107

I would like to talk to you this evening about two interesting subjects. The first one is women, which is always very interesting. Maybe it will become clear this evening why women are much more interesting than men, who are as a category, after all is said and done, rather boring. The second subject is sex, which is even more interesting. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, following Jacques Lacan, neither of these two exist, which means we have to spend the entire evening talking about the nonexisting… To be more specific, Lacan has said that The Woman, in capitals, that ‘The Woman does not exist’, in the original French: ‘Lu Fetnme n’existe pas’, that’s why he writes Th/ewith a slash through it; secondly, that The Sexual Relationship does not exist’, Il n’y a pas de rapport sexueV. The second statement is a logical consequence of the first one, which is the most important of the two: if The woman does not exist, there can’t be such a thing as THE sexual relationship with THE woman. Clearly these statements are rather provocative. They are meant to be. It is precisely the kind of statement that gave the name of Lacan the ring of controversy, of incomprehensibility or esoterism. Well, that’s my second and most important goal for this evening: explaining why those…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 1-23


You will have recognised that the title ‘High anxiety’ has nothing original about it and is in fact borrowed from Mel Brooks’ comedy about the antics of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.

I chose it as a way of reminding myself that in our often grim profession anxiety can introduce us to comedy as well as tragedy and that wit and humour can be used as tools for transforming unpleasure into pleasure. One of my clients, when she feels particularly anxious, whispers a line from that film to herself: ‘Baby steps, baby steps’. The legend goes that Freud, when asked to give an attestation that he had been well treated in the anxiety-ridden days before he left Vienna, scrawled: ‘ I can recommend the Gestapo to anyone!’

But in fact we know that such a partial transformation of the vinegar of anxiety back into the wine of sexual excitation is not easy to achieve and that the anxiety which drives a client to consult us in the first place or which may suddenly erupt in the course of an analysis confronts us and our method with a severe challenge.

I must admit that on several occasions, at the end of an initial interview, I have recommended highly anxious patients to consult a psychiatrist or a cognitive-behavioural therapist rather than embark on an analysis. Yet I am not at ease with that way of avoiding the question because the whole literature of psychoanalysis, and in particular the work of Freud from beginning to end, could be said to be organised around the use of the talking cure to understand and treat anxiety, making of this most unpleasurable experience a way for the sufferer to gain access to the truth of his or her subjectivity. So that to recommend to someone seeking analysis that they should take the route of suppressing anxiety, by psychological or…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 24-31

In a paper submitted to the British Journal of Medical Psychology in 1943, Ronald Fairbairn, the Edinburgh based psychoanalyst wrote

Freud’s libidio theory has remained relatively unquestioned. This is a situation which I have come to regard as most regrettable … In my opinion it is high time that psychopathological inquiry which in the past has been successively focused first upon impulse and later upon the ego should now be focused upon the object toward which impulse is directed. To put the matter more accurately if less pointedly the time is now ripe for a psychology of object relations.

By this seemingly innocuous statement Fairbairn set in motion a word which became act and which has had very important consequences for psychoanalysis. One is here reminded of old King Lear’s demand for a public display of affection, ‘Tell me my daughters which of you shall we say doth love us most?’, which in itself is harmless enough but we are reminded of the dire furies it unleashed. In fact Lear provides a perfect backdrop from which to study the history of the psychoanalytic movement itself -the moments of barrenness, of storms, both part of the natural world and of the psychical -of alienation -of excommunication -of mindless suffering -even The Thing itself appears in the shape of the beggar. …

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 32-43

If writing, according to the king and under the sun produces the opposite effect from what is expected, if the pharmacon is pernicious, it is so because it doesn’t come from around here. It comes from afar, it is external or alien to the living, which, is the right-here of the inside, to logos as the zoon it claims to assist or relieve.

J. Derrida in Plato’s Pharmacy


Despite Freud’s tendency to deny this, there can be little doubt that the Cocaine Episode was an important part of his scientific and therapeutic work. Elsewhere we have proposed a reading of Freud’s Cocaine Papers which considers them as a beginning of the Freudian adventure.

Freud’s encounter with the drug cocaine in 1884 triggered a desire in him to cure not only others, but also himself of his neurotic and neurasthenic symptoms. One of the first objects of this desire was his friend and colleague von Fleischl Marxov who had become addicted to morphine. Freud hoped to be able to wean his friend off morphine by substituting it with cocaine. This failed miserably and consequently we can say that whilst addiction was Freud’s first object of his desire to cure, it also became his first real obstacle and medical mistake.

Freud’s further experiments with cocaine and its effect on the body also came to an impasse; his findings continuously exceeded the boundaries of his theoretical framework of nineteenth century energetics based on the…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 44-53

One of the most obvious observations that can be made about castration anxiety is that it is very difficult to observe. Indeed, in clinical practice it is very hard to find a subject that comes to us complaining about his or her castration anxiety. To my knowledge, the ultimate castratophobia does not exist.

This clinical fact is endorsed by an historical one: the concept of castration anxiety itself only received its general expression at a rather late stage of Freud’s theory. For example, as late as 1914, Freud equates the castration complex with ‘masculine protest’ and states explicitly that there are neuroses in which this element does not appear at all. Twenty years later, in 1933, castration anxiety is transformed into the ultimate stumbling block of psychoanalysis, both in theory and in clinical practice. Indeed, in Analysis Terminable and Interminable Freud describes castration anxiety as the biological bedrock on which every psychological treatment must necessarily fail and where every psychological theory meets its limit. Biology is also held responsible for two different forms, neatly distributed along the gender line: castration anxiety for the male, penis envy for the female. Moreover, as this idea is formulated by way of conclusion of this very important paper, it receives all the characteristics of a postulate, expressing a ‘nee plus ultra’. Other than that, we only have recourse to other theories (biology, genetics etc.) and to another practice, of which Marie Bonaparte was the historical example and which can nowadays be found to be reappearing in Donna Haraway’s ideas about cyborgs. …

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 54-62

In the course of his seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan, in answer to a question from the audience says that ‘For analysis, anxiety is a crucial term of reference, because in effect anxiety is that which does not deceive. But anxiety may be lacking’.

There is perhaps no better way of unmasking the positive face of anxiety and its role as the purveyor of truth than by way of referring to a clinical case which begins with its marked absence. And there is quite possibly no better case to serve us in that regard than the well-known case of little Dick which Melanie Klein presents in her 1930 paper The Importance of Symbol Formation in the Development of the Ego. It was this case presentation which served Klein in establishing what was to become for her the central role of anxiety as the driving force in the process of symbolisation and as the prime agent in the creation of phantasy. A discussion of the case is doubly advantageous to us here today since Lacan’s commentary on it in his 1953-54 seminar, Freud’s Papers on Technique, provides us with clues to understanding his early position with regard to anxiety, a position which can be understood as asserting that anxiety is synonymous with (and is a sign of) the unconscious.

As you will remember, the four year-old boy who first entered Mrs Klein’s room displayed absolutely no anxiety. At the same time and, as we shall see, as a consequence of this lack of anxiety, he showed no interest in anything, displayed a marked inability to handle and manipulate certain objects, comported himself in the manner of a fifteen month-old child, and displayed no wish to make himself understood, merely uttering sounds in a…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 74-78

It is a characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgement.

John Henry Newman

The performance of the function of judgement is not made possible until the creation of the symbol of negation has endowed thinking with a first measure of freedom from the consequences of repression, and, with it, from the compulsion of the pleasure principle.

Sigmund Freud

The thesis of this paper is that anxiety is a phenomenon that appears when the new is negated rather than sublated; that anxiety happens when a trauma is experienced and something is repressed. (We know from Freud’s critique of Rank that the birth trauma is not the sole determinant of anxiety, without denying that birth is traumatic)) To unpack the abstract terms, and bring out the distinction and relationship between repression, negation and sublation, I will tease out a parallel between an event in art history, and what Freud and Lacan say about anxiety, the permeating immediacy of which is self-evident in our work, but whose recognition is problematic, due to it being the prime affect, that is linked to and different from, fear, anger and hate.

The painting I’ve selected is Le Dejeuner sur L ‘Herbe, by Edouard Manet. Originally, it was called The Picnic, then The Bathers. Its present title is an apt one, as it is lunch time, between the breakfast of Courbet, the father of Realism, and the dinner of Monet, the high point of Impressionism. In 1849 Courbet painted his Burial at Ornans, which is about the burial of…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 79-90

From the dawning of consciousness either collectively or individually, the human subject is faced with wonder, and the response that is evoked is the desire to know, the desire to understand, the Eros of the Mind. The Eros of the Mind expresses itself continually -apparently irrepressibly -in the quest(ions) -the endless questions of the child, the historical and contemporary questions of human subjects about meaning and truth, and beauty and love, and life itself.

One can understand religion in its most general sense as being an hypothetical answer to that quest of the subject. Essential to the notion of question-or quest-is the fact and the experience of limit, of gap, of lack, of what there is not, and by implication of what is anticipated, of what might be, what could be or what should be. In every case the what-is-not-yet, is an indication of a lack, or a gap, or an absence, or a privation, or one might say a pain, and the pain is evoked by the not knowing what it is all about, or not knowing where it is all going, or not knowing what is the point of my life-each in different ways formulates, or is the product of, a lack of meaning. In the absence of that meaning, in the fact of that gap, the human subject has shown enormous ingenuity in inventing or constructing illusions or systems for himself/herself that enables the gap to be bridged or to allow him or her to overlook it, or to ignore it, or to deny it. The exaggerated claims of humanistic science amount to a crude denial of what it, that is science, itself can’t explain in its own terms.

In some fundamental sense the primary and most basic gap is what is represented by death itself-nothing short of or less than the termination of all life, at least from the point of view of the ego, or perhaps one could say the self. There is no more fundamental gap, or lack, or absence, or privation than the imaginary state of not-being at all. Now if religion is an hypothetical answer to the question thrown up by death, and if the lack implicit in that as well as the anxiety surrounding it is so fundamental, a denial of death will…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 91-98

Anxiety is so universal a human experience that it is remarkable only when it is absent. It is generally accepted as ubiquitous in the neurotic and the psychotic. Only the perverse individual seems to escape its insistence, albeit briefly, when he is playing out his phantasy. In this situation, it is not just that his anxiety is suppressed it is completely absent. Rather, he induces anxiety in others; witness the panic engendered by the paedophile priest. I would like to discuss the case of a man whose absolute lack of anxiety when he is engaged in transvestism is instructive of the particular structure of the pervert as differing from that of the neurotic or the psychotic.

I have given him the name Brian to facilitate my discussion. His life was by no means free of anxiety: he came with symptoms of severe anxiety when he was required to speak to anyone outside his own family, especially with anyone in authority. He was barely able to carry on a conversation even with his workmates without being crippled by this anxiety. His most distressing symptom, however, as far as he was concerned, was his habit of dressing in womens’ clothing. He had begun by buying and dressing in underwear but progressed to wearing more and more complete feminine outfits. When he felt anxious and frustrated -which was often -he would experience an irresistible urge to “dress up”, and would dress in front of the mirror to the accompaniment of frenetic masturbation. This was the only time he got pleasure out of anything at all in his life and the only time he was free of anxiety. He is thirty-three, married and his first child is a boy of seven. He came to analysis following the birth of his second child, also a boy, now three. His father was a butcher and was addicted to alcohol for as long as Brian could remember: in fact his father died of alcohol-related diseases soon after he began. analysis. His mother also drank, but secretly. His father made no secret of it, falling down drunk just outside the front door every night, so that it was impossible to ignore him; Brian would regularly have to step over him m order to enter the house, a house he thought of as his mother’s house. His…

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 99-109

I want to begin by showing you a photograph of Paul Schreber as a young man, probably in his early thirties, before his marriage and before the suicide of his brother Gustav. This is to put you at your ease by showing you that Schreber, whose account of his madness is difficult to approach for all of us, once looked like that. As you can see, he was a handsome man, correct and conventional in his dress who didn’t look mad. We can relate to an image like this, much less so than to the character described thus at the height of his stay at the Sonnenstein asylum: ‘Conduct unchanged. Often naked in his room before a mirror, laughing and screaming, adorned with gaily coloured ribbons’. So what brought about this terrible change? It’s a very big question. Yet we must try to take our bearings.

The paranoic completely subverts our notion of a unified subject, of what is inside and what is outside. As we conduct our affairs at the level of the social agency which is our ego, we by and large take as given our sense of unity, of autonomy. We have a sense of identity, -separate from our fellows, we are more or less at home with our specular image. There is an inside and an outside. This notion of inside and outside was first developed for us by Charles Melman m his talk on paranoia, when he described the representation of space for the subject of consciousness as Euclidian, a closed system where the surface is the cut. Though this is our spontaneous way of thinking, when we take the simple topological entity of the moebius strip, we are introduced to a continuous surface. Here there is no cut and so there is a confusion between what is inside and outside. This surface of the moebius strip challenges us to re-order our representations of space and in so doing, we can begin to think about anxiety and the paranoic. …

THE LETTER 06 (Spring 1996) pages 110-117

The last time I experienced anxiety was around two o’clock this afternoon when Cormac Gallagher asked me to formulate the closing remarks of this Second Annual Congress of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland (APPI). At that particular moment, I was suddenly confronted with the mysterious desire of the Other. However, the first question I asked myself was not ‘What is going to happen next?’, but rather ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ A possible answer to this question suggested itself, along the lines that I had come quite a long way to attend this congress, after having met and heard some Irish people at a conference in Belgium, after having read some excellent pieces in an Irish Lacanian journal and after having been stimulated by the strong working alliance between the Department of Psychoanalysis of Ghent University on the one hand and what I dare to call the psychoanalytic circle of Dublin on the other hand. Indeed, this could be exactly what I had done to deserve this. Of course I do not have any proof that this was precisely what provoked either the Other’s desire or my anxiety, that is, I cannot be certain that it was not another figment of my neurotic mind and as such something completely alien to the whole situation. As a matter of fact, perhaps I only deserved the anxiety of being asked to present the closing remarks because I had not done anything really. In this respect, I would like to remind you of the joke of the Russian farmer who is sent to a Gulag for twenty-five years because of alleged anti-communist practices. At the entrance of the camp, the janitor asks the poor man: ‘What have you done to deserve this?’ And the Russian farmer responds: ‘To be honest, I have not done anything really!’ Whereupon the janitor exclaims: ‘You can count yourself lucky, since for doing nothing they usually give you a life-sentence’. …

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