Martin J. Daly – The Nightmare

THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 122-129

Lacan in his seminar on Anxiety refers to ‘the most massive, unreconstituted, ancestral experience, rejected onto the obscurity of ancient times from which we are supposed to have escaped, of a necessity which unites us with these ages, which is still current and which very curiously we speak about only very rarely… it is that of the nightmare’. He asks: ‘Why do analysts interest themselves so little in the nightmare?’.

Lacan goes on to say that if there is already an established and very remarkable literature, to which we should refer, it is – however forgotten it may be at this point – Ernest Jones’ book on the nightmare, a book of incomparable riches. Lacan recalls for us the fundamental phenomenology: the anxiety of the nightmare is experienced properly speaking as that of the puissance of the Other. The correlative of the nightmare is the Incubus or the Succubus, it is this being who weighs with his whole opaque weight of alien puissance on your chest, who crushes you under his jouissance.

About five years ago a man who has been in prison for many years began therapy with me. Two years into the work he haltingly and with great difficulty spoke about terrifying nightmares that he had been experiencing since he was a teenager. He has just fallen asleep and then it is as if he is awake. This thing is on his back. It is ‘pure evil’. He can hardly breathe. He knows that if he could just move he could get rid of it. But he is paralysed. Eventually, with great difficulty, he moves and the thing is gone from his back. He wakes and there is a sense of the cell being full of evil. He is covered in perspiration and his heart is pounding. There is no going back to sleep for the rest of the night. At the next session…

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