The Unforeseen and unclassifiable in Psychoanalysis

Unforseen is, of course, a staple of analysis, and a welcome one at that. We don’t aspire to a forensic model of treatment, nor uniformity in either diagnosis, or analytic orientation and unfolding.

Psychoanalysis starts from the position that there is no precise cure, but that we need different ways of living with ourselves, and different descriptions of such selves. Much of suffering is addictive, and there’s a sense in which what is styled character can be intractable. There are limits to what can be re-configured. We’re children a very long time

The experience of analysis – impossible, unforeseen and unclassifiable – reminds us of sensitivities we’ve lost. And yet those sensitivities become increasingly muffled by the constant influx of external stimulation – brought on by what has been called the century of the self. This can mean that the modern version of introspection is the total of all those highly individualized choices we make about the material content of our lives,” rather than the interrogation of the unconscious Freud and in his own way Lacan had in mind.

Thus one aspect of the unforeseen in psychoanalysis is the surprising questions that get asked and avoided. In this sense, analytic sessions are not like novels – though Freud did style his case studies, novellas – nor do they resemble epic poems, lyric poems, or plays — they can however, appear like bits of dialogue from plays. Why? Because analysis affords the same opportunity to digress, change the topic, be incoherent, and come to conclusions that are overcome and surpassed. Dialogue from a play doesn’t have to have a beginning, middle and an end, as tends to be the case with novels. It can wander; meander.

This is particularly true of the obsessional. The obsessional is not where she designates herself – in refusing to fade and in isolating herself from desire she – or – he has – like an errant actor – left the scene. Their story doesn’t make sense-they remain outside the game, never really at the place of their desire; the place where they seem to be risking something then, is not where they are. It’s all about a meander, a negation.

Not being there is their way of being – they makes use of this by recognising themselves in relation to desire only in fantasy. Why, because this is a support for a desire for the impossible desire. They take all positions at once without fading, isolating themselves from dependence on the other – elsewhere they avoid desire – not recognising that the result is guilt-and a repetitive sort of thinking that torments but which is also enjoyed – they’re complicit in their own petrification, condemning themselves to a life of waiting.

A patient in her 40s had seen psychologists, and been told she was suffering from an acute emotional state. She described herself as hopeless and useless and said she had always thought of herself with a deep sense of dislike. This, she traced back to childhood when her spell as the spoilt only child was rudely interrupted by the birth of a sister. In primary school she was treated for behavioural issues which involved aggression to herself and others.

Her symptoms included insomnia, binge eating, excessive drinking, panic attacks and anxiety. The latter two she lumped together saying they often triggered breathing difficulties and a zombie like state. At times, she would not speak, and when she did, pointed to a similar blank state.

She had had boyfriends with whom she had sex, but that led to passive-aggressive behaviour, while at the same time obsessing over him to the point of thinking of nothing else. The obsessional remains suspended in the question of her existence, in the interminable neither/nor. What she must be brought to see is that in devoting herself fallaciously to the other, it is her own desire that is killed and therein lies the source of guilt-her demand is the demand for death -left unformulated. She can’t formulate demand because it is the demand for death-and this unformulated demand for death leads to the death of her demand–in Lacan’s terms, wanting to be and to destroy the phallus. However, the one she wants to destroy is her. And the one she hates in the demand for death is herself.

So, she tries to cancel desire and while acceding to the symbolic order–problems persist. There is in an ongoing partial pull to re-establish a position of identification with the phallus in the push to be it. Being the phallus of course is an imaginary position and this is where the obsessional operates, through a fortified ego and with small o others.

She or he avoids desire by defaulting to demand; a retreat to the imaginary, where conflict is internal and participation required of the other is minimal. In this, aggressiveness is a condition – as to be the phallus in an obsessional way implies the destruction of the other – so one keeps oneself from desire by putting off the moment of encounter; desire thus collapses at the moment of action and he or she, as Lacan explains, rocks his or herself on a sort of swing.

Some of this – the urge to aggression and destruction in relation to the other and the desire of the other – could be seen in my patient, which was not to rush to a diagnosis, because much of what emerges can be thought of, for varying periods of time, as unclassifiable. Contradictions can abound. In her case, it was possible, for instance, to see that the way the return of the repressed sutured the gap the obsessive nurtures.

This meant she would have first to be tuned to hysteria. Her symptom was a kind of suture. But this could also point to psychosis, where such attempts would of course fail. In the case of the obsessional, when the subject brings their demand, the analyst replies with a question: What do you want? For the obsessional, the answer is her fantasy, what does the Other want of me? It is a way of making the subject’s fantasy appear, as fantasy interprets the Other’s desire.

But identifying desire in this patient was elusive. Again, this wasn’t conclusive. Conceptually, for the obsessional, it is a case not so much of a desire for mother as desire of mother, pointing to something incomplete in the oedipal transition. Why: Because this determines desire in the unconscious -– and therefore the possibility or in her case, impossibility, of acting. So, while the obsessional is the consummate thespian, she declines to act on her desire.

What is required perhaps is love, which I referred to last week, not in the imaginary, but as unconscious knotting.

Love at the start of analysis is a new love, full of hope, and hope is the province of the hysteric, who refuses to accept love as contingent. The hope is that the other is going to make a change and that hope has to be abandoned as it comes into the proximity of the real. Lack of hope for the neurotic who fails to take responsibility for his jouissance is, of course, not same as hopelessness of the psychotic.

THE birth of the other we know is not just biological. It is psychological, depending on the forming of attachments and identifications and the modification, even dissolution, of these. One mechanism is separation – the necessary – un-cleaving – of foetus from the womb, neonate from the breast, developing infant from his or her omnipotence.

Without effective separation there is no subject, no entity possessing an individuated desire. And without desire of this kind, a child is invaded by jouissance. This is hinted at in the etymology. Separation has its root in the Latin se-parare–parare-to prepare – to make ready. In Seminar X1, Lacan renders it as engender – to put into the world: By separating we put ourselves into the world. It is, as Lacan notes, a law and therefore a social operation.

Separation, then, like desire, involves the other; implying, not just a lack on the part of the subject, but an urge to be recognized by the other, who it will turn out, also lacks.

We need to separate but it is a painful process. Made up, as we are, by what we have loved and lost, separation is a necessary castration, one that can be resisted, but only at the cost of a failure of subjectivity, what Freud refers to as the shadow of the object falling across the ego. This is a failure to launch, to become a subject, something of which my patient complained, saying she had a weak sense of self. It is a plight that can be thought of as an inability to effectively separate from parental representations.

There are a number of ways of approaching this scenario. For many post-Freudians separation is linked to anxiety and said to contribute to a condition, one defined as the tragic fear of finding oneself alone and abandoned. This is thought to be the case where anxiety is excessive. Rather than a spur to desire, such anxiety, one adduced to failed separation, becomes mortifying. In his book, The Taming of Solitude, Kleinian analyst, Jean-Michel Quinidoz, sees such separation anxiety as something to be tamed, not by eliminating anxiety, but by placing it in the service of life.

In this way of thinking, separation anxiety can be both a reflection of the distress that accompanies the perception of the transience of human relations, and a structuring emotion for the ego; the latter being a way to make the subject aware of her own singularity – and thus forming the foundation of identity – and a knowledge of the other.

Separation-the word is usually associated with temporary interruption–but when this is permanent, or felt to be so, separation can be conflated with relentless loss. Neurotics learn to defend themselves against the resulting anxiety by repression. The idea here is that becoming conscious of the unconscious origins of such anxiety, may, when re-lived in the transference, help to resolve the symptoms.

There are two words here – separation and anxiety. As indicated, some schools of analysis link them to talk of separation anxiety. Freud, who like Lacan, spoke more of anxiety that separation, as early as 1893 believed the anxiety associated with separation arose from libido – sexual excitation – that could not be properly discharged. This was Anxiety Neurosis- similar to hysteria, but with physical rather than psychic symptoms.

Freud’s ideas on anxiety, as we know, underwent change. From his second topography anxiety is seen as an affect experienced by the ego. In Inhibitions Symptoms and Anxiety he ascribes anxiety to fantasies of the fear of separation and object loss – a state of helplessness when confronted with a threat of danger – one that evokes an infantile fear – the absence of the mother.

This could be seen to render the fear of separation a prototype of anxiety. We can think, for example, of Freud’s three year-old boy afraid of the dark, where what’s feared is not so much the dark but the absence of a loved person; the grandchild playing with the reel, or anxiety having its origins in fear of separation and loss, for children and adults.

Separation anxiety is, however, most associated with the work of Bowlby and Winnicott, with separation said not only to cause distress at the time it occurs or unhappiness later, but to be the cause of specific outcomes, especially depression. Bowlby sees such separation as mourning at an age when the child is too immature to manage, leaving her “stuck” in the phase of despair. This idea has gained traction because it lends itself to statistical calculation.

But, for a range or reasons, such apparently measurable results are not as clear-cut as they may seem: Separation only being ascertainable in obvious ways (hospitalization for example) and not easily calibrated with maternal deprivation, which can occur without physical separation. Nor does such a model take into account what Lacan highlights – the misleading nature of an explanation that is based on a model of frustration-regression-aggression.

For Lacan, what Bowlby sought in ethology – Harlow’s young monkeys reacting to maternal deprivation in a similar way to children – only served to indicate that what was specific to the human child was being overlooked.

Without denying the obvious fact of the primacy of the biological and emotional bonds linking child to mother, Lacan argues, after Freud, that biology and emotion are secondary to an identification peculiar to human beings, and even more so to the social laws which govern the institution of the family into which the child is born. This shifts the attention away from the mother to the father, the symbolic father of the law, and to desire, that which for Lacan is an antidote to anxiety. As he says in The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire, the true function of the Father … is to unite desire with the Law, not to oppose it”. This applies to my patient, whose father retreated after his affair, leaving his wife, my patient’s mother to make the decisions-one result being that my patient struggles to formulate any desire.

But let’s go back to Freud for a moment, and his theories of anxiety, which mostly focus on a reaction to trauma—an experience of helplessness in the face of an excitation that can’t be discharged. Here trauma is thought-to-be precipitated by ‘situations of danger’ like the loss of the mother, loss of her love and, above all, castration. Freud is here distinguishing between ‘automatic anxiety’, when the anxiety arises directly as a result of a traumatic situation, and ‘anxiety as signal’, when the anxiety is reproduced by the ego as a warning of an anticipated situation of danger.

He identifies two fundamental sorts of anxiety –separation that develops pre-genitally and corresponds to a dyadic relation – and castration, which corresponds to a triangular relation characteristic of the Oedipus complex.

This was hinted at in Mourning and Melancholia: The child must first differentiate and distinguish her ego from the (m)other to accomplish the transition from narcissistic identification to the identifications characteristic of the resolution of the Oedipus complex. At this time, 1917, Freud felt that depression originated with the introjection of the lost object in a split-off part of the ego. A few years later he, as noted, opted to attribute anxiety to a fear of separation and loss.

According to the neo Freudian model then, the recognition of self and object depends on working through narcissistic defenses, which may involve a wish to possess the object. A move away from such narcissism necessarily produces anxiety – as it requires the child to differentiate from his or her object. It is an anxiety that is likely to be excessive unless the subject has actually encountered the object, a process that locates psychoanalysis, as Thomas Mann claimed-in a form of melancholy knowledge.

A patient can speak of anxiety, but more of an apparent nihilism characteristic of melancholia, as incomplete alienation. Not used by Freud, the term is employed by Lacan to denote the inevitable consequence of the process by which the ego is constituted by identification: making the initial ego an alter ego. As he highlights, drawing on words of the poet Arthur Rimaud, ‘I is an other’.

Lacan coined the term extimacy to define this alienation, one in which alterity inhabits the innermost core of the subject – such that, to tolerate this alterity is to have accommodated loss. For Lacan, then, alienation is not an accident that can be put right but essential. The subject is fundamentally split, alienated from herself; there’s no escape, no possibility of the ‘wholeness’, patients imagine.

Roberto Harari, uses the term “separated” to describe the loss that sets the scene for all other losses-that of object a, Lacan’s “invention” – one that subverts analysis by pointing to an ”internal separation in the arena of “ek-sistence”. (ek-tacasy – outside himself, needs an object).

Initially, Lacan saw anxiety in the threat of fragmentation with which the subject is confronted in the mirror stage. He later argued that such fantasies of bodily dismemberment gather around the penis – giving rise to castration anxiety. He also linked anxiety with the fear of being engulfed by the devouring mother. This Kleinian tone marked a departure from Freud, for whom anxiety is caused, at least in part, by separation from the mother.

But Lacan insisted it was a lack of separation that induced anxiety. This has important clinical consequences. In the case of my patient, it suggests that it wasn’t the absence of her mother – from whom she felt separated – but her mother’s intrusion in the gap where a desire might arise – that played a crucial role in her suffering. So, while loss is implicated in the anxiety present in neurotic structures, notably phobia, it is the loss of a loss, which is critical. Lacan explores this in the case of Little Hans in which anxiety arises at the moment Hans is poised at the imaginary pre-oedipal triangle-suspended between a point where he no longer knows where he is and a future where he will never again be able to re-find himself.

Hans would have been saved from this by the castrating intervention of the real father – that is, by a limit being placed on the mother’s intrusiveness – but this does not happen-the father fails to intervene to separate Hans from his mother, and he develops a phobia as a substitute. It is thus not separation from mother which prompts anxiety, but its failure. Castration then, is what prevents anxiety.

As noted Lacan sees anxiety as a way of sustaining desire when the object is missing, with desire cast as a remedy for anxiety, easier to bear than anxiety. Desire then, comes from lack; anxiety from lack of a lack.

This does not mean, though, that anxiety is without an object (something Freud reserved for fear); it is just that it involves a different kind of object, one that can’t be symbolized the same way as others. This is object a, the object-cause of desire – anxiety appears when something arises in place of it-when the subject is confronted by the desire of the Other and doesn’t know what she is in that.

So where does this leave my patient; one way to proceed is to think of a sense of identity emerging through a work of mourning. In Kleinian terms, this would be to gradually recover aspects proper to the ego that constitute identity -a process that will be painful because it means unpacking what’s been confused with her attachments. Interestingly though, it is the dropping of these identifications that, for Lacan, is necessary for the end of an analysis. Such an uncoupling of the master signifier Lacan called separation.

In the later Lacan, where the emphasis is on the real, we could locate anxiety in the interior of the body, when the body is overcome by phallic jouissance. Here, ‘the essential object is not an object any longer, but something faced with which words cease – categories fail; the object, you might say, of anxiety par excellence’.

To consider my patient as psychotic in structure is to think of an unraveling of the Borromean Knot, wherein lies the total terror – total jouissance of the Real. Because this is un-symbolizable, it can’t be transferred and transformed the way signifiers may be. But as the Real too is tied to the Borromean Knot, could it also be affected by the symbolic and imaginary? I wondered about this in regard to melancholia where there is something un-symbolized that forms a ‘sticking point’ in the subject’s functioning. Could this bit of the real be addressed via symbolization (verbalization on the analyst’s couch, free association)?

Using transference love and love of transference, the hope is to challenge the notion that it is the other who tells one what he/she wants. The patient has to bear the real, the opposite to love, to be alone, which again raises the notion of change, the question of how to come to terms with that.
The love of the obsessional – love in the imaginary – is of no use as it cedes to the other responsibility for desire. The direction of treatment is to break from the Other. In the transference this might take the form of love of the person presumed to have knowledge. Love addressed to knowledge: Love as not all, separation from the other.

A patient complains of nightmares and imaginings – unravelling thoughts marked by the intercises where the stitching points between signifiers and signifieds come apart. It’s remarkable that when psychosis strikes, it may be at the point where a few remaining stitch points hold on – where there is still a little contact between the threads of Symbolic and Imaginary. It is as if, as the knot unravels, the subject clings, by means of the symptom, to the final weakening, while still recognizing shreds of meaning.

This threatens to annihilate a subject whose priority is to preserve herself, and can be thought of as a kind of acting out upon the points at which there is still some attachment between the rings of the un-ravelling knot. It may account for the “meaningfulness” (in the literal sense) of psychotic symptoms. In this case, as with others – it is useful to locate what triggers a collapse, so that it might be avoided, perhaps through finding a Sinthome.

Lacan argues that the source of the anxiety is not always internal to the subject, but can come from another’. In his earlier work he thought of this in terms of Freud’s Das Ding, The Thing, the object of yearning and desire – which creates jouissance. It is both the object of language and unsymbolizable, equated with the mother – not the real mother – but the mother who is lost – absence of mother. Lacan implies that the Subject is constituted by its separation from, and emotional relationship with, this Thing, which as un-symbolizable can’t be repressed.

It is at this junction that Hans’s real penis makes itself felt in infantile masturbation; anxiety is produced because he can now measure the difference between that for which he is loved by the mother (his position as imaginary phallus) and that which he really has to give (his insignificant real organ). Anxiety is this point where the subject is.

As well as the object of language, das Ding is the object of desire. It is the lost object, which must be continually re-found—in other words, the forbidden object of incestuous desire, the mother. The pleasure principle is the law, which maintains the subject at a certain distance from the Thing, making him/her circle round it without ever attaining it. If the subject transgresses the pleasure principle and attains this thing, it is experienced as suffering/evil (Lacan plays on the French term mal, which can mean both suffering and evil. It is fortunate, then, that the Thing is usually inaccessible. After the seminar of 1959–60, the term das Ding disappears almost entirely from Lacan’s work. However, the ideas associated with it provide the essential features of the new developments in the concept of the objet a.

Lacan pointed to a know-how – savoir-faire – about one’s symptom, about fundamental difference, as a way to deal with life’s vicissitudes. His idea, much like the savoir-faire Freud so admired in Little Hans, is that it is of no interest to think against someone else – more enticing to think against oneself. Which is to say, to verify one’s hypotheses by changing them, so that the aspects are multiplied and one can find an impediment, an impasse. This is useful since to find an impasse allows us to locate what we can have as equivalent to the real.

It is here that the impossible of psychoanalysis finds a counter balance in another jouissance, the pure jouissance of the word. Freud, who envisioned analysis as a work of interpretation to be completed rather quickly, began to realize, especially from Beyond the Pleasure Principle, that cures were being prolonged. This made it possible to speak of a new jouissance produced or unveiled by analytic experience; I say unveiled because of the magic implied when we speak. In the act of speaking, something occurs beyond the transmission of information.