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A NON-OEDIPAL PSYCHOANALYSIS?

FIGURES OF THE UNCONSCIOUS 11


Editorial Board
PHILIPPE VAN HAUTE, (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
ANDREAS DE BLOCK, (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium)
JOS CORVELEYN, (Catholic University Leuven, Belgium)
MONIQUE DAVID-MNARD, (Universit Paris VII Diderot, France)
PAUL MOYAERT, (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium)
VLADIMIR SAFATLE, (University of So Paulo, Brazil)
CHARLES SHEPHERDSON, (State University of New York at Albany, USA)

Advisory Board
TOMAS GEYSKENS, (Leuven, Belgium)
ELISSA MARDER, (Emory University, Atlanta, USA)
CELINE SURPRENANT, (University of Sussex, United Kingdom)
JEAN FLORENCE, (Universit Catholique de Louvain, Belgium)
PATRICK GUYOMARD, (Universit Paris VII Diderot, France)
ELIZABETH ROTTENBERG, (De Paul University, Chicago, USA)
JEFF BLOECHL, (Boston College, USA)
PATRICK VANDERMEERSCH, (University of Groningen, the Netherlands)
VERONICA VASTERLING, (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
HERMAN WESTERINK, (University of Vienna, Austria)
WILFRIED VER EECKE, (Georgetown University, USA)
RUDOLF BERNET, (Catholic University Leuven, Belgium)
ARI HIRVONEN, (University of Helsinki, Finland)
JOHAN VAN DER WALT, (University of Luxemburg, Luxemburg)
STELLA SANDFORD, (Kingston University, London, United Kingdom)
CLAUDIO OLIVEIRA, (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
PAOLA MARRATI, (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA)
ERAN DORFMAN, (Free University Berlin, Germany)
MARCUS COELEN, (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt, Mnchen, Germany)
RODRIGO DE LA FABIN, (University Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile, Chili)
RICHARD BOOTHBY, (Loyola University, Maryland, USA)

A NON-OEDIPAL PSYCHOANALYSIS?
A Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria
in the Works of Freud and Lacan

Philippe Van Haute & Tomas Geyskens

Translation into English by Joey Kok

2012 by Leuven University Press / Universitaire Pers Leuven / Presses Universitaires de Louvain.
Minderbroedersstraat 4, B-3000 Leuven (Belgium)
All rights reserved. Except in those cases expressly determined by law, no part of this publication
may be multiplied, saved in an automated datafile or made public in any way whatsoever without
the express prior written consent of the publishers.

ISBN 978 90 5867 911 6


D/ 2012 / 1869 / 7
NUR: 777
Cover illustration: Louise Bourgeois, Triptych for the Red Room (detail), 1994. Aquatint, drypoint and
engraving on paper, triptych, 70,5 x 283,8 cm. Photo: Christopher Burke, Louise Bourgeois Trust.
Cover design: Griet Van Haute
Lay-out: Friedemann BVBA

Dveloppez votre tranget lgitime


Develop your legitimate strangeness
(Ren Char 1983, 160, our translation)
Et le normal nest videmment nulle part
And normality is of course nowhere
(Jacques Schotte 1984, 65, our translation)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements10
Introduction
A Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria
Hysteria as a Philosophical Problem11
Chapter 1
Between Trauma and Disposition
The Specific Aetiology of Hysteria in Freuds Early Works25
Introduction: From Real Trauma to Oedipal Phantasy?25
1. Trauma and Disposition in Studies on Hysteria
28
2. The Seduction Theory33
3. After the Theory of Seduction36
Conclusion43
Chapter 2
Dora
Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora45
Introduction45
1. Two Traumas45
2. The Meaning of Doras Symptoms51
3. The Oedipal Legend in the Case of Dora54
4. Bisexuality and its Consequences57
Conclusion: Doras un-Oedipal Desires58
Chapter 3
From Day-dream to Novel
On Hysterical Phantasy and Literary Fiction61
Introduction: a Disposition towards Literature?61
1. Hysterical Phantasying63
2. The Novel and Hysteria 66
3. Sources of Pleasure the Joke and Literature68
Conclusion: The Novel as Sublimation of Hysteria71

Chapter 4
The Indifference of a Healthy Lesbian
Bisexuality versus the Oedipus Complex73
Introduction73
1. From Bisexuality to the Oedipus Complex74
2. From Oedipus Complex to Bisexuality79
Conclusion84
Chapter 5
Lacans Structuralist Rereading of Dora87
Introduction87
1. Structure versus Psychogenesis88
2. The Female Oedipus Complex: Frustration and Gift90
3. Lacans Reading of Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
(Dora)92
4. Dora and the L-scheme 96
5. The Lesson of Lvi-Strauss98
6. The Hysterical Desire for an Unfulfilled Desire: the Dream of the
Beautiful Butchers Wife100
7. Dora and the Dream of the Beautiful Butchers Wife105
Conclusion106
Chapter 6
Lacan and the Homosexual Young Woman:
between Pathology and Poetry? 109
Introduction109
1. Dora versus the Homosexual Young Woman110
2. A Lacanian Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria and Perversion? 112
Conclusion117

Chapter 7
Beyond Oedipus?121
Introduction121
1. Freud reads Sophocles123
2. A Psychoanalytical Origin Tale: Totem and Taboo125
3. Freuds Dream126
4. Castration as the Truth of the Oedipus Complex127
5. Oedipus as Incarnation of the Master130
6. Dora and the Search for a Master131
Conclusion135
Chapter 8
Return to Freud?137
Lacans Pathoanalysis of Hysteria137
Introduction137
1. The formulas of Sexuation140
2. Hysteria and the Formulas of Sexuation 147
3. Courtly Love and the Jouissance of the Other148
Conclusion151
Conclusion
The Project of a Psychoanalytical Anthropology
in Freud and Lacan153
1. Freud and Hysteria153
2. Hysteria and Literature 154
3. The Oedipal Trap155
4. Development versus Structure157
5. The Human as a Being of the In-between158
6. The Hysterical Subject, its Master and Female Jouissance160
7. Beyond Hysteria162
8. Freud versus Lacan: the Position of Science164
References167
Index175

Acknowledgements
We thank Andreas De Block for his lucid comments on earlier versions of
this text. Without the animated discussions with Claudio Oliveira and Fons
Van Coillie the last chapter would probably never have been written. We
are grateful to Rockwell Clancy for editing the text. We finally thank the
Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study for allowing us to finish this book
in ideal circumstances.

10

Introduction

A Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria


Hysteria as a Philosophical Problem

Hysteria is characterised by convulsive attacks, mysterious pains in various


parts of the body, an inexplicable loss of functions (speech, for instance) and
conversion symptoms: corporal symptoms such as paralysis for which no clear
organic cause can be found. This syndrome was already known to the Greeks.
As the name hysteria indicates, they linked this syndrome with the agility
of the uterus. The Greeks viewed hysteria as a typically female problem: the
uterus travels throughout the whole body, and in this way constantly causes
different symptoms in different locations (globus hystericus, pains in various
parts of the body and so forth). Only in the 19th century when medicine and
anatomy specialists started studying hysteria as an affliction of the nervous
system, one that had nothing to do with a uterus with a penchant for travel,
could the possibility of hysteria in males also be considered (Micali 2008).
During the second half of the 19th century hysteria became almost an
epidemic in Europe in general and France in particular (Micale 1995,
Showalter 1997). This epidemic was also relatively short-lived: by the end
of the 19th century the diagnosis of hysteria (along with other related
syndromes such as multiple personality disorder) became obsolete, and by
1915 hysteria had disappeared from the majority of psychiatric textbooks as
an independent syndrome (Micale 1993).1 To this day there is still extensive
speculation about the reasons for the meteoric rise and equally rapid demise
of hysteria in 19th century France. In feminist circles this problematic is often
linked to nascent feminism and the fight against Victorian morality. Various
feminist authors regard hysteria as a product of conflicts linked to gender roles
and female sexuality. Hysteria, they write, is an implicit form of feminism.

 e fact that hysteria disappeared from psychiatry textbooks does not mean, however, that
Th
hysteria no longer exists. Perhaps these patients simply no longer seek the help of psychiatrists per se. In this vein Stone calls the disappearance of hysteria an illusion that is closely
connected to the split between neurology and psychiatry (Stone 2008). Besides, it is not a
stretch to imagine oneself in the auditorium with Charcot while watching (the healing that
occurs during) the celebrations of certain religious sects. So the problematic of hysterias
disappearance is much more complicated than is sometimes claimed (see, amongst others,
Showalter 1997).
11

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

It is an attempt by female (and male?) patients to escape everyday reality,


which is perceived as unfair and unliveable. In this way then hysteria is a protolanguage. Hysterias corporal symptoms are a code these patients adhere to in
order to communicate a message they are otherwise unable to express for a
number of reasons. These messages bear on our positions as man or woman
and the ways in which we can or should experience or give form to our
masculinity or femininity.2
These sundry positions already make it abundantly clear why hysteria
would be a compelling source of interest to the philosopher: Hysteria confronts
us with the key problematic of modern-day philosophical anthropology. Not
only is hysteria intrinsically linked to the problematic of sex and gender, but
at the same time it also puts into sharp focus the problematic relationship
between body and mind. Although hysterical symptoms have no physical
causes, they speak to those willing to listen.3
But as a problematic hysteria is confined to the domains of neither
psychiatry, nor philosophy. In fact hysteria also plays a major role in 19th
century literature. In their novels (Madame Bovary, Eline Vere...) Flaubert,
Couperus and others give form, often in a very pointed fashion, to the
atmosphere of the hysterical environment. For this reason not only are
there connections between hysteria, nascent psychiatry and philosophy, but
literature must also be included in this network of references. This further
complicates the philosophical question regarding the meaning of hysteria for
an understanding of human existence.
Psychoanalysis and hysteria
In this book we consider a number of philosophical questions raised by hysteria.
However, we cannot do so in too direct a fashion nor do we want to. A direct
approach would require a degree of comprehensiveness that far exceeds our
capacity. We discuss the philosophical problematic raised by hysteria on the
basis of an analysis of the work of Freud and Lacan. There are good reasons
for this. Freudian psychoanalysis originated as a by-product of the above2

S ee Showalter 1997 and Bernheim & Kahane 1990 regarding the various positions in this
debate.
At the same time the rapid rise and equally rapid demise of the hysteria diagnosis inevitably
begs the question concerning the status of psychiatric categories. Are we dealing with transhistoric natural kinds or are these categories simply historical constructs (and what then
does that mean?). Or does this problematic defy such a simple dichotomy? In this regard see
Hacking 1995 and De Block & Adriaens 2010 amongst others.
12

Introduction

mentioned epidemic.4 Freud established psychoanalysis by approaching


hysteria from a psychotherapeutic instead of the neurological perspective5
to which many of the prominent psychiatrists of his time adhered.6 This
has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of hysteria. It implies
that hysterical symptoms are not caused by a (supposed) organic lesion but
are, rather, the expression of a psychological meaning. In the first instance
Freud himself links this meaning to a real, psychological trauma: hysteria
is a consequence of a childs sexual seduction (a female child in particular)
by an adult, in the first instance the father. Thus the various philosophical
problems we mentioned are inscribed in the founding act of psychoanalysis
itself: the relationship between body and soul (physical symptoms have a
psychological meaning) and the problematic of sexuality and gender, which
are tied up with the dominance of the patriarchal family in this instance. The
first part of our book deals with the way in which Freuds insights into these
themes evolves in his work. Central to this discussion is Freuds text on Dora
(Freud 1905a).7

 e do not consider the problematic of an internal link between developments within psy
W
chiatry, the origins of psychoanalysis and this epidemic. In this regard see, amongst others,
Showalter 1997.
Particularly Charcot, under whom Freud studied, and who played a crucial part in the rise
and demise of the diagnosis of hysteria. In this regard see Micali 1995, Hacking 1995 and
Appignanesi 2008, amongst others.
It would be unfair to claim that Freuds only focus during the last two decades of the 19th
century is on hysteria. From the start both his theoretical and clinical concerns are of grander
pretensions. However, during this period up until the first version of Three Essays on the
Theory of Sexuality (Freud 1905b, passim) Freud uses hysteria as a matrix through which he
considers and understands pathology as a whole.
The importance of Freuds text on Dora far surpasses its narrower psychoanalytic sense in
a significant respect. If the problematic of hysteria plays an important role in discussions
concerning sex and gender, it does so even more in Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
(Dora) (1905a). This text has always been used to illustrate Freuds (numerous?) prejudices
against, for instance, women and homosexuality. This explains why Dora could return to
the foreground as an emblematic figure in the context of discussions concerning feminism
during the 1980s. In these discussions Dora represents the average woman who rebels against
oppressive patriarchal culture, of which Freud would be the perfect representative. In this
debate Dora is the model for all women suffering under male prejudices and male social
and cultural hegemony. Which woman, asks Helne Cixous, is not Dora (Cixous 1976)?
In this way almost 100 years after Freuds text first appeared, Dora became a cult heroine of
literary criticism and feminist criticism on psychoanalysis in particular. To expound on this
problematic would lead too far afield here. For an overview of a number of important texts
in these discussions, we refer to Bernheim & Kahane 1990.
13

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora) (Freud 1905a) plays


a central role in the development of Freuds theory of psychoanalysis and
hysteria. This text marks the apex of Freuds concern with hysteria, a concern
that lead to the discovery of psychoanalysis in the 1880s and 1890s. Together
with Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905b) and Freuds book on Jokes
and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905c), both of which appeared in 1905,
it provides a systematic summary of Freuds psychoanalytic insights around
1900. A thorough reading of these texts reveals that during this time in his
intellectual development Freud interprets psychoanalysis as a pathoanalysis
or what comes to the same thing a clinical anthropology. In these texts
Freud indicates that we can only ever adequately understand human existence
in terms of its pathological variations. According to this model, pathology
indicates in an exaggerated way the forces and tendencies that form and
determine our existence. Here then psychopathology does not appear as the
negative of a supposed normality. Rather, it shows us the structuring elements
of human existence. In this way Freud breaks from traditional philosophical
anthropology that considers psychopathology exclusively from the perspective
of a negation of psychological health.
It is for all these reasons that we want to study the philosophical problematic
raised by hysteria from a Freudian perspective. After all, it is precisely in and
through the study of hysteria that Freud revolutionises the question of the
relationship between normality and psychopathology. Hence, we should not
only ask wherein lies the philosophical meaning of hysteria. We should also
conduct a closer examination of the philosophical meaning of psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis as method
Psychoanalysis is a method with which to trace unconscious psychological
processes. Dreams, slips of the tongue and symptoms appear as unmotivated
phenomena strange to consciousness, that at the same time arouse suspicions
of hidden meaning. The task of the psychoanalytic method is to find this
hidden meaning and clarify the psychological continuity behind consciousness
discontinuity. Apart from hypnosis, the psychoanalytical method is the only
way this task can be completed. It consists of two complementary ground
rules: free association of the analysant and the suspended attention of the
analyst. The analysant must say everything that comes to mind even if it is
embarrassing, crude, painful, uninteresting or frivolous. It is the task of the
analyst to lead the analysant in free association, constantly reminding and
encouraging him to speak freely through an attitude of suspended tactful
14

Introduction

attention, free of moral judgments and psychological insights (Lacan 195354, 7)


On the one hand, this psychoanalytical method has a cathartic effect.
The expression of what has hitherto been kept silent, and the accompanying
venting of suppressed affects, are liberating and can even make a number of
inhibitions, symptoms and fears obsolete. On the other hand the method of
free association quickly demonstrates its own boundaries as it inevitably stalls
because of strong resistances. Libidinous constellations attract associations
like a vortex and smother expression. Irresolvable problematics persist in an
endless repetition, far beyond their conscious appearance in analysis. In this
way the limits of free association bring to light the recalcitrant libidinous
forces and peculiarities that form the constitutional source of symptoms.8
The power of the cure depends on the degree to which these libidinal factors
can be absorbed into the spoken word, something for which these factors
show no preference. Freud specifically emphasised the limited power of the
psychoanalytic method in his early and very late works (Freud & Breuer
1895a, 17 and Freud 1937, passim).9
The domain of psychoanalysis
Above all, psychoanalysis lends itself to the domain for which it was devised:
psychoneuroses. Freud distinguishes three forms of psychoneuroses: hysteria,
obsessional neurosis and paranoia.10 The major case studies of Doras
hysteria (1905a), the obsessional neurosis of the Rat Man (1909b) and
Schrebers paranoia (1911) are, therefore, the cornerstones of Freuds clinical
anthropology. When Freud writes about other pathologies, for instance sexual
perversions, he is not interested in the first place with the clinical elucidation
of these phenomena as such, but the way in which they play a role in the
symptomatology of psychoneuroses. This is most evident when he discusses
sexual perversions in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. What interests
Freud is not so much the problem of perversions, but how perverse urges and
phantasies lie at the basis of the symptoms of conversion hysteria. And when

10

If the strenght of the instinct is excessive, the mature ego, supported by analysis, fails in its
task, just as the helpless ego failed formerly (Freud 1937, 230).
The power of the psychoanalytical method can sometimes be increased through an adaptation
of the classical psychoanalytical technique and setting. Such an adaptation is not the same as
an abandonment of the method.
From 1918 Freud extends his clinical interest to melancholy.
15

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

he examines homosexuality around 1910, he seeks to understand how the


homosexual-narcissistic problematic plays a part in the symptomatology of
paranoia.
Freuds texts on so-called applied psychoanalysis should also be under
stood in terms of this psychoneurotic triad of hysteria, obsessional neurosis
and paranoia. Freuds interest in literature and religion is, after all, but a
continuation of his clinical interest. According to Freud there are profound
similarities between hysteria and literature, between obsessional neurosis
and religion and between paranoia and philosophy. In this way he compares
Schrebers delusional system with his own theory formation (Freud 1911, 7879). Freud approaches culture from his analysis of the three psychoneuroses.
His views on culture are, therefore, not really an extension of the domain
of psychoanalysis or an application of the psychoanalytical method beyond
the clinical framework. What Freud investigates is how hysteria, obsessional
neurosis and paranoia search for an application in life and how they make
use of their respective affinities with literature, religion and philosophy in
the process. From this point of view Totem and Taboo (Freud 1913a) is,
for instance, not so much a hypothesis regarding the prehistoric origin of
religion but rather a description of how the obsessional-neurotic instinctual
constellation finds in religious taboos and rituals an exclusive space in which
to socialise itself. Similarly, the aforementioned link between hysteria and
literature can now appear in a new light.
Normality and pathology
The fact that Freud links the different psychoneuroses with different cultural
forms already indicates that he does not fit these neurotic afflictions into the
model of infections, for instance. An infection has a specific cause that attacks
the organism from the outside. Hereby a categorical distinction can be made
between illness and health. According to Freud, the psychoneuroses cannot
be understood according to the model of such infections. They do not have
specific causes and, consequently, can only be gradually and quantitatively
distinguished from normality: It would be idle to seek in them for pathogenic
excitants. They shade off by easy transitions into what is described as the
normal; and, on the other hand, there is scarcely any state recognized as
normal in which indications of neurotic states could not be pointed out
(Freud 1940, 183). Strictly speaking, the neuroses cannot be distinguished
from a condition of psychological normality. At the same time neither does
Freud distinguish strictly between neurosis and psychosis. This is already clear
16

Introduction

from the fact that he considers paranoia a psychoneurosis. Nor does he have
a problem with the fact that in hysteria a variety of psychotic conditions can
occur that are yet derived immediately and exclusively from hysteria (Freud
& Breuer 1895a, 249) and that in the Rat Mans obsessional neurosis a kind
of delusion or delirium (Freud 1909a, 164) plays an important role. Through
seamless transitions not only are the psychoneuroses bound up with normality
but also psychosis.11
Pathoanalysis...
In Szondi avec Freud Jacques Schotte lays the foundation for what he called a
pathoanalytical reading of Freud (Schotte 1990, 147). Such a pathoanalytical
reading is based on the Freudian devaluation of the distinction between
normality and pathology, which we outlined above. Freud uses the image of a
broken crystal to clarify his conception of the relationship between normality
and pathology: We are familiar with the position that pathology, by making
things larger and coarser, can draw our attention to normal conditions which
would otherwise have escaped us. Where it points to a breach or a rent, there
may normally be an articulation present. If we throw a crystal to the floor,
it breaks; but not into hap-hazard pieces. It comes apart along its lines of
cleavage into fragments whose boundaries, though they were invisible, were
predetermined by the crystals structure. Mental patients are split and broken
structures of this same kind (Freud 1933a, 58-59). Pathoanalysis elevates
this crystal analogy to a heuristic and ethical principle. The different forms of
psychological disorder do not stand over against psychological normality; on
the contrary, they display a specific disposition that is active in normal inner
emotional life, yet is expressed in an excessive way in pathology (Schotte
1990, 149).12 For this reason the pathoanalytical perspective compels us,
according to Freud, to assume an old-fashioned attitude of respectful modesty
in the face of the psychologically ill, since their lives symbolise the problems

11

12

 is insight is powerfully addressed in the psychoanalytical tradition by Melanie Klein. For


Th
more recent examples of this same insight in the tradition of evolutionary psychiatry, see
Adriaens 2008.
The way in which the debate regarding the relationship between psychopathology and
normality has recently re-emerged in the field of evolutionary psychiatry seems to be in
keeping with Freuds vision in a number of ways. It would be too much of a digression for us
to discuss this problematic here. In this regard see, for instance, Adriaens 2008.
17

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

that also determine our own existences.13 In a crude, excessive way hysteria,
obsessional neurosis and paranoia give form to anthropological problematics
that can simultaneously be expressed in a refined and socially acceptable
manner in literature, religion and philosophy respectively: Thus hysterics
are undoubtedly imaginative artists, even if they express their phantasies
mimetically in the main and without considering their intelligibility to other
people; the ceremonials and prohibitions of obsessional neurotics drive us to
suppose that they have created a private religion of their own; and the delusions
of paranoics have an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship to
the systems of our philosophers. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that
these patients are, in an asocial fashion, making the very attempts at solving
their conflicts and appeasing their pressing needs which, when those attempts
are carried out in a fashion that is acceptable to the majority, are known as
poetry, religion and philosophy (Freud 1919, 261). Thus Freud more or
less considers normal emotional life, as well as the various important cultural
forms, in terms of an interplay between tendencies that emerge in the different
psychoneuroses (Schotte 1990, 145). The immediate implication is that a
true symptomatology of these psychoneuroses also includes a clarification
of their link with certain anthropological problematics and cultural forms.
A pathoanalysis of obsessional neurosis, for instance, would then have to
describe how obsessive rituals and thoughts relate to the confrontation
with and revolt against a (paternal) authority, which is a common human
problematic that only rages in a heightened way in obsessional neurosis, 14
and how this problematic of revolt, guilt and authority, which is restrained in
rituals and obsessive deeds, moves in the direction of religious practices that
cultivate and socialise this problematic (Freud 1907).
versus developmental psychology
There is tension between the pathoanalytical perspective and a psychogenetic
approach to psychopathology, which can also be found in Freud and which
- to a large extent - determines psychoanalysis development. According to
this psychogenetic point of view the different psychoneuroses should be
considered developmental disorders (Freud 1913b, 317-318). Psychoneuroses
13

14

 Even we cannot withhold from them something of the reverential awe which peoples of the
past felt for the insane. They have turned away from external reality, but for that very reason
they know more about internal, psychical reality and can reveal a number of things to us that
would otherwise be inaccesible to us (Freud 1933a, 59).
For a similar symptomatology of obsessional neurosis see Van Haute & Geyskens 2010.
18

Introduction

then are failed attempts at, for instance, bringing the Oedipal crisis in
childhood or puberty to a good conclusion.15 Here the neuroses are the
consequence of obstacles that retard or damage predetermined, functional
psychosexual development, and according to this view neurotics are those
who had shortcomings or were deprived on the way to normal adulthood. In
this way Freud re-introduces a particularly normalising and psychologising
tendency in psychoanalytic theory and practice. This also makes it clear why
the psychogenetic view is at odds with a pathoanalytical approach. If neuroses
are developmental disorders then they can be measured against an abstract
ideal of normal development. They are thus not, as the crystal principle
holds, purely quantitative exaggerations of common human dispositions.
The relationship between the various neuroses and cultural forms then also
becomes problematic. When the neuroses are considered excessive expressions
of common human dispositions, it also means that psychoneuroses cultural
equivalents are thought of as anthropological phenomena grounded in human
instinctual life as such. If obsessional neurosis is not based on a developmental
disorder but rather on an excessive expression of a basal anthropological
problematic, it also lends an anthropological basis to religious practices that
express the same problematic in a cultivated manner. But, as Freud increasingly
considers the neuroses developmental disorders, as regressions to an infantile
stage, his appreciation for art and religion also changes. In the first place then
religion becomes an infantile illusion (Freud 1927), and subsequently art only
provides a mild narcosis (Freud 1930, 81). In other words, art and religion
are simply consoling and intoxicating palliatives for infantile souls incapable
of coping with reality, who have no patience for the scientific conquest of
truth (Freud 1927, 49). According to such a view, art, religion and philosophy
lose their anthropological weight. Freud then promotes the idealised fiction of
a neuroses-free adulthood and a conception of science divorced from culture.
Beyond the Oedipus complex...
The strenuous relationship between a pathoanalytical and developmental
perspective that characterises the work of Freud and psychoanalysis is closely
tied up with the introduction of the Oedipus complex. In Freuds early texts on
hysteria the idea that all psychopathology should be traced back to an Oedipal
15

 n resolving the Oedipal crisis in a good way Freud says: But the proces we have described
O
is more then a repression. It is equivalent, if it is ideally carried out, to a destruction and an
abolition of the complex (Freud 1924, 177).
19

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

problematic and, furthermore, that the Oedipal problematic constitutes the


obligatory entryway into adult subjectivity is completely absent.16 During this
time Freud refers exclusively to the problematic of a generalised disposition
to bisexuality and the importance of a common human organic repression.
In this way our reading breaks with classical interpretations concerning the
evolution of Freuds thought. Both proponents and critics most often claim
that Freud discovers psychoanalysis at the moment he for reasons we analyse
no longer traces hysteria back to a real sexual trauma but an (Oedipallymotivated) desire for seduction by the father.17 We show that this view fails to
do justice to Freuds texts and that to a significant extent the development of
the psychoanalytical perspective precedes and is independent of the infamous
complex. In fact, without much exaggeration we can say that psychoanalytical
pathoanalysis at least in the work of Freud lacks an Oedipal character. This
means that a conception of Freudian psychoanalytic theory in which reference
to the Oedipus complex is a central, identifying characteristic must be refined.
For this reason we want to investigate the possibility and importance of a nonOedipal psychoanalytical meta-psychology in this book as well.
Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria is Freuds last major text on
hysteria. In the years following its publication and particularly following the
publication of the Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis (The Rat Man)
in 1909 his attention increasingly shifts towards the study of obsessional
neurosis and paranoia. Freud discovers the Oedipus complex in his study of
obsessional neurosis. According to Freud the problematic of (the defiance of )
paternal authority is, indeed, central to obsessional neurosis.18 In the years
following the publication of his text on the Rat Man, Freud progressively
frees this problematic from obsessional neurosis. He increasingly considers the
Oedipus complex an essential (because of its biological foundation), formative
moment on which our relationship with law and culture is based. In other words,
16

17

18

 s we show, this does not mean that all reference to the Oedipal problematic is missing from
A
these texts, but that in them this reference does not yet have this foundational meaning. In
this regard see our second chapter in particular.
That it is impossible to understand the evolution in Freuds work from a simple contrast
between a (real, sexual) trauma and an (Oedipal, sexual) phantasy already emerges in the
fact that traumas and seductions play an important role not only in the case study of Dora
but also, for example, in the studies of the Rat Man (Freud 1909b) and the Wolf Man
(Freud 1918). Freud does not doubt for a moment that these incidents are real. For Freud
they concern true events that, nonetheless, gain new meaning and weight due to another,
more fundamental, shift. We discuss this extensively, particularly the way in which this shift
concerns the re-introduction of a thorough re-consideration of the concept of disposition.
In his classic case study on the Rat Man, in the first instance Freud also discusses the father
complex (Freud 1909a, 200 ff.).
20

Introduction

Freud invariably puts forward a psychogenetic interpretation of the Oedipus


complex. Whoever succeeds in emerging unscathed from this formative
moment immediately gains access to psychological normality or health. Even
if Freud mostly claims that overcoming of the Oedipal problematic is only
possible in an asymptotical way, the theory of the Oedipus complex still
allows for an intrinsic definition of psychic health and normality, according
to which our psychological experience can be systematically measured (Van
Haute 2002). In this way psychoanalysis inevitably becomes normative and
normalising. Freuds Oedipal insights are at odds with the pathoanalytical
intuitions of his earlier texts.
This strenuous relationship between an Oedipal approach and a patho
analytical perspective is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the work
of Jacques Lacan. On the one hand Lacan embraces Freuds pathoanalytical
perspective. He departs from an intrinsic connection between psychological
health and pathology and shows how the same problematic that expresses itself
in a caricaturish way in pathology also lies at the basis of various forms of
cultural expression. Following Freud in this way Lacan emphasises, for instance,
the connection between hysteria and literature.19 On the other hand Lacan
also initially remains seriously indebted to the Oedipal perspective of Freuds
later works. We thematise this strenuous relationship in Lacans consecutive
interpretations of the case of Dora. In his reading of Fragment of an Analysis
of a Case of Hysteria Lacan tries to escape Freuds psychogenetic approach
with a structuralist interpretation of the Oedipus complex. But this structural
approach does not assuage the difficulties. In fact, it remains fundamentally
normative and normalising. With reference to Lvi-Strauss structural analysis
of kinship systems (Lvi-Strauss 1949) Lacan links Doras pathology with her
inability to assume a position as exchange object. Structurally this position
falls to women. In this way Lacans structuralist interpretation of Freud repeats
at decisive moments the naturalistic prejudices against women and femininity
that overshadow Freuds work.
Our analysis shows how and why a pathoanalytical approach is on a
collision course with every psychoanalytical theory that elevates the Oedipus
complex to its shibboleth. Lacans decisive choice for a pathoanalytical
approach in his later work, therefore, goes hand in hand with a rejection of
the Freudian Oedipal approach to pathology. Furthermore, in Lacans later
work the question what it means to be a woman is the underlying problematic
that governs human desire in general and hysteria in particular. Lacan
19

 e return extensively to this problematic in the last four chapters, where the references
W
necessary for this claim can also be found.
21

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

increasingly concretises this question in terms of a question of (the relationship


to) the possibility of an Other, feminine jouissance beyond the phallus. Lacans
criticism of the Freudian Oedipus complex and his concomitant development
of the formulas of sexuation nevertheless separates this problematic from all
(biological) essentialism. In this way Lacan also returns mutatis mutandis
to Freuds original intuitions concerning a general human bisexual disposition.
At the same time Lacan unequivocally reconfirms the connection between
culture and pathology, in general, and between hysteria and literature, in
particular. In this way his theory also proffers an answer to the scientistic
tendencies in the work of Freud.
The philosophical importance of psychoanalysis
What is the philosophical importance of Freudian psychoanalysis? In the
past the originality of Freuds work for philosophy was often linked to his
adage that The ego is not master in its own house since it is in the grip
of unconscious psychological processes, as well as with Freuds insight that
the difference between humans and animals is settled in the domain of
sexuality. This double confirmation was often embraced to develop a general
philosophical anthropology that stands somewhat distinct from Freuds study
of and insights into psychopathology. In his chapters on sexuality and language
in Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty, for example, attempts to do
justice to Freuds insights regarding sexualitys central role in human existence
and the meaning of psychological symptoms, within the greater framework
of his own general theory of the body-subject (Merleau-Ponty 1949). The
fact that Freudian psychoanalysis has its origins in the study of the different
neuroses does not seem to unsettle Merleau-Ponty. He believes that Freudian
metapsychology can be formulated separately from the history of its discovery.
In his view the study of psychopathology is merely an external means to gain
access to a metapsychology that is not fundamentally marked by its point of
departure. Psychopathology then is like a ladder we can do away with once its
heuristic services have been demonstrated.
Our own interpretation of Freuds work and psychoanalysis shows that
the philosophical importance of psychoanalysis perhaps also (and especially?)
lies elsewhere. Even if one can justifiably claim that the Freudian notion
of the unconscious cannot be reduced to the philosophical ideas about the
unconscious from which Freud drew some of his inspiration, and even if
Freuds approach to sexuality is perhaps radically different from most of the
philosophical theories on the same subject, references to the unconscious and
22

Introduction

sexuality are not sufficient to characterise his work in a philosophically-relevant


way. The philosophical originality of Freuds work and psychoanalysis by
extension? 20 consists in the central role the crystal principle plays and the
fundamental reconsideration of the relationship between normality, culture
and pathology that follows from this. A study of Freuds texts on hysteria
and its continuation into the work of Lacan is the perfect opportunity to
thematise this philosophical problematic.

20

 or instance, the work of Melanie Klein comes to mind, where the normal development of
F
the human child is viewed in terms of fundamental positions that cannot be determined
and described separately from pathology: a paranoid-schizoid and a depressive position (Van
Haute & Geyskens 2004).
23

Chapter 1

Between Trauma and Disposition

The Specific Aetiology of Hysteria in Freuds Early Works

Introduction: From Real Trauma to Oedipal Phantasy?


In his An Autobiographical Study of 1925 Freud sketches the story of the early
years of psychoanalysis. In this historical and autobiographical work, he relates
how in 1897 he was forced to abandon the seduction theory and how this led
him to position the Oedipus complex as central to the aetiology of neurosis.
That is to say, Freud discovered that the testimonies of his patients about how
they were seduced as children by perverse adults were not memories of real
events but disguised expressions of Oedipal phantasies: When (...) I was at
last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place,
and that they were only phantasies which my patients had made up or which
I myself had perhaps forced on them, I was for some time completely at a
loss. (...) I had in fact stumbled for the first time upon the Oedipus complex,
which was later to assume such an overwhelming importance, but which I
did not recognize as yet in its disguise of phantasy (Freud 1925, 34). It is
hardly surprising that, in 1925, these were Freuds thoughts regarding the
origins of psychoanalysis; by 1925 the Oedipus complex had become the
main theme of psychoanalytical theory, and Freuds report on the early years
of psychoanalysis was shaped by contemporary interests and ambitions. More
remarkable is the fact that, however much their valuations of this evolution
differ, neither Freudian psychoanalysts nor Freuds fiercest critics question
the connection between the abandonment of the seduction theory and the
discovery of the Oedipus complex. All agree with the orthodox vision expressed
by Ernst Kris: In his letters [Briefe an Wilhelm Fliess], we learn that Freuds
insight into the structure of the Oedipus complex, i.e. the core problem of
psychoanalysis, was made possible by his self-analysis, which he began in the
summer of 1897 during his stay in Aussee (Kris 1986, 545, our translation).
This view holds that, from 1897, following the abandonment of the seduction
theory, Freuds thoughts steadily evolved in the direction of an understanding
of the Oedipus complex as the central issue of psychoanalysis. Even Jeffrey
Masson, who regards the abandonment of the seduction theory as an assault

25

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

on truth1, does not dispute the fact that the abandonment of the seduction
theory coincides with the discovery of the Oedipus complex. Kris is correct:
Freud had altered the direction of his thinking. Earlier, he had recognized the
aggressive acts of parents against their children for seduction was an act of
violence. Now Freud had a new insight, that children had aggressive impulses
against their parents (Masson 1984, 112-113).2
However, this connection does not withstand the test of a close reading
of Freuds early texts. For instance, it is obvious that the Oedipal theme is
far from central to the important works of 1905,3 eight years after the
seduction theory had been relinquished. In the first edition of Three Essays on
the Theory of Sexuality (Freud 1905b), in which Freud extensively examines
sexual development, there is no trace of the Oedipus complex. No word from
Freud on the Oedipal theme in My views on the role of sexuality in the
aetiology of neuroses (Freud 1906) either, although he specifically considers
the importance of sexuality in the aetiology of neuroses. In Doras case history,
Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Freud 1905a), Freud refers to
the Oedipus myth, but then only because Dora blows new life into her
existing Oedipal attachment to her father in order to banish her infatuation
with Herr and Mrs K from her consciousness: For years on end she had given
no expression to this passion for her father. (...) Her own love for her father
had therefore been recently revived; and if so, the question arises to what end
this has happened. Clearly as a reactive symptom, so as to suppress something
elsesomething, that is, that still exercised power in the unconscious (Freud
1905a, 57-58). In this case the childhood Oedipal attachment is a reactive
symptom serving the ends of repression and can thus most definitely not yet

2
3

I n his book The Assault on Truth (1984) Masson argues that Freud obscured real assaults on
children by adults when he renounced his seduction theory.
Also see: Anzieu (1975, 315-331) for a rare exception, see: Blass 1992.
In 1905 Freud published not only Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Fragment of an
Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora), but also Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious and
My Views on the Role of Sexuality in the Aetiology of Neuroses. It is only after the case
studies of Little Hans and the Rat Man (Freud 1909a) and the related anthropological
speculations in Totem and Taboo (Freud 1912/13) that the Oedipal theme becomes more
and more central to Freuds work. It is not coincidental that this turn towards the Oedipus
complex goes along with a shift of attention from hysteria (and literature) towards obsessional
neurosis (and religion). Anzieu seems to confirm this statement when he writes:Hysterical
girls and women allowed Freud to discover the meaning of dreams, while, on the contrary,
an obsessional young man led Freud to discover the Oedipus complex. (Anzieu, 1975, 331,
our translation and italics). In our view mistakenly, neither Anzieu nor Freud concludes at
this point that the Oedipus complex belongs to the symptomatology of obsessive neurosis
and not that of hysteria.
26

Between trauma and disposition

be construed as the core complex of all neuroses. There is no further reference


to the Oedipal theme.4
The fact that between 1897 and 1905 the seduction theory is not replaced
by a theory centered on the Oedipus complex does not, however, mean that
the abandonment of the seduction theory is insignificant to Freuds work.
On the contrary, the myth about the change from real trauma to Oedipal
phantasies diverts the attention from a more interesting issue: between
1895 and 1905, Freuds theory of neurosis is characterised by a number of
shifts in the relationships between accidental and constitutional factors in
the specific aetiology of neuroses. This somewhat technical, clinical issue is
a determining factor for the philosophical-anthropological importance of
Freuds early theory. In 1905 Freud considered hysteria an innate disposition,
an incurable tendency that is an essential part of human existence.5 In this
chapter, we will sketch the evolution of Freuds thoughts on the aetiology
of hysteria between 1895 and 1905. During this period Freud developed a
patho-analysis6 of hysteria: the analysis of hysteria leads him to the exploration
of an anthropological problem that belongs essentially to human existence
but that, in the excess of its pathological manifestation, is expressed in a more
succint way.
From 1910 onwards this patho-analytical project comes under increasing
pressure from a developmental psychical model in which sexuality develops
through a number of stages, finally culminating in victory over the Oedipus
complex. In this Oedipal developmental model, pathologies lose their
anthropological importance. They are no longer the magnified expression
of common anthropological problematics but rather basically avoidable

 efore 1905 Freud only refers to the Oedipus myth in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) in
B
order to understand a very specific issue: the typical dreams of the death of one of the parents
(1900, 256 a.f.). In the analysis of all the other dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams there is
by no means any mention made of an Oedipal interpretation. When Anzieu provides Oedipal
interpretations of Freuds dreams from The Interpretation of Dreams it does not necessarily
mean that Freud is busy discovering the Oedipus complex, the castration complex, etc. in his
own dream analyses (Anzieu 1975). It simply means that Anzieu aims to understand the early
Freud from the perspective of the later Freudian orthodoxy.
After all, Moebius could say with justice that we are all to some extent hysterics. (1905b,
171)
The term patho-analysis and the patho-analytical inspiration is derived from the work of
Jacques Schotte: Freud a fini par avancer lide de ce que jappelle personnellement une espce
doption patho-analytique. Quest-ce dire? Les differentes formes de morbidit psychiatrique nous
montrent en quelque sorte ltat clat ce qui reste invisible comme articulation structurale de
diffrents moments dans la vie dite saine desprit (Schotte 1984, 44).
27

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

developmental problems7 that can be overcome in an ideal case to reach a


psychical normality without any trace of infantilism or pathology.8
We must first examine how, between 1895 and 1905, Freud develops a nonOedipal, patho-analytical theory of hysteria.

1. Trauma and Disposition in Studies on Hysteria


In the first chapter of Studies on Hysteria (Freud & Breuer 1895a), which
had already appeared as a separate article in 1893, Freud and Breuer report
on their discovery that hysterical symptoms are the expression of forgotten
traumatic incidents. For one reason or another, the affects of fear, anger,
excitement or revulsion that would normally accompany such incidents
could not fully develop.9 In such cases the excitation triggered by a traumatic
incident can only be released in physical hysterical conversion symptoms
or other hysterical phenomena. The therapy proposed by Freud and Breuer
involves the reawakening of the memory of this traumatic incident so that
the appropriate affect can develop retrospectively and the excitation can be
discharged (Freud & Breuer 1985a, 17). They call this form of therapy the
cathartic method.10
The five case histories following this first chapter provide ample examples of
how we should understand and apply this theory and therapy of hysteria.
There is for instance the case of the thirty-year old woman who suffers from
hysterical olfactory hallucinations. Miss Lucy R. is an English governess who
works in Vienna and cares for two girls who lost their mother. She visits
Freud because she is depressed and plagued by olfactory hallucinations. When
these occur, she is confronted by a smell of burnt pudding. Freud asks her to
concentrate on this smell and try to remember the circumstances in which she
really experienced it. Lucy then tells the following story: She is cooking with
 Thus our dispositions are inhibitions in development. We are confirmed in this view by the
analogy of the facts of general pathology of other illnesses (Freud 1913b, 318).
8
I see no reason for denying the name of a repression to the egos turning away from the
Oedipus complex. (...) But the process we have described is more than a repression. It is
equivalent, if it is ideally carried out, to a destruction and an abolition of the complex (1924,
177). Also see: Van Haute en Geyskens 2002.
9
Any impression which the nervous system has difficulty in disposing of by means of
associative thinking or of motor reaction becomes a psychical trauma (1892, 154).
10
Freud and Breuer called their method cathartic since the therapy is aimed at recalling
repressed emotions in order to abreact them. This is most commonly achieved by lightly
hypnotising the patient. See Laplanche and Pontalis 1967, 60.
7

28

Between trauma and disposition

the children when the postman delivers a letter from her mother in Glasgow.
She wants to open the letter right away, but the children insist that she only
open it on her birthday, two days later. In this fuss she took her eyes off
the stove and the pudding burnt. But what is traumatic about this scene?
The arrival of her mothers letter moved her deeply since it concerned her
decision to resign and return to England. By doing this she would abandon
the children even though she had promised their mother on her death bed
that she would continue to take care of them. The decision to resign was
inspired by the degenerating relations between the house staff but specifically
by her disappointment in the man of the house. For a long time she had
believed he was in love with her, and since then she occupied herself with
amorous daydreams about him. When she received no further indications of
affection from him, she became so disillusioned that she wanted to resign. It
is at this point that she received her mothers letter, when the pudding burnt.
Only when she told Freud this tale in a detailed way, filled with emotion, did
the smell of burnt pudding vanish like the morning mist.11 It is only during
this articulation that she reached full consciousness of the intensity of her
infatuation and disillusionment, and that the excitation associated with this
consciousness could affectively be consumed.
The analysis of such relatively light and transparent symptoms seems to
confirm Freud and Breuers statement that they arrived at the true cause of
hysteria through this cathartic method (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 3-5). With
this move they polemically position themselves against Charcot and Janet.
According to these French researchers, traumatic events can indeed act as
occasional causes, but they argue that the real aetiology of hysteria should
be sought in a hereditary neuropathological disposition (Charcot) or in
a general weakness of the nervous system (Janet). Freud and Breuer on
the contrary emphasise the causal influence of the accidental factor in the
aetiology of hysteria. Nevertheless, their position is not that far removed from
Charcots. Freud and Breuer are forced to assume a disposition towards hysteria.
Without such a disposition the affective traumas would not be able to cause
hysterical symptoms. Thus the first chapter of Studies on Hysteria, following
the theoretical and therapeutic enthusiasm of the opening pages, ends on a
counterpoint: We cannot conceal from ourselves that this has brought us
nearer to an understanding only of the mechanism of hysterical symptoms and
not the internal causes of hysteria. We have done no more than touch upon
the aetiology of hysteria and in fact have been able to throw light only on its
11

 e complete case history of Miss Lucy is somewhat more complex, but is not vital for our
Th
argument. See Freud & Breuer 1895a, 106-124.
29

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

acquired formson the bearing of accidental factors on the neurosis (Freud


& Breuer 1895a, 17, our italics).
The causal connection between individual hysterical symptoms and
traumatic events is an important new insight but concerns only one aspect of
the aetiology of hysteria. Besides the accidental factor, Freud and Breuer never
deny the critical importance of a hysterical disposition.12 It is possible that this
emphasis on the importance of disposition was poorly received later because
this dispositional factor is specifically discussed in the theoretical chapter
written by Breuer, which was removed from the text of Studien ber Hysterie
in the Gesammelte Werke and relegated to the Nachtragsband.
What then is this innate disposition to hysteria?
According to Breuer the disposition to hysteria is not itself a pathological
condition. With this he deliberately takes a stand against Janet. According
to Janet the disposition to hysteria exists in an innate psychical weakness
(Freud & Breuer 1895a, 240). But Breuer rejects this characterization of the
hysterical disposition.13 He observes that boys and girls who later become
hysterical have lively and restless personalities and are talented young people
with artistic and intellectual ambitions. What they lack is not psychic strength
but the capacity to endure boredom and monotony. This restlessness and
nervousness is strengthened significantly during puberty, when the awakening
of sexual passion subjects body and soul to stress (Freud & Breuer 1895a,
240-241). But not all restless, nervous natures become hysterical. The
specific characteristics of the hysterical disposition must be sought elsewhere,
in a combination of three tendencies: an excessive corporal sensitivity, the
inclination to ward off sexuality, and a penchant for musing and daydreaming
that can become a hypnoid state of consciousness.
The excessive corporal sensitivity refers to the fact that some people have
a stronger inclination than others to react physically to certain stimuli and
events. At the slightest emotional excitement the heart begins to beat faster and
they blush or the colour drains from their faces; when something unexpected
happens they stand rooted to the spot; they truly experience an affront as a
slap in the face. The hysterical body is a too sharply tuned sounding board for
everything that touches affective life. It is as if they struggle to cope with pent12

13

 ven in the case history of the mild hysteria of Miss Lucy R. Freud posits: It should be
E
understood that I do not mean by this a hysteria which is independent of any pre-existing
disposition. It is probable that no such hysteria exists (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 122).
The medical practitioner who, in his capacity as family doctor, observes the members of
hysterical families at all ages will certainly be inclined to regard this disposition as lying in an
excess rather than in a defect (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 240) .
30

Between trauma and disposition

up surplus energy that cannot be confined within the banks of emotional life,
so that it constantly overflows into the motor system, the senses, the vasomotor
and visceral organs. Before an exam or public appearance, for instance,
everyone feels a little stressed, but not everyone experiences hyperventilation,
heart palpitations, diarrhoea, vomiting, shaking or fainting (Freud & Breuer
1895a, 241). In the same way some organic ailments are immediately invested
with a nervous attentiveness that maintains the pain and turns it into
something terrible and indescribable. The hysterical body is not only overly
sensitive to emotionally charged events; it seems compelled to involve itself in
such events. Irksome incidents are then converted into dramatic showdowns,
because without crisis and drama life becomes unbearably monotonous (Freud
& Breuer 1895a, 242).
Hysterical conversion is, therefore, no mysterious leap from the psychical
to the somatic. In the first place hysteria involves an overly-sensitive
corporality capable of explaining a number of hysterical symptoms. As in the
case with heart palpitations or diarrhoea occurring during a stressful situation,
it serves no purpose to seek an associative or symbolic connection between the
symptoms and the trauma. Such hysterical phenomena are indeed psychogenic
since they are the corporal reaction to a meaningful situation, but they are in
this instance not ideogenic since they do not rely on a repressed representation
of which they would be the expression (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 190). Such an
oversensitive body does form this innate breeding-ground of hysteria (Freud
& Breuer 1895a, 244) on which ideogenic symptoms--which are, indeed, the
expression of repressed representationscan graft themselves: If the basis
of hysteria is an idiosyncrasy of the whole nervous system, the complex of
ideogenic, psychically determined symptoms is erected on it as a building is
on its foundations (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 244).14 In the Dora case, Freud
calls this phenomenon somatic compliance (Freud 1905a, 40). The repressed
representations can only be expressed as a physical symptom when they can
graft themselves onto pre-existing somatic afflictions and oversensitivities.15
Breuer is already far removed from a purely traumatic aetiology of hysteria at
this point.
A second aspect of the disposition to hysteria is the tendency to fend off
everything that contains sexual pleasure. Teenagers do not all react similarly to
the confrontation with sexuality. Some seem not to struggle with it too much
and retain an uninhibited innocence toward the sexual for a long period of
 e distinction between psychogenic and ideogenic is essential for understanding Freuds
Th
theory of hysteria. We extensively discuss this in our comments on the Fragment of an
Analysis of a Case of Hysteria that constitutes the core of the next chapter.
15
See Doras cough and shortness of breath in chapter 2.
14

31

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

time. Others meet the demands of sexuality without much objection. This
unproblematic acceptance of sexuality probably occurs among boys and
peasant and working-class girls (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 245-246). Breuer
goes on to distinguish a third category: those that want to know everything
about sexuality and explore the erotic world with a perverse inquisitiveness
via forbidden books and secret experiments. On the other hand there are
those in whom a conflict rages between a great erotic sensitivity and an even
greater moral or aesthetic delicacy. They experience sexuality as something
filthy and in bad taste, as an attack on their integrity: The girl senses in Eros
the terrible power which governs and decides her destiny and she is frightened
by it. All the greater, then, is her inclination to look away and to repress from
her consciousness the thing that frightens her (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 246).
The hysterical abhorrence of sexuality is not just a pathological prudishness; it
is a stifling premonition of the terrible power of sexual passion that will push
all our personal ambitions and lofty ideals to the background in favour of a
foolish frenzy of an anonymous, physical pleasure, of sick passions and beastly
needs, of blood, sweat and the tears of sex and childbirth, of the inhuman
cycle of life and death (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 245-247). It is due to this
abhorrence of sexuality that the majority of ideogenic symptoms in hysteria
maintain an associative or symbolic tie with a sexual conflict or trauma,
because hysterics repress sexuality from their consciousness, and the affective
ideas with a content of this kind which have caused the somatic phenomena
are fended off and thus become unconscious (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 246).
Breuer calls the third factor of the hysterical disposition the hypnoid
state of consciousness. This factor should not be understood as a mere defect
or shortcoming either. In mild cases there is a tendency for musing and
daydreaming. If, during a train trip, you stare out the window and allow your
thoughts to wander, you find yourself in a hypnoid state at that moment.
When the trip is over the daydream ceases, and in most cases only great effort
allows a reconstruction of the contents of our musings. Even in this mild form
of autohypnosis there is already a true psychical split: when we are awake,
the thoughts of the day-dream have become more or less inaccessible (Freud
& Breuer 1895a, 233-235). Hysterics, according to Breuer, are people with
a strong inclination toward a deep hypnoid state of consciousness (Freud
& Breuer 1895a, 247-248). This renders them extremely traumatisable.
When their intense and deep daydreaming becomes preoccupied with strong
affectively loaded images, these affective images in themselves operate as
trauma. Because of the hypnoid state the excitation cannot be discharged
through associative thinking or motor reaction since these impressions were
32

Between trauma and disposition

received in a state in which his nervous system was incapable of fulfilling


the task of disposing of them (1892, 154). Simultaneously, this hypnoid
condition facilitates unconscious images, split off during the conscious thought
process, which get a hold on consciousness.16 Consciousness is then inundated
with hallucinations and visions, in which repressed sexual or traumatic images
return: These are obviously psychotic states (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 248).17
In Studies on Hysteria Freud and Breuer emphasize the causal link between
individual, ideogenic symptoms and forgotten traumatic events. At the same
time Breuers theoretical chapter emphasises that this psychical causality
can only start developing on the breeding-ground of an innate, hysterical
disposition (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 121-122 and 240-241). A challenge to
an understanding of the development of Freuds thoughts on hysteria is the
fact that it is far from clear to what degree Freud accepted Breuers theoretical
contribution concerning the disposition to hysteria. Although he and Breuer
shared the concept of disposition to hysteria, Freud already resisted the
importance Breuer attached to hypnoid conditions during the writing of the
Studies,18 and he became annoyed by Breuers reticence regarding the etiologic
importance of sexual traumas. By the time Studies on Hysteria is published in
1895, Freud is already pursuing a new theory on hysteria in which the role of
the disposition seems to be reduced and in which sexual traumas become the
only decisively specific factor in the aetiology of neuroses.

2. The Seduction Theory


In his 1895 work Project for a Scientific Psychology Freud discusses the case of
Emma, a twelve-year-old girl with a phobic fear of entering clothing stores by
herself. This fear first manifested itself when she entered a clothing store and
saw two sales people, one of whom she found sexually attractive, laughing
16

17

18

 Out of this persisting hypnoid state unmotivated ideas, alien to normal association, force
their way into consciousness, hallucinations are introduced into the perceptual system and
motor acts are innervated independently of the conscious will (Freud & Breuer 1895a,
250).
The bulk of modern psychoanalytical psychodiagnostics detract from the clinical unity of
hysteria by drawing a sharp distinction between neurosis and psychosis, which leads to
a subsequent search for yet another diagnostic label to describe the obviously psychotic
conditions that belong to hysteria.
If, where a piece of joint work is in question, it is legitimate to make a subsequent division
of property, I should like to take this opportunity of stating that the hypothesis of hypnoid
stateswhich many reviewers were inclined to regard as the central portion of our work
sprang entirely from the initiative of Breuer (Freud 1905b, 27).
33

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

about her dress. Emma rushed out of the shop in a panic, and her phobic
fear started developing from this time. This situation alone cannot explain
her panicky reaction. However, further analytical examination brings to light
an earlier incident. When she was eight, she went to buy sweets at the grocer,
but the grocer assaulted her by pinching her genitals through her dress. The
associative links between these two incidents (the laughing of the store clerk,
the clothing, being alone in a shop) help explain Emmas panic attack. The
incident in the clothing store awakens memories of the first incident at the
grocers, and this memory aroused what it was certainly not able to at the
time, a sexual release, which it transformed into anxiety (Freud 1895c, 354).
Emma entered puberty between eight and twelve. She is now physically and
affectively able to react to the memory of the assault which does, however, not
penetrate her consciousness, as a result of which the sexual excitement can
only reveal itself as anxiety. This anxiety then attaches itself to the aspects of
the clothing store incident that are associatively linked to the grocers assault.
In this way a phobia arises of being alone in clothing stores.
This analysis of Emma becomes the exemplary clinical model for the
seduction theory. According to this theory, hysteria is caused by memories
of a sexual seduction during childhood. When the memory of this trauma is
triggered again after the onset of puberty, the childhood trauma retroactively
produces a sexual excitation that cannot be felt as such, thus manifesting
itself in symptoms of anxiety or conversion: Here we have the case of a
memory arousing an affect which it did not arouse as an experience, because
in the meantime the change [brought about] in puberty had made possible a
different understanding of what was remembered. Now this case is typical of
repression in hysteria. We invariably find that a memory is repressed which
has only become a trauma by deferred action(1895c, 356). Here, Freuds view
of trauma has become much more complex than in Studies on Hysteria. The
trauma now establishes itself in two times. In the first instance there is a sexual
seduction by an adult, but at that moment the child cannot react to it since
it (the child) is not physically and affectively able to grasp what is going on.
It is only when sexuality is awoken during puberty that the memory of the
sexual seduction during childhood acquires a truly traumatic character. Thus
the reaction to the trauma always takes place retroactively and is bound to the
actual incident that awoke the memory, while the memory itself does not
penetrate consciousness. The peculiar fact that memory can be more powerful
than the experience on which it is based caused Freud to give sexuality a
decisive role in the aetiology of hysteria. Only in the realm of sexuality can
a memory have a greater effect than the experience itself, that is to say, when
34

Between trauma and disposition

puberty occurs between the moment of experience and that of remembering


(Freud 1985, 163).19
Contrary to Freuds declaration in 1925 (Freud 1925, 33-34), the problems
he was facing with regard to the seduction theory had nothing to do with
believing the concocted stories of his hysterical patients or not. His patients
could not remember these childhood traumas any how. The essence of the
seduction theory holds that the memories of traumas had to be reconstructed
from the analysis of the symptoms: These patients never repeat these stories
spontaneously, nor do they ever in the course of a treatment suddenly present
the physician with the complete recollection of a scene of this kind. One only
succeeds in awakening the psychical trace of a precocious sexual event under
the most energetic pressure of the analytic procedure, and against an enormous
resistance. Moreover, the memory must be extracted from them piece by piece
(1896a, 153). The childhood traumas are not necessarily remembered by the
patient but reconstructed by the analyst from the fragmented descriptions
that emerge through free association (1896b, 165-166).
Freud regards the seduction theory not only as a theory of the aetiology
of hysteria but also as a theory of obsessional neurosis. Obsessional neurosis
also stems from a sexual event during childhood. The difference between
obsessional neurosis and hysteria lies in the fact that the former does not
concern a passive and painful experience, but rather, a situation in which the
child actively participates. The difference between hysteria and obsessional
neurosis, in other words, depends on the nature of the trauma: sexual passivity
versus sexual activity in the childs experience of the seduction. When the
memory of this childhood experience is awakened after the onset of puberty, it
does not lead to fear and conversion symptoms, such as is the case with hysteria,
but to compulsive self-reproach. By virtue of the fact that the childhood
incident does not penetrate consciousness, these self-reproachments attach
themselves to occasional events and absurd defence rituals aimed at warding
off compulsive self-reproaches (Freud 1896a, 154-155 & 1896b, 168-174).
The specific aetiology of hysteria and obsessional neurosis is determined
by the nature of the trauma. The choice of neurosis solely depends on the
(active or passive) position of the child during the original trauma. Thus the
disposition no longer plays any part here in the specific aetiology of the neuroses.
Becoming neurotic rests entirely on the presence of trauma in childhood.
There is no neurosis without trauma. And whether one becomes hysterical or
obsessively neurotic depends entirely on the nature of the trauma. This does
19

In this regard, compare Van Haute and Geyskens 2002.


35

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

not imply, however, that heredity and disposition are no longer important
factors for pathogenesis: The importance of hereditary disposition is proved
by the fact that the same specific causes acting on a healthy individual produce
no manifest pathological effect, whereas in a predisposed person their action
causes the neurosis to come to light, whose development will be proportionate
in intensity and extent to the degree of the hereditary precondition (1896a,
147) The nature of the trauma determines the nature of the neurosis but not
its severity. The latter is determined by a general, non-specific neuropathic
disposition. Even during the seduction theory period, the reference to the
innate disposition does not disappear. The innate disposition still plays an
important role in pathogenesis, but no longer in the specific aetiology.

3. After the Theory of Seduction


On 21 September 1897 Freud compiles the famous and notorious letter 139
to Wilhelm Fliess (Freud 1985, 264), in which he writes that he no longer
believes in his theory of seduction: I no longer belief in my neurotica (theory
of the neuroses) (Ich glaube an meine Neurotica nicht mehr). What Freud
no longer believes in is his theoretical proposition that hysteria and obsessive
neurosis can only be caused by a memory trace of a sexual trauma in childhood.
In his letter to Fliess he notes four findings that lead to the abandonment of the
seduction theory. First there is the disillusioning conclusion that no analysis
could be brought to a satisfactory end. Second, the seduction theory would
indicate that the incidence of perverse adults among the Viennese population
would be inordinately high. Freuds own neurosis would then have been caused
by his own perverse father (Freud 1985, 264). Third, no reality index exists
in the unconscious, which makes it impossible to distinguish between truth
and fiction. And fourth: the unconscious memory of childhood traumas does
not surface even during the most extreme conditions of psychotic confusion
(Freud 1985, 265).
One month after writing this letter, Freud confesses to Fliess:I have
found, in my own case too, (the phenomenon of ) being in love with my
mother and jealous of my father (Freud 1985, 272). He now considers this
phenomenon as a common characteristic of childhood as such, and suggests
that the artistic power of Sophocles Oedipus Rex and Shakespeares Hamlet
should be understood in terms of this general problematic. But we cannot
conclude from these short remarks that the theory of seduction is followed
by a theory in which the Oedipus complex stands central. The abandonment
36

Between trauma and disposition

of the seduction theory does not immediately lead to the discovery of the
Oedipus complex, but in the first place to the re-evaluation of the role of
the hereditary disposition in the aetiology of neuroses. In the letter in which
he writes that he has to abandon his theory of seduction, Freud posits: The
factor of a hereditary disposition regains a sphere of influence from which I
had made it my task to dislodge it (Freud 1985, 265). However, this return to
disposition is not just a return to Charcot or to Breuer. Traces of the seduction
theory can be found in the new theory, since from now on only sexuality plays
a deciding role in the aetiology of neuroses. In My Views on the Part Played
by Sexuality in the Aetiology of Neuroses (Freud 1906) Freud describes the
change in thought after the abandonment of the seduction theory as follows:
Accidental influences derived from experience having thus receded into the
background, the factors of constitution and heredity necessarily gained the
upper hand once more; but there was this difference between my views and
those prevailing in other quarters, that on my theory the sexual constitution
took the place of a general neuropathic disposition (Freud 1906, 275-276).
In 1897, a transition occurs in Freuds thoughts from trauma to disposition,
but the primacy of sexuality remains untouched. Henceforth disposition is a
libidinal sexual constitution.
What does the renewed power of libidinal disposition entail in practical
terms? We find a salient illustration in the case history of Dora. Dora is
seduced at the age of fourteen by Herr K, a family friend. He presses himself
against her and kisses her on the mouth. Dora reacts with intense disgust.
She breaks loose and runs away. Freud does not doubt for a moment that it
concerns a real incident. He does, however, notice in Doras reaction to the
seduction by Herr K an expression of her hysterical disposition: In this scene
(...) the behaviour of this child of fourteen was already entirely and completely
hysterical. I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an
occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or
exclusively unpleasurable (Freud 1905a, 28). Here Freud seems to hark back
to Breuer, for whom the aversion to sexuality was an important factor in the
hysterical disposition. Dora does not react like the peasant and working-class
girls or like the perversely curious boys Breuer discussed, but like those for
whom the confrontation with sexuality during puberty arouses a deep aversion
of the sexual (Freud and Breuer 1895a, 245-246). Thus in this case it is not
the nature of the trauma that determines the nature of the neurosis, as in the
theory of seduction, but the disposition that determines the way in which the
trauma is experienced. The seduction by Herr K is a traumatic experience for

37

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

someone with a hysterical disposition.20 This does not mean that the seduction
is not painful for Dora and that Doras reaction is abnormal. It merely means
that she does not react like a sophisticated Zazie dans le mtro who deals with
the confrontation with sexuality in a boyish, curious and brazen way.21
We can further elucidate this line of thought with a comparison to one of
Freuds other case studies, that of the Rat Man.22 When the Rat Man is four
or five years old, his nannies shamelessly used him as an erotic toy. They allow
him to crawl underneath their skirts and feel them up, ask him to squeeze
out abscesses from their buttocks, and so forth. The nannies know what they
are doing to him, because at some point they discuss the case of one of their
colleagues who was sent to prison for a couple of months for similar behaviour.
For a person with a hysterical disposition this would be more than enough to
remember and rightly so his childhood as a catastrophic series of sexual
traumas. But in the case of the Rat Man, who is not disposed towards hysteria
but towards obsessional neurosis, the reaction to these dubious conditions
leads to a completely different problem than that of Dora. The Rat Man tells
Freud about one of his nannies named Lina: I do not believe she actually
did anything wrong with me, but I took a great many liberties with her
(Freud 1909a, 161). The obsessional neurotics compulsive self-reproaches are
transformations of self-reproaches about the sexual activity during infancy.
According to Freud, Dora and the Rat Mans different reactions cannot
purely be ascribed to the difference in gender but rather to varying libidinal
dispositions; a disposition towards hysteria versus a disposition towards
obsessional neurosis. A different experience of the confrontation with sexuality
is determined by a different disposition.
20

21

22

 uch has been said about the exact interpretation of Freuds statement that he no longer
M
believes in his neurotica. Before we pointed out that Freuds followers and his critics both
read this passage as a confirmation of the fact that Freud (against his better judgment or not)
no longer believes his patients stories and that, from that point on, he would understand
them as Oedipally motivated fantasies. But how can we reconcile this interpretation with
the idea that these stories were in the first place constructions of... the analyst? It appears
above all that the abandonment of the seduction theory cannot be coupled as much with
the discovery of the Oedipus complex as with the (re-) confirmation of the role of a (sexual)
disposition. Finally, it has also become clear that Freud does not for a moment doubt the
reality of the trauma, but only revises his theory on the trauma as the specific cause of hysteria.
We discuss all these elements extensively in the next chapter, but it is already clear at this
point that the existing literature (Masson, Kris and others) does not do this statement justice.
See: R. Queneau, Zazie dans le mtro. During the early years of psychoanalysis Freud indeed
seemed to identify sexual perversion with mental health. He states as much in a letter he
wrote to Fliess about an obsessively neurotic young man: If he could be perverse, he would
be healthy, like the father (Freud 1985, 213).
Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis (Freud 1909a). See Van Haute and Geyskens 2010
for the susceptibility to obsessional neurosis.
38

Between trauma and disposition

This swing from trauma to disposition is not merely a theoretical issue;


it also has a distinct ethical and cathartic meaning. The seduction theory
was a neurotic theory of the neuroses. A double illusion surrounds it: the
illusion of personal responsibility and that of past possibility.23 Every theory
in which trauma plays a constituent role inevitably encompasses the thought
that someone somewhere a perverse father, a mad mother, the Catholic
boarding school or something similar is responsible for how I am. And
if who I have become is not the responsibility of others, then at least it is
my own responsibility and that of my own follies.24 Linked with this is the
melancholic notion that it could all have been different if others had not
done this or that to me, or if I myself had not committed these or any other
follies. Thinking in terms of dispositions, on the other hand, deprives these
illusions of their power. Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex illustrates this point
nicely. That which Oedipus initially experiences as a series of coincidental,
unfortunate incidents and accidents, is in fact the realisation of his destiny
as predetermined by the oracle. Freuds transition from a trauma theory to a
theory of dispositions produces a similar inversion. What determines my fate
is not the accidental circumstances and accidents of my history, but a specific
libidinal constellation that expresses itself in my history and my reaction to
traumatic events.25 Only it no longer concerns, as it did among the Ancient
Greeks, a destiny that, despite being terrible, is surrounded by a godly, tragic
lustre, but a Triebschicksal that is determined by a blind libidinal disposition
that manifests itself as a meaningless, impersonal repetition of the same.26
The analogy with the Oedipal myth goes no further than this. The
disposition towards hysteria, that Freud develops in his letters to Fliess and in
the first edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud 1905b), does
not in the least exist in an Oedipal problem. In the first editions of Three Essays
23
24

25

26

 e use the term illusion here in a strictly Freudian sense. See Freud 1927, 30-31.
W
The focus on disposition brings Freud closer to Nietzsche: Nietzsche denounces our deplorable
mania for accusing, for seekng out those responsible outside, or even inside ourselves (Deleuze
1962, 22)
Freud wrote in 1913: Strictly speaking, only one single general proposition can be asserted
on the subject with certainty. It will be recalled that we divide the pathogenic determinants
concerned in the neuroses into those which a person brings along with him into his life and
those which life brings to himthe constitutional and accidentalby whose combined
operation alone the pathogenic determinant is as a rule established. The general proposition,
then, which I have alluded to above, lays it down that the grounds for determining the choice
of neurosis are entirely of the former kindthat is, that they are in the nature of dispositions and
are independent of experiences which operate pathogenically (Freud 1913b, 317, our italics).
Also see: Szondi 1963, 58. This thought implies neither that traumatic experiences are unreal
nor that they are meaningless. We return extensively to the question of the exact role of
trauma in relation to disposition in the next chapter.
39

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

there is no mention of an Oedipal theme. Rather, the hysterical disposition, as


gradually developed by Freud between 1897 and 1905, concerns two related
factors: the innate bisexuality and the organic repression of the erotogenic
zones. These two factors, which are as such common to humanity, are
expressed in a magnified way in hysterical pathology.
Innate bisexuality. In the letters to Fliess Freud keeps his friend updated
on the case history of Dora. According to Freud the case of Dora is the most
subtle and frightening story he ever wrote (Freud 1985, 433). In the book
he discusses bisexuality and the erotogenic zones for the first time: There
are only glimpses of the organic (elements), that is, the erotogenic zones and
bisexuality (Freud 1985, 434). For a long time bisexuality played a role in
the biological theories of Wilhelm Fliess and, following the abandonment
of the seduction theory, it comes to occupy a central position in Freuds
thoughts on hysteria. Both Fliess and Freud defend a very strong notion of
bisexuality since it concerns both object choice and sexual identity. Bisexuality
implies that one is both hetero- and homosexual and that one is both man
and woman biologically and psychologically, without linking sexual identity
and object choice. Every man or woman is simultaneously man and woman,
and hetero, homo and lesbian. In this manner a sexual relationship quite
soon becomes a very complicated and uncanny mess. Writes Freud in letter
208 of 1 August 1899: But bisexuality! You are certainly right about it. I
am accustoming myself to regarding every sexual act as a process in which
four individuals are involved (Freud 1985, 364). In every sexual relationship
one thus needs to distinguish between all possible homo- and heterosexual
relationships between two men and two women. An understanding of sexual
desire in terms of bisexuality seems thoroughly marked by clinical findings
on hysteria, by the hysterical switching and the slipping of sexual orientations
and gender identities, and more profoundly by the experience of an original
multiplicity of desire. Freud considers the problem of bisexuality a universally
human question, expressed in hysteria in a magnified and pregnant way.
The importance of bisexuality for Freud also becomes clear in the letters
to Fliess in which he announces his preliminary plans for a book that would
eventually carry the title Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The working
title of the book during the initial stages of his investigation is: Die menschliche
Bisexualitt. Freud actually asks Fliess to co-author this book on bisexuality
(Freud 1985, 448). Also, when he publishes the first edition of Three Essays
in 1905, bisexuality runs like a golden thread throughout the book: Since
I have become acquainted through W. Fliess with the notion of bisexuality
I have regarded it as the decisive factor, and without taking bisexuality into
40

Between trauma and disposition

account I think it would scarcely be possible to arrive at an understanding of


the sexual manifestations that are actually to be observed in men and women
(Freud 1905b, 220).
The organic repression of the erotogenic zones. In Three Essays Freud discusses the
erotogenic zones in the context of sexual perversions. The mouth and anus
are employed as sexual organs during oral and anal sex. These anatomical
extensions indicate that there are other erotogenic zones besides the genitals
(Freud 1905b, 150-152). But in this sexological context one should not forget
that Freud did not discover the erotogenic zones in his investigations of human
sexuality as such, but in his clinical investigations of hysteria. There he comes
to the conclusion that erotogenic zones lie at the base of the hysterogenic
zones. With this hypothesis he specifies and sexualises Breuers description
of excessive corporal sensitivity (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 241-242). Let us
illustrate this point with an example of a hysterical patient who presents a
variety of oral symptoms. She can no longer swallow, can no longer speak, she
has difficulty breathing, coughs and complains about a sore throat. According
to Freud and Breuer (1895a) the loss of the ability to swallow could be a
symptom of the fact that she experienced a traumatic humiliation that she
could not vent but that she also literally no longer swallows.27 The introduction
of the erotogenic zones does not contradict this view but complements it. The
lips and mouth are an erotogenic zone, used during infancy to gain pleasure
through, for instance, thumb-sucking. This source of desire is later repressed,
which implies that the oral desire keeps pressing through but now produces
displeasure instead of pleasure. In this regard, Freud writes the following in
Three Essays: It is not every child who sucks in this way. It may be assumed
that those children do so in whom there is a constitutional intensification of
the erotogenic significance of the labial region. If that significance persists,
these same children when they are grown up will become epicures in kissing,
will be inclined to perverse kissing, or, if males, will have a powerful motive
for drinking and smoking. If, however, repression ensures, they will feel
disgust at food and will produce hysterical vomiting. (...) Many of my women
patients who suffer from disturbances of eating, globus hystericus, constriction
27

A particular series of experiences of hers were accompanied by a stabbing sensation in the


region of the heart (meaning it stabbed me to the heart). The pain that occurs in hysteria of
nails being driven into the head was without any doubt to be explained in her case as related
to thinking. (Somethings come into my head.) Pains of this kind were always cleared up
as soon as the problems involved were cleared up. Running parallel to the sensation of a
hysterical aura in the throat, when that feeling appeared after an insult, was the thought I
shall have to swallow this (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 180).
41

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

of the throat and vomiting, have indulged energetically in sucking during


their childhood. (Freud 1905b, 182).
Oral conversion symptoms are an expression of oral desire, which in
someone who is perverse and thus healthy would lead to a predilection for
fellatio. When repressed this desire can only manifest itself in painful oral
symptoms. But how should we imagine this repression of erotogenic zones?
In letter 146 to Fliess dated 14 November 1897 Freud sketches a somewhat
bizarre story to explain this repression: During early childhood the mouth and
anus are sources of erotic pleasure. These zones retain their sexual meanings
among animals. They are sources of sexual pleasure and the smell they spread
arouses the desire of other animals. When humankind started walking on two
legs these non-genital erotogenic zones lost their erotic significance. When
humankind started walking upright, the visual, and with that the genital,
started dominating the sexual realm. Not only do the oral, anal, and olfactory
lose importance through this development, but also became a source of disgust
and aversion (Freud 1985, 279-280). In the present day, this phylogenetic
phantasy can no longer count as a serious evolutionary explanation of disgust
but rather a somewhat fantastical description of the complex dynamic of
disgust. After all, Freuds tale beautifully demonstrates that sexual disgust
presupposes, as it were by definition, an (albeit suppressed) desire [Lust] for
the object which provokes it (Kolnai 2004, 43). In Jokes and their Relation
to the Unconscious (Freud 1905c) Freud actually goes back to the essence of
the matter in a less fantastical way. In this work he posits that the sexual and
excremental are not clearly distinguished during childhood.28 This distinction
has to be acquired during childhood and puberty. The organic repression,
then, is rather a separation between that which is sexual and that which is
dirty. This split is never completely successful. In every human sexuality there
is inevitably a relationship with the disgusting: The Early Christian Fathers
inter urinas et faeces nacsimur clings to sexual life and cannot be detached
from it in spite of every effort at idealization (Freud 1905a, 31). The hysterical
aversion to sexuality lies in the extension of this universally human problem.
In this context Freud refers to hysterical girls who account for their disgust
at the male genital by saying that it serves to void urine (Freud 1905b, 152).
This hysterical mix of the sexual and the excremental does not differ that
much from what is deemed a more normal aversion to anal sex motivated by
28

 This is, however, the sense covered by sexuality in childhood, at an age at which there is,
as it were, a cloaca within which what is sexual and what is excremental are barely or not at
all distinguished. Throughout the whole range of the psychology of the neuroses, what is
sexual includes what is excremental, and is understood in the old, infantile, sense (Freud
1905c, 97-98).
42

Between trauma and disposition

the fact that the anus serves to excrete and comes into contact with excrement.
In hysteria sexuality, according to Freud, is re-absorbed by the excremental,
of which it can never wholly free itself. In this way the hysterical patient
inevitably experiences the confrontation with sexuality as oppressive, perverse
filth.

Conclusion
Freuds thought on hysteria after the abandonment of the seduction theory
does not veer at all in the direction of the Oedipus complex. The turn we
find in Freuds work is from a theory of trauma to a theory of dispositions.
Bisexuality and the organic repression of the erotogenic zones form the basis
of the hysterical disposition (Freud 1985, 434). These components of the
hysterical disposition are, however, common human tendencies that are
present in a magnified way in cases of hysteria. In this way, Freud develops in
his early works a patho-analysis of hysteria in which pathology, by making
things larger and coarser, can draw our attention to normal conditions which
would otherwise have escaped us (Freud 1933, 58). In the next chapter we
will examine how this hysterical disposition expresses itself and surfaces in a
concrete case history and how the ideogenic symptoms graft themselves onto
this disposition.

43

Chapter 2

Dora

Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

Introduction
At the beginning of 1901 Freud writes Dream and Hysteria, the case history
of Dora, which he only publishes in 1905 as Fragment of an Analysis of a Case
of Hysteria (1905a). He writes this study to show that, far from being merely
an interesting pastime for people bored during the morning hours, dream
interpretation can be applied in the treatment of hysteria (Freud 1905a, 114).
For this reason the case history of Dora is particularly suited to providing an
understanding of Freuds thought on hysteria between the publication of The
Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
(1905b). In this chapter we present the case history of Dora in order to provide
concrete clinical content to the evolution of Freuds thought on hysteria as
sketched out in the previous chapter. In this particular case history Freud
succeeds in developing a theory of hysteria in which trauma, symptom and
phantasy are related in a complex way. Reference to Oedipus plays a marginal
role while the hysterical disposition (bisexuality and the repression of the
erotogenic zones) guides and structures the entire history.
Freud first meets Dora when she is sixteen. She suffers from hoarseness
and a nervous cough (Freud 1905a, 22), but these symptoms disappear
spontaneously without treatment. However, two years later Dora returns to
Freud for therapy after her father finds a suicide note written by Dora and she
loses consciousness following a trivial argument with him. Dora suffers from
a range of rather trivial bodily and psychic symptoms aphonia, nervous
cough, dyspnoea, feelings of depression and attacks of migraine for which no
organic basis is discovered. Freud diagnoses Dora as a case of petite hystrie
(Freud 1905a, 23).

1. Two Traumas
At the beginning of his study of Dora, Freud states that the psychic conditions
for hysteria described in Studies on Hysteria (1895a) psychic trauma, conflict

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

between the affects and a disturbance in the sphere of sexuality (Freud 1905a,
24) are present in Dora. Regarding the trauma(s) that played a crucial role
in her life, Doras father tells Freud about an incident that occurred when she
was sixteen: during a boat trip at the lake with Herr K, a close friend of the
family, the latter declared his love for her (Freud 1905a, 25). Dora reacted
vehemently. In response to his declaration, she slapped Herr K in the face and
ran away. Freud immediately notes, however, that alone this trauma cannot
be sufficient reason for Doras hysteria. It is impossible, he writes, to establish
a meaningful link between this incident and Doras oral symptoms, of which
a number existed long before the incident. Some dated back to when Dora
was eight years old. So taken by itself alone the incident has no explanatory
value for Doras pathological state. We have to go back further in time, Freud
decides, and look for another experience that can shed further light on Doras
symptoms.1
After overcoming initial difficulties of the cure, Dora relates another
incident with the same Herr K. This second event seems more likely to be the
sexual trauma Freud is looking for. When she was fourteen, Herr K managed
to be alone with her in his shop. On that occasion, he clasped the girl to him
and pressed a kiss upon her lips, which awakened a violent feeling of disgust
in Dora instead of the expected sexual excitement.2 Freud subsequently
concludes that Doras behaviour on this occasion is already completely
hysterical: I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom
an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly
or exclusively unpleasurable (Freud 1905a, 28). Freuds judgement sounds

 For, as so often happens in histories of cases of hysteria, the trauma that we know of as
having occured in the patients past life is insufficient to explain or to determine the particular
character of the symptoms; we should understand just as much or just as little of the whole
business if the result of the trauma had been symptoms quite other then tussis nervosa,
aphonia, depression and taedium vitae (Freud 1905a, 27).
In fact, Freud takes it a step further. He writes that a healthy young woman that had never
before been approached would normally feel sexual excitement in such a situation. This
passage should be read against the backdrop of Breuers description of possible reactions to
confrontations with sexuality occurring at the onset of puberty, which we mentionned in
the previous chapter. Breuers discussion includes, among other things, those who accept
the demands of sexuality without any problem, something that specifically and often
occurs among boys and also among peasant and working-class girls. Breuer also discusses
youngsters torn between a strong erotic sensitivity and an even stronger moral or aesthetic
sensitivity. Dora undoubtedly belongs to the latter (hysterical) category.
46

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

rather harsh,3 but the implication is that he no longer understands hysteria


as being caused by traumatic experiences; rather, Freud thinks that such
experiences are opportunities for the instinctual hysterical constellation to
express itself.4 Herr Ks seduction lends concrete, historical form to Doras
constitutionally determined hysterical aversion to erotic pleasure. This
reversal of affect from excitement to discomfort takes place in conjunction
with a displacement of sensation from the genital to the oral zones. Instead
of experiencing a pleasurable genital sensation, Dora was overcome by the
unpleasurable feeling that is proper to the tract of the mucous membrane at
the entrance of the alimentary canal that is by disgust (Freud 1905a, 29).
This first scene has other repercussions: from this point onward Dora refuses
to walk beside a man involved in a passionate or tender conversation with
a woman. Freud links this refusal to the fact that during Herr Ks embrace
she experienced the pressure of his erect penis against her body. According
to Freud, she wants to avoid this sight at all costs (Freud 1905a, 29-30).
Freud believes this unwillingness expresses Doras dismissive attitude towards
sexuality and sexual excitement.
Dora reacts with deep disgust to the embrace of Herr K, which Freud
links primarily to Doras past as a thumb sucker. Freud suspects that behind
disgust lies hidden a powerful attraction to that by which one is so deeply
repelled. Dora was indeed an enthusiastic thumb sucker until the age of
four or five years old, which predisposed her to privilege oral pleasure as an
adult (Freud 1905a, 30). The disgust Dora experiences leads Freud to the
discovery of the erotogenic zones, and to their tendency to transmit their
susceptibility to stimulation to other erotogenic zones (Freud 1905b, 183).
These erotogenic zones are the privileged places for (childhood) experiences
of sexual pleasure and its repression, as in Doras case. Disgust is the symptom
of this repression. Freud further writes that the hysterical patient feels disgust
for sexuality and sexual excitement because the early Christian Fathers inter
urinas et faeces nascimur [] cannot be detached from it in spite of every
effort at idealization (Freud 1905a, 31).
We cannot understand this statement or similar ones without referring
to the problematic of an organic repression, which we elucidated in the
previous chapter. In his letters to Fliess (Freud 1985, 279-280), Freud
develops a phylogenetic model regarding the normal repression of (infantile)
3

 owever, Freud is the first to point out that when it comes to disgust, the appeal of that which
H
disgusts continues to resound. This complex, ambivalent dynamic does not characterise all
affects, but it certainly characterises disgust and shame. See Kolnai (2004, 21-22; 42-43) in
this regard. Only these ambivalent affects stand central to Freuds thought on hysteria.
See chapter 1.
47

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

oral and anal experiences of pleasure. A uniquely human sexuality is only


established through its isolation from the excremental functions. This is
unimaginable without the introduction of the specifically human affects of
disgust and shame, and it simultaneously presupposes a complex process of
idealisation (Freud 1905a, 31). Hence, neurotic disgust is nothing other than
an exaggeration of normal disgust. More specifically, the hysterics relation
to sexuality is characterised by the imminent and insurmountable threat of
contamination that the excremental poses to the sexual. According to Freud,
this threat and disgust with erotic pleasure that accompanies it constitute the
(organic, or constitutionally determined) hysterical disposition.
On this point Freud remarks that Dora was suffering from a genital
catarrh5 and that she linked this condition to her fathers venereal disease.
She accused her father and his immoral lifestyle of being responsible for her
(and her mothers) disease (Freud 1905a, 75). To suffer from venereal disease
meant for Dora to be afflicted with a disgusting discharge: Thus the disgust
which was transferred on to the contact of the man would be a feeling which
had been projected according to the primitive mechanism [] and would
be related ultimately to her own leucorrhoea (Freud 1905a, 84). According
to Freud, the connection Dora draws between leucorrhoea, venereal diseases,
and (male) sexuality signals a general rejection or dismissal of the realm of
sexuality. This connection and the rejection that follows from it are based on a
spontaneous association of sexuality with disgusting bodily excretions.
Freud himself is convinced that Doras catarrh is caused by her bad habits.
According to Freud, the reproaches against her father conceal self-reproaches
with the same content (Freud 1905a, 35). On this point Freud writes: I met
her half-way by assuring her that in my view the occurrence of leucorrhoea
in young girls pointed primarily to masturbation and I considered that all
the other causes which were commonly assigned to that complaint were put
in the background by masturbation. I added that she was now on the way to
finding an answer to her own question of why it was that precisely she had
fallen ill by confessing that she had masturbated, probably in childhood
(Freud 1905a, 76). This is Doras secret, which she wants to share with neither
her doctors nor admit to herself. The claim that the link between sexuality and
disgusting bodily excretions finds its origin in infantile masturbation does not
contradict the concept of a hysterical disposition. On the contrary, this link
is nothing other than the enigmatic contradiction which hysteria presents,
by revealing the pair of opposites by which it is characterised exaggerated
5

 atarrh is a mild inflammation of the mucous membranes. Symptoms include the excretion
C
of mucous.
48

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

sexual craving and excessive aversion to sexuality (Freud 1905b, 165). The
link between Doras leucorrhoea (bodily excretions) and masturbation only
dramatises and crystallises a pre-existing (and in itself universal) condition
that lies at the heart of what Freud calls organic repression.
Freud writes that Doras first trauma had no lasting effect. The disgust did
not become a permanent symptom, and the trauma had little or no effect
on her relationship with Herr K (Freud 1905a, 28-29). Neither of the two
ever made much of this incident, nor did Dora pay much attention to it.
Freud believes that despite Doras being on the threshold of puberty she
does not yet possess the sexual knowledge and concrete representation that
would allow her to fully understand what happened to her. Consequently,
the first trauma only acquires its full meaning from the perspective of another
trauma that recalls the first and occurs when Dora is able to fully understand
the first. Freud makes it clear that when the first trauma occurred, Dora was
not yet familiar with the physical signs of male sexual arousal (Freud 1905a,
31). Her reaction did not originate from a specific sexual representation but
reminds one of hysterical girls who justify their disgust with the male organ by
claiming it is also something used to urinate (Freud 1905a, 31). Consequently,
this reaction is the expression of an immediate, still inarticulate equation of
sexuality with dirtiness.
Herr Ks declaration of his love at the lake re-activates Doras memory
of the first trauma. This scene reminds Dora of the first scene in Herr Ks
store, and once again she reacts with disgust. However, Dora is now an
adolescent; she has a more detailed knowledge of the sexual facts of life.
More specifically, she realises that parts of the body other than the genitals can
be used for sexual intercourse (Freud 1905a, 47). Hence, she is now capable
of reinterpreting the first scene with the help of her newly acquired pubescent
insights. Dora was very preoccupied with the adulterous relationship between
her father and Frau K, in which she was also implicated in many ways.6 It
comes as no surprise then that with her spasmodic cough, which, as is usual,
was referred for its exciting stimulus to a tickling in her throat, she pictured
to herself a scene of sexual gratification per os between the two people whose
love-affair occupied her mind so incessantly (Freud 1905a, 48). This makes it
clear how 1. the retroactive interplay between both traumas is determined by
the arrival of puberty between the two; 2. this interplay makes it possiblefor
the first timeto link Doras symptoms to explicitly sexual representations
6

 ccording to Freud, Dora was herself in love with Herr K, and the relationship between her
A
father and Frau K enabled her to spend more time with Herr K. We will return to this point
at a later stage.
49

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

and phantasies. Only these ideogenic symptoms fall within the reach of free
association and psychoanalysis (Freud 1905a, 41).7
Traumatic experiences and their nachtrglich effect continue to play an
important role in Freuds theory of hysteria even after his abandonment of the
seduction theory. Freuds interpretation of the two incidents informing Doras
case history displays a striking similarity with his analysis of Emma, which
we discussed in the first chapter. In the case of Emma, the shop assistants
laugh in the clothing store evoked the memory of her assault by the grocer.
As with Dora, this case involves a fairly innocent incident that only becomes
intelligible in terms of its association with an earlier, more serious, but at
the time uncomprehended, experience. Nonetheless, there are a number of
important differences. Specifically, the fact that the traumas no longer have
any aetiological meaning. Instead, they give concrete and psychical form to the
hysterical disposition that expresses itself in these loaded events. In addition,
reference to this sexual disposition makes it clear why the first trauma has an
effect, albeit fleeting, on Dora but not Emma Eckstein.
Hence, Freud does not replace sexual traumas with sexual phantasies after
1897. In Doras case we see that the sexual fellatio-phantasy is only formed
and repressed through the interplay of two traumas. When the first trauma
takes place Dora reacts with disgust to Herr Ks kiss and the awareness
of his penis, but this reaction is not yet determined by a repressed sexual
representation (Freud 1905a, 31). It concerns an inarticulate disgust at the
sexual; an immediate, affective reaction that destroys the possibility of mental
representation. According to Freud, Dora is not yet familiar with the physical
signs of excitement in a mans body (Freud 1905a, 31). Between the first
trauma in the shop and the scene at the lake, Dora, under pressure from her
awakening pubescent sexuality, forms the representation of fellatio. Herr Ks
courting at the lake recalls her memory of his seduction in the shop, which
now appears in light of this oral sexual phantasy. It is for this reason that Dora
reacts so violently to Herr Ks advances. This in turn further intensifies her
oral symptoms.

 rom the same perspective Freud writes: It is the therapeutic technique alone that is purely
F
psychological; the theory does not by any means fails to point out that neuroses have an
organic basis though it is true that it does not look for that basis in any pathological
anatomical changes and provisionally substitutes the conception of organic functions for
the chemical changes which we should expect to find but which we are at present unable to
apprehend (Freud 1905a, 113).
50

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

2. The Meaning of Doras Symptoms


We still have to examine another important difference between Freuds account
in Doras case history and that of the seduction theory. In the case history of
Emma symptoms only develop after the second trauma, in the clothing store
where her memory of assault by the grocer resurfaces. These symptoms are
caused by the deferred (nachtrglich) working of the childhood trauma. This
is no longer true in the case of Dora. The traumatic embrace by Herr K takes
place when Dora is fourteen, but the symptoms begin appearing when she is
only twelve; some even appear as early as eight.8 During this time Dora suffers
from severe attacks of dyspnoea. Freud does not yet describe Doras symptoms
at eight as hysterical but calls them nervous symptoms (Freud 1905a, 21).
The question regarding their origin has, of course, not been answered at this
point.
Freud links Doras pathological condition to infantile masturbation. He
also wonders why Dora abandonned masturbation. He writes that he has
good reason to suppose that as a child she overheard her parents having
intercourse: The sympathetic excitement which may be supposed to have
occurred in Dora on such an occasion may very easily have made the childs
sexuality veer round and have replaced her inclination to masturbation by
an inclination to anxiety (Freud 1905a, 80). Doras overhearing her parents
having intercourse would have subsequently changed her feelings about
sexuality fundamentally. Freud doesnt explain in great detail how one should
understand this reversal, but we can easily imagine that hearing strange noises
coming from her parents bedroom confronted Dora with something she
didnt understand, or more to the point, something she could not link to any
mental representations. Dora was unable to connect the libidinal excitement
she experienced to specific representations. Here Freud explicitly refers to
the theory of anxiety neurosis he developed some ten years earlier. In On
the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome from Neurasthenia under
the Description Anxiety Neurosis (Freud 1895b), Freud introduces anxiety
neurosis as a separate syndrome. In this article he argues that anxiety arises
when physical sexual tension cannotor not sufficientlybe linked to a sexual
representation, preventing the creation of psychical sexual desire. Physical
sexual excitement is then transformed into anxiety attacks, chronic anxiety or
8

But there is the further consideration that some of these symptomes (the cough and the loss
of voice) had been produced by the patient years before the time of the trauma, and that their
earliest appearances belong to her childhood, since they occured in her eighth year (Freud
1905a, 27).
51

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

other similar physical complaints. These physical complaints are by no means


ideogenic symptoms; rather, they concern purely somatic equivalents to
anxiety attacks or an unspecified anxiety that attaches itself to various inciting
events.
Freud determines that Doras first dyspnoea attack occurred shortly after
she stopped masturbating: Dora wishes that her absent father would return
home soon, and under these circumstances she reproduces the impressions she
received while eavesdropping on her parents in the form of an asthma attack
(Freud 1905a, 80). Her first attack of this type occurred after a long and difficult
walk in the mountains, which caused actual shortness of breath. Once again
we find here a somatic compliance without which hysteric symptoms cannot
arise (1905a, 40). This is compounded by her belief that her father should not
over-exert himself, because he suffers from shortness of breath, combined with
the memory of how much he exerted himself with her mother. Dora is also
afraid she might have over-exerted herself while masturbating. This, according
to Freud, is the anxiety-charged chain of thoughts that accompanied her
first asthma attack. This attack at first expressed a sympathetic imitation of
her father. Soon, however, it also expressed Doras self-reproach. At a later
stage this same group of symptoms, Freud continues, also represents Doras
relation with Herr K: when he was absent she could only write to him and,
consequently, lost her voice until he returned.
Freuds reference to his earlier work on anxiety neurosis seems, once
more, to make hysteria dependent on a traumatic incident the primal
scene where the child is witness to the sexual intercourse between his or her
parents that goes beyond the actualisation of a preceding constitutionally
determined disposition. However, it would be presumptuous to assume
that Freud is reverting back to his earlier trauma theory of neurosis at this
point. The abandonment of masturbation should be understood in terms of
a constitutional disposition that includes both bisexuality and the organic
repression. For instance, Freud points out that the primal scene leads the
tomboy Dora to becoming calm and shy. In this instance he is referring to a
change between a male and a female character (Freud 1905a, 82, in note).
Hence, the trauma also leads to a change between a female background
and a male foreground in a purported bisexual disposition.9 Freud believes
Doras masturbatory activities are related to a strongly developed libido (and
the inclination to repress it), which would also have played a role in her
experience of overhearing the parental sexual intercourse. From this perspective
the workings of trauma can also only be understood in light of a pre-existing
9

We return extensively to this point in the section Bisexuality and its consequences.
52

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

disposition: an already amplified sexual desire gives rise to extreme excitement


that is in turn warded off with a stronger-than-usual defence.
The nervous symptoms triggered by abstinence from masturbation
constitute the anxiety-neurotic foundation for the development of Doras
hysteria. Hence, initially the symptoms are not an expression of specific
meanings that may or may not have been repressed; these meanings graft
themselves on this anxious-neurotic base during the course of her case
history.10 In On the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome from
Neurasthenia under the Description Anxiety Neurosis (Freud 1895b), Freud
already suggests that anxiety neurosis is actually the somatic counterpart to
hysteria (Freud 1895b, 115). Hysteria invests these purely nervous symptoms
and makes them express all kinds of repressed meanings: The hysterical
symptom does not carry this meaning with it, but the meaning is lent to it,
soldered to it, as it were (Freud 1905a, 41). This means that the meanings
that graft themselves onto symptoms do not lie at the basis of the symptom:
When everything that can be got rid of by psycho-analysis has been cleared
away, we are in a position to form all kinds of conjectures, which probably
meet the facts, as regards the somatic basis of the symptoms a basis which
is as a rule constitutional and organic (Freud 1905a, 41). In the case of
Dora it concerns an oral fixation11 expressed in the following order: in thumb
sucking (until five), coughing, dyspnoea and aphonia (from eight), reacting
with revulsion when confronted with sexuality (at fourteen) and, finally, the
fellatio-phantasy repressed during the second trauma (sixteen). Thus, although
the view that the symptom is an expression of a sexual phantasy is not wrong,
this view is incomplete unless one takes into account the symptoms organic
basis. Doras fellatio-phantasy is not the cause of her oral symptoms; rather,
it is the psychical articulation and mental representative of an oral fixation
that has always determined her entire erotic corporality. The oral fixation
lends direction to the sexual phantasy, and the sexual phantasy imbues the
symptoms with meaning they did not have before (Freud 1905a, 83).

10

11

 ike Breuers excessive corporal sensitivity this anxious-neurotic base subsequently forms
L
this innate breeding-ground of hysteria upon which the ideogenic symptoms, which are the
expression of repressed representations, can graft themselves.
It is important to note here that Freud believes that a fixation does not come about through
a traumatic experience of discomfort, but through a constitutionally determined preference
for a particular erotogenic zone.
53

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

3. The Oedipal Legend in the Case of Dora


In his study of Dora, Freud does not need the Oedipus complex to understand
hysteria. The combination of disposition, somatic compliance, trauma and
phantasy, as we described it, suffices. And yet the majority of commentaries,
hailing from some of the most diverse psychoanalytical traditions, not only
provide an Oedipal explanation of Doras petite hystrie but also unjustly
attribute this explanation to Freud.12
It is undoubtedly true, as many critics have noted (Bernheim and Kahane
1992), that throughout her analysis, Freud was constantly attempting to
fit Dora into the conventional framework of heterosexual seduction. An
important part of Freuds efforts are aimed at convincing Dora of her own
contribution to the relationship between her father and Frau K. Freud assumes
that a kind of silent pact exists between Doras father and Herr K. This pact
allowed Doras father to have Frau K as long as Herr K remains unhindered in
his efforts to seduce Dora (Freud 1905a, 34). Freud writes that Dora accepted
this situation for a long time without protest. It is only after the incident at the
lake that Dora starts to criticise her father for his unfaithfulness. The reason
for this, Freud continues, is very simple: Dora had already been in love with
Herr K for many years. According to Freud, her fathers adventure gave her the
opportunity to spend more time with Herr K. Therefore, her reproaches are
in fact self-reproaches (Freud 1905a, 35). We already examined one of Freuds
arguments supporting this interpretation: Doras periodic aphonia. Dora loses
her voice whenever Herr K is abroad and miraculously regains her voice upon
his return. In so doing she repeats Frau Ks behaviour in reverse: whenever
Herr K comes back he always finds his wife in bad health, even if she had been
quite well before his return.
However, Freuds efforts to convince Dora of the essentially heterosexual
character of her desire by no means imply an Oedipal interpretation. Indeed,
Freuds analysis of Doras first dream, which occurs a few days after the
incident at the lake, clearly illustrates that he is not thinking in precisely
Oedipal terms. In this first dream, Dora is awakened by her father when
the house is on fire. Her mother doesnt want to leave the house without
saving her jewellery box. But Doras father refuses and says: I refuse to let
myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case (Freud
1905a, 64). When asked about this dream, Dora tells Freud about a fight
between her parents about a piece of jewellery. Her mother wanted tear-drop
pearls to wear as earrings, and her father gave her a bracelet instead. Freud,
12

For a review of this Oedipal reception of the case study of Dora, see Blass 1992.
54

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

then, introduces a link between the jewel-case (and jewellery in general)


and female genitals (Freud 1905a, 69).13 Freud further remarks that Doras
mother is a former rival for her fathers affections, and that she might want
to give her father what her mother refuses: her jewellery (Freud 1905a, 69).
The Oedipal theme is clearly present in this dream, and Freud writes: I have
shown at length elsewhere at what an early age sexual attraction makes itself
felt between parents and children, and I have explained that the legend of
Oedipus is probably to be regarded as a poetical rendering of what is typical
in these relations (Freud 1905a, 56). According to Freud, it follows from all
this that the dream expresses a revival of germs of feeling in infancy (Freud
1905a, 56) that have an Oedipal character. But is revealing an Oedipal theme
the same as providing an Oedipal explanation?
Dora also mentions that Herr K gave her an expensive jewel-case shortly
before the dream occurred. Freud assumes that receiving an expensive gift
from Herr K means Dora should give him something in return. Thus Doras
mother also represents Frau K in the dream. The meaning of the dream then
becomes obvious: So you are ready to give Herr K what his wife withholds
from him. That is the thought which has to be repressed for every one of its
elements to be turned in to its opposite (Freud 1905a, 70). The question
then becomes how this repression was realised.
Freud links the idea that Doras father was trying to save her from a burning
house with the fact that he used to wake her up as a child in the middle of
the night to prevent her from wetting her bed (Freud 1905a, 72). He suggests
that, apart from their obvious meaning, fire and burning have sexual
connotations. According to Freud, Doras father replaces Herr K, for whom
Dora burns with desire (Freud 1905a, 73-74). It is against this fire that
Doras father must protect her, in the same way that he protected her before
against bedwetting. Freud concludes: My interpretation was that she had at
that point summoned up an infantile affection for her father so as to be able
to keep her repressed love for Herr K in its state of repression (1905a, 86). So
the affection for her father, which goes back to an Oedipal attachment in her
youth, is a reactive symptom in service of the repression (Freud 1905a, 58).
Freud views the Oedipus myth as a poetic expression of something typical
of relations between parents and children. At no point does he claim that
Oedipal relations lie at the origin of Doras petite hystrie. On the contrary,
the memory of this affection is only revived to help repress Doras desire for

13

 or a hilarious literary interpretation of the comparison between jewellery and female


F
genitals, see D. Diderot, Les bijoux indiscrets (1748).
55

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Herr K and, more fundamentally, for Frau K, as we see in a moment. At this


point, Freud is still far removed from the theory of an Oedipus complex as the
nuclear complex of all neuroses that, in principle, can provide insight into the
fundamental dynamic of the entire field of pathology.
But what then is the fundamental dynamic at the basis of Doras problems
and symptoms? We already mentioned organic repression, but this is not the
whole story. Freud calls his study on Dora Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of
Hysteria. One of the reasons for this title is that Dora broke off her analysis
shortly after starting. In a footnote, Freud links this rupture to his inability to
truly understand the importance of Doras homosexual ties to Frau K.14 As a
result, Freud neglects essential aspects of Doras behaviour. For instance, Dora
regularly slept in the same room as Frau K, and they obviously had an intimate
relationship. Dora spoke of Frau Ks adorable white body (Freud 1905a, 61).
Even after Frau K disappoints Dora by not wanting to believe that Herr K tried
to seduce the girl, the latter remains faithful to her. And when Dora is accused
of an inappropriate interest in sexual matters, she keeps silent about the fact
that she gained most of her insight into sexual matters from Frau K. All of
this casts a new light on Doras interest in the relationship between her father
and Frau K. This interest doesnt find its origin in an Oedipally motivated
jealousy, but in Frau K herself: the infantile love for her father is summoned
to repress Doras love for Herr K, but even more fundamentally her love for
the latter hides her desire for Frau K and her adorable white body: These
masculine or, more properly speaking, gynaecophilic currents of feeling are to
be regarded as typical of the unconscious erotic life of hysterical girls (Freud
1905a, 63).
The following quotation regarding Doras case from Freuds Letters to
Fliess no longer comes as a surprise: There are only glimpses of the organic
[elements], that is, the erotogenic zones and bisexuality. But bisexuality is
mentioned and specifically recognized once and for all, and the ground is
prepared for detailed treatment of it on another occasion...the principal issue
in the conflicting thought processes is the contrast between an inclination
toward men and an inclination toward women (Freud 1985, 434). In
Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria itself Freud explicitly refers to the
predisposition toward bisexuality as a determining factor of hysteria (Freud
1905a, 113-114). Bisexuality and organic repression not the Oedipus
complex determine the fundamental dynamic of hysteria.
14

 I failed to discover in time and to inform the patient that her homosexual (gynaecophilic)
love for Frau K. was the strongest unconscious current in her mental live (Freud 1905a, 120,
in note)
56

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

4. Bisexuality and its Consequences


Freud publishes his text on Doras case in the same year as the first edition of
Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality appears. In this first edition, there are
several references to bisexuality as the most fundamental dynamic in human
existence. Freud approaches homosexuality from the perspective of a universal
bisexual inclination (Freud 1905b, 143-144) and regards the occurrence of
perversions in pairs, such as sado-masochism and voyeurism-exhibitionism, as
an expression of bisexuality (Freud 1905b, 160). Also, in the paragraph on the
differentiation between men and women, he refers to bisexuality as a decisive
factor (Freud 1905b, 220). Besides these references the Oedipus complex does
not appear in the first edition. There is a paragraph on the incest barrier,
but that is clearly not the same as the Oedipus complex. References to the
Oedipus complex are only introduced systematically from the fourth edition
of Three Essays, which appears in 1920. So in 1905 not the Oedipus complex
but bisexuality stands at the centre of Freuds views on sexuality and hysteria.
At no point in the analysis of Dora does Freud make use of this apparent but
little-developed theoretical position. Quite the contrary: he stubbornly tries to
convince Dora that Herr K is the true object of her desire. His desperate belief
that girls are made for boys and vice versa blinds him to Doras attachment to
Frau K and, more generally, the possible clinical and theoretical consequences
of his own theory.
Not only does Dora desire both Herr and Frau K, but she is also caught
upas Freud himself sometimes insistsin an ongoing process of (shifting)
bisexual identifications. We limit ourselves to a few illustrations. Freud writes,
for example, that Doras obsessional preoccupation with the relationship
between her father and Frau K is testimony to her identification with her
mother: She felt and acted more like a jealous wife in a way that would
have been comprehensible in her mother (Freud 1905a, 56). In the scene at
the lake, Dora identifies with a young governess towards whom Herr K had
made advances while his wife was away. The young girl told Dora that Herr K
told her that he got nothing from his wife (Freud 1905a, 106). Herr K uses
the same approach during the seduction at the lake. Freuds interpretation is
hardly surprising here. He says to Dora: Does he dare, you said to yourself,
to treat me like a governess, like a servant? (Freud 1905a, 106). However,
Dora is also in love with Frau K. Given these circumstances, it is not farfetched to assume that Dora is here identifying with both Frau K and Herr K.
On the one hand, Dora rejects Herr Ks contempt for Frau K by slapping him
in the face. On the other, Herr K is by law Frau Ks partner, who is the object
57

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

of her desire (and vice versa?). It becomes clear that not only is the object of
Doras desire uncertain, but also that the place from where she desires is far
from univocal.
Freuds constant attempt to convince Dora of her (hidden) heterosexual
desire for Herr K is undoubtedly a result of reigning cultural prejudices
that he was unable to overcome, despite his theoretical findings concerning
the perverse and bi-sexual constitution of all human beings. However, one
wonders whether Freuds emphasis on a natural solution to Doras problems
is not, in addition, meant to protect him from the structural dissolution of
gender identities that result from a general disposition towards bisexuality.
Rather than heterosexual normality, perhaps what Freud wants to protect
at all cost is the idea of an identifiable desire at the basis of the symptoms
from which Dora is suffering. Bisexuality confronts Freud and all of us?
with structural uncertainty regarding not only the object of desire but
also the place from where this desire takes shape.15 Besides the rejection of
sexuality, hysteria is characterised by a structural uncertainty regarding gender
identities. The impossibility of ever reaching a univocal and identifiable desire
in psychoanalytic practice is a result of this uncertainty.16

Conclusion: Doras un-Oedipal Desires


With the exception of Rachel Blass (1992), all critics since Ernest Jones
(1953) have read Doras case history as the first of Freuds case studies in
which the Oedipus complex stands central in the pathogenesis of neuroses.
However, a careful reading unequivocally indicates not only that the Oedipus
complex does not form the core of Doras hysterical problematic, but that
Freud interprets Doras Oedipal bond as a reactive symptom: the innocent,
childhood love for the father gets a new lease on life in the service of repression.
Central to this case history is not the reliving of an infantile Oedipal crisis but
an actual problem: the uncanny confrontation with a sexual pleasure that does
not fit into the natural teleology of a heterosexual reproductive instinct. This
15

16

 emember Freuds letter 208 to Fliess dated 1 August 1899: I am accustoming myself to
R
regarding every sexual act as a process in which four individuals are involved (Freud 1985,
364).
In psychoanalytic treatment it is very important to be prepared for a symptoms having a
bisexual meaning. In the treatment of such cases, moreover, one may observe how the patient
avails himself, during the analysis of the sexual meaning, of the convenient possibility of
constantly switching his associations, as though on to an adjoining track, into the field of
the contrary meaning (Freud 1908a, 166).
58

Dora. Symptom, Trauma and Phantasy in Freuds Analysis of Dora

polymorphous, perverse, bisexual, and (subsequently) radically a-teleological


libido elicits a complex mixture of fascination and disgust in Dora,17 and this
problem is re-enacted in the relational tangle between Dora, her father, Herr
K, and Frau K.
How then is it possible that multiple generations of critics systematically
defended a reading that finds little or no support in the works themselves?
First, the history of the development of the Three Essays on the Theory of
Sexuality (1905) played an important part. We know that Fragment of an
Analysis of a Case of Hysteria should be regarded as the clinical complement
to this work, but that the Oedipus complex is glaringly absent from the first
edition of Three Essays and that Freud, in fact, often refers to bisexuality as
the core problem of pathology. In the later editions and specifically from
1920 onwards Freud progressively introduces the Oedipus complex as the
ultimate explanation of the various neuroses, and bisexuality increasingly
fades into the background. However, it is the last edition of Three essays that
is included in Freuds Gesammelte Werke. In other words, we are reading a text
from 1905 in a 1924 edition, and it is in this last edition that the Oedipus
complex figures prominently. This is why Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of
Hysteria seems to be the clinical complement of a theoretical text in which
the Oedipus complex plays a central role. Combined with Oedipal themes in
the case of Dora, this seems to justify an Oedipal interpretation of this work.
This appearance is undoubtedly strengthened by Freuds authority.
We pointed out that in his Self Portrait of 1925, Freud himself links the
abandonment of the seduction theory to the discovery of the Oedipus
complex: I had in fact stumbled for the first time upon the Oedipus complex,
which was later to assume such an overwhelming importance, but which I did
not recognize as yet (1925, 34). At that moment, Freud and his enthusiastic
followers are concerned only with presenting the development of his oeuvre
as the progressive discovery and articulation of an insight implicit since the
beginning. In the process, this oeuvre assumed an aura it most probably would
not otherwise have had in the eyes of Freud and his followers. After all, it is
a widely held popular prejudice that the development of an oeuvre illustrates
the desire of its author to further unpack (albeit retroactively) an identifiable
truth that was present from the start. In this view, the unity of the oeuvre is
built on the unity of desire of the author. There is no space for irrecuperable
discontinuity in such a vision. It is fundamentally teleological. Freuds search
in extremis for that one (unconscious) desire that determines Doras symptoms
17

 or a phenomenological reading of disgust as a complex dynamic of aversion and fascination,


F
see Kolnai 2004.
59

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

testifies to the same metaphysical prejudice that causes him to cast aside his
own intuitions about bisexuality.
The Oedipal reading of Freuds study of Dora is truly psychogenetic.
It attempts to explain how Dora became hysterical in terms of the familial
dynamic, while at the same timeat least in principalshowing how this
result could have been avoided. The focus on a polymorphic, perverse, bisexual,
and (subsequently) a-teleological libido is at odds with this psychogenetic
approach. Freud implicitly brushes aside the question of how Dora became
hysterical when he writes that Dora reacted hysterically at Herr Ks first
seduction since she was already hysterical.18 Freud then should no longer find
any answers with regard to the cause of hysteria in the reconstruction of the
various traumatic incidents marking Doras history. Almost unnoticeably,
aetiology disappeared from Freuds view. The historical reconstruction only
shows how Doras specific libidinous constitution paved its own way and
applied contingent encounters and somatic compliances to realise itself.
The power of sexual desire, oral fixation, bisexual inclination, and disgust
of sexual pleasure are all constitutionally determined libidinal factors that
determine Doras fate as a disposition, i.e., as a cluster of forces that has the
potential to express itself in a severe hysterical symptomatology, but can also
sublimate itself to religious surrender, feminist militancy, or literary pleasure,
sublimations only announced in a crude caricaturist way in the hysterical
symptom. In the next chapter we look more closely at Freuds development of
a link between hysterical phantasy and fiction.

18

 In this scene second in order of mention, but first in order of time the behaviour of this
child of fourteen was already entirely and completely hysterical (Freud 1905a, 28)
60

Chapter 3

From Day-dream to Novel

On Hysterical Phantasy and Literary Fiction


Introduction: a Disposition towards Literature?
The hysterical disposition need not necessarily be expressed in hysterical
attacks, conversion symptoms (such as in Doras case) and other kinds of
psychotic states1. In fact, the pathological form of expression is but one
possible fate of libidinal forces that form the hysterical disposition. The same
sexual constitution can also manifest itself in a fashion that is acceptable
to the majority, for example in literary activities.2 At different moments in
his work, Freud points to the fact that striking and far-reaching points of
agreement exist between hysteria and literature (Freud 1913a, 73, 1919,
261). When Freud speaks of literature in this context, he refers, in the first
place, to novels, short stories and narratives. This might seem obvious to the
modern reader, but Freud still has one foot in a culture for which the novel
did not count as a serious form of literature.3 For people such as Schiller, for
instance, the lyric, epic and drama were the three true literary genres. In this
classic view, the novelist was seen as a half brother of the real poet (SchmitzEmans 2009, 99, our italics and translation). The novel was, after all, a modern
genre without a forerunner in antique literature that did not have to conform
to specific classical requirements of form. As a result it became a reflection of
the chaotic polyphony of modern life.
1

 Hysterical deliria in saints and nuns, abstinent women and well-brought-up children. Since
these states are so often nothing less than psychoses and are yet derived immediately and
exclusively from hysteria, I cannot agree with Moebiuss opinion that apart from the deliria
attached to attacks, it is impossible to speak of an actual hysterical insanity (Freud and
Breuer 1895a, 249)
Hysterics are undoubtedly imaginative artists, even if they express their phantasies

mimetically in the main and without considering their intelligibility to other people; the
ceremonials and prohibitions of obsessional neurotics drive us to suppose that they have
created a private religion of their own; and the delusions of paranoics have an unpalatable
external similarity and internal kinship to the systems of our philosophers. It is impossible to
escape the conclusion that these patients are, in an asocial fashion, making the very attempts
at solving their conflicts and appeasing their pressing needs which, when those attempts are
carried out in a fashion that is acceptable to the majority, are known as poetry, religion and
philosophy (Freud 1919, 261).
He writes the following in a letter to Fliess: I give myself over to my fantasies, play chess, read
English novels; everything serious is banished (Freud 1985, 404, our italics).
61

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

After all, novels appeared as serials in the newspaper.4 The novel was a
relaxing way to spend leisure time, but could not be classified as true art
(Schmitz-Emans 2009). This depreciation of the novel corresponds with the
view that this inferior form of art is especially appreciated by women and
can be successfully practised by female novelists. Even Havelock Ellis argues
in The Psychology of Sex (1933) that perhaps women such as Jane Austen,
Charlotte and Emily Bront and George Eliot are of equal standing to male
novelists, but that this is only true of the novel genre, which according to
Ellis demands less artistic qualities than poetry (Ellis 1933). In this cultural
context Freud makes two moves. First, he does not consider the novel the
promiscuous younger cousin of real art but as the prototype in terms of
which all other forms of literature can be understood (Freud 1908b, 182183).5 Second, Freud finds no deep affinity between the novel and femininity,
as does Havelock Ellis, but rather, between literature and hysteria. This is
an important distinction because Freud does not consider hysteria a female
privilege.6 But how can we arrive at a clear understanding of the analogy
between literature and hysteria? Arent Freuds comments about the profound
similarities between hysteria and literature (Freud 1913a, 73) a superficial
pathologising that ridicules the greatest achievements of humankind? To
answer this question, we must examine the way in which Freud thinks about
the relationship between pathology and cultural achievement, which concerns
not only striking and far-reaching points of agreement. Pathology is also a
distortion and caricature of its cultural counterpart.7 How then does Freud
understand similarities and differences between hysteria and literature? And
do his views contribute to the understanding of (one or) both? Answers to
these questions supports the claim that the disposition towards hysteria,
as presented in the previous chapters, need not necessarily reveal itself in
4

When Freud writes that he is primarily concerned with the less pretentious authors of novels,
romances and short stories, who nevertheless have the widest and most eager circle of readers
(1908b, 149), he is, in our view, not referring to authors of second-rate novels, as Monique
Schneider claims, but the novel as a second-rate genre in comparison to the real Dichtung
(See: Schneider 2009, 53).
In this regard Freud belongs to the Romantic tradition of Schlegel and Novalis (SchmitzEmans 2009).
See for instance Freuds Observation of a Severe Case of Hemi-anaesthesia in a Hysterical
Male (1886).
The neuroses exhibit on the one hand striking and far-reaching points of agreement with
those great social institutions, art, religion and philosophy. But on the other hand they seem
like distortions of them. It might be maintained that a case of hysteria is a caricature of a work
of art, that an obsessional neurosis is a caricature of a religion and that a paranoic delusion is
a caricature of a philosophical system (1913a, 73).
62

From day-dream to novel

pathological conditions exclusively; this same disposition can also realise itself
in an extraordinary sensitivity to literary pleasure.

1. Hysterical Phantasying
As early as 31 May 1897, Freud writes in a letter to Fliess: The mechanism
of fiction is the same as that of hysterical phantasies (Freud 1985, 251,
Masson translation). But it is only in a number of short works written at the
end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908 that he explicates this suggestion at
length. In Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality (1908a),
Creative Writers and Day-dreaming (1908b) and Some General Remarks
on Hysterical Attacks (1909b) Freud investigates the significance of daydreams to hysterical symptomatology as well as literary creativity.
The day-dreams of hysterics are mostly of a soft-erotic nature (Freud
1908, 145-146). They follow fairly simple scenarios of seducing and being
seduced, heroic deeds undertaken in exchange for the favours of a mysterious
dream princess, romantic encounters and other situations characteristic of
light reading.8 Freud cites an example ridiculously innocent by contemporary
standards: She is sitting reading in a park with her skirt slightly lifted so that
her foot is visible; a gentleman approaches and speaks to her; they then go
somewhere and make love to one another (Freud 1909b, 231). Freud regards
day-dreams of this kind as compensation for unfulfilled yearning for success,
love, and erotic pleasure (Freud 1908b, 145-146). Freuds emphasis on daydreams seems to signal a return to Breuers emphasis on the importance of the
hypnoid state and the propensity for musing and day-dreaming characteristic
of the hysterical disposition (Freud & Breuer 1895a, 248). Unlike Breuer,
however, Freud understands the day-dream in terms of its relation to childhood
and sexuality.
Adult day-dreams are a continuation of childs play. In his or her games, the
child also designs a world of its own or arranges elements from reality in a new
and different way that better fulfils his or her wishes. The child occupies this
world of play with strong affects and in great earnest, all the while retaining an
awareness of the distinction with reality (Freud 1908b, 412). But in the course
of becoming an adult the weight of reality increases, and so do the demands
8

 The hysteric bears a distracted look during the day, so often lost in day-dreams. Here he or
she can be a hero, a great lover, an admired figure. In the day-dream he or she meets ideal
others engaged in the commerce of pure pleasure unsullied by the flesh of reality (Bollas
2000, 167).
63

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

of usefulness and labour. Only that which is real deserves our attention and
seriousness. But that does not mean we can easily stifle our inner childhood
playfulness. Childs play extends into adult life as phantasies and day-dreams
(Freud 1908b, 144). This transformation from play to phantasy comes with
a number of fundamental adjustments. The childhood game is neither social
nor aimed at a public; but it is by no means secret. Children play without
paying attention to adults in their vicinity, and they do not find it problematic
that others can see them playing (Freud 1908b, 145-146). Herein lies the first
fundamental difference from adult phantasying. Adults keep their day-dreams
secret; they cherish them as they would a hidden treasure.9 At the same time
they are ashamed of their phantasies; they consider phantasying childish and
would rather acknowledge their crimes than make their phantasies public.10
This shame concerns, on the one hand, the origins of phantasying in childs
play phantasying is the opposite of work and engagement with the demands
of reality. Adults find it ridiculous and embarrassing.11 On the other hand, the
shame connected with phantasying has another, more powerful source its
connection with sexuality.12
Not only are hysteric day-dreams a continuation of childs play, they
also derive from phantasies that accompany masturbation during puberty.13
When masturbation is abandoned, these sexual phantasies are repressed.14
But during day-dreaming these repressed masturbation phantasies resurface,
albeit in censured form. Versus Breuers hypnoid states, Freud claims that
the hysterical tendency towards day-dreams is a symptom of the repression of

He cherishes his phantasies as his most intimate possessions (1908b, 145).
Ce nest pas ce qui est criminel qui cote le plus dire, cest ce qui est ridicule et honteux
(Rousseau, Confessions, 48).
11
Freuds emphasis on the ridiculous and embarrassing nature of day-dreams is relevant even
today. Perhaps more so than in Freuds time, today we find it less embarrassing and painful to
discuss our explicit sexual preferences than our weak, dumb B-grade movie-like day-dreams.
12
On the one hand, he [the adult] knows that he is expected not to go on playing or
phantasying any longer, but to act in the real world; on the other hand, some of the wishes
which give rise to his phantasies are of a kind which it is essential to conceal. Thus he is
ashamed of his phantasies as being childish and as being unpermissible (1908b, 146).
13
The sexual life of maturing youth is almost entirely restricted to indulging in phantasies
(1905b, 225-226). In Freuds early sexual theory puberty plays a crucial role. It is only from
the onset of puberty that the erogenous zones and the partial passions obtain libidinal power
and psychological meaning (Geyskens 2003).
14
When ... the subject renounces this type of satisfaction, composed of masturbation
and phantasy, the action is given up, while the phantasy, from being conscious, becomes
unconscious (1908a, 161).
9

10

64

From day-dream to novel

sexuality.15 Obfuscation of consciousness, strong pleasure and the shame and


secrecy associated with phantasying all serve as reminders that this activity
retains strong ties to the sexual life of the day-dreamer, even if the explicitly
sexual content of the day-dream has disappeared. Day- and nocturnal dreams
have the same relation to unconscious sexual phantasies. In (day-) dreams
unconscious sexual content is distorted by censorship and dream-work.
Oedipal themes can, of course, appear in these phantasies, but as a
reactive symptom, such as in Doras nocturnal dreams, which we discussed
in the previous chapter. Freud does not refer to this when he elucidates
the connection between phantasy and sexuality. The sexual sources of such
phantasies are not Oedipal desires but partial, perverse drives: The content of
the hysterics unconscious phantasies corresponds completely to the situations
in which satisfaction is consciously obtained by perverts (Freud 1908a, 162).
Bisexuality also plays an important role in these phantasies, even if this is
only because the day-dreamer inevitably identifies with the various female and
male roles that populate his phantasies (Freud 1908a, 164-165): Madame
Bovary, cest moi. Freuds view on sexuality in his 1908 papers on hysterical
phantasies links seamlessly with that of 1905 outlined in the case of Dora and
the first edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. There is no mention
of the Oedipus complex; instead, bisexuality and polymorphously perverse
sexuality (per os, a tergo, more ferarum, exhibitionism, masochism, etc.)16 are
emphasised.
From these day-dreams and phantasies a single track leads to pathology: If
phantasies become over-luxuriant and over-powerful, the conditions are laid
for an onset of neurosis or psychosis (1908b, 148). The hysterical tendency
towards day-dreaming averts consciousness from reality and absorbs the
individual in a world of wishful dreams and idealised images in which sexual
impulses are simultaneously expressed and censored, shaped and repressed.
In this way the day-dream produces a surplus of excitement that cannot
be channelled in motor discharge or associative elaboration and thus only
expresses itself in hysterical symptoms. Freud gives a simple example of such
a case: during a walk in town a woman suddenly starts to cry, for no apparent
15

16

 Hysterical symptoms arise as a compromise between two opposite affective and instinctual
impulses, of which one is attempting to bring to expression a component instinct or a
constituent of the sexual constitution, and the other is attempting to suppress it (1908a,
164).
Closely connected is the fact that in Freuds early theory of sexuality puberty, not childhood,
is the period during which sexuality becomes problematic and conflictual. In this regard
Freuds early theory of sexuality is closer to common sense and experience than the later
Oedipal view, that these adolescent conflicts are merely revivals of the major Oedipal crisis
during childhood. In this regard see: Geyskens 2003.
65

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

reason. When she manages to remember her day-dream, her behaviour


becomes insightful: She had formed a tender attachment to a pianist who
was well known in town (though she was not personally acquainted with
him); she had had a child by him (she was in fact childless); and he had then
deserted her and her child and left them in poverty. It was at this point in her
romance that she had burst into tears (Freud 1908a, 160, our italics). Daydreams are not only expressed in such hysterical crying fits. Real hysterical
attacks are also, according to Freud, phantasies ... portrayed in pantomime
(Freud 1909b, 229). But this track to pathology is but one possible expression
of phantasying. Hysterical day-dreams are also a feeding ground for novels,
romances and short stories. Day-dreams are where creative writers find their
stories.

2. The Novel and Hysteria


The person capable of being carried away by a novel can day-dream without
shame (Freud 1908b, 153). Like day-dreams and masturbation17 the narrative
demands our undivided attention. We become absent from the real outside
world, and our emotions roll with the rhythm of the novel. Reading a novel can
be compared to day-dreaming, but this is not the only way in which the novel
takes advantage of the hysterical disposition of the reader. Many great novels
from the second half of the nineteenth century are themed around the issue of
hysteria: Madame Bovary (1856), Anna Karenina (1877), Eline Vere (1889), De
koele meren des doods (1900), . Not only are Tolstoy, Flaubert, Couperus and
Van Eeden hysterics18 who have elevated their own day-dreams and bisexual
identification with a woman to an art, they are also great diagnosticians who
have described the hysteric atmosphere with extraordinary acumen.19 Freud
discovers that to understand hysteria he needs to go back to literature and,
against his will, become a novelist himself. Freudian psychoanalysis is the
17

18

19

 The loss of consciousness, the absence, in a hysterical attack is derived from the fleeting but
unmistakable lapse of consciousness which is observable at the climax of every intense sexual
satisfaction, including auto-erotic ones. (...) The so-called hypnoid statesabsences during
day-dreaming, which are so common in hysterical subjects, show the same origin (Freud
1909b, 233, our italics).
With regard to Flauberts hysterical aversion to sexuality and corporality, see his letter to
Louise Colet dated 19 September 1852: Moi aussi je voudrais tre un ange; je suis ennuy
de mon corps, et de manger, et de dormir, et davoir des dsirs. Jai rv la vie des couvents, les
asctismes des brachmanes, etc. Cest ce dgout de la guenille qui a fait inventer les religions, les
mondes idaux de lart (Flaubert 2003, 61-62 ).
Regarding literature as symptomatology see also: Geyskens 2006 and 2008.
66

From day-dream to novel

heir of Couperus and Co.: I have not always been a psychotherapist. Like
other neuro-pathologists, I was trained to employ local diagnoses and electroprognosis, and it still strikes me myself as strange that the case histories I write
should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious
stamp of science. I must console myself with the reflection that the nature of
the subject is evidently responsible for this, rather than any preference of my
own. The fact is that local diagnosis and electrical reactions lead nowhere in
the study of hysteria, whereas a detailed description of mental processes such
as we are accustomed to find in the works of imaginative writers enables me,
with the use of a few psychological formulas, to at least obtain some kind of
insight into the course of that affection (1895a, 160-161, our italics).
But the cross connections between hysteria and literature (the hysterical
symptom as pantomimically portrayed novel and the novel as hysterical
day-dream) should not obscure an immense difference that exists between
hysterical day-dreaming on the one hand, and pleasure derived from reading
and writing novels on the other. Freud says the author picks his subject
matter from his day-dreams (Freud 1908b, 152), but that if he simply put his
phantasies on paper, he would burden himself and his reader with boredom,
as well as bring disgrace upon himself: The day-dreamer carefully conceals
his phantasies from other people because he feels he has reasons for being
ashamed of them. I should now add that even if he were to communicate
them to us he could give us no pleasure by his disclosures. Such phantasies,
when we learn them, repel us or at least leave us cold (Freud 1908b, 152153). How then does the author transform the products of his phantasying
into a source of pleasure for the reader? How does he avoid the vicarious
shame and boundless boredom that would inevitably result from listening to
someone elses phantasies? Herein, says Freud, lies arts greatest mystery, which
neither the artist himself understands nor which, if we understood it, would
bring us any closer to becoming authors ourselves (Freud 1908b, 143 & 153).
Yet he concludes Creative writers and Day-dreaming with a suggestion. The
author succeeds in pleasuring us with his day-dreams, says Freud, bribing us
with the purely formalthat is, aestheticyield of pleasure which he offers us
in the presentation of his phantasies. We can give the name of an incentive
bonus, or a fore-pleasure, to a yield of pleasure such as this, which is offered
to us so as to make possible the release of still greater pleasure arising from
deeper psychical sources (Freud 1908b, 153, our italics). With this remark
regarding the formal yield of pleasure as an incentive bonus, Freud refers
to Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905c) in Creative Writers
and Day-dreaming (1908b). In his book on jokes, which appears three years
67

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

prior to Creative Writers and Day-dreaming, Freud uses an analysis of jokes


to illustrate extensively his theory of aesthetic pleasure. For this reason we
must first investigate the purely formal subsidiary pleasure in the joke to
examine whether Freuds aesthetics of the joke can also be applied to pleasure
in literature.

3. Sources of Pleasure the Joke and Literature20


In 1905 Freud publishes not only Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of
Hysteria (Dora) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality but also a book
on jokes, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. During the later years of
psychoanalysis, this book with its light subject matter was regarded, not least
by Freud himself, as a frivolous sidestep in his oeuvre (Freud 1925, 54-55).
Nevertheless, it forms an essential component of Freuds early pre-Oedipal
theory. Jokes is the book on sublimation and Freudian aesthetics. The fact that
he develops his theory of aesthetics through an analysis of jokes, and not that
of serious works of art, apparently discouraged many scholars from seeking
Freuds theory of sublimation in Jokes.21
Freuds analysis of jokes in Jokes and their Relation with the Unconscious
(1905c) indicates that two distinct sources of pleasure can be distinguished in
the joke. In obscene and insulting jokes it seems clear that pleasure is found
primarily in the release of sexual and aggressive instinctual impulses. If these
are not expressed as a joke, they become suppressed or repressed. An ordinary
obscenity or brazenness does not arouse the same pleasure. Hence joke-work
is needed to make accessible desire for the obscene. But this play on words
or concepts is not only a way of releasing erotic or aggressive tendencies. The
word play is itself also an autonomous source of pleasure. This purely formal
pleasure might even be construed as the only source of pleasure in innocent
jokes. Such innocent jokes have no single (sexual, insulting or other) aim. The
only pleasure experienced in the process is that of word play.
How does this form-pleasure arise? To answer this question, Freud
analyses pleasure in innocent jokes. We experience pleasure in word play,
even when other (sexual, aggressive or other) motives do not come into play.
The way in which jokes are delivered is itself a source of pleasure. When we
analyse innocent jokes, we notice that their technique consists in focusing
20
21

 e proceeding discussion of the joke is a reworked version of a section in Geyskens 2007.


Th
The majority of studies on sublimation in Freud attach little or no importance to Jokes
and their Relation with the Unconscious. See among others: Laplanche 1980, Vergote 2002,
Moyaert 2002, De Block 2004.
68

From day-dream to novel

our attention on the materiality or musicality of the words instead of their


meanings. Word play implies the use of words as things, and these wordsas-things take the place of their meaning. The fact that this process produces
pleasure brings Freud to a remarkable hypothesis: when we speak earnestly
and comprehensibly, we deny ourselves word play, and this denial takes great
and constant effort. Freud writes: It cannot be doubted that it is easier and
more convenient to diverge from a line of thought we have embarked on than
to keep to it, to jumble up things that are different rather than to contrast
themand, indeed, that it is specially convenient to admit as valid methods
of inference that are rejected by logic and, lastly, to put words or thoughts
together without regard to the condition that they ought also to make sense.
This cannot be doubted; and these are precisely the things that are done by the
joke-techniques (Freud 1905c, 125). Without the inhibitions imposed on us
by logic and comprehensibility, our speech would be ruled by the pleasure in
rhythm and rhyme, producing a schizophrenisation of language by assigning
precedence to the materiality of language above the production of meaning.
In the seriousness of daily life, it is rare, almost impossible, to find pleasure
in nonsense. Children, and adults in a toxically altered state of mind (Freud
1905c, 125) are the only people still capable of this pleasure. Freud writes:
During the period in which a child is learning how to handle the vocabulary
of his mother-tongue, it gives him obvious pleasure to experiment with it
in play... And he puts words together without regard to the condition that
they should make sense, in order to obtain from them the pleasurable effect
of rhyme and rhythm. Little by little he is forbidden this enjoyment, till all
that remains permitted to him are significant combinations of words (Freud
1905c, 125). Guided by the pleasure in repetition, rhythm, and rhyme alone,
children play with words without concern for their meaning.
But what connection exists between this infantile pleasure and the pleasure
adults finds in jokes and literature? The infantile pleasure that results from
using words merely as things is gradually limited until the use of words is
finally controlled by the prerequisites of meaning and communication.
But this sacrifice to logic and comprehensibility is difficult to digest. The
intellectual effort to speak intelligibly and neatly restrains and suppresses the
euphoria ... that is nothing other than ... the mood of our childhood (Freud
1905c, 236, our italics). It is for this reason that children and psychotics
disfigure and deform language, a sign of their revolt against the power of
seriousness and meaning (Freud 1905c, 125). However, serious adults no
longer derive pleasure from the senseless disfigurement of language. On the
contrary, aside from jokes, deficient achievements of thought such as these
69

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

only arouse irritation, displeasure, and defensive feelings (Freud 1905c, 125).
This is where the importance of style comes into play. The task of poets and
jokers consists in finding a way to continue the pure, meaningless game of
words-as-things, while at the same time steering clear of seriousness revolt by
ensuring that the meaningless word combinations end up producing meaning
(Freud 1905c, 126). Attention to how something is said might be secondary
in everyday communication, but it is of crucial importance to the pleasure
derived from jokes.
Word play produces a primary, purely formal pleasure that provides the
necessary energy to experience pleasure in the obscene or aggressive content of
the joke, avoiding the restraints that usually bar this content. Freud writes: A
possibility of generating pleasure supervenes in a situation in which another
possibility of pleasure is obstructed so that, as far as the latter is concerned,
no pleasure would arise (Freud 1905c, 136-137). By itself an obscene or
brazen remark does not arouse pleasure; it only does so if it connects with the
pleasure in the word play that puts the listener in the mood to drop his usual
restraint for a moment.
Freuds analysis of the distinction between pleasure derived from content
and that derived from form pertains not only to jokes. This analysis is central
to an understanding of pleasure in literature as well. While phantasies are dull,
reading novels is enjoyable because the pleasure derived from form or style
succeeds in making the pleasure of phantasies accessible. The pleasure derived
from the way in which a phantasy is worded aids in conquering resistance to
the contents of phantasies. Without the purely formal pleasure aroused by the
way in which a phantasy is worded, there would be no pleasure whatsoever. The
pleasure derived from form makes possible the pleasure found in the content.
The author conquers his own embarrassment and self-reproach concerning
disclosure of his day-dreams and steers clear of the readers since he is in the
grip of another pleasure, derived from wording, which itself harks back to the
infantile echolalias and the euphoric mood of childhood.22 This purely formal
or aesthetic pleasure serves as an incentive bonus through which the reader
also surrenders to day-dreaming while reading novels: The writers enabling
us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or
shame (Freud 1908b, 153).
22

 egarding the obsession with the way in which, with the pleasure derived from style, see
R
Flauberts letter to Louise Colet dated 16 January 1852: Ce qui me semble beau, ce que je
voudrais faire, cest un livre sur rien, un livre sans attache extrieure, qui se tiendrait de lui-mme
par la force interne de son style, comme la Terre sans tre soutenue se tient en lair (Flaubert
2003, 19).
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From day-dream to novel

Conclusion: The Novel as Sublimation of Hysteria


For Freud, as for Breuer, the inclination towards day-dreaming is an essential
characteristic of the hysterical disposition. But Freud views day-dreaming not
only as a breeding ground for hysterical symptoms; the day-dream itself is a
symptom of the hysterical repression of sexuality. Day-dreams are substitute
gratifications that replace repressed pubescent masturbation phantasies. Hence
day-dreams, like nocturnal dreams, mostly produce only a paltry, inarticulate
pleasure. The novel absorbs this paltry pleasure in another, strictly formal or
aesthetic delight. It is only by virtue of this aesthetic delight that the daydream can display its full power, as literature. This affinity between hysteria
and the novel is especially valid in the case of novels written during Freuds
time. It is less clear how hysteria finds expression in modernist literature of
the twentieth century. During the twentieth century romantic films take
over the role of sublimated social day-dreams from the novel. Today cinema
is a gigantic day-dream factory with countless films about love affairs and
sentimental erotica in which the viewer gives free rein to his multiple bisexual
identifications with heroes and heroines. Twentieth century romantic films,
and novels from the second half of the nineteenth century, are sublimations of
the hysterical day-dream. But we should not primarily consider sublimation
a diminution of sexual pleasure; rather, we should see it as the intensification
and unleashing of the pleasure in day-dreaming. For this reason we should
also detach the idea of sublimation from that of creativity. Writing novels is
not the only form of sublimation. Reading is also sublimation. While reading
novels or watching films, the various components of the hysterical disposition
express themselves in a non-symptomatic, powerful and pleasurable way. The
bent for day-dreaming, bisexual identifications and the sentimentalization of
sexuality are, after all, only fully deployed when they are seduced by a purely
formal, or aesthetic subsidiary pleasure (Freud 1908b, 153).
For that matter, the biographies of many artists indicate that the devel
opment of non-symptomatic manifestations of passion does not imply that
the symptomatic nature declines or disappears in the process. As creatures
of passion, humans represent a strenuous relationship between culture and
pathology. In the case of hysteria, this implies that the hysterical disposition
can manifest itself in not only attacks, conversion symptoms, and psychotic
conditions, but also literary and artistic activities. From the perspective
of the drives, no real or structural distinction exists between these various
manifestations. In other words, the distinction between the pathological
and cultural expressions of the hysterical disposition is by no means a re71

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

importation of a qualitative distinction between normality and pathology, or


between a pathological form of hysteria and a so-called normal hysteria. The
distinction between psychosis, neurosis, and normality, which has become
popular in the psychoanalytical diagnostics, cannot do justice to the dynamic
unity and complexity of hysteria and its psychotic, neurotic, and poetic
components. We return to this point at a later stage, during our discussion of
Lacans vision of the relationship between hysteria and poetry.23

23

See chapters 5 and 6.


72

Chapter 4

The Indifference of a Healthy Lesbian


Bisexuality versus the Oedipus Complex

Introduction
After Dora, women disappear from Freuds oeuvre for a while. From 1909 his
work is concerned with boys and men such as little Hans (1909c), the Rat
Man (1909a), Leonardo (1910), Schreber (1911) and the Wolf Man (1918
[1914]). At the same time, Freuds clinical interests move from hysteria to
obsessional neurosis and paranoia. The theme of bisexuality also fades into
the background. It is in this changed clinical context that Freud develops a
completely new theory in which the Oedipus complex stands central and all
other forms of psychopathology are understood as failed attempts at warding
off the Oedipal conflict. Only in 1920, fifteen years after the publication of
his case history of Dora, does Freud again write a case study on a woman,
Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman.1 In this instance, it is
not a case history of an illness, since Freud emphasises that this woman was
never neurotic and never showed a single hysterical symptom (Freud 1920,
155). A close reading of this text nevertheless brings to light a number of
important theoretical and clinical problems that continue to cast a shadow
over psychoanalysis, problems connected with themes discussed in previous
chapters: the Oedipus complex versus bisexuality, trauma versus disposition,
psychogenesis versus pathoanalysis. Our reading of this case study shows that
Freud problematises the central position the Oedipus complex had come to
occupy in his metapsychology and that he once again places bisexuality in the
foreground. First we sketch how, following the case of Dora, bisexuality recedes
into the margins of psychoanalysis in favour of the Oedipus complex. Only
in this way does the importance of Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in
a Woman become clear.

He also wrote a short article about a case of paranoia in a woman in 1915 (Freud 1915).
73

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

1. From Bisexuality to the Oedipus Complex


In the case history of Dora, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905a),
the Oedipal theme only plays the role of a reactive symptom, repressing
another more fundamental conflict (Freud 1905a, 58). According to Freud,
this other problem points in the direction of bisexuality. Doras infatuation
with her father and Herr K is strengthened because these heterosexual interests
help to repress Doras homosexual desires for Frau K (Freud 1905a, 120). But
it is not only at the level of object relations that Doras problem is characterised
by a bisexual conflict. Freud also describes the change of character that
accompanies abstinence from childhood masturbation in terms of bisexual
conflict. Little Dora, who sucks her thumb and masturbates, is a wild
creature. But a change of character sets in when she abandons masturbation.
The wild creature becomes quiet and well-behaved: As though she had been
a boy up till that moment, and had then become girlish for the first time.
She had in truth been a wild creature; but after the asthma she became quiet
and well-behaved. That illness formed the boundary between two phases of her
sexual life, of which the first was masculine in character, and the second feminine
(Freud 1905a, 82, in note, our italics). Bisexuality is an important pillar in
Freuds early theory of hysteria. This is apparent in not only Doras case, but
also the first edition of Three Essays2 as well as a number of shorter works such
as Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality (1908a).
Beginning in 1909 bisexuality becomes a marginal theme in Freuds
oeuvre. From then on his clinical interests move from hysteria to obsessional
neurosis (and paranoia). In the clinical experience of obsessional neurosis,
Freud discovers the father complex. His analysis of the Rat Man brings
to light a connection between the Rat Mans obsessional neurosis and the
ambivalent relationship with his deceased father.3 This already emerges in the
reconstruction of the most important incident from the Rat Mans childhood:
When he was about four years old, the Rat Man received a thrashing from
his father. The little boy had flown into a terrible rage and had hurled
abuse at his father even while he was under his blows. But as he knew no
bad language, he had called him all the names of common objects that he
could think of, and had screamed: You lamp! You towel! You plate! and so
2

 Since I [through W. Fliess] have become acquainted with the notion of bisexuality I have
regarded it as the decisive factor, and without taking bisexuality into account I think it would
scarcely be possible to arrive at an understanding of the sexual manifestations that are actually
to be observed in men and women (Freud 1905b, 220)
With regard to the father complex in the symptomatology of obsessional neurosis, see: Van
Haute and Geyskens 2010.
74

The indifference of a healthy lesbian

on (1909, 205). The Rat Man believes the power of his own rage at that time
must have frightened him so badly that it turned him into a coward (1909,
206). Since that incident his fear of that rage had run ahead of its expression.
Suppressed rage toward the father is the key element of Freuds unrivalled
symptomatology of obsessional neurosis.
In Totem and Taboo (1913b), Freud takes ambivalence towards the father
as the focal point in his elucidation of the connection between obsessional
neurosis and religion. Just as hysterical daydreams link hysteria and literature,
the ambivalent relationship with the father, which leads to all kinds of obsessive
rituals, establishes the link between obsessional neurosis and religion. Religion
and obsessional neurosis both deal with the same kind of libidinous problem,
but in religion this issue is dealt with in a fashion that is acceptable to the
majority (Freud 1919, 261). But Totem and Taboos significance also lies
in the way it highlights a shift in Freuds thought. In this text Freud very
explicitly attempts to untie a number of elements he discovers in his analysis
of obsessional neurosis, from the specific context of that neurosis, and then
presents these elements as phenomena that play a decisive role in hysteria
and paranoia as well. In this way, obsessional neurosis becomes a model
according to which the whole domain of psychoneuroses can be considered.
At the same time, various psychoneuroses are now understood in terms of a
number of concepts that explain how the human mind operates as such, and
can be applied in a secondary way to the analysis of the various neuroses. This
is how Freud abandons his pathoanalytic perspective; he no longer considers
human desire from the perspective of pathology, but considers pathology
from the point of view of a general psychological theory that might also be
applied to psychoneuroses. We shall illuminate this subtle yet dramatic shift
by discussing some elements that Freud discovers in his analysis of obsessional
neurosis. In Totem and Taboo Freud discusses the omnipotence of thoughts
as a typical characteristic of obsessional neurosis. The Rat Man, for example,
has the unsettling feeling that what he thinks, wishes, or fears really happens
shortly thereafter. When he thinks of someone he has not seen for a while he
runs into that person a day later. When in rage he wishes someone would have
a stroke, that person dies a few weeks later. These alarming foreshadowings,
which create the impression that thoughts have power over real events, belong
pre-eminently to the symptomatology of obsessional neurosis. At the same
time, however, Freud wants to divorce the omnipotence of thoughts from
the specific symptomatology of obsessional neurosis, giving it a wider reach:
We must not be misled into supposing that it is a distinguishing feature
of this particular neurosis [obsessional neurosis], for analytic investigation
75

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

reveals the same thing in the other neuroses [hysteria and paranoia] as well
(Freud 1913b, 86, our additions in parentheses). When Freud attempts to
illustrate the omnipotence of thoughts in hysteria, however, this concept
immediately loses its specificity. So Freud writes that the omnipotence of
thoughts also plays a role in hysteria since hysterics repeat in their attacks
and fix by means of their symptoms (...) experiences which have occurred in
that form only in their imagination (Freud 1913b, 86). That unconscious
phantasies, daydreams, and a subsequent alienation from reality form an
important part of hysteria is a known fact, but if it is also an example of the
omnipotence of thoughts as Freud claims, then the content of this concept
becomes vague indeed. That which initially refers to a specific experience in
the symptomatology of obsessional neurosis is watered down to the general
thought that unconscious phantasies influence our relationships with reality.
We are not arguing that psychoanalytic theory should limit itself to the
strictly clinical domain of pathology, refraining from making general claims
regarding human nature. However, psychoanalysis should consider human
nature from the perspective of various psychoneurotic problems and their
relation to specific cultural forms. Freuds analysis of obsessional neurosis and
religion illuminates one of these common human problems. However, it does
not follow that it is meaningful to extend and generalise the concepts used to
explain this particular obsessional neurotic-religious constellation, creating a
common psychology independent of this specific field.
The most extreme and catastrophic case of such an extension and gener
alisation is that of the father or Oedipus complex. In the analysis of the Rat
Man, his obsessional neurosis seems closely connected with his ambivalent
relationship with his father. A fearful reverence for his father in heaven
overcompensates for a repressed, rebellious rage against him (Freud 1909a,
239). Freud finds in this a point of departure for his examination of the
origin of religion from the father complex. Based on various anthropological
findings he constructs the well-known myth of the primal horde and patricide.
At one time a tyrannical primal father existed who kept all the women to
himself and chased his sons away or castrated them when they laid hands on
his women. But the banished sons form a bond of brothers. Together they
kill the father, drink his blood, and eat of his body. Only once their rage
subsides do they feel guilty and mourn his death, since not only did they
hate their father, but also loved and admired him. Because of this guilt they
impose two bans on themselves: the killing of clan members is forbidden and,
as a result of deferred (nachtrgliche) obedience to the father, having sexual
intercourse with the women of the clan is taboo. Freud says this primal drama
76

The indifference of a healthy lesbian

of patricide, incest, guilt, and penance lies at the heart of every religion (Freud
1913b, 147-148). Apart from the credibility of Freuds criticism of religion, it
is clear that his understanding of what religion entails is strongly determined
by his point of departure in the analysis of obsessional neurosis. Religion, for
Freud, primarily concerns feelings of guilt, taboos, and rituals that exert an
unmotivated compulsion. Thus religion in as far as obsessional neurosis is
the caricature thereof. According to Freud, however, the drama of the primal
horde explains not only the origin of religion; the ban on patricide and incest
reflects the two crimes of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his
mother, as well as (...) the two primal wishes of children, the insufficient
repression or the re-awakening of which forms the nucleus of perhaps every
psychoneurosis (Freud 1913b, 132, our italics). Hence, with regard to the
Oedipus complex, Freud moves from one element of the symptomatology
of obsessional neurosis (the typical obsessional neurotic hate/love of the
father figure) to a generalisation of the Oedipus complex as the core of all
psychoneuroses via a number of anthropological speculations regarding the
origin of religion. In the process, the Oedipus complex loses the specificity
that it had in relation to the symptomatology of obsessional neurosis.
At the same time, this extension and dilution of the Oedipus complex
brings about the Oedipalization of hysteria. Doras childhood attachment to
her father and the fact that she behaves like a jealous spouse when it comes
to the relationship between her father and Frau K becomes the core of Doras
hysterical problem, no longer a reactive symptom serving the repression of
homosexual interest in Frau K. Moreover, Frau K now becomes a mother
substitute in the Oedipal scheme, and Herr K and Freud himself become
substitutes for the childhood father figure.
In this way, the disturbing actuality of transference love disappears. From
this point on, the analyst knows a priori that hysterical patients who fall in
love with him allow themselves to be misled by an imitation of the original
Oedipal figures. In this case it concerns a transfer of childhood love objects
to that of the relationship with the analyst. In the psychoanalytic tradition the
transference is a process of actualisation of unconscious wishes. Transference
uses specific objects and operates in the framework of a specific relationship
established with these objects. Its context par excellence is the analytic situation;
in the transference, infantile prototypes re-emerge and are experienced with a
strong sensation of immediacy (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973, 455). Doras
actual relationship with Herr K and Freud comes to be understood as a replay
of her infant attachment to her father.

77

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

In psychoanalytic literature the case of Dora is most often presented


as a blessing in disguise, a kind of failure in therapy that was essential to
the discovery of transference love. But perhaps this discovery is also a
way in which Freud withdraws from the troubling reality of love in the
psychoanalytic situation.4 The madness of love, which Freud discovers in the
cure of hysterics, is derealised by viewing this love as a replay of an Oedipal
drama from childhood: To put it another way: a whole series of psychological
experiences are revived, not as belonging to the past, but as applying to the
person of the physician at the present moment (Freud 1905a, 116). The
task of the analyst then becomes one of referring this transference back to
Oedipal figures from the past that lie at its base. In this way the cure becomes
a nostalgic theatre and a shadow play. Such Oedipalising of hysteria and
the concomitant interpretation of love as transference is, perhaps, also an
attempt to avoid the hysterical madness of love without literally having to
flee it as did Breuer did from Anna O.5
The establishment of the Oedipus complex as the core of all neuroses goes
hand in hand with a rejection of the importance of bisexuality. The psychical
conflict at the base of neuroses becomes one between the interests of the ego
on the one hand and reliving Oedipal desires on the other, and not between
different sexual tendencies. Thus, in the case study of the Wolf Man, Freud
explicitly resists sexualisation of the psychical conflict: It would seem palpably
obvious that the repression and the formation of the neurosis must have
originated out of the conflict between masculine and feminine tendencies,
that is out of bisexuality. This view of the situation, however, is incomplete.
Of the two conflicting sexual impulses one was ego-syntonic, while the other
offended the boys narcissistic interest; it was on that account that the latter
underwent repression (Freud 1918, 110, our italics). Repression stems from
the narcissism of the ego and is no longer the result of the conflict between
male and female tendencies.
This short sketch of the path that leads Freud from bisexuality to the
Oedipus complex after 1905 is a sufficient starting point for our reading of
Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman (1920). In this case study
4

 Freud is caught in a ceaseless struggle to undo the transference: there is a msalliance, a


false connection (I am not he who you take me to be) because amorous passion reappears
with the transference. Freud was more at ease with the analysis of infantile sexuality, which
belonged to the past, and with the daydreams connected to it, than with the reality of love in
the psychoanalytic situation (Green 1972, 226, our italics).
After Breuer made Anna O.s symptoms disappear through the cathartic method, she fell
madly in love with him, which deeply embarrassed Breuer. This frightening experience left
him diffident towards the cathartic method, and he left its subsequent development to his
enthusiastic young colleague Sigmund Freud.
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The indifference of a healthy lesbian

Freud comes up against the boundaries of the psychogenetic Oedipal model


he developed in previous years; he also returns to bisexuality for the last time.
Issues of trauma and disposition are also discussed most explicitly in this work.

2. From Oedipus Complex to Bisexuality


The homosexual woman who consults Freud undoubtedly reminds him of
Dora. She is also a good-looking and intelligent eighteen-year-old woman
from a distinguished family whose father sends her to Freud following a failed
suicide attempt; the homosexual womans analysis also ends prematurely.
Unlike Dora, however, this woman is not at all hysterical. What then brings
her to Freud? She falls in love with a lady ten years her senior who comes from
a prominent family but maintains a questionable lifestyle. The parents of the
girl believe the older woman is nothing short of a tart. But the girl does not
let this put her off. She devotes her entire life to honouring her friend. She
neglects her own development, her friends, and all interests not connected
to her infatuation. The only thing she desires is the presence of her lady love.
For her it is not about sex; rather, she behaves like a courtly lover. Her parents
strongly oppose this infatuation. Her mother is particularly concerned about
what people will think, but her father reacts with angry indignation and
bitterness.
Their concern is magnified since this is not the first time their daughter has
fallen in love with a woman, while she has never shown any interest in the
opposite sex (Freud 1920, 147-50). Her interest in young boys was actually
aimed at their mothers (Freud 1920, 155-156).
One day while walking through the streets of Vienna with her lady friend,
she runs into her father. He meets her eye with an ominous, evil gaze (einem
zornigen Blick, der nichts Gutes ankndigte) and keeps on walking (Freud
1920, 148). When the older woman finds out that the man with the evil gaze
is the girls father, she orders the girl to stop seeing her and end the whole
affair (Freud 1920, 162). Upon hearing this the girl jumps over a wall into the
Viennese metro system. More than once Freud emphasises the fact that this
was a serious suicide attempt without, fortunately, permanent consequences.
Following this suicide attempt the parents become so concerned they put
aside psychoanalysis shady reputation and send their daughter to Freud. He
is tasked with bringing her back to a state of normality (Freud 1920, 148).
Freud says there are, however, a number of elements that seriously hamper his
ability to do so. The girl does not come to analysis out of her own volition. She
79

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

is sent by her parents. Moreover, she cannot imagine not being homosexual.
In other words, she does not suffer from an inner conflict: The girl was not in
any way ill (she did not suffer from anything in herself, nor did she complain
of her condition) (Freud 1920, 150). Despite these practical objections,
there is common ground between her parents normopathy and Freuds view
of homosexuality. Like her father, Freud thinks she became homosexual. He
even believes he can reconstruct with complete certainty and almost without
a gap (Freud 1920, 147) the origin and development of her homosexuality.
How and for what reason then did the girl become homosexual?
Freud believes the girls homosexuality is a reaction to an Oedipal trauma.
When she was sixteen her mother gave birth to a son. For the sixteen-year-old
girl it was an enormous affront since, as a result of her unconscious Oedipal
desire for her father, she wishes for a child from him herself: It was just
when the girl was experiencing the revival of her infantile Oedipus complex
at puberty that she suffered her great disappointment. She became keenly
conscious of the wish to have a child, and a male one; that what she desired
was her fathers child and an image of him, her consciousness was not allowed
to know. And what happened next? It was not she who bore the child, but her
unconsciously hated rival, her mother. Furiously resentful and embittered, she
turned away from her father and from men altogether (Freud 1920, 157).
The heterosexual desire aimed at the father is frustrated, and the fact that the
father reacts so furiously to his daughters homosexual infatuation turns her
homosexuality into a weapon of retribution. The girl becomes homosexual as a
result of her disappointment with her father, and she remains homosexual for
the sake of revenge: Henceforth she remained homosexual out of defiance
against her father (Freud 1920, 159). Freud believes that in the process
another Oedipal inspired motive is added. Through her homosexuality,
the girl evades female rivalry with her mother (Freud 1920, 158), still a
youngish woman, who was evidently unwilling to give up her own claims to
attractiveness (Freud 1920, 149).
An Oedipal psychogenetic theory of this type, which explains how some
one becomes homosexual (or hysterical, paranoid, masochistic or otherwise
abnormal), is extraordinarily reassuring because it implies that real homo
sexuality (or hysteria, paranoia or masochism) does not exist.6 In the case of
the homosexual girl, her homosexuality is merely a reaction to disappointed
heterosexual desires.7 Freud seems to realise that a psychogenetic Oedipal
6

 We have made a survey of the forces which led the girls libido from the normal Oedipus
attitude into that of homosexuality, and of the psychical paths traversed by it in the process
(Freud 1920, 167, our italics).
See: Vandermeersch 2008.
80

The indifference of a healthy lesbian

explanation of this type cannot be the final word. However, his uncertainty
initially surfaces as denial. Before explaining his Oedipal construction, he
posits: The position of affairs which I shall now proceed to lay bare is not
a product of my inventive powers; it is based on such trustworthy analytic
evidence that I can claim objective validity for it (Freud 1920, 156, our italics).
Freuds explicit emphasis on the objectivity and reliability of his interpretation
raises suspicion that his self-confidence is shaken. His confidence in the
reliability of his Oedipal construction is further undermined by the reaction
of his patient. When Freud shares one of his Oedipal constructions with the
girl, she reacts with obvious indifference: Once when I expounded to her a
specially important part of the theory, one touching her nearly, she replied in
an inimitable tone, How very interesting, as though she were a grande dame
being taken over a museum and glancing through her lorgnon at objects to
which she was completely indifferent (Freud 1920, 163). Freud is not the
kind of analyst who believes that a patients lack of recognition and acceptance
at his interpretation can likely be ascribed to resistance on the patients part.
On the contrary, the lesbian girls ironic indifference sets him thinking.
Freud wonders why she turns to homosexuality in reaction to the Oedipal
trauma. Bitter disillusionment regarding her father did not in itself lead
to homosexuality. She might also have become hysterical or neurotic or
depressed in reaction to this disappointment: We do not, therefore, mean
to maintain that every girl who experiences a disappointment such as this of
the longing for love that springs from the Oedipus attitude at puberty will
necessarily on that account fall a victim to homosexuality. On the contrary,
other kinds of reactions to this trauma are undoubtedly commoner. If so,
however, there must have been present in this girl special factors that turned
the scale, factors outside the trauma, probably of an internal nature (Freud
1920, 168, our italics). According to Freud, one need not look far for a special
factor of an internal nature: the homosexual girl became homosexual because
she had always been homosexual. Not only had she never shown any interest
in boys, for a long time she was also in love with a strict female school teacher.
Her erotic interest in women was operative long before the birth of her little
brother and her fathers rebuke (1920, 168). Her homosexuality is a direct
and unchanged continuation of an infantile fixation on her mother (1920,
168, our italics).
If the homosexual girl was always homosexual, Freuds Oedipal construc
tion seems to fall to pieces. It does not concern a girl who went from the
normal Oedipus attitude into that of homosexuality (Freud 1920, 167).
Freuds explanation of this non-existent transition suddenly seems flimsy. In
81

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

the last chapter of this case study he presents a wholly different interpretation.
We should depart, Freud now says, from the original bisexuality of all human
beings (Freud 1920, 171). In other words, everyone is more or less homo- as
well as heterosexual. The homosexual current had always been the strongest
in the homosexual girl, and it is for this reason that she becomes manifestly
homosexual during puberty: Homosexual enthusiasms, exaggeratedly strong
friendships tinged with sensuality, are common enough in both sexes during
the first years after puberty. This was also so with our patient, but in her case
these tendencies undoubtedly showed themselves to be stronger, and lasted
longer, than with others. In addition, these presages of later homosexuality had
always occupied her conscious life, while the attitude arising from the Oedipus
complex had remained unconscious (Freud 1920, 168). Only in the context
of this interpretation, which has original bisexuality at its core, does Freuds
Oedipal construction retain some relevance. The Oedipal interpretation that,
in the previous chapters, still had to explain how the girl went from being
heterosexual to homosexual now only indicates how her latent heterosexuality
comes to superimpose itself upon her manifest homosexuality. Freud writes:
Possibly the analysis described here actually revealed nothing more than the
process by which, on an appropriate occasion, the deeper heterosexual current
of libido, too, was deflected into the manifest homosexual one (Freud 1920,
168-169). The Oedipal trauma (the disappointment in her father, the
pregnancy of her mother and birth of a baby brother) is now transformed
into an appropriate occasion to carry her latent heterosexuality over into her
manifest homosexuality.
In the case study of the homosexual girl, bisexuality returns to the centre
of Freuds theory of sexuality; in the process, at the very least, the Oedipal
psychogenetic model loses much of its importance. The homosexual girls
reliving of the Oedipus complex during puberty only serves as a suitable
opportunity to strengthen her manifest homosexuality with a heterosexuality
transformed into homosexuality. No longer is there a trace of a psychogenesis
of homosexuality as such. The homosexual current was always the strongest
component of her libidinal life, and this force is constitutionally determined.
The conclusion of this case study makes it apparent that psychoanalysis
should shelve its psychogenetic, aetiological pretentions: it is not the task of
the psychoanalyst to explain how someone becomes homosexual, hysterical,
masochistic or anything else. Dora reacts to the traumatic experiences with
Herr K in the way she does because she is hysterical; the homosexual girl reacts
to the events in her family in the way she does because she is homosexual.
Although Freud strongly emphasises the libidinal disposition and hereditary
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The indifference of a healthy lesbian

constitution in this text, at the same time he admonishes the reader not to attach
too much importance to the distinction between that which is constitutional
and that which is acquired (Freud 1920, 169). This distinction is nevertheless
of the utmost importance to an understanding of the status of psychoanalytic
theory and the workings of its cure. Perhaps Freud highlights this distinction
because he believesmistakenly we thinkthat the psychoanalytic cures reach
is limited to that which is acquired. Lets use an example to illustrate. After
explicitly stating that the homosexual girl was always already homosexual,
Freud seems to question his statement once again by pointing out that she has
a strong masculinity complex that stems from a pronounced envy of the penis,
which took hold when she compared her own genitals to those of her brother
(Freud 1920, 169). The fact that she becomes a feminist during adolescence
is one expression of this penis-envy; she defends womens rights and rebels
against the oppression of women. In addition, she does not want children
because she is extremely pleased with her physical beauty, something she only
starts neglecting because of her overwhelming infatuation with the older lady
(Freud 1920, 169). A classic Freudian psychogenetic explanation, takes as
its point of departure that penis-envy should be regarded as an important
element in the aetiology of the girls homosexuality, masculinity complex,
infantile fixation on her mother, narcissistic investment in her self-image,
and feminism. According to this reading, the goal of therapy would lie in
returning her to the traumatic confrontation with sexual difference so she can
discover that penis-envy, narcissism, and homosexuality is but one possible
reaction to this trauma, and that she can now choose another, more healthy
or more mature way to deal with sexual difference.8
On the other hand, a psychoanalysis focusing on hereditary constitution
and libidinal disposition does not see penis-envy, the masculinity complex,
and fixation on the mother as the traumatic, infantile core of the aetiology of
female homosexuality, but as the first expression of a libidinal disposition that
will also later express itself in courtly homosexuality, an interest in physical
beauty, and a feminist rebelliousness. From this perspective, penis-envy
belongs to the symptomatology of the lesbian girls homosexuality rather than
its aetiology. It is but one of the ways in which the libidinal disposition is
expressed. Such an understanding does not render the cure superfluous or
impossible; it merely requires a different way of thinking about the cures
direction. The aim of the cure, then, consists not in finding a psychogenetic
8

 nd that is still a moderate, fair version of much pious talk about genital love in AngloA
Saxon literature (Fairbairn 1941) and about the acceptance of castration in French literature
(Schaeffer 2002).
83

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

explanation for someones homosexuality, hysteria, or masochism but in


tracing how a specific (homosexual, hysterical, masochistic, melancholic,
...) libidinal constellation expresses itself in a concrete life history, a persons
dreams and symptoms, the most important life choices and smallest details
of daily life. If Freud had more explicitly opted for this perspective in his
analysis of the lesbian girl, then perhaps he could have helped her discover
how she could have experienced and moulded her homosexuality instead of
speculating about how she became homosexual.

Conclusion
In The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman (1920) the Oedipus
complex is challenged yet again by the original bisexuality that disappears from
psychoanalytic theory after the Dora case. The lesbian girls homosexuality
did not originate from a reaction to the frustration of her normal Oedipal
orientation, but was always the strongest sexual current, thus keeping the
weaker heterosexuality latent: From very early years, therefore, her libido
had flowed in two currents, the one on the surface being one that we may
unhesitatingly designate as homosexual (Freud 1920, 168). The tension
evident in Freuds text between an explanation based on original bisexuality
and one based on the Oedipus complex is simultaneously tied up with a
more fundamental issue. According to a Freudian perspective, an Oedipal
interpretation immediately implies the possibility and need for a psychogenetic
explanation. In such a scheme all psychoneuroses and perversions have to
be understood as defensive reactions against the anxiety or disillusionment
that flows from the Oedipal conflict. Our reading of Psychogenesis of a Case of
Homosexuality shows that Freud himself, aided by the lesbians indifference,
doubts this psychogenetic perspective. From this doubt he returns to a
perspective that he had abandoned after the case of Dora. The young lesbians
homosexuality and Doras hysteria are expressions of specific, constitutional
libidinal constellations. These libidinal constellations search for application in
life (Freud 1918, 71) and make use of every appropriate occasion (Freud
1920, 154) to make their mark on everything that crosses their path.
After 1920 this perspective once again disappears from Freuds theory
of neuroses. Together with the castration complex, the Oedipus complex
becomes the basis of the whole psychoanalytic construction. With it a
remarkable tension emerges in Freuds thoughts between a psychogenetic and
a pathoanalytic perspective. The idea that psychoneuroses are developmental
84

The indifference of a healthy lesbian

disorders founded on infantile defensive reactions to an Oedipal crisis that,


in principle, can be overcome by a psychical destruction and abolition
of the Oedipus complex (Freud 1925, 177) is at odds with the idea that
psychoneuroses reveal certain dimensions of human existence that go
unnoticed in normal mental life (Freud 1933, 58-59). In post-Freudian
psychoanalysis this tension has largely disappeared in favour of a one-sided
emphasis on the psychogenetic model. It returns now and then, but only
among the most important analytical theorists.9
In the next chapter we examine the extent to which this tension is present
in the work of Jacques Lacan. Lacan is the most interesting writer to examine
on this point for two reasons. First, hysteria takes central stage in his theories,
and second, more than any other post-Freudian psychoanalyst, Lacan seems
to resume the project of a clinical anthropology of hysteria. In particular, we
explore Lacans commentary on the case of Dora, and we base our examination
on the following question: Does the analysis of hysteria show us something
about the truly hysterical character of desire, or should we approach hysteria
as a failure or denial of what desire really is?

S uch as in the work of Melanie Klein, for example. Klein believes psychotic disorders are
exaggerations of common human tendencies. In this way she concludes that the emotional
life of every person is ruled by the interaction between a paranoid-schizophrenic and a
manic-depressive position. But Kleins patho-analytic theory also comes under pressure from
a psycho-genetic perspective in which psychical development has to lead from the paranoidschizoid position to the depression position. Psychotics, then, are no longer those individuals
who succinctly realise a typically human possibility but rather those who, for one reason
or another, are unsuccessful in evolving into the depressive phase. We cannot explore this
further at this stage. For more see Geyskens and Van Haute 2003.
85

Chapter 5

Lacans Structuralist Rereading of Dora


Introduction
Doras case study also plays a decisive role in Lacanian theory. From the
beginning of the fifties onwards, Lacan often returns to Dora, rereading this
case study in light of his own ever-changing views.1 During the fifties Lacan
remains heavily indebted to the Oedipal perspective that he, nevertheless,
reinterprets in light of Lvi-Strauss structural anthropology. Hence Lacans
view of hysteria in general and of Doras case in particular is not a carbon copy
of Freuds later work on hysteria and that of the post-Freudian tradition. For
this reason a study of works hailing from this period highlights the limitations
of the Oedipal model with regard to pathoanalysis. Such an investigation
makes it clear that not only the traditional psychogenetic interpretation
of the Oedipus complex, but also its structuralist variant are at odds with
pathoanalysis.
Lacan not only rereads Dora, but also develops his own theory of
pathology, as well as its significance to an understanding of human existence in
general, through a continuous engagement with various Freudian case studies.2
Lacans commentary on Freuds Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a
Woman, discussed extensively in the previous chapter, is particularly relevant
in this respect. Here Lacan explicitly embraces the project of a pathoanalysis
of existence. In addition, in his work from the 60s and 70s, Lacan develops
a theory of femininity and sexuation that, in many ways, can be read as a
novel clinical anthropology of hysteria. For all these reasons, Lacans work is
particularly well suited to aid in the further investigation and illumination
1

 e most important works in this regard are the following: Presentation on Transference
Th
(Lacan 1966, 176-188); The Psychoses (Lacan 1955-56, 161-182); La relation dobjet (Lacan
1956-57, 95-147); Les formations de linconscient (Lacan 1957-58, 355-403); Langoisse
(Lacan 1962-63, 119-153); The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (Lacan 1969-70, 87-142) and On
Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73, passim). For a detailed
overview of Lacans reading of Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, see Voruz 2007.
One thinks, for instance, of Le mythe individuel du nvros (Lacan 1953) on the Rat
Man, the seminar on The Psychoses (Lacan 1955-56) centered on Senate President Schreber,
and the lecture series on La relation dobjet (Lacan 1956-57) in which, besides the study of
Dora, Lacan submits Freuds studies of Little Hans (Freud 1909) and the Psychogenesis of a
Case of Homosexuality in a Woman (Freud 1920) to critical examination.
87

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

of the meaning of Freudian clinical anthropology. In this chapter we discuss


Lacans comments on the Dora case dating back to the fifties in particular
his commentary on this case in La relation dobjet (The Object Relation) (Lacan
1956-57). In the next chapter we bring this commentary into dialogue with
Lacans reading of the Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman. In
this way, it becomes clear to what extent and in which ways Lacans views from
the fifties are linked to the project of a clinical anthropology.

1. Structure versus Psychogenesis


At first glance Lacans texts on Dora from the early fifties seem to be closely
linked to the Oedipal tradition. As we indicated before, this tradition does not
match Freuds texts and obscures a more fundamental problematic. However,
we should not conclude from this that Lacans reading is a mere repetition of
classic Oedipal interpretations of this case study. In accordance with the social
and cultural anthropology of Lvi-Strauss3 and, more specifically, his The
Elementary Structures of Kinship (Lvi-Strauss 1949), Lacan understands the
Freudian Oedipus complex in terms of a historical interpretation of the more
fundamental incest taboo which implies an obligation to exogamy; exogamy
forms the basis of society. In this regard Lvi-Strauss writes the following:
This is really saying that in human society a man must obtain a woman from
another man who gives him a daughter or a sisterIn human society, it is
men who exchange women, and not vice versa(Lvi-Strauss, 1969, 46-47).
Lacan uses these views to escape the psychogenetic perspective.4
Freuds introduction of the Oedipus complex goes hand in hand with an
abandonment of the pathoanalytical perspective in favour of a psychogenetic
approach. Lacans reinterpretation of the Oedipus complex is an explicit
attempt to leave this psychogenetic perspective behind. Lacan is not concerned
with the question of how the psychosexual development of the small child
should be understood, but with an analysis of the different positions in a
relational structure that determines the affects and meanings that play an
important role in our lives. In other words, Lacans interest lies not in the
development of the subject, but its place in a structure.
3
4

For the importance of Lvi-Strauss to Lacans thought see Zafiropoulos 2003; Tardits 2009.
Regarding Dora, Lacan writes, for example: As Lvi-Strauss explains it...the exchange
relations of kinship consist precisely in this I received a woman and I owe a daughter.
(Comme Lvi-Strauss lexplique l change des liens de lalliance consiste exactement en
ceci - Jai reu une femme et je dois une fille) (Lacan 1956-57, 143, our translation).
88

Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

Lacans reinterpretation of the Oedipus complex allows him to reformulate


the underlying problematic of hysteria. Doras hysteria concerns her place in
a relational structure, expressing her battle with the question of what it means
to be a woman (Lacan 1955-56, 195-205) and her inability to formulate an
adequate answer. Her exclusive love for her father makes it impossible for her
to take on the role of an exchange object, which is, structurally, her destiny as
a woman.5 In this way it also becomes clear why Lacan, in contrast to Freud,
no longer considers disgust at sexuality a primary phenomenon of hysteria.
Disgust is not an exaggeration of a normal organic repression of sexuality.
According to Lacan it is actually a derivative of the more fundamental
inability to assume the role of exchange object prescribed by the structure
of human society itself.6 The place Dora occupies in the structure in which
she participates, says Lacan, also renders intelligible other fundamental
characteristics of the hysterical disposition such as bisexuality.7 The reference
to a symbolic structure replaces here the reference to an organic disposition.
Not only does Lacan attempt to overcome the psychogenetic interpretation
of the Oedipus complex, but in so doing also seems to reconfirm the
pathoanalytical perspective as a basic hypothesis that characterises Freuds early
work.8 In his seminar on Les formations de linconscient (The Formations of the
Unconscious) (Lacan 1957-58), Lacan writes, for instance, that in hysteria we
are confronted with a situation that essentially characterises human existence
and bears on the break or split (Spaltung) between desire and demand
(Lacan 1957-58, 363-364). In this regard Lacan writes that The hysteric
is a primordial structure in the relation between the human being and the
signifier.9 This raises the question of whether it is the Oedipus complex itself
that is at odds with the project of a clinical anthropology and a pathoanalysis
of existence. Rather, is it not the psychogenetic interpretation of this complex
that is irreconcilable with the project? This question can only be answered
5

7
8

I n this way, and in contrast to Freud, Lacan seems to inevitably recast hysteria as a specifically
female pathology. Hysteria is linked to the impossibility of taking on the typical female role
in kinship relations. Lvi-Strauss writes that only women are exchange objects in kinship
relations. This is simultaneously one of the reasons why Lacans texts of the fifties are at least
somewhat at odds with the project of a clinical anthropology as we have discussed it thus far.
We return to this point later.
This inability is itself connected to the inability to distinguish desire (dsir) from demand
(demande). This subject is discussed extensively later.
Exactly how this structure should be understood will become clear later.
But, as mentioned in footnote 6, Lacans viewpoint with regard to this problematic still
remains seriously ambiguous in the works we discuss here. We return to this point extensively
in this chapter and the next.
 dans le rapport de lhomme au signifiant, lhystrique est une structure primordiale
(Lacan 1957-58, 365, our translation).
89

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

through a detailed reading of Lacans commentary on Doras case and the


Psychogenesis of a case of homosexuality in a woman, both of which we discussed
in the previous chapter.
In the previous chapters we showed how Freud calls on the hypothesis of
a dispositional bisexuality in both these works. This reference is completely
missing from Lacan, but that does not keep him from considering, as did
Freud, both case studies as expressions of the same problematic. However,
unlike Freud Lacan does not find this problematic in bisexuality, but in the
vicissitudes of the female Oedipus complex, which he still interprets in a very
classical manner.

2. The Female Oedipus Complex: Frustration and Gift


In this context Lacan takes his cue from Freuds article on The Infantile
Genital Organization (Freud 1923), which, according to Freud, should be
read as a complement to Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality10 and completes
the progressive Oedipalizing and phallicizing of this work. In his reading,
Lacan specifically emphasises what he calls the primacy of the phallic
assumption (le primat de lassomption phallique) (Lacan, 1956-57, 96).11
He refers here to Freuds view that during the phallic phase of infantile sexuality
both sexes interpret sexual difference in terms of the presence or absence of the
male member. According to Freud confrontation with castration heralds the
beginning of the female Oedipus complex. Following this confrontation the
female child turns her back on the mother who could not provide the desired
sexual organ. The little girl now turns to the father, expecting him to undo the
lack she experiences (Freud 1931).12
According to Lacan the small child is primarily confronted with the possible
absence of the phallus, in the context of the imaginary corporal experience,
for which the mirror stage is the paradigm. In the imaginary logic of the
mirror stage13, the absence of the phallus can only be understood as accidental
10

11
12

13

Also, Freud gives his work on The Infantile Genital Organization the following subtitle: an
Interpolation into the Theory of Sexuality.
See also (Lacan 1956-57, 97).
For an extensive, critical commentary on the problematic of psychoanalytic phallocentrism,
see Van Haute 2005.
According to the theory of the mirror stage the ego is formed through an identification with
the visual image of our body (or with the body of peers). The identity that results from this
identification is in principle complete. The ego does not accept any lack or inequality. If such
a lack or inequality occurs, it can only be temporal and equality/identity will, and can be
restored in the end. For more information see: Van Haute 2002, 81-89.
90

Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

and, in principle, reversible. What is missing will become available I can


claim it if necessary. In other words, the young girl understands the phallus in
the first instance as an integral part of her own body; it is hers by right (Lacan
1956-57, 101).14 Or even more to the point, according to Lacan the young
girl experiences the phallus at the unconscious level as an organ denied to her
by someone who could reverse this deficiency. According to Lacan this means
that the absence of the phallus is here experienced as a frustration.15
All of this implies, according to Lacan, that it is not the object that is
central to the problematic of frustration, as much as it is the love of the
person who can give or deny this object. The object here is indeed, above all,
a sign of love. The object of frustration, Lacan concludes, is not as much the
object as the gift (don) (Lacan 1956-57, 101). The absence of the object is
experienced as a denial of love. Here too it becomes clear what Lacan means
when he writes that To love is to give what one does not possess (Lacan
1956-57, 140). In order to better understand this, we might start from the
experience we have when we say, for instance, it is the thought that counts
when we receive a gift. By this we mean that the gift is subordinate to the
love that it expresses. Love exceeds every gift that expresses it. Both the love
we receive and the love we give transcend the objects that symbolise this love:
Because what characterises the relation of love is that the gift, if one may say
so, is given for nothing.16 In other words, love is not aimed at obtaining an
object that would justify it. Conversely, it also means that, to a certain extent,
a gift always and inevitably has a gratuitous character (Lacan 1956-57, 101).
It cannot be reduced to vital or utilitarian motives (Lacan 1956-57, 140).
Love and the gift take us far beyond the order of pure need fulfilment and the
utilitarian calculus (Lacan 1956-57, 125).
The young girl expects the father to give her what she does not have: the
phallus. Or more precisely, she unconsciously hopes that the father will give
her a child as a substitute for the missing phallus (Lacan 1956-57, 124). She
experiences this lack as a frustration and the (possible) obtainment of the
phallus as a sign of the fathers love. Nonetheless, what goes unnoticed in the
first instance but simultaneously ensures that this dynamic not inevitably
lead to an unsolvable impasse is the fact that the gift, in principle, belongs to
the entire symbolic order (Lacan 1956-57, 101). The person giving inevitably
14

15

16

 onversely, at this level the young boy perceives the phallus as an organ he could lose, that
C
is, thereby, constantly under threat.
Shortly we elaborate on the distinction between the (imaginary) frustration and the

(symbolic) castration.
car ce qui tablit la relation damour, cest que le don est donn, si lon peut dire, pour
rien (Lacan 1956-57, 140, our translation)
91

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

does so according to rules that determine what may be given to whom. The
symbolic system orders, in other words, the ways in which objects can be
exchanged (Lacan 1956-57, 123).
Also, the daughters demand for love from the father is inevitably bound to rules
and has to be adjusted accordingly. The incest taboo prohibits the gift of the
phallus and, more particularly, of the child the young girl expects as substitute
for it (Lacan 1956-57, 98). We already know that, under the influence of
Lvi-Strauss, Lacan reinterprets this taboo and the Freudian Oedipus complex
in terms of an order of exogamy that commands the exchange of women. At
the same time, according to Lacan, the incest taboo and, for that matter, the
whole psychoanalytic tradition refers to the impossible (ultimate) fulfilment
of desire.17 Hence, overcoming the Oedipus complex means not only that
the young girl accepts a child from a third party who is not the father (Lacan
1956-57, 98) but also that no object can ever fully satisfy her desire.

3. Lacans Reading of Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria


(Dora)
We are now in a position to critically examine Lacans reading of Dora
in his fourth seminar on La relation dobjet (The Object Relation). Lacans
interpretation of this case study is completely built around Doras relationship
with her father. According to Lacan, Doras love for her father plays a
determining and undoubtedly decisive role in Doras pathology. In other
words, Lacan gives a traditional Oedipal interpretation of Doras problematic:
Dora is a hysteric, this means somebody who reached the level of Oedipal
crisis and who at the same time could and could not transcend this level.18
What draws immediate attention in the case of Dora, says Lacan, is her
uncompromising claim to her fathers affection, of which his relationship with
Frau K would deprive her (Lacan 1956-57, 137). This claim demands an
explanation. It only emerges after a long period of time during which Dora
does not seem to have any problem with the relationship. On the contrary,
for a long time Dora does everything in her power to make possible and
facilitate this relationship. From time to time she watches Frau Ks children,
for instance, allowing Frau K to spend uninterrupted time with Doras father.
17

18

 e incest phantasy is after all most commonly interpreted as the phantasmatic substitution
Th
of the ultimate fulfilment of desire.
Dora est une hystrique, cest--dire quelquun qui est venu au niveau de la crise oedipienne,
et qui la fois a pu et na pas pu la franchir (Lacan 1956-57, 139, our translation). Also see
Lacan 1957-58, 368.
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Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

What we have to explain says Lacan following Freuds lead is Doras


sudden change in attitude regarding a relationship she found unproblematic
and in which, up to that point, she actively participated. This adjustment
should, Lacan writes, be considered against the background of Doras special
homosexual attachment 19 to Frau K, about which we are already familiar
from our discussion of Freuds interpretation of Doras pathology. We cannot
adequately understand the change in Doras attitude without bringing into
play the how and the why of this attachment. More precisely, we need to
understand the structural context within which this attachment operates and
from which it derives its meaning.
To understand Lacans reading of Dora, we must first elucidate the
crucial role that the impotence of Doras father plays in this reading. Lacan
is here referring to Doras belief that Frau K only loves her father because he
is a wealthy (vermgend) man; without much argument, Freud concludes
that Dora is also implying the reverse of this declaration, that her father is
impotent (unvermgend), in the sexual sense of the word (Freud 1905a,
47). Despite the fact that this declaration plays an insignificant role in Freuds
interpretation, Lacan believes it touches on the core of Doras problematic
(Lacan 1956-57, 139). It has been clear to Dora from the outset, says Lacan,
that her father will not be able to completely fulfil his role in the Oedipal
problematic. In order for the father to fulfil his role in the daughters mind, he
has to be potent enough to actually refuse her a child.
However, this does not provide Dora with a reason to turn her back on
her father. On the contrary, Dora remains attached to her father despite the
fact that he is incapable of fulfilling his symbolic role. The love that she feels
for her father, writes Lacan, strictly correlates with and is co-extensive to his
failures.20 Remember moreover that Doras various identifications with her
father, which are testimony to her attachment to him, are always connected
with symptoms of his illness and weakness (his cough for example). This link
between Doras love for her father and his deficiency can only be understood,
according to Lacan, from the perspective of an Oedipal problematic. What
does that mean?
According to Lacan, Dora has reached the level of the Oedipal crisis.
In the logic of the text we are here discussing, this can only mean that she is
unconsciously expecting a child with her father to compensate for the missing
19

20

 e put homosexual attachments in scare quotes because Dora is not homosexual. We


W
return to this point extensively when we compare Lacans reading of the Dora case with his
interpretation of Freuds study on the homosexual young woman.
Lamour quelle a pour ce pre est alors strictement corrlatif et coextensif la diminution
de celui-ci (Lacan 1956-57, 140, our translation)
93

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

phallus. However, her fathers impotence makes this impossible from the
outset. To save her attachment to her father, Dora takes the dynamics of love to
the limit. As we saw, Lacan relates love to the gift of what we do not have (le don
de ce quon na pas). Both the love we receive and the love we give transcend
the objects that symbolise it. Dora takes this argument to the extreme.21 Dora
shows a completely uninterested love for her father and, in so doing, indicates
that love does not ultimately concern the object or objects exchanged in the
context of a love relationship at all. The fact that her father cannot give her
what she hopes for is, in terms of this perspective, not a sufficient reason to
turn her back on him. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case: Dora loves him
for what he does not give. We cannot understand anything about this case
study, says Lacan, if we separate it from this primitive and irreducible position,
which remains determining to the end (Lacan 1956-57, 141).22
After his break with Dora, Freud had to acknowledge he underestimated
her homosexual attachment to Frau K (Lacan 1956-57, 138). In this regard
Lacan says it is clear that Dora is libidinally attached to Herr K, who takes
a special interest in her, but that something else is at play in her relationship
with Frau K(Lacan 1956-57, 138). For Freud, Doras desire for or attachment
to Herr and Frau K, respectively, needs no further clarification. Lacan, on the
other hand, conforming to the psychoanalytical tradition, links this double
attachment to Doras relationship with her father. We must first ask how to
understand the meaning of Frau K for Dora and Doras attachment to her.
Frau K, writes Lacan, is Doras question.23 Indeed, even if Dora loves
her father in the most altruistic of ways, he is apparently more interested in
Frau K and enters into a relationship with her. In this way, Frau K appears to
Dora as someone her father can love beyond Dora. For Dora, Frau K incarnates
what it means to be a woman. What is it that my father despite my altruistic
love and commitment to him loves in Frau K: What is a woman? (Lacan
1955-56, 181-205; 1956-57, 141). Dora attaches herself, Lacan argues, to
that which her father can love in another woman; she does not know exactly
what it is or could be. She identifies, in other words, with the object of the
fathers desire (Lacan 1956-57, 141-142). This problematic subsequently
concerns Doras symbolic position as a desiring (female) subject.
21

22

23

I n the work discussed here it remains unclear why Dora refuses to give up her attachment to
her father, despite his impotence. Only by introducing the discourse of the master does
this really become clear. We discuss this point extensively in Chapter 7.
The precise meaning of this primitive, irreducible position only becomes clear further on
when we discuss the dream of the butchers wife, where we consider the relationship between
desire and need in hysteria.
Mme K., cest la question de Dora (Lacan 1956-57, 139, our translation).
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Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

The identification with the object of her fathers desire enables Dora to
participate in his love for Frau K (Lacan 1956-57, 142; 144). Dora is satisfied
as long as her father longs for Frau K (Lacan 1956-57, 142). It puts her mind
at ease. This situation is symbolised in various ways. According to Lacan, not
only does the impotent father compensate in different ways (consider, for
instance, the gifts he hands out24) for his lack of virile presence (prsence
virile) in the company of Frau K, but Dora also shares in his generosity so that
she, in fact, participates in Frau Ks position. In this way Doras attachment to
her father, Lacan concludes, realises itself in a triangular relationship between
herself, Frau K, and her father (Lacan 1956-57, 142).25
But this triangular relationship alone does not suffice to explain Doras
subjective position. Dora also attempts to establish a triangular relationship
with regard to Frau K (Lacan 1956-57, 142). The full meaning of Doras
infatuation with Herr K becomes clear here. According to Lacan, it expresses
Doras attachment to Frau K. The hysterical woman loves by proxy: the object
of her desire has a homosexual character, but she approaches it by way of
identification with someone of the opposite sex (Lacan 1956-57, p. 138;
142). In the case of Dora it concerns Herr K. In this regard Lacan says that
Doras ego and the ego alone has identified itself with the male character,
that she is Herr K.26 This time we are not dealing with Doras identification
with the object of her fathers desire and, subsequently, with her symbolic
position as (female) subject; rather, it concerns the way in which she attempts
to gain access to this object. Lacan says that Doras identification with Herr K
has, therefore, a narcissistic or imaginary character (Lacan 1956-57, 138). In
principle imaginary identifications neatly transmute the I into the model of
the object. While such identification has no bearing on the symbolic position
of the subject, it does influence formation of the ego (moi), whose meaning
can only be determined by the symbolic. Dora therefore identifies with Herr
K (imaginary), because she is interested in Frau K. Frau K incarnates for Dora
the enigma of femininity and, hence, of her symbolic position as a subject.
At the same time, however, this imaginary identification hides hysterias true
(symbolic) problematic. Through identification with Herr K, not only does
24

25
26

I n this regard Freud writes, for instance: Another time she told me, more in sorrow than in
anger, that she was convinced the presents her father had brought her had been chosen by
Frau K, for she recognized her taste. Another time, again, she pointed out that, evidently
through the agency of Frau K, she had been given a present of some jewellery which was
exactly like some of that she had seen in Frau Ks possession and had wished for aloud at the
time (Freud 1905a, 61-62).
We link this problematic with the hysterical desire for unfulfilled desire shortly.
 que le moi et seulement le moi de Dora a fait une identification un personnage
virile, quelle est M.K (Lacan 1956-57, 138, our translation).
95

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Dora gain access to the object of her fathers desire, but also camouflages the
homosexual character of her object choice. For Dora as well as those within
her immediate environment, it appears as though her infatuation with Herr K
constitutes the core of her problematic.27
Freud links hysteria and, more specifically, the complex interplay between
identifications and object choices that determine Doras life history with an
irreducibly universal bisexual disposition. Lacan on the other hand interprets
these identifications and object choices as an expression of a structural
problematic that concerns the question of what it means to be a woman and,
subsequently, a search for the meaning of sexual difference. For instance,
when Dora identifies with both Frau K and Herr K, these identifications
express her ongoing battle with this problematic, which is inscribed in the
structure of the symbolic. Consequently, Lacan does not think that these
identifications grow out of an organic bisexual disposition. Moreover, unlike
Freuds naturalistic approach, these identifications are not situated within
the same register. The identification with Frau K has a distinctly symbolic
character, whereas that with Herr K is of an imaginary nature. The best way
to illustrate the consequences of this reconceptualisation is by linking Lacans
reading of Dora with what he refers to elsewhere as the L-scheme.

4. Dora and the L-scheme


Lacan illustrates his reading of the Dora case in terms of the L-scheme
(figure 1). He first develops the L-scheme in his second seminar on The Ego in
Freuds Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis to explain the relationship
between the imaginary and the symbolic in psychoanalytic practice (Lacan
1954-55, 243-244).
(Es) S

o (other)

(ego) o

O (Other)

The line running from O to S refers to the subject of the unconscious (S),
which is the effect of the order of language and the law. Lacan calls this order
27

We should recall at this point that, according to Freud, the latter was definitely the case.
96

Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

the Other (LAutre) and uses a capital O to indicate it in this graph. The arrow
runs from O to S, as the subject only exists as an effect of the Other. The
subject is determined and formed by an Other that actually transcends it. On
its way to S, this arrow nevertheless meets another arrow that connects o to o.
The line between o and o refers to the order of the imaginary. In this regard o
indicates the ego, and o the image of the other with whom the ego identifies.
The arrow here runs from o to o because the ego, in keeping with the logic of
the mirror stage, is formed according to the model of the image of the other.
The subject of the unconscious has no access to itself. According to Lacan
this subject does not know it is speaking, let alone what it is saying. It is in
the hold of the symbolic order of the language, to which it is subjected and
whose effects it does not control.28 At the same time the subject sees itself
in o. For this reason the arrow from O to S cuts through a dotted line at the
place where it crosses the imaginary axis. The subject believes it coincides
with the way in which it understands itself or, more precisely, with the image
(o) it holds of itself. For this reason the ego is an instance of misrecognition
(mconnaissance), responsible for the subject of the unconscious not having
immediate access to itself or, more precisely, seeing itself in a place where it
is not. However, the meaning of this imaginary axis only becomes clear from
the pespective of the symbolic realm that determines it (Lacan 1954 - 55,
244). We are now in a position to further illustrate this graph through what
we know about Lacans interpretation of Dora.
Frau K
Demand

Herr K
with whom Dora
identifies

Dora

Father
remains Other par
exellence

On the symbolic axis Doras father appears on the upper right-hand side and
Frau K on the lower left-hand side. Dora loves her father, who is at the same
time the symbolic third (O) in the relationship with the mother. This symbolic
axis the relationship between Dora, her father, and Frau K refers to the
enigma of femininity and, therefore, concerns Doras position as subject. But
28

 In other words, language is as much there to found us in the Other as to drastically prevent
us from understanding him. And that is indeed what is at stake in the analytic experience
(Lacan 1954 - 55, 244).
97

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Dora has no direct access to this problematic and the homosexual object
choice that expresses it. On the contrary, she sees herself on the imaginary
axis that indicates her identification with and attachment to Herr K. To
Dora and those around her Doras infatuation with Herr K appears to be an
independent phenomenon that requires no further illumination. However, it
is this very imaginary identification with Herr K that gives her access to Frau
K (the object of the desire of her father and the incarnation of the enigma of
femininity) with whom she also identifies. It is this symbolic problematic that
subsequently determines the meaning of the imaginary relationship.

5. The Lesson of Lvi-Strauss


As we pointed out before, in Freuds presence Dora claims her fathers affection
in an uncompromising fashion, which she was supposedly been denied
because of his relationship with Frau K (Lacan 1956-57, 137). According to
Lacan, Freuds intervention in this instance gives way to an important shift.
Freud asks Dora in which way she was herself involved and participated in this
relationship (Lacan 1956-57, 137). Lacans description and thematisation of
Doras hysterical problematic allows for an understanding of her complicity
in the relationship between her father and Frau K. Where does this sudden
reversal come from? Why is she incapable of reconciling herself to a situation
she advanced and maintained for such a long time?
Lacan gives a structural interpretation of the Dora case. Versus Freud,
who asks how an innate disposition can express itself in the concrete life
history of the subject, Lacan asks which place Dora occupies in a relational
structure. As we know, traumas two-phased structure plays a crucial part in
the Freudian problematic of the relationship between history and disposition.
Doras disgust and rejection of Herr K after the scene at the lake cannot be
understood apart from traumas deferred action. Lacan, on the contrary, is not
interested in the historical inscription of a hysterical disposition. He is only
concerned with the relational structure29 in which Dora is caught up, and in
the way in which it determines her problematic. The concrete inscription of
the consecutive traumas that retro-actively affect each other thereby loses its
importance. It comes as no real surprise then that in the work we are here
discussing Lacan only mentions and considers Doras second trauma. His real

29

S imultaneously, it can hardly be denied that the problematic of the structure replaces the
problematic of an innate disposition in many ways. We return to this point.
98

Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

interest lies not in Doras history, but structural factors that illuminate her
reaction to Herr Ks declaration of love.30
What does Herr K say to Dora? He declares his love for her and immediately
adds You know I get nothing out of my wife (Freud 1905a, 98). (Ich habe
nichts an meine Frau). According to Lacan, this statement lies at the basis
of Doras violent reaction to Herr Ks declaration of love. Dora can live with
the fact that her father loves her for something that Frau K owns or realises,
something she herself does not understand. But her relationship with Herr K
is only tolerable insofar as this relationship forms a converse mirror image of
Doras relationship with her father. Herr K loves Dora beyond his wife, but
precisely insofar as his wife really means something to him (Lacan 1956-57,
143).
This whole construction collapses the moment Herr K discloses to Dora
that he can get nothing out of his wife. If Herr K can get nothing out
of his wife, it implies that he is exclusively interested in Dora. Perhaps Dora
concludes from this that her father is exclusively interested in Frau K, and his
interest in Dora is only as an exchange object that allows him to maintain
a free and untroubled relationship with Frau K.31 In this way, the truth of
the kinship system as formulated by Lvi-Strauss rudely confronts Dora:
I received a woman and I have to give a daughter in return. Within the
confines of kinship systems women are primarily objects of exchange, and
this is exactly what Dora neither tolerates nor accepts (Lacan 1956-57, 143).
Doras vehement rejection of Herr K following the scene by the lake is the
consequence of this. It also explains Doras uncompromising claim on her
fathers affection: from this point on Dora is in direct competition with Frau
K for her fathers attention (Lacan 1956-57, 144).
In this way we discover a further shift from Freuds interpretation of
Dora. Freud links Doras reaction to Herr Ks declaration of love with an
innate aversion to sexuality inscribed in Doras life history through the deferred
effects of trauma. Lacan links this aversion to the fact that Herr Ks exclusively
libidinal interest in Dora exposes her (structural) role as exchange object. In
this way, the answer to Doras question What is a woman? is formulated all
too directly and brutally.
30

31

I t has become quite clear that Lacans view that Freuds study of Dora deserves an attentive
reading (Lacan 1956-57, 137) must be put into perspective. Lacan only uses facts from
Doras history he regards as pertinent to determine Doras place in a system of relationships.
For instance, Lacan does not consider the deferred effect of the first trauma in his discussion
of the case in La relation dobjet.
This brings to mind the agreement between Doras father and Herr K: Let me have it my
way with your wife, and then you can have my daughter
99

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Why is Dora incapable of accepting her structural role as an exchange


object? What does this position provoke in her such that she can only react to
Herr Ks declaration with horror and disgust? This impossibility undoubtedly
concerns Doras attachment to her father, and the fact that in their relationship
she pushes the logic of love to the limit. Dora shows her father that, in love,
the objects that are exchanged are ultimately insignificant. The smaller the
role objects play in a love affair, the more exclusive this affair can be. Doras
Oedipal attachment to her father and the absolutising of the gratuitous
character of love are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. For this reason, she
cannot turn her back on her father in favour of another man, one who also
loves her and can unlike her father give her a child. In his seminar on
Les formations de linconscient (The Formations of the Unconscious) (Lacan
1957-58), Lacan discusses this dynamic in a new way through his analysis of
The dream of the beautiful butchers wife from Freuds The Interpretation of
Dreams (Freud 1900, 147).

6. The Hysterical Desire for an Unfulfilled Desire: the Dream of the


Beautiful Butchers Wife
In his seminar on Les formations de linconscient (Lacan 1957-58), Lacan
discusses the famous dream of the beautiful butchers wife to illustrate the
typical structure of hysterical desire (Lacan 1957-58, 360-368). This dream
runs as follows: I wanted to give a supper-party, but I had nothing in the house
but a little smoked salmon. I thought I would go out and buy something, but
remembered then that it was Sunday afternoon and all the shops would be
shut. Next I tried to ring up some caterers, but the telephone was out of order.
So I had to abandon my wish to give a supper-party (Freud 1900, 147). How
does Freud interpret this dream?32
Freud points out that the patients husband told her that he was becoming
too fat and wanted to slim down. The patient goes on to tell Freud about her
husbands great love for pretty feminine curves. She also points out that she
asked her husband not to give her a bread roll with caviar, although it is one
of her favourite foods, and she knows that her husband, whom she loves very
much, would immediately get her caviar if she asked for it. In this way, writes
Freud, the patient created a frustrated wish for herself in the relationship with
32

I n the following section we do not go into the differences between the Freudian reading of
this dream and Lacans. We limit our discussion to what is necessary to illuminate Lacans
reading of Dora and, by extension, hysteria.
100

Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

her husband (Freud 1900, 147). But why does this woman need such a wish?
This patient has a friend of whom she is very jealous since her spouse always
speaks so highly of her. Luckily this friend is very skinny, while the spouse,
as we know, prefers fuller figures and curves. The patient met this friend a
day before the dream. On this occasion the latter not only told the butchers
wife about her wish to gain some weight, but also asked when she would be
invited to dinner again. The meaning of the dream then becomes clear. Freud
tells the patient: It is just as though when she made this suggestion you said
to yourself: A likely thing! I am to ask you to come and eat in my house so
that you may get stout and attract my husband still more! Id rather never give
another supper-party. What the dream was saying to you was that you were
unable to give any supper-parties, and it was thus fulfilling your wish not to
help your friend to grow plumper. The fact that what people eat at parties
makes them stout had been brought home to you by your husbands decision
not to accept any more invitations to supper in the interests of his plan to
reduce weight (Freud 1900, 148). Also, the meaning of the smoked salmon
now becomes clear: it concerns the friend of the patients favourite dish.
At this point Freud introduces the problematic of identification. We recall
that Freuds patient not only dreams about a wish that could not be realised,
but that she simultaneously tries to bring about a frustrated wish in reality (a
bread roll with caviar). At the same time, her friend had uttered a wish, that
of gaining weight, that the patient hoped would not come true. She dreams
instead, however, that her own wish (to host a dinner) could not be realised.
The dream, Freud writes, will acquire a new interpretation if we suppose that
the person indicated in the dream was not herself but her friend, that she had
put herself in her friends place, or...that she had identified herself with her
friend (Freud 1900, 149, italics Freud). According to Freud, the fact that the
patient created a frustrated wish in reality is proof of this identification.
Freud warns that we should not reduce hysterical identification to pure
imitation: Thus identification is not simple imitation, but assimilation
on the basis of a similar aetiological pretension; it expresses a resemblance
and is derived from a common element which remains in the unconscious.
Identification is most frequently used in hysteria to express a common sexual
element. A hysterical woman identifies herself in her symptoms most readily
not exclusively with people with whom she has had sexual relations or
with people who have had sexual relations with the same people as herself.
Linguistic usage takes this into account, for two lovers are spoken of as being
one (Freud 1900, 150). In the case of Freuds patient, this implies that she
identifies with her friend becauseand insofar asher friend occupies a
101

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

position in her husbands thoughts the patient herself would like to occupy
(Freud 1900, 150). Lacan believes this dream expresses the desire for an
unfulfilled desire. The hysteric needs such a desire because she is constantly
in fear that the distinction between demand (demande) and desire might
become blurred. To illuminate and understand this point, we must first step
back and briefly explain the Lacanian distinction between need, demand, and
desire.
In the work of Lacan demand refers to linguistically articulated need:
the infans can only fulfil its needs by posing a demand to the Other. This
Other inevitably becomes very meaningful and receives a great weight. The
infans is at the mercy of this Other, on which it depends, and will, therefore,
do anything to meet the demands of this Other. It positions itself as the
object of the demand of the Other (the mother, in the first instance). As
long as the relationship with the Other plays out exclusively in this dynamic
of demand, there is no place for a particular desire that surpasses the pure
fulfilment of the linguistically articulated needs of the Other.33 Lest the
infans should not be anything more or other than a dependent subject that
finds itself in the stranglehold of the demand of the Other, a new dimension
should be introduced: Beyond what the Other demands from the subject,
the dimension of what the Other desires must be present.34 What does Lacan
mean by this?
According to Lacan, every object offered to the Other (or whatever I can
or want to be for him) inevitably falls short.35 In the dynamic of demand
these objects are nothing but signifiers of love from and for the Other. But
signifiers are determined differentially. They do not have intrinsic meaning
but only derive meaning from their relationship with other signifiers. In this
way they are drawn into an endless process of reference. Hence, demands
dynamic inevitably and structurally refers to a remainder that cannot be
integrated and simultaneously keeps this dynamic on track: it is never that,
every momentary fulfilment falls short and refers to a point that cannot be
articulated in language (that cannot itself be demanded as an object). In other
words, beyond what the Other demands is that which he desires. At first this
33

34

35

 e necessity of articulating need in language creates an initial ambiguity (Lacan 1957-58,


Th
357), according to Lacan: Since the thoughts of the subject are formed in the word of the
Other, it is only normal that originally these thoughts belong to that word (Les penses du
sujet stant formes dans la parole de lAutre, il est tout naturel qu lorigine, ses penses
appatiennent cette parole) (Lacan 1957-58, 357, our translation).
au-del de ce que lAutre demande au sujet, il doit y avoir la prsence et la dimension
de ce que lAutre dsire (Lacan 1957-58, p. 359, our translation). Also see Lacan 1957-58,
366.
For the following section, see also Van Haute 2000, 102-113.
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Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

remains hidden from the subject, even if it is inherent to his relationship


with the Other (Lacan 1957-58, 359). According to Lacan, the distinction
between desire and demand becomes meaningful for the subject in the
Oedipal experience (exprience oedipienne). This experience involves the
confrontation with a third, prototypically the father, which is itself subjected
to the law of the signifier he represents. Hence this third term does not possess
the object that can fulfil the desire of the Other either. On the contrary, this
object is originally lost. According to Lacan, the phallus is the signifier of this
loss. The phallus is the signifier whose function consists in indicating what the
Other desires insofar as he is subjected to the signifier, which means insofar as
his desire finally escapes every concrete determination (Lacan 1957-58, 367).
The Oedipal experience is closely connected to the metaphor of the
Name-of-the-Father (Lacan 1957-58, 367).36 According to Lacan, in and
through this metaphor the infans subjects itself to the law of the father. This
is not the real father, who is himself subjected to the law of the signifier. On
the contrary, it is a symbolic father, which means a purely symbolic point of
reference. It is the Name-of-the-Father. Put differently, it is a pure signifier.
Recognition of the Name-of-the-Father implies the infans accepts that only
the dead father can fulfil the desire of the first Other or the Mother. The
dead father only appears as a signifier (a pure pole of reference). This implies
that in and through this metaphor the young child accepts that desire can
only be fulfilled through signifiers thus, never completely.37 This also ensures
that desire is not reduced to the dynamic of demand. Let us now return to
Lacans analysis of the dream of the beautiful butchers wife.
According to Lacan, the hysterical subject has truly reached the level of
Oedipal crisis, but was unsuccessful in surpassing this level (Lacan 1956-57,
139). Our discussion of the distinction between demand and desire allows us
to specify this idea in a new way. For the hysterical patient male or female38
the distinction between demand and desire remains uncertain. Hence, the
36
37

38

 or the following section, see also Van Haute 2000, 172 et seq.
F
In light of the previous discussion it is clear that this acceptance goes hand in hand with
the phallus installation as signifier of an impossible fulfilment (Lacan 1957-58, 367). By
elaborating on this problematic we would digress too far. See Van Haute 2000, 149-154 for
further commentary.
Lacan does not explicitly discuss the problematic of male hysteria, but he is constantly taking
care to refer to its possibility. See for instance lhystrique est si ouvert ou ouverte
(Lacan 1957-58, 364). At the same time something that we have already discussed
extensively the intrinsic tie between hysteria and the role of women as exchange objects, as
raised by Lvi-Strauss, makes it very difficult to think coherently about male hysteria. Lacans
works from the fifties, then, remain strongly ambiguous in this regard. See Micali 2008 for
more on male hysteria.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

hysterics fear of perishing in the dynamic of demand or, more concretely,


being reduced to a plaything of the Others demands (Lacan 1957-58, 364).
This instantly explains why the hysterical woman is constantly attempting to
split desire and demand, keeping them as far apart from each other as possible
or, what amounts to the same thing, why time and again she attempts to
create an unfulfilled desire for herself. In this way the hysteric subject succeeds
in averting the reduction of desire to demand.Indeed, for the hysterical
subject the momentary fulfilment of desire puts it on par with demand. This
fulfilment instils fear in the subject that it will be ruined by the dynamic of
pure demand. In this regard Lacan writes: When it is necessary for the subject
to create an unsatisfied desire, then precisely because without this condition
no real Other can exist for him, this means an Other that is not completely
immanent to the reciprocal satisfaction of the demand, to the complete
capture of the desire of the subject by the word of the Other.39 According
to Lacan the dream of the beautiful butchers wife is a perfect illustration
of this dynamic. Our butchers wife identifies with her friend because the
latter assumes a position towards her husband that she herself would like to
assume. In other words, Freuds patient identifies with her friend insofar as
their respective desires share the same object. At the same time, however, the
beautiful butchers wife ensures that this desire remains unfulfilled: her dream
expresses the desire that her friend should not be able to eat smoked salmon,
which causes her to gain weight, while at the same time hiding her own desire
to forego the caviar, which she nevertheless likes very much. We are now
in a position to understand the importance and meaning of this hysterical
construct: the patients great love and desire for her spouse can only continue
existing if they in the sexual sense, since it ultimately concerns avoidance of
curves, which the husband loves so much remain unsatisfied.40 According
to Lacan, to avoid completely disappearing in the Other, or being nothing but
39

40

 Sil est ncessaire au sujet de se crer un dsir insatisfait, cest que l est la condition pour
que se constitue pour lui un Autre rel, cest--dire qui ne soit pas entirement immanent
la satisfaction rciproque de la demande, la capture entire du dsir du sujet par la parole
de lAutre (Lacan 1957-58, 365, our translation). The last part of this passage also refers
to the initial ambiguity to which we referred earlier: since the subjects thought is formed
in the words of the Other, the subject might think its thoughts belong to the Other and
that the Other has access to them. As long as the subject remains captive to the logic of
demand and thus unable to determine a place for itself this ambiguity persists. Only
the introduction of the dimension of the (indeterminate) desire of the Other removes this
ambiguity. This implies the relationship between the subject and the Other cannot be neatly
considered in terms of the dynamic of the demand alone.
This also indicates that the confusion between demand and desire that characterises hysteria
for Lacan replaces the tainting of the sexual by the excremental, which played a central role
in Freuds analysis.
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Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

a spineless object and plaything of the Others desire, this lack of fulfilment is
vital.41 How might we subsequently retrace this structure in Dora?42

7. Dora and the Dream of the Beautiful Butchers Wife


The problematic of hysterical desire for an unsatisfied desire is also prominent
in Lacans texts from the 1950s on Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.
Dora unconditionally loves her father who, nevertheless, prefers Frau K. It is
clear that the fathers desire, with which Dora identifies, is insatiable. Doras
father is impotent (Lacan 1957-58, 368). We recall that, via her fathers gifts,
Dora becomes involved in a relationship (with Frau K) she fully knows will
remain unfulfilled. Moreover, Doras only access to the object of her desire
comes about through an imaginary identification with Herr K. In other
words, like the beautiful butchers wife, she loves by proxy. The problematic
of the unfulfilled desire is also present in her relationship with Herr K. Dora
can tolerate Herr Ks love as long as desire and demand remain separated in
the triangular relationship that binds her to Herr and Frau K. Herr Ks desire
for Dora remains tolerable as long as the relationship is unaffected by (sexual)
demand. For Dora, this means that Frau K must continue to play her role as
spouse: For Herr K to be tolerated in this position, it is necessary that he
loves Dora beyond his wife, but in as far as the latter means something to
him.43 Dora and every hysterical subject by extension loves by proxy as
this allows her to maintain a separation between desire and demand.
Maintaining a separation between desire and demand is precisely what
becomes impossible when Herr K declares that he can get nothing out of his
wife. The relational construct in which Dora operates, that aims at keeping
desire unfulfilled and insatiable, now collapses. If Frau K means nothing to
Herr K, then this can only imply that Dora means everything to him, and
one thing is certain: Herr K is not impotent (Lacan 1957-58, 369). When
Herr K declares his love to Dora, she immediately slaps him. All of a sudden
41

42

43

I n his later work, Lacan thematises this problematic as follows: the hysterical woman wants
to be the cause of the Others desire but not the object of his jouissance (See, for example,
Lacan 1963-64).
We do not find this view in the work of Freud. For Freud the formation of an unfulfilled
desire is but one step in the broader argument: the beautiful butchers wife identifies with
her friend and then creates an unfulfilled desire (frustrated wish) because she wants her
husband all to herself. In this instance, creation of an unfulfilled desire is not a goal in itself.
 pour que M. K. soit tolrable dans sa position, il fautque Dora soit aime par lui audel de sa femme, mais en tant que sa femme est pour lui quelque chose (Lacan 1956-57,
143, our translation).
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Herr K no longer meets Doras expectations. He wants something more and


other than that which Dora can tolerate. Doras aggression is a consequence
of this failure.44
Previously we raised the question of how an understanding of desire as
insatiable relates to the problematic of women as exchange objects. The moment
the hysterical construct collapses and desire is absorbed by demand is at the
same time the moment Doras structural position as exchange object becomes
obvious (Lacan 1957-58, 369-370). Dora cannot distinguish her assumption
of the structural position from absorption in the dynamic of demand, one in
which not a single place remains for a desire of her own. She tries, therefore,
to maintain a separation between desire and demand, attempting to avoid her
structural fate. The difference between Lvi-Strauss perspective and Lacans
thus becomes clear: Lvi-Strauss describes the structure of kinship systems
while Lacan concentrates on the way in which women gain access to the roles
assigned to them in these systems (Lacan 1956-57, 95).

Conclusion
Lacan refers to hysteria as a primordial structure in the relation between
the human being and the signifier in the texts discussed in this chapter,
although he fails to further elaborate on this description in a pathoanalytical
sense. He does precisely the opposite. According to Lacan, hysterical patients
have reached the level of Oedipal crisis, but are simultaneously incapable of
fully surpassing this level. Overcoming this level (and, hence, victory over
the Oedipal problematic) makes possible womens assumption of the roles
prescribed to them by symbolic kinship systems. Two points immediately
emerge in this regard. First, the structuralist re-interpretation of the Oedipus
complex threatens to once again turn hysteria despite repeated lip service
to the contrary45 into a typically female problematic. Second, on the basis of
this re-interpretation, a normative motive slips into an understanding of the
44

45

S ee Lacan 1957-58, 369. Doras behaviour is testimony to the aggression that lurks in every
relationship with an imaginary other to which I identify myself. This reminds one of the
mirror stage, which is the paradigm of all imaginary relationships. The infans identifies with
the other-equal (the small o: prototypically the mirror image; this small o stands opposite
the big O: the order of language and the law), thus obtaining an own identity. It does not
tolerate any single deviation. Every deviation elicits anger. Likewise in the case of Dora.
Dora identifies with Herr K, who all of a sudden no longer fulfils her expectations and thus
breaks through the equality. The aggression is the consequence. (Lacan 1966, 93-100). For
additional commentary, see Van Haute 2002, 81-88.
See, for instance, Lacan 1957-58, 364.
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Lacans structuralist rereading of Dora

relationship between pathology and psychological health that clashes with


the pathoanalytical inspiration. The question that determines the hysterical
problematic, What is a woman?, is indeed the expression of the inability
of some women to acknowledge and assume their structurally assigned role.
From the perspective of Lacans Oedipal reading of Dora, this question (or its
enduring insistence) is mainly a symptom of hysterical pathology rather than
a universal problematic to which no adequate answer can ever be provided
and is exaggerated in hysteria. Thus it becomes possible, at least theoretically,
to distinguish between pathology and normality.
Indeed, this leads to the point where a pathological form of hysteria can
or should be distinguished from a normal hysteria that refers to the ultimate
insatiability of desire it is never that (Verhaeghe 1987, 92 en passim). This
pathological form is apparently situated on the side of women, and has real
bearing on their inability to assume the role of exchange objects. Perhaps it is
not as much a psychogenetic interpretation of the Oedipus complex that is at
odds with the project for a clinical anthropology as reference to the Oedipus
complex as such.
However, this is not yet Lacans final word on the pathoanalytical project in
his work from the fifties. In his analysis of the case of the homosexual young
woman, Lacan develops a perspective that seems to surpass the problems
characterising his views on the case of Dora. That is the theme of the following
chapter.

107

Chapter 6

Lacan and the Homosexual Young Woman:


between Pathology and Poetry?
Introduction
We discussed Freuds Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman
extensively in chapter four. We brought this case study into dialogue with
Fragment of the Analysis of a Case of Hysteria because Freud, yet again, questions
the primacy of the Oedipus complex in his work on female homosexuality in
favour of a theory of dispositional bisexuality. Lacan links these two studies
as well. In fact, Lacan points out that the problematic of a homosexual libido
plays a central role in both cases and he tries to explain both cases in terms
of the vicissitudes of the female Oedipus complex (Lacan 1956-57, 105).
In other words, where Freud foregoes an Oedipal explanation in the case of
Dora and relativises his own Oedipal explanation in favour of bisexuality in
the case of the homosexual young woman, Lacan finds in both these studies
an illustration and confirmation of his own theory on the female Oedipus
complex and the phallus central role. However, unlike Freud and his followers,
Lacans Oedipal explanation of the case of the homosexual young woman
does without the psychogenetic perspective that usually accompanies this type
of Oedipal explanation. On the contrary, as in his reading of Dora, Lacan
understands homosexual bias in light of the relational structure to which the
homosexual young woman belongs.
There is yet another reason that Lacans reading of Freuds study of the
homosexual young woman is of great importance to us. Lacan makes an
explicit comparison between the way in which this patient relates to her
lady friend and the literary genre of courtly love. In this regard, Lacan calls
institution of lack in the object relation (Lacan 1956-57, 109) the central
problematic of both pathology and this specific form of literature. In this
way not only does he suggest the existence of an internal connection between
pathology and specific cultural forms of expression, but he does so in such a
way as to render any essential or structural distinction between pathology and
psychical health impossible. In other words, Lacans work from the fifties
reveals a closer connection to the project of a clinical anthropology and a
pathoanalysis of existence than one would expect on the basis of his discussion
of Doras case alone.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

1. Dora versus the Homosexual Young Woman


According to Freud, the homosexual young woman appeared comfortable in
her role as future mother until she became openly homosexual. She was very
close to the little boy who lived in the house next door; she spent much time
with him and developed a real fondness for him. This motherly inclination and
care disappears at once, however, after her mother becomes pregnant. As does
Freud initially, Lacan interprets this change as a reaction to an Oedipal trauma
(Lacan 1956-57, 106).1 Like Dora, this young woman unconsciously longs
for a child from her father to compensate for the absent phallus (Lacan 195657, 105; 124). Unlike Doras father, however, the father of the homosexual
young woman is not impotent. Anything but, since he gives her mother
a child. Lacan believes her homosexual object choice is a response to this
disillusionment. He says that the young woman identifies with her father as
a reaction to this trauma and assumes his role (Lacan 1956-57, 129).2 This is
evident in her interest in other women who are equally mother substitutes.3
Dora identifies with Herr K in order to obtain access to the object of her
desire. She wants to discover what it means to be a woman. This construction
can only continue its existence as long as her desire remains unfulfilled. Every
moment of fulfilment, however fleeting, threatens collapse in the distinction
between desire and demand. The homosexual young woman seeks no access
to an object she believes will allow her to unveil the secret of her feminity, but
she loves other women and so assumes the position of her father (Lacan 195657, 129).4 According to Lacan, in this way the homosexual young woman
attempts to show her father what true love really entails, the kind he refuses
her(Lacan 1956-57, 144-145). What does Lacan mean by this?

 is clearly illustrates how difficult it is to completely separate the Oedipus complex from
Th
psychogenesis. If the homosexual nature of Freuds female patient is indeed a reaction to an
Oedipal trauma, it certainly concerns the question of how she became homosexual as well,
not only her place in a structure.
Lacan says that in this instance it concerns an imaginary identification whereby the subject
literally places itself in the position of the object with which it identifies.
According to Freud, the young womans interest in small boys is, in fact, an interest in their
mothers and should consequently be approached as such. In this way, Freud indicates that
the young woman has in fact always been homosexual (Freud 1920, 154). See Chapter 4 for
a more detailed discussion of this problematic.
Therefore, the homosexual young woman does not love her lady friend by proxy as does
Dora Frau K.
110

Lacan and the homosexual young woman

Lacan reminds us that, according to Freud, the homosexual young womans


object choice integrates seamlessly with that of certain men whose love object
has to meet two specific requirements: a woman who is already bound to
another man and, when it comes to matters of the heart, has somewhat of a
reputation (because she is, for example, a flirt). The relationship with this
object is, in turn, characterised by idealisation on the one hand and the desire
to save this idealised object from moral decay on the other. Lacan especially
emphasises the fact that in Freuds complex description of this particular type
of male object-choice the woman must be of ill repute while at the same time
idealised (Freud 1910b). The relationship between the homosexual young
woman and her lover is indeed not only absolutely platonic, but the young
woman simultaneously worships and idealises her love object.5
Lacan says that the homosexual young woman expects a child from her
father to compensate for the missing phallus. At the same time, however, she
clearly yet unconsciously admits to herself that in many respects she is still
inferior to her adult rival her mother (Lacan 1956-57, 145). Consequently,
what she attempts to express by way of her idealising infatuation, Lacan
continues, is precisely that one can love someone for what she does not have.
The homosexual young woman realises that the woman on whom she set her
sights following rejection by her father cannot give her what she desires. She
fully knows that her lady friend cannot give her the phallus of her unconscious
desires; she can only claim it from her father. Her mothers pregnancy proves
this. According to Lacan, this homosexual relationship should be considered
a metonymic process: It speaks of something other than that which it indicates
at first glance.6 Hence, the young woman does not want to show her father
that she prefers women to men as lovers. Rather, she wants to prove that
love transcends every object and every gift through which love expresses itself

5
6

 lso, see Lacan 1956-57, 109 in this regard.


A
Metonymy is a rhetoric figure that does not directly express what is actually meant, but
rather, indicates meaning by way of another word or expression that belongs to the same
semantic context. Lacans classic example of metonymy comes to mind here: thirty sails
for thirty ships. The alternative word (sails) does not then refer to its own referent but
something contiguous (ships). In the case of the homosexual young woman, this implies
that the homosexual relationship, in fact, fulfils the same function as the alternative word in
the linguistic metonymy, and that this relationship refers to something that is contiguous to
it: the possibility of loving someone for what she does not have.
111

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

(Lacan 1956-57, 145).7 This distinguishes her from Dora, whose symptoms
have a metaphoric character according to Lacan. These symptoms uniquely
express the way in which Dora attempts to formulate an answer to the question
of what it means to be a woman (Lacan 1956-57, 145-146).8

2. A Lacanian Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria and Perversion?


In the previous chapter we pointed out that Lacan seems to support, at least
in a general sense, the project of a clinical anthropology, or a pathoanalysis
of existence. For example, Lacan calls hysteria a primordial structure in the
relation between the human being and the signifier (Lacan 1957-58, 365).
Hysteria is linked with the essence of desire itself. In his seminar on the object
relation, however, Lacan does not immediately conclude that this structure
expresses itself in pathology as well as cultural forms. With respect to the
former, Lacan limits himself to the conclusion that hysteria confronts us with
an essential aspect of human existence as such.9 At the same time, however,
at least implicitly he maintains a structural distinction between normal and
pathological types of hysteria.
7

 e metonymic character of perversion in the case of the homosexual young woman becomes
Th
clear in a different way as well. When the lady friend rejects the homosexual young woman
following the meeting with her father, the girl throws herself onto the tracks of the Viennese
subway, attempting to take her own life. According to Freud, this suicide attempt expresses
the young womans need for punishment for the death wishes she feels toward her father
on the one hand, and symbolically fulfils her desire to bear her fathers child on the other
(Freud 1920, 289-290). With regard to the latter, Freud writes: As the latter (fulfilment of
a wish) it meant the attainment of the very wish which, when frustrated, had driven her into
homosexuality namely the wish to have a child by her father, for now she fell through
her fathers fault (Freud 1920, 162). In a footnote, he links the expression fall down
(niederkommen) to bearing a child. Consequently, the suicide attempt is also a way of
relaying a completely different meaning than the one that appears at first glance. According
to Lacan, this is only possible via reference to the word niederkommen, which underpins the
metonymic function of the symptom (Lacan 1956-57, 147).
Generally speaking and without going into Lacans theory on the subject one could
say that metaphor is a rhetoric figure that implies a similarity or likeness between the image
employed and the referent. The process of bringing together an image and the relevant
referent (for example, lion in the sentence Ian is a lion to indicate that Ian is strong and
brave) occurs on the basis of (supposed) similarity rather than contiguity, as is the case in
metonymy. In this way Doras symptoms are metaphors in and through which Dora attempts
to get a grip on whom or what she is or can be as a woman.
Lacan makes this same point in his seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis: Thus I once
quoted a very short formula which brought together the respective mechanisms of hysteria,
obsessional neurosis and paranoia with three forms of sublimation, art, religion and science
(Lacan 1959-60, 129).
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Lacan and the homosexual young woman

With regard to the homosexual young woman, by contrast, Lacan makes a


bold suggestion that can hardly be called anything other than pathoanalytical.
Lacan compares the homosexual young womans platonic love for her lady
friend with courtly love. He indicates that the love experienced by the
homosexual young woman is, in fact, related to the courtly love practised and
developed in the Languedoc by a couple hundred minstrels during the 12th
and 13th centuries.10 In this regard Lacan does not suggest that pathology11
and culture are mutually exclusive; rather, he suggests that they formulate an
answer to one and the same universal problematic. We will first ask ourselves
which problematic is concerned here in concreto.
The following quotation concerning courtly love assists in answering
this question. In his seminar on the La relation dobjet Lacan says: The
worshipping is at the basis of the relation... it is a love that, in itself, not
only doesnt need any satisfaction, but that aims precisely at non-satisfaction.
It is the order in which an ideal love can prosper the institution of lack
in the object relation.12 Elsewhere Lacan calls courtly love a scholastics
of unhappy love (Lacan 1959-60, 146). Courtly love concerns a love that
must remain unrequited. The love between the minstrel and his lady could
never be consummated because of the class difference between the two and
the fact that the lady already belongs to another. Furthermore, the minstrel
idealises his lady love to the extreme. This idealisation and adoration of the
lady contributes to her inaccessibility, which is organised in beautiful verse
as well as ritualised etiquette.13 The lady is inaccessible because she is put on
a pedestal.14 According to Lacan, the love of the homosexual young woman
for her lady friend, as well as the poetry of courtly minstrels, concern the
institution of lack.

10
11

12

13

14

Regarding courtly love, compare Bumke 1989, Lacan 1959-60, and Moyaert 2002, 21-52.
 acan constantly refers to perversion in the context of the homosexual young woman.
L
We think he is merely adhering to the psychiatric parlance of his time, which classified
homosexuality as a type of perversion.
cest lexaltation qui est au fond de la relationCest un amour qui, en soi, non seulement
se passe de satisfactions, mais vise trs prcisment la non-satisfaction. Cest lordre mme
dans lequel un amour idal peut spanouir linstitution du manque dans la relation
dobjet (Lacan 1956-57, 109, our translation).
The courtly poet could, for instance, receive a chaste kiss from his lady love under strict
conditions, or even behold her naked body (Moyaert 2002, 22-23).
This by no means implies that courtly love is pure spiritual Schwrmerei. We return to this
point extensively in our discussion of the distinction between courtly love and the love of
the homosexual young woman.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

The homosexual young woman wants to make clear to her father that love
transcends every object that can be exchanged in the context of a love relation.
As we know, love cannot be reduced to utilitarian motives, and no single
object can provide a neat and adequate expression of love. In other words,
every object fails to express loves true nature. The homosexual young woman
not only highlights this aspect of love, but she also systemises and radicalises
it; to show her father that love transcends every concrete exchange object, she
becomes involved in a homosexual relationship with a lady she adores.15 The
girl becomes consumed by her lady friend, and she neglects all other interests.
At the same time she renounces every single fulfilment. It is clear from the
start that the lady is unable to give her what she unconsciously desires: a child
as compensation for the missing phallus.
According to Freud, adoration for the lady friend is testimony to sexual
overvaluation (Sexualberschtzung), which is the source of every authority
(Freud 1905b, 150). It leads to a situation in which the subject is reduced
to nothingness. The subject becomes completely subordinate to another,
one whose every whim it follows unconditionally. The powerless and painful
subjection that sometimes characterises infatuation is universally known: here
I become the plaything of the Other at whose complete mercy I am. The same
goes for courtly love: the minstrel wants to meet his lady loves wishes not
because these wishes are fair (even if perhaps they are) but because they are her
wishes and he does not want to lose her. According to Lacan, it is no different
in the relationship between the homosexual young woman and her lady friend
(Lacan 1956-57, 110).
The whole mise en scne of the homosexual young woman only makes sense,
however, in the context of the Oedipal problematic of which we are familiar.
The young woman cannot overcome her Oedipal attachment to her father and
in contrast to Doras father he appears to be soundly in possession of the
phallus. Her father also indicates in a decisive fashion his preference for her
mother, and it is for this specific reason that she feels compelled to clarify the
fundamental nature of love to her father via a homosexual relationship. Her
relationship with the lady friend must remain unfulfilled. This is supposed
to indicate to her father that although the mother can offer something the
young girl cannot, this is not a good enough reason to prefer the mother
above the girl. We can formulate all of this in a different way, in terms with
which we are already now familiar: the homosexual young woman continues
15

S ince the source of this adoration lies in an Oedipal trauma, it also has a defensive meaning
in the case of the homosexual young woman. It serves to repel the unconscious desire for the
phallus-child. We return to this point.
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Lacan and the homosexual young woman

to experience lack as frustration as the lack of an object she can claim as her
rightful possession and not as a lack that characterises the structure of desire
itself and of humankind as a linguistic creature. In this instance the girls
relationship with her lady friend is motivated by resentment toward her father.
This last point allows us to discuss the distinction Lacan draws between
courtly love and the homosexual young womans love for her lady friend.
Courtly love is a scholastics of unhappy love in which the institution of lack
plays an essential role. As was the case with Dora and the homosexual young
woman, the unfulfillable character of desire and love is essential to the practice
of courtly love in both word and deed. However, unlike in either hysteria or
the case of the homosexual young woman, courtly love radicalises unsatiability
neither to fend something off (hysteria), nor as an attempt to earn something
to which one continues to feel entitled (the case of homosexual young
woman). Courtly love sings the praises of the structural impossibility of desires
fulfilment and it does so by way of the ladys idealisation, which puts her out
of reach. Moreover, poetry is not the only way that courtly love cultivates this
impossibility and idealisation; it equally does so through ritualised practices
in which the relationship with the lady takes shape. Courtly love does not,
however, aim at an effect outside this form of art as such, which would put its
activity in the service of another goal.16 In this instance the activity finds its
goal in itself; it is not established with a view to something that lies beyond it,
the lack of which is experienced as frustration.
Let us pause for a moment to reflect on this last thought. Courtly love
expresses the structural character of lack from which desire originates. It exposes
the radicality of lack. Here desires lost object no longer appears as something
we would, in principle, be entitled to, as is the case with frustration. According
to Lacan, courtly poetry through a systematic and deliberate use of the
signifier as such (Lacan 1959-60, 148), which he calls a well saying (bien
dire) in other instances articulates the ultimate truth of desire, without
subsequently misrecognising it. In this regard, Lacan at times elsewhere speaks
of an acceptance or assumption of castration. In frustration we basically deny
the structural character of lack instituted by language of which the phallus is
the ultimate signifier. This also means the so-called acceptance of castration
coincides, in principle, with complete implementation of the metaphor of
the Name-of-the-Father (Lacan 1957-58, 367) or the acknowledgment that
16

 e fact that the courtly lover relinquishes fulfilment in the relationship with his lady love
Th
does not mean that he relinquishes every form of sexual fulfilment (Moyaert 2002, and
passim). In this respect too, the courtly lover is different from Dora as well as the homosexual
young woman.
115

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

desire can only be fulfilled by signifiers thus never completely (Van Haute
2000, 149-154 and passim).17
Acceptance of lack abandonment of demand for the phallus or its
substitute and assumption of castration are sometimes (implicitly or
explicitly) presented as a kind of psychological condition in which people do or
do not find themselves. If this were the case, we could leave frustration without
delay. Frustration is a substantially different condition than castration, and we
find ourselves in one or the other but not both at the same time. Lacans views
on courtly love indicate that perhaps things are not so simple. In the first place
courtly love teaches us that the abandonment of desires possible fulfilment is
no glad tiding, one about which the courtly poet writes saccharine verses but
is otherwise untroubled. In no way therefore, can courtly love be converted
into somewhat non-committal Schwrmerei (Moyaert 2002, 24).18 On the
contrary, that which appears to be impossible and is indeed prohibited on a
corporal level physical love and intercourse is at the same time spelled out
in poetry. At times courtly poems are extremely crude (Lacan 1959-60, 1991).
Consequently, the courtly poet suffers from the impossibility he continues
to bring to the fore (Moyaert 2002, 23 ff), which he actualises at the same
time in courtly rituals again and again. In this way castration appears less as
a condition that can be described in psychological terms than as an ongoing
linguistic and ritualised practice through which we painfully and laboriously
confront ourselves with lacks structural character.19 Perhaps the best way to
understand this point is to consider the fact that the development of this
practice ultimately makes it possible to divert attention away from the missing
object of fulfilment. Unrealistic attempts to obtain that which we lack no longer
consume all our attention; rather we focus on the poetic presentation and ritual
elaboration of the structural failure of these attempts. In this way courtly love is
a continuously repeating effort to withdraw from the denial of lack.
This makes it clear that not even the courtly poet ever fully escapes
frustration, he never finds himself fully beyond frustration. The art of well
saying (Lart de bien dire) of which courtly love is an illustration does not
free us once and for all from the frustration and misrecognition of lack. This
misrecognition has to be overcome time and again, and the latter is never a
17

18
19

In the light of our previous discussion it is clear that this acceptance is intrinsically linked
to the installation of the phallus as signifier of impossible fulfilment (Lacan 1957-58, 367).
Elaborating on this problematic would lead us too far astray here. See Van Haute 2000, 149154 for further commentary on this problematic.
For a highly relevant distinction between courtly love and mysticism, see Moyaert 2002, 25.
This also implies that in contradistinction to the adoration of the lady by the homosexual
young woman, the adoration of the lady in courtly love has no defensive function.
116

Lacan and the homosexual young woman

definitive achievement. As we did earlier with Freud, perhaps in this case we


should think in terms of differences in degree rather than kind. The same
problematic is at stake in pathology and culture, and no one escapes pathology,
just as no one ever escapes culture or even literature. In this model then,
sublimation does not necessarily free us from the need to form symptoms.
Here there is only room for differences in degree: the human being is literally
suspended between pathology and culture.
In Creative Writers and Daydreaming (1908b), Freud writes that the
literary presentation of our phantasies gives way to a purely formalthat
is, aestheticyield of pleasure (1908b, 153). It is precisely this pleasure
that allows us to avoid the resistance that aggressive and erotic phantasies
often encounter. Without finding pleasure in the way in which we express
our phantasies, there would be no pleasure whatsoever. This formal pleasure
is, according to Freud, the incentive bonus by way of which The writer
(enables) us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without selfreproach or shame (Freud 1908b, 153). It goes without saying that Lacans
discussion of courtly love does not necessarily oppose Freuds discussion of
literature. For Lacan, however, the emphasis is not as much on the pleasurable
relation to phantasies that would otherwise remain inaccessible or conjure
up only abhorrence. In fact, Lacan emphasises the confrontation with the
truth of desire as such, which is underpinned by an irremovable lack. For
Lacan nothing excludes the possibility that the courtly poet or reader also
experiences pleasure in writing and reading these texts, but this is simply
not his primary interest.20 What interests Lacan is that courtly poetry makes
visible, without immediately misrecognising it, the ultimate truth of desire
through a systematic and deliberate use of the signifier as such (Lacan 195960, 148).

Conclusion
In his seminars on La relation dobjet and Les formations de linconscient
Lacan provides an Oedipal explanation of hysteria and Freuds case study on
Dora. Both in Lacan and Freud this Oedipal framework is at odds with the
20

In some of Lacans later works, this shift takes place in conjunction with the introduction
of the distinction between pleasure (plaisir) and enjoyment (jouissance). A systematic
discussion of this distinction would lead us too far astray here and adds nothing to this
argument. We come back on this distinction in chaper 8. For more on the relationship
between pleasure and jouissance in the work of Lacan, see, for instance, Moyaert 2010 and
Braunstein 1992.
117

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

pathoanalytical perspective we defend in this book. In the Lacanian version of


the Oedipus complex, dealing with the Oedipal problematic aims primarily
at acceptance of lack or, if you will, overcoming frustration in favour of
castration. Furthermore, victory over misrecognition of lack is often linked
with the full implementation of the metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father. This
seems to imply and this is definitely a possible reading that misrecognition
of lack, which characterises various pathologies in different ways, can be fully
overcome in principle.21 In hysteria, misrecognition of lack is accompanied
by a refusal to take on the role of exchange object in a kinship structure.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that Lacan understands the question What is
a woman?, which dominates the hysterical problematic, as a symptom rather
than a universal problematic to which no adequate answer can ever be given.
In this chapter we nonetheless showed that Lacan can be read in a different
way. To do so we took Lacans interpretation of courtly love as our point of
orientation. Lacan compares courtly love with that of the homosexual young
woman for her lady. He presents courtly love as a victory over the ambiguity
characteristic of the homosexual young womans love: her focus is on the
insatiable character of desire, but at the same time she unconsciously refuses to
accept being denied the ultimate object, and continues claiming it. However,
this victory is not a psychological condition nor can it be described as such.
On the contrary, it should be understood as a continuous and repetitive
attempt to reveal to ones self the irremovable character of lack. In this way
pathology and culture can be placed on a continuum: humans live out their
existence in a permanent tension between these two poles.
In our discussion of the link Freud establishes between hysteria and the
classic 19th century novel, we pointed out that romantic films have taken the
place of novels as sublimated social day dreams. We suggested that cinema has
become a gigantic day-dream factory in which spectators can indulge their
multiple bisexual identifications with heroes and heroines. We might similarly
ask ourselves which cultural activity in our society has replaced (or at least
21

 acanian-inspired authors sometimes struggle with the blurred lines between normality
L
and pathology (See for instance Verhaeghe 1997). The aversion to gradual distinctions is
undoubtedly linked to thinking in terms of structures hysterical, psychotic, and so forth
that present a new interpretation of classical differential diagnostics. This aversion and
the accompanying structural approach to pathology results in a situation where structural a
distinction needs to be introduced between a normal hysteria that flows from submission
to the signifier as such, and a pathological form of hysteria that is substantially (structurally)
different from the former (Verhaeghe 1997, passim). Not only does this betray Freuds and
Lacans? pathoanalytical inspiration, but in our opinion it also threatens once again turning
psychoanalysis into a normative discourse.
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Lacan and the homosexual young woman

has the potential to replace) medieval courtly love, as Lacan understands it.22
According to Lacan, psychoanalytical practice is an excellent candidate for
this role. Like courtly love23, this practice aims at a bien dire that enables us to
mourn the loss of an ultimate fulfilment (Lacan 1959-60, 337-375).
In the works with which we have here been concerned it is clear that Lacan
neither systematically develop this inspiration nor does he explicitly establish
a link between hysteria and specific cultural forms of expression.24 Our
discussion of the homosexual young woman allows us to do so nonetheless.
Dora and the homosexual young woman battle the same problematic. They
give different answers to the same problematic because the father occupies a
different structural position in the respective cases. It is this problematic the
institution of lack in the object relation and not the different answers given
by Dora and the homosexual young woman that finds a cultural analogy in
courtly love.
Freud claims that a general human hysterical disposition expresses itself
in both pathology and literature. Lacan replaces reference to a constitutional
disposition with reference to a structural problematic, which essentially
characterises desire as an effect of the signifier. As is the case with Freud, in
Lacans work pathology appears as a caricature of specific cultural forms. The
love of the homosexual young woman is a caricature of courtly love, but it
sates its thirst at the same source. As unlikely as literature is, according to
Freud, to free us once and for all from hysterical pathology and symptoms,
just as unlikely, says Lacan, is courtly love or its cultural equivalent of allowing
us once and for all to overcome the misrecognition that dominates the love of
the homosexual young woman. Freud and Lacan agree in at least one respect
human beings live out their existence in a continuous tension between culture
and pathology that cannot be resolved.
This last point does not exclude that the way in which Lacan raises this
issue involves a significant shift with regard to the work of Freud. Although
hysteria is for Freud, as for Lacan, the royal road to human existences truth,
Freud thinks the surpassing of this pathology in culture concerns less an
understanding of this truth than the aesthetic yield of pleasure literature
offers us. Although Lacan does not deny this pleasure, he does not see it as
22
23
24

 e return to this problematic more extensively in our conclusion.


W
This is also true of art in general. In this regard see Van Haute 1996 as well.
The possibility of such a link is, however, ever present in Lacans work. We referred before
to the passage from The ethics of psychoanalysis in which Lacan connects the consecutive
mechanisms of hysteria, obsessional neurosis, and paranoia with three types of sublimation:
art, religion, and science (Lacan 1959-60, 129). The pathoanalytical perspective should not
then be foreign to Lacan.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

literatures fundamental characteristic. Literature is essentially a well saying


(bien dire) that facilitates a confrontation with the truth of our existence as
such.
Even in his later texts Lacan never elaborates explicitely on the patho
analytical perspective as discussed here. However, this does not prevent these
texts from lending themselves to a pathoanalytical understanding of hysteria,
especially those that centre on the problematic of female sexuality.25 In these
texts it seems as though Lacan is able to overcome his ambiguous relationship to
the pathoanalytical project. In the light of our argument it is hardly surprising
that this victory is closely related to his abandonment of the Oedipus complex
as the ultimate explanation of pathology. As we indicated before, the Oedipus
complex inevitably introduces a normative element at odds with the project
of pathoanalysis. In the next chapter we indicate how Lacans abandonment
of the Oedipus complex in his later texts should be understood, and how this
evolution facilitates a pathoanalytical re-interpretation of his work.

25

 e Other Side of Psychoanalysis (Lacan 1969-70) and On Feminine Sexuality. The Limits of
Th
Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73) specifically come to mind.
120

Chapter 7

Beyond Oedipus?
Introduction
Freud tries time and again to convince Dora she is in love with Herr K. Again
and again Freud attempts to orient Doras problems in a heterosexual matrix.
Despite his theory of constitutional bisexuality, Freud constantly falls prey
to preconceived and almost unshakeable prejudices on the nature of human
desire and the ways in which this desire is supposed to develop. Women are
destined for men, and in cases where this is not immediately clear, therapy
serves to instil this understanding in extremis. Doras responses to Freuds
attempts are lukewarm, and she terminates her therapy prematurely as a
result. In this way, she confronts Freud with his inadequate knowledge and
shortcomings as a psychoanalyst.
In the years following the publication of Fragment of an Analysis of a Case
of Hysteria, Freud gradually develops his theory of the Oedipus complex.
By the time he meets the homosexual young woman whose problematic
we have discussed extensively, Freud had by and large fully developed this
theory. Hence, Freud initially seeks an explanation for this young girls
strange behaviour in the vicissitudes of her relationship with her parents, and
particularly in that with her father. By this time Freud thinks all pathology
can be understood from the perspective of the Oedipus complex. When Freud
proposes his assessments to the young patient, instead of denying them, she
says with ironic apathy: How very interesting. She does not deem Freuds
theoretical assessments worthy of discussion and confronts him with his own
impotence in the process.
In both cases Lacan believes Freud intervenes as a master. His interventions
are motivated by a knowledge he silently believes to be the expression of
the ultimate truth of unconscious desire (Lacan 1969-70, 118). Not only
are these interventions seen as bringing order to the diverse associations of
Freuds analysands, in both cases they also clearly have a normative meaning:
Dora must subscribe to a heteronormative theory of desire, and the young
homosexual woman should admit her love for her father, since only in this
way can she free herself from her fascination with her lady friend. For this
reason the associations of Freuds patients could no longer really surprise
him. They are reduced to illustrations of a preconceived theory. It is thus no
121

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

surprise that, in their own ways, both Dora and the young homosexual turn
their backs on Freud.
In Freuds later works and those of the Freudian tradition, the Oedipus
complex becomes the shibboleth of psychoanalysis. In different ways it is
elevated to the nuclear complex of neurosis and the ultimate foundation of
pathology. It is understood as the royal road to the truth of human existence
and psychopathology. We have shown how the Oedipus complex inevitably
brings to psychoanalytic theory a normative element. One cannot seamlessly
reconcile this normative element with the pathoanalytic ideas of Freuds early
works. In the works of Lacan discussed here a structuralist interpretation of
the Oedipus complex also plays a key role. At the same time, however, these
works cannot be confined to this perspective. In Lacans discussion of the
young homosexual he breaks through the narrow confines of an Oedipal
approach and provides an interesting impetus to the development of a clinical
anthropology.
In his later work particularly in his seminars The Other Side of
Psychoanalysis (Lacan 1969-70)1 and On Female Sexuality. The Limits of Love
and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73) Lacan breaks with the classical Freudian
Oedipal frameworks. In these works he subjects the Oedipus complex theory
to a penetrative critique. From this point on he calls the Oedipus complex
useless in the clinical setting (Lacan 1969-70, 113). He also expresses
surprise that this discovery was not made sooner (Lacan 1969-70, 113).
According to Lacan, the clinical experience of hysteria in particular should
have shown psychoanalysts that the Freudian Oedipus complex is unable to
adequately account for the relationship between the hysterical patient and the
mythical master figure from whom she expects an answer to all her questions.
Hysterical patients themselves continuously set up this master figure and seek
his counsel... until he fails.2 Dora and the homosexual young woman dismiss
Freuds interventions, exposing in this way the inadequacy of his knowledge.
The hysterical patient, says Lacan, incarnates the truth of the master that she
herself set up, namely, that he falls short structurally and is inadequate.3 Since
1
2

 or commentary on this lecture series see Safouan, 2005 and Clemens & Grigg, 2006.
F
What is there to conceal? That, as soon as the father enters the field of the masters discourse
where we are in the process of orientating ourselves, he is, from the origins, castratedthe
experience with the hysteric, if not her sayings, at least the configurations she presented him
with, should have guided him better here than the Oedipus complex does and led him to
consider that this suggests that, at the level of analysis itself, everything is to be put back into
question concerning what is necessary from knowledge, in order for this knowledge to be
called into question in the site of truth (Lacan 1969-70, 101) We return to this passage at
a later stage.
Or, in more Lacanian terminology, that he is castrated. We return to this later.
122

Beyond Oedipus?

the hysterical patient is not herself aware of this, she has no choice but to put
forward this truth time and again.
In order to fully comprehend this claim, we have to take a step back. In The
Other Side of Psychoanalysis Lacan calls the Oedipus complex Freuds dream
(Lacan 1969-70, 135, 159), by which he means that Freuds formulation of
this complex should be interpreted like any other dream. More specifically, it
means that the theoretical articulation of this complex reveals, in a disguised
way, something about Freuds own unconscious desire4 that simultaneously
obscures his vision of the truth of the Oedipus myth. According to Lacan,
this truth is the structural and inevitable castration of the master, which is
an effect of language.5 This truth is lost in Freuds interpretation of the myth
(Lacan 1969-70, 130). The Freudian myth about a primal father who owns
all the women and is murdered by his jealous sons should also be interpreted
in such a way that its latent content can surface. As in the Freudian reading of
Sophocles, the theme of the death of the father and patricide in this Freudian
myth also hides the structural and insurmountable character of castration.
Had Freud not allowed himself to become blinded by the neurotic problems
of his patients in which patricide unconsciously played a crucial role, he
might have realised that what is at stake in the Oedipus myth is the truth and
impossibility of ever completely merging this truth with knowledge (Lacan
1969-70, 134-135). According to Lacan, Oedipus personifies the master
figure and his castration. First we discuss Lacans criticism of the Freudian
Oedipus complex. This criticism ultimately allows us to reread the case of
Dora once again.

1. Freud reads Sophocles6


Freuds first reference to the Oedipal problematic occurs in his letters to Fliess
(Freud 1986). He writes that he discovered in himself the infatuation with
the mother and the rivalry with the father. He further adds that this theme
characterises everybodys childhood, which explains why the Oedipus myth
4

 is is the equivalent of the latent content of a dream. Freuds explicit interpretation of the
Th
Oedipus myth corresponds with the manifest content of a dream.
Castration is a real operation that is introduced through the incidence of the signifier, no
matter which, into the sexual relation (rapport sexuel). And it goes without saying that it
determines the father as this impossible real that we have been talking about (Lacan 196970, 129). We return to this passage at a later stage.
For the most part we base this section on a very interesting article by Demoulin, Loedipe,
rve de Freud (Demoulin 2002).
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

continues to make such a strong impression on us. At one time in our youth
all of us were little Oedipuses. Even if we have repressed these infantile wishes,
they remain active in our unconscious. This makes possible our remaining
under the spell of King Oedipus fate, despite our intellectual reservations
against fates determining our existence (Freud 1985, 272).
Freud returns to this Oedipal theme in The Interpretation of Dreams in
his chapter concerning typical dreams (Freud 1900, from 248 onwards).
He devotes a number of pages to dreams about the death of loved ones, not
only siblings but also parents, specifically, a parent of the opposite sex than
that of the dreamer (Freud 1900, 256). He also connects these dreams with
infantile Oedipal desires repressed after puberty but that remain active in the
unconscious.
Freud refers to the Oedipus myth and Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex to
support this argument. He writes that a legend has come down to
us from classical antiquity: a legend whose profound and universal power to
move can only be understood if the hypothesis I have put forward in regard
to the psychology of children has an equally universal validity (Freud 1900,
261). Freud rejects the belief that the legends tragic effect lies in the contrast
between the almighty will of the gods on the one hand and humankinds
inability to escape the evils that threaten it on the other (Freud 1900, 262).
On the contrary, he writes that King Oedipus, who slew his father Las
and married his mother Jocasta, merely shows us the fulfilment of our own
childhood wishes (Freud 1900, 262). Freud finds support for this argument
in Sophocles work as well. Jocaste herself mentions to Oedipus a dream
dreamt by many people: Many a man ere now in dreams hath lain with her
who bare him. He hath least annoy who with such omens troubleth not his
mind (line 982 ff, cited in Freud 1900, 264). Freud says this dream is but
the complement to that regarding the death of the father. Hence, the Oedipus
fable is nothing more than our phantasys reaction to both of these typical
dreams (Freud 1900, 264). Since these dreams are unacceptable to adults, this
fable must also incorporate fright and self-punishment (Freud 1900, 264).
Oedipus gouges out his own eyes when he realises what he has done.
Notice that in his discussion, Freud fails to draw a distinction between
the Oedipus myth, with its different versions, and Sophocles tragedy (Lacan
1969-70, 131). Neither does he question the political or cultural context in
which this legend was created. Freud believes reference to the two childhood
desires just mentioned provides a sufficient understanding of this tragedy.
He limits himself to the most manifest level of the Oedipus myth and its
meaning (Lacan 1969-70, 130 ff). At this level he most definitely has a point:
124

Beyond Oedipus?

Oedipus commits two crimes that Freud believes constitute the core of the
Oedipus legend, of which he wants to understand the lasting impact. Lacan
nevertheless notes that this limitation of the legends meaning at the same
time denudes it of all tragic effect (Lacan 1969-70, 131; 134).
One can indeed find in Sophocles text, as Freud justly remarks, an explicit
reference to the desire to sleep with the mother, but the desire to kill the
father is a much more complicated issue. First, Freud introduces this desire
in a chapter about typical dreams that contain references to the death of
loved ones, but none that refer to patricide. There is an unexplained gap in
his argument here. Nor is this theme as obviously evident in the tragedy of
Sophocles as Freud claims it to be. It is true that Laius murder gives Oedipus
access to his mother, but Oedipus murders his father without realising it.
Moreover his father is only his father in the strictly biological sense. Laius only
provides the seed from which Oedipus is conceived (Lacan 1969-70, 148).

2. A Psychoanalytical Origin Tale: Totem and Taboo


The Freudian Oedipus complex cannot be separated from the myth regarding
societys origin that Freud himself designs in Totem and Taboo (Freud 1913a).
Origin myth is not in fact a fitting description of the tale Freud tells in
that work. He believes the tale describes the real origin of human society and
history. It has often been argued that the theory of the Oedipus complex is
a continuation of this origin myth since this myth can be understood as
historical justification for this complex. However, Lacan remarks that it is
indeed strange that no one has been concerned with the fact that the content
of Totem and Taboo differs strongly from Freuds characteristic reference to
the tragedy of Sophocles (Lacan 1969-70, 131). The role and meaning of the
(murder of the) father are indeed central in both the classic Oedipus complex
and the origin myth from Totem and taboo, but this role is different in the
two cases. In the classic Oedipus complex the law of the father prohibits
intercourse with the mother and, vice versa, Oedipus must first kill his father
to sleep with his mother (Lacan 1969-70, 139). Here patricide provides access
to an incestuous pleasure.7
7

 esides, in this case Lacan believes it concerns less desire for the mother than desire of the
B
mother. From this perspective the law of the father limits the unlimited pleasure of the
mother. This law puts a lid on the desire of the mother. The law of the father prevents the
small child from being reduced to the ultimate object of desire of the mother. This also
defines the meaning of the law of the father.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

Matters are completely different in Totem and Taboo.8 In that work, Freud
conceptualises a myth about humanitys origin in which the starting point is
less the law than an unlimited pleasure of the father this time. Freud was
himself absolutely convinced of its truth. The original father figure, writes
Freud, owned all the women, denying his sons access in the process. This
is the reason he is murdered. The sons hoped patricide would ensure their
participation in the fathers unlimited pleasure. But the murder does not have
its intended effect. Following his murder, the sons continue feeling obliged to
the fathers laws. Freud writes that their behaviour is guided by guilt. They are
obedient in a differed way, not so much to avoid a war of all against all for
ownership of the women, but because they feel guilty about the murder. The
sons not only feared and hated their father, they also loved him. In this way,
the power of the dead father can be greater than that of the living father
(Freud 1913a, 149). Hence, this murder results not in access to an incestuous
and unlimited pleasure but rather submission to the law of the father.

3. Freuds Dream
We mentioned before that Lacan believes the Freudian Oedipus complex
should be read as a dream of Freuds. His thoughts on the matter should
be interpreted like those of any other dream. We must first ask ourselves
where does Freuds patricidal theme stem from? In this context Lacan refers
to the preface of The Interpretation of Dreams (Lacan 1969-70, 141), where
Freud writes the following regarding this books significance to him: It was,
I found, a portion of my own self-analysis, my reaction to my fathers death
that is to say, the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a mans
life (Freud 1900, xxvi). We remember that Freud interprets the dream of the
fathers death from the perspective of a childhood desire to murder the father.
This would consequently allow the little child access to the mother.9 Hence
the dream of murdering the father is a reaction to his death: Freud, Lacan
writes, thus wished to be guilty for his fathers death (Lacan 1969-70, 122).
To understand this claim, we should once again turn our attention to
Lacans interpretation of Totem and Taboo. The fathers murder is central in
this case as well. Moreover, Freud understands this murder as a historic event.
What is there to conceal? Lacan asks and answers: That, as soon as the
8
9

For a detailed discussion of this evolution, see Grigg 2008.


 e fact that references to the Oedipus complex and the Oedipal explanations are only
Th
included in later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams is not without importance to our
discussion.
126

Beyond Oedipus?

father enters the field of the masters discourse where we are in the process
of orientating ourselves, he is, from the origins, castrated (Lacan 196970, 101).10 The theme of patricide is nothing more than a defence against
castration. How should we understand this?
In this instance Lacan refers to a patients dream Freud discusses in his
chapter on absurd dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams. This dream runs
as follows: His father was alive once more and was talking to him in his usual
way, but (the remarkable thing was that) he had really died, only he did not
know it (Freud 1900, 430, Freuds italics). This dream becomes intelligible,
writes Freud, if one adds in consequence of the dreamers wish after but he
had really died. The same is true of He did not know if it is supplemented
with that the dreamer had this desire (Freud 1900, 430). Lacan says that
Freuds introduction of the theme of the murder of the father, this dream,
and Totem and Taboos origin myth all indicate an attempt to obscure the
fathers castration in other words, his actual limitations and mortality. As
long as we are capable of believing (unconsciously) that the fathers death is
the consequence of murder, we are also capable of believing that his death is
the exclusive consequence of this murder. Or, in the terminology of Totem and
Taboo, as long as we believe that collective patricide terminated the fathers
pleasure, we are also capable of misrecognising the structural character of
castration the impossibility of unlimited pleasure outside the law (Lacan
1969-70, 141-143).

4. Castration as the Truth of the Oedipus Complex


According to Lacan, Freuds emphasis on the historical character of the
origin myth in Totem and Taboo and, more generally, his emphasis on the
fathers murder, should be understood as a misrecognition of castrations
structural character. Totem and Taboo implies a misrecognition of castration
as the ultimate truth of desire and the subject. As with any other dream,
however, Freuds origin myth not only obscures. Lacan points out that this
myth simultaneously highlights an important truth about desire, albeit
in a distorted way. By postulating a similarity between the dead father and
unlimited pleasure or jouissance (Lacan 1969-70, 143-144), this tale indicates
an impossibility. Someone who is deceased cannot, after all, take pleasure.
Hence, Lacan equates the dead father with the real, according to the formula
10

S ee footnote 2 for the French text. For a detailed discussion of Lacans theory of the four
discourses, see Fink 1998 and Verhaeghe 1997 among others, passim.
127

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

that the real is the impossible (Lacan 1969-70, 143). He means by this that
the dead father refers to a dimension that is structurally outside the human
realm of all possible meaning. Lacan says it is the father of the primal horde
who appears in the dreams of neurotics more specifically, those of hysterical
patients. It is the father who has an answer to any and all questions, and
in particular, one who would satisfactorily answer the question What does a
woman want?11
We already find this theme in the seminar La relation dobjet, discussed in
previous chapters.12 In this early seminar Lacan refers to the familiar criticism
that Freud takes little or no account of the actual physical pleasure experienced
by women, particularly young girls. Freud believes that the young girl does
not, after all, has knowledge of the vaginas existence.13 In La relation dobjet
Lacan argues that Freud neither attempts to minimise the importance, nor
deny the existence, of female pleasure in this way; rather, Lacan says Freuds
intention was to show that this pleasure only becomes meaningful within the
symbolic order. It is in the symbolic order, Lacan explains, that the phallus
serves as the signifier of lack (Lacan 1956-57, 141).
In Lacans discussion, the phallus emerges as the signifier that indicates the
desire of the Other, insofar as this desire is submitted to the order of signifiers,
in other words, insofar as it ultimately escapes all concrete determinations.
Various objects any object in principle can appear in the space marked
by this signifier and thus obtain a phallic meaning. This implies that these
objects momentarily appear to the subject as possible fulfilments of its desire.
Nevertheless, such an ultimate fulfilment is impossible. The phallus is the
signifier of an irremovable lack in the symbolic: an object capable of fulfilling
desire is in reality irretrievable.14

11

12
13

14

 The idea of putting the omnipotent father at the origin of desire is very adequately refuted
by the fact that Freud extracted its master signifiers from the hysterics desire. It must not be
forgotten, in effect, that this is where Freud began and that he acknowledged what it is that
remains at the center of his questionIts the question, What does a woman want? (Lacan
1969-70, 129). From our reading of Freud it becomes clear that the connection Lacan makes
here between the Oedipus complex, Totem and Taboo, and hysteria can be challenged from
a historical perspective. The introduction of the Oedipus complex concerns Freuds growing
focus on obsessional neurosis from roughly 1910 onwards (Van Haute & Geyskens 2010).
For what follows, see Lacan 1956-57, from 141 onwards.
For a critique of the philosophical presuppositions on which this theory is based, see Van
Haute 2005.
We return in greater detail to this problem, as well as that of the accompanying phallic
pleasure, in the next chapter.
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Beyond Oedipus?

For the woman, however, the phallocentric nature of the symbolic implies
that in the symbolic her desire can only take shape in terms of a male signifier.
Lacan often says that the symbolic has no signifier to indicate female desire
per se and in itself one separate from reference to the phallically structured
male desire.15 Whichever role is allocated to the woman in the Others desire,
this role can only be interpreted from the perspective of the phallus as signifier
of lack.16 The question What is a woman (outside and independent this
phallic universe)? is the logical consequence. The hysterical subject incarnates
this question, as well as the search for a father capable of answering.
Symbolically structured reality is, by definition, the world of lack indicated
by the phallic signifier (Lacan 1969-70, 149). This implies that within
this order, there is no possible answer to the question What is a woman
(outside and independent this phallic universe)?.17 Consequently, neither can
the father capable of fulfilling desire and answering the hysterical subjects
question be found in this reality. He is an impossibility. This father is a dead
father, which implies a father no longer defined by lack, a father who cannot
fail.
Castration, says Lacan, is an effect of language: ...language...cannot be
anything other than a demand, a demand that fails (Lacan 1969-70, 144). As
we know from the preceding discussions, every demand produces a remainder
specifically because it is articulated in language.18 In this sense, every demand
fails. More specifically, desire only exists by the grace of our inscription in
language, in the chain of signifiers that renew the lack in which it originates
time and again. Lacan also then concludes that castration is a truly symbolic
function that can only be understood from the perspective of the chain of
15
16

17

18

 or an interesting discussion and critique of this theory see Schneider 2004, 299-340.
F
For the preceding see Mitchel & Rose 1982, Miller 2000, Morel 2000 and 2002, Soller
2000 and 2002a, and Monique David-Mnard 2009, among others. In light of the previous
chapters, it appears as though the view that the symbolic lacks a signifier for women and
that the womens role in the Others desire can only be elucidated in terms of the phallus as
signifier of lack is a psychoanalytical version of Lvi-Strausss view that women are exchange
objects between male kinship lines. This view is not, however, Lacans final word on the
matter. We return to this issue in the next chapter.
In his seminar On Feminine Sexuality. The Limits of Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73),
which is discussed in the next chapter, Lacan juxtaposes the limited phallic jouissance
governed by the symbolics laws with another female jouissance that escapes or transcends
the symbolic. Moreover, in that work Lacan totally detaches reference to these forms of
jouissance from biological reality. Not only does this development imply a crucial correction
to Lacanian phallocentric thought as it is discussed here, but it also opens up new possibilities
for a pathoanalytic interpretation of his work. We return to this point.
This is the place where Lacan situates object a the object-cause of desire (Lacan 1969-70,
144). A detailed discussion would take us too far afield. We return to this point in the next
chapter.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

signifiers (Lacan 1969-70, 144).19 In this way, Lacan completely separates the
problem of castration from reference to the murder of the father and, in turn,
the Freudian Oedipus complex. Only reference to the father even if he is
dead still stands, but Lacans re-reading of the Oedipus myth shows that
he wants to substantially re-evaluate this reference too.

5. Oedipus as Incarnation of the Master


We already know that, according to Freud, the Oedipus legend derives its
meaning from the fact it shows the realisation of two inextricable infantile
desires. According to Lacan, however, this is inessential.20 He says that
Oedipus gains access to Jocastes bed less because he murdered his father
unknowingly, besides than because he solved the sphinxs riddle (What
first walks on four legs, then on two, and finally on three?). In other words,
Oedipus becomes king because he mastered the sphinxs test of truth, which
claimed the lives of many citizens before.21 First and foremost Oedipus is
someone who deciphers enigmas for the sake of the community. Half human,
half beast, the sphinx is also an enigmatic creature. Oedipus solves the riddle
humans and frees Thebes from the grips of evil forces in this way (Lacan
1969-70, 140; Demoulin 2002, 403).
Lacan says that Oedipus assumes the position of the master in this way.
He is the one who knows, and is capable of uniting society and protecting
it against danger with his knowledge. For Oedipus, truth and knowledge
are one and the same; there is no separation or distance between the chain
of signifiers and the truth it expresses. In other words, the master denies or
represses the split, which inevitably results from inscription in the signifying
order.22 According to Lacan, the tales continuation proves without a shadow
of a doubt that this is Oedipus significance. When Thebes is hit by the plague
the people turn to Oedipus once again to find a solution. The oracle at Delphi
tells him that Laius murderer, who is Oedipus father and the previous king,
19

20

21

22

 is is the very reason why in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis Lacan introduces a theory of
Th
discourses that replaces reference to the Oedipus myth (Demoulin 2002, 410).
At this point we could also note the influence of Lvi-Strauss and others on Lacans
interpretation of this myth. However, this would deviate too far from our own argument.
For these influences see Grigg 2008 and Demoulin 2002.
Whats important is that Oedipus was admitted to Jocastes side because he had triumphed
at a trial of truth (Lacan 1969-70, 117).
For a more technical discussion of the masters discourse in relation to the three other
discourses Lacan distinguishes in his seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, see Verhaeghe
2001 and Fink 1998 among others.
130

Beyond Oedipus?

is in Thebes and the only way to conquer the plague is by unmasking the
murderer.
At this point, says Lacan, Oedipus finds himself once again confronted
with the problem of the truth, which gives way to something that is at least
partially related to the problematic of castration (Lacan 1969-70, 140). Bit by
bit Oedipus uncovers the truth of what he has done and the circumstances
surrounding his ascension to the throne. When Oedipus realises he is
responsible for his predecessors death, he executes on himself the sentence
he pronounced for the murderer. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes. Lacan
interprets this act as symbolic of castration (Lacan 1969-70, 140-141). In this
way, Oedipus illustrates that the truth of the master is his castration. Since
signifiers are differentially determined and only signify in reference to other
signifiers, the possible coincidence of knowledge and truth is, in principal,
excluded. Every piece of knowledge leaves a remainder. No one can ever fully
express truth; structurally it is a half-said (mi-dire) (Lacan 1969-70, 126).
Lacans re-evaluation of the Oedipus myth topples the Freudian perspective.
This myth does not concern access to the mother as desires ultimate object
through the fathers murder; rather, it concerns the figure of the master and
his structural castration. Consequently this tragedy does not revolve around
desire for the mother but a desire to know and the impossibility of this
knowledge ever coinciding with truth (Lacan 1969-70, 135). In this way the
figure of the (castrated) master replaces the figure of the (murdered) father.

6. Dora and the Search for a Master


We now return to Dora. We already pointed out that, according to Lacan, Freud
positions himself as master through his interventions and interpretations. He
is the one who knows, and his only task consists in convincing Dora of this
knowledge. Several years later Freud himself concedes that his prejudices
regarding sexuality more specifically, what a fully fledged sexual relationship
ought to be made understanding Doras homosexual ties with Frau K
impossible. But perhaps this is not the only thing Freud overlooks. More
important than the homosexual object choice is the dynamic that controls
the hysterical patients desire. We know from the previous chapters that, in
essence, hysterical desire aims at remaining unsatisfied. Hysterical desire is a
desire for an unsatisfied desire. Freud searches for a specific object that answers
Doras (unconscious) desire. He is thus doomed to miss the mark. Hysterical
desire does not aim at being fulfilled by any specific object. Not surprisingly
Dora is unimpressed by Freuds therapeutic and analytical skills. She abandons
131

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

her therapy after only a few months. But what then is the dynamic that
fundamentally determines hysteria, which Lacan identifies but Freud misses?
As in his previous commentaries, in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis
Lacan highlights the importance Dora attaches to the fathers sexual
impotence(Lacan 1969-70, 108).23 One cannot claim that someone fails in
this way, Lacan continues, without simultaneously measuring him against a
symbolic function. Not only is Doras father what he is in reality an ill old
man - but he is also a father in the way a soldier can be a veteran fighter.
The father carries the title former begetter (ancien gniteur) and continues
to carry reference to the possibility of procreation. Even after he has become
impotent he retains this symbolic position toward women. This is the
origin of the fathers idealisation, which characterises and facilitates hysterical
discourse. This idealisation is necessary to elevate the father to the level of
master. Consequently, the hysterical woman seeks the master in the father.24 A
desire to know inspires this master, and she believes he is in principle capable
of answering her questions with which she is struggling.
It is not always clear in which way and to what extent we can retrace
this search for a master in Freuds case study of Dora. In The Other Side of
Psychoanalysis Lacan does not read this text systematically; rather, he uses it
to illustrate his own views. He only refers to it because of his own theory of
hysteria. With regard to the relation to a master, Lacan refers to one of the
two dreams that play a central role in Freuds interpretation of Dora (Lacan
1969-70, 110). Previously we discussed the dream about the burning house.25
In a second dream Dora is told that her father has died, and her mother writes
that she can now return home. After extensive travel Dora returns home,
but she discovers that her family members are already at the graveyard(Freud
1905a, 94 onwards). After Freud explains his interpretation of this dream to
Dora, she remembers another piece of the dream: she went calmly to her
room, and began reading a big book that lay on her writing-table (Freud
23

24

25

 ur subsequent commentary concerns the following passage: It is implicitly to proffer that


O
the father is not merely what he is, that it is a little like ex-soldier he is an ex-sire. He
is a father, like the ex-soldier, until the end of his life. This implies that in the word father
there is something that is always in fact potentially creating. And it is in relation to this fact
that, in this symbolic field, it must be observed that it is the father, in so far as he plays this
pivotal, major role, this master role in the hysterics discourse, that, from this angle of the
power of creation, sustains his position in relation to the woman, even as he is out of action.
This is what is specific to the function from which the hysterics relation to the father stems,
and it is very precisely this that we designate as the idealized father (Lacan 1969-70, 95).
Later she does the same thing with other figures the priest or rabbi, the doctor... the
psychoanalyst.
In this regard, see our second chapter, which discusses Dora.
132

Beyond Oedipus?

1905a, 100) Lacan reads this as illustrating the fact that only the dead father
produces the knowledge of sexuality desired by the hysterical woman Dora
in this case. Freud himself gives a somewhat more trivial explanation. The
dream realises a revenge phantasy aimed at her father. Doras addition fits into
this interpretation: Doras father was deadShe might calmly read whatever
she chose. Did not this mean that one of her motives for revenge was a revolt
against her parents constraints? If her father was dead she could read or love
as she pleased (Freud 1905a, 100). This is a far cry from a frenetic search for
a master.
As in other instances where he discusses Dora in The Other Side of
Psychoanalysis, Lacan concentrates on the scene at the lake (Lacan 1969-70,
109-110). He says: It is quite true that at this moment the others jouissance
is offered her, and she doesnt want having anything to do with it because
what she wants is knowledge as the means of jouissance, but in order to
place this knowledge in the service of truth, the truth of the master that she
embodies as Dora (Lacan 1969-70, 97).26 Why does the hysterical woman
yearn for knowledge? As we know, the problem of hysteria is dominated by
the question What is a woman/ What does a woman want? (Lacan 196970, 150). We might reformulate this issue in terms of the (im)possibility of
a sexual relationship. A relationship presupposes two different and above
all complementary partners that are capable of engaging in a symmetrical
relationship with each other. According to Lacan, however, the relationship
between the two sexes cannot be described in this way. He says that ultimately
there is but one point of reference the phallic signifier in relation to which
both sexes determine their positions towards each other. This train of thought
results in the Lacanian adage that there is no sexual relationship (Lacan 196970, 1934).27
What attracts Dora to Herr K, says Lacan, is the fact that his organ is
functional, as opposed to her fathers.28 But this organ only has meaning
insofar as another can rob her of it. Lacan refers once again to Doras dream
of the burning house from which her mother wants to save the jewel-case. We
recall that Herr K also gave Dora a jewel-case as a present. Lacan says the fact
that Herr K gave Dora a jewel-case and not the jewellery to be kept in the case
26

27

28

I t is not quite clear why Lacan refers to pleasure of the Other and not phallic pleasure,
since it is precisely the latter that Herr K. offers Dora.
For further commentary on this problem and its orientation within the history of

psychoanalysis, see Van Haute 2000, 136 ff. This issue is central in the seminar On Feminine
Sexuality (Lacan 1972-73), which is the main focus of the next chapter.
What suits Dora is the idea that he (Herr K) has the organ...not so that Dora can find
happiness in it, if I can put it thus, but so that another woman should deprive her of it (Lacan
1969-70, 96, translation slightly changed)
133

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

is crucial to the interpretation of this dream (Lacan 1969-70, 109-110). In


his interpretation of this dream Freud equates the jewel-case with the female
genitals (Freud 1905a, 91). Consequently, in her relationship with Herr K
Dora is uninterested in his organ (or his jewels) which is to say sexual
satisfaction but in the question of her womanhood. Who am I as woman,
beyond the phallic economy to which Herr K wants to confine me?29
The hysterical subject pursues knowledge for the sake of truth. This truth
is, however, that the master is defective and essentially characterised by lack.30
Lacans thematization of the hysterical patients strategy now becomes clear.
She appoints, as it were, a master the father, a priest or rabbi, but also
the psychoanalyst from whom she expects an answer to her questions
(Lacan 1969-70, 150). As a result, the hysterical subject presents herself as an
enigma to this master.31 Through everything she says and does the hysterical
subject suggests that answering her questions resolving the enigma she
incarnates substantially aids the master in completing his knowledge and
(re)establishing his masterhood. She inspires every psychoanalyst, because she
is so interesting and makes such an exciting psychoanalytic patient.32 She
awakens the desire for knowledge. No matter the answer the master produces,
however, it is by definition deficient. Every answer reduces the subject to a
pure object of the Others desire for knowledge. Every answer reduces the
subject to an illustration of a theory that is structurally incapable of answering
the hysterical question What does a woman want?
The hysterical subjects paradoxical relationship vis--vis (the masters)
knowledge mirrors a similarly paradoxical relationship vis--vis sexual
fulfilment. The master is no longer characterised by lack, and he cannot fail.
This is only possible when the master no longer desires. Hence, the hysterical
patient takes great care in choosing her masters. They are objects that are
out of reach the priest or rabbi, the psychoanalyst or a teacher so that the
29

30
31

32

 at this is the determining factor of Doras pathology also emerges, according to Lacan,
Th
from the theoretical contemplation (contemplation thorique) (Lacan 1969-70, 110)
of Frau K and of her adorable white body (Freud 1905a, 61), which flourished during a
visit to Dresden when Dora spent two hours in front of the Sistine Madonna, rapt in silent
admiration. When I asked her what had pleased her so much about the picture she could
find no clear answer to make. At last she said: The Madonna ( Freud 1905a, 96).
And this truth, to say it at last, is that the master is castrated (Lacan 1969-70, 97).
The hysterical patient volunteers up symptoms, the meaning of which she does not

understand. These symptoms can all be connected to the question of womanhood.
She wants the other to be a master and to know lots of things, but at the same time she
doesnt want it him to know so much that he does not believe that she is the supreme price
of all his knowledge. In other words, she wants a master she can reign over (Lacan 196970, 129).
134

Beyond Oedipus?

hysterical subject is able to pretend for a while that they are indeed above
or beyond desire. In this instance, however, the subject presents itself as
a mysterious and exciting object that still has the potential to complete the
master. Woe to the master who takes the bait and emerges as desiring
subject. Rejection is then inevitable. The hysterical patient resists precisely
this transformation into a phallicised object that has no other meaning besides
facilitating the others jouissance. The only option left for the unmasked
master is endless speculation regarding how it went so terribly wrong or, like
Freud... to write a case study.

Conclusion
Although it is already evident from Lacans work dating to the 1950s that
his reading of Dora deviates in large measure from Freuds, these works are
more or less in line with traditional (Oedipal) interpretations of that case.
In The Other Side of Psychoanalysis Lacan goes a step further.33 He unmasks
the Oedipus complex as a dream of Freuds that has to be interpreted. He
simultaneously re-interprets hysteria as an incarnation of the truth of the
master, namely, that the master is in fact characterised by deficiency and,
thus, castrated. Hysteria is the continuous staging of this truth.
This shift changes the meaning of the reference to Freuds work on Dora.
In La relation dobjet Lacan develops his own theory of hysteria that is roughly
in keeping with Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. On the other
hand, in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis Lacan uses Freuds work to illustrate
a theory that in large part develops separately from this work. The view that
the problem of hysteria can only be understood in relation to (the exposition
of ) the master is, indeed, far removed from Freuds hysterical organic
disposition in which the relationship between the sexual and the excremental
plays a crucial role. Freud does not understand hysteria in terms of a search for
a master. At the same time, however, Lacans theory sheds an interesting light
on the course of Doras analysis: Freud behaves toward her like the master for
whom she has been searching, whose shortcoming she makes painfully clear
at the same time.
Besides organic repression, the problem of bisexuality is central to
Freuds original theory of hysteria. At first glance this problem seems to be
33

I t is clear that the evolution of the place and meaning of the Oedipus complex, from Lacans
early lectures to The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, can and should be studied in more detail
than has been done here.
135

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

missing from Lacans account, that he replaces it with the question What is a
woman? Since bisexuality is a common human condition, in his early works
it does not take much effort on Freuds part to provide a theoretical account
of the fact that hysteria is not an exclusively female problem. With Lacan
matters are initially a bit more complicated. Although he acknowledges that
the hysterical problem affects men as well as women, the view that women
which most definitely refers to women in the biological sense in this case
are primarily exchange objects within kinship structures seems to redefine
hysteria as a female privilege. In this way the question What is a woman?
still receives a univocal answer that the hysterical patient herself finds difficult
to accept. However, the Oedipus complex no longer plays a central role in
the theory of hysteria Lacan presents in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. As
a result, reference to Lvi-Strauss structural interpretation of the complex
from which Lacan gleans his view that women should be understood as
exchange objects also disappears. Henceforth Lacan links hysteria with
the impossibility of a sexual relationship, which is not by nature exclusive to
either sex (Lacan 1969-70, 150, 112). Contra The object relations account,
hysteria is consequently linked to a problem that in principle cannot be
solved, for which no possible adequate answer exists. In The Other Side of
Psychoanalysis Lacan continues to thematise this impossibility exclusively in
terms of the phallocentric character of the symbolic order. In the symbolic,
sexual difference only becomes meaningful on the basis of a reference to the
phallus as signifier of lack. This implies that there is only a single reference
point in the symbolic in terms of which both sexes determine themselves vis-vis the other. Hence, the impossibility of a sexual relationship.
The question to which Dora and every (hysterical) subject by extension
in vain seeks an answer concerns who she is or can become beyond the
phallic economy to which Herr K wants to confine her. In the seminar On
Feminine Sexuality. The Limits of Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-3), Lacan
positions the limited, phallic jouissance that is subject to the laws of the
symbolic opposite another, female jouissance that escapes or transcends
the symbolic. In that work Lacan totally detaches reference to these forms
of jouissance from biological reality. Not only does this development imply
a crucial correction to Lacanian phallocentric thought as it is discussed here,
but it also opens up new possibilities for a pathoanalytic interpretation of his
work. For not only does the problem of the relationship to this other female
jouissance determine an understanding of hysteria, it also expresses itself in
specific cultural forms more specifically, those of mysticism and courtly love.

136

Chapter 8

Return to Freud?

Lacans Pathoanalysis of Hysteria


Introduction
In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality Freud shows that human sexuality
is, in essence, disordered. No genital normalisation is reached at the end of
successful development, one in which a mature in other words a symmetrical
and completely complementary genital love becomes possible between the
sexes. Such a genital love would, at least in principle, bring about a total
integration of the sensual and tender streams that characterise the sexual lives
of the (preferably heterosexual) partners involved.1 In contradistinction to
this idealised image, Freud establishes a range of erotogenic zones that do
not participate in a natural development; rather, their mutual relations are
determined by the inscription of an innate disposition in a private history,
central to which are relationships to others.2 Consequently, human sexuality
has no ultimate goal inscribed in the logic of its development. It is, on the
contrary, the contingent result of a history fundamentally different from the
biologically determined (and thereby normative) unfolding of a blueprint.3
Lacan considers these Freudian insights in the context of his adage that no
sexual relationship is possible. Human desire is, in essence, subject to the law
of the signifier, of which desire is an effect. Desire is rooted in an irremovable
lack instituted by language. As we saw Lacan calls the phallus the ultimate
signifier of this lack. The phallus is also the signifier of sexual difference.
Sexual difference concretely anchors lack in the subjects corporality. Before
we argued that the exclusively phallocentric character of the symbolic order
implies, according to Lacan, that there is only a single reference point in the
symbolic in terms of which the sexes are capable of determining their relation
1

2
3

Fairbairn expresses this insight as follows: in the case of the emotionally mature adult the
libido seeks the object through a number of channels, among which the genital channel plays
an essential, but by no means exclusive partThe gradual change which occurs in the nature
of the object-relationship is accompanied by a gradual change in libidinal aim, whereby an
original oral, sucking, incorporating and taking aim comes to be replaced by a mature,
nonincorporating and giving aim compatible with developed genital sexuality (Fairbairn,
1941, 75-78).
In this regard see chapters one and two as well as Shepherdson 2004, 134.
In this regard see Van Haute and Geyskens 2002.
137

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

to each other.4 This implies that sexuality is not a symmetrical relationship


between complementary partners. This is what Lacan means when he writes
that a sexual relationship is impossible.
In his later texts in particular his seminar On Feminine Sexuality. The
Limits of Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73) Lacan further develops
this problematic regarding the impossibility of a sexual relationship.5 There
he more explicitly develops the notion of the jouissance of the Other6 in
contradistinction to phallic jouissance characteristic of symbolicallymediated relationships in which the phallus functions as the signifier of lack.
This jouissance of the Other thus escapes the laws of the symbolic in which it
cannot be inscribed. Since this jouissance escapes the law of the phallus Lacan
refers to it as female. Lacan does not use this term with reference to woman as
biological reality, but to a jouissance that lies beyond the symbolic (and thus
the phallus). He articulates the problematic of the relationship between these
two forms of jouissance in his formulas of sexuation (Lacan 1972-73, 73-82
and passim), which formally indicate the various positions that the speaking
subject can assume towards sexual difference or, more precisely, towards the
phallic law (Lacan 1972-73, 53-54; Andr 1986, 208).
The formulas of sexuation and reference to an Other (female) jouissance
are Lacans answer to the problematic of the female Oedipus complex as
thematised by Freud. Consequently these formulas conclude the criticism of
the Oedipus complex we initiated in the previous chapter. In his later work
Freud continuously attempts to understand both female and male sexuality
in the light of the Oedipus and castration complex. Beside a male form of
this complex there would also be a female form, which would account for the
development of female identity. The young girl would pass through the same
complex in a different manner, acquiring her female identity (in relation to
man) in the process. At times this causes strange and problematic speculation,
for example, Freuds understanding of female pleasure in terms of a clitoral
enjoyment that is progressively replaced by a vaginal enjoyment (Freud 1933).
A female jouissance lying beyond the symbolic and Lacans formulas of
sexuation imply that investigation into woman and female identity is fruitless

 t the same time this is Lacans reformulation of the Freudian view that libido is essentially
A
male (Freud 1905, 95).
In the following section we limit ourselves to the seminar On Feminine Sexuality. The Limits of
Love and Knowledge (Lacan 1972-73). However, Lacan deals with this problematic extensively
in other seminars. For instance, the seminar Ou pire... (Lacan 1971-72) comes to mind.
In what follows we leave the lacanian notion jouissance (enjoyment) untranslated as is the
case in most publications on (and translations of ) Lacan.
138

Return to Freud?

within the narrow confines of the Oedipus complex.7 Or, put differently,
woman cannot be fully understood in terms of the Oedipus complex and
castration.
This idea is of great importance to us. Reference to the jouissance of the
Other and, as we shall see, the hysterical subjects inability to position herself
in relation to this jouissance take the place of the hysterical subjects refusal of
the exchange object role, with which Lacan links hysteria in his texts from the
fifties. This reference completes the attempt to de-Oedipalise psychoanalysis in
general and hysteria in particular. It simultaneously establishes a victory over
normalising tendencies that inevitably accompany reference to the Oedipus
complex. And so a Lacanian pathoanalysis of hysteria appears within reach.
This Lacanian pathoanalysis of hysteria is, in many respects, a return to
Freud.8 The formulas of sexuation concern the various (male and female)
positions the linguistic subject assumes towards the phallus. According to
Lacan they concern a problematic that confronts each subject insofar as it is
linguistic (Braunstein 1992, 228). In principle biological sex plays no part here
(Lacan 1972-73, 70). We should therefore consider whether, in his later texts,
Lacan is perhaps returning mutatis mutandis to the problematic of bisexuality
that plays a key role in Freuds early texts on hysteria (Andr 1986, 207).
In what follows we begin by discussing the formulas of sexuation and
the relationship between phallic and female jouissance. We then clarify the
way in which these formulas facilitate a Lacanian pathoanalysis of hysteria.
On this point we return to courtly love as a cultural form expressing the
structural problematic of which hysteria is a caricatural exageration. In this
way we also return to Freud: hysteria finds its cultural match in (specific
forms of ) literature. Also as linguistic creatures9 human beings are caught in
an irresolvable tension between culture and pathology.

8
9

This also means that Lacan breaks with the idea that female jouissance only becomes
meaningful in the (phallic) symbolic order. On this point see the previous chapter.
A return to Freud is certainly the most fundamental adage of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
And thus not only as libidinous being in the Freudian sense of the word.
139

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

1. The formulas of Sexuation


Introduction
Lacan writes the formulas of sexuation as follows (Lacan 1972-73, 73):

___ ___ ___
x
x x
x
___
x
x x
x
S

S ()
a

The

This diagram shows two possible positions the subject can assume in response
to sexual difference and the law of the phallus. The left side refers to the male
relationship with this law (la faon mle) and the right side to the female
relationship (la faon femelle) with it (Lacan 1972-73, 53-54; 74). We write
male and female in quotation marks because these formulas do not concern
maleness or femaleness in the biological sense of the word. He who is male
in a biological sense, writes Lacan, can appear on the right side of the diagram
and vice versa. Lacan adds that the side on which a person finds him or herself
is a matter of choice.10 Reference to (unconscious) choice indicates that we
are here dealing with a problematic that faces each subject insofar as it is subject
to the symbolic law and signifiers of language.11 In the first instance then
this does not concern a relationship between two different kinds of subjects,
but elements that determine a structural tension characteristic of subjectivity
as such.12 This is the very reason we previously spoke of a return to and
10

11

12

One ultimately situates oneself there (on the male side) by choice women are free to
situate themselves there if it gives them pleasure to do so (Lacan 1972-73, 70, our italics).
Regarding the female side Lacan writes: There are men that are just as good as women
(Lacan 1972-73, 76).
So regarding the formulas of sexuation Lacan writes: These are the only possible definitions
of the so-called man or women portion for that which finds itself in the position of inhabiting
language (Lacan 1972-73, 80).
Compare for example we see this Other whenever something of the drive imposes itself
beyond the limits fixed by the jouissance principle. In this sense, the female sex is not alone
in being Other, and we can even say that each of us is Other, since we all incur the element
of jouissance that is foreclosed from phallic jouissance. We are Other like everyone as Lacan
said in 1980 (Soler 2006, 188).
140

Return to Freud?

reformulation of Freuds original views on bisexuality in this context. The


formulas of sexuation express a field of tension within which every speaking
subject man or woman inevitably operates.
On the side of the man
This structural tension concerns the relationship that every linguistic subject
faces with a female jouissance. As we saw in previous chapters, because of
its linguistic nature the subject is, in essence, subject to castration. This is
expressed on the left side of the diagram with the formula xx: it is true
for all linguistic beings that they are characterised by the phallic function,
meaning they are characterised by a lack of which the phallus is the signifier
(Lacan 1972-73, 78). There is only one exception to this law. This exception
not only confirms but also underpins the universal rule. Lacan expresses this
exception through the formula: xx, there is an x the law of castration
does not include. With this move Lacan makes room for the primal father of
Freuds Totem and Taboo who possesses all the women and is not subject to any
restrictions (Lacan 1972-73, 79). It is precisely in opposition to this exception
that linguistic beings establish themselves as members of a single group in
which the law of the phallus and castration applies equally to all members.
That we are all castrated that castration is a condition of our existence as
speaking beings becomes clear in light of an exception that escapes this
condition.13 As we saw before it is this exception that the hysterical subject
continuously reanimates.
Insofar as the speaking subject situates itself on the male side, it is only
capable of a limited phallic jouissance. This means that the subject, insofar
as its desire follows the law of the signifier, inevitably reduces the Other to a
partial object (or to the corresponding erotogenic zone) or in the language
of Lacan, to an object a (Lacan 1972-73, 86). Earlier we said that the signifiers
differential definition implies, according to Lacan, that all meaning-giving
acts leave a remainder, and that this is the cause of desire. Lacan calls this
remainder the (partial) object a. A phenomenology of infatuation brings this
point into sharp focus. According to Lacan it is not the Other as such that
attracts our attention and rouses our desire in infatuation, but one (a partial)
aspect of him or her the voices timbre, a glance or an enigmatic smile.
These objects both arouse our desire and seem to promise its fulfilment. They
suggest an abolition of the lack signified by the phallus (in this sense they have
13

In this same way one can say, for instance, that all people have inalienable rights with the
exception of children and the mentally ill (Zizek 2002, 58). There are no universal rules
without exceptions.
141

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

a phallic meaning). Simultaneously, however, they inevitably reinstate lack: an


attempt to capture the Others glance, for instance, leaves one with the Others
eye. The glance remains forever evasive.
These partial objects and the associated erotogenic zones prime desire.
These zones and their objects also determine the nature and structure of human
sexuality. In the domain of human sexuality fulfilment is always limited, not
only because it is of an inevitably short duration, but also because we only
take jouissance in a part of the Others body rather than the Other itself.14 Since
human sexuality is ruled by the signifier and thereby the phallus in this
domain the subject never reaches the Other as a person or the body as a whole;
at most it reaches a part of the body.15
Lacan concludes that phallic jouissance implies that the object is missed.16
In the order of the signifier the sexual partner is never more than a partial
object. The Other, by definition, remains out of reach. From this perspective
phallic jouissance is always a failure. This is what Lacan means when he writes
that phallic jouissance is insufficient for a sexual relationship (Lacan 1972-73,
61).17 In order to make a sexual relationship possible, we need another form
of jouissance (Lacan 1972-73, 58).
This explains why an arrow leads from the S (the split subject as an effect
of the symbolic order to which it is subject) on the mans side to a (male desire
inevitably reduces the Other to a partial object) in the formulas of sexuation.18
In this regard Lacan speaks of the jouissance of the organ (La jouissance de
lorgane) (Lacan 1972-73, 7), which basically means that phallic jouissance
always and inevitably has a masturbatory quality: we serve ourselves a part
of the Others body to fulfil ourselves. For this reason Lacan calls phallic
jouissance the jouissance of the idiot at times (Lacan 1972-73, 81, 94).
Phallic jouissance is consequently stuck between two opposing character
istics. On the one hand desire is caused by something that lies outside the
chain of signifiers: object a (and the erotogenic zones with which it is tied
 Jouissance, qua sexual, is phallic in other words, it is not related to the Other as such
(Lacan 1972-73, 9). Elswhere Lacan writes: Enjoying (jouir) has the fundamental property
that it is ultimately, one persons body that enjoys a part of the Others body (Lacan 197273, 23).
15
one can only enjoy a part of the Others body (Lacan 1972-73, 23).
16
The essence of the object is failure (Lacan 1972-73, 58).
17
In this context Lacan also plays with the double entendre between falloir (to need) and
faillir (to fail), which are conjugated identically for the singular third person in the present
tense: il faut. In this way he writes, for instance, the jouissance that should be must be
translated as the jouissance that shouldnt be/never fails (quil ne faut pas) (Lacan 1972-73,
58-59)
18
This is also the structure of phantasy, Lacan writes (Lacan 1972-73, 63). Space constraints
prevent an extensive discussion of this problematic.
14

142

Return to Freud?

up). In relation to object a and these zones only a masturbatory and thus
idiotic jouissance is possible. This jouissance can, of course, be very intense
(darkroom visitors or passionate lovers come to mind here) precisely because
everything else is completely abandoned in favour of this idiotic jouissance.
At the same time, however, it has an inhuman quality; we only enjoy one
little exciting part of the Others body. On the other hand phallic jouissance
is structured by the symbolic order, which implies a definite limitation of this
idiotic focus. The signifier subjects sexuality to human requirements. The
more sexual desire abandons itself to an idiotic focus on something that lies
outside this order the less human it becomes, but the more it allows itself to be
curtailed by the symbolic order the less sexual jouissance it holds.19
On the side of the woman...
The signifying order is essentially finite and it excludes the possibility of sexual
relationship. Yet this is not Lacans final word on the problematic of jouissance.
Besides phallic jouissance Lacan confirms a jouissance of another order, one
he calls female for reasons with which we are already familiar. This Other
jouissance lies beyond the phallus20 and, for this reason, beyond the lack
signified by the phallus. This last point strikes us as particularly important:
Lacan attempts to indicate a form of jouissance that cannot be understood
in terms of lack alone (or in terms of the continuously provisional fulfilment
thereof ). In this way lack ceases to have the final word in the problematic of
desire and jouissance.21
With regard to the jouissance of the Other, Lacan considers the experiences
of mystics such as Saint Teresa of vila and Saint John of the Cross specifically
(Lacan 1972-73, 70-71). However, he gives very little concrete indication of
what the jouissance of the Other consists in. On this point Lacan refers in
On Feminine Sexuality to courtly love on the one hand, which we discuss in
greater detail below, while referring to Berninis statue of Saint Teresa of vila
on the other, which can be found in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church
in Rome (Lacan 1972-73, 70).22 This statue shows Theresas ecstasy, whose
19
20

21

22

Thanks to Fons van Coillie, whose thoughts inspired this paragraph.


A jouissance beyond the phallus (Lacan 1972-73, 74). See Colette Soler as well: This
jouissance does not fall under the bar of the signifier, knows nothing about the phallus and
is therefore not caused by an object a. This jouissance is foreclosed from the symbolic and is
outside the unconscious (Soler 2006, 40).
This has a decisive significance in debates concerning Lacans thought and those who would
accuse him of defending a modern negative theology.
For extensive commentary on the passages in question in On Feminine Sexuality see Hirvonen
2010.
143

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

heart is being pierced by an arrow from the hand of an adolescent angel with
a lovely smile on his face.23 The statue shows the moment of transverberation:
A flaming arrow punctured my heart, accompanied with such delight that
I never wanted it to stop. As he pulled the arrow from me it was as if my
intestines were being pulled out along with it. 24 A bed of clouds support
Theresa and her clothes envelop her entire body with the exception of her
face, left foot and palm. Her eyes are half open but her irises are not visible
and she does not make eye contact with the angel. She is self-absorbed, and
her half-open mouth suggests a jouissance that is an entanglement of lust
and pain, a jouissance that moves her entire body. This ecstatic experience of
becoming one with God brings the subject to the very limits of what it can
bear without disappearing. It is no use, suggests Lacan, to consider this and
other mystical experiences in terms of he model of phallic jouissance, linked
to specific erotogenic zones and submitted to the laws of the symbolic.
We cannot understand mystical ecstasy and its concomitant jouissance
accurately in terms of a thematic of a lack that results from the signifier, a lack
that continuously finds provisional fulfilment at the level of the erotogenic
zones. As a result, this other form of jouissance is unknowable since all that
might be known about it is only articulable in language and would, therefore,
miss the true nature of female jouissance.25 According to Lacan, the mystics
message rests in the confirmation that they experience this jouissance without
knowing anything about it.26 They confirm its existence but are incapable of
describing its precise content. Consequently, in terms of the symbolic order it
is truly a jouissance that ex-ists (Lacan 1972-73, 71). Finally, the impossibility
of expressing this other (female) jouissance in language confirms the view
that the symbolic order is, in essence, phallocentric and that no signifier exists
for woman.27

23
24

25
26

27

On Saint Theresa of vila and mysticism see Moyaert 1998, 173-303.


 ransverberation is a privilege God reserves for mystics who dedicate themselves to Him with
T
heart and soul. It can take the form of a mystic vision or the physical wounding of the heart
by an arrow of love. In this way the soul experiences Gods highest possible form of love.
In this regard see Fink 2005.
It is clear that the essential testimony of the mystics consists in saying that they experience
it, but know nothing about it (Lacan 1972-73, 76). See Moyaert 1998 on mysticism and
mystic love.
A woman can but be excluded by the nature of things that is the nature of words... (Lacan
1972-73, 73). In the diagram showing the formulas of sexuation this is represented by the
signifier S(/
O). We return to this.
144

Return to Freud?

The jouissance of the Other is situated beyond the symbolic order and
nothing can be known about it. For Lacan this implies that it has an inevitably
hypothetical character. Female jouissance belongs to the domain of faith
(Andr 1986, 211): on the one hand no jouissance exists other than phallic
jouissance since, as linguistic beings, we are inevitably subject to castration,
but on the other this phallic jouissance, by virtue of its partial and limited
character, refers to a jouissance that lies beyond the symbolic order.28 At times
Lacan refers to female jouissance as jouissance of the body (La jouissance
du corps) (Lacan 1972-73, 15) compared to which sexual (phallic) jouissance
forms an impasse.29 The jouissance of the body concerns the real body,
beyond the meaningful distinctions of the signifier to which linguistic beings
never gain access. In phallic jouissance one misses the body of the Other by
definition, inevitably reducing the Other to a partial object or an erotogenic
zone.
We should not conclude from this, however, that jouissance of the body
makes possible a sexual relationship.30 Those on the side of the woman do not,
after all, escape castration.31 They remain subject to the law of the signifier.
Lacan expresses this with the formula: xx, which indicates that those on
the woman side are also subject to castration (there is no x for which the

28

29

30

31

 t times Lacan expresses this in a contrived way. He writes, for instance, Were there another
A
jouissance than phallic jouissance, it shouldnt be/could never fail to be that oneIt is false
that there is another one, but that doesnt stop what follows to be true, namely, that it
shouldnt be/could never fail to be that one In this instance Lacan makes use of material
implication. In logic implication refers to conditional sentences with the if...then... form.
According to material implication, the antecedent (if...) cannot be true when the consequent
(then...) is false. This implies that from a false antecedent (for example: had there been
another than phallic jouissance...) a true consequent (then it could not be this namely
phallic jouissance...it follows that yet another form of Jouissance exists) can indeed follow
(Lacan 1972-73, 59-60).
that, in the jouissance of bodies, sexual jouissance has the privilege of being specified
by an impasse (Lacan 1972-74, 8-9) Here Lacan implies that sexual phallic jouissance
disconnects us from the jouissance of the Other or from female jouissance precisely
because it is essentially dependent on the signifier.
For Woman, something other than object a is at stake in what comes to make up for
(suppler) the sexual relationship that does not exist (Lacan 1972-73, 63).
This takes place against the backdrop of a discussion concerning classic Aristotelian logic
that should not take up space here. In classical logic, the denial of a universal statement
(for example, the statement that all linguistic beings are subject to castration) equals the
confirmation of a private statement (when not all linguistic beings are subject to castration,
there is at least one linguistic being that is not subject to castration). For this reason the
formulas of sexuation seem to break the laws of classical logic. Indeed, from xx, not
xx but xx follows. For more on this problematic, as well as a discussion of the
relevant passages in On Feminine Sexuality, see Badiou 1992.
145

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

phallic function is not valid). But the woman or whoever positions oneself on
the side of the woman is not completely (pas toute) defined or characterised
by castration. She is, Lacan writes, not completely subject to castration
(pas toute), which is something entirely different from not at all subject
to castration (pas du tout).32 This is expressed by the formula xx, which
should be read as follows: it is not the case that woman is wholly subject to
castration/in the phallic function. On the side of the woman the failure of
the sexual relationship the inevitability of castration goes hand in hand
with the possibility of (and, therefore, openness towards) another form of
jouissance, one beyond the phallus.33
Even though no one escapes castration on the side of the woman, this side
lacks reference to an exception that confirms the rule, and in relation to which
a non-phallic sex could be formed that could engage in a complementary and
symmetric relationship with one on the side of the man. There is no woman
that could serve as the global or non-partial object of a unified and completely
integrated sexual libido (as opposed to the plurality of partial drives). In this
regard Lacan writes that The Woman does not exist (Lacan 1972-73, 72, 8081 and passim). The symbol S(/
O) in the right-hand column of the formulas
of sexuation refers precisely to the absence of an exception on the side of
the woman. Consequently, reference to the jouissance of the Other, in
contradistinction to phallic jouissance, is not a cunning way of establishing
the possibility of a complementary relationship after all. According to
Lacan, female jouissance is not complementary but supplementary to phallic
jouissance (Lacan 1972-73, 72-73).
Yet we can also consider the relationship between the side of the man
and the side of the woman as follows. On the side of man the speaking
subject appears in contradistinction to an exception not marked by lack.
This means that desire not only aims at an object that transcends and has yet
to fulfil it, but also that desire is always measured in terms of whoever has
achieved or comes closest to achieving its imagined fulfilment. Female
jouissance neither refers to a possible victory over lack nor can it be measured
against a desire that might have superseded this lack. There is nothing after
all to compare it to. On the contrary, female jouissance takes us beyond
32

33

 It is not because she is not-wholly in the phallic function that she is not there at allShe is
there in full ( plein). But there is something more. (Lacan 1972-73, 74).
The preceding is our interpretation of the following passage: If it inscribes itself there
(every speaking being can inscribe itself on the side of the woman), it will not allow for any
universality it will be a not-whole, insofar as it has the choice of positing itself in x (as
subject to castration) or not being there (de nen pas tre) (Lacan 1972-73, 80).
146

Return to Freud?

the order of the signifier and the repetitive circuit of (always limited and
limiting) phallic jouissance. Consequently, female jouissance concerns the
puzzling possibility of a jouissance that rests in itself alone and is completely
immanent. In other words, Lacan attempts to imagine a form of jouissance
that cannot be understood in terms of phallicised lack. Hence, the position
of this jouissance is no longer localizable in the erotogenic zone but the
(real) body as an enjoying substance that is never entirely taken up by or
encompassed in the signifier.

2. Hysteria and the Formulas of Sexuation


Lacan does not explicitly explore the problematic of hysteria in On Feminine
Sexuality. Perhaps an extensive discussion of this problematic in On Feminine
Sexuality is superfluous, as this seminar concerns precisely the question that,
according to Lacan, pre-eminently occupies the hysterical subject: What
does the woman want?34 In a succinct way the hysterical subject presents the
problematic of a (female) jouissance beyond the phallus. More specifically,
a reading of this seminar enables us to further illuminate and more fully
articulate Lacans views on hysteria in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis.
In the previous chapter we indicated how and why the hysterical patient
continuously exposes the inadequacy and finiteness of the symbolic order
and thereby the impossibility of a sexual relationship. Time and again the
hysterical subject establishes a master from whom it desires an answer to the
question of what it means to be a woman for the sake of subsequently
indicating that this answer too is lacking (Lacan 1969 -70, 15). The hysterical
subject offers itself Freuds analysis of Dora comes to mind here as an
enigma to a master, thus eliciting a desire to know.35 In other words, the
hysterical subject makes itself into an object that can complete the master.
Every answer the master provides, however, only serves to illuminate the
masters inadequacy, because of which this answer is only the starting point
in the search for a new master. In this way the hysterical subject incarnates
the truth of the master... namely, that he is castrated. We can express this
same thought in yet a different way the hysterical subject identifies with the
woman that would be the complement of the man, but only to expose and
34

35

 What I am working on this year is what Freud expressly left aside: Was will das Weib?
(Lacan 1972-73, 80 Lacans italics).
The hysterical patient offers itself with symptoms without understanding their meaning, but
which can all in essence be linked to the question of femininity.
147

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

condemn the impossibility of such a complementary relationship (Braunstein


1992, 211-212).
In terms of the formulas of sexuation, this means the hysterical subject
positions itself completely on the side of the man.36 For this reason Lacan
mentions the hommosexuality (hommosexualit) of hysteria (Lacan 197273, 79).37 What the hysterical subject demands of each master is, after all,
knowledge regarding the sexual relationship. Each piece of knowledge is
articulated in signifiers. Consequently, the hysterical subject places the
problematic of femininity exclusively in the order of the symbolic. We can
also illustrate this idea in terms of the diagram introduced at the beginning
of this chapter. The hysterical subject contests the vector that runs from The
/
woman to . She rebels against the absence of a signifier designating woman
in the symbolic realm. For this reason she aligns herself with the enigma What
does a woman want? indicated by the signifier S(O
/ ) in the domain of woman
and femininity. But she expects an answer to this question from the idealised
father that escapes castration.38 In other words, the hysterical subject wants to
inscribe the woman on the side of man; it wants in extremis to establish the
sexual relation (Braunstein 1992, 211).
However, in this way the hysterical subject closes itself off from the
jouissance of the Other, which is beyond the symbolic and the phallus. Even
if the hysterical subject vehemently resists being reduced to an object, at the
same time it does not want to know about a jouissance that one can only
experience. It does not want to know about a jouissance lying beyond the
symbolic order that is only supplementary with regard to phallic jouissance.
The sexual relationship, the impossibility of which she constantly foregrounds,
is the hysterical subjects true religion.

3. Courtly Love and the Jouissance of the Other


However, the problematic of the impossibility of the sexual relationship and
of female jouissance appears not only in hysteria. On the contrary, hysteria
is but one possible fate of this problematic. The same problematic can also

36
37
38

hysteria, namely, to play the part of the man (faire lhomme) (Lacan 1972-73, 85)
The French homme also means man.
Here one might again think of Dora, whose desires were characterised by the question of
what it means to be a woman, and who expected a clear answer to this question from her
master... namely, Freud.
148

Return to Freud?

be expressed in cultural activities.39 We referred earlier to mystics and mystical


experience, but in this context Lacan once again mentions courtly love, which
we discussed already in a similar context. What does this mean?
Lacan discusses courtly love at various points throughout On Female
Sexuality (Lacan 1972-73, 68-69, 74 ff., 79, 86). Remarkably he seems to
refer to it for the sake of illustrating both phallic jouissance as well as the
jouissance of the Other.40 About courtly Lacan writes, for instance, It is a
highly refined way of making up for (suppler ) the absence of the sexual
relationship, by feigning that we are the ones who erect an obstacle thereto
(Lacan 1972-73, 69). In this way Lacan seems to place courtly love squarely
within the problematic of phallic jouissance, the structural limitation of
which it apparently helps to deny. But at the same time Lacan links courtly
love to the jouissance of the Other (Lacan 1972-73, 77). The latter might
seem surprising for still another reason. Have we not said numerous times that
the jouissance of the Other lies beyond the (law of the) signifier?41 How then
can a poetic form bring us beyond that law? How can we reconcile these
different views?42
We discussed the problematic of courtly love in connection with Lacans
reinterpretation of Freuds study of the homosexual young woman. In this
earlier discussion we called courtly love a scholastics of unhappy love. There
we described how, in courtly love, the structural impossibility of desires
fulfilment is brought to the fore via the ladys idealisation as well as specific
rituals. In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (Lacan 1959-60) Lacan touches on this
subject, writing that the Lady is elevated to the rank of the Thing (La Chose).43
In this seminar Lacans notion of the Thing refers to the Other insofar as it
escapes imaginative powers.44 Consequently, this notion is an early version
of that which Lacan indicates with the symbol S(O
/ ) in the formulas of
45
sexuation. In this case it also concerns the Other who would make possible a
39
40

41
42

43

44
45

See also Lacan 1959-60, 154.


But elsewhere, as we shall see, Lacan links courtly love and courtly poetry with the jouissance
of the Other (Lacan 1972-73, 77). In this regard see Fink 2004, 161-163 and Andr 1986,
218-219.
In this regard see Fink 2004, 161-163, Andr 1986, 218-219, and Zizek 2002, 59-60.
In the following section we attempt to reconcile Lacans disparate comments regarding
courtly love in On Feminine Sexuality. In so doing we by no means claim that this is the only
possible reading.
Coincidentally, this same reference occurs in On Female Sexuality as well. In this regard see
Lacan 1972-73, 99. For commentary on the passages on courtly love appearing in The ethics
of psychoanalysis, see De Kesel 2010, 175-183.
For a more detailed discussion of this notion see Van Haute 1996, 126-128.
In this instance we follow the interpretation of Andr 1986, 218-219.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

sexual relationship but does not exist or ex-ist, as we saw before. For this reason
the Other is simultaneously stripped of every intrinsic determination (Lacan
1959-60, 129). Only in this way can the Lady in courtly poetry be elevated
to the status of the completely inaccessible, absolutely real Other. In courtly
love this idealisation and the simultaneously accompanying ritual practices
orchestrate the love objects inaccessibility. This is what Lacan seems to mean
when he writes that, in courtly love, we feign being ourselves responsible for
the failure of the sexual relationship.
In his relationship with the Lady, the courtly lover no longer aims at
fulfilling a desire that originates in lack. On the contrary, courtly poetry
cultivates the insurmountable and insatiable character of this desire. For this
very reason, says Lacan, it creates space for another kind of jouissance no
longer connected with lack and an object a. Courtly love, then, concerns
less a misrecognition of lacks radical nature than a strategy in the service of
another jouissance. In this regard Lacan writes, for instance, that making
love compared to coitus, which facilitates only a phallic (and thus idiotic)
jouissance is related to poetry (Lacan 1972-73, 72). Elsewhere he says that
to speak of love is in itself a jouissance (Lacan 1972-73, 83).46
What can this mean if, as we saw above, female jouissance is essentially
unspeakable? Lacan fails to flesh out this problematic, but perhaps he means
that courtly love is ultimately concerned less with articulated meanings than
the act of speaking itself (Lacan 1972-73, 64).47 We can imagine, for instance,
reading a poem and enjoying less its meaning than its play on words and
between sounds as such. Perhaps this is also what Lacan means when, in an
analogous context, he refers to the satisfaction of speech.48 In this context
jouissance is no longer linked to the repetitive fulfilment of a void. According
to Lacan reference to lack and object a loses its meaning or is placed in
parentheses. Frustration regarding its unattainable object is not central to
courtly love. On the contrary, the objects unattainability grounds a symbolic
activity that is experienced as enjoyable in itself. Consequently, courtly love
like mysticism is a form of sublimation that generates its own kind of

46

47

48

I n the same paragraph Lacan adds: Indeed, people have done nothing but speak of love in
analytic discourse (Lacan 1972-73, 83).
Lacan does not clarify how, by extension, it would be valid for the ritualised practices that
constitute an essential aspect of courtly love.
In this regard see Fink 2004, 162. Perhaps we can also link this view with Freuds view that it
is a purely formal, or aesthetic subsidiary pleasure thatenables the articulation of of (hysterical)
phantasms in art.
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Return to Freud?

jouissance.49 For the courtly lover, however, this jouissance does not exclude
sexual relations with other women. Despite practising courtly love, William
of Aquitaine (duke of Poitiers 1071-1126) one of the first well-known
courtly poets was nonetheless a notorious womaniser his entire life.50 This
illustrates, once again, that the jouissance of the Other and phallic jouissance
are not mutually exclusive. In fact, even in the jouissance of the Other a
relationship with castration and, therefore, the side of the man remains
intact. The formulas of sexuation does not determine two kinds of subjects,
but they express a field of tension in which each subject moves.

Conclusion
Our explanation shows that, in an exaggerated and caricaturish way, hysteria
indicates a problematic that concerns every subject and with which every
subject must come to terms The formulas of sexuation reveal this problematics
structural characteristics. In his later works Lacan no longer links hysteria
with the refusal of the role of exchange object, which would characterise
woman structurally. Reference to this role plays an integral part in an Oedipal
explanation of hysteria and underpins its normative character.51 In his later
works Lacan completely abandons this Oedipal explanation. In the formulas
of sexuation Lacan introduces in On Feminine Sexuality woman is no longer
determined in terms of a specific structural role in the symbolic system. Rather,
woman or female is determined by a specific form of jouissance situated
beyond the phallus. Thus Lacan succeeds in surmounting every tendency
toward normalisation; no theoretical rule can be articulated that would allow
us to determine, once and for all, the nature of a good relationship with this
jouissance.
Yet one cannot help but lament the fact that Lacan provides little concrete
direction in On Feminine Sexuality on how one should imagine cultural
49

50
51

It would be very interesting to confront Lacans views on courtly love in On Feminine
Sexuality (but also in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis) with Deleuzes discussion of the same
phenomenon in A Thousand Platteaus (Deleuze 1980, 193-195). On the subject of courtly
love Deleuze writes, for instance: If pleasure is not the norm of desire, it is not by virtue of
a lack that is impossible to fill but, on the contrary, by virtue of its positivity, in other words,
the plane of consistency it draws in the course of its process (Deleuze 1988, 157). This
definition of courtly love seems to come close to Lacans. This is of interest as it relativises,
to some extent, the oft expressed criticism that Lacan makes psychoanalysis a religion of
negativity. For an initial comparison, see Schuster 2010, 206-209.
See De Kesel 2009, 177 for further references.
In this regard see chapters 5 and 6.
151

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

forms that would express the jouissance of the Other. If this jouissance is
crucial to an understanding of subjectivity then one would at least expect it
to be indicated in concrete experience. In On Feminine Sexuality Lacan refers
exclusively to mystical experiences and courtly love, experiences that primarily
belong to another culture and time period. And even here Lacan keeps his
options open, equivocating with respect to, for example, the relationship
between language (which installs lack) and speaking in courtly love (which
apparently refers to a jouissance beyond the phallus). Which contemporary
cultural forms express what Lacan calls the jouissance of the Other? One
might perhaps think of (certain forms of ) music that cannot be sufficiently
understood in terms of the problematic of lack, but also certain forms of
literature such as Joyces Finnegans Wake, to which Lacan dedicated an entire
seminar towards the end of his life (Lacan 1975-76).52
For that matter Lacan does not thematise courtly love in On Feminine
Sexuality in terms of an irremoveable tension between frustration and castration
as he does in the context of his discussion of Freuds study On the Psychogenesis
of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman.53 The jouissance of the Other points
beyond the symbolic order, lack, and castration. Here the problematic of
courtly love is enmeshed in a more complex tension, the structure of which
can be seen in the formulas of sexuation. But as in earlier works, courtly love
is presented here in the first place as the cultural counterpart of hysteria. It is
the art form that refers to an impossible jouissance. In other words, it is the
form of art most accommodated to expressing the impossibility of a sexual
relationship.
It goes without saying that Lacans linguistic reinterpretation of psycho
analysis has caused us to digress from Freuds organic theory of hysteria that
we discussed in the first part of this book. Yet remarkably mutatis mutandis
we seem now to retrieve a theme that played a vital role in Freuds theory.
Dont Lacans formulas of sexuation create a space for the problematic of
bisexuality that was central to Freuds reading of Dora. In this way Lacans
clinical anthropology of hysteria tends to be a striking illustration of the return
to Freud he wanted to establish. This return is no slavish repetition of the
insights of the master but a critical review of his central insights in terms of an
original theory of the signifier.
52

53

 ere we do not further elaborate since a discussion of Lacans interpretation of Joyces work
H
would lead us too far afield. We would need, for instance, to discuss extensively Lacans
theory of the Borromean knots. Besides, according to Lacan Joyce transcends the name of
the Fathers absence and, by extension, psychosis in his art. How exactly this relates to our
problematic then still needs to be investigated.
See chapter 6.
152

Conclusion

The Project of a Psychoanalytical Anthropology


in Freud and Lacan
1. Freud and Hysteria
The classical philosophical approach to Freuds work misses its true originality.
The philosophical importance of Freudian psychoanalysis lies not in the fact
that the unconscious is central to Freuds thinking or that he views human
existence from the angle of sexuality. The originality of Freud lies not even in
the fact that he wants to study sexuality primarily in terms of its pathological
variations. The true novelty of Freuds pathoanalytical study of sexuality
lies in the fact that the various sexual pathologies are thought of as merely
exaggerations of common human tendencies. In this instance hysteria guides
Freuds way. The study of hysterical symptoms forces Freud to thoroughly
rethink the structure of human sexuality and, more specifically, to affirm
an intrinsic link between human sexuality and that which was regarded as
perverse in the sexology of Freuds time (Krafft-Ebing 1886). According to
Freud, hysterical conversion symptoms are masked realisations of perverse, yet
commonly human, libidinal drives. These perverse drives are the true building
blocks of human sexuality.
It would nevertheless be a mistake to believe that this pathoanalytical
perspective the project of a clinical anthropology dominates the work
of Freud as a whole or that it was arrived at easily. For the formulation of
this perspective, the abandonment of the seduction theory of hysteria (and
of pathology in general) is a crucial moment. According to this theory sexual
trauma is the only decisive specific factor in the aetiology of neuroses. Consequently, the seduction theory implies a substantial distinction between normality and pathology. When pathology is conceived as the consequence of a
(avoidable) sexual trauma, then it can at least in principle be distinguished
from psychological health. Not everyone is the victim of sexual abuse, and
for this reason undisturbed normal development is a possibility. In 1897
Freud abandons this theory. Contrary to what is most often claimed, this
change is not connected to the discovery of the Oedipus complex. Freud already discovers the meaning of Oedipal relationships for childhood in his
correspondence with Fliess (1894-1903), but he by no means concludes from
this that the avatars of the relationship with ones parents provide a universal
153

A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

key to understand psychopathology. Consequently, Freud does not reduce his


patients stories to masked Oedipal phantasies. On the contrary, our reading
of Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria clearly shows that Freud takes
the traumatic tales of his patients very seriously, even after abandoning the
seduction theory. However, Freud ceases to understand these traumas as the
exclusive cause of hysteria. He now links hysteria with a general organic disposition that can realise itself precisely as a result of these traumas. This means that
the specific cause of hysteria remains sexual in nature but that it gains an inescapable character at the same time. Hysteria refers to an organic disposition
in which bisexuality and victory over the contamination of the sexual by the
excremental are equally important and inescapable. Pathoanalysis is born. It
is the dominant perspective in Freuds work between the abandonment of his
seduction theory and the first studies on obsessional neurosis around 1910.

2. Hysteria and Literature


Pathology is not, however, the only possible expression of the organic hysterical
disposition. Throughout his work Freud links hysteria to literature. Literature
and novel-writing in particular is the cultural expression of the same
disposition that lies at the basis of hysteria. Freud thematises the links between
hysteria and literature. Not only are writers such as Tolstoy, Van Eeden and
Flaubert excellent diagnosticians who express the atmosphere of hysteria
in a salient manner, but Freud also quickly discovers that to understand
hysteria he has to become a writer himself. That the case histories of hysterical
patients read like novels has nothing to do with a lack of scientific seriousness
but rather the nature of the topic. The psychological processes we identify
with the literary author also tell us something about hysterias trajectory
(Freud 1895, 575).
Obviously this does not mean that no difference exists between literature
and pathology. Freud writes that a path runs from the hysterics daydreams
and phantasies to both pathology the hysterical fit, for instance and novelwriting. Freud views these daydreams as substitute gratifications of pubescent
masturbation phantasies. Yet these daydreams are not only forerunners to
hysterical symptoms. Hysterical daydreams are, after all, also the breeding
ground for novels, novellas and stories. Normally, however, these daydreams
and phantasies embarrass us; we do not even like acknowledging their
existence. According to Freud the writer succeeds in eliciting our enjoyment
by charming us with the purely formalthat is, aestheticyield of pleasure
154

Conclusion

which he offers us in the presentation of his phantasies. In other words, the


writer is in the grip of the pleasure of articulation itself, and in precisely this
way he overcomes his own shame and self-reproach, creating at the same
time a situation in which readers can abandon themselves to their daydreams
without shame.
The links between literature and hysteria do not then imply that the one
can summarily be converted into the other. But presenting literature as an
alternative to pathology would be equally wrong. Literature does not protect us
from pathology. Both have their origins in an insurmountable yet commonly
human disposition. The fact that we engage with this disposition differently
in creating or enjoying literature than in pathology does not make the former
an alternative to the latter. We should say rather that human existence always
and inevitably plays out as a dynamic strenuous relation between both these
poles, in which one has the upper hand at times and then the other.

3. The Oedipal Trap


We situated Freuds introduction of the Oedipus complex around 1910 in
our interpretation of his texts. Freud discovers the Oedipus complex in his
study of obsessional neurosis rather than hysteria. The study of obsessional
neurosis occupies a key part of Freuds attention beginning with the case of
the Rat Man (Freud 1909). But when Freud turns to obsessional neurosis he
increasingly turns his back on the pathoanalytical project. Almost immediately
Freud removes the Oedipus complex from the context in which he discovers
it. Instead of interpreting the Oedipal problematic as an essential element
of an obsessive neurotic disposition that occurs in every person to a greater
or lesser extent, he understands this problematic as a structural element of
subjectivity as such. The Oedipus complex the intricate interplay of desires
and identifications in which relationships with both parents are established
and develop organises every human beings access to culture and plays a
decisive role in the assumption of sexual identity. In this way the Oedipus
complex becomes the universal key to comprehending different forms of
psychopathology.
Freud provides a developmental interpretation of the Oedipus complex.
The vicissitudes of the Oedipus complex describe how one becomes hysterical
or obsessively neurotic or succeeds or fails in the assumption of ones sexual
identity. The various pathologies are then equally understood as developmental
disorders that can and should be treated with psychoanalytical therapy. These
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

disorders are caused by external factors that do not play a constitutive role in
development. At least in principle this implies that the study of the Oedipus
complex provides us, according to Freud, with insight regarding normal
psychosexual development and its ideal, heterosexual result. One of the key
paradoxes of Freudian thought is the fact that, via his introduction of the
Oedipus complex, Freud seems ultimately to support the idea that sexuality
should fundamentally be understood as a heterosexual instinct (Van Haute
2002).
However, we would be wrong to believe that from 1910 Freud becomes
a normative developmental psychologist. In the texts from this period Freud
continues to struggle with the problematic of pathoanalysis in general and
the problematic of a generalised bisexuality in particular. In this regard
we referred to Freuds text on Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a
Woman. From a pathoanalytical perspective this text has special meaning. In
the first place it is not a case history in the strict sense of the term; Freud
writes that the homosexual young woman is not ill. This young patient does
not experience her homosexual nature as a conflict but an unproblematic
given. Initially, however, this does not prevent Freud from asking why this
young woman became homosexual and seeking an Oedipal explanation.
Subsequently, however, Freud casts aside this explanation as insufficient
and turns back to the problematic of bisexuality. The young woman does
not become homosexual but has always been homosexual. The Oedipal
motive disillusionment caused by her father in puberty only results in the
addition of manifest heterosexual propensities to homosexual tendencies, the
former strengthening the latter in the process. It is difficult to reconcile these
two perspectives. In the first homosexuality is indissolubly connected with
an Oedipal fixation on the father that must normally be overcome during
psychic development. From this perspective homosexuality is a consequence
of a blockage in Oedipal development. Given this hypothesis it is difficult
to maintain here that homosexuality is not a sign of pathology. The second
perspective only really makes sense when homosexuality is rooted in a general
bisexual disposition no one escapes.
Reference to the Oedipus complex here introduces a normative element
foreign to pathoanalysis. When different forms of pathology are only
exaggerations of common human tendencies, there is no longer any reason
to qualify (some of ) these tendencies as intrinsically pathological. However,
when the Oedipus complex is understood as a developmental stage in which
perverse as well as homosexual tendencies are integrated and need to be
overcome once and for all, only at a certain point in development can they
156

Conclusion

be called normal and commonly human. Consequently, in Freuds work


reference to the Oedipus complex remains at odds with reference to a common
bisexual disposition.

4. Development versus Structure


However, is the impossibility of reconciling the Oedipus complex
with a pathoanalytical perspective really so evident? Is it not rather the
developmental explanation of this complex that poses difficulties? In the
first place pathoanalysis is indeed at odds with a developmental approach to
psychopathology. Pathoanalysis prevents an understanding of pathology as
essentially the result of contingent circumstances that interfere with or make
impossible normal development.1 For this reason the Oedipus complex
should not be hastily written off. We should ask ourselves whether other
possible interpretations exist that assuage our concerns. To this end we turned
to the work of Lacan more specifically, his reading of Freuds texts on Dora
and the homosexual young woman. Lacan indeed endorses the project of
a clinical anthropology. For instance, he regards hysteria as an exaggeration
of a structural characteristic of desire. The hysterical patient systematises
the irremovable separation of demand (demande) and desire (dsir): every
object offered to fulfil desire recreates the lack from which desire springs.
Influenced by Lvi-Strauss, Lacan simultaneously takes a structuralist view of
the Freudian Oedipus complex. Lacan understands the Oedipus complex as
a contingent, historical interpretation of the obligation to exogamy inscribed
in the kinship structure itself. This confirms our suspicion that a structuralist
interpretation of the Oedipus complex does not stand in contradiction to the
pathoanalytical project as we described it.
Lacan links the problematic of demands separation from desire to the
crucial question at the centre of the hysterical problematic: what is a woman?
The hysterical subject lives in constant fear of being reduced to a plaything
of the Others demands and, time and again, attempts to create an unfulfilled
desire for herself. To the hysterical subject every satisfaction reminds her of
the possibility of being lost in the dynamic of pure demand, in which there
is no space for a desire of her own. She wants to be the cause of the Others
desire but not the object of his enjoyment. And it is in this same way that
1

 ontingent circumstances can of course play a part in the establishment of pathology.


C
What is at stake here is the fact that what we commonly call pathology cannot essentially be
understood from contingent circumstances.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

she experiences the order of exogamy, to which she is subject for structural
reasons: am I then nothing more than an exchange object? According to Lacan
hysteria is a permanent protest against this possibility. The hysterical woman
refuses a role that is prescribed to her by the kinship system itself.
In this way, however, a normative element is re-introduced that allows us
to distinguish between a normal hysteria and its pathological counterpart.
In his texts from the fifties when Lacan calls desires structure essentially
hysterical he implies that every object with which desire is fulfilled reintroduces the lack from which this desire originates. The lack that causes
desire that introduced by the signifier cannot be removed. He believes,
by contrast, that the pathological form of hysteria bears on the womans
inability to take up her role as exchange object. This inability does not, of
course, exist independently of the fundamental distinction between demand
and desire, but can still be distinguished from it structurally. In this way the
Oedipus complexs structural interpretation is also on a collision course with
the pathoanalytical project.

5. The Human as a Being of the In-between


We pointed out that the pathoanalytical perspective does not materialise
in Freuds thought without a struggle. In this regard perhaps we can best
characterise his work in terms of an implicit but permanent debate between
a pathoanalytical and a developmental (oedipal) interpretation of pathology.
The pathoanalytical approach dominates immediately after his abandonment
of the seduction theory, and the developmental approach in his later work.
In Lacans work too different tendencies are at odds with each other. In this
way the inclusion of a pathoanalysis of hysteria in his works of the fifties does
not prevent Lacan from simultaneously smuggling, yet again, a normative
element into his theory of hysteria via a structuralist re-interpretation of the
Oedipus complex. However, matters are more complicated. Following in a
manner analogous to Freud, Lacan links Fragment of an Analysis of a Case
of Hysteria with the study of the homosexual young woman. Even if the
latter case is not specifically concerned with hysteria, the homosexual young
womans problematic has essential bearing on the institution of lack in the
object relation. The missing phallus and unconscious longing for a child that
would compensate for this lack are central to both cases. But whereas Doras
father is impotent, the father in the case of the homosexual young woman
has a child with her rival, her mother. Her homosexual object choice is,
158

Conclusion

according to Lacan, a response to this frustration. In this way the homosexual


young woman wants to show her father that you can love someone for what
she does not have. She also wants to make the point that although she is still
inferior to her mother in many respects, this is not a good enough reason for
her father to turn away from her.
Of particular importance in this instance, however, is the fact that Lacan
links the homosexual young womans attitude with the problematic of courtly
love. It is in this way, after all, that he makes a connection between pathology
and culture, both of which he regards as expressions of the same common
human problematic. This problematic is the unavoidable split between demand
and desire or what amounts to the same desires structural unsatiability
that plays a central role in the cases of both Dora and the homosexual young
woman. This unsatiability supports his reference to courtly love. Lacan calls
courtly love a scholastics of unhappy love. Courtly love cultivates the
impossibility of fulfilment in many ways, but not with reference to a goal
external to this art form itself. Here the activity finds its goal in itself alone.
The poetic presentation and ritualistic articulation of the speaking beings
structural castration now claims full attention. In this way courtly love appears
as a never-ending attempt to withdraw from the misrecognition of lack.
In this way the troubadour differs from Dora and the homosexual young
woman, both of whom remain imprisoned in the problematic of frustration:
they continue to want to acquire that which they lack, to which they feel
themselves entitled.
We emphasised the fact that the assumption of castration acceptance
of lack cannot be understood as a condition in which people either do or
do not find themselves. As a matter of fact, in the courtly lyric we come to
know this acceptance as a ritualised practice in which we attempt, with some
difficulty, to come to terms with the structural character of lack introduced
by the signifier. We never thus merely acquire acceptance. Assumption of
castration never simply takes the place of frustration. Fundamentally, human
existence occurs in an insurmountable, strenuous relationship between the
misrecognition of lack (frustration) and the acceptance of its structural
character. In this way Lacan thematises human beings as creatures of the inbetween, stretched between pathology and culture.

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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

6. The Hysterical Subject, its Master and Female Jouissance


Lacan increasingly moves in the direction of a pathoanalytical interpretation
of hysteria in his later work. In this regard Lacan follows a trajectory that
is the inverse mirror image of Freuds. Whereas the latter increasingly
abandoned the pathoanalytical perspective in favour of the Oedipus complex,
Lacan progressively turns from an Oedipal approach towards hysteria to a
pathoanalytical interpretation thereof. What stands out in this is the fact that,
parallel to this evolution in the work of Lacan, reference to the case of Dora
silently disappears or perhaps more accurately is watered down. From this
point on Lacan continues referring to this case study but only to illustrate
insights gained in other contexts. Consequently not much remains of Lacans
careful reading of Dora that he defends in the early fifties.
In his seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis Lacan systematically
critiques the Freudian Oedipus complex Freuds dream replacing it with his
so-called theory of the four discourses. Central to this critique is the view that
the Freudian Oedipus complex should be interpreted analogously to a dream.
As the manifest content of a dream, Freuds reading of Sophocles tragedy
and his theory regarding a primal father murdered by his sons are the masked
expression of a truth Freud would rather not face. According to Lacan Freuds
emphasis on the murder of the father hides castrations real, unavoidable
character, which is an effect of language of which the phallus is the signifier.
The neurotic more specifically, the hysteric dreams of this father, the father
of the primal horde. Not only can this father answer the question concerning
what it means to be a woman and how a sexual relationship is possible, but for
him an unlimited jouissance is also possible.
The symbolic orders phallic nature implies that no signifier exists for
the woman. This means that the relationship between the sexes cannot be
conceived as symmetrical and complementary. After all, there is but a single
point of reference in the symbolic realm the phallus in terms of which
both sexes determine themselves in relation to the Other. This is what Lacan
means when he writes that a sexual relationship is impossible. According to
Lacan, the missing signifier that would denote woman from which this
impossibility stems is the central problematic of which hysteria is the
pathological exaggeration. At the same time Lacan detaches hysteria from
biological femininity, with which he originally reconnected it via reference to
Lvi-Strauss anthropology. After all, the problematic of the sexual relationships
impossibility equally affects both sexes. It is not a female privilege.

160

Conclusion

The hysterical subject wants an answer to the question What does a woman
want? It wants to know how a sexual relationship is possible. The hysterical
subject seeks an answer from a master to whom it offers itself as an enigma
that will complete the masters knowledge. In precisely this way the hysterical
subject becomes the incarnation of the masters truth. After all, not even
the master escapes castration. As a linguistic creature he too is subject to
castration. He is fundamentally limited. Time and again the hysterical subject
draws attention to this truth. No matter what the master tries, he is constantly
called back to and confronted with his own finitude.
From this perspective the tragedy of Oedipus appears in an entirely new
light. Its source of power lies not in the fact that it is the literary translation
of ineradicable infantile (sexual) desires. Rather, the Oedipus myth expresses
a desire to know and the impossibility that this knowing will ever correspond
with truth. Oedipus is, according to Lacan, an incarnation of the master and
his castration. When the truth about his existence becomes clear at the
moment that knowing and truth are at the point of corresponding Oedipus
gouges out his eyes. In this way the Oedipus myth symbolises the masters
structural castration; the (castrated) master replaces the (murdered) father.
If the father still plays a crucial role it is only when and because he takes the
masters place.
Lacans formulas of sexuation add another crucial element to this critique
of the Oedipus complex. Reference to a feminine jouissance that lies beyond
the symbolic and beyond the order of the phallus clearly indicates, on the
one hand, that female sexuality but in essence human sexuality as such
cannot be understood, according to Lacan, in terms of an exclusively phallic
(symbolic) order. On the other hand, this female jouissance is neither
complementary to phallic jouissance nor is it the exclusive privilege of either
of the biological sexes. In fact, every speaking being faces the problematic
of a relationship with a jouissance beyond the symbolic. Human existence
consequently plays out in and as an irresolvable, strenuous relationship
between the side of the man, in which reference to castration stands central,
and the side of the woman, which is articulated in terms of a female (nonphallic) jouissance. In this context Lacan re-introduces courtly literature;
it is this strenuous relationships privileged cultural form of expression.
According to Lacan hysteria is, by contrast, a caricaturish exaggeration of this
fundamentally irresolvable, bisexual problematic. Whereas Freud abandons
the project of a clinical anthropology in favour of the Oedipus complex,
Lacan retrieves pathoanalysis with bisexuality.

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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

7. Beyond Hysteria
We illustrated the project of a clinical anthropology with an analysis of Freud
and Lacans texts on hysteria. Freuds study of Dora guided our discussion.
In addition, we consistently underlined the fact that both Freud and Lacans
work contains clear initiatives for an expansion of this project of a clinical
anthropology beyond hysteria. The general hypothesis of pathoanalysis
holds that, in keeping with the crystal principle, every psychopathology2 is a
caricaturish exaggeration of a common human problematic.
From the infinite range of syndromes known to the field of psychiatry in
Freuds time, Freud takes three psychoneuroses as the split directions of the
crystal: hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia. We might consider why
Freud prefers these particular psychoneuroses.3 We believe Freud isolates these
three psychoneuroses because they refer to the three forms of what Hegel
calls absolute spirit: art, religion and philosophy. The constituent elements of
normal emotional life that are enlarged in the neuroses reach up to the highest
forms of human creativity. In terms of this perspective it is hardly surprising
that Freud turns to these particular pathologies; he suspects they allow him to
cast a very specific light on these domains, domains traditionally considered
the core of human culture.
Beginning in 1909 obsessional neurosis takes the place of hysteria in
Freuds reflections on pathology and its relation to normality and culture. On
the one hand there is a strong tendency in some of Freuds texts on obsessional
neurosis to reject every reference to a compulsive disposition. For instance, in
his study on the Rat man Freud writes the following: For we must remember
that in every neurosis (hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia) we come
upon the same suppressed instincts behind the symptoms (Freud 1909,
240, our emphasis and our additions in parentheses). Thus, the distinction
between hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia concerns only differences
in the ways the same desires are fended off. Therefore, there is no room here
for a compulsive disposition that would pre-eminently express itself in the
symptoms of obsessional neurosis and determines the specific character of
this pathology. On the other hand, this proclamation and others contrast
sharply with passages in which Freud confirms in no uncertain terms the
existence of a disposition to obsessional neurosis. In the study of the Rat man
2

 s we know, this claim should be somewhat qualified. For Freud it particularly concerns for
A
reasons we discuss three key psychoneuroses: hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia.
Especially since the first of these has long since disappeared from psychiatry textbooks (Micali
1995).
162

Conclusion

Freud is already compelled to recognize the prominence of a specific libidinal


disposition in obsessional neurosis: a desperate, overstrained love that has to
repress subconscious hate. In this regard Freud writes: It is gratifying to find
how easily we can now follow the puzzling processes of an obsessional neurosis
by bringing them into relation with this one factor (Freud 1909, 240-241).
Appearing to disregard his own note of caution, Freud apparently wants to
connect obsessional neurosis with a specific libidinal problematic (Van Haute
& Geyskens 2010).
Freud really works out this intuition in The Disposition to Obsessional
Neurosis (Freud 1913b), which he publishes a few years after his study on
the Rat man. In this text he describes a libidinal disposition, central to
which is the fixation on anal-erotic and sadist libidinal components, and
the ambivalent relationship to (fatherly) authority. According to Freud
this libidinal problematic, of which obsessional neurosis is the caricaturish
exaggeration, also expresses itself in religion. In this instance the potential
connection between religion and pathology hinges on an ambivalent
relationship with the father (Freud 1913b). The relationship with the earthly
father is a model for the relationship with the heavenly Father. Consequently,
human existence should be considered in terms of an irresolvable, strenuous
relationship between pathology (obsessional neurosis) and culture (religion),
in both of which a specific libidinal problematic expresses itself. 4 However, we
are already familiar with the way in which Freud again betrays this intuition
almost immediately: overcoming the ambivalent relationship with the father
in the Oedipus complex becomes the universal access point to culture as well
as playing a decisive role in the unequivocal assumption of sexual identity.
We find the same tension at the heart of Freuds theory of psychosis. In his
study on senate president Schreber published in 1911, Freud links psychosis
with the problematic of (homosexual) love and, more fundamentally,
narcissism (Freud 1911, passim). This reference to narcissism opens up the
possibility of intrinsically linking psychosis to philosophy. Psychotic delusional
systems that pretend to offer insights into the whole of reality are, according
to Freud, nothing other than a caricaturish remodelling of a tendency that
is also at work in philosophical construction. By way of irrefutable universal
truths, the philosopher at least in the image of the philosopher that Freud
holds up wants to once and for all penetrate the totality of all that is. Hegel
comes to mind here. It is indeed said that Hegel had a psychotic episode after
4

Obviously this claim raises a number of questions we cannot answer here. For instance,
one could ask whether reference to the father is equally crucial to all religions, and if Freud
approaches religion too intensely from (and according to the model of ) obsessional neurosis.
We hope to answer these questions elsewhere.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

finishing the Phnomenologie des Geistes (Hegel 1807), in which he describes


the route travelled by consciousness to reach Absolute Knowledge.
But Freud also hesitates when it comes to narcissism. He immediately
disconnects narcissism from the pathology in which he discovered it, and veers
towards its reduction as a preliminary stage of normal sexual development that
culminates in the overcoming of the Oedipus complex (Freud 1911). In this
instance Freud also quickly abandons the pathoanalytical model in favour of a
developmental perspective. Not only does this result in Freuds re-enrolment
in a moral-medical model of pathology, but also threatens to make his own
intuitions concerning the intrinsic connection between the three different
psychoneuroses and the three prominent forms of culture incomprehensible.

8. Freud versus Lacan: the Position of Science


It should now be clear that a clinical-anthropological reading of Freuds work
entails its consideration from the perspective of the crystal analogy. Not only
must we examine how his work results from this analogy but also where and
how he flees out of a respectful modesty into a normalising and pacifying
psychology. We worked out and illustrated this reading with regard to Freuds
texts on hysteria since it is in this domain that Freud himself first formulates
the project of pathoanalysis. However, it also clarifies the need for similarly
detailed undertakings with regard to the other psychoneuroses. In this way the
precise philosophical scope of Freuds project can be determined.5
In this regard one matter is clear: for Freud art, religion and philosophy
have a sound anthropological basis. These cultural forms belong to human
existence essentially, in the same way as the various psychoneuroses. This
means that art, philosophical speculation and religion all have their roots in
human nature. Or perhaps more accurately, human existence structurally and
unavoidably takes place in a space of tension between these cultural forms and
their pathological caricatures. This by no means implies that one should believe
either that philosophical speculation will ever reach its goal or that religious
truths and spiritual mysteries should be confirmed. It only means that those
who classify philosophical speculation and religion as illusory will, at the same
time, have to acknowledge the fact that these are unavoidable (transcendental,
if you like) illusions. From this perspective, philosophical speculation and
5

In addition, a number of other problems should be considered: how exactly should we
approach the analogy between pathology and culture? What implications does this have for
the status of sublimation in Freuds work? What is the status of the pathological categories
Freud uses as his points of departure and so forth...
164

Conclusion

religion cannot simply be reduced to intellectual misjudgements that have to


be corrected.6
In this instance the tendencies we already repeatedly pointed out towards
normalisation and psychologisation in Freuds work completely turn Freudian
thought on its head. In The Decline of the Oedipus Complex (Freud 1924), for
instance, Freud describes how the infant can and should untangle himself
from his infantile fixations and phantasies in order to reach a non-neurotic
adulthood. Victory over the Oedipus complex is thus seen as the access point
to a mature meaning objective and scientific attitude towards reality.
According to Freud this condition of psychological health has a cultural
equivalent: positivist atheism that completely dominates, for example, The
Future of an Illusion (Freud 1927).7 From this realistic, scientific perspective,
art becomes a soft anaesthetic, religion an illusion or merely an intellectual
misjudgement and philosophy becomes either the drowning out of existential
uncertainty or a discipline to be evaluated according to the criteria of science.
When Freud abandons his clinical-anthropological project, at times he also
becomes an advocate for an adulthood free of neurosis and an enlightenment
without culture.
We obviously have to qualify the last statement: modern science is too,
after all, a cultural achievement. But in terms of the progressive philosophical
perspective Freud derives from Auguste Compte in The Future of an Illusion,
science is seen as the result of a teleological development that progresses from a
metaphysical to a positive scientific stage. In this way victory over the Oedipus
complex and access to the final stage of human cultural development become
two sides of the same coin. A scientific approach that completes the process
of cultural evolution can no longer be distinguished from a pathological
caricature thereof. Consequently, Freud no longer considers human existence
in terms of an in-between in which life is lived out in an irremovable tension
between culture and pathology.
But is it really so evident that science escapes an intrinsic relationship
with pathology, thereby allowing for the possibility of a victory over it? The
status of scientific thought should itself be examined from a pathoanalytical
perspective. For instance, it is striking that Lacan adds an important nuance
to Freuds vision in a passage on pathoanalysis on which we have commented
before: Thus I once quoted a very short formula which brought together the
respective mechanisms of hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia with three
6
7

S cientific critiques of religion and religious experience in particular come to mind here.
In light of our explanation, one could perhaps call this the least psychoanalytical of Freuds
works.
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A Non-oedipal Psychoanalysis?

forms of sublimation, art, religion and science (Lacan 1959-60, 129). Even
though Lacan seems to be linking paranoia to science instead of philosophy,
for him a deep connection exists between them. According to Lacan paranoia
is the caricaturish exaggeration of a longing for total transparency that
characterises both philosophy Lacan is undoubtedly thinking of Hegel here
and science. In this way science loses its unique position: the human being is
essentially and irrevocably a sick animal.

166

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173

Index

Accidental factors, see constitutional


factors
Aesthetics (freudian) 68
Aetiology
- of neurosis 35; 82-83
- (specific) of hysteria 25-44; 60;
153
Aggression 26; 68; 70; 106, in note
Affect 15; 28; 34; 45-48; 63-64; 89
Affect (reversal of ) 47
Anatomical extension 41
Anxiety
- Phobic 34
- Attacks 52
Anxiety neurosis 52-54
Anthropology (clinical) 11-24; 107;
109; 112-116;152;122; 153-166
Aphonia 45
Asthma attack 52
Attachment:
- Infantile 77
- Homosexual 57; 93-95
Auto-eroticism 66
Authority (paternal) 18; 20; 114; 164
Autohypnosis 32
Being of the in-between (human as)
117; 158-169; 165
Bisexuality 20; 40; 43; 44; 52; 57-58;
59-60; 63; 65; 73-86; 89; 90; 109;
121; 135; 139; 141; 152; 154; 156;
161
Bisexual conflict 74
Body-subject 22
Case study, see case history
Case history 20, in note; 26; 29; 30; 37;
40; 43; 45; 50; 51; 53; 54, in note;
58; 73; 74; 78; 82; 87; 88; 92; 94;
109; 132; 135; 156; 160
Castration (complex) 27, in note; 83,
in note; 84; 90; 91, in note; 115116; 118; 123; 127-129; 131; 138;
139-146; 148; 151; 152; 159

Cathartic effect 15; 28, in note


Cathartic method 29; 78, in note
Child psychology 124
Crystal principle 17; 19; 23; 162; 164
Cinema, see romantic movies
Confusion (psychotic), see psychosis
Consciousness
- discontinuity of 14; 59
- hypnoid state of 30; 32; 33, in
note; 63; 64; 66, in note
- loss of 66, in note
Constitutional factors 27; 30
Continuity (psychic) 14
Conversion/conversion symptoms 11;
15; 28; 31; 34; 35; 42; 61; 71; 153
Convulsive attacks 11
Constitution (sexual/bisexual) 15; 27;
37; 39, in note; 41; 47; 48; 52; 53;
58; 60; 61; 65, in note; 82; 83; 83;
119; 121
Courtly
- lover/love 79; 109; 113-119; 136;
139; 143; 148-150; 159
- lyric 159
- troubadour 159
Culture 13, in note; 16; 19; 20; 22; 23;
61; 71; 113; 117; 118; 119; 139;
152; 155; 159; 162; 163; 164; 165
Cure (psychoanalytic) 15; 46; 78; 83
Daydreams, see phantasie
Death wishes 112, in note
Defensive reactions (infantile) 84-85
Defence ritual 35
Delusion 16; 17; 18; 61, in note; 62, in
note; 163
Demand (as distinct from desire) 89;
92; 100-106; 110; 116; 129; 148;
157; 158; 159
Desire
- as effect of the signifier 96-97;
103; 119; 128; 129; 134; 136;
143-145; 161

175

Index

- heterosexual 58; 80
- homosexual 74
- hysterical 95, in note; 100; 105;
131;
- lost object of 115
- to know 131; 132; 161
- for the mother: 125, in note; 131
- of the mother 102; 125, in note
- for an unsatisfied/unfulfilled desire
95, in noot; 100-103; 105,
in note; 131; 157
- for knowledge 131; 132; 134;
147; 161
Development (sexual) 18-19; 157-158
Developmental psychology 18-19
Developmental disorder 18; 19; 155
Discours (theory of ) 127; 130, in note;
132; 160
Disgust
- evolutionary explanation of 42
- neurotic 48
- normal 48; 89
- as symptom of repression 37; 41;
42; 46-49; 89; 98
Displacement 47
Disposition
- bisexual 22; 52; 96; 156; 157
- hereditary/constitutional 36; 37;
52; 119
- hysterical 30; 32; 33; 37; 38; 40;
43; 45; 48; 50; 61; 63; 66; 71; 72;
76; 89; 98; 119; 154
- libidinal 37; 38; 39; 82; 83; 163
- obsessive neurotic 155
- neurophatic 36; 37; 76
- towards literature 61
Dreams (about loved persons) 123-124
Echolalias 70
Ecstasy 144
Enjoyment (vaginal vs. clitoral) 13
Epic 61
Erotogenic zones 40; 41-42; 45; 47;
56; 137; 142; 143; 144
Etiquette (ritualised), see rituals
Excitement 28; 30; 34; 37; 46; 47; 50;
51; 53; 65

Exogamy (obligation to) 88; 92; 157


Exhibitionism 57; 65
Family (patriarchal) 13
Father
- dead 103; 126; 127; 128; 129;
133
- murder of 123; 126; 127; 130;
131; 160; 161
- as signifier 103
- as third 92; 97; 103
Father complex 20, in note; 74; 76
Feminism 11; 13, in note; 83
Fixation 53; 60; 81; 83; 156; 163; 165
Free association 14; 15; 35; 50
Frustration (as different from castration)
90-91; 115; 116; 118; 150; 152;
159
Gender (identity/identfications) 11; 12;
13; 38; 40; 58
Genital love 83, in note; 137
Gift 91-92; 93; 95; 105; 111
Globus hystericus 11; 41
Gratification (substitute) 71; 154
Guilt 18; 76; 77; 126
Hamlet 36
Hallucinations 28; 33
Hans (little) 26, in note; 73; 87
Health (mental) 21, 38, in note
Heart palpitations 31
Heterosexuality 82; 84
Homosexuality 13, in note; 16; 57;
80-84; 87; 88; 90; 109-120; 156
Hyperventilation 31
Hypnosis 14; 32
Hysteria
- petite hystrie 45; 54; 55
- Male 103, in note
Hysterical attack 61; 63; 66
Hysterical conversion, see conversion
Hysterogenic zones, see erotogenic zones
Idealisation 48; 111; 115; 132; 149;
150
Identification
- Bisexual 57; 66; 71; 118
- with Frau K 96
- with Herr K 95; 98; 105
176

Index

- with the mother 57


- with the father 93; 156
- hysterical 101
- imaginary 95; 98; 105; 110
- symbolic 96
Ideogenic 31; 32; 33; 43; 50; 52; 53,
in note
Imaginary corporal experience, see
mirror stage
Imaginary relations, see order of the
imaginary
Incentive bonus 67; 70; 117
Incest barrier 57
Incest taboo 88; 92
Infatuation 26; 29; 74; 79; 80; 83; 95;
86; 98; 114; 124; 141
Infections 16
Instinct (heterosexual) 15, in note; 58;
157
Instinctual
- life 19
- constellation 16; 47
- impulses 65, in note; 68
Jealousy (oedipally motivated) 56
Jouissance
- beyond the phallus 22; 143; 146;
147; 151; 152
- female 129, in note; 136;
160-161; 138; 139; 141; 144-147;
150; 160-161
- incestuous 126
- masturbatory 142-143
- of the body 145
- of the idiot 142
- of the Other 138; 139; 143; 145;
146; 147; 149; 148-152
- phallic 129, in note; 136; 138;
141-145; 148; 149; 151; 161
- unlimited 127; 160
- real 127
Joke (technique of ) 68-70
Lack (institution of ) 109; 113; 115;
119; 158
Law
- of language 96; 103; 106, in note;
125; 126; 129, in note; 136; 137;

138; 141; 144; 145; 149


- of the Father 103; 125; 126
- of the signifier, see of language
- of the symbolic, see of language
- of the phallus 140; 141
Leonardo 73
Libido 52; 59; 60; 80, in note; 82; 84;
109; 137, in note; 146
Literature 12; 16; 18; 21; 26, in note;
38, in note; 61-71; 75; 109; 117;
119; 120; 139; 152; 154-155
Love
- actual 56; 77
- genital 83, in note; 137
- gratuitous character of 91; 100
- infantile 56
- logic of 100
- mystic 144, in note
- platonic 113
- and rivalry 80; 123
- transference- 77-78
Lyric 61; 159
Masculinity complex 83
Masochism, see sado-masochism
Master (discourse of ) 94, in note;
121; 122; 123; 127; 130-135; 147;
160-161
Masturbation 48; 49; 51; 52; 53; 54;
64; 66; 71; 74; 154
Melancholy 15, in note
Metaphor
- linguistic 111; 112, in note
- of the Name-of-the-Father 103;
115; 118
Metapsychology 20; 22; 73
Metonymy 111, in note; 112, in note
Metonymic process, see metonymy
Morality (victorian) 11
Mirror stage 90; 97; 106, in note
Misrecognition 97; 116; 118; 119;
127; 150; 159
Mother substitute 77; 110
Multiple personality disorder 11
Mysticism 116, in note; 136; 150
Nachtrglich 50; 51; 76
Name-of-the-Father, see metaphor
177

Index

Narcissism 78; 83; 163; 164


Neurology 11, in note
Neurosis (choice of ) 35; 39, in note
Normality (psychical) 14; 16-17; 21;
23; 28; 58; 72; 79; 107; 109; 118;
153; 162
Normalisation (genital) 137; 151; 165
Normopathy 80
Novel 61-71; 87; 118; 153; 154
Object (partial) 141; 142; 145; 146
Object a 129, in note; 141; 143; 145,
in note; 150
Object (choice of )
- and bisexuality 40; 96
- homosexual 40; 95-97; 110; 131;
158
- type of masculin object choice 111
Obsessionnal
- neurosis 15-18; 20; 26, in note;
35; 38; 62, in note; 73-77; 119;
128, in note; 154; 155; 162; 163
- thoughts 18
Oedipal
- attachment 26; 55; 100; 114;
- attitude 81; 82
- crisis 19; 58; 65, in note; 85; 92;
93; 103; 106
- explanation 54; 55; 109; 117;
126, in note; 151; 156
- figures 77; 78
- phantasy 25-27; 154
- problematic 20; 21; 106; 114;
118; 123; 155
- theme 26; 27; 40; 55; 59; 65; 74;
124
- trap 154-155
- trauma, see trauma
Oedipus complex
- as nuclear complex 56; 122
- core problem of psychoanalysis 25
- female 90-91; 109; 138
- psychogenetic interpretation 21;
87; 89; 107
- structuralist interpretation 21;
122; 157
- victory over 27; 106; 118; 138;
146; 165

Oedipus legend 125; 130


Omnipotence of thoughts 75-76
Oracle 39; 130
Origin tale 125-126
Other (as equal) 97; 105
Other
- of language 96-97; 106, in note;
115; 123; 129; 140
- of the law 96-97; 103; 129, in
note; 136; 137; 138; 140; 141;
144; 145; 149
Paranoia 15; 16; 17; 18; 20; 73; 74; 75;
80; 112, in note; 119, in note; 162;
165; 166
Pathoanalysis 14; 17; 18; 20; 73; 87;
89; 109; 112; 120; 137; 139; 154;
156; 157; 158; 161; 162; 164; 165
Penis-envy 83
Perversion (sexual) 15; 38, in note;
41; 57; 84; 112-116
Phallus/phallic
- law of the 138; 140; 141;
- missing phallus 91; 93; 111; 114;
158
- phallus-child 114, in note
- phallic economy 134; 136
- phallic lack 91; 113; 115-116;
117; 118; 129; 136; 137; 138;
141; 142; 152; 158
- primacy of 90
- signifier of sexual difference 136;
137; 138
Phantasy/phantasm
- agressif 116
- erotic 116
- felatio- 42; 50; 53
- masturbation- see masturbation
- phylogenetic 42
- revenge- 133
Pleasure
- of articulation 155
- fore- 67
- literary 60; 63
- of rhythm and rhyme 69
- sources of, see sources of pleasure
- yield of (formal or aesthetic) 67;
117; 119; 154
178

Index

Polymorph perverse 59; 60; 65


Positions
- depressive 23, in note; 85, in note
- paranoid-schizoid 23, in note
Primal horde 76; 77; 128; 160
Primal scene 52
Private religion, see religion
Psychiatry (evolutionary) 11, in note;
12; 17, in note; 162
Psychical health, see normality
(psychical)
Psychical weakness (innate) 30
Psychoanalytic method 14-15;
Psychoanalysis (early years of ) 25; 38,
in note
Psychogenesis 18; 19; 21; 60; 73; 79;
80; 82; 83; 84; 87; 88-89; 107; 109;
110; 156
Psychogenetic, see psychogenesis
Psychoneurosis 17; 77; 107
Psychopathology 14; 18; 19; 22; 73;
122; 154; 155; 157; 162
Psychological processes (unconscious)
14; 22; 154
Psychosis 16; 17; 33; 65; 72; 154, in
note; 163
Psychotherapy 13
Puberty 19; 30; 34; 35; 37; 42; 46, in
note; 49; 64; 65; 80; 81; 82; 124;
156
Punishement (need for) 112, in note
Ratman 15; 20; 26, in note; 38; 73; 74;
75; 87, in note; 155; 162; 163
Regression 19
Religion (critique of ) 16; 18; 19; 26,
in note; 61, in note; 62, in note; 75;
76; 77; 122, in note; 119; 148, in
note; 151, in note; 162; 163; 164;
165
Repression
- of erotogenic zones 40; 41-43; 45;
47; 56
- of homosexual desires 74; 77
- of the Oedipus complex 27; 77
- organic 20; 40; 41-43; 47; 49; 52;
56; 89; 135
- phylogenetic model of 47

Resistance 35; 70; 81; 117


Rituals 16; 18; 35; 75; 77; 116; 149
Romantic film 71; 118
Sado-masochism 57
Scientism 165
Schreber 73; 87, in note; 163
Seduction(theory of ) 25; 35; 36-40;
43; 47; 50; 51; 54; 57; 59; 153;
154; 158
Self-analysis 25; 126
Self-reproaches 35; 38; 48; 54
Sensitivity (corporal) 30; 32; 41; 46;
53; 63
Sexuality
- abhorrence of 32; 48; 58; 98; 99;
117
- activity (infantile) 35; 38
- anal 41; 42; 48; 163
- confrontation with 31; 37; 38; 43;
58; 83
- as disordered 137
- oral 41; 42; 46; 47; 50; 53; 60;
137
- primacy of 37
Sexual difference 83; 90; 96; 136; 137;
138; 140
Sexuation (formulas of ) 22; 87; 138;
139; 140-147; 148; 149; 151; 151;
161
Shame 47, in note; 48; 64; 65; 66; 67;
70; 117; 155
Signifier (differential definition of ) 141
Sistine Madonna 134
Somatic compliance 31; 52; 54
Structuralism, see Oedipus complex
Sublimation 68; 71-72; 112, in note;
117; 119, in note; 150; 164, in note
Subject
- as effect of the Other 96-97; 119;
123; 129; 137; 142;
- of the unconscious 96-97
Symbolic
- thirth 97
- order 91; 97; 128; 136; 137; 139,
in note; 143; 144; 145; 147; 148;
152; 161
- position 94; 95; 132
179

Index

Symptom (reactive) 26; 55; 58; 65; 74;


77
Symptomatology
- of hysteria 60; 63
- of obsessionnal neurosis 18, in
note; 26, in note; 75; 76; 77
- of paranoia 16
- of the psychoneurosis 15; 18
- of homosexuality 83
- Taboo 76; 88; 92
Tragedy 39; 124; 125; 131; 160; 161
Transverberation 144
Trauma 34-39; 41; 43; 45-46; 49-53;
54; 73; 79; 80; 82; 83; 98; 99; 110;
114; 153
Tussis nervosa 46
Unconscious 14; 22; 26; 32; 33; 36;
42; 56; 59; 64, in note; 65; 68; 75;
80; 82; 89; 91; 96-97; 100; 101;
111; 114; 121; 124; 132; 140; 143,
in note; 153; 158
Vagina (ignorance about its existence)
128; 138
Visions 33
Voyeurism, see exhibitionism
Woman
- (feminity) as enigma 95; 97; 98;
134; 147; 148; 161
- as exchange object 21; 89; 98;
100; 106; 114; 118; 139; 151; 158

180

The series Figures of the Unconscious


A Non-Oedipal Psychoanalysis? A Clinical Anthropology of Hysteria in the Work
of Freud and Lacan is volume 11 in the series Figures of the Unconscious.

Previously published in the series:


Sexuality and Psychoanalysis,
Philosophical Criticisms,
Jens De Vleminck, Eran Dorfman (eds)
39,50, ISBN 978 90 5867 844 7, 2010,
paperback, 240 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 10

Deleuze and Psychoanalysis,


Philosophical Essays on Deleuzes Debate
with Psychoanalysis,
Leen De Bolle (ed.)
29,50, ISBN 978 90 5867 796 9, 2010,
paperback, 160 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 9

A Dark Trace,
Sigmund Freud on the Sence of Guilt,
Herman Westerink
59,50, ISBN 978 90 5867 754 9, 2009,
hardback, 320 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 8

Origins and Ends of the Mind,


Philosophical Essays on Psychoanalysis,
Ray Brassier, Christian Kerslake (ed.)
35,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 617 7, 2007, paperback, 226 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 7
Our original Scenes,
Freuds theory of sexuality,
Tomas Geyskens
27,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 471 5, 2005, paperback, 120 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 6
The Theory and Treatment of Depression,
Towards a Dynamic Interactionism Model,
Jozef Corveleyn, Patrick Luyten, Sidney J. Blatt (eds)
36,50, ISBN 978 90 5867 425 8, 2005, paperback, 302 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 5
Co-publication with Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 10 Industrial Avenue,
Mahwah, New Jersey 07430-2262, USA
Everyday Extraordinary: Encountering Fetishism with Marx,
Freud and Lacan,
Christopher M. Gemerchak, Paul Moyaert
31,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 408 1, 2004, paperback, 144 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 4
Psychosis: Phenomenological and Psychoanalytical Approaches,
Corveleyn Jozef, Moyaert Paul (eds)
30,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 279 7, 2003, paperback, 166 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 3
Phenomenology and Lacan on Schizophrenia,
after the Decade of the Brain,
De Waelhens A., Ver Eecke W. (eds)
32,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 160 8, 2001, paperback, 338 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 2
Seduction, Suggestion, Psychoanalysis,
Corveleyn Jozef, Van Haute Philippe (eds)
22,00 / $ 30,00, ISBN 978 90 5867 127 1, 2001, paperback, 126 p., English
Figures of the Unconscious 1

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