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Freud and the Desire of the Psychoanalyst

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Freud's invention of psychoanalysis was based on his own desire to know something about the unconscious, but what have been the effects of this original desire on psychoanalysis ever since? How has Freud's desire created symptoms in the history of psychoanalysis? Has it helped or hindered its transmission?Exploring these questions brings Serge Cottet to Lacan's concept of the psychoanalyst's desire: less a particular desire like Freud's and more a function, this is what allows analysts to operate in their practice. It emerges during analysis and is crucial in enabling the analysand to begin working with the unconscious of others when they take on the position of analyst themselves. What is this function and how can it be traced in Freud's work?Cottet's book, first published in 1982 and revised in 1996, is a classic of Lacanian psychoanalysis. It is not only a scholarly study of Freud and Lacan, but a thought-provoking introduction to the key issues of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

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CHAPTER ONE: Freud’s analytic act

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Freud was not always Freudian. The changes that punctuate his work point both to moments of discovery and periods of inhibition. His time for understanding was not regulated by a will to knowledge, however obvious the latter may have been. Nor is the light thrown on his desire by his transference to Fliess enough to define the specificity of his orientation in relation to those of other physicians of his time.1 If my concern here is to grasp Freud’s analytic act in statu nascendi, this is because no prehistory of psychoanalysis can account for this absolute beginning, which grants full power to speech by stating a fundamental rule: “Say everything.”

That Freud wanted his patients to say everything and to follow this rule has not been without consequences, which have necessarily created questions that must be addressed by all those who have followed in his path.

Apathy, ataraxia, and silence were for a long time considered to be the cardinal virtues of a psychoanalyst: wanting nothing, doing nothing, and desiring nothing seemed to be not only the necessary guarantees for “axiological neutrality” in conducting the treatment, but were also the only foil against both spiritual guidance and suggestion. Freud had always wanted to remove psychoanalysis from the discourse of mastery, yet does this mean stifling the desire of the analyst?

 

CHAPTER TWO: Capturing the unconscious

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Freud’s first works on hysteria stand as the “primal scene” of psychoanalysis. In his Studies on Hysteria, Freud’s desire can be read in terms of his request: “I am asking you to remember; I am asking you to speak.” Since what his patients told him was in answer to this appeal, we can argue that everything they said was related to it. It should be noted, however, that this relativity is connected less to the truth of the material than to its exactitude; in other words, the different scenes that the patient has remembered, and which may well conform to the physician’s expectations in terms of their chronology, are not entirely created. The same cannot be said of the historical exactitude of the material, since, in this case, all certitude is undermined by the intercession of the phantasy. Freud was not yet aware of this fact, just as he did not grasp the quite striking homogeneity between his theoretical preoccupations and the way in which his hysterical patients told their stories.

I shall establish that the structure of these hysterical accounts is connected with the structure of medical discourse. In relation to Charcot’s method, however, Freud establishes a cut by supposing the existence of knowledge in the other and by allowing her to take the initiative to gain access to it; his message is “You are the one who knows”, rather than “I already knew that”. He therefore supposes the existence of a knowledge that does not know itself and which the patient possesses. This knowledge, which causes the analyst’s desire, can be called the unconscious. Freud only knows what his patients are able to tell him; his love for the subject’s unconscious must also be valuable enough for her to offer it to him as a gift. This is not the same structure as that of suggestion, even if it is clear enough that the hysteric only says what the other wants to hear.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Between two passions: the real and the signifier

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The abandonment of hypnosis in 1896,1 following the discovery of resistance, led Freud to go beyond the ideology of the secret and the confession, neither of which had always been extorted without violence.

The arbitrary character of interpretation, and even suggestion pure and simple, become most apparent in Freud’s revelation to Elisabeth von R: “She cried aloud when I put the situation drily before her with the words: ‘So, for a long time you had been in love with your brother-in-law.’” (Studies on Hysteria, p. 157). At about the same time, Freud also gives up his “neurotica”2— his theory of trauma—in favour of the Oedipus complex and infantile sexuality. The abandonment of these two theories is a turning point in the progress of his discoveries, but it also means that Freud’s desire and psychoanalysis were now linked in a common orientation towards a real that is independent of facts and events. It is this change in perspective that I wish to illustrate.

From the moment when the theory of the phantasy takes over from that of the trauma, the real is no longer considered to be the actual. This shift—which, in fact, hardly alters the role played by seduction (see The Wolf Man)—now becomes another secret, and behind the mask, there is another mask. This process of looking further and further back in search of the event—the primal scene—thus has an historical thrust:

 

CHAPTER FOUR: On Freud’s transference

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Lacan states in Seminar I that Freud tried to mould Dora’s ego (p. 184), and in the Écrits he describes her negative transference as a response to Freud’s countertransference (p. 183). This is a mirror relation because Freud, misunderstanding Dora’s masculine identification, favours this dual relation in his treatment. He is not yet aware of the distinction, which he would make later, between the object of love and the object of identification. If he fails to understand the object of Dora’s desire—let’s call her Frau K—it is because of the prejudice, which was not peculiar to him, that “girls like boys”.

More deeply, one can observe that if Freud considers Dora’s obvious interest in Herr K as proof of her undeclared love, it is only because her masculine identifications have escaped his notice. His insufficient understanding of Dora’s “homosexual” relation and his error concerning the nature of the transference amount to the same thing, so that his “counter-transference” results from his misunderstanding of the hysteric’s desire. Indeed, by “forcing the call for love onto the object of identification” (Écrits, p. 534)—in Dora’s case Herr K—Freud actually misunderstands several things.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The case of Freud

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If my argument is justified, then the unconscious that we have been encountering does not fit with Freud’s description of it at the time. Indeed, his case histories, especially that of Dora, tell us that the unconscious can no longer be treated as an external and objectifi-able object; if it is not an “internal” object that can be exhibited, or which can be transformed from potentiality into an act, this is because the analyst’s act commits him to being a part of the phenomena of which his artifice is a product. Like the unconscious, the analyst is himself in a relation of internal exclusion to her object; in other words, there is no better illustration of the fact that the observer is himself a part of what he observes than the transference. This is the least we can say, considering that Freud always implicitly admits to his choices, preferences, and disappointments, with the result that his patients’ responses, dreams, and transferences appear to have been prompted by his demand.1

The signifier of the analyst is already present in the hysteric’s speech as soon as she opens her mouth, thus providing an opening for his finger either to open it more fully or to stop her from talking altogether. When Lacan writes that “the transference alone is an objection to inter-subjectivity”, this forces us to renounce any hope of establishing a dual relation, one in which two unconsciousnesses might interpret or homogeneously interpenetrate each other, thus rediscovering how to communicate (Lacan, Proposition of 9 October 1967, p. 4). If, on the other hand, a case is never external to the analyst who is relating it, this is because Freud’s resistance to recognizing the object of desire defines precisely the structure of the unconscious. Indeed, if the psychoanalyst is included in the very “existence” of the unconscious, no text can illustrate Freud’s relation to women more explicitly than Dora (Lacan, Television, p. 14).

 

CHAPTER SIX: Questioning the desire for truth

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In a letter to Jung, Freud declares that the only valid motivation for research is the “love of truth” (McGuire, pp. 5–6). Perhaps he was only expressing the reverence, which is compulsory for the scholar, towards a truth that lies beyond partisan prejudices and considerations. “Hats off to truth” is a part of the intellectual’s ethic.1 This postulate, however, for a psychoanalyst—if there is a psychoanalyst cannot—be accepted unquestioningly. If psychoanalysis has displaced the philosophical question of truth from the domain of thought to things, as Lacan tells us, it is because the truth in question is not good to say (Écrits, p. 342). The whole edifice of philosophy is subverted by this antipathy between desire and truth. This raises the question of whether Freud did in fact love the truth and wanted his patients to desire it. Clearly he was not left speechless by the splendour of truth. And yet, if he was not duped by truth, could he have been duped by the real? A distinction ought to be made here. The metaphor of unmasking may well suit Freud’s undertaking: it is better to lift the veil of Maya rather than let well enough alone. Yet he does so not to provide the subject with access to his own good but rather to weave together a fatal truth. Thus, his ethical imperative not to let sleeping dogs lie was not motivated by a wish to liberate the subject from vain fictions, which had been able to act precisely because they had remained unknown and inexpressible. On the contrary, awakening the subject meant laying bare a real that was not only far from reassuring, but with which he would thereafter have to reckon.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Truth and certitude

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It is, of course, the case of the Rat Man that provides the surest basis for Freud’s certitude, as well as the guarantee best founded on experience for his theory that the law of desire depends on the law of the father. Who else could have brought better proof to this hypothesis than the Rat Man, whose repressed hatred for his father was as completely imperceptible to himself as it was obvious to others? In this respect, one sentence, however, is rather enigmatic: “Little by little, in this school of suffering, the patient won the sense of conviction which he had lacked—though to any disinterested mind the truth would have been almost self-evident”: the truth of the unconscious existence of his hatred for his father (The Rat Man, p. 209).1

Freud, who was still faithful at the time to his restricted theory of the Oedipus complex, considered that once the barrier of repression has been lifted, he had done enough: he had enabled his patient to attain the intellectual conviction that a drive for revenge persisted in his unconscious. Indeed, Freud claims that this certitude can be universalized. One could wonder, indeed, who are the “disinterested mind[s]” for whom every aspect of the Rat Man’s neurosis would be as obvious as the nose on his face (p. 209). In these conditions, one is left with an alternative. Perhaps Freud did not discover anything that everyone else did not already know, apart from the Rat Man himself, of course, whose neurosis was precisely a result of repressing this truth. Perhaps, on the other hand, Freud discovered something completely different, but whose implications he did not realize at the time: the foundation for the Rat Man’s hatred persisted, after his father’s death, in his symptom, determining both his “pathological mourning” and suicide compulsion (The Rat Man, p. 186). Perhaps this conviction is not obvious to readers today. Freud himself seems not to have realized the implications of his discovery. Although mortification is undeniably a symptom of an impossible revenge (for how can one take revenge on a dead man?) Freud persists in arguing that the Rat Man’s feeling of guilt is justified. However disproportionate his remorse in relation to its cause, it is nonetheless perfectly adapted to an underlying offence, since the cause always depends on circumstances. For example, among the series of real events that gave rise to the Rat Man’s feelings of guilt—his acts of cruelty towards his cousin, his insults to his father at the age of three or four, and his remorse at arriving too late at his father’s death-bed—none justifies his feeling of being a criminal (The Rat Man, p. 176). This was not only his reassuring friend’s point of view and the reasonable point of view, but also the opinion of everyone around him. Freud, however, contrary to the lay observer, is absolutely certain that the Rat Man’s remorse was justified:

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Reaching the real through constructions

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In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud abandons his aim of instilling meaning into symptoms, thus heralding a second period in psychoanalytic technique, one in which construction prevails over interpretation (p. 18). When some years later, in 1937, in his major article on constructions, he accounts for the activity of the analyst, he once again uses his customary metaphor of archaeology; this time, however, his intention is to accentuate the difference between patient and analyst (see “Constructions in Analysis”). Since the latter “neither experience[s] nor repress[es]” what the patient tells him, Freud thinks he should not therefore attempt to understand but rather, like the unconscious, simply set to work.

Thus, “The work of analysis consists of two quite different portions [and] it is carried out on two separate localities” (“Constructions in Analysis”, p. 258). While one party splutters on, inspired by a passion for meaning, the other constructs the neurotic patient’s family romance. Without presuming to predict the outcome of such a game, we can nevertheless measure the risk involved: that of creating the autistic tandem that Lacan warned us against in his seminar. Such a tandem could reproduce the situation illustrated in Kant’s famous parable from his Critique of Pure Reason: there are two friends, one of whom “milks a he-goat, while the other holds a sieve underneath” (Le séminaire XXIV, p. 13). Does the passion for origins, however, lead inevitably to such an extreme consequence?

 

CHAPTER NINE: Freud’s excavations and the archaeologist’s desire

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As we have seen, Freud’s search for an “archaic” element is a protective measure against suggestion: a guarantee of the Other Scene that the analytic scene seeks to attain through speech. Two conceptions of the real involved in treatment can therefore be proposed:

•  Either there is no “reality” other than that of the transference, and the goal of treatment is to encourage the latter to emerge. The transference thus becomes the truth of everything the patient has said and the only referent of psychoanalysis.

•  Or else, the efficacy of the transference depends solely on the signi-fier; in other words, it is a result of interpretation. Transference is therefore an effect of theory and a product of the signifier, and, as such, it is not external to discourse.

The first hypothesis, put forward by Octave Mannoni in Un commencement qui n’en finit pas: transfert, interprétation, théorie, leads to a conception in which psychoanalytic discourse must perpetually miss its object. This hypothesis suggests that Freud’s archaeological desire was founded on a question that he constantly avoided: what is the place from which the analyst speaks? The unsaid in psychoanalytic investigation would therefore be both the condition for discovery and the primally repressed material that characterizes psychoanalysis (Mannoni, Clefs pour l’imaginaire, pp. 115–130).

 

CHAPTER TEN: Successful paranoia

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The psychoanalytic process tends occasionally to veer towards interpretative delusion. We shall take it for granted that this was not Freud’s orientation. According to him, this delusion is, instead, the realm of philosophy, which as a Weltanschauung, reduces all the problems of our existence to “a single principle”, which can be characterized as an interpretative delusion (New Introductory Lectures, p. 52).

It is nevertheless currently fashionable to claim that theory and delusion have the same character. Indeed, according to some authors, psychoanalysis undermines all attempts to discriminate between theory and madness (see Mannoni, 1980, and Fédida, 1978). They borrow Freud’s argument that psychoanalysis resorts constantly to fiction, phantasy, and the imaginary.1 Rather than pursuing this debate along epistemological lines, I would prefer to consider the reasons why Freud holds psychoanalysis to be something other than a delusion. The difference between psychoanalysis and paranoiac delusions will shed new light on the nature of his desire.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Freudian myth

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In 1925, Freud confides to his disciple Kardiner that his patients no longer interest him unless they contribute to his own theories (see My Analysis with Freud, pp. 68–69). His enthusiasm for therapy, in any case, was never so great as to lead him to sacrifice his taste for pure speculation to it. In 1928, for example, he writes to Pfister that “I have often said that I hold that the purely medical importance of analysis is outweighed by its importance to science as a whole, and that its general influence by means of clarification and the exposure of error exceeds its therapeutic value to the individual” (Meng & Freud, p. 120).

It is clear, however, that if there was a change in Freud’s attitude towards clinical practice, it was caused by the clinic itself and by the real that it had brought to light. His loss of interest is in part caused by his discovery of his patients’ “negative therapeutic reaction”, which, to his great surprise, emerges as the ultimate source of resistance (Freud, The Ego and the Id, pp. 49–50). His inability to heal and the patients’ inability to be cured are not to be the limits of a doctrine that differs from others by being able to go back to the sources of desire, in the death drive. If nothing can be done about what is impossible, he can, nevertheless, analyse the real which constitutes a symptom in civilization.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: The ethics of desire

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According to Lacan, “An ethics must be formulated that integrates Freud’s conquests concerning desire: one that would place at the forefront the question of the analyst’s desire” (Écrits, p. 514).

Freud’s discovery of repression and its effects in symptoms leads to a form of treatment in which the psychoanalyst is not entirely neutral. The psychoanalyst wants something—to lift repression (“Five Lectures”, p. 39). Consequently her interventions, technique and interpretations all imply that she has taken a position on the question that philosophers have always asked: whether or not one should give up one’s desires. Moralists, on the whole, are adamant. As Lacan says, “It has always been the political secret of moralists to incite the subject to remove [dégager] something—his stakes from the game of desire” (Écrits, p. 573).

Freud clearly does not agree. His entire work consists in an attempt to bring to light the ravages caused by “renouncing” the drives. According to him, it is precisely the discontents of desire that lead to the discontents in civilization. There is a special difficulty in being a desiring person in a society that on principle reduces all its activities to the level of utility, thereby putting a check on what is useless: sexual jouissance. All moralities are moralities of repression since they consider that suspending desire—renouncing the drives—is always meritorious. Freud tries to give a “metapsychological” foundation for this belief in his analysis of the superego.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Strategy and tactics

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In An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, Freud explains that the analyst plays an active part in the patient’s psychic conflict.1 Through the transference a “pact” is made, according to which the patient agrees to say everything that comes to his mind in return for the analyst’s help. It seems, however, that once Freud had gained his patients’ trust, he did not hesitate to use his power for what—somewhat surprisingly— appears to be educational purposes. Did Freud seek to be the object a of the phantasy or the master?

My aim in this chapter is to define the analyst’s role in the transference, and thus Freud’s strategy in his analyses. I shall show that Freud’s desire ultimately emerges beyond the educational tone of his discourse.

It is generally thought that Freud took on the role of a father in his analyses, as he indeed explicitly suggests in a number of texts, for example, The Rat Man.2 More often, however, he thinks of the analysand/ analyst relationship as a form of tutelage, whereby the latter becomes a model or master to the former. These are the terms he uses in “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (pp. 219–224). It is primarily the active character of these terms that strikes us, before we even begin to consider how they affect his tactics and strategy. In this context, one must ask whether Freud considers that the term “model” relates to the analyst’s person per se—his real talents—or whether, on the contrary, it is precisely its fictional character that allows an analysis to be successfully concluded.3

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The analyst’s ideals

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Freud certainly does not consider that forming an ideal—which necessarily implies overestimating the object and is always a cause of tension—can possibly serve as a guarantee for the end of analysis. Ordinary people, he tells us, are less subject to this kind of conflictual tension since their ego ideals are not the measure of the legitimacy of their desires. In these conditions, repression will not take place, since the ideal is the agent that brings it about (“On Narcissism”, pp. 94–95).

By following Lacan’s commentary in Seminar XI we can deduce that since analysis is the opposite of hypnosis—and therefore of idealization—the analyst is not the Ideal, but the little a. Little a and the capital I are indeed as far removed from each other as they possibly can be (p. 273). In other words, far from trying to ease the tension between them, the psychoanalyst’s desire aims at accentuating the radical difference between the ideal and the object of desire.

As I have stated, if the ideal imposes repression and the analyst wants to lift it, she cannot indefinitely maintain the balance between what Freud, in his Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, calls the individual’s sensual and ascetic sides. Analysis should, instead, aim to disclose the underlying connections between the object of desire and the object of identification, a task that is elaborated in detail in the second topography.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Desire and its discontents

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The ethic that can be deduced from Civilization and its Discontents has no foundation other than in the imperatives of the superego: in the subject’s self-inflicted aggression and cruelty. Reinforcing the ego means nothing other than removing it from the pressure of the superego. Yet since the latter derives its energy from civilization’s requirement of limiting aggressiveness, one can see the meaning of the formula that psychoanalysis is the “enemy of civilization” (p. 122). This is an ethical position taken in relation to the subject’s cruelty to himself, and therefore Freud’s final texts on the superego undertake a revision of the analytic ethic.

Freud’s thought oscillates between the two following conceptions of psychoanalysis: a) it is a sort of post-education, which teaches renunciation (see Millot); b) it enables the analyst to help the subject cope with the overwhelming and voracious superego.

In this second sense, the conception of the strong ego is constructed on the basis of the sense of easing that follows the relaxation of the superego.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: The psychoanalyst’s action

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Freud’s own “case” is thus the invisible but crucial “other side” (envers) of psychoanalytic practice. The way of understanding the analyst’s implication in his practice—the role that his libido sciendi takes in the treatment, in interpretation, and in the end of analysis— would later be transformed by Lacan. This is due to several factors.

According to Lacan’s definition of desire, the psychoanalyst’s desire is situated in the realm of the Other. Desire is, in other words, necessarily mediated by the Other. He proposes a number of variations of this formula: the subject’s desire for recognition or his desire for the Other’s desire, which are indeed simply variations on the same theme. As soon as there is a reciprocity of desire, it seems that the desire of the analyst can be deduced immediately by referring to the field of the Other. The desire of the one relates, in its essence, to the desire of the Other.

It is thus by bracketing off one’s own personal desire that the function of desire as originating in the place of the Other becomes manifest. In other words, the more the analyst remains silent about his desire, the more obvious it becomes that the patient’s desire is alienated in this place. The psychoanalyst’s desire is therefore not an analyst’s personal desire; instead, it is a function that is essential for the expression of desire, for this expression requires a recognition. From this, we can grasp the ataraxia of the psychoanalyst. If the result is a certain passivity on the analyst’s part, it can only be justified theoretically by this detour through the desire of the Other.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Socrates’s desire

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Let us now examine the actual mechanism of the transference which, Lacan insists, is impossible to conceive of without supposing the existence of the psychoanalyst’s desire: “It is ultimately the analyst’s desire that operates in psychoanalysis” (Écrits, p. 724).

This formula implies a theory that clearly differs from Freud’s. On the one hand, Lacan radically separates transference from repetition (Seminar XI, p. 33). Unlike repetition, which implies a failed encounter with the real, the transference cannot be defined in terms of the real, and it is relative to interpretation. As early as his discussion of Dora, Lacan indicates that “transference is nothing real in the subject”, thereby emphasizing its artificial character (Écrits, p. 183). In other words, Lacan considers it to be an effect of the operation of the treatment and therefore it has a unique structure, which is to be distinguished from that of its spontaneous occurrence outside treatment. Indeed, in this case, it can be said that “As soon as the subject who is supposed to know exists somewhere there is transference” (Seminar XI, p. 232). On the other hand, Lacan specifies that transference is a resistance; it is a moment of closure as opposed to an opening of the unconscious, which distinguishes it again from repetition, which is characterized by the rhythm of eclipse (Seminar XI, p. 143). Since this resistance essentially takes the form of love, transference love becomes the most characteristic way of showing the function of the supposed Other. The latter cannot, however, be defined entirely by the function of the subject supposed to know; there must, in addition, be a supposition that the analyst desires, and is not only “desired”. The analyst is a “subject supposed to desire”.1

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: The de-being of the analyst

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Freud, during his final period, refers to the Symposium once again in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in relation to his theory of the union between Eros and the death drive, undermining the idea that the Symposium is merely a precursor of Christian asceticism (p. 58, note 1).2 His references to Socrates, although few in number, give us a sense of a continuity between Socrates and the analyst. In both cases, the signifier of death is at play in the definition of desire: Freud’s “realism” does not hide from us his conception that death is the master signifier of analysis. Just as what lies beyond the phenomena of repetition can be considered as a good criterion for the end of analysis, it would also be reasonable to ask what is the relation between two different concepts of death, or rather, of life. One of them tends towards inertia and repetition, and the other towards death as the principle of an erratic and metonymic desire, a desire for “something else”.

A life whose meaning is not ultimately determined by death is, in Freud’s opinion, of no more interest than, in Goethe’s words, “a succession of fair days” (cited by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents, p. 76). The desire for immortality that characterizes obsessional neurosis is a desire for death, since, according to Lacan, the obsessional identifies with the dead master (see Écrits, p. 258). Certain texts of Freud’s about death lend support to the theory that there is a strong affinity between neurotic repression and the negation of death.

 

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