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Number 9: Winter 2013

From Leakage to Slippage: The Question of Trauma In Psychosis

Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz

Bearing in mind the twofold temporal model I posited earlier, this initial inscription is, in fact, the first stage of primal repression, reminiscent of the first traumatic occurrence in the Freudian model of trauma. As Laplanche describes it, this is the moment when “the net, the network of signifying oppositions is cast over the subjective universe; but no particular signified is caught in any particular mesh” (1960: 307). In Laplanche’s evocative account of this original landscape, it is important to stress the absence of any footholds or anchoring points4 in the relation between “signifying oppositions” and “signified”. In other words, difference is introduced but it is not anchored in meaning. This is where the mechanism of anticathexis comes into play: the function of anticathexis is to seal off this initial inscription/fixation, like a lid, to generate a split, a partition between the unconscious and the preconscious-conscious system, eliciting the advent of repression proper and, more generally, the constitution of the first topography. The best way perhaps to envision anticathexis in this context is in terms of repulsion, considering that it takes place in the absence of any prior cathexis, that there is nothing there to start within that mythical substratum of the psyche, nothing that draws or attracts any particular element as in the case of secondary repression.5 Anticathexis repels the primal signifiers that arise from the initial trauma, it embeds them, unalterable, in the negativity and the atemporality that characterize the unconscious where they are supposed to remain, hermetically sealed. A process of primal repulsion, anticathexis might well be the faulty primer I was mentioning earlier: it could well be what precisely fails to operate properly in the case of psychosis where, as I suggested, the lid is not shut tight, leading to a disastrous leakage.


  1. The term “anchoring point” is one of the possible translations of Lacan’s “point de capiton”. I am using it deliberately here as, to Lacan, the “point de capiton” is the point at which signifier and signified are knotted together, halting the continual slippage of signification and giving the illusion of fixed meaning. To Lacan, the point de capiton does not operate in psychosis so that the word is never stitched to the flesh. See Seminar III, chapter XXI. 

  2. See Laplanche, 1981: 79-81 especially.