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Number 9: Winter 2013

From Leakage to Slippage: The Question of Trauma In Psychosis

Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz

In response to this distinct clinical situation, analysts are led to bring their own capacity for metaphor to bear upon such crippling and obliterating literality. This mobilises subtle and difficult strategies of metaphorisation likely to elicit a temporary shift from the sway of void to the experience of lack, as French psychoanalyst Gérard Pommier puts it very nicely (1987: 281). The point of these strategies is to offer the relevant mediation of something impersonal and universal enough (e.g. proverbs, well-known facts, universal truths, references to institutions, to the law, etc…), something likely to function like a net (to return to Laplanche’s earlier metaphor) that might catch the psychotic subject’s signifiers into the mesh of some temporary signified. In other words, the analyst must strive to provide some sort of anchoring point, so as to yield a transient illusion of meaning and thus effectively suspend the unfettered and persecutory slippage of signification.6 But this in no way suggests that the analyst should ever expound the missing metaphorical dimension or even hint at its existence and validity: this would be perceived, at best, as completely irrelevant and incomprehensible. At worst, it could result in a rather serious mistake in the form of a potentially persecutory intervention laden with obliterating implications for its recipient. For telling a psychotic subject what he or she precisely cannot think implies a virtual alignment with the omnipotent expropriating violence that presides over his or her psychic life. Just as resistance is on the side of the analyst in the clinic of neurosis, I would venture to say that metaphor is on the side of the analyst in the clinic of psychosis.

When working in the area of psychosis, one must remember that the therapeutic space is one where, paradoxically, there is not enough room for two. For the analyst, it is a subtle task as the danger of not putting the psychotic subject “first” is a permanent one, despite the analyst’s best intentions. Too much knowledge, too much empathy, too much understanding even can thus be deadly. For the psychotic does not have the capacity to put him or herself second because there is no second place to be, except for a space of obliteration. Putting oneself second implies a process of eradication, often registered by the psychotic episodes that can arise as a result and during which the expropriating violence literally takes over, seizing the subject and removing him or her from reality and consciousness. As my psychotic patients report, they emerge from those terrifying experiences of persecution and loss–loss of self and loss of reality–brought back to reality by the sound of their own screams as they are arguing with the voices in their heads, sometimes with no recollection of anything, wondering if they might have killed or hurt someone–and sometimes they actually kill themselves–an acute reminder that they cannot put themselves second, something they are also naturally drawn to do, compulsively repeating the experience of expropriation and depletion.


  1. I would extend this metaphor to the therapeutic space itself insofar as the latter comes to operate as an anchoring point for the psychotic subject.