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Number 12: Summer 2016

Transference Anxiety and the Failure of Our Fathers

Paul Verhaeghe

A Necessary Failure 

This is the deadlock of Freudian analysis, as he himself described in a paper with a very apt title ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’. In Lacanian analysis, this failure is understood as a structural necessity. Even more so: it is welcomed as the condition for change. If a Lacanian analysis succeeds, it entails sublimation. A beautiful definition given by Lacan runs as follows: Elle élève un objet à la dignité de la Chose, sublimation elevates an object to the dignity of the Thing (Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]: 133). No object will ever be satisfactory; we have to elevate it ourselves to The Thing, to give it that dignity. In my reasoning, the aim and the end of a Lacanian analysis is sublimation on a structural level. Elevating the object to the dignity of the Thing means that we have to give up our belief in the imaginary phallus without becoming a cynical person. In this respect, the Lacanian terms are confusing, because one might still have the impression that the symbolic phallus stands for something. This is not the case, on the contrary. The symbolic phallus does not indicate an empirical thing, nor does it indicate an absence; the symbolic phallus indicates simply a necessary structural lack without which the symbolic order could not function.

The deadlock in Freudian analysis may end in three different ways: by way of solution the patient can take up one of the three positions present in the formula of the basic fantasy. The hysterical subject can remain stuck at her imaginary identity, blaming herself for her failure, anxious for the next meeting with the next Other. Or she can identify with the object a, i.e. with the lack as such, and become a typically postmodern cynic: anything goes; nothing works. Or she can identify with the position of the Other and become a master him or herself—the postfreudians called this the identification with the analyst, that is, the Freudian analyst.

The latter solution implies a consolidation of the belief in the imaginary phallus and hence a belief in final answers. The initial anxiety is resolved because of this consolidation, and the guarantee lies in the analyst and his knowledge. When Freud was consulted by his youngest patient (Little Hans accompanied by his father), he told him that ‘Long before he was born, he knew already that…’ (Freud, 1978 [1909b]: 42). On the way home, the little boy asked his Father: ‘Does the professor talk to God that he knows all these things beforehand?’ (Ibid.). After Freud’s intervention, the child is considered to be cured; his anxiety has more or less disappeared. In the same period, a young hysteric came to see Freud. She was sent by her father as well, albeit against her will. Eighteen-year-old Dora is looking for answers concerning her sexuality and gender, and her search is very obvious in her dreams. In one of them there is a recurring sentence: Sie fragt wohl hundert mal—she asks a hundred times (Freud, 1978 [1905e]: 97). Freud doesn’t bother about the questioning; he produces answers and presents himself as a guarantee for the correctness of those answers. Unlike little Hans, Dora does not accept his authority, and leaves. At the end of the case study, Freud notes in triumph that he has been appointed as a professor and that his nomination must have meant a slap in the face for the young hysteric who refused to believe him and hence who refused to be cured.