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Number 12: Summer 2016

Transference Anxiety and the Failure of Our Fathers

Paul Verhaeghe

Transference and the Not-All 

In his first theories Lacan will endorse the Freudian father. In his later theory, he will share Freud’s doubt and give it a structural explanation. This shift in Lacan’s thinking is quite spectacular: from the almost religious paternal metaphor, with the Name-of-the-Father and the phallus as the massive answers to the desire of the crocodile mother, to the ‘There is no Other of the Other’. In this shift, the original reassuring function of the Freudian father turns into its Lacanian opposite. Instead of guaranteeing that the primal father exists, it is the function of the father to guarantee that something is lacking, that the big Other is not whole. This opens a pathway for the subject to assume symbolic castration and to leave the all-embracing determinism of the imaginary order behind him (for an in-depth study, see Verhaeghe, 2009). It is the basis for human creativity.

The very idea of symbolic castration is unthinkable in Freudian theory. In Lacanian praxis, it is crucial and it presents a radical reversal in matters of transference. Based upon his theory and his personality, Freud used to take the guaranteeing paternal position towards his patients. Based upon Lacan, the analyst—insofar as she or he wants to guarantee something—will take the opposite stance: that is, there is no final closure, there is a lack and an opening in matters of desire and enjoyment, and this opens a possibility for change.

‘Castration’ then is just another denomination for the human condition. It is no longer castration, because that expression still refers to a phallic omnipotence. The better term is ‘the not-all’. From that point onwards—that is the recognition of the not-all—the subject needs to rethink his individual position towards authority. In the best of cases, the mourning for the failed father may give birth to a subject that is able to make a number of choices, knowing that there is no final answer.

The trouble for a Lacanian analyst is that every analysis starts with a transference that puts him in the position of the subject who is supposed to know. Meaning in the position of the Freudian father. This position is impossible, and as long as this transference is at work, psychoanalysis is a sham—une escroquerie—with the analyst as an impostor, as Lacan said in 1977, in Belgium of all places (Lacan, 1981). No wonder that he considered shame to be the most appropriate affect for the position of the father.

This brings me back to my introduction, as it explains my anxiety today, when starting an analysis with someone new. Will I be able to take this position without being the dupe of it? Or, without making the patient the dupe of it? How can I help someone to traverse his basic fantasy with the result that he can make his own choices? The analytical discourse is the reverse of the discourse of the master, and the formula of the analytical discourse shows that the analyst has to take the place of the object a. But this is an impossible position as well and requires creativity from us—there is no recipe.