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Number 12: Summer 2016

Transference Anxiety and the Failure of Our Fathers

Paul Verhaeghe

The way transference is handled, determines the way an analysis runs and ends. In Freudian analysis, more often than not it becomes interminable. Let us not forget that analysis is about love and hate, just as transference is. Analysis can end as every love story does: in disappointment and hate; more often it ends in mere banality. In the best of cases the end of an analysis mirrors the beautiful description by Lacan: ‘L’amour, c’est donner ce qu’on n’a pas’. Love is all about giving what one doesn’t have. In my reading, this is yet another formula for sublimation. We elevate the object to what it can never be; we give what we don’t have.

This kind of solution goes way beyond the paternal metaphor and requires mourning for the patriarchal master. Such mourning used to be the privilege of those who had a successful analysis – although there are other ways to reach that solution as well. Today, because of the changes in our society, this privilege might become less rare, because we are living in a time where we are leaving patriarchy behind us. By way of conclusion, I will give you my thoughts on that.


It is my hypothesis that we are exchanging a patriarchal neurotic society for a Big Brother network (Verhaeghe, 2015). Patriarchy, especially in its Christian version, was based on the recognition of and the belief in a superior being, compared to which mortals were always incomplete and sinful. Hence the typical need for a top-down control, as exemplified by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The patriarchal superego, based on the identification with this gaze, is essentially a prohibiting one. The controlling gaze is always accusing and neurosis and feelings of guilt are paramount – hence the attempts to hide oneself from it.

Today, this is no longer the case. There is no superior authority present in the contemporary Panopticon, only a powerful computer server, permitting everyone to watch and be watched, to see and to be seen. In these times of Big Brother, we have to expose ourselves continuously to every-one. The net result is a horizontal control, operating through so-called social media. Instead of hiding, the postmodern subject exhibits himself constantly to the controlling gaze of his peers. In an apt description by Zygmunt Bauman, we are living in a Do It Yourself Panopticon (Bauman & Lyon, 2013).

During patriarchy, we identified with the do’s and don’ts of the father, resulting in a voluntary obedience based on fear of punishment. Today, we identify with the likes and don’t likes of Big Brother, resulting in a voluntary obedience based on fear of exclusion. In the case of failure, depression and shame are the result, having taken the place of neurosis and guilt.

One advantage of the patriarchal system was already included in Freud’s self-constructed myth: from time to time, we can kill the Father and replace him by a supposedly better version. To kill Big Brother is impossible, since he is virtual, anonymous, and hiding in the World Wide Web. It is – as the contemporary saying goes—‘in the system’. The resulting superego is probably more severe and offers fewer possibilities for escape.