It is our thesis that, because Freud made central to his research the human subject’s self-estrangement – an acknowledgement that, at the centre of human being is a nothingness or emptiness we refer to as non-(self)-coincidence – he succeeded in elaborating a program of research foregrounding, rather than effacing, the epistemic lack necessarily inherent in any field of enquiry. Such a thesis leads to the characterisation of Freudian psychoanalysis as positioned on the dialectical pivot, the invisible point of revolution, between the universal and the singular, the rational and the empirical. Or, again: Freudian psychoanalysis is situated in the blank of non-coincidence that is constitutive of any subject as such. To anticipate our discussion of transference, the notion of a complete and non-lacking field of knowledge is thereby to be regarded as what we refer to as ‘egological’ – that is, a result of the falsifying ‘logic’ of the ego, where transference is construed as that mode of the ego’s relation with itself, others and the world, manifesting in those moments in which the ego’s non-(self)-coincidence risks being revealed to itself. In an attempt to obviate the anxiety arising from confrontations with the blanks of non-(self)-coincidence, the ego resorts to the fabrication of what the early Freud called ‘false connections’ – spuriously rational perceptual and intellectual links that stitch-up the fabric of the ego’s (mis)perceptions and (mis)understandings of itself, others and the world; (mis)understandings and (mis)perceptions that function, moreover, by occluding painful acknowledgements of and confrontations with ‘der andere Schauplatz’, ‘the other scene’ – that is, the unconscious.

Foreshadowing many Freudian motifs, Nietzsche had already reached similarly suspicious views regarding the epistemic trustworthiness of the ego. For instance, in a sarcastically titled aphorism from Daybreak, he sneers at ‘The so-called ego’: 

We are none of us that which we appear to be…we misread ourselves in this apparently most intelligible of handwriting on the nature of our self. Our opinion of ourself, however, which we have arrived at by this erroneous path, the so-called ‘ego’, is thenceforth a fellow worker in the construction of our character and our destiny (2006: 198). 

The proposal of the ego as an organ of (self)-deception whose function is, in all senses, to ‘stitch us up’, has important implications for the construction of knowledge claims, suggesting that any theory masquerading as unified and complete is egological – which is to say, deceptive. The question, then, is how adequate knowledge claims, not woven from the defensive logic of the ego, can be developed. In many ways, Freud’s theoretical and clinical work might be regarded as a single, extended, meditation on this philosophical problem; the implicit strategy he adopts in addressing it being, we believe, to fashion psychoanalysis from the nothingness of the universal-singular which is non-(self)-coincidence, enabling the construction of a theory-praxis of psychological treatment, a certain clinical savoir-faire, which is distinguished by being, when properly practiced, non-egological.In order to elaborate these claims, we will need now to turn to a consideration of the manner in which the relationship between the universal and the singular might be understood in Freud’s work. Transference, we will propose, once introduced by Freud as a clinical frame of understanding began to function in such a way as to reckon with the tension between universality and singularity. It allowed, in a manner analogous to what it enabled with his patients, a mediation of the relationship between the universality of theory and the singularity of the clinical encounter, structuring the tension between them by situating psychoanalysis as neither universal theory nor as a singular practice, but within a suspension of these terms constitutive of the nothingness of universal-singularity – transference being, in the consulting room, the manifestation of the universal-singularity of the ego par excellence. Theory and praxis therefore pass through one another, intersecting without actually meeting – in this respect, we will later find occasion to speak of the ‘chiasmus of the clinic’. It must be stressed, of course, that these formulations are not Freud’s own; Freud never explicitly discussed the problem of the universal and the singular and so his treatment of the topic remains implicit in his work and untheorised as such. Nonetheless, we are of the view that the transmission of this problem has had lasting influence on the development of psychoanalysis; as we shall see, it can be witnessed as early as 1930 in the work of Ella Sharpe.