Transference Anxiety and the Failure of Our Fathers
I have always shrunk from the act of beginning, from the first word, the first touch. The restlessness when the first sentence has to be formed, and after the first, the second.
This is the opening sentence of an award-winning novel by the Flemish writer Erwin Mortier. The English title is While the Gods Were Sleeping, which I consider a weak translation of the original Godenslaap. The Dutch title is much closer to the Wagnerian idea of Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods. I’ll come back to that later. When I read the novel, the opening sentence confronted me with a familiar feeling. Familiar, but at the same time uncanny. How often are we confronted with the act of beginning? Starting an analysis with someone new belongs to this rare category, and what I experience on such an occasion is very well rendered by that opening sentence. At the beginning of an analysis, I always feel a particular form of anxiety.
I had this experience when I began my work as an analyst three decades ago. I still have it today, although the underlying dynamics have changed. Three decades ago, when I saw my first analysand, I was convinced that I would fail, that it would only be a matter of time before I was unmasked as a fraud, as someone who was not up to the job. The anxiety that I feel today is different. It has to do with the structure that is involved and that ascribes to the analyst the ever-impossible position of the master. And of course, that is a position of fraud, of imposture (‘impostor’) as Lacan calls it. In both cases, my anxiety is a transference anxiety. In a classic Freudian reasoning, it would be considered a countertransferential reaction. In a Lacanian reasoning, it is just plain transference, working both ways between the analyst and the analysand.
This brings me to my thesis: I consider anxiety a central affect in transference. Freud described love and hate as the two transferential affects, Lacan added a third one, the passion for wanting not to know. To my knowledge, neither of them devoted much attention to the idea of transferential anxiety. This is remarkable, because as I will argue, anxiety belongs to the very structure that explains the phenomenon of transference.