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Guy Le Gaufey

On Phobia
In the third part of the xix
century, psychiatry vas interested in phobic manifestations, but
mostly in a descriptive manner which gave rise to dull lists composed of greek and latin terms :
agoraphobia, claustrophobia, nosophobia, zoophobia, and so on... If we know a little about the
contingency which proceeds from the election of a phobic object, we can easily imagine that
such lists are, by that very fact, interminable and they don't teach us a lot about the phobia
Listing phobias according to the objects they eschew is of no help for us. It is better to
consider the hypothesis that there exists a common mechanism in many of these avoiding
Freud was the rst to try to establish a correct theory of these pathogenic behaviors. He
could have done it only because he vas interested in anxiety as nobody before in psychiatry.
Indeed, anxiety is as indubitable as it is difcult to discern. It's impossible to purely and
simply reduce it to a somatic manifestation. For instance, in hysterical paralysis, there is
certainly a somatic manifestation, but the tiology does not belong to the same system.
We already know that it is from this that Freud accomplished a more decisive step than
his master, Charcot. The latter knew how to list different types of hysterical manifestations, but,
as a good doctor, he vas compelled to maintain the hypothesis that lesions are the causes of
hysterical paralysis. But Freud, on his own, could separate from this practice of looking at the
causes, and consequently founded the hypothesis of a psychic apparatus. He partially opened
a door to another understanding of a lot of somatic manifestations.
When this step was accomplished, it became obvious that anxiety itself could no longer
be understood as a truly somatic manifestation, and so Freud found himself confronted not by
the question : what is anxiety ?, but : where does anxiety come from ?.
Freud's ideas about anxiety
Everybody who is used to reading and working with Freud's knows that two different
ideas about the beginning of anxiety are encountered. They are almost symmetrical and Freud
has dened the second one as a reversal of the rst one.
In the beginning of his private practice, Freud did not neglect to notice the pathogenic
outcomes of that kind of sexual practice which is called cot interruptus. He could appreciate
here a means of creating anxiety he explained to himself as follows : on account of this
practice, some part of the libido has not found a way to discharge, and must present itself as
anxiety. The idea was a little too simple, but partially correct, which allowed him to classify this
type of anxiety neurosis with his general case of actual neurosis, i.e. a neurosis whose
tiology allows it to escape psychoanalytic treatment since it is not considered to be an
outcome of any unconscious work.
But, nearly at the same time, Freud was obliged to take into account some anxious
manifestations which did not square with his previous understanding of the facts. Little Hans
was the case which led him to modify his rst ideas and to propose his very rst theory of
This modication corresponded to what he observed as anxiety production in hysterical
cases, that is the reason why he called it anxiety hysteria. He then found a way of thinking
about repression in hysteria and this theory allowed him to imagine a model of anxiety
production. Let us recall that ever since his forgetting of the proper name of Signorelli,
repression was clearly conceived by Freud ; rst as a breaking between a representation and
its affect and, secondly, as a repression of only the representation in such a manner that the
affect becomes free or suspended. And, on his previous pattern of anxiety neurosis, he
considered the suspended affect as the substance of anxiety. In such a viewpoint, anxiety is
nothing but a result of repression, as far as the fact that repression is the very cause of a so-
called suspended affect.
Freud could not stick to his rst assumption for at least two reasons. The rst, on clinical
grounds, and it is the case of little Hans which revealed it to him. The second, on theoretical
grounds, is his structure said to be the primacy of the phallus as it occured in his 1923 texts
on The declin of the dipus complex and Some psychical consequences of the anatomical
difference between the sexes.
What did little Hans reveal to him ? To put it briey, that anxiety can largely precede
repression. It appeared a good deal that under the pressure of anxiety little Hans elaborated on
different stories which he passed on to Freud through his father. Stories where repression is
undeniably at work. Hans was trying with all of the means at his disposal to face an anxiety
which did not resemble a secondary product of repression, but indeed a primary one. By merely
adhering to this supposition, Freud could no longer assert that anxiety is derived from
Elsewhere in his works of 1923, Freud described with validity the phase called primacy
of the pahllus for each of the sexes. The decisive point there is given to the threat of castration
and to castration anxiety (Kastrationsangst). It is because the satisfaction of dipal desires
cannot be imagined without a castrative sanction that castration anxiety takes its place in the
dipal mechanism. It was by taking into account the fact that the vehicle of repression is
castration anxiety that Freud reached to his notion of (german) realangst which I propose to
examine in detail with you now.
The translation of this term into english seems to me as inappropriate as the french
translation : realistic anxiety, as Strachey translated it, is to be understood as an anxiety which
would be realistic, as opposed to an imaginary one. That is not at all what Freud wanted it to
mean. He wanted to draw an opposition between a neurotic anxiety based upon the neurotic
conviction that drives are dangerous, and that realistic anxiety based upon the iniction of a
danger from the world outside the psychic apparatus. Both of them are real : a neurotic anxiety
is as real as a realistic one. But in each of them, the danger whatever it could be does not
come from the same place ; and that is the most important point in Freud's views about that
realistic anxiety, a term he frequently used in place of castration anxiety. So, we have to
understand why Freud thought about castration as a real event, and not only as a fear excited
by an imaginary danger.
It was exactly the apple of discord between Freud and Jung in their letters of 1913 which
we can now easily read : Jung tried to prevent Freud from making the mistake he had
previously made with hysterical traumatism. At rst, Freud believed that it was a realistic scene
and that fathers of hysterical patients he had then listened to really were perverts. You have
corrected your viewpoint about that, said Jung, and you were absolutely right to do so. But now,
when you are writing about the primitive murder of the father, don't mislead yourself again !
Such an event is only a neurotic idea, and not at all a realistic fact, even in a remote past.
And not only did Freud rmly reply he felt his manner of thinking to be correct, but he
completely severed his thinking from Jung's on such matters. We do not have to consider it an
old-fashioned dispute : the point still exists, especially in our understanding of phobias.
We have to understand, according to Freud's viewpoints, what is real in the fear alleged
by phobic patients. I want to focus on this question because I am led to believe that the correct
position of an analyst in an analysis of phobia depends on his ability to take into account such a
real thing.
Let's concentrate on the fact that what is dreaded, according to the phobic's way of
thinking, is not an idea at all. It creates a large difference between anxiety neurosis and
obsessional neurosis. Phobic patients are not exactly worried by ideas. For instance, in the
case of cancerophobia, a patient can easily tell you that he is avoiding any information about
cancer. But why ? Because the more he knows about cancer, the more cancer is attacking him.
Real cancer, not ideas about cancer. And what is cancer, not from a medical viewpoint, but
from a psychoanalytical viewpoint ? Cancer is a disease whose reputation is : once it inicts
you, it never leaves you.
What is frightening here is not exactly the idea of cancer, but the chance that cancer
could actually trap you, silently. Such a statement seems to be a statement about the obvious,
but it is worthwhile to consider it carefully if we want to understand the least of what Freud
called castration anxiety.
The real danger
We have to distinguish the difference between a representation and an act. Such a
problem can be understood as a philosophical one : how can a thing exist if we don't have any
representation of it ? In fact, it has truly stood as problem for our world of representation since
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Let's remember here that there are at least two things of which the representation is
missing for us : God (in our monotheistic systems of religion) and our death. Of course, we can
imagine many representations of these things. But it is well-known that, whatever they could
be, they denitely miss their real objects.
With your permission, I am going to neglect God because He is too much difcult an
affair, even if He is the best way to illustrate the most interesting problem with representations
and their gaps.
So, let's consider only our death as a model of an event which is of the utmost
importance to each of us but which is also a time when no one can say : I.
Our whole world of representation absolutely needs such a subject, such an I able to
face any occuring representation. But subject and representation are not taken as a pair ; it is a
three dimensional affair. First of all, there is the reality, the outside world ; secondly, the
innumerable representations of it and, thirdly, the subject able to line up the two former points.
On this point, I should like to say that phobic people are the very vestals (the virgins in
charge of the perpetually burning sacred re) of this order. They are anxiously awaiting the
eventual collapse of this order because, if indeed it does so, subject too will vanish. According
to this scheme the existence of the subject is contingent on its ability to face representations ;
he is absolutely unable to directly face the world outside
Thig collapse is what phobic people are rmly trying to prevent. They aren't exactly afraid
of death ; they are afraid of the eventuality that the subject will vanish, and it is not the same
thing. Death is only the common pattern in which such a thing happens ; but there are many
other opportunities. Drawing closer to the object elected as a phobic one is typically one of
these opportunities. By these means, there is an understable advantage : the risk is precisely
located and, consequently, one only has to eschew the meeting of the object to keep oneself
not precisely alive but over and over again moving among the multitude of representations.
The subject can carry on in with his specic activity : to maintain the screen of representations
between himself and the world supposed to be real, because he is nothing but the result of the
complicated game of representations.
By the way I am now going to propose to you, phobia is a cartesian nightmare : if a
subject depends on such a statement : I think, therefore I am, what could happen if I fail to
think, as I will certainly do if I meet my bloody object ? Phobic answer is : the I will be on the
brink of vanishing.
Listen to phobias' allegations : they are always on this very edge during the game of
representations : one more step until meeting with the object, and I vanishes. Please ! keep
me away from such a hollow ! If I fall into this well, well, I can never come back by myself
(because myself would have fallen as well).
And so, they nd themselves suspended to anybody willing to tend an ear to such an I
who has nothing else to tell but he is on the very edge of fainting, of falling down, of vanishing.
Notice that they hardly ever faint in fact, nonetheless it is not at all a blackmail as in some
attempts of suicide.
Phobics are trying to indicate a boundary behind which the whole system of
representations should spread, and beyond which the real world should stand alone, this world
William Faulkner called : the dark voicelessness, a world out of any system of representation.
The real danger has to be understood as the collapse of the world of representation, a
risk suspended to this very idea : if it is true that there is at least one hollow in the world of
representation, how can I manage not to fall into it ? When such a question arises, phobie is in
ofce. Not inevitably in your ofce, but in ofce. And now we have to understand how a subject
can come across such a question and pay attention to it. With this manner of understanding,
Little Hans remains our Livingstone and Freud, perhaps, our Stanley. But anyway, we don't
have to be experts on the subject to guess that we have now to talk about the phallus.
The phallus and the body image
In Freud's works, the phallus is a very complicated notion. He of course warned us not to
confuse it with the penis. The primacy of the phallus is certainly not the primacy of the penis,
despite what feminists are everytime reproaching to Freud. He never committed this mistake
when he wrote that girls too have to enter the dipal complex by elaborating a phallic phase.
But it is amazing to notice how all the members of the Comittee (Abraham, Ferenczi, Jones)
failed to follow him on his suggestions of 1923. Today we are under the impression that they
tried to escape the point Freud was then establishing about the crucial matter of castration
complex. Let's withdraw the castration complex from the dipal complex, and the latter
becomes a golden story with no use.
But on this point, we can lean on Lacan's work, especially what he constructed as the
imaginary dialectic. He began his psychoanalytical works with his so-called mirror stage (that
which he re-constructed many times during his further lectures). He then noticed that another
crucial point has to be taken into account : the infant reacts when he stands in front of his image
in a mirror. But Lacan was not satised with only this psychological observation (previously
made by the french psychologist Henri Wallon). He wanted to place importance on a more
specical psychoanalytical feature made by Abraham in the beginning of the 20's.
Abraham retold the dream of one of his own woman patients, in which she saw her father
completely naked but without any pubic hair. This story doesn't receive enough attention today
in the psychoanalytical literature despite the fact it is the very beginning of the important notion
of partial love object which later gave rise to the notion of partial object.
Indeed, the object (here : the representation of the father) is missing something which
appears only as... a blank. Abraham remarked that it is a common feature in hysterical
complaint about love : it's never enough, there is always something missing. But Lacan
furthered his own explanation of such an image, and I am now trying to follow him on this way.
He generalized this feature of Abraham's case by maintaining that it is a property of any
image to bear such a hole. Not exactly a hole, but at least a want. For instance, each morning
when you look at your face in the mirror, you usually feel that you are looking at it, and not
precisely that it is looking at you. Your image remains only an image of you because it wants of
regard. Regard is on your side, on the side of your body ; if not what, after all, can also
occur you immediately feel an odd sensation Freud called (german word) Unheimlichkeit,
which is not very pleasant. And if this regard denitely remains the property of the mirror image,
it will become a horror image : paranoa is catching you.
An image is an image not only because it is supposed to be a re-presentation of
something, but because it is wanting of something very special which remains attached to the
proper body (Abraham said attached to the genitals).
Lacan proposed to call that which remains attached to the proper body : object a, and
the resulting want in the image : !. These are the grounds for his imaginary dialectic.
On these grounds, he constructed a new understanding of the notion of ego which
completely differed from Freud's. In the Project (1896) Freud had already dened the ego as an
agency located in the perception-conciousness system. To the contrary, Lacan has dened the
ego as the body image cathected by narcissistic libido. And the point begins to become clear to
us : the body image is cathected but it can never be completely fullled by narcissistic cathexes.
There is always a want which guarantees that the mirror image is an image, and not a
persecutive double.
Such a narcissistic image can be extend to the whole world, as far as our world is to be
understood as contingent on our ability to cathec it, exactly as is the ego (this way of thinking
does not sustain a big difference between the ego libido and the object libido. We can discuss
this point further). This image, able to increase or to contract, is of course a good metaphor for
the phallus, but a metaphor in which one should search in vain for the phallus itself. Everytime it
is absent for roll call.
Lacan condensed these type of ideas into formulas like this : The phallus is present...
everywhere it is not in ofce. He meant that an object is taken into account if, and only if, it is
cathected by narcissistic libido as a mirror image, and through that manner takes a phallic
value. In this sense, our world exists only if it is phallicized but, as phallicized as it can be, it
is still wanting of the phallus itself, the phallus which must be understood as the rest of the
libido which can't suceed to be cathected and remains attached to the proper body.
Without further ado on this matter, we can now ask ourselves how such a way of thinking
ts with an approach to phobias. Let's return for a moment to our Little Hans. What was so
embarrassing for him ? Not only that he discovered that he had a penis while his mother and
his little sister Anna didn't, but because he also discovered a lot of sensations from his penis,
sensations which were of the utmost importance to him although he couldn't deal with them.
They didn't have any place in his world. All his attempts to gurate them through his numerous
stories failed to give shape to his trouble.