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On Anxiety and its Symptom(s)

The Letter, Issue 64, Spring 2017, Pages 27 - 37


Patricia McCarthy

Taking Freud’s 1926 paper Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety as a major reference, Lacan teases out the distinctions between these three terms in the course of his 1962 – ‘63 seminar Anxiety. He concludes that to consider anxiety solely as a symptom that we name pathological by virtue of its affective manifestations - as these, for example, present themselves in panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder or phobia – does not encompass what anxiety signals at the level of subjectivity. For Lacan, anxiety lies on the hither side of the symptom and is the response of the subject to enjoyment, which is in the real. What should be found shocking is the psychoanalytic understanding that we all suffer from the effects of anxiety, effects that, by definition, are symptomatic of how we negotiate enjoyment. For those who do not consider themselves to be neurotic, anxiety’s symptom has taken the form of a knowledge that knows not that it does not know.

We are challenged therefore to understand anxiety differently, no longer simply as a pathology but as a fact of structure. This has ethical implications for our approach to the many patients who indeed suffer from anxiety’s effects.

Keywords: anxiety; phobia; knowledge as a symptom; power; enjoyment; self-consciousness; the lacanian subject; projection

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