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Eating Desire

The Letter, Issue 4, Summer 1995, Pages 99 - 114


Liberato Santoro

This paper is a contribution to the debate concerning the enigmatic, baffling and paradoxical phenomenon of eating disorders in general and of anorexia nervosa in particular. Also in the light of the complexity, fragility and dangerous pathology of the syndrome of eating disorders, it does not question the necessity and value of strictly medical, psychiatric and other types of therapeutic measures and strategies. The discussion that follows does not specifically and explicitly address the clinical issues concerning the syndrome under consideration and its therapeutic treatments, rather, the paper aims to articulate some theoretical suggestions that may help the task of mapping the complex, somewhat mysterious and rebellious land of eating disorders. It explores the phenomena from a psychoanalytic point of view, in order to outline what I consider essential features of the 'deep structure' characteristic and generative of the 'surface structure' of the symptomatology of eating disorders. As will become quite obvious, the paper adopts the pre- supposition - to be verified in its results - that, to coin an expression, 'salvation comes from the Unconscious', just as - I believe - the pathological syndrome stems from unconscious roots. Those roots, I argue, are wrapped around the core of otherness (as if a seed not yet fully metamorphosed), hence around the promising constitution of self-ness in its unavoidable dialectics and dialogue with otherness.

The paper can be fruitfully read - as initially conceived - in the wider context of the theme of desire in the story of the psyche and as a particular instance of the dialectics of desire, that story and narrative, amply articulated with deep insight by Jacques Lacan in particular, found in Hegel its incipient voice. Even in our reflections on the structure of eating disorders and their aetiology, Hegel's considerations on the nature of otherness and subjectivity - and their metaphorical 'substitutes' such as food, eating, processes of negation, digestion, assimilation, excretion - will prove of enormous significance. If nothing else this paper, precisely by means of the analysis of some chosen Hegelian texts, hopes to be a meaningful contribution to psychoanalytic discourse on the theme of eating disorders.

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