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Hyp-Knot-Ism Of The Obsessional Symptom In Analysis

The Letter, Issue 18, Spring 2000, Pages 93 - 103


Megan Williams

If the structure we work in is a knot, as proposed by Lacan,[1] then what does it knot? To answer this, the first reference is Freud's early work on the primary symptom. In The Neuroses of Defence,[2] Freud proposes a primary level of symptom corresponding only to defence, and not to the compromise structure of the neurotic symptom proper. This symptom is not a return of the repressed, but the 'normal trend towards defence' which brings about the first repression. It is in response to 'premature sexual stimulation1,[3] experienced as an overwhelming of the ego by an excessive tension: what Lacan will call an encounter with desire in the Other as something real and unnamed. The sequence Freud proposes is: (1) a premature and traumatic sexual experience, (2) its repression on some later occasion which arouses a memory of it and at the same time the formation of a primary symptom, (3) a stage of successful defence, (4) the return of the repressed ideas in the compromise form of the neurotic symptom proper.[4]

That the symptom is originally defence alone tells us the experience of the drive is an alien one for the subject. In hysteria the primary symptom is fright, giving rise to aversion.[5] Jouissance has a negative value which accuses the Other of perversion.[6] In obsessional neurosis Freud postulates a primary experience which is hysterical, but its recall is mixed with pleasure, and the primary symptom is self-reproach.[7] The obsessional covers the trauma of a passive experience by transforming it into an active seeking of satisfaction, but this 'pleasure' is still too much: as the memory is repressed, it takes on a positive jouissance value which leads to compulsion and engenders guilt.

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