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My Possible Impossibility: Death In The Life Of The Obsessional

The Letter, Issue 29, Autumn 2003, Pages 203 - 222


Helena Texier

"What, he wondered, did dying mean?

It was as though the sound of the word

must tell him. How frightful it must be

not to see, or hear, or feel anything. He

completely failed to notice his faulty

conclusion ... "[1]

When in 1955 Freud's day-to-day record of his encounters with a young obsessional man was published for the first time as an addendum to the case history of 1909, we were privileged. We were privileged not only in so far as we were permitted a rare access to the historical moment of the process and the progress of Freud's day-to-day engagement, by means of which psychoanalysis was emerging, unfolding as it was being practiced, but also in so far as the rambling record, in a very tangible way, manages to carry, and sustain within its text the presence of the subject with all it's vital force. There is evidence there of the tension, the liveliness inherent to the clinical encounter, which is often eradicated in more prepared reports of the case history, where the 'meaning-full' theoretical constructs tend to hermetically seal, in the symbolic vaults, the real nut of nonsense which is the kernel of being.[2] All this to say that there are privileged points of access to this Real in Freud's works, where the subject is not at all 'preserved' in the account, where the subject has not been worked to death. Curiously enough these, the most poignant moments in his work, never wholly analysed, always have for effect something which, while these touch very closely upon something at the heart of obsessional neurosis, also touch upon something bearing on what is intimate to our very own presence. The effect of this is that they are always haunting. We could say then that the best of Freud's writing is evocative - it recalls the Real to life. One need only think of the 'stranger in the train' of The Uncanny or of those particular dreams recorded in Die Traumdeutung concerning the death of the father - even Freud's own - or of the child. It could even be said that the force of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams relies hugely on the reverberation through its pages of the circumstance of its origin. In this 'waking' of his own dead father, the Real rattles its chains through the corridors and passageways of the Symbolic.

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