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Questions about the Familiar in the Ithaca Episode of Ulysses

The Letter, Issue 35, Autumn 2005, Pages 27 - 34



Patricia McCarthy

Copulation matters to the psychoanalyst! The copulation we have in mind - to use Lacan's provocative take on this very particular word that ordinarily suggests 'only the one thing' - sex, right? - is the copulation between language and the literal flesh of our bodies. Everything to do with the drives, the sexual relationship, the unconscious, is decided out of this copulation. In simple words it manifests itself differently for the psychotic subject and the neurotic subject and then there is Joyce... and believe you me, Joyce also matters to the psychoanalyst.

I want to approach these subject differences by exairiining the phenomenon of the uncanny. Freud described it as unhomeliness or unheimlichkeit. Lacan's further conceptualisation - particularly in the seminar on Anxiety - conveys that, as a manifestation of anxiety, a sense of unhomeliness, also well expressed by the notion of strangeness, can flood the subject, can dispossess, precisely because of the fact that the world around him is familiar, homely or intimate at that exact time. I have often thought that the reduction of high expressed emotion that the psychiatrist seeks for his psychotic patient aims at reducing this outbreak of unhomeliness which takes him over, disastrously altering his reality - simply because he is in an intimate or homely setting. What ensues technically with this phenomenon of the uncanny is an alteration of your body image. The parallel alteration of your sense of your place in the world involves a derailment in the register of the Real in its relation to the Imaginary and the Symbolic. Simply put we say there is too much Real. Let's illuminate this irreducible core phenomenon with an anecdote supplied by none other than President Schreber. In the early morning as he is being brought to the station through the streets of Leipzig to catch the train that will take him to Sonnenstein, he wonders why the buildings along the way seem to him to be 'only theatre props'. Undoubtedly in this situation, reality is too real for Schreber, with this shift making the streets of Leipzig appear to him like a stage set in Universal City.

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