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Teaching Psychoanalysis: A Double Impossibility

The Letter, Issue 7, Summer 1996, Pages 1 - 11


Paul Verhaeghe

There is a well-known saying that informs us about the two great tragedies in human life. The first one is not getting what you want. The second one is getting what you want. During my student days, I longed to become a psychoanalyst and I marvelled at the wisdom of some of my teachers. Twenty years later, I find myself back in the position of a psychoanalyst, and, to complete the disaster, I have been nominated professor at the state university of Ghent. Hence, not only do I practise psychoanalysis, I even have to teach it. In Freudian terms, this means that I have to face the combination of two impossible professions, and it is about this double impossibility that I would like to talk today.

The central question concerns the status of this impossibility. For example, for Clement, it comes down to a question of exhaustion, and she expresses this loud and clear in the title of her book: Les fils de Freud sont Fatigues, The weary sons of Freud.[1] She describes a scene in which she herself, being a psychoanalyst and a teacher, stands at the blackboard trying to explain to her students some freudo-lacanian subtlety, when she is suddenly caught by the utter impossibility, even absurdity of her effort. The way in which she describes her feelings of exhaustion and burn-out, together with the typical Parisian scenery, lends the whole thing a certain tragic ring.

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