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The Object of Anxiety

The Letter, Issue 64, Spring 2017, Pages 47 - 53


Guy Le Gaufey

I will tackle the question of anxiety from a semiotic viewpoint in so far as Freud, in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, presents this affect as a sign the ego sends to himself when he faces a certain danger, mostly internal and instinctual. In the face of this kind of danger, a helpful ‘object’, the mother, is supposed to have regulated the situation previously. Now, she is no longer in sight and available, so that the child is overwhelmed with a feeling of ‘helplessness’. This occurs almost mathematically in Freud’s writing: take the ‘helpful’ away and you get the ‘helpless’.

That is why Freud characterises anxiety by considering the infant longing for this helpful object. He writes:

Anxiety [is] about something (Die Angst ist Angst vor etwas). It has a quality of indefiniteness [Unbestimmtheit] and lack of object [Objektlosigkeit]….

Its connection with expectation belongs to the danger-situation, whereas its indefiniteness and lack of object belong to the traumatic situation of helplessness (Hilflosigkeit) - the situation which is anticipated in the danger-situation.[1]

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