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The Riddle of Castration Anxiety: Lacan beyond Freud.

The Letter, Issue 6, Spring 1996, Pages 44 - 53


THE RIDDLE OF CASTRATION ANXIETY: LACAN BEYOND FREUD

'Mind The Gap. Mind The Gap. Mind The Gap ...’[1]

Paul Verhaeghe


One of the most obvious observations that can be made about castration anxiety is that it is very difficult to observe. Indeed, in clinical practice it is very hard to find a subject that comes to us complaining about his or her castration anxiety. To my knowledge, the ultimate castratophobia does not exist.

This clinical fact is endorsed by an historical one: the concept of castration anxiety itself only received its general expression at a rather late stage of Freud's theory. For example, as late as 1914, Freud equates the castration complex with 'masculine protest' and states explicitly that there are neuroses in which this element does not appear at all.[2] Twenty years later, in 1933, castration anxiety is transform ed into the ultim ate stum bling block of psychoanalysis, both in theory and in clinical practice. Indeed, in Analysis Terminable and Interminable Freud describes castration anxiety as the biological bedrock on which every psychological treatment must necessarily fail and where every psychological theory meets its limit. Biology is also held responsible for two different forms, neatly distributed along the gender line: castration anxiety for the male, penis envy for the female. Moreover, as this idea is formulated by way of conclusion of this very important paper, it receives all the characteristics of a postulate, expressing a 'nec plus ultra'. Other than that, we only have recourse to other theories (biology, genetics etc.) and to another practice, of which Marie Bonaparte was the historical example and which can nowadays be found to be reappearing in Donna Haraway's ideas about cyborgs.[3]

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