top of page

Why Am I Anxious?

The Letter, Issue 64, Spring 2017, Pages 83 - 88


WHY AM I ANXIOUS?

Charles Melman


With his opening question ‘Why am I anxious?’ Dr Charles Melman is addressing the psychoanalyst who, in the face of the hole in the big Other, has to resolve his or her concerns regarding filiation, identity and recognition as a psychoanalyst. How Joyce differently managed these same concerns is a reference here. Psychoanalysis is more necessary than ever in a globalised world where these same concerns about identity insist and are being responded to by a psychology of the masses which threatens becoming ‘our new reality’.


Keywords: the hole in the big Other; the sickness of psychoanalysts; identity; the Name-of-the-Father; bien dire; globalisation; psychology of the masses


Many thanks to Dr Barry O’Donnell for this invitation. It’s nice to meet you again. Many thanks also to Cormac for his friendship, a long friendship now, and for his translation.


First, why am I anxious? You are always anxious when you find yourself in a position where you must give something and you don’t know what to give; when you don’t know what you should say or what you should keep quiet about; when you have to assure the audience that they are recognised and, at the same time, be assured that you yourself are recognised. Now, imagine that you find yourself before an audience that doesn’t know you, whose language you do not speak, who act as if you didn’t exist. This is a dream that you can have where you would certainly be anxious. You would be anxious to know what you have to give or what you have to say, anxious to show that you have recognised this audience and that it has recognised you.


Man’s first desire is what? What could we say about what man’s first desire is? Man’s first desire is to be recognised, and the paradox is that one is recognised, first of all, through one’s identity, by one’s proper name, and, at the same time, by the line of descent to which one belongs. It is very annoying when I am not recognised for myself and am only recognised as ‘the son of’. I can be as eccentric as I like but people will always say, ‘ah yes, he’s the son of so and so’. It was the question that Freud expressed by saying, ‘I acknowledge that I am a Jew, but I don’t know by what features or traits.’ Even though Freud spent a lot of time trying to clarify the universal nature of the Name-of-the-Father, he asked ‘how does it happen that I am obliged to recognise myself as a Jew?’ Today we can say Freud was a Jew because he was Jacob’s son, nothing more than that.


You will acknowledge right away that for a woman the question of recognition is quite different, because she would have to give up her family name to take on the name by which her maternity would be recognised. So you see then that the question of the Father is posed to her in a very different way. She only obtains the healing of her anxiety when she shows, by her maternity, that she has been blessed by a father. For a son to be recognised by his father implies this unbelievable operation only at the price of putting his sex at the service of the line of descent that his father represents. A daughter very often has difficulties with her mother and is anxious to know whether she should remain her little girl or whether she can allow herself to become a woman which leads her to be in rivalry with her own mother.


Why am I tackling these questions? I am posing these questions because it is crucial for a psychoanalyst to be recognised by others and then to recognise himself as a psychoanalyst. First of all, a psychoanalyst cannot lay claim to a father, cannot attribute to himself a father because the liquidation of the transference puts him in an absolutely unique position with respect to the big Other. We must be under no illusion. On the whole we are all believers. Nevertheless, what Freud expected from the outcome of a treatment was that transference love, whose dissolution he expected, results from a defence against our solitude. So that if one is to become what is called an adult, (I don’t believe that we are adults very often) that is to say, if we want to be entirely responsible for our own actions, we have to recognise that the big Other is a locus that is only peopled by our love. But if my love is dissolved, the big Other is presented as an empty place, and, from then on, I don’t know what its features are or what the trait of my identification is. It is a problem, which I call, in other circumstances, the sickness of psychoanalysts.


If it is true that a psychoanalyst doesn’t come from a father, what is the feature or the trait of the identification which assures him that he is a psychoanalyst, and that others recognise him as a psychoanalyst? The problem here is that such a feature, such a trait, does not exist. It doesn’t exist because the experience of the treatment shows that what the cause of my desire is - which is really to say the cause of my existence (that is the scandal that psychoanalysis reveals) - is not the father but an object, a lost object, and that it is the loss of that object which causes my desire and makes of me someone who exists. But in the first place, this object does not have a feature or a trait which can be described as a unary trait, and that is where the father plays an essential role. It is thanks to him that the loss of that object has a sexual cause, or reason. The loss of that object can have very different causes, but in order that the loss of this object should become the cause of my desire and therefore of my existence, we must have this operation accomplished by the father. This means that the object that I must renounce must come from the union of the couple of whom I am the fruit. Therefore, if I am a psychoanalyst I have every reason to be anxious because I can’t lay claim to a father. That was Freud’s problem. He kept insisting that the first psychoanalyst was Breuer, which is not true. Breuer skedaddled, once he had seen the result of his actions on the patient. It is Freud, indeed, who invented psychoanalysis but he needed the authority of someone before him to give him authority to exercise psychoanalysis. And then, this object which causes my existence does not depend on any trait because, the o-object is what precisely escapes any grasp by a feature or by a trait. Indeed, if I am a psychoanalyst, what should be the sacrifice to which I must offer myself, and which is precisely specific to my identity? Would anyone here have an answer to that question?


I refer to all these difficulties, not only because I am concerned about the psychoanalyst’s milieu but, just like everybody else, I have to suffer from the difficulties that form part of that milieu, and in particular the problem of being recognised by one’s equals. That does not always make one’s social life very agreeable, which is a pity. One would like to be part of a fraternal milieu, where everyone would contribute what he can to the collective work. It never works out like that! So then, I think that it is worthwhile underlining for psychoanalysts, pointing out that the problem is much more general. To illustrate this I will take an example which I think is close to all of us and precious to all of us, namely the example of James Joyce. How did he manage to deal with his question of filiation?


Joyce was a very great writer - Dubliners is a collection of magnificent short stories - but his work ends with Finnegans Wake where it is very difficult to read its new language, the new tongue that he is trying to create, and which is obviously destructive of the English language, the English tongue, and also of the Irish language. In fact, it renounces the Name-of-the-Father. Therefore, the Other, the big Other is made up of a deposit of all languages or of every tongue.


What then is the feature or the trait of Joyce’s identity? This identity is what Lacan tries to show in his seminar on the Sinthome; identification with his own name but also an identification, which, with the tongue that he uses, no longer has any relation to the Name-of-the-Father. And what sacrifice does Joyce make? One could say that he sacrifices the chance of a guaranteed existence because his existence constantly and regularly depends on the agreement, or not, of editors to publish him. Lacan is going to say that Joyce, in this cancellation (annulation) of the Name-of-the-Father, was psychotic, but that he cured himself of his psychosis by making his name recognised as being personal to him, and no longer the one that he inherited from his father.


We are at an epoch where this large cultural movement called globalisation dominates - which, it could be said, calls on everybody to renounce his original name, not to adopt a new name, but to renounce this Name-of-the-Father, this national Name-of-the-Father. And as we see, in considering this situation, we are experiencing a reaction - like Joyce, for whom the big Other is empty. We are witnessing the resurgence of a reference to a national belonging, and at the same time, a re-establishment of the family. We have to pronounce on this, on what we think of it. What choice are we going to make? The division sometimes runs through oneself.


To end, I will take a formulation of Lacan’s which concerns the ethics of psychoanalysis. What is the ethics that is proper to psychoanalysis? I had a discussion last night with an eminent colleague, Patrick Guyomard, a professor in an outstanding eminent faculty. He said that the ethics of psychoanalysis was the ethics that the psychoanalyst brought with him into psychoanalysis so there is no proper ethics of psychoanalysis, so he doesn’t know to whom or to what he should sacrifice himself. Nevertheless, Lacan has a formula about this, he says that the ethics of the psychoanalyst it to bien dire, to speak well or properly. Either this is a truism or it is something simple, of no interest. What does it mean, what does bien dire, to speak properly or to speak well, what does that mean? To conclude, I’m going to propose an interpretation of what it means to speak well.


First of all, it’s a question of saying/(dire), that is to say, of a word which comes from a very precise place which is that of the hole in the big Other. It is from that that saying (dire) can be produced in us. I’m not talking to you about a subject in the world, I am talking about this locus, this hole in the big Other which the saying, as such, reminds us of. However, for each of us this hole is not empty, it is occupied. It is occupied by the reference by which we authorise ourselves, and it is from this reference that we believe ourselves to be authorised to produce commandments and requirements and obligations and constraints, and that we divide the world of speaking beings between those who are masters and the others. Speaking well is something different. In other words, to authorise my speaking from a hole in the big Other, and to want to impose it on others, to impose it on you, Lacan called this canaillerie, blackguardism. So, speaking well is to authorise oneself by oneself but at the same time to speak well of oneself.


The notion of ‘well’ or of what is good is very complex. If, for example, we held an enquiry among ourselves as to what is good and what is evil we would have very different replies, very different responses, and it would be very complicated. That is not my subject and I’m not going to develop it now. But I would say, in any case, that if for us, evil is what is rejected by us, refused, repressed, amputated, cut off, it has all of the characteristics of this little o-object which is the cause of our phantasy but which speaks in the unconscious. There it is, all the same, this astonishing thing, which is, that the unconscious is not our friend, it says things that aren’t acceptable, things that we would be better off to control or to supervise. Take the case of the Ratman, Freud has a whole chapter on the Ratman’s unconscious. In fact, the contents of his unconscious are horrible. There are all these not only obscene, but aggressive phantasies. That brings up a question: if, despite our control, it is the unconscious which dominates us, how do you get out of that? In any case one sees very clearly the distinction between good and evil or good and bad, the bad is what is cut off, repressed and which, despite all our vigilance, all our efforts, returns. And it is quite obvious that in this operation of getting rid of the big Other, the o-object finds a different status, that is to say, it is from that moment that I can allow myself to interpret Lacan’s formula that the ethics of the psychoanalyst is to speak well. Then the good can stop having its status as repressed so that evil ceases to have its attraction.


I allowed myself to take this excursion with you this afternoon, to bear witness to the permanent and on-going nature of our worries, when we realise that today one wants to treat the problems of identity by trying to ignore Freud’s work on group psychology. I find this to be huge and at the same time disturbing because, today, it is a psychology of the masses that becomes our present day reality. Read or re-read what Freud said about group psychology. Our problems are not the problems of some specialist chapel or some small sect, they are the problems of our personality, in so far as it is plunged into a social network, and that it is also from this social milieu that it receives its message. Even though psychoanalysis seems to be marginalised, I believe that it is more necessary than ever. That is why after the meeting last night - which meant I went to bed very late - I got up very early this morning to have the pleasure of being with you, so thank you very much for your attention.

Related Posts

See All

In his comprehensive and scholarly Hearing Voices, The History of Psychiatry in Ireland Professor Brendan Kelly writes ‘In the early...

A crucial part of the work of the School of Psychotherapy in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin is to represent the contribution...

bottom of page