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Lacan's Seminar on AnxietyReview - Lacan's Seminar on Anxiety
An Introduction
by Roberto Harari
Other Press, 2001
Review by Petar Jevremovic
Jul 30th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 31)

Reading Lacan is far from easy and without any serious problems. His highly personal style is hermetic, too often surrealistic. The logic of his thinking is rather idiosyncratic, lucid and original, but not easy to follow.

One of the most important characteristics of Lacan’s way of doing and thinking psychoanalysis was something that we could really name as the authentic speculativity of his thought. Or, in another words, there were no easy (no self-evident) solutions for him. During his famous seminars he articulated something that today we could call his own style of reading and understanding Freud himself and psychoanalysis in general. Historically speaking, he was one of the most controversial figures in all the history of the psychoanalysis. Doctrinally speaking, he was one of the most productive authors. During last decade his influence had spread all over the world. His opus is no more just one of most bizarre and most autistic representatives of French (surrealistic and post-surrealistic) style.

A great many of Lacan’s theories and conceptions, his ideas and his interpretations, for us today are problematic (or even unacceptable), but, of course, there is also (I believe) something that is still firm, valid and potentially fruitful.  There are many, maybe too many, possible ways to understand Lacan. But, if we really want to be honest with him (Roberto Harari would, I suppose so, be in absolute agreement with me), first of all we must seriously think and re-think (as much as it is possible) all of epistemological and heuristic extensions of classical psychoanalytic doctrine that he had made. Just think of his (today we could say very inspiring and productive) starting the dialogue between psychoanalysis and philosophy, linguistic, literature and even with the special kind of nonmetric (highly speculative) geometry – topology.

Lacan’s psychoanalysis is not Freud’s. Heuristically speaking, their doctrines are fundamentally different. Maybe that we could accept that both of them share something like the same basic experience (analytic experience, experience of the analytic subject), but their doctrinal elaborations are quite different. Freud is almost always thinking in the categories of the science of 19th century, on the contrary, Lacan in almost always (with more or less success) truing to free psychoanalysis – not just its language, but also its categorial apparatus – from all of the metaphysical and the physical that she inherited from the same 19th century. That is why he needed Hiedegger and Hegel, De Sausire and Jakobson, set theory and topology.

Thinking about anxiety presupposes highly elaborated theory of the subject, a subject that is (or that could be) anxious. Because of that, the question of anxiety was one of mostly important, and very often neuralgic, points in psychoanalytic theory and practice. Freud himself, as we know, had great many problems in his successive attempts to make this phenomenon coherently understood and explained by his own psychoanalytic discourse. There was always something that was missing. He knew quite well that anxiety (Angst) is not fear (Furht), that there must be something that makes this difference possible and actual. But, it was always a question – and this question was far away from being an easy one – what it is. So, every possible modification of theory and of practice had its (explicite or implicite) consequences for understanding and for dealing with the anxiety.

Lacan had considered this important question, the question of anxiety, in wider context of his ambitious and far reaching project of return to Freud. Moreover, one of his world-famous seminars was dedicated to it. Lacan’s seminar On Anxiety had happened during 1962-63, and it was his tenth seminar. So it could be really understood only in the framework of all other Lacan’s seminars, especially his seminar no. 9, seminar entitled L’identification. Tehnically speaking, there is at least one big problem in our possible understanding of this seminar. Still we don’t have an official edition of its text. We could only read various (more or less complete and more or less corrupted) unofficial versions. 

Roberto Harari had made heroic attempt to re-examine to re-elaborate the basic and mostly important theoretical structure of this Lacan’s seminar. He is not just retelling us a story. No, his explicit intention was to clarify and to re-articulate Lacan’s own structure of thinking, his logic of discourse, while dealing with this problem, problem of the anxiety. The book is written clearly and well documented; the author’s style is logically coherent but not always easy to follow. For readers that are not familiar with Lacan’s topological considerations – or, at last, for the readers who didn’t have  opportunity to read Lacan’s L’identification seminar – there could be some serious problems in understanding great many of Lacan’s topological schema that Harari is discussing in his book. May be that some the further edition of this important book could be much more improved with one introducing chapter, the chapter that would be concerned with the fundamentals of Lacanian topology.

For Lacan anxiety is a correlate of imaginary structured Ego. It is not simply a matter of a fear. Between the lines of Harari’s text there is one (I think) very important intuition. Anything in Lacan’s discourse (and of course, his interpretation of anxiety) could be understood only in the relation with his well-known conception of the mirror stage. The phenomena of anxiety could not be reduced to categories of drive theory. It is not a matter of repression. So, confronting Freud with Lacan, Charles Shepherdsoon (author of a very extensive forward to this book) writes:

And yet, in Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, when Freud distinguishes between anxiety and fear, he links anxiety to the future, nothing that whereas fear has an object (in the present, one might say), anxiety has no object, but is rather a mode of waiting or distressed anticipation, a form of ‘anxious expectation’ – as though the threat were impending from the future. A double structure is thus opened by the problem of anxiety: on the one hand a temporal structure, a matter of memory (both repetition and anticipation) which may well shape the time of anxiety in a distinctive way (in contrast, for example, to the time of desire); and on the other hand a peculiar form of a relation to the object, since anxiety is distinguished from fear in having no object, and being rather a relation to ‘the nothing’... In this respect, Lacan’s account takes a step forward in relation to Freud: defiantly claiming that Freud was mistaken in believing that anxiety has no object, Lacan announces that anxiety indeed has an object, and that a proper articulation of the ‘object a’ will allow us to be more precise than philosophical tradition, which is lost in the abstractions of  ‘being’ and  ‘nothingness’ and is consequently unable to clarify the clinical aspects of the body’s relation to this void.

Or in Harari’s own words: “The a, as we have said, is the subjective correlate on anxiety...” (p. 37) What does it mean?

The object a, or just a, is Lacanian term that designates mirroring other, specular (or imaginary) matrix that constitutes the Ego. It makes fundamentally problematic subject relation to the supposed reality. The subject is not the Ego, the Ego is the place (topos) where subject alienates from himself. Genealogically speaking, the Ego is an effect of imaginary (or, we could say, narcissistic) identification, identification that happens between subject  – subject that is still in statu nascendi – and other.  Thanks to man’s specific premature birth, the infant does not have overall sensorimotor co-ordination, and the main motor pathways leading to his limbs do not mature (myelinate) until the second year. Infant is relatively uncoordinated, helpless and dependent, leaving his first months of life in anxiety, uneasiness and discomfort. At a certain point, around six months, when the perceptual apparatus has reached a certain stage of development, the infant becomes aware of his own body as (possible) totality. At the bottom of this experience, at the bottom of subject’s own self, stands this imaginary identification of infant with his perceptual Gestalt of the other. With object a.

So we could say, in the context of Lacanian discourse, object a is the subjective correlate of subjects own self. Any possible subject’s self-configuration is deeply related to this object a. Or, speaking in other words, object a is narcissistic garant of subject’s feeling of his own self-integrity. Possible problems in this specular relations between subject and his object a brings us back to our topic of anxiety. Anxiety is not just an emotion. For Lacan anxiety is an affect, an affect of subject that is confronted with the trauma of ultimate fragmentation and decomposition. Fragmentation and decomposition of his own being. Of his own self. That’s why anxiety is not a question of repression, but of  the threat of decomposition – decomposition of the self. Or, to put in the other words, the object of anxiety is the object of stability or unstability of the self – that is object a.

The subject feels anxiety when his narcissistic, relationally founded – Lacan would say imaginary, not real – sense of his own identity and totality is under the question. Being anxious means being in the state of acute suspension o the borders that are developmentally situated between subject and other. The object that provokes anxiety is desire of the other, the other (or Other) that forcefully requires from the subject to erase his own borders. In Lacanian discourse, anxiety must be understood in connection with the limits of representation. Anxiety is not a symbolic phenomena. It could be not symbolically articulated, so it happens in form of the acting-out. It is situated at the border between imaginary and real – between phantasmatic (narcissistic) and body.

Speaking of body, Lacan is not thinking about biological body. The biological body is not the realm of psychoanalytic experience. Anxiety is not biological phenomena.  Being anxious means being human. Only human could be anxious. Psychoanalysis is not biology, psychoanalysis is not natural science. It is a science of human... human that is semantically opposed to natural. It deals with the various symbolic and imaginary  elaboration of the corporal reality. Human corporal reality.  

Originality of Lacan’s approach to the phenomena of anxiety is out of question. Concerning anxiety, he is (undoubtedly) original thinker. Harari’s expositions of Lacan’s main ideas are correct and well systematized. His book is not easy to read but it could be understood. His discourse is logical and coherent. He is obviously well informed in Lacan’s opus and he is experienced in dealing with the cryptograms of Lacan’s discourse. Especially are useful Harari’s references to other actually important psychoanalytic authors: to Melanie. Klein, Green and Winnicott.  His book could be of great help for those who intend to study not just theoretical (abstract, even scholastic Lacan), but really practical, clinical Lacan. It could serve as the good prolegomena for some other (much more critical, even polemical) reading of Lacan’s seminar on anxiety.  

Someday (sooner or later) Lacan’s seminar seminar no. X that is entitled L’angoisse will be officially published and available to the wider public. Also (sooner or later) it will be translated and published in English. Then will begin second phase of the reception of this very interesting book.


© 2002 Petar Jevremovic

Petar Jevremovic: Clinical psychologist and practicing psychotherapist, author of two books (Psychoanalysis and Ontology, Lacan and Psychoanalysis), translator of Aristotle and Maximus the Confessor, editor of the Serbian editions of selected works of Heintz Kohut, Jacques Lacan and Melane Klein, author of various texts that are concerned with psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and theology. He lives in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


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