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The Secrets of the Dark Continent: The Termination of a Treatment of Hysteria as an Effect of Failed Interpretation

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Abstract

This paper discusses the reasons for the termination of the psychoanalytic treatment of a neurotic woman. The patient presented early enough the layout of a hysterical neurosis, built around the question of femininity, for posing which various triangles were created. When jouissance drew the patient to the side of repetition, a psychoanalytic act brought her back to working-through inside transference. The dreams that followed this act led to the emergence of an element that revolved around the mark of femininity on the body, which was linked to the jouissance of the not-whole and thus lied beyond the structure of hysterical desire. This time the analyst failed to encapsulate this element in transference, due to his mistaken attempt at one more interpretation at the phallic level. Consequently, like Freud’s famous case study of Dora, the patient decided to end the treatment. This failure is discussed with regards to Freud’s analysis of Dora and the dream of Irma’s injection, and Lacan’s views on them.

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Article
This chapter will consider the articulation of love, desire, and jouissance in the neurotic structure of hysteria through a Lacanian reading of Dora, one of Freud's five substantial case studies. Clearly, the pertinence of returning to Dora a century after Freud's paper was first published is not to be assumed. Yet the case of Dora, perhaps not Freud's most successful in terms of its outcome, remains crucial in that, beneath the symptomatology of Freud's patient, the invariant traits of hysteria can be discerned. And so Lacan episodically refers to different aspects of Dora in order to expose, successively, the structure of Dora's identifications, the symbolic logic of her unconscious, and the mode of her jouissance as paradigmatic. In so doing, Lacan isolates the respective modalities of love, desire, and jouissance in hysteria in a process of logical reduction. In turn, this logical reduction will orient the direction of the analytic treatment in this particular neurotic structure.
Article
[A]nd nevertheless I consider that in a very precise manner I have been guided by hysterics. Hysteria ended in 1952 when the diagnosis was eliminated from the official American psychiatric nomenclature. The word was deleted from the medical vocabulary when it ceased to be listed as a separate clinical entity in the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Mental Disorders (dsm -I) (1952) and in The Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease (scnd ). But the termination of the entire disease form was rather a semantic suppression than the real elimination of the illness. It was not long before this “repression” produced a predictable Freudian “return.” By a curious chronological coincidence, it was also in 1952 that Jacques Lacan published in the Revue française de psychanalyse an article that emerged from a seminar he taught at the Société Psychanalytique de Paris. It focused on Freud’s most detailed case study of a hysterical patient, the famous Dora’s case. “Presentation on Transference” (Ecrits 176–85) is one of the few texts Lacan devoted entirely to hysteria. In addition to being a perfect example of his proclaimed return to Freud, so characteristic of Lacan’s work it represents a decisive moment in French psychoanalytic history. Just a year later, in 1953, a long-standing rift would develop into a split in the Société Psychanalytique de Paris. Lacan and others resigned to found the Société Française de Psychanalyse, under the direction of Daniel Lagache. The reasons behind the split were theoretical, directly affecting the practice of psychoanalysis. Consequently, Lacan reopened the case of Dora’s hysteria with both clinical and political motives. He had been supporting liberal academics and intellectuals on the question of lay analysis and opposing the authoritarianism of those who argued in favour of medical training for the practice of psychoanalysis. As the title of Lacan’s essay betrays, Dora’s case enabled him to underline the clinical importance of transference—the slippery terrain of mutual implication of analyst and patient in the treatment, the role of the “person” of the analyst, and the importance of the patient’s belief in the analyst. Lacan foregrounded the transference bond in the analytic cure and, above all, to the role of the analyst within the transference. Lacan was also aware, following Freud’s example, that medical training was the least helpful in preparing an analyst to deal with the deceiving, non-empirical nature of transference. It was precisely unanalyzed transference love that “impregnated” Anna O. and terrified her doctor Joseph Breuer; Breuer “resisted” the sexual reality of the unconscious revealed by Anna’s imaginary pregnancy and parturition and abruptly terminated her treatment. Not wanting to know anything about it, he hastily declared her “cured” and ran away from the powerful force of transference (see Breuer and Freud). Freud, in contrast, did not vacillate: he not only admitted the existence of transference but was also courageous enough to publish his first major case study on hysteria, although it would fail. This case is fragmentary (let us recall that it was published under the title “Fragment of an Analysis …”), an incomplete analysis, for the defiant Dora had abruptly broken off the treatment. This unsuccessful case, however, taught him an important lesson on transference. Furthermore, it may suggest that psychoanalysis is best grasped through its own failure. It is well known that Freud did not mind publishing controversial case studies; he intended the obstacles to develop into clues for discovery. This becomes quite clear in his “Postscript” to Dora’s case, in which Freud learns from his mistakes and attributes his failure to his delay interpreting his own participation in the transference (see “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria” 118). We see here the limits imposed by Freud’s own resistances and prejudices but also his unrelenting desire to further his theories. He offers this case as a testimony open to criticism, maybe even inciting it. In a footnote to the text, Freud admits that he was “in complete perplexity” facing the homosexual love of Dora for Frau K. (“Fragment of an Analysis” 120). In his “Presentation,” Lacan commented...
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