Jean-Guy Godin

Translated by Marguerite C. Laporte & Jeanine Herman

What I propose is a clarification of the treatment of an obsessional neurotic, starting with the obsessive idea which is its pivot—an idea Freud was not adverse to calling delusion. This is not a progres-sion, but rather a reflection on the nature and function of an obsessive idea.

Here is the obsession, as told to me after a certain period of analysis, then more precisely defined in the course of its successive appearances. It is presented as a vision, an image, a picture in short, that then imposes itself on the patient’s gaze. It takes many forms: those of excrement, of shit and not a shit, the patient is soiled in it, progressively covered; or it may also concern a person among those dear to him—but mainly women—a woman is thus soiled in the same way; or, he is covered with it and has a mouthful of it.

There are thus several forms of the obsession depending on whether it combines the anal object and the oral object (the anal drive and the oral drive) or not, and depending on the people it concerns. Rituals accompany, precede, follow the obsession; they are somehow its reverse, their function is to erase this soiling, to purify him; a metaphor of a double erasure: if the subject constitutes itself through erasing its traces, neurosis would like to erase that erasure.

Obsession, with a capital O, was and remained the name of this idea; presented as a virus: “I caught this,” he would say. At the beginning of treatment this idea was named without being described. This name designated not one idea—among others—but the sole idea, the only one. Yet this way of speaking is also symp-tomatic of the obsessional patient’s language: to designate a very specific thing by a very general term and so be released from speech. In analysis he still serves two masters: to speak, to obey the fundamental rule, and to keep a secret.

But also: to speak of this idea makes it surge within the unbearableness of this “jouissance unknown to him” which would designate the Other’s jouissance. In fact the jouissance that he may feel in speaking—the phallic jouissance—leads him directly toward the Other’s jouissance which the Names-of-the-Father are unable to channel, to delimit. To speak is to enjoy (jouir); he has a mouthful of it; this jouissance parasitizes his relation to his own speech. And he has to protect the Other—which is inscribed in the fantasme of the knight protecting weak women—he must also protect me from that soiling in speech, of speech, to remain amiable; for how can one love this waste, this shit which he is also ? He must preserve this place in the Other, from where the Other sees him in this form in which he wishes to be seen as friendly: this place (I) in the Other, this place of the ego ideal.

What does this concept encompass? I’m going to anticipate a bit in order to clarify what the obsession accomplishes. It reunites, joins, on the one hand, the object he was for his mother, this little thing to wash, to disinfect regularly, and on the other hand the object of jouissance of his father: food, a particular relationship to eating, his manners at the table. The obsession, in fact, weds the father’s jouissance and the mother’s jouissance. The effect of this conjugated jouissance of the parents is him, the patient. This is what his parents’ pact is made of. Before becoming engaged to a woman and getting married, there is something to consider, something from which to recoil as well. But the subject does not recognize himself in this object that he was in the desire of the maternal Other, or in the solution taken from his father, to wolf down this garbage, to eat the mother,1 or even in his mode of presence, as gaze, in the picture.

The obsession presents itself as a knot of drive objects. It comes as a representation of the primal scene in which the subject is produced as gaze, the result of the game between two objects. It is a displayed primal scene in which the subject is constituted as a forced gaze. From this place as gaze, as object of jouissance, the dimension of desire is opened to him, and it is from this place that he will jouir from now on. Obliged to look at what he is the result of, he will be that forced, violated gaze when, for example, the obsession, a dream, or analysis lifts a corner of the fantasme’s veil: there, the image of the lovable person is torn to pieces, there his imposture is unmasked and his obsession tells him what he is.

On the other hand, he will be that veiled gaze, on the verge of hypnosis, when he can keep his eyes closed (as he also does

during our sessions) in which he is gaze separated from vision. “So as not to be distracted,” he says, but one might say subtracted, by a gaze, a look.

When the veil is torn, with the appearance in the real of this poorly symbolized, repressed jouissance, the object of desire and the ideal appear separated: it is the awakening of the encounter, the traumatic awakening of the nightmare. Henceforth, he has only one wish: to make coincide, to unite once again, desire and ideal. This is recourse to transference as a moment of the closing of the unconscious, but not recourse to analysis; so he misses sessions, he closes his eyes, he sleeps, wanting neither to see nor to hear.

But let’s return to what brought him to analysis; it was a conjunc-

tion of facts and ideas: he was supposed to get married. That act would cause the emergence of the Obsession and of a second obsessive idea.

He was thus nabbed by a woman; he had not said no to her, and was going to have to say yes. He was abroad. A few days before his wedding, the Obsession appeared and pulled him out of this delicate impasse. It provoked such an intolerable anxiety that anything else was better: an illness, physical pain. He was hospitalized, then returned to France; the wedding was called off.

This act that he couldn't sign made the unconscious pact, of which he was the product, arise from beneath. It is clear, as Freud noted, that “the apparent result of the disease is in reality the cause of it, the motive for falling ill.” But at this moment, when he abandons his plans for marriage and leaves the United States, another obsessive idea appears and unfolds: his fiancée has been killed, and he is a suspect. Consequently, he is surprised, upon descending the airplane for a connecting flight, not to see the police at the foot of the steps. During that stop-over, he spends his time making himself visible, noticeable, so that people will remember seeing him at that time. A topographical version of the alienating choice: “I am in my obsession and not where I think I am.” His fundamental identification vacillating, it was necessary to identify himself by others, his fellow man.

Thus a question is raised: that of the articulation of these two ideas. For if the obsession of looking at himself eating shit was only the substitute for something more painful, more horrible still, it would be a thought like this one: to have killed a woman; it would be an idea of blind, lethal violence, exerted against a woman. Didn’t he, playfully, the day of his sister’s wedding, threaten her with a loaded gun? He said he realized it later, but what if, still playfully, he had pulled the trigger? At this unbearable thought his body becomes paralyzed, freezes…

There are thus two obsessions. The first, the Obsession: to be soiled by shit, to eat it; the second: to kill a woman. If we follow the patient’s discourse, the first obsession, which is more archaic, and because it is less painful, comes to take the place of the second, which is repressed. But if the two obsessive ideas are basically related to the same real, are envisioned as two moments of a single real, we may ask ourselves why the first is less disturbing than the second. Let’s formulate some hypotheses.

The second idea, to kill a woman, is the mark of the vacillation of the fantasme. The subject creates a short-cut that puts the substratum of the fantasme in the place of the fantasme. One could, moreover, describe this short-cut as a “wild crossing” of the fantasme. This merits some explanation. “To kill a woman” is said in an act of showing, a mise-en-scène, and each time before a wedding. In this vacillation of the fantasme, not only its components but also its real foundation may appear. What does this mean? In the idea of the murder of his fiancée and of his sister, it is also a matter of destroying the alienating image, i (a), in order to attain the real which it masks, to attain what is real in that image. This murder of a woman echoes the murder of the Thing, of the mother as thing; it echoes the moment of the subject’s constitution. With this phrase, his masculine identity vacillates as well, for “if you are a woman, what sort of man are you?” Isn’t it also a question of killing the woman that he is as well?

The fantasme of the knight yields and allows its reverse to appear, in which the subject can recognize himself as agent of a murderous desire. Then, the subject replaces this with the representation of the pact between his parents, that is, the moment at which he is constituted as subject, at which he is “caused” as gaze. This representation allows him a reversal, a turnaround: he is no longer murderer but victim, passively suffering this obsession. Yet we must note, then, that the jouissance obtained is not that pleasant jouissance of the fantasme. Repressed from the symbolic, this supplementary jouissance is real, too real. It signals the fantasme’s failure. Everything happens, in fact, as if the Oedipal content of the obsession had been repressed and had regressed to the point of being replaced by this play of objects. Thus, the object choice abandoned at the time of the constitution of the identification (see the chapter on identification in Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego) comes back, leading the subject once again to that primitive oral stage, the stage of incorporation in which, as Freud said, “cathexis of object and identification cannot be distinguished.”

At this moment when the subject constitutes his fundamental identification, something (the father’s orality) takes on the function of barring, of crossing out another thing (the mother’s anality) and this is what the Obsession will show, this level which is “more structurally primordial than repression.” The patient’s wish to repress the idea of “killing a woman,” which is ineffective, refers to that “first, operative element of its erasure,” when the subject erases its trace.

A dream will specify the relation of the father to the oral object; it will provide the beginnings of an answer to the question: what sort of man are you? It will also confirm the following interpretative elucidation: at the end of a session in which he said he could not stand to see or hear his father eating at the table, or the various noises of all his orifices, I retorted to him: “Your obses-

sion is like a portable father, a por-table2 father.” Indeed his obsession forced him to look at the choice of his father and of his flaws, the choice he made to separate from his mother; it forced him to look at the ideal with which he was to cover the object of his mother’s jouissance.

Before recounting his dream, he confessed a fantasme, a daydream: “Often I imagine,” he says, “a homosexual relationship, a variant of the sexual relationship with a woman. I am passive; an unknown male stimulates my nipples. But when I am the one doing something, I suck his sex. This thought,” he continues, “doesn’t embarrass me; it’s the most exciting one, even though it's difficult for me to tell you about it.”

The dream leads him to talk about the fantasme in further detail, and makes it less pleasant: “I am stretched out; in place of my wife, there is another woman on top of me, then my father; he is exciting my nipples, or he is sucking them, while on top of me. What is unbearable to me is the sight of my father, aged now. There was an obligation; I could not not do this with him; I could not stop before this act was over.”

The dream encompasses many things: the father takes the form of a woman, the subject, passive, waiting, is as though raped—these are his words. The dream clarifies the fantasme which, not embarrassing at the beginning, becomes disturbing; it also clarifies which drive object, which part of the body is receptive to and represents the jouissance of the father—a shared jouissance. The patient here becomes object of his father’s jouissance. “When I woke up, I made a fruitless attempt at repression; I could not stop thinking that I had had this dream and would have to tell it to you.” The injunction of the dream is displaced and becomes the injunction to speak; the figure of the analyst takes the place of that of the father. “Before this act was over.” Through this equivocal formulation of the dream, the analyst emerges as the man to satisfy: something awaits him before analysis is over.

His relationship to the obsession, he says, determines an organization in his life that aims to avoid the triggering factor, namely, fatigue. His life is thus regulated toward this: the homeostasis of the sleepwalker, of the automaton, ruled by the pleasure principle; to do the least possible, to have the least jouissance possible. With one requirement: to rest, to sleep in order not to encounter a jouissance for which he will have to pay an impossible price in the currency of anxiety, in order not to allow desire to pass the threshold of the pleasure principle; all jouissance summons up the unbearable jouissance of the obsession.

This can be felt in the course of analysis—he doesn’t want to know too quickly; he needs things to come to him slowly. He would willingly accept certain therapeutic gains of the analysis, if the obsession were less disturbing, more civil. But it wrenches his stomach. This creates a relationship to time that can also be seen in certain feminine versions of obsessional neurosis, sustained by a fantasme of Sleeping Beauty, waiting…

Thus, he has a somewhat loose relationship to knowledge ; for example, in the morning when he remembers the dream cited above, he also remembers that he has a session late that afternoon; he will have to tell it to me. The rule of analysis has become an injunction. But he has an answer to that injunction: he leaves for work, experiences a great fatigue as the clock chimes twelve and decides to take a nap, which, of course, will make him forget the fateful session. As we can see, one of the difficulties of the treatment is making him come to the sessions at all and then, keeping him awake. Before this surging knowledge, he responds by seeking sleep. To sleep and if possible to sleep dreamlessly, for sleep is a traitor that can deposit a message at night.

When the obsession wakes him up, the alternatives are constructed. Or—a common recourse—to delay the moment of the encounter, to procrastinate, to seek sleep by swallowing pills, and even to think of not waking up! Or else, the second alternative, not to avoid this unbearableness and to confront it in treatment.

1. A play on the phonetic similarity between “mère” (mother) and “merde” (shit).
2. Phonetically “por” suggests “porc” (pig) at the table.



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