Jaime Delgadillo Miranda
Freud's exploration of hysteric neurosis lead him to recognise, as early as 1896, that approaching the aetiology of a symptom demanded the exposition of an extensive clinical case study. In cases where several symptoms may be found, for instance, these malign fruits can be traced back to triggering events which are but a ramification of a genealogical tree, where several experiences can be linked together symbolically and affixed to a bark whose roots dig deep into the underground of infantile sexuality. This arduous association process indeed reveals that appearances are not always what they seem, and that the psychology of human beings is far from being simple. Hence, "the reaction of hysterics is only apparently exaggerated; it is bound to appear exaggerated to us because we only know a small part of the motives from which it arises."1 Moreover, in these early writings Freud began to identify the preponderance of the defensive tendency of the Ego in the consolidation of symptoms, based on the moral and intellectual development of the person. A whole history can be forged like so, in a tension between poles, where one tendency struggles to vanquish the One which forever insists to return.
The theory of an unconscious subject ($) is a considerable accomplishment since those early Freudian writings, thus it enables us to expose case studies in a more comprehensive way, knowing that a change in a subject's position concerning his own discourse and experience is not only a symbolic parameter of subjective history, but in many cases a therapeutic achievement. We shall see how a subject's position can shift to the point where life itself can be regarded as an enigmatic symptom, namely revealing the paradoxical value of unconscious desire.
This work should be read with these two objectives in mind: a) An account of the movements of the subject in a case study; and b) the illustration of transgenerational phenomena2.
FIRST ACT: A Threadbare Dress
"Excuse me, do you know where my things are? I had a bag with my books and my bible, and now they're missing. And I don't know whose clothes these are, this sweater isn't mine. Do you know who's it is? Why am I here, can you tell me? Where are my things? Oh my God, where's my bible, do you have a bible?". These were the first words that I heard from Valeria, a 22-year-old girl that loudly arrived semi-dressed at the Mental Health Unit in a state of confusion and accentuated excitability. Her unease showed itself in a speedy and apparently incoherent language, seldom interrupted by only a quick - nervous giggle that seemed to be the only possible pause. Initially, her whole speech seemed to be one great "I don't know", followed by a fierce impulse to repeat the parameters of her life story incessantly, as if she strained to hold on to her precious signifiers, not to lose them like she had her material possessions.
Her discourse digressed from a strong religious belief and commitment, to her acquaintances at the university (which she would enumerate and describe), her father's story of grand achievements and dull-wittedness, her wish to be a nun which clashed with her wish to be an engineer, her nostalgic memories of a young priest who was a teaching assistant that she missed dearly, and back to the same topics ceaseless. A lack of closure of ideas and a drifting speech was characteristic of this first period of treatment.
There also seemed to be somewhat delirious ideas concerning religion and fate. For instance she thought that present year (2002) was the year of the beast because 2+1+1+2= 6, and 6 is the number of the beast (666). She would consider the "0's" in "2002" to have the value of "1", only because she would write "0" with a line in the middle (Ø) as some typewriters do. To her, this explained why she was unable to save enough money to enrol in the University that year. And as psychotic as this sounded, it did not seem to imply a miss-recognition of the "zero" value, but a stern resolution to associate the present year with the "beast" signifier, which upon request she miss-spelled (written lapsus) as "dress"3. She also mentioned that sometimes she could feel "the supreme power" of the bible (which she described as a slight trembling) when she held it in her hands in a particular fashion. She was interned as a psychiatric patient for two weeks, under heavy medication and (unfortunately) labelled as an "organic psychoses case".
Valeria could rightfully quote her most basic symbolic parameters, such as her full name, age, address, family details, studies, event chronology, etc. Her memory, hence, seemed to be intact, although she spoke of a series of "black-outs" after which she had been taken to the emergency service of the General Hospital two times before this last. But as far as her 'self' was concerned, she knew not where to place it, as she would shift from one signifier to the other (nun, rebel, assistant, engineer), from one identification character to the other (Father, young priest, teaching assistant friend), etc. But failed to recognise herself anywhere, to the point of not having a clue about what she was doing in a hospital and what her life had become.
The presence of apparently "delirious ideas", a fast-paced train of thought, seemingly incoherent speech, and a slight suggestion of paranoia, led me to initially board this case with the carefulness and direction that the suspicion of a psychoses entitles. A typical fragment of her discourse would be: "men were made for the glory of God, not eternal sin, study, go to faculty, institute, assistantship, yes Father B. was a very dear friend of mine, a great person...". She seemed to compound series of thoughts in single signifiers, such as "institute" (which on request, she would describe in detail and connect it to a previous psychological treatment, some friendships, and math courses with Father Freddy B. who was the young priest). Since these factors posed an obstacle for a coherent discourse, I resorted to the use of paper on which I requested her to write her thoughts as they emerged and connect ideas as she could. This proved to be successful in slowing her speech pace down, expanding ideational trees from compact signifiers, and somewhat set a wandering discourse on a recognisable path.
This first subjective position presents a subject wandering in and out of signifiers, looking to recognise herself somewhere, and struggling to establish the parameters of her 'mission', thus a large part of her speech would include commands such as: "study, go to university, go to church, work at store, go back home early, etc."
SECOND ACT: The Dreamy Incidents
Following two weeks of hospitalisation, she was sent home by the psychiatrist assigned to her case, and spent a whole month in bed, medicated, barely speaking and with leg and arm "paralysis". After she slowly recovered from that lamentable chemical restraint and managed to leave the house again, she would assist to counselling sessions thereafter, sustained by a colleague and myself twice a week.
The next Valeria I would meet seemed a lot more coherent and confident about her daily duties, although similarly absorbed in an inexorable account of her ambivalent relation to her father, who she would idealise and defy. In fact, her interests were all very clearly an identification with him: The father had studied (but not completed) Electric Engineering in his youth, he was a religious man, he had the (unsatisfied) desire of travelling abroad, and suffered from a mental condition "due to a strike on his head" caused by a fall in his childhood (he would later be hospitalised and diagnosed as an organic psychoses case). Correspondingly, Valeria displayed the repercussion of her father's history in her own life, as she "studied" Electric Engineering (in fact she had been frequenting the faculty, attending classes, participating in social activities, etc., for years even though she was not officially enrolled), she was very religious and often thought of leaving it all to join a convent and become a nun, she dreamt of travelling abroad but did not decide whether to do it by pursuing graduate engineering studies or joining a convent abroad, and more importantly, she attributed to herself "problems of the head" as a result of her father's illness4. And despite her allegiance to the master who, as the eldest born child she felt the need to care for, respect and follow; she would not cease to disobey his rules of getting home early, not going to the faculty (her father considered that "she was not capable of studying engineering, and besides, it is a career for men"), and not seeing psychologists. This particular relation to a master who she would honour and revile, seemed to organise all her activity and her own sense of self. In this respect, the hysteric structure began to attain more clarity, and I slowly began to shift my own position in the cure and my interpretation would progressively shade itself as enigmatic.
During the first couple of months within treatment, she carried out her regular activity (class at university, family chores, social gatherings, etc.) with relative confidence and decided purpose. The only enigma that shook her stability was her resolute desire to know why she had ended up hospitalised without remembering a single thing about that day, as well as to resolve a few "blanks in her memory" that drove her to similar crises in the past which she named: "incidents".
We began to explore these "incidents" one by one. The first incident that she narrated was about a late social gathering with her university friends, wherein she laughingly emphasised the presence of a male-majority and several assistants5. It was the first time that she had tried an alcoholic beverage, and even though she had only one sip, she felt as though she had committed a terrible sin. Her younger sister had accompanied her to this meeting and drank a bit as well. From that day on, she says that she feels as if her life had turned into "a nightmare from which she can't wake-out of". She constantly said that her suffering was "probably a punishment sent by God for her sin". A few months later, in the middle of narrating this "incident" again, she would burst into tears and confess that before this particular "incident", there had been an occasion where some boys had tried to rape her at a similar gathering, but ran off frightened by her fight to not be undressed.
The second incident took place when she was returning home one late night (about 3 a.m.) another social gathering, and she assures that "a stranger came after her and tried to kill her in a dark alley". She says that this man attempted to strangle her and said: "I will kill you". She doesn't know how she got home and remembers nothing else from that scene. Both her and her sister (who came to see me once) narrate that nothing was stolen from Valeria on that occasion, and she was not physically harmed (information confirmed by a doctor who her family took her to immediately), although she arrived home covered in dust and nearly undressed. She spent an entire year without leaving her house after this incident, fixing up old dresses, and continually fighting with her family. She told me that during this year "she was afraid to let her parents leave the house because she thought that someone might kill them". During this period she also "thought that somebody wanted to cut her ears and hands".
On one occasion Valeria brought a friend of hers from the faculty to the Hospital, claiming that she could narrate another incident of which Valeria had no recollection. This friend of hers told me how she had found Valeria in a state of utmost unease and terror in a University bathroom, hysterically screaming about eternal sin, pulling her own hair and clothes as if she wanted to rip them off, and calling loudly the name: "Uncle-thing", which was the nickname of a male friend of hers. A few friends of Valeria took her to the Hospital and witnessed a state of extreme agitation that she does not remember herself.
The last episode that Valeria refers to as an "incident", has to do with her last hospitalisation which troubles her the most, as she remembers nothing about the previous day. In fact, she remembers the two weeks of hospitalisation very faintly, not recalling anything about her semi-naked arrival or her religious delusions.
This second subjective position presents a subject well identified with a master and his ideals, whose life is disturbed by a symptom that seems to precipitate her into a trance-like state that blurs out particular episodes of her life.
THIRD ACT: All For(bidden) Love
Valeria had studied since childhood at a school for only girls, being very scarcely acquainted with male-peers until she graduated at 18 and started assisting to preparation courses for the faculty of Engineering. She relates that her troubles started around that time, and she felt a general unease about frequenting the University. She insisted that she enjoyed the company of men, being the majority of her friends older-male assistants, although she considered them as nothing more than "brothers", and was troubled to think that "men want to have girlfriends and always intend to take friendship a step further". She repeatedly said that she wants to be a nun and "doesn't want to know anything about men". On my questioning this, she replied: "In reality, it's not being a nun for itself that interests me, but merely the fact that they don't get married".
However, Valeria always managed to place herself in the spot of being the trustee of her male friends' sexual confidences. She would linger around a series of male friends, listening to their confessions and fantasies, until they would sure enough make an advance on her, to which she would react with outrage and disappointment. The same ill fate seemed to curse a long series of relationships, that although traded characters and names, presented the same outcome: she meets a man, he makes her the trustee of his desires and his adventures with other girls6, he tries to kiss her, she runs away in contempt. After narrating these relations, she would always add: "I offer and look for friendship, and in return I have to listen to sinful tales and end up being betrayed, I want to know nothing".
Valeria felt as though she was surrounded by sinners at the University, "because they all smoked, drank alcohol and wanted to have sexual relations and spoke of unholy things". This distressed her and she spoke as if she were a victim of the foul intentions of the rest, to the point in which she felt that "someone wants to harm her". She did not exactly know why someone would have bad intentions towards her, but constantly felt "observed" in the streets and at the Faculty, as if "someone were controlling her". During a session in which she spoke of this unease, she related a dream in which she was at the Faculty and a professor was watching her every move, controlling her, and meant to tell her father about her conduct, which frightened her terribly. I interpreted this dream by merely questioning: Why would YOU have to be controlled at the Faculty? Following this session, she would suddenly shift her 'victim' position, and confess that she wore make-up sometimes, she would consent in listening to her friends' tales, and more importantly, she had "committed craziness". At first, she would not want to speak of what she implied by "craziness"7. In fact, she was extremely reluctant to speak about sexual-related topics and even curse-words, always retracting by saying: "I could only speak of such things to a priest, not a psychologist". Later she confessed that she would accept gifts and indulge in 'games' with his friend Richard (Uncle-thing). These 'games' included keeping books and such belongings in eachother's lockers, trading pens, sweaters, bracelets and backpacks, etc8. She spoke of this as "craziness".
Valeria progressively admitted having strong feelings for Richard, who she spoke of very highly, and using the same descriptive signifiers with which she would qualify her father and her old acquaintance, Freddy, the young priest who now lived in another city. Sometimes she would mistakenly say "Freddy" when speaking of Richard, laugh, and then say "I don't know why I think of them as being the same person", immediately switching topics and speaking of her father next. Once, I pointed out this triple mental connection, after which she related that "they are all very kind and respectable people, and they all are similar in that they were teaching assistants".
On a particular session, after many weeks of going to the Faculty and trying to avoid Richard (who she nevertheless "always ended up meeting") because his presence made her anxious, she agitatedly confessed that she was in love with him. "I am in love with Richard, it's true, oh my God... just as I was in love with Freddy". This phrase surprised me, because she would always (until then) refer to Freddy as "Father B.", so I hesitantly asked: "who is Freddy?" She replied: "Father Freddy B., you know, the young assistant priest. All the other girls called him Freddy and some even said hi to him with a kiss; but not me, I always called him Father B." To this, I immediately returned an ambiguous phrase: "In love with the Father", cut the session short and sent her off until next week.
After that occasion, she began to bring a lot more dreams to the sessions and became hesitant about going to the Faculty. She began to miss classes and seemed trapped in the dilemma of involving herself in a sentimental relationship or not, studying or not, perhaps switching careers or becoming a nun, moving elsewhere or staying, etc. She would start paying much attention to people in the street that "had nothing to eat". She particularly took account of all those who she would see searching for food in trash bins, beggar mothers who breast fed their children, etc., and felt tremendously sad that nothing was done to help them. During these tales of the suffering people who she would see in the street, she spontaneously communicated a distant memory: When Valeria was a very young child, the mother would lock her along with her younger sister in a room while she left for work. The thought that she would never come back would torment Valeria, who cried and prayed for her return. On one occasion, invaded by anguish, she managed to climb to the window and broke it to attract the attention of the neighbours. This left a deep scar on her arm still visible to this day, and that she associates to her father's name: "Mark".
Valeria entered a state of anxiety which she expressed as a general sadness that she felt about "the tremendous inequality and injustice that she perceives in society; for instance, the fact that many people who don't deserve to enjoy a University education (sinners, smokers, drinkers, etc.) are free to do so, while lower class citizens and poor people are denied that right and treated as inferior". She expressed being deeply hurt by the fact that such few people are concerned by this issue, to which I suggested that the matters that disturb and move us do so because they usually touch us at a very personal level. She would later bring to mind the story about her parents' youth and encounter: The father, an Engineering student (and assistant), had fallen in love with a lower class migrant from the farmlands, who would later become his wife and the mother of his children. This love affair was condemned by the father's family (his older sisters), who considered unacceptable that a professional marry an ignorant farm-girl.
One particular session, Valeria arrived with a stern resolution: "Freddy and I are not meant to be together". She explained that her girl friends had noticed that she is very unsettled by the thought of Richard and that it would be in her best interest to forget about him. Valeria explained to me how they had "convinced" her through a series of arguments and even some love stories, to which at the end of a long and imaginary speech she added: "... and besides, we're not alike, I should find someone from my same level." Your same level? I asked, and she answered: "Academic I mean, he's already a 4th year assistant, and I'm not even enrolled at the University..." She was suddenly startled by her own words as that session had ended.
The hysteric game that Valeria was sustaining began to attain more clarity, as the subject in this third act began to shift into a new position: the apprehension that "the former victim" has some sort of responsibility concerning the desire that moves her.
FOURTH ACT: The Dead Young Man
For the first time in months of treatment, and after years of frequenting the Faculty of Engineering, Valeria put the fact that she was never enrolled as a University student into question. Whereas she would formerly be content by simply blaming the "year of the beast", or the inefficacy of the Faculty's secretaries, her need for further preparation, or her lack of money, etc.; now, she recognised her-self in miss-recognition: "Why do I go to the Faculty? Why did I choose Engineering out of all other careers? I know that I'm not going to obtain any qualifications, I know that I shouldn't go because it distresses me, but I just can't help it, I have to go."
"I have the need to go to the Faculty, because somehow I feel as though I have already been there, in another time". "I feel as though a part of me is there, I must find out". As we began to explore these mysterious declarations, during a period when she had begun questioning the very centre of her activity, Valeria would experience a series of dreams with a common pattern: arguing in the presence of large crowds. In all these dreams, she would see herself quarrelling with various characters: A female street merchant (representing the mother and the aunts who do this line of work), a professor (representing the father and the series of assistants), her girlfriends (who try to convince her not to see Richard), etc. I will not go into detail for the purpose of summarising, but I will point out two important aspects that persist in these dreams: a) her resolve to disagree with "them" and pursue something (although the dreams do not reveal exactly what); b) being under the eye of the crowd9, which remits to her preoccupation with "being observed", controlled, etc.
The crowd's eye was not only vigilant in Valeria's dreams, but also in waking life, when she would "faint" in the midst of multitudes. She had fainted once in the busy patio of the Faculty, main point of encounter among students. She had fainted as well in the middle of a crowded bureau where she had gone with her mother, to get an Identification card for herself. These "minor incidents" began to shade themselves in the colour of an acting out, that began to attain it's signification in the lines of her resistance to fall into an order, to be enrolled, to be inscribed. The singularity of these acts and their relation to the "gaze" element will be discussed further on.
In an occasion when Valeria brought to the session her usual dilemma about what to do with herself, she insisted that she should switch careers and spoke largely about "Information systems". I abruptly cut her speech and questioned: "What information are you searching for?" She suddenly said: "I don't know, but it has to do with something that occurred during the years 1977 - 1979". Later, she would narrate a rumour that she overheard from her aunts: They said that Valeria's father had been involved in a romance with a woman who chased him in his younger University years, before meeting his actual wife. It was said that a child was born from the affair. Valeria had confronted her father with this once, and to his harsh denial, she believed him and never brought it up again. But the intrigue dwelt in dreams, where sitting around the family table, there was a strange young woman who, to everyone's sight, whispered in the father's ear: "where and when can I look for you?"
Curiously, at a certain stage of the treatment, Valeria began to wonder about a mysterious past and her associations would revolve around the years previous to her birth. At that distant époque, the country had been experiencing great social upheaval, in the crossfire between rebel coalitions and the fierce grasp of a military dictatorship. Many young students at the time were left wing fanatics, in a South America in love with dreams of socialism and Che Guevara rhetoric. She spontaneously began to wonder about the disappeared young people, and started recalling old radio programmes that would intrigue her with stories of the missing rebels and dead social activists.
"There was a young man, a rebel who vanished, I think he died, I know nothing else". She would proffer this puzzling statement seldom, in the middle of her effort to elucidate her mission in the world. "I'm saving money because I want to do a master's degree in communication science, there's a lot of injustice in the world that needs to be attended, my friends and I believe we can make a difference. I don't really see myself as a nun... rebel... yes, rebel is the word... I'm more of a rebel than a saint".
ANALYSIS: The Vanishing
At first glance, the material gathered in a long series of sessions can help us appreciate the display10 of Valeria's particular position within her family history. We have seen that the Ideals that move her to carry out her daily activities and have a sense of purpose stem from the identification with primarily masculine figures who are, if we can say so, but metaphors of the father. In fact the signifier assistant stands out as an organiser which not only seizes the glide of desire, but also captures her own aspiration: she was attracted by the assistants, and hoped to become one herself. With this evidence in mind, could we venture to ascertain that this precious signifier is elevated to the statute of Name of the Father?11. Apparently, yes; although a detained examination can deflect this emphasis onto a key element: Valeria's Mark. Perhaps, as we have seen, the signifier assistant is a functional metaphor of the signifier Mark, which is clearly related to the loss of the object and castration. We shall develop this further.
In these lines, we can sketch the psychological inheritance of the family tale, in both a negative and a positive face: Negative) The sin of the father (the desire and love affair previous to his marriage), the mental illness of the father, the frustrated dreams of the father as far as never completing his career studies and never being able to travel abroad, the injustice and prejudice that shamed the mother who was poor and ignorant. Positive) Valeria's professional aspirations are clearly the fulfilment of these unachieved dreams, her method of making up for her mother's shame by striving to be an educated woman, her effort to seek psychological assistance also as a means of "curing" the illness that she had "inherited" from her father12, the religious ideal is also passed on by the conservative and religious parents as an aspiration of redemption from sin (desire and sexuality, which were unspoken taboos within their household). Effectively, the inheritance of the family novel is a method of sin and redemption, being the child in the position of assuming (or rebelling to do so) the mandates and narcissistic aspirations of the previous generation: to fulfil the dreams and make up for the suffering and guilt.
Until this point, we have somewhat outlined what we have previously referred to as the third level of transgenerational phenomena, that is, the position of an individual within a historical chain and a family tale that constitutes the imaginary elements of conscious life. The above mentioned series of values, ideals, aspirations, taboos, etc., make up what we have called the display. This is the outermost layer of analysis, for we have not yet clarified the properly troubling factors: a) The sense of the symptoms; and b) The element of the father's sin that appears as an enigma of inclusion. We shall discuss these matters progressively.
As we penetrate into our analysis of the Symbolic Matter, I would like to highlight the singularity of the "enrolled" signifier in Valeria's discourse, by clarifying that she used the Spanish word "inscribir", which denotes both uses: to be enrolled, and to inscribe as in scripture. On one occasion she pointed out her indignation at coming across drawings of hearts that contained her and Richard's names within. She considered this to be a vile attack by evil persons. When I questioned why she would feel so hurt by a simple tease by her peers, she agitatedly responded: "Because it's not true, and I don't want to be inscrita like that!" In any case, to be "inscrita" denotes attaining a legitimate position through a purely symbolic act: the scripture of a name as related to other signifier(s).
Effectively, to not be enrolled at the University helped her to equate the fantasy of being "inferior" to the assistant. This reveals the first shade of the Oedipal fantasy that she reproduced in accordance with her family novel13; namely, placing herself in the position of the Mother as an object for the desire of the Other. Moreover, the fact of being "inscrita" within a heart along with Richard's name not only irritated her effort to maintain the suspenseful condition of desire (unsatisfied), but also at a more profound level, struck her as preposterous and "false" because she was not really interested in being Richard's woman. And here the second shade of the Oedipal issue is revealed. She was interested in trading places with him (as in their crazy games), and from a masculine position (Identification with the father's Ideals, etc.) relate to the question about the Other woman: by fantasising to be an assistant, she would relate to the Other woman as object a. The stories of Other girls that these assistants would confess were a true source of bliss for Valeria, the guidelines that would instruct her on "what a woman is", and hence her subsequent condemnation: "I want to know nothing... they speak of unholy things". It is interesting that Valeria would get acquainted with the girlfriends of the series of assistants in somewhat 'distant' relations, in which she would regard them with a strange fascination and curiosity, never getting very near, but remaining a silent admirer. Repeatedly in her dreams, there would be at least a slight glimpse of a strange young woman who she didn't recognise but merely admired in awe.
The symbolic matter is ultimately the question of what to do about unconscious desire, to pursue it or to yield. Beyond all the imaginary excuses, she goes to the Faculty to perform her role in the game of tempting desire, of arranging an Oedipal play for the gaze of the Other. Just as in her dreams when she quarrels everybody to pursue something unknown, in waking life she defies her father's command to quit her studies, she defies her friends' advice not to see Richard, etc., because she is focused on unconscious desire. But yet she strives to sustain desire in the threshold of temptation: not fulfilled. Consequently, she escapes the assistant's kiss every time, she faints just before their encounters in the main patio, refuses to be enrolled and inscribed. Following this logic, these elements can be understood in the lines of an acting out, a calling to the desire of the Other as an empty place. All the elements are carefully arranged to set up the drama, and when she approaches desire too nearly, when she seldom feels as if "she has heard too much evil and sin", she falls back onto her thoughts of escape and redemption as a nun.
I would like to point out the peculiarity of the occasion when Valeria fainted just before obtaining her Identification document. We can read this as another vanishing effort not to be inscribed under the Father's name "Mark" (that as we have seen is linked symbolically to her scar, which is a metaphor of castration), and thus a way of saying "I will not give up my pursuit of desire, I will not be inscribed as pertaining to the order of the Mark". The signification of these latter elements, began to attain a clear statute as the subject plunged into analysis. The dreams and "minor incidents" mentioned above can in fact be considered analytical symptoms designed by the subject, offered as a gift for interpretation. Consequently, the initial "incidents" can be brought to light in retrospect (après-coup).
As it seemed, Valeria managed to place herself once and again in the position of being the object of desire, which she would learn how to do by her assiduous listening of the tales about Other girls. But when desire was nearly coming to a closure, censorship would violently precipitate the trance-like states. The paradoxical value of the symptom appears illustrated in the episode when she was found in the University bathroom: She managed to escape the actual encounter with Richard, but at the same time ripped her own clothes off while calling his nickname "Uncle-thing". This is a clear example of the symptom as both a simultaneous defence against, and an acting of the very desire it tries to conceal. It is reasonable to assume a similar episode landed her at the Hospital, as we recall her arriving semi-dressed at the Mental Health Unit.
The harshness of the superego shows in the episode when, coming back from the faculty, she had the "encounter" with her anonymous victimiser. Without completely discarding the possibility of a "real attack", I would incline more towards assuming that this was a severe hallucination. She probably fled a sexual encounter with an assistant that night, after "listening to sinful tales". The avoided encounter was later projected through hallucination in it's most violent scenario, thus the superego censors desire only to push towards a fatal jouissance. Let us bring to mind that following this incident, she dedicated a whole year to fix up dresses and sew them up, which we can interpret as a defensive endeavour against her unconscious fantasy of being undressed by a lustful Other (being his object of desire). Likewise, she thought "someone wanted to sever her ears and hands". We can interpret this strange belief by pointing out her guilt about "listening to sinful tales" at the University, for which the severing of her ears would be a punishment, following of course, the logic of the castration complex which finds it's representation in her infantile memory: As a child she was locked in a room with her sister, and fearing that the mother would never return14, she smashed the window and left a scar on her arm which she links to the father's name.
The above mentioned childhood scene is fundamental in that it links, within the subject's discourse, three crucial aspects: a) Linking an allusion of incision/amputation to the name of her father (Mark) indicates the proper implementation of the symbolic function of the father: castration complex, repression, etc. b) Recall that just before confiding this infantile memory, Valeria was sorrowfully narrating stories of poor people who had nothing to eat. The metonymy of her speech in this occasion logically associates the loss of an oral object to this infantile scene of castration / anxiety related to loss. Therefore, the signification of this particular narrative line: Valeria mourns the loss of an oral object that is logically associated to castration/prohibition. In this situation of being faced with loss, she identifies herself with the scar (the mark) as an effort to find herself a name: castration as the response to the question about her origin. The elucidation of this issue aids us in the understanding of the dire-tainted orality factor in Valeria's speech: Sin and guilt related to smoking, drinking alcohol (as she did in the first "incident" she narrated), kissing, speaking of sex, pronouncing foul words, etc. c) Moreover, her exertion to jump to the window and be seen by the neighbours (the crowd) in this infantile scene remits us to her insistent invocation of the gaze of the Other in her dreams, symptoms, and especially, her fainting episodes. If we carefully consider that in the childhood scene the moment of "exposure to the gaze" (placing herself in the window) is followed by a metaphor of fragmentation (castration, amputation, punishment, loss, etc.), we can recognise the equivalency in her fainting episodes: vanishing (disappearing, being lost) before the gaze of the Other. Logically, considering that the primitive objects of the drive (oral, anal, etc.) are lost by the action and in honour of the Other, Valeria's vanishing precisely when she places herself as the object of the Other's desire attains it's full significance as the expression of a fantome. The invocation of the gaze in her particular discourse is precisely the invocation of the "regulating" Other; the Other who "controls", forbids and castrates, for and by whom the object disappears. Valeria arrived at the hospital having lost all her objects (bag, books, identification card, bible, clothes, etc.), and the description of her trance-like state during her stay illustrates the very loss of her-self: the object vanishes.
Beyond the reference to the myth of Oedipus as an aide for explanation, what we are speaking of is - in it's purest from - a formula: $ <> a. The two shades of the Oedipal issue are nothing but a question about the position to occupy in the formula of the fantome: The ($) subject, or the (a) object. We can perceive that the Hysteric subject expressly relates to both positions in her dilemma of desire15, which Freud pointed out as a relation of Hysteric fantasies and bisexuality [Freud, 1908]. At this point we are approaching the analysis of the Division of the subject. We have identified the presence of a fantome as the matrix of the subject's symptoms, as well as a particular configuration of the oral object within her dilemma.
It would be valuable at this point to comment on her father's strange behaviour, as it has proven to have a tremendous impact in her psychological life. Valeria was constantly preoccupied with her father's conduct, narrating that he constantly mishandled money, quarrelled with neighbours making ludicrous claims such as his household electricity being robbed by them, and often plunged into a "confused state" during which he would leave the house in the early dawn and gather garbage and useless objects that he would later collect in the corners of the rooms in his house. He would become very violent if anybody dared to touch or remove these objects and accepted no criticism. I had the chance to meet him on one occasion, when he visited the hospital during his daughter's initial stay. As we were having a conversation, another patient casually passed behind us speaking to himself. When Mr. Mark saw him, he made the following comment: "That man is crazy, people like him shouldn't have the right to live, I think it would be better if they killed him already and donated all his organs to the hospital for other people". After this, he carried on speaking of her daughter and saying that she shouldn't go to the faculty because it is bad for her. By the information gathered, it seems obvious that this man has issues concerning the handling of objects (losing money, collecting trash, accusing others of robbing him of his objects, etc.). Moreover, his comment on how someone should die by the will of the Other and have his organs (objects) disposed of (removed, lost, distributed, etc.), hints us on a lack of representation regarding death and the loss of objects, which he expresses through his bizarre behaviour and attributes himself the title of "mentally faulty"16. This lack of representation reveals itself as a crypte in the father's life, a broken symbolisation that is inherited by the daughter concerning this dark matter: What to do about the loss of our objects? Are we truly alive, dreaming, or dead? How did this happen to us?
As we can evince, Valeria borrowed the "format" or aesthetics of the father's "trance-like states" and "public scandal" to construct her symptoms. Through these symptoms, however, she expressed her particular symbolic matter and Oedipal drama to pursue desire while maintaining it unfulfilled. The inheritance factor, thus clearly showing at an imaginary level (the format of the symptom), can nevertheless be traced at a more profound level in that through this conduct both Valeria and her father were struggling to reproduce a common crypte. Our analysis has reached a glimpse of the first level of transgenerational phenomena, an inheritance in the form of a fantome: an absence of representation concerning the loss of the object, the death -so to speak- of the original dividend. The matters of death and sexuality are inherent to this predicament, and show their impact in the present case study.
The issue of family secrets reverberating in the following generations shows lucidly in this case: Valeria heard a rumour of her father's sin that was never really clarified, and thus became an enigma of inclusion that she strove to symbolise in her dreams (the strange young woman suggestively whispering in her father's ear) and fantasies. In fact, the ordeal about "something that occurred during 1977 -1979" precisely points at her effort to symbolise what went on immediately before her birth: the father was said to have an affair with a mysterious young woman. As we have seen, she was trying to solve this enigma through her Faculty drama: A desire sparked the father's affair in his youth, at the University. What does the Other desire? How to be the woman that the Other desires? What is a woman? Valeria seemed to be on to this by becoming acquainted with the desires of the assistants.
However, Valeria not only dwelt on this (object) position, but the opposite as well: To be an assistant is to be an active subject, an engineer to handle and produce objects. But this façade was unravelled as she felt the guilt and anguish that handling the forbidden object attains. Drinking alcohol like an assistant at their party was regarded by her as a deadly sin, for which she was now being punished by God, thrown into "a life that seems more like a nightmare". The "dead young man", following her inherited logic of death and the loss of the object, is evidently a myth about castration. Possibly, this construction of a fantasy about a dead man roots from an infantile fantasy about castration: "a woman is castrated, hence a woman is a castrated (dead) man". Although this is a hypothesis, it was suggested by some of Valeria's allusions to childhood and death. A second hypothesis could indicate that through this fantasme, Valeria fabricated a myth of a dead-father (as we know, it was her father who went to the University during the years 77-79), as an attempt to compensate for her father's unconscious culpability and failure concerning the desire which he could not bare: his first love affair and the recognition of a child. A "rebel" father would have been one to trespass the "Dictator's" rules to pursue his desire (compensation for the father's failure), and further, the fact of him being dead promotes her alliance following the Oedipal logic. The struggle to symbolise the father's past shows in her concerns and fantasies. Her symbolic alliance to a dead man shows the Hysteric's effort to sustain an Ideal Father, pushing towards a quest for desire and heeding the prohibition of incest simultaneously.
Nevertheless, beyond the "facts" or fiction that she set herself to symbolise borrowing the elements from her father's past, we can reveal that in the bottom there is an unconscious force pushing to revolve around a question about sexuality, characteristic of the hysteric subject: Who am I, a boy or a girl, a subject or an object, a rebel or a saint? The issue of the fantasised dead man evidently sparks from the imaginary elements of the father's past (whether true or false, it is nevertheless a story), is exported onto a symbolic fantasy about a disappeared rebel, but primarily stems from a crypte regarding death and the lost object a (real).
As we have herewith endeavoured to evidence, the subject has shifted her position concerning her own symbolical experience of life and discourse. The first act of this drama taken into consideration, displays in fact a trance-like state in which the subject, after having lost all her possessions to offer herself as a vanishing object, struggles to eliminate the traces of desire and cloak herself again with the signifiers of the Other's demand. The second act displays a characteristic entry into analysis, where the certainty of the Ego's relationship with "reality" and routine are unsettled by an enigmatic symptom. The third act illustrates a fundamental shift that implies the recognition of a subjective responsibility in her suffering and her own choices. Also, how the symptomatic malign fruits branch out from a dilemma whose bark relates to the phallic signifier and grows from the roots of infantile experiences (fantome). The fourth act shows a transition from a position in which life itself can become entirely enigmatic, to the intent to symbolise an ethical position by constructing a fantasme.
Valeria arrived to the place of a void in all her symbolic parameters, a place where death and sexuality interrogate the subject's condition, it's own vacuity. It was clear that she would never know what "actually happened" to the dead young man, for very possibly he never existed. It is a fantasy, a constructed myth with no name and no face17. However, this fantasy is as well a quest for meaning, an attempt to construct -in the very place of the void- a new parameter of 'self'. "I am a rebel" she declared, as she identified herself with the dead young man. The symbolic implication of this construction of a fantasme seemed to be as well an ethical choice (as she fantasised, "the rebel" died for defying the Dictator, for trying to do something about social injustice). She became focused on communication science (quite clearly a sublimation of orality) and the last time I saw her she seemed more confident than ever, pledging to pursue her dream to help correct what is wrong in society. "To assist the needy, she said, those who have nothing".
It is always surprising that the marvellous paradox which is man, structures his whole life as a balancing act between sin and redemption, temptation and retreat, in which the malign fruit is but a token of exchange between One and anOther. And so far as some pretend to pull the apple from within their pocket, or cloak themselves in it's disguise, the logic of an archaic evil is veiled within a word game that they wish not to lengthen into a sorrowful truth. Valeria wished to hear no evil, and barely managed to speak it, but her history paraded around it and hesitated between dressing herself as the apple that escapes the assistant's bite, or being the man with the engineering tool.
Note: A fictitious name is used within this article in respect of the subject's privacy.
1. S. Freud: "The aetiology of Hysteria" (1896)
2. As detailed in a previous work titled:
"Transgenerational phenomena: a psychological heritage", J.D. Miranda (2003)
3. She first wrote the word "vestido" (dress), immediately correcting herself and replacing it for "vestia" ("bestia" is Spanish for "beast"). On my questioning this fault, she replied that the whole last year she hadn't been leaving her house, and she dedicated her time to sew (fix-up) clothing and dresses. Thus, we have a first connection of signifiers: vestia - vestido, where a dress element seems to be tainted by a ghastly sensation (she described the year of the beast as bad luck). Note that she arrived at the hospital almost undressed.
4. Even the symptom seems to be "borrowed" from her father, which may remind us of Freud's "Dora Case" where the patient's own throat troubles seemed to be an oral symptom borrowed from the father's illness, although at an unconscious level could be traced to her own sexual fantasies and early experiences.
5. I have translated the Spanish word "ayudante" as "assistant", which refers to senior (3rd & 4th year) university students who assist younger students with optional math and chemistry courses. We shall see how this signifier is fundamental in Valeria's discourse.
6. She seemed to have a keen interest in hearing about these Other girls, and enjoyed these stories. Once, during these confidences, a friend of hers compared Valeria to his current girlfriend, to which she reacted violently: "How dare you compare me to her? As if I were in her place?" She left the scene and never forgave him.
7. I have translated the Spanish word "locura", which she would also use to refer to her memory loss and confusion - "incidents".
8. Note how beyond the imaginary value of flirtation, these 'games' portray a "switching of places". This factor shall acquire a clearer statute further on.
9. The in-differentiated, absolute alterity of the "gaze" as a controlling/regulating factor reminds of Freud's strange "Otherness", the Other in it's most abstract and symbolic statute.
10. Idem. 2
11. Following Nestor Braunstein's reading of Lacan, the Name of the Father is a unique signifier intimately related to the interdiction of incest. Its operation marks the objects of desire and their imaginary representatives, conferring them a phallic signification. N. Braunstein: "Goce" (Pg. 74), Siglo veintiuno editores, Mexico, 1990.
12. The father also seemed to precipitate into trance-like periods of confusion, and was also known to provoke scandals in the midst of crowds. We shall discuss how the "format" or appearance of the symptom is borrowed from the father's strange conduct.
13. She was at an "inferior academic level" in relation to Richard, just as her mother was at an "inferior social level" in relation to the father.
14. The fear of abandonment is often strongly related to the primitive fantasme of separation with the mother (recall Freud's famous Fort-da), which marks the loss of the primitive oral object. This early traumatic experience -loss of the imago of the Mother- is the primitive precursor of the castration complex, and particularly shows it's relevance in the female version of the latter complex: anxiety related to a fear of abandonment or the loss of the Other's love.
15. Whereas the Obsessive type would be more keen to sternly deny the passive modality (being in position of object), and pretend to "act as being the Other" (being in position of subject). The strong relation of certain perverse (sadistic) tendencies in obsessive neurosis could be related to this emphasis of the active modality, as well as the relation of hysteria and certain masochistic tendencies linked to the passive modality. In either case, we could speak of the latter as the arcane truth, for it is reminiscent of the child's original condition as an object at the mercy of the Other. Recall how Freud pointed out that underneath an obsessive neurosis lies a hysteric nodule. [Freud, 1896].
16. "Estoy mal de la cabeza" he said to me, a Spanish expression to refer to mental illness.
17.In some cases it is possible to find, for instance, a silenced or un-mourned death within the family history. In this case, as much as I sought to investigate the family history, there was no trace of this "missing link". The fantasy seemed to be a creation with the aim to symbolise issues of death and loss, namely, her construction of a fantasme.