To resume again...

Reflections on the Formal Envelope of the Symptom

Infancy: Boys/Girls

The Certainty of Hysteria

Sacrifice and our Destiny


Angel Atrapado X

Interview with
Suzan Etkin

Interview with
Meyer Vaisman

Jenny Watson


The Certainty of Hysteria




Watson image


I will introduce the first of these issues by what I have learned about it from a subject, an uptight patient, Y.A.R.V.I.S., as the Americans say: Young, Attractive, Rich, Verbal, Intelligent, and Sociable. She is young enough, indeed she is four years old. She came to see me because she was going through an uneasy stage crystallized around a fear of falling and by a series of nightmares about which she cannot really describe the contents. She has a little sister, two years old, who is according to the mother, the trouble. About this trouble there are two interpretations: for the mother the cause of the uneasiness is linked to an involuntary miscarriage that occurred between the two children's births; that dead child would recurrently disturb the sleep of the subject, whom we shall call Hélène. Hélène herself tells me that she is afraid, but afraid of falling from a little bench. She also informs me that she is named Hélène — and she is very proud of it — after her grandmother, a prominent figure in her family, who had just died. When I asked her how her grandmother had died, she specifies that it was in falling from a stepladder. And she explains to me this difficult word, in case I didn't know it: a stepladder is a little bench. There ended our first meeting.
I would like to make two immediate remarks: the first is that the so-called familial discourse gets misplaced in the belief that it is about facts — it's about interpretations. And the subject may have another. That's the case here. We may agree that both versions seem right, but we should place them correctly. What the little girl says to me is that she situates her trouble in an identification with a trait levied from the Other, the dead grandmother. Her mother locates her daughter's trouble on the horizon of an Imaginary axis where a dead child is found in relation to whom she positions herself.
Thanks to what this little girl says to me, I consider the symptom should assuredly not be taken as phobic, but strictly speaking as hysteric.
The transferential bearing confirms this: at the end of the session the girl's mother will report to me what Hélène confides to her: "The Gentleman is very nice, but too old for me to marry." The mother/daughter rivalry is thus firmly in place.
Three stages deserve to be differentiated in this analysis. In the first Hélène constantly brings to the sessions a stuffed animal as big as she is, which she beats, thrashes, mistreats in all possible ways — the stuffed animal clearly is identified with her sister. This game is alleviated at one session. Identified with her sister she plays the two year old girl, as only a four and a half year old girl may imagine it. It is only at the end of the session that she is willing to admit that she would always be two years older than her sister — and she is really sorry about that. She could now articulate her nightmare: "Thieves find their way into the house and throw objects out the window, pencils, paper, pens," she says — listing the objects she sees on my desk. The story comes to an end on a negation: "The thieves don't throw my little sister out the window."
Second stage. The après coup of the above negation introduces a new sequence. At the outcome of a session, where she is just empty word, she snatches a scrap of paper from my desk, scribbling on it, and dashes, triumphantly towards her awaiting mother, handing her the paper: "I made a drawing for you: it's a dead child in a box." The mother instantly pales with anxiety; the child is delighted to send back to its destination this message weighing upon her.
Then a new sequence opens, during which she endlessly draws boxes, bellies of mother animals. She enumerates the bestiary recognized by our urban children, which contains a good number of exotic animals. The baby, sometimes next to the box- belly, or still in an ambulance, where one puts children who are about to be born or who are injured — for example from falling out windows. The animal sequence is enriched by a character who sums up the thieves, the bad guy. In fact in her building, as in many buildings, there are problems with the doorman. This doorman doesn't like animals, and is suspected of leaving out poisoned meat which has an effect on all the cats able to wander around there. This guy has just killed the cat from an apartment familiar to Hélène. She introduces, in the après coup of this fact, a drawing: it is a box in which there is a birthday cake and a dog — a dog whose tail she is about to cut.
The calculation allowing for the introduction of the detachable object, linked however to the oral object in this poisoned birthday gift, introduces the third sequence. She could now speak of her father, who "wouldn't be happy" if she didn't draw better. This father is introduced in a position of essential discontent. These boxes containing live animals, she finally begins to present them as containing living children. She said, besides, these boxes are trees at the foot of which mushrooms grow. In the little mushroom which sprouts at the foot of the trees she recognizes easily the little organ she saw at her cousins and boys — which brings her to dream of a white onion: this onion is an egg; from it emerges a chicken, a swallow. After that presentation of the couple of imaginary children she promises herself, she will stop drawing boxes. She will now draw semblances of writing.
Symptoms are relieved. She is well, according to her entourage. Summer vacation separates us. I didn't see her again for a year. She returned to see me in a short moment of anxiety: encountering some boys in a square she asks herself if they weren't thieves. And with her best friend, they both became intensely restless.
This incident therefore starts a new series of short sessions, in which she insists in bringing her father with her, distracting him from his many occupations in order to interest him in her. This sequence ends by the fact that one fine day she announces that she would prefer to attend the birthday of the chosen one of her heart, rather than come to her session. So that she could devote herself to the task of detaching her minion from the group of boys who diverts him about his true occupations.
I don't really see what can prevent me from saying in this case that the subject is an hysteric. And I don't see how else to designate this support which she draws on the desire of the Other. She took this support, centered on the love of such a father, thoroughly unsatisfied, to whom she avows to sustain the desire — it is around this that she reaches a conclusion about her choice of desire.



* Actes de l'École de la Cause freudienne, NºIX, Les formes du symptôme, 1985. back to top

Art: Jenny Watson, Domestication, oil on fabric, 1991, courtesy of Annina Nosei Gallery.


Subscribe to Lacanian Ink click here.