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Neurosis

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French: névrose

Sigmund Freud

Mental Disorder

"Neurosis" is originally a psychiatric term which came to denote, in the eighteenth-century, a whole range of nervous disorders defined by a wide variety of symptoms. Freud uses the term in a number of ways, sometimes as a general term for all mental disorders in his early work, and sometimes to denote a specific class of mental disorders (i.e. in opposiiton to psychosis).

It is a pathological mental condition in which there are no observable lesions in the neuropsychological system. The patient is normally aware of the morbidity of his or her condition and a neurosis can, unlike a psychosis, be treated with the patient's consent. Neurosis is normally understood as a condition such as hysteria in which somatic symptoms are an expression of a psychical conflict originating in childhood. Modern psychoanalysis describes patients presenting obsessional, phobic or hysterical symptoms as neurotic.

Jacques Lacan

Clinical Structure

In Lacan's work, the term neurosis always figures in opposition to psychosis and perversion, and refers not to a set of symptoms but to a particular clinical structure. This use of the term to designate a structure problematizes Freud's distinction between neurosis and normality.

Neurosis and Normality

Freud bases this distinction purely on a quantitative factors ("psychoanalytic research finds no fundamental but only quantitative distinction between normal and neurotic life"[1]) which is not a structural distinction. In structural terms, therefore, there is no distinction between the "normal" subject and the neurotic.

Psychosis and Perversion

This Lacanian nosology identifies three clinical structures: neurosis, psychosis and perversion, in which there is no position of "mental health" which could be called "normal"[2]. The normal structure, in the sense of that which is found in the statistical majority of the population, is neurosis, and "mental health" is an illusory ideal of wholeness which can never be attained because the subject is essentially split. Thus whereas Freud sees neurosis as an illness that can be cured, Lacan sees neurosis as a structure that cannot be altered. The aim of psychoanalytic treatment is therefore not the eradication of the neurosis but the modification of the subject's position vis-à-vis the neurosis.

Hysteria and Obsessional Neurosis

According to Lacan, "the structure of a neurosis is essentially a question."[3]

"Neurosis is a question that being poses for the subject."[4]

The two forms of neurosis -- hysteria and obsessional neurosis -- are distinguished by the content of the question. The question of the hysteric ("Am I a man or a woman?") relates to one's sex, whereas the question of the obsessional neurosis ("To be or not to be?") relates to the contingency of one's own existence. These two questions (the hysterical question about sexual identity, and the obsessional question about death/existence) "are as it happens the two ultimate questions that have precisely no solution in the signifier. This is what gives neurotics this existential value."[5]

Phobia

At times Lacan lists phobia as a neurosis alongside hysteria and obsessional neurosis, thus raising the question of whether there are not two but three forms of neurosis.[6]

See Also

References

  1. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1990a: SE V: 373
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 374-5; Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 163
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.174
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.168
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.190
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.168