Fascination commonly refers to the act of fascinating or of being fascinated. To fascinate is to immobilize by the power of the gaze; as well as to charm, enchant, dazzle, or even attract or capture someone else's gaze. In psychoanalysis the concept was used by Sigmund Freud to refer to the bondage of love. He used this term to refer to the paralysis of critical faculties, the dependence, docile submission, and credulity that occur when in love, which he compared to what occurs in the relationship between hypnotist and hypnotized. The term appears for the first time in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). Fascination, or love bondage, is the term Freud uses to describe the most extreme developments of being in love. It is possible that he borrowed the term from Gustave Le Bon, whom he quotes and who had noted, in Psychologie des Foules, that the individual in a crowd arrives at a particular state that approximates the fascination of the hypnotized for the hypnotist. Although the first occurrence of the term fascination appears to date from 1921, what Freud describes is the result of earlier considerations that quickly led him to associate being in love with the hypnotic state. Already in 1890, in his article "Psychical, or Mental, Treatment," (1890a) referring to the docility, obedience, and credulity of the hypnotized individual, he had noted that in a situation of this type "subjection on the part of one person towards another has only one parallel, though a complete one—namely in certain love-relationships where there is extreme devotion." In 1910, in a note added to Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), he again points out this connection. In 1918, in "The Taboo of Virginity," (1918a) he discusses the question of "sexual bondage," the expression used by Richard von Krafft-Ebing to define the state of subjugation, dependence, and loss of will experienced during the course of a sexual relationship. In 1921, what he describes with the term fascination is, therefore, not new, any more than the concordance he establishes between this state and that of hypnosis: the same paralysis of critical faculties, the same docility, the same submission toward the loved object or the hypnotist. These findings open the way to the problem of the imaginary relationship of the self to the loved Other or the authority figure, and lead one to believe that fascination is essential to the constitution of the ego—a thesis put forward by Jacques Lacan. The function of the gaze is central to fascination, so it is surprising that the term doesn't appear in the 1922 article on "Medusa's Head" (1940c). The phenomenon is similar to the paralysis (of thought, judgment, and the body) caused, in the myth, by the encounter with the Gorgon. Here mortal hypnotic fascination reaches its apogee. The power of the gaze is the bearer and vector of the "omnipotence of thought," like the phenomenon of the "evil eye" Freud had analyzed in 1919 in "The 'Uncanny"' (1919h). It is also surprising that although, in 1916, he presents the goddess Baubo as a representation of castration, or interprets the Medusa's head, along with Sándor Ferenczi, as a representation of the female genital organs and more specifically the mother, he never explicitly raises the question of fascination and what can cause it, namely, the sight of the female genitals and the representation of castration they bring to mind.
- Freud, Sigmund. (1890a). Psychical (or mental) treatment. SE, 7: 281-302.
- ——. (1905a). On psychotherapy. SE, 7: 255-268.
- ——. (1918a). The taboo of virginity. SE, 11: 191-208.
- ——. (1919h). The "uncanny." SE, 17: 217-256.
- ——. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.
- ——. (1940c). Medusa's head. SE, 18: 273-274.
- Lacan, Jacques. (1975). Le Séminaire-Livre I, LesÉcrits techniques de Freud (1954-1955). Paris: Le Seuil.