DESCRIPTION Psychiatric descriptions of anxiety generally refer to both mental phenomena (apprehension, worry) and bodily phenomena (breathlessnes, palpitations, muscle tension, fatigue, dizziness, sweating and tremor).
Psychiatrists also distinguish between generalised anxiety states, when "free-floating anxiety" is present most of the time, and "panic attacks", which are "intermittent episodes of acute anxiety."
The German term employed by Freud (Angst) can have the psychiatric sense described above, but is by no means an exclusively technical term, being also in common use in ordinary speech.
Freud distinguishes between 'automatic anxiety', when the anxiety arises directly as a result of a traumatic situation, and 'anxiety as signal', when the anxiety is actively reproduced by the ego as a warning of an anticipated situation of danger.
This theme (with its distinctly Kleinian tone) remains an important aspect of Lacan's account of anxiety thereafter, and marks an apparent difference between Lacan and Freud: whereas Freud posits that one of the causes of anxiety is separation from the mother, Lacan argues that it is precisely a lack of such separation which induces anxiety.
"Anxiety, as we know, is always connected with a loss . . . with a two-sided relation on the point of fading away to be superseded by something else, something which the patient cannot face without vertigo."
Lacan argues that anxiety is the radical danger which the subject attempts to avoid at all costs, and that the various subjective formations encountered in psychoanalysis, from phobias to fetishism, are protections against anxiety.
It is at this junction that Hans's real penis makes itself felt in infantile masturbation; anxiety is produced because he can now measure the difference between that for which he is loved by the mother (his position as imaginary phallus) and that which he really has to give (his insignificant real organ).
Hans would have been saved from this anxiety by the castrating intervention of the real father, but this does not happen; the father fails to intervene to separate Hans from the mother, and thus Hans develops a phobia as a substitute for this intervention.
He also argues that the source of anxiety is not always internal to the subject, but can often come from another, just as it is transmitted from one animal to another in a herd; "if anxiety is a signal, it means it can come from another."
This is why the analyst must not allow his own anxiety to interfere with the treatment, a requirement which he is only able to meet because he maintains a desire of his own, the desire of the analyst.
In the seminar of 1962-3, entitled simply 'Anxiety', Lacan argues that anxiety is an affect, not an emotion, and furthermore that it is the only affect which is beyond all doubt, which is not deceptive.
Whereas Freud distinguished between fear (which is focused on a specific object) and anxiety (which is not), Lacan now argues that anxiety is not without an object (n'est pas sans objet); it simply involves a different kind of object, an object which cannot be symbolised in the same way as all other objects.
Even in the usually comforting experience of seeing one's reflection in the mirror there can occur a moment when the specular image is modified and suddenly seems strange to us.
In this way, Lacan links anxiety to Freud's concept of the uncanny.
Whereas the seminar of 1962-3 is largely concerned with Freud's second theory of anxiety (anxiety as signal), in the seminar of 1974-5 Lacan appears to return to the first Freudian theory of anxiety (anxiety as transformed libido).
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge 1972-1973. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. pp. 6-7
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