Anxiety

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anxiety (angoisse) Anxiety has long been recognised in psychiatry as

   one of the most common symptoms of mental disorder. Psychiatric descrip-
   tions 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' (Hughes, 1981: 48-9).
       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 developed two theories of anxiety
   during the course of his work. From 1884 to 1925 he argued that neurotic
   anxiety is simply a transformation of sexual libido that has not been adequately
   discharged. In 1926, however, he abandoned this theory and argued instead
   that anxiety   was  a reaction to    a 'traumatic situation'      -   an experience of
   HELPLESSNEss in the face of an accumulation of excitation that cannot be
   discharged. Traumatic situations      are precipitated by 'situations of danger'
   such as birth, loss of the mother as object, loss of the object's love and,
   above all, castration. 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.
       Lacan, in his pre-war writings, relates anxiety primarily to the threat of
   fragmentation with which the subject is confronted in the mirror stage (see
   FRAGMENTED BODY). It is only long after the mirror stage, he argues, that these
   fantasies of bodily dismemberment coalesce around the penis, giving rise to
   castration anxiety (Lacan, 1938: 44). He also links anxiety with the fear of
   being engulfed by the devouring mother. 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.
       After 1953, Lacan comes increasingly to articulate anxiety with his concept
   of the real, a traumatic element which remains external to symbolisation, and
   hence which lacks any possible mediation. This real is 'the essential object
    which isn't an object any longer, but this something faced with which all
    words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence' (S2,
   164).
       As well    as linking anxiety with the real, Lacan also locates it in the
   imaginary order and contrasts it with guilt, which he situates in the symbolic
   (Lacan, 1956b: 272-3). '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, 1956b: 273).
       In the seminar of 1956-7 Lacan goes on to develop his theory of anxiety
   further, in the context of his discussion of PHOBIA. 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 (S4, 23). Anxiety is thus present in
   all neurotic structures, but is especially evident in phobia (E, 321). Even a

phobia is preferable to anxiety (S4, 345); a phobia at least replaces anxiety

(which is terrible precisely because it is not focused on a particular object but

   revolves around an absence) with fear (which is focused on a particular object
   and thus may be symbolically worked-through) (S4, 243-6).
      In his analysis of the case of Little Hans (Freud, 1909b), Lacan argues that
   anxiety arises at that moment when the subject is poised between the imagin-
   ary preoedipal triangle and the Oedipal quaternary. 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) (S4, 243). Anxiety is this point
   where the subject is suspended between a moment where he no longer knows
   where he is and a future where he will never again be able to refind himself
   (S4, 226). 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. Once again, what emerges from Lacan's
   account of Little Hans is that it is not separation from the mother which gives
   rise to anxiety, but failure to separate from her (S4, 319). Consequently,
   castration, far from being the principal      source of anxiety, is actually what
   saves the subject from anxiety.
       In the seminar of 1960-1 Lacan stresses the relationship of anxiety to desire;
   anxiety is a way of sustaining desire when the object is missing and, con-
   versely, desire is a remedy for anxiety, something easier to bear than anxiety
   itself (S8, 430). 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' (S8, 427). 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 (S8,
   430).
       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 (see also Sl l, 41). 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. This object is
      objet petit a, the object-cause of desire, and anxiety appears when something
      appears in the place of this object. Anxiety arises when the subject is
      confronted by the desire of the Other and does not know what object he is
      for that desire.
          It is also in this seminar that Lacan links anxiety to the concept of lack. All
      desire arises from lack, and anxiety arises when this lack is itself lacking;
      anxiety is the lack of a lack. Anxiety is not the absence of the breast, but its
      enveloping presence; it is the possibility of its absence which is, in fact, that
       which  saves   us from anxiety. Acting out and passage to the act            are last
      defences against anxiety.
          Anxiety is also linked to the mirror stage. 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 (Freud, 1919h).
          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).
      Thus he comments that anxiety is that which exists in the interior of the body
       when the body is overcome with phallic jouissance (Lacan, 1974-5: seminar of
       17 December 1974).


References