Repetition

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repetition (rÈpÈtition) Freud's most important discussion of the repeti-

tion compulsion (Wiederholungszwang) occurs in Beyond the Pleasure Prin-

ciple (1920g) where he links it to the concept of the DEATH DREVE. Freud posited

the existence of a basic compulsion to repeat in order to explain certain clinical

data: namely, the tendency of the subject to expose himself again and again to

distressing situations. It is a basic principle of psychoanalysis that a person is

only condemned to repeat something when he has forgotten the origins of the

compulsion, and that psychoanalytic treatment can therefore break the cycle of

repetition by helping the patient remember (see Acting Out).

     In Lacan's pre-1950s work, the concept of repetition is linked with that of

the COMPLEX - an internalised social structure which the subject repeatedly and

compulsively re-enacts. At this time Lacan often translates Freud's Wiederho-

lungszwang as automatisme de rÈpÈtition, a term borrowed from French

psychiatry (Pierre Janet, GaÎtan Gatian de ClÈrambault).

     While Lacan never completely abandons the term automatisme de rÈpÈti-

tion, in the 1950s he increasingly uses the term 'insistence' (Fr. instance) to

refer to the repetition compulsion. Thus repetition is now defined as the

insistence of the signifier, or the insistence of the signifying chain, or the

insistence of the letter (l'instance de la lettre); 'repetition is fundamentally

the insistence of speech' (S3, 242). Certain signifiers insist on returning in

the life of the subject, despite the resistances which block them. In scHEMA L,

repetitionlinsistence is represented by the axis A-S, while the axis a-a'

represents the resistance (or 'inertia') which opposes repetition.

     In the 1960s, repetition is redefined as the return of jouissance, an excess of

enjoyment which returns again and again to transgress the limits of the

 PLEASURE PRINCIPLE and seek death (S17, 51).
     The repetition compulsion manifests itself in analytic treatment in the

TRANSFERENCE, whereby the analysand repeats in his relationship to the analyst

certain attitudes which characterised his earlier relationships with his parents

and others. Lacan lays great emphasis on this Symbolic aspect of transference,

distinguishing it from the Imaginary dimension of transference (the affects of

love and hate) (S8, 204). However, Lacan points out that although the

repetition compulsion manifests itself perhaps most clearly in the transfer-

 ence, it is not in itself limited to the transference; in itself, 'the concept of

repetition has nothing to do with the concept of transference' (Sll, 33).

Repetition is the general characteristic of the signifying chain, the manifesta-

tion of the unconscious in every subject, and transference is only a very special



form of repetition (i.e. it is repetition within psychoanalytic treatment),

which cannot simply be equated with the repetition compulsion itself (S8,

208).