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Jacques Lacan. The Neurotic’s Individual Myth

I bring you a series of experiential facts which I will present as examples of those formations we observe in the living experience of the subjects we accept for analysis, neurotic subjects, for instance, and which are familiar to all those for whom the analytic experience is not entirely alien. These formations require us to make certain structural modifications in the Oedipal myth, inasmuch as it is at the heart of the analytic experience, which correlates with the progress we ourselves are making in understanding the analytic experience. These changes permit us, on a second level, to grasp the fact that underlying all analytic theory is the fundamental conflict which, through the mediation of rivalry with the father, binds the subject to an essential, symbolic value. But this binding always occurs, as you will see, in conjunction with an actual debasement, perhaps as a result of particular social circumstances, of the father figure. [Analytic] experience itself extends between this consistently debased image of the father and an image our practice enables us more and more to take into account and to judge when it occurs in the analyst himself: although it is veiled and almost denied by analytic theory, the analyst nevertheless assumes almost surreptitiously, in the symbolic relationship with the subject, the position of this figure dimmed in the course of history, that of the master—the moral master, the master who initiates the one still in ignorance into the dimension of fundamental human relationships and who opens for him what one might call the way to moral consciousness, even to wisdom, in assuming the human condition.

If we proceed from the definition of myth as a certain objectified representation of an epos or as a chronicle expressing in an imaginary way the fundamental relationships characteristic of a certain mode of being human at a specific period, if we understand it as the social manifestation—latent or patent, virtual or actual, full or void of meaning—of this mode of being, then it is certain that we can trace its function in the actual experience of a neurotic. Experience reveals to us, in fact, all sorts of instantiations which fit this pattern and which, strictly speaking, one may call myths; and I am going to demonstrate this to you in an example I think will be familiar to all of you who are interested in these questions, one which I will borrow from one of Freud’s great case histories.

These case histories periodically enjoy a renewal of interest in academia, but that did not prevent one of our eminent colleagues from revealing recently—I heard it from his own mouth—something like contempt for them. Their technique, he said, is as clumsy as it is antiquated. One could, after all, maintain that position if one considers the progress we have made in our awareness of the intersubjective relationship and in our limitation of interpretation to the relationships established between us and the subject in the immediacy of the analytic session. But should my interlocutor have gone so far as to say that Freud’s cases were ill chosen? To be sure, one may say that they are all incomplete and that many of them are analyses broken off midway, fragments of analysis. But that in itself ought to move us to reflect and to ask ourselves why Freud made this selection. All that, of course, if one has confidence in Freud. And one must have confidence in him.

It is not enough to say, as the person whose remarks I have reported to you continued, that this [incompleteness] certainly has at least one heartening aspect: that of demonstrating that one small grain of truth somewhere suffices to allow it to show through and emerge in spite of the obstacles posed by the presentation. I do not consider that an accurate view of things. In fact, the tree of daily practice hid from my colleague the forest which rises up from Freud’s texts.

I have chosen “The Rat Man” to present to you, and I think I am now in a position to justify Freud’s interest in this case.

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