The case concerns an obsessional neurosis. All who are concerned with psychoanalysis have heard about what we consider to be the source and structure of this neurosis, specifically the aggressive tensions, the instinctual fixation, etc. Progress in analytic theory has provided as a basis for our understanding of obsessional neurosis an extremely complex genetic elaboration; and it is certain that some element or some phase or other of the phantasmatic or imaginary themes that we habitually meet in the analysis of an obsessional neurosis will also be found in a reading of “The Rat Man.” But this reassuring effect that familiar, popular ideas always have for those who read or learn may mask for the reader the originality of this case history and its especially significant and persuasive character.
As you know, this case takes its title from a totally fascinating fantasy which has, in the psychology of the attack that brings the subject to the analyst, an obvious function as precipitating factor. This story of a punishment which has always been strongly spotlighted—indeed, it enjoys real celebrity—includes the thrusting of a rat stimulated by artificial means into the rectum of the victim by means of a more or less ingenious apparatus. His first hearing of this story produces in the subject a state of fascinated horror which does not precipitate his neurosis but rather actualizes its motifs and produces anxiety. There ensues a whole elaboration whose structure we shall examine.
This fantasy is certainly essential to the theory of the determinism of the neurosis, and it can be found in numerous themes throughout the case history. But is that to say that its only interest lies in this fantasy? Not only do I not believe that, but I am sure that, with a careful reading, one will perceive that the principal interest of this case lies in its extreme particularity.
As always, Freud emphasized that each case ought to be studied in its particularity, exactly as if we were completely ignorant of theory. And what constitutes the particularity of this case is the manifest, visible character of the relationships involved. The particular value of this case as a model derives from its simplicity, in the same way one may speak of a particular example in geometry as having a dazzlingly superior clarity when compared with a demonstration where, by reason of its discursive character, the truth remains veiled in the shadows of a long sequence of deductions.
Here is what constitutes the originality of the case, as will appear to any reasonably attentive reader.
The constellation—why not? in the sense astrologers use it—the original constellation that presided over the birth of the subject, over his destiny, and I would almost say his prehistory, specifically the fundamental family relationships which structured his parents’ union, happens to have a very precise relation, perhaps definable by a transformational formula, with what appears to be the most contingent, the most phantasmatic, the most paradoxically morbid in his case, that is, the last state of development of his great obsessive fear, the imaginary scenario he arrives at as a resolution of the anxiety associated with the precipitation of the outbreak.
The subject’s constellation is made up, within the family tradition, by a narration of a certain number of traits which characterize the parents’ union.