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  • Where Freud Was, There Lacan Shall Be: Lacan and the Fate of Transference
  • Daniel Dervin

Wordsworth found in stones the sermons he had hidden there.

—Oscar Wilde

Serious readers of Jacques Lacan all find themselves sooner or later grappling with the nature of his Freudian encounter: whether and in what ways he read Freud into himself or himself into Freud. Was Lacan the humble “herald” trumpeting the return to an oracular genius or, more darkly, the renegade Lucifer usurping the Almighty’s voice? (Lacan 1977, 114, 121)

Signs of influence clearly abound—from imitation to subversion and inversion—resonating along those lines first systematically explored in Harold Bloom’s (1973) anxiety-of-influence theories about belated sons struggling with strong father-poets. This paradigm of the creative process, however, condenses to oedipal issues facing the poet qua poet in a cultural tradition exempting personal history; only insofar as Bloom rather whimsically considers Freud a strong poet and Lacan foregrounds linguistic constructions of the unconscious, does a literary model seem apropos here. But given Freud’s fathering a radical method to interpret everyone’s generational conflicts and Lacan’s coming of age amidst unparalleled self-scrutiny, a pursuit of the deeper sources of influence within a transference ambience promises the more inclusive approach.

There are key historical precedents for discerning transference phenomena among analysts outside the analytic setting, notably Jung’s confessing to Freud feelings that were assuming the “character of a ‘religious’ crush,” and a memory of having been the “victim of a sexual assault by a man I once worshipped” (Kerr 1994; Dervin 1996, 235). Otto Rank also [End Page 347] admitted to Freud after a depressive episode en route to Paris “that his theory about the trauma of birth was derived from an unconscious wish he had detected in himself to be born from his [Viennese] father’s head like Athena” (Jones 1957, 73). More systematically, Roustang (1982) has applied oedipal models to examine the basic dilemma of loyalty versus autonomy among successive generations of analysts; but he delves only into the mesmerizing transferences of Lacanians to their master, not those of Lacan to Freud—our present focus.

More helpfully, Roudinesco (1990) notes that Lacan’s reading of Freud “established a new transferential bond between text and reader” (134). Lacan himself reasoned that since psychoanalysts “constitute that to which the unconscious is addressed,” their discourses must also be “thrown into question” (though on reflection he exempted his own instance of the “teacher when he addresses psychoanalysts” [1964A, 26–5]). An influence-by-transference approach then will extrapolate from biograpy and texts alike, allowing seemingly loose and disconnected threads to weave together underlying themes.

We may begin with one odd strand of personal history. In 1931, Lacan was completing his doctoral thesis as an intern under the wing of the “celebrated psychiatrist, theoretician of ‘erotomania,’ [and] expert in the mechanics of paranoia,” Gaetan Clérambault, he of the withering gaze and lazer-sharp interview (Roudinesco 1990, 105). The young intern was also writing for the Surrealists, meeting with Dali to discuss the new paranoiac art theories (these played with the “multiple image” and the “delirious” rather than the persecutory [Jean 1980, 270]; on psychoanalysis and the surrealists, see D. Kaplan 1995). Having by then also sampled Freud, Lacan initiated in 1932 a training analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein, and worked on his doctoral thesis.

Stemming from his work with a mental patient, the thesis combined a “hybrid method” of “directed psychotherapy,” with vivid narration (Roudinesco 1990, 112). The patient, “Aimée,” had drawn a knife on a famous actress on whom Aimée had become erotomanically fixated. Aimée was also an aspiring writer, and in researching her family history, Lacan read her own manuscripts along with the authors she had read. This [End Page 348] approach not only marked a break from traditional psychiatry but in the course of writing, Lacan in his biographer’s eyes “transformed himself and acquired an identity as a psychoanalyst and theorist.” The completed thesis, De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personalité, fell short of a psychoanalysis, but was sent to Freud and acknowledged with a post-card: “Thank you for...

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