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Desire is Mimetic: A Clinical Approach Jean-Michel Oughourlian Université de Besançon, American Hospital ofParis What is the clinical expression ofmimetic desire? Rivalry. What I see every day in my practice is not mimicking, nor copying, nor learning; it is rivalry. Rivalry is recurrent, it repeats itself. The repetition syndrome identified by psychoanalysis is mimetic for two reasons: 1) because it is always the clinical expression of a rivalry and that rivalry is always mimetic; 2) because it reproduces itself, duplicates itself, imitating the circumstances of the first rivalry and always looking for an impossible victory. That victory is impossible, since it stems from a situation which mimics the circumstances of defeat. But those circumstances are the only ones of interest, since the only battle worth winning is the one that has every chance to be lost. Mimetic rivalry (as I have tried to show elsewhere1) is always rooted in one ofthe two following claims: the claim ofthe selffor the ownership of its own desire; and the claim of desire for its anteriority, its seniority over the other's desire, the other desire that has generated it, on which it is modeled. Clinically, the self and the desire are going to develop various strategies to ascertain those two claims. The interdividual psychotherapy has to diagnose the nodal points of the mimetic conflict. It has to see ' See Jean-Michel Oughourlian, The Puppet ofDesire: The Psychology ofHysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis, trans. Eugene Webb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). Ed. 44Jean-Michel Oughourlian through the clinical variety of strategies and symptoms to the essential unity ofthe two claims underlying it. Let me give a few examples. Vengeance As we know, violence is mimetic. When violence cannot be immediately retaliated, imitated, duplicated, the energy for that retaliation is saved for later use. The more humiliating the violence, the greater the stored-up energy. Humiliation, in turn, stems from weakness: the humiliation of a child raped by an adult, ofa civilian beaten up by soldiers, ofa poor person insulted by a rich one, or, generally speaking, ofthe weak overpowered by the strong. Ifa weak person is the perpetrator ofthe first violence, it does not generate humiliation and, most ofthe time, does not entail vengeance. When an angered child kicks an adult, for example, this usually produces laughter rather than violence precisely because the child is smaller and weaker. As time goes by, the energy of postponed or deferred violence accumulates and increases. Clinically, it manifests itself in two ways: as a feeling ofhatred; and as a strength, a drive, a compulsive desire to destroy which will animate the offended and organize all his efforts in view ofthe vengeance that will set him free. The mimetic retaliation ofviolence will drive him until that retaliation is accomplished. In my experience, all the young girls who were raped by their fathers could not restore their mental health and psychological balance unless they were able, in one way or another, to avenge themselves. In the absence of such revenge, the enormous energy built up throughout their childhood and adolescence produced psychological symptoms which last for a lifetime. One such example is a patient, Miss L., 35 years old, who seeks treatment for alcoholism. It is a strange type ofalcoholism: each time, she must enter a meeting and speak before a group of people—and especially if her boss is in the group—she goes to the bathroom and drinks white rum from a hidden bottle. She has been in psychoanalysis for the past 12 years with no significant results. The history of her malady shows that she has wide mood swings, ups and downs often labeled as manic-depressive. Very quickly I see that she has stored within herself an enormous amount of violence which is fairly well controlled, but which manifests itselfthrough different types of aggressive behavior, especially towards men. A few sessions later, she finally tells me that she had been raped by her father and, as a consequence, that her parents had divorced. She was then obliged to remain with her father and take care ofhim. Psychoanalysis, of course, has Desire is Mimetic: A Clinical Approach45 commented extensively on the actual achievement ofher oedipal...


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