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American Imago 60.4 (2003) 529-535

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Living Death and the "Psychosomatic Phenomenon"

Roberto P. Neuburger

"Here we call law that which is properly articulated at the level of the signifier, in other words, the text of the law. It is not the same thing to say that a person must be there to support the authenticity of the word, as to say that there is something that authorizes the text of the law. . . . This is what I call the Name-of-the-Father, that is to say, the symbolic father."

—Jacques Lacan, The Formations of the Unconscious

A consultation regarding a female in-patient is requested by the Department of Medicine. Her psoriasis stretches from head to toe; her body is a red, bare heap of flesh that she hides beneath the sheets. But there is not a trace of anguish. I sit next to her, and she receives me indifferently rather than calmly. She already knew I was going to interview her. The person who requested the consultation was her own father, a physician in the same hospital. I knew very little of her up to that moment: she is separated, has four children, lives with them and with her mother, and does not work. She has never requested any psychological help; there have been no attempts at treatment. Besides, everything's fine. Shutters closed, impossible to go forward.

A little later I try once more. Even worse: there is no outright refusal, but she says that she is shivering and needs to cover herself with even more blankets (it was an exceedingly hot day). The staff notes that the only one who occasionally visits her is her father. I telephone him and we arrange a time to meet. [End Page 529]

His willingness to narrate the family history is quite the opposite to his daughter's reticence. He gives an overwhelming amount of detail. The woman he married had left her former husband as soon as she discovered the latter's bisexual nature. The current couple were married abroad as her divorce had not been legally settled. She then immediately became pregnant, and the patient's father asked his new wife to have an abortion. She resolutely refused and the pregnancy progressed, a primordial event that both their daughters would repeat literally.

The woman was studying law and had only one remaining examination prior to graduating. Her whole family arranged celebratory drinks at the restaurant across from the Faculty for the day of her graduation-to-be. Upon the successful outcome of the exam, the ceremony indeed took place.

Some time later, an acquaintance disclosed to the doctor that, in actuality, his wife was not a lawyer at all. The party was nothing but a masquerade: the woman had abandoned her studies during the course of the second year. Following this revelation, bounced checks began to flood in, along with debts, unpaid loans, mortgages, all signed by the wife.

In the meantime, the patient's father had perchance come into contact with a very powerful political figure. As a consequence, his career took an altogether successful turn since prospects of well-remunerated work had now opened up for him. One by one, he paid off his wife's numerous debts. This, of course, did not prevent her from contracting yet others. Along the way, they lost several properties, items of furniture, and other objects. Finally, he left her and started another relationship. Closing his narrative, he adds that he feels depressed and is determined to ask for professional help. Immediately upon leaving the interview, he seeks out a hospital psychologist of his acquaintance and requests a consultation with her. 1

The elder daughter got pregnant at the age of fifteen by a casual boyfriend of whom her father disapproved and against whom he had advised her. Both men asked her to have an abortion. As might have been anticipated, she refused. The young man immediately disappeared from the scene and the [End Page 530] father took charge of the birth and the corresponding expenses. He bought her a dwelling and...


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pp. 529-535
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