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Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. The Shell and the Kernel. Vol. 1. Ed., trans., and intro. Nicholas T. Rand. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.
Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok. Questions à Freud: Du Devenir de la Psychanalyse. Paris: Belles Lettres-Archimbaud, 1995.
Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok. “Questions to Freudian Psychoanalysis: Dream Interpretation, Reality, Fantasy.” Trans. Rand. Critical Inquiry 19.3 (1993): 567–94. [“QFP”]

Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable and immortal elements of life, which, having once been, can never die, though they blend and change and change again for ever.

—H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.

—Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel

1. Prologue

Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok may be best known for advancing a theory of transgenerational haunting. According to this theory, repressed secrets are passed from one generation to the next if they are “encrypted” as unprocessed and traumatic information. Before Abraham’s death in 1975, he and Torok saw their analytic role as reparative: Encouraging their analysands to mourn repressed secrets, they hoped to transform their analysands’ perspectives on family history.

Abraham and Torok quickly became known for expanding Freud’s emphasis on the subject’s conflicting desires and identifications. From 1968 on, when Abraham published “L’écorce et le noyau” (“The Shell and the Kernel”) as an extended review of Laplanche and Pontalis’s The Language of Psychoanalysis, he and Torok published their claims in cheerful defiance of Freudian orthodoxy, acquiring a reputation in France—and, later, in England and the United States—for shattering such “doctrinaire” elements of psychoanalysis [End Page 3] as the Oedipus complex and death drive, penis envy, and the primal scene, as well as for criticizing Lacan’s alleged stranglehold on psychoanalysis in France and much of Europe. 1 After publishing L’écorce et le noyau (1987), a collection of their essays (many coauthored), and a radically new interpretation of Freud’s patient “the Wolf Man,” Cryptonymie: Le verbier de l’homme aux loups (1976; trans. The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy), Abraham and Torok were championed in Europe and the United States by theorists delighted to see a “poststructuralist” critique of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Ironically, Abraham and Torok’s work received almost comparable support from analytical philosophers eager to denounce Freud’s “unscientific” precepts.

Now that the first volume of Abraham and Torok’s essays has appeared in translation, non-Francophone readers have an opportunity to assess what Abraham and Torok contributed to psychoanalysis and to revisit the debates they staged with Freud and Lacan in the 1970s and—posthumously for Abraham—in the ‘80s. Reviewing this collection is not a simple task, however, because its conceptual interests are so diverse and because Torok’s coauthored work with Abraham differs radically from the essays and book she published recently with Nicholas Rand, editor and translator of The Shell and the Kernel. Rand’s interventions confirm Torok’s latest arguments but they also, occasionally, misleadingly frame the older work in terms of the new. Readers may therefore see Rand’s editorial notes and introduction as guides to how he and Torok now view Torok’s collaboration with Abraham. We can only speculate whether Abraham would have interpreted the collaboration the same way. 2

How does Abraham and Torok’s account of psychic “encryptment” differ from Freud’s model of repression? Assessing their revision of Freud’s metapsychological project, Abraham and Torok declare, “It would be presumptuous indeed to allege that we have reached our goal. Yet it would be false modesty to deny our suspicion that we are finally entering an open road” [140]. 3 Echoing Freud’s conviction that in dreams he had discovered “the royal road to the unconscious,” Abraham and Torok encourage a comparative reading of their psychoanalytic “road” and Freud’s. The following essay undertakes this reading, but it also speculates on what Freud’s and Lacan’s emphasis on [End Page 4] psychic difficulty adds to Abraham and Torok’s theory of transgenerational haunting. Since Abraham and Torok ask, “Who among us is not battling with specters that implore Heaven and demand of us their due, while we are beholden to them for our own salvation?” [139–40], I shall claim—following Kamuf [42]—that Abraham and Torok dramatize not only the “specter” of Freud’s legacy but a pressing, political question about our ability to rid ourselves of the past.

2. The Terms of a Cure

The Shell and the Kernel does not simply wrestle with the reign of “French Freud”; Abraham and Torok’s diverse essays present a model of consciousness, language, and symptom formation radically different from most continental and poststructuralist accounts of subjectivity. Abraham differs slightly from Torok in his claims about psychoanalysis’s capacity to resolve psychic conflicts, but both analysts ultimately present psychoanalysis as a curative profession, in which the analysand is able—with the analyst’s prompting—to “retrieve” blocked dimensions of consciousness [16–17]. Concluding their 1975 essay “The Lost Object—Me,” Abraham and Torok write, “We . . . hope that . . . the treasures which lie buried in crypts will become the delight of their owner and can be made to work for the benefit of us all” [156].

Abraham and Torok do not dispute the fact of psychic trauma, but they differ in their approach to treatment from Freud, who ultimately considered psychoanalysis “interminable,” due in part to his realization, as Tim Dean put it recently, that “there is something fundamentally incurable in being human” [116]. While arguing that psychoanalysis can alleviate a patient’s suffering, Freud was careful to state that psychoanalysis cannot resolve basic ontological difficulties facing all humans. When discussing the effect of psychoanalysis on analysands, for instance, he spoke of “transforming [their] hysterical misery into common unhappiness” [Studies 305]. His rationale for encouraging this substitution was simply that “with a mental life that has been restored to health,” his analysands would “be better armed against that unhappiness” [305].

By contrast, Abraham and Torok consider psychoanalysis more influential in aiding an individual’s well-being. 4 Rand’s assessment of this position in his introduction to The Shell and the Kernel seems to me quite accurate: “Abraham and Torok view the unintelligibility they encounter in their patients as psychically motivated disturbances of meaning, as instances of psychic aphasia. . . . Searching for the means to retrieve signification, Abraham and Torok uncover psychic mechanisms whose aim seems to be to disarray, even to annul the expressive power of language” [17]. While Abraham and Torok suggest that psychoanalysis enhances a dimension of control preexisting the specific difficulties leading subjects to treatment [140, 156], Freud and Lacan refute these claims, arguing instead that the subject is never ultimately “in control” of itself and that the ego can foster internal unity only by eviscerating the unconscious.

In advancing these claims, Lacanian psychoanalysis highlights concerns about the adequacy of desire, which the patient’s enunciated demand alternately conveys and obscures. Lacan also insisted, counterintuitively, that distinguishing between desire and demand is a fundamental principle of treatment:

For a long time now psychoanalysts have given up answering when questioned in this way, for they have ceased to question themselves about their patients’ [End Page 5] desires: they reduce these desires to their demands, which makes the task of converting them into their own that much easier. Isn’t that the reasonable way?—it is certainly the one they have adopted.

But sometimes desire is not to be conjured away, but appears . . . at the centre of the stage, all too visibly, on the festive board. . . .

When put this way, the search for a “cure” fosters a panacea that may be more distressing than the symptom, given its ensuing promise of resolving psychic conflicts. Pushing for this “resolution” may also encourage the analyst to read patients’ fantasies literally and coercively—insofar as they reproduce the analyst’s. Lacan was contemptuous about such therapy, seeing its wish to reinstate the ego as complicit in the analysand’s denial of unconscious conflicts, and thus as entirely counter to the principles of psychoanalysis: “What nobility of soul we display when we reveal that we ourselves are made of the same clay as those we mould! Now that’s a naughty thing to say. But it’s hardly enough for those at whom it is aimed, when people now go about proclaiming, under the banner of psychoanalysis, that they are striving for ‘an emotional re-education of the patient’” [“Direction” 226]. 5

Radically downplaying Freud’s and Lacan’s claims about intrapsychic conflict, Abraham and Torok credit the ego with a basic capacity for coherence while representing sexuality (and the drives) as entirely amenable to consciousness. As we’ll see, this emphasis on egoic coherence takes Abraham and Torok beyond the purview of psychoanalysis and into the realm of psychology. At such moments, Abraham’s theoretical differences with Torok (and implicitly with Rand) articulate what I shall call a fault line running throughout The Shell and the Kernel.

This fault line appears whenever Abraham and Torok discuss their patients’ testimonies and fantasies. Since speech inadequately represents the sexual dimension of fantasy, the analysand’s testimony, while one of the most compelling forms for expressing psychic distress, is also a profoundly unreliable indicator of what is wrong. To obviate this problem, Freud stressed the importance of interpreting parapraxes—slips of the tongue and bungled actions—betraying the subject in the act of speech and action. At such moments, he claimed, one “hears” egoic resistance and unconscious desire, the analyst’s difficult task being to distinguish one from the other [“Analysis” 224–25, 235]. While the “talking cure” therefore remains a compelling metaphor for psychoanalysis (without speech, for instance, the subject cannot symbolize trauma), the analyst cannot simply accept or believe that speech is an unequivocal testament of a patient’s well-being.

We can put Freud’s thesis a little differently: empiricism is unreliable in psychoanalysis for the precise reason that treatment is possible. If psychic change is to occur, the psyche must necessarily be unreliable. The corollary of this argument is not difficult to discern: if the ego and speech were reliable indicators of psychic distress, one could administer self-help with encouraging pep talks, leaving psychic resistance and conflict entirely unexamined. Beyond this relatively obvious point lies a drama about the “evidence” of distress, the “cause” of what is wrong, and the “principle” of how best to treat these factors, all of which conflict with the ego’s resistance; such resistance protects the ego from what it finds unbearable and repugnant, but at an immense internal cost: “Symptoms involve suffering,” Freud stressed, “and [this fact] almost invariably dominates a part of the patient’s social behaviour” [Three 166]. Since this behavior may be neither visible nor self-evident, Jacqueline Rose’s important claim bears repeating: We cannot “deduce from the external trappings of normality or conformity in a woman that all is in fact well” [92]. Were this ambiguity about appearances missing, patients [End Page 6] presumably could be persuaded to modify their behavior, based on the rational explanation that it is causing them—and perhaps others—harm.

Maria Torok touches on this problem in “Story of Fear: The Symptoms of Phobia—the Return of the Repressed or the Return of the Phantom?” (1975), an essay engaging unconscious fantasy, though her perspective is quite different from Rose’s. She asks, “Why shriek in fear when somebody wants to show you a picture you could just as easily shut your eyes to?” [180]. Torok’s partial dilemma in answering this question emerges when she elaborates on the psychic paradoxes of “penis envy”: “What benefit does the male derive from subjecting to his mastery the very being through whom he could both understand and be understood himself?” [71–72]. For Torok, the question is not simply rhetorical and thus easily dismissed; she usefully frames this question as a need to theorize aspects of fantasy defeating sexual equality. 6 However, we soon reach the terrain on which psychoanalysis confounds political justice and logical solutions to sexual inequality: “Our task is to display the advantages resulting, for both men and women, from the institutional inequality of the sexes, at least as far as this obtains in the area available to psychoanalytic study, that is, within the affective realm” [70].

This task is commendable, but it yields only those advantages “available” to consciousness rather than those unable to enter “the affective realm.” Losing patience with psychic resistance and anticipating a conclusive answer, Torok seems unwilling to allow her question’s enigma to raise related concerns about unconscious fantasy—for instance, about whether pleasure and enjoyment are self-explanatory or entirely consistent with the subject’s well-being. She establishes a “conclusive” proposition that closes down this discussion: “Self-to-self revelation through the opposite sex would be the realization of our humanity, and this is what eludes nearly all of us” [72]. Torok does not present this elusiveness as the best lesson psychoanalysis can teach us. By arguing that it “eludes nearly all of us,” she presents this realization as psychoanalysis’s daunting aim.

Given this proposition’s repeated failure and manifest heterosexism (it insists on “revelation through the opposite sex”), we can propose that the elements missing here, which mitigate against humanity’s “realization,” are the same ones that Rand deprives of conceptual resonance in his introduction to The Shell and the Kernel—namely, “the Oedipus complex, the death drive, penis envy, the primal scene” [5]. It is not always clear that Abraham (and the early Torok) would reject all of these elements, but we can agree with Rand that what haunts The Shell and the Kernel are those enigmas—which Rand calls the “enemies of life” [7, 15, 22]—to which Abraham and Torok rarely give conceptual sanction: the troubling vicissitudes of enjoyment, unconscious fantasy, drives, and sexual identity that defeat rational explanation and empirical certitude. To give only one example, which in some measure “answers” both Torok’s question about unconscious pleasure in sexual inequality and the statement “nearly all of us,” consider this passage from her 1959 essay, “Fantasy: An Attempt to Define Its Structure and Operation”: “sexual intercourse accomplishes the union of two narcissistically complete and genitally complementary beings. No doubt this conviction, which happens to be my own, has a number of latent meanings as well. I am quite prepared to admit this, with the stipulation that these meanings will not be branded unconscious fantasies” [33]. Why this stipulation? We can hazard that it allows Torok to distinguish her argument about fantasy’s amenable relation to consciousness from Freud’s account of dreams, memory, and fantasy in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1907 [1901]). Departing radically from Freud—and, as a consequence, eclipsing his conceptual distinction between reverie and wish-fulfillment [“Creative” 146–49]—Torok claims that “we can speak of fantasy as a waking dream” [34]. From this assertion, it is relatively easy for her to support fantasy’s apparently sociable and utilitarian principles, its [End Page 7] “operational value”: “Fantasy is expressive of an attempt at working through a problem and is combined with a desire for collaboration . . .” [36].

What contributes to this limited understanding of psychic satisfaction in The Shell and the Kernel—and thus to the collection’s fraught relation to Freud and Lacan—is Torok’s later willingness to reincorporate those aspects of psychic life that Rand excises in his introduction. While eager to cure “penis envy,” Torok’s essay on this phenomenon meditates at length on its psychic significance. And while Rand downplays Abraham and Torok’s interest in the primal scene, Torok’s essay emphasizes this phenomenon’s continued psychic relevance: “What do we discover on the way to orgasm? The power to fantasize our identity with our parents and the power to picture ourselves in all the positions of the primal Scene, in accordance with the various levels at which it is apprehended” [50].

Considering Torok’s claims that “sexual intercourse accomplishes the union of two narcissistically complete and genitally complementary beings” [33], we must question whether the infant’s fantasmatic addition to this scenario not only interrupts the alleged “union” of these “two . . . beings” but jeopardizes the possibility of their being “complete and . . . complementary.” By acknowledging the “cut” that sexuality inaugurates for all “dyads” (not just heterosexual ones), Freud remarked to Wilhelm Fliess in 1899: “I am accustoming myself to regarding every sexual act as an event between four individuals”—a figure he later expanded to six [Ego 33n1]. Lacan also critiqued assumptions of psychic unity: “In persuading the other that he has that which may complement us, we assure ourselves of being able to continue to misunderstand precisely what we lack” [Four 133].

Let us place these arguments alongside Torok’s essay on ‘“penis envy,’” which she describes “as a stopgap invented to camouflage a desire, as an artificially constructed obstacle thrown in the way of our becoming one with ourselves. . . . ‘Penis envy’ will disappear by itself the moment the painful state of lack responsible for it has ceased to exist. . . . So vital a lack cannot be natural; it must be the effect of deprivation or renunciation” [44–45]. Besides the remarkable claims made for psychoanalysis here, Torok’s assumption about unified identity begs a question about the precise agent creating the symptom’s “construct[ion]” and “disappear[ance].”

3. Therapy vs. Psychoanalysis; or, The Ego and the Id

As the above example illustrates, Abraham and Torok’s “advance” on Freud and “renewal” of psychoanalysis foreclose on the unconscious—and reinstate the ego—precisely when intrapsychic conflicts are most in need of interpretation. For instance, Torok writes that “the removal of repression brings with it strength, self-esteem, and especially confidence in one’s power and becoming” [52; original emphasis]. However, Abraham and Torok’s intricate account of egoic crypts does not adequately explain why the ego wards off those aspects of unconscious drives it cannot introject into consciousness. This problem with introjection occurs not because such drives represent a “family secret” of shared pain and trauma, but because, by their very nature, these drives can never be conscious. “There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation,” Freud insisted. “There is nothing in the id that corresponds to the idea of time” [“Dissection” 74]; “it may be said of the id that it is totally non-moral, of the ego that it strives to be moral” [Ego 54]. With Freud’s stress on the ego and id’s impossible relation, given their “mutually opposing forces” [“Resistances” 218], we can appreciate why he described the ego not as unified or comfortable with sexuality, but as “the actual seat of anxiety,” desperate to maintain homeostasis at any price [Ego 57]. 7 Arguably, this represents the [End Page 8] “kernel” of Abraham and Torok’s differences with Freud: While they see the unconscious as an aberration designed for remediation, for Freud the unconscious is irrevocably “alien” and antipathetic to conscious thought. 8

Considering the psychic value of “introjection” (“intro-jection: casting inside”) [111], a term, as I shall show, of great value and conceptual importance for Abraham and Torok, the latter writes: “Introjection does not tend toward compensation, but growth. By broadening and enriching the ego, introjection seeks to introduce into it the unconscious, nameless, or repressed libido” [113]. Are these adjectives really synonyms? Following Torok, we must infer that “introjection” overrides both the “preservative” status of repression, which for Abraham and Torok is responsible for “endocryptic identification” [142], and the psychic difference between unconscious and conscious systems, whose “communication” in Freud’s work is immeasurably strained. 9 Rand is again accurate in claiming that Abraham and Torok “demote the sexual instinct from its characteristic Freudian status as the principal causative agent in psychopathology. For them, . . . psychosexuality is the function of a larger whole, the continuous activity of self-creation” [11].

The conceptual implications of Abraham and Torok’s revision appear in Abraham’s formative essay, “The Shell and the Kernel: The Scope and Originality of Freudian Psychoanalysis” (1967). Yet despite this essay’s numerous invocations of Freud’s metapsychology, Abraham gives few citations of Freud’s argument and fewer explanations for his conceptual revisions. He asks us simply to believe, for example, that “The pansexualism of Freud is the anasemic pansexualism of the Kernel” [89]. However, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) and, later, in “Two Encyclopædia Articles” (1923 [1922]), Freud distanced his work from pansexualism because it substitutes voluntarism for resistance and defense-formation. Noting how critics of psychoanalysis mistake resistance for the very analytic procedures interpreting it, Freud added: “It is a mistake to accuse psycho-analysis of ‘pan-sexualism’ and to allege that it derives all mental occurrences from sexuality and traces them all back to it. On the contrary, psycho-analysis has from the very first distinguished the sexual instincts from others which it has provisionally termed ‘ego instincts’” [“Encyclopædia” 251–52; see also Three 134 and “Resistances” 218].

Disregarding Freud’s caveat, Abraham proposes that “there had to be [in Freud’s work] a relation of homology [between] the zones and the sources . . . [of] erotogenicity” [88], such that “it is by virtue of this correspondence between the Envelope and the Kernel [Abraham’s reformulation of the ego and id, respectively] that Freud localized the source of sexual drives in the somatic zones . . . that is, the ones originating in the Kernel” [88]. In his Three Essays, however, and especially in “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” Freud carefully theorized variations among the drives’ “source,” “pressure,” “object,” and “aim” in order to disband assumptions about their equivalence [Three 135–36, 148; “Instincts” 122–23]. He theorized the astonishing absence of correspondence among the [End Page 9] drives’ constitutive, partial, and resultant forms, concluding that by representing the drives’ propensity to abreact through various (and not self-evident) “objects” and “aims,” psychoanalysis in fact differs from biologistic and culturally determinative formulations of sexual desire and behavior [Three 135–36; “Instincts” 140]. Freud insisted as early as 1895: “All contrivances of a biological nature have limits to their efficiency, beyond which they fail” [Project 306]. It is reasonable to deduce that psychoanalysis emerged in response to this failure.

Which Freud is Abraham proffering here? Only in rare and naive moments did Freud characterize the unconscious, in Abraham and Torok’s words, as “the genuine depository of what is now nameless” [128]—a Gothic conception of locked space quite incommensurate with Freud’s formulations in “Repression” (1915) and “The Unconscious” (1915), in which he discarded the idea of a depository as conceptually at odds with his understanding of the unconscious. Arguably, this is the radical lesson of Freud’s abandoned Papers on Metapsychology (1915)—abandoned because Freud began to grasp, and thus to reformulate, the psychic significance of external events. 10 For this reason, Lacan later characterized the unconscious as a scar, bladder, and knot [Four 22, 131], claiming that this structure influences all aspects of psychic life while refuting an organicist tradition that likens the unconscious to the “fruit” of being:

The Freudian unconscious has nothing to do with the so-called forms of the unconscious that preceded it, not to say accompanied it, and which still surround it today. . . . Freud’s unconscious is not at all the romantic unconscious of imaginative creation. . . . To all these forms of unconscious, ever more or less linked to some obscure will regarded as primordial, to something preconscious, what Freud opposes is the revelation that at the level of the unconscious there is something at all points homologous with what occurs at the level of the subject—this thing speaks and functions in a way quite as elaborate as at the level of the conscious, which thus loses what seemed to be its privilege. I am well aware of the resistances that this simple remark can still provoke, though it is evident in everything that Freud wrote.

Considering Lacan’s caveat, what do Abraham’s substitutions of “Shell” and “Kernel” for “ego” and “id” borrow from—and add to—Freud’s work? [Derrida, “Me” 7]. To what do they also respond in Lacan’s? Abraham’s metaphor of the Shell connotes an object with a large open rim withdrawing into convex and inaccessible recesses. While this object’s shape is intriguing, Abraham implies that the Shell’s open rim is sufficient to “hear” and “receive” whatever “mysterious messages” the Kernel emits; unless repressed elements such as family secrets stand in the way, the drive reaches its destination in consciousness [86–87; see also Rashkin 43]. This is especially true when the Envelope substitutes for the Shell in Abraham’s account, for an envelope is designed to enclose its messages—even to “seal” and “entomb” them [18, 16]. However, this “sealed-off psychic place, a crypt in the ego” [141] does not accord with Abraham’s grasp of the unconscious’s “designify[ing]” tendencies [84] to “disclose . . . what it encloses” [80] and his and Torok’s careful study of the way drives can displace into subsidiary “crypts” [107–38]. Noting also the “specific tension that arises between the Envelope and the Kernel” [95], Abraham implies that we cannot detach the ego’s “seal” from its accompanying “leaks.” Our problem derives simply from Abraham’s assumption that these leaks are exceptional—that they indicate only a temporary failure in psychic functioning: “Just as drives translate organic demands into the language of the Unconscious, [End Page 10] so it [the psychic Envelope] utilizes the vehicle of affect or fantasy to move into the realm of the Conscious” [91].

4. “All that is buried is not dead” 11

Several years before “L’écorce et le noyau” first appeared in print, Lacan remarked: “It is not the soul, either mortal or immortal, which has been with us for so long, nor some shade, some double, some phantom, nor even some supposed psycho-spherical shell, the locus of the defences and other such simplified notions. It is the subject who is called—there is only he, therefore, who can be chosen” [Four 47]. 12 Derrida also touched on Abraham and Torok’s related problem with seals and leaks in “Fors,” an essay whose title’s semantic richness refutes entirely the idea of harmonious interiority: 13

Caulked or padded along its inner partition, with cement or concrete on the other side, the cryptic safe protects from the outside the very secret of its clandestine inclusion or its internal exclusions. Is this strange space hermetically sealed? The fact that one must always answer yes and no to this question that I am deferring here will have already been apparent from the topographical structure of the crypt, on its highest level of generality: The crypt can constitute its secret only by means of its division, its fracture. “I” can save an inner safe only by putting it inside “myself,” beside(s) myself, outside.

[xiv; original emphases]
Figure 1. The Ego and the Id (1923), Standard Edition 19: 24.
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Figure 1.

The Ego and the Id (1923), Standard Edition 19: 24.

Even in the most stringent “encryptment,” Derrida contends, a sign can leak its psychic meaning. To this extent, what does Abraham’s Envelope or Shell add to Freud’s account of the ego, which is never an astute listener? Freud conceives of this “sycophantic, opportunist and lying . . . frontier creature” with a “cap of hearing (Hörkappe)” worn haphazardly “on one side only. . . . It might be said to wear it awry” [Ego 56, 25; see fig. 1]. He reminds us here that while the drive may reach its destination, it cannot be assured of conscious abreaction; the “leak” underscores a basic cæsura distinguishing conscious and unconscious systems. Freud did not endorse organicist notions of the unconscious, a point Lacan underscored by formulating the unconscious as a permanent psychic structure [Four 22, 24–25]. For Abraham and Torok, however, this Kernel (noyau) precipitates in their writing a remarkable number of “organic” images [87], whose principal effect reorients the unconscious from “chaos” and “lack” in Freud and Lacan, respectively, to assumptions of harmony and plenitude. We have already seen Torok’s assumption that [End Page 11] the symptom belies the psyche’s propensity to resolution and self-restitution [44–45], but The Shell and the Kernel is replete with references to “introjection” as “the continual process of self-fashioning through the fructification of change” [14]; as a “psychic process that allows human beings to continue to live harmoniously in spite of instability, devastation, war, and upheaval” [14]; and as a situation encouraging the “psyche . . . finally [to] make fruitful use of the natural gift of sexual pleasure” [10–11]. If psychic life “consists of the pursuit of its own harmonious progress” [22], however, we can also begin to see why this “harmony” represents intrapsychic antagonism and repression as the “enemies of life” [22]. At issue here is a mythopoetic depiction of the unconscious, which in The Shell and the Kernel serves as the Kernel of organic pleasure. In Freud’s work, by contrast, since the unconscious radically destroys the ego’s chances of happiness, the ego conceives of sexuality as its “enemy.” In its intolerance of sexual enjoyment, which takes the psychic organism “beyond the pleasure principle” and toward jouissance, the ego ultimately is responsible for generating a “war” against the libido’s psychic promptings.

Abraham’s organic references to “the [birth] . . . of the symbol, where the innumerable forms of civilization disintegrate, originate, and bloom” [97]—references he later acknowledges are “all too rhapsodic” [97]—are antipsychoanalytic; they belong to a form of psychology that, as Joel Fineman observes, “can only understand desire . . . as an impulse or a pulsion toward the good” [82–83]. This organicism is partly responsible for an astonishing elision in “The Meaning of ‘Penis Envy’ in Women,” in which Torok shifts from describing “a genuinely psychoanalytic approach” [44] to advocating treatment through “analytic therapy” [53]. The conceptual—but, above all, ontological—distinction between “analysis” and “therapy” is best grasped by their respective etymologies: “Analysis” (Gr. análusis, formed on analúein) denotes a loosening and radical undoing, while “therapy” (Gr. therapeutiké) is bound irrevocably to the “art of healing” [Hoad 15, 490; see also Shell 250]. Placing this second, cathartic tradition alongside Freud’s 1937 account of analysis “terminable and interminable,” we must ask whether therapy can bring the subject to an adequate and satisfactory mourning, for it promotes egoic consolation over the difficult interpretation of unconscious drives and the painstaking analysis of psychic dissociations.

This tension between analysis and therapy, which corresponds conceptually to Abraham and Torok’s paradigm shift from the unconscious to the ego, prevails throughout The Shell and the Kernel, haunting the authors’ “rhapsodic” organicism [97] as the subsidiary meaning of “Kernel” (noyau). Rather than endorsing Abraham and Torok’s “fructification of change” [14], however, this aspect of noyau designates a type of organicism that resists symbolization by conveying the “stone” of a fruit—the indeterminate center on which its flesh grows. Ultimately, we may be closest to Z*iz*ek’s formulation of the “hard kernel of the Real” precisely when Abraham and Torok anticipate “harmony” between sexuality and identity [Z*iz*ek 47]. Lacking the absolute solace of symbolic and imaginary identifications, subjectivity, as Z*iz*ek reminds us, cannot escape the trauma of this “hard kernel” [47]. This is perhaps the strongest retort to theorists wanting to downplay the “tension” between “the Envelope and the Kernel” [Shell 95]. As Lacan [End Page 12] argued, “Do we say this in order to explain the difficulty of the desire? No, rather to say that the desire is constituted by difficulty” [“Direction” 268].

5. Incorporation and Introjection; or, Freud vs. Ferenczi

Do Abraham and Torok therefore advance psychoanalytic formulations and “extend” Freud into territory he could neither foresee nor fully elaborate? To answer this question, we must carefully consider Abraham and Torok’s conception of “introjection.” This term is central to their project, which follows Karl Abraham’s and Ferenczi’s distinction between introjection and incorporation [Ferenczi 36–37]. Abraham and Torok claim that Freud’s schematic differentiation between mourning and melancholia fails to make clear why a tremendous upsurge in libido may accompany (and sometimes disarm and upset) patients ritualizing the loss or death of loved ones. After the work of Karl Abraham (who took Freud’s advice in suspending this inquiry) and Ferenczi (who did not), a conceptual gap opens here regarding the subject’s affective difficulty in mourning. Abraham and Torok’s work properly emerges from within the wake of this conceptual difficulty (not, as Rand contends, as this theory’s singular formulation [102]), 14 for they interpret this gap as a significant split between introjection (pace Ferenczi) and identification (pace Freud). Between these psychic principles, Abraham and Torok argue, lies an unformulated problem about the guilt surrounding sexual desire that can rigidify and coalesce as a psychic “crypt” if the subject is neither aware of—nor willing to accept—the proximity between sexuality and mourning.

But what if this distinction—so central to Abraham and Torok’s work—is not psychically as rigid as they propose? What if it is in fact untenable? As Derrida observes in “Fors,” “Introjection/incorporation: Everything is played out on the borderline that divides and opposes the two terms. From one safe, the other; from one inside, the other; one within the other; and the same outside the other” [xvi]. And he indicates the fragility of this binary: “Like the conceptual boundary line, the topographical divider separating introjection from incorporation is rigorous in principle, but in fact does not rule out all sorts of original compromises” [xvii–xviii; original emphases; see also Derrida “Me” 7]. Following these remarks, we note Derrida’s interpretive generosity as he summarizes Abraham and Torok’s hermeneutic precepts:

Certain readers (the quick-witted type) will perhaps be surprised not to find in the style of The Magic Word any of the prevalent mannerisms of this or that French discourse today: within the psychoanalytic agora, outside it, or in that intermediary zone that expands so rapidly. Neither in its most exposed simplicity, its serenity (for example, we know that we are looking for something from which nothing will turn us away), and its smile (I know the patient smile of the authors, their indulgent, pitiless, and truly analytic lucidity before all kinds of dogmatism, banality, theoretical boastfulness, and conformity, the search for cheap thrills. “Hey, come on, what, or whom, is he afraid of? What does he want? What is he trying to do to us now?”), nor in the elliptical refinement of [End Page 13] the most daring subtlety does this “style” resemble anything that a French reader could expect to recognize of a program he would find reassuring.

Derrida teasingly reproaches Abraham and Torok for trying to disband resistances and psychic opacity in order to reach the “kernel” of mystery—“Hey, come on . . . What does he want?”—while noting that this endeavor is not “reassuring” precisely when Abraham and Torok most want it to be [see Kamuf 32–33]. With his backhanded compliment Derrida says that Abraham and Torok, when most in search of certainty, merely enact the ego’s ruse of trying not to know. As they argue in “The Topography of Reality: Sketching a Metapsychology of Secrets” (1971), “The crypt is there with its fine lock, but where is the key to open it?” [159]. Once this key is found, no other difficulty seems to beset the meaning an analyst can attribute to psychic drives: “This heavy architecture [of the tomb or crypt] will gradually be shaken and will disappear in the course of the patient’s prolonged presence on the couch, since it will appear bit by bit that, for lack of a lawsuit, the walls of denial have become obsolete” [161].

While Abraham and Torok distinguish clearly between introjection’s capacity to give us pleasure, growth, and expansion, and incorporation’s constraining and enfeebling principles, Derrida’s insistence on the conceptual fragility of this binary overwhelms their argument. It is satisfying to distinguish absolutely between introjection and incorporation—representing each, respectively, as life and death—but the cæsura dividing consciousness and the unconscious, a gap that arises in analysis as the jouissance binding the subject to its symptom, disturbs the distinction. Grappling with life’s tautological relation to death, for instance, Freud adduced: “The emergence of life would thus be the cause of the continuance of life and also at the same time of the striving towards death; and life itself would be a conflict and compromise between these two trends” [Ego 40–41].

What are the implications of Freud’s point? One is that the ego considers introjection an “enemy of life,” rather than a sign of benign growth and harmony, because it disrupts the ego’s homeostatic aims. Seemingly absurd—because counterintuitive—this point considers psychic “growth” almost as traumatic for the ego as are the “negative” conflicts it represses. In The Ego and the Id, for instance, Freud calls the ego a “constitutional monarch” [55], thus advancing his argument against “His Majesty the Ego” in “On Narcissism: An Introduction” (1914) [91n1]. The corollary to this emphasis is that incorporation (that is, the wish to absorb and devour, rather than entomb) is not the ego’s “exceptional” tendency but—as Freud understood—its governing precept, a point on which he elaborates at some length in his 1895 Project [see 368–69]. 16 In his lecture on resistance and repression, too, Freud asked us to consider this nonpathological aspect of the ego:

How . . . do we account for our observation that the patient fights with such energy against the removal of his symptoms and the setting of his mental processes on a normal course? We tell ourselves that we have succeeded in discovering powerful forces here which oppose any alteration of the patient’s condition; they must be the same ones which in the past brought this condition about.

[“Resistance” 293] [End Page 14]

Freud questioned simple causality and self-evident answers in this lecture, calling both “crude and incorrect” [296]. Such principles are inadequate for psychoanalysis, he claims, because although “repression . . . is the precondition for the construction of symptoms . . . it is also something to which we know nothing similar” [294; my emphasis].

Freud theorized repression’s asymmetrical relation to consciousness only by declining evidential and “hydraulic” models of repression and symptom formation [“Paths” 362, 367]; he realized that psychoanalysis is not behavioral because repression has no obvious or logical relation to empirical circumstances. Realizing too that fantasy’s relation to material events is vagarious, Freud did not cast introjection and incorporation into a rigid binary; psychic fantasy was for him contingent on interpretations of reality and, at the same time, susceptible to fixations of that interpretation. For comparable reasons, Derrida addresses the ease by which incorporation in Abraham and Torok’s work conceptually “bleeds” into introjection, and vice versa, rendering the psyche more permeable—if no less symptomatic—than Abraham and Torok would have us believe. 17

In approaching Abraham and Torok’s often simplistic correlation between introjection and life and between incorporation and death, we must not only question whether their theory of preservative repression properly inaugurates encryptment within the ego, but indicate why they end up reproducing Freud’s 1915 account of full and partial repression. In “The Topography of Reality,” Abraham and Torok advance the following distinctions:

To use less metaphorical language we shall call the tomb and its lock preservative repression, setting it off from the constitutive repression that is particularly apparent in hysteria and generally called dynamic repression. The essential difference between the two types of repression is that in hysteria, the desire, born of prohibition, seeks a way out through detours and finds it through symbolic fulfillment; whereas for the cryptophore, an already fulfilled desire lies buried—equally incapable of rising or of disintegrating. Nothing can undo the consummation of the desire or efface its memory.

[159; original emphases]

Abraham and Torok’s divergence from Freud hinges in this passage on the term “preservative repression,” which allegedly inaugurates “endocryptic identification” [142]. Yet this passage raises more questions than it answers: if “preservative repression” represents the burying of “an already fulfilled desire,” how—strictly speaking—can this desire be fulfilled, frozen, and later capable of entering consciousness? Indeed, if “nothing can undo the consummation of the desire or efface its memory,” as Abraham and Torok insist, how can we explain the relative ease by which they repeatedly find the “key” to this psychic disclosure, thus aiding their patients’ psychic growth? At issue here is not a quibble over minor terms: since Abraham and Torok’s work on “endocryptic identification” aims entirely to rewrite Freud’s 1915 account of repression, we must follow their argument closely.

Freud considered repression not “preservative” but dynamic. After delineating three stages of repression—“primal repression,” the construction of a “fixation,” and the creation of “after-pressure” (Nachdrängen) [“Repression” 148]—Freud argued that “repression does not hinder the instinctual representative from continuing to exist in the [End Page 15] unconscious, from organizing itself further, putting out derivatives and establishing connections. Repression in fact interferes only with the relation of the instinctual representative to one psychical system, namely, to that of the conscious” [“Repression” 149; my emphasis]. Hence Freudians consider the term “preservative repression” oxymoronic: what is repressed cannot be preserved unless we conceive of the unconscious in egoic terms.

This topographical and economic dilemma emerges when Torok interprets sexual conflict in her patients: “In . . . these cases,” she writes, “repression not only separates, but also has to preserve carefully, although in the unconscious, the wish the ego can only represent as an ‘exquisite corpse’ lying somewhere inside it” [118; original emphasis]. Seven years later, however, Abraham and Torok write that “endocryptic identification” produces a “sealed-off psychic place, a crypt in the ego” [141; my emphasis], an argument reformulating Freud’s topographical claims about repression. Can the unconscious preserve, though, or the ego encrypt without repression—that is, without engaging the unconscious? In maintaining that the unconscious preserves the crypt while the ego represents it, Torok takes us back to Freud’s opening remarks in “Repression” and “The Dissection of the Psychical Personality,” where he argues that the unconscious cannot repress because it does not understand negation. Recall: “There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation. . . . There is nothing in the id that corresponds to the idea of time” [“Dissection” 74]. For this reason, Freud represents repression as stemming partly from that aspect of the ego called the “preconscious,” a term he coined in 1896 [Project 363n2]. If the ego were aware that the preconscious was repressing drives (a psychic tautology), it could affirm this if challenged by an analyst or therapist. Freud realized, however, that patients necessarily are ignorant of repression, a fact explaining both their profound difficulty in retrieving “buried” psychic material and the reason this material’s reintroduction to consciousness generally is so traumatic.

In their effort to move repression “beyond” Freud’s paradigm, Abraham and Torok not only empty the term of all psychic meaning and value, but advance an argument that is conceptually incoherent. Although such “renewals” of psychoanalysis aid Abraham and Torok in reconceptualizing sexuality as a “treasure” amenable to consciousness, representing sexuality as a life force the ego fundamentally enjoys, psychoanalysis properly began when Freud rejected such notions. For Freud, the libido is an intractable difficulty for consciousness because it shares an intimate relation with eros and the death drive. As we’ve seen, Freud grasped this problem when he encountered patients seeking reprieve from suffering who nonetheless refused to relinquish the very factors making them ill [“Resistance” 293]. In The Ego and the Id, too, Freud insisted: “There is no doubt that there is something in these people that sets itself against their recovery, and its approach is dreaded as though it were a danger” [49]. The rest of my essay explores the repercussions of Freud’s claim.

6. Splitting the Ego

To demonstrate how Freud and Lacan offer us valuable conceptual alternatives to Abraham and Torok’s account of “endocryptic identification” [142], we must now revisit Freud’s arguments about “archaic heritage,” egoic “splitting,” the role of incorporation in mourning, the centrality of the death drive, and the function of “screen memories.” Such historical and conceptual excavations will illustrate precisely what is at stake in Abraham and Torok’s debate with Freud.

Freud’s interest in transgenerational conflicts certainly does not prevail in all of his work, but nor is this interest absent; it would be wrong to assume that Abraham and Torok formulated this approach. When addressing neuroses in children, for example, Freud [End Page 16] notes: “There are ways more direct than inheritance by which neurotic parents can hand their disorder on to their children” [Three 224]. Elaborating on this point, Lacan detailed a form of censorship in 1953 anticipating Abraham and Torok’s demand for transgenerational haunting and transmission, though without rendering this phenomenon exceptional or pathological:

The unconscious is that chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a falsehood: it is the censored chapter. But the truth can be rediscovered; usually it has already been written down elsewhere. Namely:

—in monuments: this is my body [. . .]

—in archival documents: these are my childhood memories [. . .]

—in semantic evolution [. . .]

—in traditions, too, and even in the legends which, in a heroicized form, bear my history;

—and, lastly, in the traces that are inevitably preserved by the distortions necessitated by the linking of the adulterated chapter to the chapters surrounding it, and whose meaning will be re-established by my exegesis.

For good reason, Lacan wrote “rediscovered” (or, to translate more accurately, “refound” [“la vérité peut être retrouvée”—“Fonction” 136]), not (as Abraham and Torok suggest) “recovered.” Lacan is alluding to Freud’s famous remark in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) that “[t]he finding of an object is in fact a refinding of it” [222]. More important, Lacan “refinds” in his list what Freud detailed about “archaic heritage” in The Interpretation of Dreams [549]; consciousness as a “body-ego” in The Ego and the Id [27]; and childhood memories in a crucial chapter of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life [SE 6: 43–52]. In this last text, Freud discussed the possibility that “screen memories” re-present aspects of the past that consciousness has displaced and partially distorted, but without these aspects undergoing repression. Although these memories can be recalled, they are not simply preserved: their recollection is in fact part of their composition.

These “screen memories”—which Lacan calls “archival documents”—are but one aspect of Freud’s work demonstrating how events and affect can be “interred” in the ego without abreaction or repression, ideas with obvious prescience for Abraham and Torok. In “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence” (1940), Freud outlined too how the ego may attempt to satisfy mutually exclusive choices. Once accustomed to accepting “a powerful instinctual demand,” the ego, Freud wrote, must “decide either to recognize the real danger, give way to it and renounce the instinctual satisfaction, or to disavow reality and make itself believe that there is no reason for fear, so that it may be able to retain the satisfaction. Thus there is a conflict between the demand by the instinct and the prohibition by reality” [275]. Yet as Freud noted, a third course may emerge, a development of tremendous conceptual value in this discussion of “dynamic” and “preservative” repression:

But in fact the child takes neither course, or rather he takes both simultaneously, which comes to the same thing. He replies to the conflict with two contrary reactions, both of which are valid and effective. On the one hand, with the help of certain mechanisms he rejects reality and refuses to accept any prohibition; on the other hand, in the same breath he recognizes the danger of reality, takes over the fear of that danger as a pathological symptom and tries subsequently to divest himself of the fear. It must be confessed that this is a very ingenious solution of the difficulty. Both of the parties to the dispute obtain their share: the instinct is allowed to retain its satisfaction and proper respect is shown to reality. But everything has to be paid for in one way or another, and this success [End Page 17] is achieved at the price of a rift in the ego which never heals but which increases as time goes on.


By acknowledging the “price of [this] rift,” Freud anticipated Abraham and Torok’s emphasis on intra-egoic conflict; he gave us in 1940 a coherent account of self-splitting that assisted Abraham and Torok’s related proposition in the 1960s and ‘70s. In the above example, Freud likens egoic splitting to fetishism because splitting serves the partial acknowledgment of reality without resulting immediately in masculine castration: “[the boy] created a substitute for the penis which he missed in females—that is to say, a fetish. In so doing, it is true that he had disavowed reality, but he had saved his own penis” [277]. Since the boy later develops anxiety about his toes being touched, Freud notes wryly that “in all the to and fro between disavowal and acknowledgement, it was nevertheless castration that found the clearer expression. . . .” [278; ellipsis in original]. Freud illustrates here the pressure informing this splitting and the mechanism’s susceptibility to failure, creating a pervasive dimension of anxiety that is remarkably similar to Abraham and Torok’s account of their patients’ diverse symptomatology.

Freud notes immediately that “splitting” alters his conception of egoic homeostasis, a fact Rand and Torok recently ignore when addressing Freud’s alleged resistance to rethinking his metapsychological claims [“QFP” 574]. What is valuable about Freud’s revision, however, is less his or our difficulty in being able to retain splitting and homeostasis than the chance to catch the ego trying again to downplay the rift between two incommensurate principles: “The whole process seems so strange to us,” Freud avows, “because we take for granted the synthetic nature of the processes of the ego. But we are clearly at fault on this. The synthetic function of the ego, though it is of such extraordinary importance, is subject to particular conditions and is liable to a whole number of disturbances” [“Splitting” 276; my emphasis].

Strictly speaking, Freud’s claim that an ego can simultaneously “split” and aim for homeostasis is not contradictory. Indeed, in The Ego and the Id Freud began to consider homeostasis merely the ego’s aim or ideal, whose inevitable default leads it toward self-reproach, anxiety, and guilt [56–58]. Since the ego answers to three different sources, however, we can appreciate why Lacan would later consider méconnaissance central to its sustaining illusions [“Mirror” 6]. Summarizing Lacan’s move, Rose recognizes that this conceptual shift represents not an ego which is ‘“not necessarily coherent,’ but an ego which is ‘necessarily not coherent’” [93].

We can adopt these insights when reading “Mourning and Melancholia” (written in 1915, but published in 1917), another of Freud’s essays with profound relevance for Abraham and Torok’s project. In this essay, as Torok notes in “The Illness of Mourning and the Fantasy of the Exquisite Corpse” (1968), Freud acknowledges Karl Abraham, Otto Rank, and Karl Landauer for considering the volatile and contradictory principles of psychic mourning. However, Torok is curiously imprecise in attributing Freud’s account to “introjection,” a term Ferenczi coined in 1909: 18 “[Freud] equates introjection with identification. Moreover, Freud equates introjection with the recovery of investments placed either in a lost object (the ego becomes what it cannot leave) or in an inaccessible ideal object (the ego sets itself the ideal of becoming what it cannot yet be). . . . We will [End Page 18] see that completely different ideas inspired Ferenczi’s concept [of introjection]” [112; my emphasis].

While accurately summarizing Freud’s overall argument, Torok, with some advantage to herself, misnames Freud’s term for this argument: Freud equates the ego’s identifications with “incorporation,” not “introjection,” arguing that “the ego wants to incorporate [the] object into itself” [“Mourning” 249]. Torok’s substitution assists her and Abraham (and, later, Rand) in claiming that their conceptual debts are to Ferenczi, not Freud [112], and that the two analysts differ radically in their understanding of this concept. Yet in 1915, Freud had already distinguished—as Ferenczi properly had not—between “introjection” (in “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes”) and “incorporation” (in “Mourning and Melancholia”). The closest Ferenczi gets to this distinction is in “Introjection” [48–49], and he acknowledges Freud here (and throughout his article) for aiding all of his formulations. If we correct Torok’s mistake and read Freud’s argument as he presented it—with incorporation proving central to the ego’s identifications and introjection playing an extensive role in both group psychology and Freud’s distinction between the “reality-ego” and “pleasure-ego” [“Instincts” 136], a precursor to his 1940 argument about egoic splitting, we would diminish many of Freud’s alleged differences with Ferenczi. We would also find in Freud’s argument a notable rapport between melancholia and the object’s mnemonic “interment” in the ego, which might lead us to theorize “encryptment” in a radically new way—that is, in terms of jouissance, as I show below.

In claiming that “[i]ntrojection does not tend toward compensation, but growth” [113], Torok argues with Freud, who allegedly made introjection a compensatory aspect of mourning. Since Freud attributed such compensation to “incorporation,” however, his argument in fact is very close to Abraham and Torok’s claims about “encryptment”:

We have elsewhere shown that identification is a preliminary stage of object-choice, that it is the first way—and one that is expressed in an ambivalent fashion—in which the ego picks out an object. The ego wants to incorporate this object into itself, and, in accordance with the oral or cannibalistic phase of libidinal development in which it is, it wants to do so by devouring it.

Freud explains here not only how psychic splitting can occur, given the ego’s inability to incorporate and devour an object, but why retaining the object’s image affords the ego such satisfaction. This clarifies a problem we encountered earlier. In melancholia, he writes,

the free libido was not displaced on to another object; it was withdrawn into the ego. There, however, it was not employed in any unspecified way, but served to establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object. Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego, and the latter could henceforth be judged by a special agency, as though it were an object, the forsaken object. In this way an object-loss was transformed into an ego-loss and the conflict between the ego and the loved person into a cleavage between the critical activity of the ego and the ego as altered by identification.

[249; original emphasis]

Despite Torok’s effort to distinguish between Freud and Ferenczi, Freud in 1915–17 clearly gives us a complicated account of “incorporation” that emphasizes both the resilience of this phenomenon (its centrality for identification) and its unconscious satisfaction. To illustrate this argument, we must consider one of Torok’s examples of “incorporation”—the “illness” of mourning that strongly resembles, but for her purposes must also differ from, Freud’s account of melancholia. 19 Torok mentions a woman whose [End Page 19] mother’s death leads, in the mother’s words, to “carnal sensations” [qtd. in Shell 109]. She avows, “I’ve never understood how something like that could have happened to me; I’ve never forgiven myself . . . , but a giddy song coursed through my mind and wouldn’t leave me. It continued during the entire vigil. I tried on the black veil like a bride preparing for the big day” [109].

The difficulty in using the woman’s words to convey “incorporation” as both an “illness of mourning” and as distinct from Freud’s formulation of incorporation-melancholia derives from her consciousness of the drive, though she can neither explain nor accept its meaning. The example demonstrates that the woman must pretend not to know the reason for her joy for fear that it would overwhelm her as guilt. Her compromise is neither repression nor symptom formation; nor does it resemble Abraham and Torok’s idea of “encryptment” in the strict sense of the term. Her compromise is closer to Freud’s account of melancholia and Lacan’s formulation of “la jouissance de l’Autre,” the Other’s jouissance [Encore 13], for it relates to a satisfaction that is joyful precisely because it is denied—or stolen from—another. Such extreme and “inappropriate” joy poses a difficulty for this woman, leading her to believe that it caused her mother’s death.

We can use this example to confirm why Freud considered “incorporation” central to melancholic identification and warding off loss [“Mourning” 249]. He gives us an account of identification motivated by the ego’s denial of alienation, yet contingent on unconscious fantasies of absorbing and containing different objects. The point for Freud is that these processes are replete with ambivalence; they are not, as Abraham and Torok contend, benign and indicative of “growth.” In developing this point, Freud illustrates a crucial development for psychoanalysis—the death drive—which forever altered his understanding of consciousness and sexuality.

Freud asks us to consider a psychic paradox in melancholia, in which the “ego’s self-love . . . [appears] so immense” alongside a “vast . . . amount of narcissistic libido which we see liberated in the fear that emerges as a threat to life, that we cannot conceive how that ego can consent to its own destruction” [“Mourning” 252; my emphasis]. His discussion binds the “mania” and fleeting triumph of melancholia with the ego’s difficulty in retaining and “absorbing” those imagoes and ideals with which it struggles to identify. Freud’s initial claim emerges succinctly: identification is inseparable from ambivalence; it is not a simple or painless decision the ego makes for its own good. 20 We are thus justified in claiming that Freud did in fact consider a relation between mourning and increases in libido. However, melancholia also aided his understanding of the death drive, one of the primary factors separating his work from ego-based arguments about treatment and reparation. In 1915, Freud grasped that when encountering blocked grief, “the ego can consent to its own destruction” [“Mourning” 252], a principle informing his account of self-directed trauma in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). This realization directly [End Page 20] influences our reading of Abraham and Torok, for in adopting Ferenczi’s “benign” definition of “introjection,” they correspondingly excise psychic negativity and misrepresent the real etiology of trauma.

In softening Abraham and Torok’s psychic antinomy between incorporation and introjection, we regain a discourse about resistance, repetition, and symptom formation that distinguishes psychoanalysis from its ego-based counterparts—psychology and psychiatry. Further, in realigning the effect of repression with the unconscious, and the symptom with repression’s failure, we return with Freud and Lacan to a vital discussion about the drives’ fate after their full or partial dissociation from each repressed signifier. This argument’s value lies in returning us to Freud’s and Lacan’s accounts of the war between “mutually opposing” psychic systems [“Resistances” 218]—accounts that grasp the full and traumatic vicissitudes of unconscious life and jouissance.

7. Memory and Veracity

Turning now to Rand and Torok’s 1993 essay, “Questions to Freudian Psychoanalysis: Dream Interpretation, Reality, Fantasy,” I hope not only to show why they revised Abraham and Torok’s earlier work, but to illustrate the critical trajectory of Rand and Torok’s present collaboration. As Rand avows in his introduction to The Shell and the Kernel, “By now I see myself as a continuer rather than as a student and disseminator of [Abraham and Torok’s] work” [4].

Rand and Torok’s recent essay is a close reading of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, his 1899 paper “Screen Memories” and an important chapter of his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, “Childhood Memories and Screen Memories” (1907 [1901]). In both these texts, Freud interprets memories that are not forgotten or repressed but are associatively linked with insignificant reminders in such a way that the subject “refinds” the memory’s “original” content. As an act of mnemonic revision, this “refinding” differs radically from Abraham and Torok’s account of egoic encryptment. Freud’s two essays elaborate on different arguments, but their shared premise is memory’s astonishing unreliability. 21

At the end of “Screen Memories,” Freud questions “whether we have any memories at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess” [“Screen” 322; original emphases]. In this way, he seems to reject historical veracity, though in fact he merely concludes that memory can distort past events. Rand and Torok follow these arguments closely, but when translating Freud’s German phrase “eine Reihe von Motiven, denen die Absicht historischer Treue fern liegt . . .” [“Über Deckerinnerungen” 488], Rand modifies James Strachey’s translation to represent Freud as claiming that ‘“historical truth is the least of our concerns’” [qtd. in “QFP” 586]. The position of the dative plural denen after Motiven renders this translation quite incorrect: The “object of historical truth” refers unequivocally to “a series [or number] of motives.” Strachey’s translation in Standard Edition makes clear why consciousness is the distorting agent, denying us access to a pure and perfect history; the original is not recoverable without alteration. This, then, is how Freud’s statement should read: “And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them [i.e., childhood memories], as well as in the selection of the memories themselves” [“Screen” 322; my emphasis].

Rand’s mistranslation suggests why critics of psychoanalysis often hold Freud [End Page 21] responsible for distorting elements of consciousness; in this example, however, the distortion is the critic’s alone. Rand presents “Screen Memories” as the “dramatization of [an] internal debate [in Freud’s work and correspondence . . . that] rages between the authenticity of infantile recollections and the role of sexual fantasies” [“QFP” 586]. As Strachey notes, however, Freud’s presentation of an autobiographical example in this essay as objective is responsible for “rather undeservedly overshadow[ing] . . . the intrinsic interest of this paper” [“Screen” 302]. Indeed, the autobiographical element allows us to read the paper as a self-interview—not as an instance of conceptual schizophrenia, as Rand and Torok claim—in which Freud poses two different perspectives in a way that renders neither satisfactory. For me, the interest of this essay is that Freud could advance his argument only by relinquishing the assumption that childhood memories are conscious; the argument develops incisively once Freud entertains the role of unconscious influence, substitution, and distortion. Thus by the end of “Screen Memories,” he represents not only memory but consciousness and subjectivity as organized by anticipation and deferred action—that is, by Nachträglichkeit: “A screen memory may be described as ‘retrogressive’ or as having ‘pushed forward’ according as the one chronological relation or the other holds between the screen and the thing screened-off . . .” “i.e., according to whether the displacement has been in a backward or forward direction” [“Screen” 320, 320n].

When introducing The Shell and the Kernel, Rand overlooks this principle of Nachträglichkeit or “deferred action”; he argues that “Freudian theories rely on the concept of latency: beside an emotion expressed, behind a symptom manifested, there lurks a contrary, repressed emotion” [18]. To highlight the repercussions of Rand’s mistake here, I have underscored Freud’s arguments against latency in “Repression” partly to differentiate his work from Abraham and Torok’s repeated use of this concept in their essays. Given Rand’s characterization of Freud, it is easy to see how Abraham and Torok appear to “enlarge upon or redirect the Freudian definition of personal identity as beset by unconscious conflicts, desires, and fantasies” [18]. In claiming that they also “explore the mental landscapes of submerged family secrets . . . in which, for example, actual events are treated as if they had never occurred” [18], Rand eclipses how Freud’s 1899 and 1907 essays on memory were designed to interpret precisely this problematic. More to the point, his and Torok’s essay partly recognizes this complexity in Freud’s early writing but dismisses Freud’s conflicted relation to fantasy and the event: “Freud ends the century vacillating; he continues the tussle between truth and falsehood, between the genuine recollection and the fantasy of childhood scenes” [“QFP” 587]. It should not surprise us that this “tussle” manifests itself yet again as a tension between consciousness and the unconscious. Regarding oneiric states, Rand and Torok therefore argue: “Dreams are in part incomprehensible to dreamers, hence the need to interpret them, to find their latent meaning, and to make this available to dreamers, allowing them access to hitherto unreachable regions of their own psyches, thereby permitting them to control their own houses” [573].

In light of these claims, we can see why Rand would characterize the “broadest aim” of The Shell and the Kernel (and indeed his own understanding of the “Renewals of Psychoanalysis,” the title he gives his introduction to this collection) as an attempt “to restore the lines of communication with those intimate recesses of the mind that have for one reason or another been denied expression” [4]. The problem remains that Rand and Torok produce a psychic and interpretive voluntarism when proposing that “idioms need to be adapted to what patients are trying to express through them” [“QFP” 578]. “If psychoanalysis has any authority at all,” they contend, “in our opinion it derives from the willingness of psychoanalysis to welcome people into their own personal creations” [“QFP” 577]. For this reason, Rand and Torok represent alienation as a temporary effect of suffering and loss, not a traumatic cause precipitating a fragile and conflicted identity [End Page 22] that uses fantasy to conceal this trauma: “The freedom to fantasize is crucial in the formation of the self in childhood and remains an integral part of the harmonious functioning of the adult psyche—that is our conviction” [592–93].

With this emphasis on psychic harmony, Rand and Torok’s therapeutic approach relies on testament and empirical evidence about trauma and distress. As we’ve seen with Rose’s help, such perspectives consider the unconscious in functionalist ways, advancing a form of ego psychology that is by definition antipsychoanalytic. Thus Rand introduces The Shell and the Kernel with the following caveat: “Theories need to be abandoned or revamped if inconsistent with the actual life experience of patients or the facts of a text” [1]. Although Freud allowed his clinical experience to modify some of his conceptual claims, there are crucial differences between Freud’s and Rand and Torok’s undertakings. Besides the treachery inherent in determining more than the most rudimentary “facts of a text”—a treachery accompanying every interpretive act, whether literary or psychic—the ambiguous and unsettling experience of analysis demonstrates that empiricism is the least reliable of psychic theories. This is what Freud grasped of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and what Rand and Torok curiously overlook when presenting the following questions to Freudian psychoanalysis:

Is what patients say about their childhood experiences true or false? Freud’s dilemma, as we see it, consisted in his being unwilling and perhaps unable to determine the real or fantasized status of his patients’ accounts. The result is an odd dilemma: Freud does not seem to know with certainty what he is working on as an analyst—truth or lies, traumas or fantasies. The most highly evolved stage of that question—raised, whether directly or indirectly, with almost inexorable persistence between 1896 and 1932—is less than satisfying: Freud responds with a non liquet, there is doubt, it is never quite clear or certain.

By presenting Freud’s dilemma in this way—as a binary between truth and falsehood on whose answer his work and reputation ultimately hinges—Rand and Torok miss the answer to their question: “Freud’s dilemma . . . consisted in his being unwilling and perhaps unable to determine the real or fantasized status of his patients’ account.” Personal and generic resistances coalesce here, making anything less than certainty appear to disqualify Freud’s inquiry. Freud’s “colophon of doubt,” however, is exactly what distinguished psychoanalysis from its psychological counterparts: The discovery of the unconscious necessarily obstructed all further psychic certainty [Lacan, Four 44]. Thus when analyzing the proposition “I am not sure, I doubt,” Lacan remarked: “It is here that Freud lays all his stress—doubt is the support of his certainty” [Four 35].

Later acknowledging that this problem of fantasy and reality preoccupied Freud—“In spite of what he had hoped and what he subsequently said, Freud was not at peace with this problem . . .” [“QFP” 587]—Rand and Torok do not simply accuse him (as Jeffrey Masson has) of conceptual complacency or of a type of subterfuge amounting to patriarchal tyranny. Instead, their complaint about Freud’s relative unease with his own argument suggests to them a personal deficiency behind Freud’s failure to produce the answer he announced more confidently in his earlier work:

What astonishes us most is the fact that the considerable theoretical advances of Freudian thought at the start of the twentieth century should not have succeeded in neutralizing the question of truth and falsehood in Freud’s mind. The light he shed on infantile sexuality, the role of the stages of instinctual and libidinal development in the neuroses, the pathogenic importance of repressed unconscious fantasies, as related in particular to the Oedipus complex—all the [End Page 23] new theories, which in the eyes of nearly everyone defined the quintessence of psychoanalysis, failed to satisfy Freud. These elaborations failed to quiet in him the turmoil of the choice between truth and falsehood.

Strangely, this passage represents the “kernel” of Rand and Torok’s objections to “classical Freudian psychoanalysis” [“QFP” 587], though the objections do not conclude with the object at which they are first leveled. The passage begins with an account of what in Freud’s early work is most valuable—both for psychoanalysis and, we might infer, for Rand and Torok: the “discovery” of infantile sexuality, the idea of repression, and the Oedipus complex. After all, these elements prevail in modified form throughout The Shell and the Kernel. But Freud’s refusal entirely to disband a binary his own work discredited is not a personal or even conceptual failing. His refusal instead illustrates the complex, ambiguous stakes of fantasy, testimony, seduction, and events (real and imagined). Such factors intensify ensuing questions about truth and falsehood, demanding that we modify our perspective on psychic reality. We cannot also state convincingly that Freud was at fault for realizing that these factors do not “neutraliz[e] . . . the question of truth and falsehood”; such claims are beside the point.

Similar complaints recur in Questions à Freud: Du devenir de la psychanalyse, Rand and Torok’s recent book. Here Rand and Torok offer an elaborate reading of Freud’s 1906 account of Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva and of the role “transmission” plays in the history of psychoanalysis. Yet in attempting to resolve complex psychoanalytic concerns, Questions à Freud consistently traces psychoanalytic enigmas back to Freud’s life and even childhood [see esp. part 4]. The book is intolerant of speculation and doubt, but its allegiance to psychobiography founders precisely on the intentional fallacy: attributing all conceptual incoherences and psychic difficulties to Freud’s life obviously proves impossible. Nonetheless, it seems disingenuous that Rand and Torok would conclude their book by implying that Freud’s project somehow arose and went awry due to his intolerance for speculation and doubt:

Nous avons questionné Freud parce que la psychanalyse nous paraît évoluer sur des voies contraires. Nous avons voulu apporter une réponse à la question: Pourquoi dans la pensée freudienne l’inspiration d’extraordinaire ouverture se heurte-t-elle si souvent et comme par fatalité à des pratiques de fermeture? L’ambition d’ouverture, l’espoir de tout comprendre—dans le domaine de la psyché et au-delà, pour le bien et le bien-être de l’humanité—ont animé Freud tout au long de sa vie. . . . Mais pouvons-nous lui donner notre adhésion entière lorsqu’il ferme ce qu’il tentait—en bravant maintes résistances—d’ouvrir?


We have questioned Freud because psychoanalysis seems to us to have evolved along contrary paths. We have aimed to respond to the question: Why in Freudian thought does the astonishing inspiration of gaps or openings conflict so often—indeed, almost inevitably—with the habit of closing things down? The aspiration to open things up, the hope of understanding everything—in and beyond the psychic field and for the good and well-being of all humanity—motivated Freud his entire life. . . . But can we adhere to him entirely when he closes down precisely what he tried—while defying repeated opposition—to open?

[my trans.]

How does this statement—alternately generous to and critical of Freud—correspond to Rand and Torok’s “astonish[ment]” at Freud’s precise dissatisfaction with his early theories? Surely Rand and Torok’s careful enumeration of Freud’s conceptual revisions [End Page 24] demonstrates both a lack of rigidity in Freud’s argument and his willingness to interpret the repercussions of the unconscious, a factor they strangely overlook above and reframe in most of their book.

What makes these arguments so curious, finally, is Rand’s gratitude that Abraham and Torok “attempt . . . at times to smooth over aspects of Freud’s theories” whenever they seem contradictory or poorly formulated [Shell 76n]; Rand himself, as we’ve seen, perceives analysis as helping patients “continue to live harmoniously,” such that “fruitful use [is made] of the natural gift of sexual pleasure” while the “enemies of life” are properly overcome [14, 10–11, 22]. As I argued earlier, this gesture not only aims to organize factors Freud insisted were structurally insoluble, but forecloses on the very apparatus that could begin to analyze the resulting trauma.

Although Rand and Torok object to Freud’s dissatisfaction with his early theories of sexuality, fantasy, and the event, Freud’s later work alighted on a concept demonstrating the inadequacy of an evidential reality/fantasy split—the death drive. Freud apparently had to smuggle the ensuing conceptual difficulty into his argument, in the form of a haunting doubt that interrupts his “official” confidence: “Whether we adhere to them or not, Freud’s mature theories clearly lay claim to a level of cohesiveness and universal validity that would not [sic] longer require a return to the question of truth versus falsehood. Nobody but Freud requires it” [“QFP” 587].

There are two objections to Freud here, which aren’t entirely congruent: his false claims about psychic consistency and his immediate dissatisfaction with these claims. The first is again difficult to reconcile with Rand and Torok’s citation from Freud’s An Autobiographical Study (1925), which they use to demonstrate his conceptual vacillations. As Freud avows, “Before going further into the question of infantile sexuality I must mention an error into which I fell for a while and which might well have had fatal consequences for the whole of my work” [33–34, qtd. in “QFP” 582]—the error concerns his willingness to believe his patients’ accounts of infantile seduction. The issue that Rand and Torok highlight, however, is not simply Freud’s uncertainty about the truth or falsehood of infantile seduction, but Freud’s ability to endorse his patients’ testimony, since the stakes of analysis (both practical and theoretical) hinge on this psychic and evidential interpretation. As Freud wrote in 1907, in a statement questioning neither infantile fantasy nor “actual history” but the speech giving credibility to both: “If the memories that a person has retained are subjected to an analytic enquiry, it is easy to establish that there is no guarantee of their accuracy” [“Childhood” 46–47; my emphasis].

Once Freud alighted on the vicissitudes of this testimony—given all of its informing factors of distortion, condensation, projection, partial repression, and Nachträglichkeit—psychoanalysis could not continue simply by accepting or rejecting what patients announced as fact. Indeed, Rand and Torok ironically demonstrate this in their careful transcription of Freud’s work on infantile fantasy and seduction; the oscillation we see in Freud’s work illustrates neither the invalidity of fantasy and seduction nor the inevitable need to prioritize one at the other’s expense. Freud’s oscillation directs a question instead at the meaning and importance attached to both registers that psychoanalysis can broach but—for obvious reasons—cannot easily resolve. Given their extensive knowledge and experience of psychoanalysis as a professor and analyst, respectively, what is surprising about Rand and Torok’s recent work is its willingness to overlook the obvious point that Freud’s central dilemma in the 1900s concerned both the truth and fiction of his patients’ claims.

Since doubt and uncertainty are prerequisites for all psychoanalytic inquiry, Rand and Torok’s second objection—that “nobody but Freud requires . . . a definitive answer”—is wholly disingenuous. Why should this signify Freud’s error and not his integrity? Rand and Torok’s argument is also difficult to square with Freud’s careful [End Page 25] admissions of doubt in his later work, and Rand and Torok’s earlier argument that Freud kept working at these issues precisely because they troubled him. Without considering these obvious counterpoints, Rand and Torok resume their argument about Freud’s dissatisfaction: “From 1897 on, Freud shackled himself with the question of truth versus falsehood without ever examining its ultimate sense or his own reasons for the interrogation” [“QFP” 588; my emphasis]. Rand and Torok’s previous argument shows precisely the reverse: Freud consistently examined his reasons for this interrogation. Indeed, psychoanalysis and his patients’ well-being hinged on the answer to nothing less. Arguably, this demonstrates that Freud managed to separate his work from his followers’ limited understanding of it.

What Rand and Torok imply about Freud’s conceptual doubt they do not rigorously interpret in his later work (as opposed to his contemporaneous letters), where it prevails to an remarkable degree, particularly in Three Essays’ footnotes and in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Rand and Torok attribute this conceptual doubt to Freud’s alleged pride and/or isolation: “For want of a friend perhaps, to whom he could regularly and immediately communicate his clinical and theoretical second thoughts . . .” [“QFP” 587]. This deduction is rather absurd and many have critiqued its biographical assumptions [see for instance Davidson]. Claiming that Freud’s intolerance of equivocation in his work compelled this factor to return as an “insidious . . . haunting” [587] clears some space for Rand and Torok’s theory of revenance, which Freud formulated in “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919), but this proposition in fact ignores the self-acknowledged doubts surfacing throughout Freud’s early and later work (we quoted some of these doubts earlier); it also turns psychoanalysis into a study of certainty, in which any “doubt” registers as an immediate conceptual disaster.

To all of Rand and Torok’s objections—“Freudian psychoanalysis appears to us threatened from within”; “we have perceived internal rifts running through Freud’s system of thought”; “we are tempted to say that Freudian psychoanalysis is divided and self-contradictory”; “Freudian theory fractures in its very core” [“QFP” 568–69]—we can only respond, of course. And how could it be otherwise? How could any psychoanalytic principle not be contradictory when the subject is founded upon this contradiction? Freud makes this point, using almost the same words, when he avows that his principal hypothesis in the 1895 Project “suffers under an internal contradiction” [369]; psychoanalysis, as I earlier remarked, could almost be said to begin with this admission. In Rand and Torok’s work, on the other hand, resolving equivocation recurs with greater urgency: Rand begins from a premise of “harmonious progress” in analysis [Shell 21–22], when Freud does not.

It surprises me that Rand and Torok overlook the axiomatic tension between conscious and unconscious systems in Freud’s work. For they note, in a manner that takes us beyond those who argue (as Frederick Crews does) that Freud patterned the unconscious after his own failures: “The problem reaches well beyond the theoretical contradiction. . . . The psychic realm has its own laws, wholly unknown to other domains” [“QFP” 575, 580]. Yet we obviously don’t need to accept that this “beyond” leads to either biography’s unquestionable veracity or the partial errors and falsehoods surfacing in analytic treatment. In this respect, I agree that “an internal demon of sorts is at work here . . . [whose] compass of individual paradoxes . . . form[s] a network of mutually exclusive methodological dualities within Freudian thought” [569]. In revisiting Freud’s arguments in The Ego and the Id, “Resistance and Repression,” and “Mourning and Melancholia,” however, my aim has been simply to demonstrate both the inevitability of this “demon” and the recurrence of paradox in any theory that tries to account for it. Beyond this relatively banal point, I would add that Freud’s conceptual oscillations mirror this psychic turbulence only insofar as his early work plays out the drama of allegiance between psychology (an account of the ego) and psychoanalysis (a theory of the unconscious) by [End Page 26] rendering a resolution of this drama virtually impossible.

8. Beyond Evidence . . . to Doubt and Trauma

In concluding this essay, I propose that Freud formulated in 1899—and, later, in 1901—a set of questions about memory and the psychic representation of events that would forever transform our understanding of reality, time, and history. In chapter four of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, he argued:

This general principle would assert that when the reproducing function [of memory] fails or goes astray, the occurrence [of this error] points, far more frequently than we suspect, to interference by a tendentious factor—that is, by a purpose which favours one memory while striving to work against another. . . . This suggests that there are conditions for remembering (in the sense of conscious reproducing) of a quite special kind, which have evaded recognition by us up to now.

[“Childhood” 45–46; original emphasis]

Central to my reading of Freud is a conviction that the recurrence of questions, doubts, and revisions in his writing is itself profoundly psychoanalytic; psychoanalysis by definition cannot produce conditions of certainty. For this reason, I have emphasized how Abraham’s, Torok’s, and Rand’s pursuit of resolution and harmony detracts from their psychic investigation. In “Renewals of Psychoanalysis,” for instance, Rand remarks on Abraham and Torok’s difficulties with Freud’s legacy: “intent on . . . exploring ever more avenues of sympathetic understanding . . . they struggle, sometimes unwittingly, to shake off the various theories handed down to them” [Shell 1]. Inadvertently perhaps, Rand’s image represents Freud (and surely Lacan) as an unwanted legacy that Abraham and Torok also want to “shake off”—even as a “crypt” they cannot introject [Kamuf 42].

Throughout this essay I have argued that Abraham’s, Torok’s, and Rand’s accounts of subjectivity and sexuality either ignore or repress the very psychic factors that take us away from “sympathetic understanding.” Strongly pronounced in Rand and Torok’s recent work, such attempts are liable to reproduce the forms of coercion and psychic violence that Lacan denounced in “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power” (1958). Lacan’s criticisms, cited earlier, indicate why he emphasizes not “recovery” but rather what cannot be lost and properly mourned; hence Lacan’s baleful assessment that subjectivity is unable to restore itself or face the pressing turmoil of its eventual demise.

Instead of leading to quietism and ahistoricism—of which many critics accuse psychoanalysis—Lacan takes us in the opposite direction, toward an inquiring skepticism and an irreverence so extensive it can seem intolerably extreme: “Such is the fright that seizes man when he unveils the face of his power that he turns away from it even in the very act of laying its features bare. So it has been with psychoanalysis” [“Function” 34]. As Lacan argues, however, we nonetheless continue to demand that witnesses provide us with testimonials, however sullied the result. The Other still speaks. Can we heed this speech without also demanding unquestionable veracity?

Christopher Lane

Christopher Laneis an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He is the author of The Ruling Passion: British Colonial Allegory and the Paradox of Homosexual Desire (1995) and The Burdens of Intimacy: Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity (forthcoming in Fall 1998), as well as the editor of The Psychoanalysis of Race (1998).


For their advice and commentary on an earlier draft, I thank Jonathan Culler, Jason Friedman, and Timothy Murray. I also thank Judith Feher Gurewich and David Marriott for inviting me to present shorter versions of this paper at Harvard University and the University of London.


1. To grasp the complex, turbulent exchanges between Abraham and Lacan, one must read Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan & Co., esp. 597–601. According to Roudinesco, Abraham’s Husserlian project of phenomenological psychology took a “path [that] was unique in the French history of psychoanalysis. It was ‘alien’ in all senses of the word to French phenomenology. That was why Abraham . . . cultivated an ignorance of Lacan’s work, and when he discovered the master’s discourse at Sainte-Anne, he was repelled by the hypnotic nature of Lacan’s relation to his students. In brief, he did not regard Lacan’s re-elaborations as central to psychoanalysis” [598; my emphasis]. This difficulty about conceptual debts and acknowledgment obviously was compounded by Abraham’s “bizarre” treatment by the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (where he had previously undergone training), when his application, in 1975, to become an adhering member was rejected [597–98, 601]. The situation worsened after Lacan’s “astonished” and “aggressed” response to the publication success of Abraham and Torok’s Cryptonymie: Le verbier de l’homme aux loups (1976) [600]. In a commentary published in Ornicar? [14 (1978): 8–9], Lacan registered his “surprise” and irritation that Derrida “supplied this lexicon with a fervent and enthusiastic preface [’Fors’]” [Lacan, qtd. in Roudinesco 600].

2. In correspondence with me, which I reproduce with his permission, Rand distinguished Abraham and Torok’s clinical differences with Freud from his own intellectual arguments with Freud: “It is perhaps I, more than Abraham and Torok themselves, who stress their differences with Freud. In an earlier version of the introduction, I had included a sentence which designated them as ‘unfreudian Freudians.’ The double edge there is significant.” For elaboration of Rand’s argument, see “Family” as well as his collaborations with Torok: “The Secret of Psychoanalysis,” “À propos de travaux,” “Questions à . . . M. Torok et N. Rand,” and Questions à Freud.

3. Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent references are to The Shell and the Kernel, vol. 1.

4. In Rand and Torok’s latest work, as we’ll see, an intolerance for psychoanalytic discussion of castration could almost be considered their pr mary motivation. See Questions à Freud, esp. 279–80.

5. Lacan is quoting the first report of the International Symposium, which met in 1958 at the invitation of the Société Française de Psychanalyse, published in La psychanalyse 6.

6. For elaboration on this point, see Murray 25–64, esp. 40 and 52–53.

7. This passage in The Ego and the Id is worth quoting at length: “Threatened by dangers from three directions, [the ego] develops the flight-reflex by withdrawing its own cathexis from the menacing perception or from the similarly regarded process in the id, and emitting it as anxiety. . . . What it is that the ego fears from the external and from the libidinal danger cannot be specified; we know that the fear is of being overwhelmed or annihilated, but it cannot be grasped analytically” [Ego 57; my emphasis]. After Freud’s allegory of psychical identity [see note 9], we can see why Reich and Marcuse believed that the liberation of sexuality would precipitate political emancipation; however, Freud’s above qualifier deprives us of this conceptual satisfaction.

8. Freud’s references to the “alien” and “foreign” dimensions of psychic life recur throughout his Papers on Metapsychology (“Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” “Repression,” “The Unconscious,” “A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams,” and “Mourning and Melancholia”) and in his lecture “Dissection of the Psychical Personality”; see also Derrida, “Me” 12.

9. I refer to “Resistance and Repression,” in which Freud allegorizes intrapsychic conflict as individuals jostling each other in an entrance hall [295].

10. See Freud, Beyond: “the sexual instincts are . . . peculiarly resistant to external influences” [40].

11. Schreiner 97.

12. It appears that Lacan was responding to Abraham and Torok’s typology of the “phantom” and “shell” before it appeared in print; this problem of chronology is perhaps explained by the circulation of texts or ideas several years before they were published. I am following Rand’s editorial note that ‘“L’écorce et le noyau’ was written in 1967 [and published in Critique in 1968] as an extended review of Laplanche and Pontalis’s Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse” while Lacan’s remarks in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis are dated February 5, 1964 [Shell 75].

13. As Barbara Johnson remarks in her translator’s note to Derrida’s essay, “the word fors in French, derived from the Latin foris (‘outside, outdoors’), is an archaic preposition meaning ‘except for, barring, save.’ In addition, fors is the plural of the word for, which, in the French expression le for intérieur , designates the inner heart, ‘the tribunal of conscience,’ subjective interiority. The word fors thus ‘means’ both interiority and exteriority, a spatial problematic that will be developed at great length here in connection with the ‘crypt’” [Johnson in Derrida, “Fors” xi–xiin]. For a Lacanian account of this phenomenon as “extimacy,” see Miller.

14. “Despite their attribution of the concept’s paternity to Ferenczi, Abraham and Torok are the genuine creators of the concept of introjection in the very broad sense they intend. The distinction drawn by Abraham and Torok between introjection and incorporation has no precedent within psychoanalytic thought, either in the depth and scope of the distinction or in its theoretical consequences and clinical differences” [102]. Rand may be correct to argue that Abraham and Torok’s conceptual distinction between these terms inaugurated a new shift—and perhaps rift—in psychoanalytic thought, but his claim about this term’s origins eclipses Freud’s use of “introjection” in 1915 and 1920, and of “incorporation” in “Mourning and Melancholia” [1917 (1915)].

15. Yet, on pp. xl and xli, Derrida starts to question this hermeneutic principle, clarifying how much interpretation in Abraham and Torok’s text rests on linguistic and translated associations that “seem to break down” [xli]. For clarification of Derrida’s quite generous reading of Abraham and Torok—a “generosity” we rarely find in his readings of Freud—see Roudinesco 600.

16. I am drawing here on Leo Bersani’s invaluable reading of Freud’s work in The Freudian Body, esp. 38–39.

17. As I have argued elsewhere, the question that psychoanalysis poses for Derrida—in ways that he cannot simply dismiss as conceptually incoherent—concerns the role of jouissance and resistance for a subjectivity implacably divided against itself. To reject this proposition, as Derrida has acknowledged, is to risk a conceptual foreclosure on “unreason” [“Let Us” 3–4]; to this we must also add the ontological ramifications of voluntarism, impossible mastery, and delirium [Lane, “Philosophy” 98–100, 106–07 and “Beyond” 109, 114]. Unfortunately, there is not space here to assess how these ramifications impact on Derrida’s conception of psychic resistance in Résistances de la psychanalyse.

18. Strachey explains: “The term ‘introjection’ does not occur in this paper, though Freud had already used it, in a different connection, in the first of these metapsychological papers [i.e., ‘Instincts and Their Vicissitudes’] above. When he returned to the topic of identification, in the chapter of his Group Psychology referred to in the text, he used the word ‘introjection’ at several points, and it reappears, though not very frequently, in his subsequent writings [i.e., Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)]” [“Mourning” 241n1; my emphasis].

19. Compare Freud’s account of melancholic incorporation with Abraham and Torok’s—the two are not easily distinguished: “Incorporation results from those losses that for some reason cannot be acknowledged as such” [Shell 130; original emphasis].

20. Freud: “In melancholia, . . . countless separate struggles are carried on over the object, in which hate and love contend with each other; the one seeks to detach the libido from the object, the other to maintain this position of the libido against the assault. The location of these separate struggles cannot be assigned to any system but the Ucs., the region of the memory-traces of things (as contrasted with word-cathexes). . . . Just as mourning impels the ego to give up the object by declaring the object to be dead and offering the ego the inducement of continuing to live, so does each single struggle of ambivalence loosen the fixation of the libido to the object by disparaging it, denigrating it and even as it were killing it. It is possible for the process in the Ucs. to come to an end, either after the fury has spent itself or after the object has been abandoned as valueless. . . . The ego may enjoy in this the satisfaction of knowing itself as the better of the two, as superior to the object” [“Mourning” 256–57; original emphases].

21. One can grasp the current stakes of this unreliability by reading Frederick Crews et al.’s The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute, a book to which this section of my essay implicitly responds.

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