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Foreword to The Unpast. The Actual Unconscious

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Foreword to The Unpast. The Actual Unconscious
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  The Unpast: The Actual Unconsciousby Dominique Scarfone New York:The Unconscious in Translation© 2015ISBN 978-1-942254-06-5Library of Congress Control Number: 2015957530  CONTENTSForeword ¥ vii  A Matter of Time ¥ 1  Repetition: Between Presence and Meaning  ¥ 31  In the Hollow of Transference ¥ 53 The Unpast ¥ 69Bibliography ¥ 173Index ¥ 181   2  Foreword  Time was a somewhat neglected theme in FreudÕs nearly fifty-year long study of the unconscious, and he himself deplored this fact in one of his late writings: ÒAgain and again I have had the impression that we have made too little theoretical use of [the] fact, established beyond any doubt, of the unalterability by time of the repressed. This seems to offer an approach to the most profound discoveries. Nor, unfortunately, have I myself made any progress here.Ó 1 One can only speculate about where a renewed effort on FreudÕs part would have led him regarding the Òunalterability by time of the repressed.Ó In the present series of essays, that idea is embraced again, though from a different angle. Instead of subscribing to the general notion of ÒtimelessnessÓ regarding the unconscious, I rather take stock of FreudÕs somewhat different formulation in the citation above.  The Òunalterability by time of the repressedÓ seems indeed to point at something more dynamic or more dialectical than the blunt assertion that the unconscious is timeless. If the unconscious were indeed timeless, one wonders how any part of it could be brought into a time-bound form of existence. Timelessness points to an unconscious that would be out of this world, whereas Òthe unalterability by time of the repressed,Ó suggests a whole different story. One could hear now that time does exist for the unconscious, but that somehow the repressed is protected from its corrosive effects. The question can then be more pragmatically put: in what state is the repressed that makes it so sturdy?  To answer this question, I did not take up all that was written on the subject by post-Freudian authors. I rather chose to go back to basics and follow a possibly new path in FreudÕs opus, starting from the foundational works, such as the Project  , and going through the early clinical papers and on to the later writings. Following that path, my attention was caught by the distinction Freud made between the Òdefense psychoneurosesÓ and the ones he called Òactual neurosesÓ. The term ÒactualÓ struck me at some point because though Freud used the epithet to qualify the neuroses he thought were not amenable to psychoanalysis, he nevertheless had to admit that he could not erect a staunch border between the two kinds of neuroses. He therefore had no way of keeping the actual neuroses out of the psychoanalytic clinical field; on S. Freud (1932), Lecture XXXI, SE   XXII, p. 74. (translation slightly modiÞed). 1   3  the contrary, he was forced to acknowledge that the psychoneuroses contain a kernel of actual neurosis. Looking closer, I realized that the relationship existing between ÒactualÓ and ÒdefenseÓ neuroses follows a more general pattern that runs throughout the whole Freudian theorization. What is more, the general paradigm thus delineated rests not so much on topographyÑabout which Freud always said that it was a metaphorÑbut on a temporal   basis. I was therefore drawn to give priority to the time dimension again. I started from the intuition that the word ÒactualÓ in Òactual neurosesÓ had to be read through the prism of translation. Indeed, while the English ÒactualÓ qualifies something real or concrete, its deceivingly similar German cousin ÒaktualÓ belongs to the time dimension, defining that which happens  presently  . Thus, ÒAktualneurosenÓ  was a name for neurotic states that had their source in a currently active physiological disturbance rather than in a complex history of trauma, defense, return of the repressed, and so on. Then again, it is not difficult to envisage that what is ÒactualÓ in the English sense of real must also belong to a present state of affairs; hence, the time dimension is never out of view. The ÒaktualÓ (presently active) factor invoked by Freud is also ÒactualÓ (real) in the English sense of the adjective, and vice versa  . But since such an ÒactualÓ kernel is at the heart of the psychoneuroses, how can this be reconciled with the so-called timelessness of the unconscious? If what lies at the core is both ÒactualÓ (real) and ÒaktualÓ (presently active), could we not then consider that the word and the concept in fact correspond to the state of the repressed that makes it impervious to the passage of time? Following this line of thinking, can we not postulate that the unconscious is not so much timeless as it is Òactual,Ó in the sense that it is both effectively real and that its time is always ÒnowÓ?  This hypothesis seems promising both theoretically and clinically.  At the theoretical   level, it may serve to protect metapsychology from the metaphysical temptation of referring to entities such as are found in the topographic and structural models. For while Freud always insisted that these must be considered a useful, though provisional fiction, our daily parlance has a tendency to reify the psychic ÒregionsÓ rather than deal with the processes that are the real thing. For instance, working from a mainly temporal point of view we could be spared what appear to me as sterile debates about mechanisms related to the topography of the mind. In practice, psychoanalysis teaches us nothing spatial or geographical about the 2 psychic processes, but it certainly points to the temporal dimension. This dimension is all the more important if we can generalize the dialectics between ÒactualÓ and ÒpsychicÓ to other major chapters of the Freudian theoretical construction. I think here, for instance of the present push, among North-American psychoanalysts, for replacing repression 2  with dissociation.   4   At the clinical   level, the temporal take on the workings of the psyche sheds new light on the decisive role of transference in psychoanalytic practice. It has important direct and indirect consequences on the handling of transference and more generally on the ethics of the analytic endeavour. Transference (and countertransference by the same token) can indeed be seen as the central operator of the passage from what is actual (the repressed) to what is truly psychic i.e. time-bound and linked to the complex time structure of personal history. In the present book, for example, I will refer more than once to the difference between two kinds of transference, depending on wether what is transferred stems from ready-made repressed  psychic   formations or from the actual   nuclei of the unconscious. I shall contend that this difference is of major import regarding the practical and ethical disposition required of the analyst. * Obviously, the ideas expounded in this book were not elaborated in a void but resulted from a methodical reading of Freud. Both the method and the ideas were inherited, sometimes explicitly, other times implicitly, from the major thinkers and critical readers of Freud whose names will be mentioned throughout the book.  Among them, Jean Laplanche stands out as a major influence, but I have also found inspiration in the works of non-analysts such as LyotardÑ who was, among other things, a brilliant commentator of FreudÑ and Levinas, who did not overtly write about psychoanalysis but whose thinking, I believe, strongly resonates with its ethics. My wish is that the work presented here may incite and help the reader to take a new look at the Freudian heritage. Indeed, while nothing of that heritage was thrown overboard here, the intention was to offer a different and possibly new itinerary through the vast landscape that was drawn by Freud, eventually finding new connections and transverse paths between some of the many roads that he has paved for us. Dominique Scarfone October 2015    5
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