The Milltown Lacanian Association, Study Day on Hysteria in the 21st Century

Date publication : 28/11/2022


The Milltown Lacanian Association
Study Day on
Hysteria in the 21st Century
10th September 2022 Avila
Avila, The Carmelite Centre, Donnybrook, Dublin. 
Simultaneous Translation by Helen Sheehan


Charles Melman: Sorry I speak in French, but I can’t do any better.

I have come along today to pay tribute to the M.L.A. group and to the work of Helen Sheehan for taking the remarkable initiative of translating my seminars on the subject of hysteria which I gave over forty years ago and about which I had an argument with Lacan.

Bonjour Gérard (Dr Amiel).

Gérard Amiel: Bonjour Monsieur Melman. I’ve come along to give a helping hand!    

Charles Melman: That’s kind. It will help me.

The psychoanalyst does not teach a dogma but he responds to questions.

I don’t know what your questions are, but the essential is…not that I should transmit a dogma, but I’m interested only in your questions. All the same, I will make a remark which I believe is original.

To be able to talk about hysteria you have to be always at least two. You cannot talk about hysteria all alone. The obsessional occupies himself with being alone with his neurosis but the hysteric has a need for somebody to speak which has a very important consequence. Because, that is to say, the pathology or illness is not with either one or other of the speakers but it’s in the interlocution between them; that’s amazing! Because if I look for the place and the cause of the illness, I would not say crudely that it’s with the hysteric, but it’s between the hysteric and her questioner.

Like you perhaps, I was very moved to see that Lacan made a discourse of hysteria, that is to say, one of the four ways in which this discourse allows us to make a community among ourselves. When I enter into language the place is there waiting for me; my address to the other lies there. This place – it’s called hysteria. Because I tend in general to be audacious, I will tell you immediately what this place is about, what it consists in, and perhaps you yourselves would like to respond to that. Which is stronger? Is it to have the phallus? Or is it to renounce it? Is it stronger to have the phallic insignia, to be a man? Or, is the stronger to be castrated? Freud did not have very clear ideas on this question. He said that men are horrified at the thought of castration. But, we see all the time, all around us the way in which men delegate their power to women and to the children in the house. Children know very well where the reality of power lies. And this reality of power is a question developed by Little Hans; he talks only about that. If he’s phobic it’s because his mother does not recognise the power of phallic agency.  

[Dr Melman laughs] Look at me here giving a lecture! I am saying anything and everything. When Lacan gives the formula for the discourse of the hysteric Ꞩ<>a he wants to say what? He says that when a subject speaks, I’m saying “subject” – we have to underline this term “subject” – he authorizes himself from a place in the Autre. See, here I have to do a little bit of dogmatism, I don’t have much choice! This place is a cut, a cut in the Autre which envisages an object and which is the object of the phantasy of this subject. That is to say the object that is capable of repairing this cut, so that jouissance will be accomplished, will be perfect.

This is the hysterical situation and is the position of every subject because you see I’m a subject when I speak to you; but which becomes a pathological expression when it bears witness to the fact that this cut in the Autre has no limit, is infinite. It has borders which are put aside endlessly, and which has a verbal expression which is itself infinite and absolute, - terrorizing. Or else, I know how to sacrifice myself and I reduce this cut into a simple feint with which I continue to engage. That is to say, I make a sacrifice of my desire. And I make the sacrifice so that my absolute authority will be recognised. Therefore, the game of the hysteric, the possibility that she gives you is to make sure you respect, recognise the absolute character of virility. And therefore, of absolute mastery in the supreme sacrifice; it’s really strong that; all the same. It’s a kind of unbelievable – this story, this history, this news. And meanwhile, we all know that we could have been brought up in a family in which the economy of the couple could exactly be that. Therefore, in this configuration – a complex - the child has to find his sexual identity. I will continue to speak!

There is a sensational story which I will tell you about; it’s anorexia. It has an enigmatic aspect for young girls, this anorexia. And meanwhile, it’s really very simple. What does she want to be? She doesn’t want to be a girl because she wants to efface all the corporal traits of femininity. I always arrive at this place where I don’t believe this, what I’m going to say; it’s unbelievable. She wants to be One, without any other form, just One. That is to say to found a feminine population. Lacan says “The Woman does not exist.” That’s to say that there is no ensemble; a unity which would be that of women. Well, the anorexic says there is a community of One which will found the existence of One and that is the pure phallus. And if you try to enforce your authority on an anorexic – to let them know your authority, you will see the result.

I will finish here on one last remark. The hysteric has always had a polymorphous pathology. But today - in 2022 she has a pathology which would not have made psychoanalysis possible; which today would not permit the birth of psychoanalysis if Freud had not by stroke of luck, intervened or come along. Why? For a simple reason, the hysterical symptom at Freud’s time, was the expression, the translation of a representation of motricity problems: a formulation which she wasn’t able to articulate. For example, if she had as a symptom not to be able to stand up, this was the translation of the fact that she lost her father and she no longer had support. The hysterical symptom was the translation of a thought – which she couldn’t exteriorise in any other way. And when Freud’s friend, professor Breuer, deciphered her symptoms there was then produced something which remains unbelievable - Anna O fell in love with him. What has that got to do with it? Why did she fall in love with him?

Today, the situation is totally different. It’s completely different for the following reason. The hysteric wants the recognition of her counterpart, she wants to be recognized by him. To be the One that in fact her feminine status forbids her to be. Today, and this is what has changed, not only does the hysteric not aim or not wish to be recognised by her counterpart, but she returns the situation – it’s her questioner who now finds himself looking to be recognised by her! We see very easily in democracies these days how the authorities are always wanting to be recognised by the people as if there was a demand for a permanent referendum.

I heard yesterday about a new king. An unbelievable thing; but he said “I want to be the servant of the people”. We are used to this and it has the air of being kind of simple, still it’s very unusual to hear a king say “You really are lucky, because now you’ve found a good servant.” [Laughter in the audience]. Ah still, after all it’s an event.

To conclude my “Non-Conference”, we can see that hysteria unveils our principal desire, it’s not an object, it is narcissistic. Ah, yes! All of us who are here in this room, our first desire, our first desire is to make ourselves recognised, to be recognised. To be recognised by what? As psychoanalysts of course! But here there is a problem; there isn’t a characteristic insignia for a psychoanalyst. There is a characteristic insignia for a man or woman. There is a characteristic insignia for a teacher because he has loads of knowledge. But the psychoanalyst doesn’t have loads of interpretations. Well then, if there isn’t a characteristic insignia for the psychoanalyst, how do they make themselves recognised among themselves? They don’t do it very well because they do it like it’s done in every social group, that is to say they try to show themselves the strongest narcissistically. The result is not very good for psychoanalysis. And therefore, I find that with Helen and our friends who have come from France to work with you, you are right firstly to confront those questions and try your best to resolve them. I never heard Lacan say a bad word about a psychoanalyst. He could say for example that what an analyst has said is not right but it was always a technical or scientific discussion. It was never a moral discussion. Lacan was like that. I have seen him receive many wounds, many arrows, like Saint Sebastian, but he never moved nor responded. Was he a saint? I can tell you, guarantee you, he wasn’t a saint. Well then, what was he? Was he a hysteric? No, he wasn’t a hysteric. Therefore, what was he? Well, you will permit me to give you time to think about this question yourselves. The response to which is not without some practical interest. 

I’m sorry and I have given this “Non-Conference” in French. If you have a question, if we have the time? I don’t know about this Helen.

Helen Sheehan: Yes – we have time.

Gérard Amiel: I would like to very warmly thank you for what you have said which as always opens important doors for us. There are two things I would like to say. Firstly it’s about the modern master and the modalities of the modern master, who, a lot of the time puts himself on the same side as hysteria. That’s to say he shows himself to be a sad master. And when he shows some evidence of his virility it turns out very badly.

And the second point, Monsieur Melman, when you started your Conference you said that the book about hysteria was a motive for an argument with Lacan. So, I would like to know more about this.

Charles Melman: I won’t begin with the dispute. You see that I began with hysteria as the pathological expression of our social life. As Lacan describes it, it is social pathology which is hysterical. In other words, the subject has no way of avoiding the social pathology. Our status is socio-pathological. That’s where my optimism of youth intervened, I was indeed young at the time, it’s extraordinary but I refused the hysterical discourse because I was young at the time. To respond quickly to your first question, you are totally right. There is a real, absolute need for the mutation of desire because as modernity practices it, it is typically hysterical. Therefore, it’s a new form of hysteria. It isn’t to do anymore with articulating; it’s to do only with formulating demands. And Gérard, you are totally right, perfectly right. It’s the modern form of hysteria, but seeing that the essential of the message which it brings along is the commandment to obey; well then it has to be obeyed but this new form of hysteria does not fit well with psychoanalytic practice, and it’s for other reasons that young people go along to psychoanalysis these days.

It is o.k. like this Helen?

Helen Sheehan: Yes, Dr. Melman. It’s great.

Gérard Amiel: Perhaps, there are other questions from the audience?

What are the other reasons young people have for going along to psychoanalysis?

Charles Melman: It’s very simple, before - we would go along to analysis because we’re encumbered or burdened with a desire and we didn’t know how to deal with it. We go along today because we don’t know what there is to desire. We go to see an analyst to see what there is to be desired.

Gérard Amiel: Thank you very much Mr. Melman, Omar has a question for you also.

Charles Melman: Omar!

Omar Guerrero: It’s about your last point about Lacan who received attacks but didn’t respond. I wanted to know if this is a reference to the stoics or do you have a more advanced reference as to why Lacan would not return attacks or arrows in other words, his “non response” and which would give us some guidelines for our work in groups today? Does Charles Melman have another reference as to what we can do in our groups, when we are psychoanalysts.

Charles Melman: Lacan knew that it isn’t the love of the other, it’s not love of the other that regulates our relationship with our neighbour, but is the hatred of the other. Seeing that the other is also oneself it’s also hatred at the place of oneself. And therefore, it’s kind of futile to add to hatred; because when Freud introduced the death drive which his students didn’t want him to, it was also at the time that his cancer of the mouth began. We should therefore have some reflections on love and hatred. It would be worth it.  

Ok, Hélène.

Gérard Amiel: Merci beaucoup, à bientôt Monsieur Melman.

Helen Sheehan: À bientôt.

Charles Melman: Congratulations on your work à bientôt.

                             Au revoir.


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