Analysis of Transference, Vol. I: Theory and Technique
Analysis of Transference, Vol. II: Studies of Nine Audio-Recorded Psychoanalytic Sessions
“Does psychoanalysis remain a dialectical relation in which the non-action of the analyst guides the subject’s discourse towards the realization of his truth, or is it to be reduced to a phantasmatic relation in which ‘two abysses brush against each other’ without touching, while the whole gamut of imaginary regressions is exhausted—like a sort of ‘bundling’ pushed to its extreme limits as a psychological experience?”
—Jacques Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in
Freud stumbled on the concept of transference while desperately casting about for an antidote to the epidemic of latrogenic lovesickness that had spread through his practice in the 1890s. When, one by one, all of his women patients stopped doing the work of free association that they had at first enthusiastically taken up and began shyly and then importunely to declare their love for him, he shrewdly surmised that it was not “the charms of my person” that were the cause of the disturbance but, rather, that the women were in a state of readiness to fall in love, and he was simply Bottom to their Titania.
Freud’s clearsightedness about the profound impersonality of romantic passion was not an original insight—it is one that poets have long been privy to. Where Freud’s genius came into play was in his extension of the metaphor of unseeing, solipsistic passion to the whole of human interaction. It began to dawn on Freud that it is not only love that is blind—all our feelings toward and ideas about one another are marked by a magnificent obliviousness to reality. Like the chains of the prisoners in Plato’s cave, which prevented them from turning their heads to distinguish shadow from substance, the shackles of transference keep us in a state of perpetual misprision. Freud’s modest program of fending off his importunate patients with some sort of tactful and professional-sounding formula—“We overcome the transference by pointing out to the patient that his feelings do not arise from the present situation and do not apply to the person of the doctor, but that he is repeating something that happened to him earlier,” Freud wrote in the Introductory Lectures of 1917—flowered into a powerful and subtle theory of personal relations, which soon became the center of analytic therapy.
According to the theory, we spend our lives playing out the same internal drama—that of our earliest parental and sibling relationships—indiscriminately casting the people we meet in the leading roles and doing our own rote performance of the part of the child, like an actor in a play with a very long run who years ago outgrew his part but whom nobody has thought to replace. Analysis proposes to show the patient (whose reason for seeking help is inevitably bound up with problems in his personal relations) that he doesn’t have to play this part anymore—that other parts are available to him…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.