Vincente Palomera on Symptom v. Drive

Continuing to read from the essay What May I Expect From Psychoanalysis? by Vicente Palomera, which I posted about earlier this week.

On page 6 of the document, under the heading Symptom and Repression, Palomera points out that the symptom and the drive are separate phenomena.

The symptom is distinguished from the drive in a precise way; in part because the symptom doesn't slip.

Next, he considers the symptom as it relates to the concepts of

  1. Fixation
  2. Repression
  3. Jouissance

The symptom is a reaction to the trauma of the drive/jouissance

The symptom is something that the subject gets (1) fixated on to help, (2) repression in the rejection of/hiding of (3) a traumatic jouissance.

Reversing this order: The subject (3) experiences jouissance in a way that is traumatic. This experience of jouissance is traumatic because it reveals something that is beyond the subject's ability to "make sense" of; it is something the subject can't understand. I propose that what is revealed could be called "the truth of jouissance." This truth terrifies the subject so much that the subject (2) rejects/represses the truth this experience revealed (or, we could say, it rejects/represses the signifiers that are most connected to this truth/experience). Then, (1) a symptom --an unconscious repetitive act– is produced to assist in the continued rejection/repression of the truth of jouissance. Seen in this way, the symptom is a way to protect the subject from re-experiencing the traumatic effects of being exposed to the truth of jouissance.

Looking at things in this way, Palomera points out how we can see the symptom as an apparatus that is produced in an attempt to protect one's being from the destabilizing experience of the drive/jouissance.

The symptom is rather a fixation that disguises, dissimulates [hides] what Freud called a repression – an attempt to reject jouissance. The repression is defense that comes not from the drive itself, but from the subject who wants to oppose jouissance, when the jouissance presents itself as something traumatic.

One way to describe the symptom is as a fixation, a way of getting stuck on trying to solve a problem as a way of avoiding a serious consideration of the problem itself, which is what Palomera does. Another would be to say that the symptom distracts the subject from what they are repressing. People get so emotionally invested in (caught up in) their symptoms that they don't consider what is behind the symptoms.

What is traumatic about the drive/jouissance?

What is the "truth of jouissance"? Why is it traumatic? These are important questions to consider. Palomera turns first to Freud's ideas about the subject's first encounter with sexuality.

What Freud discovered was that the first encounter with sexual jouissance – the jouissance at play between the sexes – is always in itself traumatic. The subject answers this encounter with aversion, that is, with hysteria, or captivation, that is, obsession.

Two things come to mind when I read the passage above:

First thing:

I find it interesting and useful to think about human sexuality as such a powerful and scary thing. It makes people do crazy things more than anything else I can think of. I'd say if someone is not scared of sexuality, they have not experienced sexuality. To experience it is to come into contact with a bodily experience that can produce so much excitement, enjoyment, and pain through its presence and absence from our lived experience. The power of sexuality can turn a reasonable person into an unreasonable person, a consistent person into an inconsistent person, a generally ethical and moral person into someone monstrous, and so on.

Sexuality, and the jouissance that comes with it, is something that does not listen to our laws, does not care about what does or does not make sense, and it can run through the constraints of what is proper, standard, and appropriate behavior.

It seems to me that it is not uncommon for there to be some kind of sexual tension that exists within a traditional family structure (e.g., mother, father, child). Perhaps this tension comes from one parent wanting more sex than the other parent, perhaps it comes from one partner having an affair, maybe one parent becomes very interested in pornography and this creates a problem. This unresolved sexual tension can take many different forms. However, all of these various examples are forms of "sexually acting out." Somehow, the child can and does become aware of the sexual acting out and the effect it is having on the overall stability of the family as a structure of support, safety, and stability. Generally speaking, the effect is to make things less safe, less stable, and less supportive, and for the child, this is traumatic.

(M//F) | Child

What makes this even more traumatic is that the child cannot contain/explain what is happening with words. This means that the child can't "make sense" of the experience, and a symptom needs to be created to help the child not maintain support for a semblance of safety and stability.

Second thing:

According to Freud, there is another way to describe the traumatic effects of the child's first experience of being excluded from the sexuality between the mother and the father. Freud theorized that the child wants the mother as a partner, but the father gets in the way. Or, to say it a different way, the sexual bond between the mother and the father, the way the mother and father possess one another, is traumatic because it excludes the child from their jouissance.

(M+F) // Child

As was said above, the child lacks the words/language to make sense of this experience of being excluded from getting sexual satisfaction within the family. Again, a symptom is created as a way of supporting the child in their attempts to get some other satisfaction as a stand-in for the unavailable sexual satisfaction.

In both instances:

What is very apparent to me is the non-rapport. There is a non-rapport between the mother's and the father's sexual jouissance, and there is a non-rapport child's desire for sexual satisfaction and the desire for sexual satisfaction between the parents.

The only way to reduce the trauma is precisely what the subject does; the subject makes the memory of the encounter disappear. In other words, the subject makes disappear what we could call the signifier that inscribes the memory of an encounter with an insupportable jouissance.

After the traumatic encounter has "disappeared" via repression of what signifies it, the symptom emerges as a way to keep the repression in place. For some, the symptom is some form of hysteria, and for others, it is some form of obsessional neurosis.

Final Thoughts

The way I understand this is that repression is a kind of rejection of something. What is being repressed/rejected is a non-rapport or an impossibility for there to be a rapport. .... the non-rapport that exists when there is a sexual relationship.

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