Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Controversial Discussions and Après-Coup

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Controversial Discussions and Après-Coup

Article excerpt

The author suggests a distinction between what is descriptively named aprèscoup, and what is dynamically identified as après-coup. This parallels Freud's distinction between the descriptive unconscious and the dynamic unconscious in the topographical model of the mind. The descriptive après-coup refers to the way in which the concept has found a use, especially but not only in the French literature, to refer to retrospective signification in the moment-to-moment progress of a session. The author outlines dynamic après-coup and she suggests it is at the core of Freudian metapsychology. Dynamic après-coup establishes a link between trauma, castration, repetition compulsion, sexuality and temporality in the context of the transference.

Keywords: descriptive après-coup, dynamic après-coup, Nachträglichkeit, nachträglich, deferred action, regression, Oedipus complex, controversial discussions, temporality, structural causality

Introduction

In this paper I suggest a distinction between what is descriptively named après-coup, and what is dynamically identified as après-coup. This parallels Freud's distinction between the descriptive unconscious and the dynamic unconscious in the topographical model of the mind. The descriptive après-coup refers to the way in which the concept has found a use, especially but not only in the French literature, to refer to retrospective signification in the moment-to-moment progress of a session.1 In this paper I outline dynamic après-coup which, I suggest, is at the core of Freudian metapsychology. Dynamic après-coup establishes a link between trauma, castration, repetition compulsion, sexuality, and temporality in the context of the transference.

In recent years, a series of debates has centred on this concept, e.g. in the Paris Psychoanalytical Society (Cournut, 1997; Neyraut, 1997; Sodre, 1997) and in the IJP (Faimberg, 2005b; Sodre, 2005). In reading through these papers, one gains access to the atmosphere of the two psychoanalytic cultures, in terms of the presence or absence of the links between the concept of après-coup and the Freudian metapsychology, an idea which I develop here. Dana Birksted-Breen (2003) has indicated that not mentioning the concept does not mean that it is not being used. My thesis is the intrinsic link that après-coup has with other concepts in Freudian metapsychology.

Four papers were discussed in the Controversial Discussions, over a series of 10 meetings between January 1943 and July 1944. In this paper, I concentrate on two of the papers discussed during six of the meetings. The first was written by Susan Isaacs (1948) on 'unconscious phantasies', and was discussed over five meetings. The other was written by Susan Isaacs and Paula Heimann on 'regression' (1952). Pearl King has suggested that the discussion of this latter paper took place at only one meeting because there was so much consensus about the issues (King and Steiner, 1991, p. 686). My impression is different. I think that regression was an issue that permeated most of the discussions and some of the crucial points of difference had already been established, as I outline below.

These two papers and the discussions that followed them to my mind contain core issues central to psychoanalysis not only at the time, but also later on. In fact, I suggest that they have been central to the discussions in the British Psycho-analytical Society (BPaS) on the nature of unconscious phantasies in their connection with the issues of temporality and sexuality and the Oedipus complex. It is worth revisiting these discussions because in so many ways the issues were then more clearly discussed than they have been since in BPaS. Green has suggested, in the French translation of the Controversial Discussions, that 'These controversies are the most important document of the history of psychoanalysis' (King and Steiner, 1996, p. xi). Furthermore, I wish to discuss these issues in the light of the concept of après-coup. …

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