Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Metaphorical, the Metonymical and the Psychotic Aspects of Obsessive Symptomatology

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Metaphorical, the Metonymical and the Psychotic Aspects of Obsessive Symptomatology

Article excerpt

The term 'obsessional-neurosis' (also known as 'obsessive-compulsive neurosis', with current psychiatrists discriminating between obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals) refers to:

a class of neuroses identified by Freud, and constituting one of the major frames of reference in psychoanalytic clinical practice. In its most typical form of obsessionalneurosis, the psychical conflict is expressed through symptoms which are described as compulsive-obsessive ideas, compulsions towards undesirable acts, struggles against these thoughts and tendencies, rituals etc. - and through a mode of thinking which is characterized in particular by rumination, doubt and scruples, and which leads to inhibitions of both thought and action.

(Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973, p. 281)

This paper is an attempt to create an integrative formulation of obsessive symptomatology, based on the integration of Lacanian and object-relations points of view. Lacan himself actually criticized object-relations theory, focusing on the way in which object-relations theory stresses the importance of a complete and satisfying relation between the subject and the object. As will be discussed later, Lacan's main argument was that there is no, and cannot be, such a thing as a "pre-established harmony" between "a need and an object that satisfies it" (1988, p. 209). Lacan claimed, in other words, that by locating the object in the register of satisfaction and need, object-relations theory confuses the object of psychoanalysis with the object of biology, and therefore neglected the symbolic dimension of desire and the specific difficulties that arise from the symbolic constitution of desire.

This paper's suggested formulation of obsessive symptomatology takes into account Lacan's focus on desire (as stemming from the crucial experience of lack), integrating it with the dimension of relations with internal objects emphasized by object-relations theory.

What I suggest is an understanding of the obsessive symptomatology as manifesting a singular interaction between three aspects that I call 'the metaphorical aspect', 'the metonymical aspect' and 'the psychotic aspect', and which are intertwined with a varying degree of dominance. The singular interaction between them has crucial influence on the capacity for symbolization and reflection, and therefore has immense implications concerning analytical work. The choice to use the term 'obsessive symptomatology' rather than 'obsessive compulsive neurosis' is related to the fact that the term 'obsessive compulsive neurosis' implies a high level of psychic organization which is not consistent with some of the more primitive phenomena which are included (mainly through the metonymical and psychotic aspects) in the described condition.

Why 'metaphorical' and 'metonymical'?

Metaphor and metonymy are two forms of semantic shift, that is, two modes of transition from one semantic field to another. Metaphor is the use of a word or expression in a borrowed sense rather than in its simple original meaning, or the use of the characteristics of one concept in order to illuminate another. Metaphor is based on analogy, on a relationship of similarity between two semantic fields. The sentence 'My love is a rose' does not imply that the rose itself is the beloved one but that something in the beloved's features resembles those of a rose. Metonymy, by contrast, is a figurative tool that illustrates something by replacing it with something else that is situated close to it in time or space, or that belongs in the same context. The result is not logical in the simple sense, and can only be understood through the proximity between the two elements. This is how the expression 'the White House' comes to stand for the notion of 'the President's spokesperson'. As opposed to metaphor, in metonymy there is no transfer of characteristics between the two elements (the President's spokesperson is not meant to share features with the White House). …

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