Refusing to Eat

Refusal to eat owing to anxiety is a concomitant of psychotic states (delusions of being poisoned).”

-Freud, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety.

When I was young I would imagine or dream about my mother making French fries for me and hiding within them some yellow peas in a pod. Even now, while thinking about this I recall once telling people that my ‘picky’ eating practices were caused by my mother, who used to hide inside of other food. The ‘bad’ food would be hidden inside or beneath, or otherwise out of view, from the ‘good’ food. Carrots instead of French fries. Yellow peas in a pod instead of French fries. These I remember most vividly.

I shall examine this more closely.

I recall, during my personal analysis, stating, with more enthusiasm and excitement than it now seems it required: “I may be crazy but I am not mad.” I also stated that I could not be psychotic because I do not have delusions. Yet, here, clearly, there appears to be a delusion. However, the delusion itself seems repressed. By this I mean that I barely remember the delusion, and it took some work to gain access to that memory. I am uncertain about the delusion, I do not have all of its pieces. Also, I do not have these delusions today. Although, truthfully, there was a time when I did have these delusions with some degree of certainty.

It was my mother’s fault that I rejected food. It was her fault because she was trying to poison me with healthy food. It is not that she was hiding something that would harm me within the food. She was hiding within the food something healthy that I required but could not stomach, could not or would not swallow.

My father used to put eggs inside of his homemade milkshakes. But that hardly seemed to bother me as much as my mother’s actions. 

Having now constructed elements of the narrative about which I wish to speak, I shall reconstruct them in psychoanalytic terms.

The Other hides healthy food inside of unhealthy food for my own benefit. I do not like this practice and therefore find suspicious all foods. I therefore reject my own healthiness in an effort to thwart the Other’s desire. In doing so, I sabotage my own desire, my own life, and exchange it for the nothing itself as object. I accept the nothing as a fetish object in place of the desire of the Other.

I remember also secretly thinking that my parents might be secretly planning something good for me. Maybe they were hiding the fact that they were going to buy me something very special. Perhaps this protected me from the fact that they in reality were not capable of satisfying my desire. If I could presume that they had my best interest in mind secretly then I could avoid the reality that they did not.

I recall also stating, and this would become my matheme, that “I could become the master by pretending not to be.” In the same way, here, I found something in secret which could not be satisfied in reality. It was not a question of having something but of being something. It was also not a question of being something in reality, but in secret. 

The pervert disavows the reality of castration. He does so by rejecting the reality of castration in favour of the imaginary of castration: “I know very well that the big Other is castrated, but I shall continue to act as if he is not.”

I find here an underlying perverse structure. However, I have learned the pitfalls of all such attempts by some Lacanian clinicians to go looking for the underlying structure. It seems more prudent and educational to leave the question of structure open for a considerable time before making conclusions. 

Another example. In reality I did not confess to others that I was a Freemason. And yet within the sanctity of the lodge room I found the secret that I was capable of being a Freemason. I had in secret what I did not profess to have in public, in reality. I could put more examples but I shall not continue any more than what seems to be required to present the theme.

Could this be the solution I produce to the anxiety of not having in reality the phallus?

Just one more example, which seems important. I went through personal psychoanalysis. In that room with my analyst I had access to the possibility of becoming a psychoanalyst, of undergoing training in the secrets of the mind, so that, finally, I may overcome the reality which anyway remains lacking. Here I find confirmed that the desire to be a psychoanalyst is itself a symptom. It may very well be one of the most prominent symptoms of our current clinical moment.

Recall the topology of a dream I had. I returned to this dream often in my personal analysis.

I was within a church, sitting on the floor amongst a large group of people. Somebody behind me whispered in my ear or sucked on my ear lobe. It was another person, same sex. At the front of the church my mother was with her catechism students performing a play. We were clearly gathered around to watch the performance. After the person approached me from behind, I turned away and I ran out into the darkness of the parking lot. I knew that my father was there somewhere although he was nowhere in the picture. It was desolate, empty. I think I may have heard a voice, though I know not how I recognized it to be my father.

Analysis. Within the church there was some safety, comfort, security – images reigned. Performances occur, and I watch them. Then, from behind, a person takes me. I react with disgust. It disgusts me. I am here afraid of my own enjoyment. I run from the images and take flight in the nothing which awaits me outside. What frightens me is a voice – something of the zone which ensures that I hear it but do not see it. It is perhaps homosexuality, it is too much for me to handle. Jouissance. I run, perhaps even in panic, but, ultimately, it seems to me, mostly in disgust. I recall absolute disgust before running. And there is my father as the object, outside: the nothing.

In psychoanalytic terms. The comfort of the imaginary is disrupted by the symbolic which provokes disgust. The only way to regulate the disgust is to turn to the nothing-object, within which I find some way of grounding the surplus enjoyment; it provides some way of controlling it or representing it. The nothing saves me from an altogether more traumatic possibility of enjoying homosexuality, of enjoying that which disgusts me. That is, the real of the drive is here represented by the imaginary nothing which takes the place of the symbolic symptom. This is the sinthome, the fourth ring in the knot.

This brings me to my fascination with nothingness. I have frequently turned to nihilism, to an identification with the ‘creative nothing’ of Max Stirner’s philosophy, and so on.

Finally, there is the problem of the selective identifications. On the one hand, I have kept moving from master figure to master figure in my philosophical system: stirner, zizek, badiou, lacan, etc. And, then, as I move forward, I destroy previous masters. The chain perpetuates. In one sense, I have sought in each of these masters a demonstration of the virtue of identification with the nothing-object. Lacan here is the master par excellence, as this entire exercise attests.

Something of the order of psychosis seems present only because the symbolic structure has been supplemented by the imaginary fetish object, the nothing. It is by clinging to imaginary masters, who are always reduced to nothing even while I myself, as subject, continuously reduce myself to nothing, that the borromean knot does not come undone. Perhaps this is only further confirmation of the importance of Lacan’s later turn toward the sinthome, jouissance, and the real.

There is no pervasive and clear demand made to an Other, no foundational question, which seems to be the hallmark of classical hysterical and obsessional structures. Instead, there is a problem of surplus enjoyment, of jouissance, and of managing jouissance through identification, that is, through what Lacan names the ‘semblant.’ Recall that he (or was it Jacques-Alain Miller) claimed that the master (signifier) is the semblant par excellence. This explains why it is that in the time of the new symptoms there may also be new clinical structures. These clinical structures, my own among them, seems to be without a clear symbolic framework of master signifiers. In their place, there are shifting imaginary identifications with master/s (signifiers). The problem is one of regulating the real jouissance of the drive in the oral and aural zone (in my own analysis I misheard my analyst when she said “aural,” I thought she said “oral”).

The symptoms – eating disorder, selective reading disorder, failure to sustain lasting connections with friends and fields of research, etc – are the result of a failure at the level of regulation.

The Borromean knot remains connected and it does not appear to break. Panic attacks do not seem to be the result of an underlying psychosis – of any variety – but rather the response to a lack which itself comes to be lacking. It is a response to a gap in understanding of the real of the body, of sickness, and of sanity. I follow here Verhaeghe’s position on panic attacks in his book On Being Normal and Other Disorders. I think Verhaeghe’s position is most novel and interesting in this respect.

The panic attacks have often happened when a lack is introduced into the imaginary system. In other words, they occur when the body is under attack with illness or distress, or when something can not be accounted for as the cause – that is, when, for whatever reason, the question of cause itself surfaces. If there is a foundation question for me then it is this one: what is the cause of my jouissance? In other words, nowhere could my dissertation have been more truthful: it aimed to explore the cause of the real itself, the cause of causation, the cause of causes – “the  thing, I wrote, with Lacan as my support, “is the true secret.” What I aimed to understand was that which simply could not be understood, and yet I nonetheless pursued to know it, to produce an imaginary object out of it. Why? Precisely so that I might not know it.

It is when nothing could stand in place anymore of the lack, that is, when lack itself is lacking, that panic sets in and ripples through the system of images, objects, semblants, etc. This is a panic of regulating jouissance once again and not, as it were, the panic of an intrusive symbolic in psychosis.

The psychotic is certain of everything because he is not separated from the big Other, from the symbolic system, etc. It is disgust and uncertainty that brings about panic attacks for me – the uncertainty of my own life, the lack of lack. This, therefore, brings about the foundational question of the traditional obsessional structure: am I dead or am I alive? The symptom, in this regard, is a solution to the problem with the uncertainty of death, the uncertainty of uncertainty itself. It is by identifying with death as nothing that I may avoid the altogether more traumatic situation of death as death itself.

Thus, I can not help but note that the obsessional structure is still present, with plenty of hysterical symptoms. The knot is not tied in the traditional way: it is not tied to the symbolic master who raises the question of our death. It is rather tied to death as a real intrusion of jouissance via the failure of the regulation of the drive by imaginary semblants.

I write this on a train heading to Toronto. Toronto is like a church or a masonic lodge, or, like a psychoanalytic consulting room. It inspires in me the desire to know. Perhaps, it is by short-circuiting the desire to know at the imaginary nothing-object that I may come to know the drive as traumatic jouissance.


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