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The missing name of the trauma

While narrating and analysing this dream, Ferenczi, like an analysand sometimes, has a very surprising experience: in the middle of the easy flow of words, one word stubbornly escapes him, creating a gap in written account. Under analysis, Ferenczi, astounded, realises that a second unconscious formation has arisen and infiltrated the dream process. To his astonishment, this phenomenon does not indicate the forgetting of a word that could eventually be recalled, but rather a missing word. He would not succeed in finding it. This word gap would quickly be revealed to be tied to what we consider to be two facets of trauma.

Just after describing the peaks of sadism that manifested themselves in the life of the infant and little boy he once was - the pleasure he took in torturing, his tendency to be disdainful, his lack of compassion, his murderous intentions -peaks illustrated in the dream - Ferenczi’s associations turn to his mother. This is when a German word escapes him. Although his mother tongue was Hungarian, Ferenczi had completed his medical studies in German in Vienna, and it was in German that he was writing. This is what he says: “As a small boy I had a colossal un..........rage against my mother, who was too strict with me [...]” It is

precisely at this point that the sought-after word cannot be found; he can’t find the words to describe the nature of the rage hidden beneath the various manifestations of sadism. And he continues: “[...] a colossal un..........against my

mother, who was too strict with me; the fantasy of murder [...] was immediately turned toward my own person.’’ This passage is valuable because in it Ferenczi, without knowing it, draws attention to the possible relation between the missing word and a failure of the fantasy which camrot be formed. The fantasy cannot be constructed when a silent hatefill impulse instantly turns into a powerfill breaking wave that injures the body, possibly exposing the living organism to the violence of the death drive.

Theoretically, and in the best of cases, the sudden confrontation with a dizzying failing in the essential other - lack of speech or persistent deafness - can cause the unsuspecting subject to be overwhelmed by a primal effect of internal rage that will inevitably turn into externally directed hate. For the subject momentarily in shock, the passage from an inclusive explosive effect to a minimal representation occurs as a reflex action. Through outwardly turned hate, internal rage can take the shape of a fantasy which wards off the collapse or confusion that Un eaten the subject. But in the case of actual trauma, this beneficial passage from targeted hate to fantasy can remain ineffectual. This is what Ferenczi discovered in this transference dream which initiated his future personal analysis and pointed the way to a discover}' yet to be made: the fact that rage and hate can fail to play the role of a protective shield. There is no better way for Ferenczi to show this than by losing tire word that would name, not the subject’s impotence - momentarily overlooked -but the impotence of rage to turn into a fantasy expressing the desire of a living subject. Ferenczi would say later that in this extreme situation the subject as such is annihilated, is split or fragmented, disarmed and helpless in the face of the other’s destructiveness. The aggressive energy that should have been expressed in a murderous fantasy turns inward, against the body and its vital functions. This failure of the fantasy leaves the subject in a state of primal disorganisation, with bodily sensations - more than feelings, in confusion. This confusion of sensations -jouissance, beyond pleasure - will be experienced as hypochondriac suffering, fear of illness, anxiety about organic disorder.

Through this dream and his interpretation of it in transference, Ferenczi stumbles on a fundamental analytic question, that of primary repression and the subject’s initial discovery of alterity.

He glimpses something he would later examine and designate as the “traumato-lytic function” of the dream. Thus, Ferenczi adds to the first function of the dream, that of “wish fulfilment,” a second function. The traumatolytic function of the dream, in its aftermath, is not to eliminate secondary repression but, on the contrary, to repress, through figurative representation, the libidinal energy previously turned inward, when construction of fantasy failed. In this way, some dreams, but not all, and some dream fragments, but not all, can succeed in expelling the bits of jouissance which interfere with a traumatised child in the neurotic adults. Ferenczi needed another 20 years to try, and finally be able, to formulate a theory of the economy of this experience of trauma. But on December 26, 1912, he had not arrived there yet. He was still focused on what he was experiencing at this moment when he was attempting to convey to his future analyst the endless pain he carried in his body.

Could the missing word, the hollowed-out word, be the word of transference, given that our analysand-in-waiting cannot find it precisely in the language of the man by whom he wants to be heard, the man who, in his own way, treated him too harshly? Could it be that rage, as the inability to express the devastating effect of the primordial other’s excessive severity - indifference, coldness, deafness, silence - was being repeated in this very session, in the transference already created? Why this stammering? What followed enables us to advance a hypothesis. Ferenczi stammers because he is searching for a word which in itself would account for two totally different dimensions whose clinical manifestations seem to merge. The rage of the speechless infant whose appeal does not encounter a responsible validating witness is not the same as the rage of the little Oedipus humiliated by the distressing discovery that he is not, as he might have imagined, the child-phallus the mother could have seen in him. This child is further humiliated when he realises that his father, endowed with sexual power, seems to have the know-how to satisfy this desire in the mother. His father remains a stranger to him. Occurring late, after a lengthy preparation, this experience of symbolic castration is not to be confused with the unexpected and sudden shock experienced by the child present in every adult, upon his encounter with the real. In the last stages of his research, and with his discovery of the post-traumatic narcissistic split, Ferenczi describes the coexistence of these dimensions in some subjects. At the end of 1912, his relation to the language of his future analysis is still ambiguous:

The word with the periods after it (an adjective with which I wanted to express my inability, my being bound, my inhibited will) won’t come to my mind in German! In Hungarian the word is “tehetetlen," which at the same time also means impotent. So: “my impotent rage against my mother.”

To name the most traumatic aspect of the trauma, not the shock itself but its deep internal resonance, or the consequence of the initial rage, Ferenczi uses, in his mother tongue, the term “impotence.” But this sirbstitute word lends itself only too well to the confusion of dimensions Ferenczi is trying so painstakingly to avoid. Yet the impotence of the infant who, in the event of early assault, finds himself in a state of sideration - unable to respond, his ability to act tied up, his flight obstructed - this radical subjective powerlessness, this agonal experience of the abolished subject is not the powerlessness of the child who, at the Oedipal phase, discovers with bitterness and shame that he doesn’t have the means to satisfy the woman in the mother; nor is it the anxiety and humiliation of sexual impotence in an adult.

Yet in the second series of substitute words, the traumatic dimension surreptitiously intertwines with the sexual infantile material. The fust reference is to traumatic experience: “But the German word still escapes me! Substitute words: without result, gagged, lost labour (?), Loves Labours Lost.” Again, the experience of the infant, who feels as if he is gagged, as if his life energy is cut off at the source cannot be compared to the humiliating disappointment of the older child who realises that his mother does not respond to his incestuous advances and does not validate his illusion of being the imaginary child-phallus bringing her fulfilment. But in his second reference, Ferenczi casually shifts from the traumatic to the Oedipal: “A king can be incapable. My father wasn’t. He produced thirteen children.” A cruel observation for the rebuffed child, wounded in his phallic pride: sexual power is now on the father’s side, thanks to his undeniable anatomical advantage. Here, Ferenczi inserts the memory' of a play'rnate one year older than him, on whom he consented to perform fellatio when he was 5, and whose

“penis was larger [...] was ‘nice and brown’ and had blue veins.” Was this proud penis really that of an older child, or that of an adult, of a father figure? Once again, Ferenczi confuses the traumatic with the Oedipal, so that he observes once more: “But the punctuated word still escapes! Fresh substitute thoughts: raging, Orlando, furioso, hurler, horogni [Hungarian = emit death rattles], whore.” The verb “hurler” is written in French. Thus, he goes blithely from a death rattle, from a scream - like the terrifying scream of the psychotic - from fury to a scream of pleasure. Ferenczi associates these groans with orgasm, and with his own childhood fantasies about intercourse between his parents, as well as his excitement in early adolescence when he overheard his father tell his mother that a certain man had married a whore.

The richness of this associative sequence - which we have reduced to its bare bones - does not deliver Ferenczi from the surprising lack of the Gemian word, despite the number of languages invoked to compensate for the deficiency in German. There is the English lost labour, the French hurler, the Italian Orlando furioso and, of course, the Hungarian. Ferenczi remarks: “My fear of impotence must have been responsible for the strong repression of this word.” Thus, he connects back the secondary phenomenon of fear of sexual impotence to the more primary unspeakable inability of rage to turn into hate, the inability to transform pain into suffering (sub-ferre), which is subjectivable.

This is what gives rise to Ferenczi’s implicit hypothesis: a consequence of symbolic castration anxiety, fear of sexual impotence sometimes acts as an imaginary disguise for an even more radical impotence, specifically the unspeakable fear of being unable to maintain the standing posture of a living, speaking being, for lack of access to the negative dimension, to hate and to the support of fantasy.

Castration anxiety is well-known; Freud has described it in detail. The second fear, that which is felt in the grip of the unspeakable powerlessness of rage, cannot be called anxiety. The cold dread that paralyses the subject is not a reaction, like hot anger. Fundamentally, castration anxiety plays the structuring role of a signal: the child is warned, he knows, even if only unconsciously, what it would cost to disregard the prohibition; just as the neurotic is warned what is at stake if he wants to live or fulfil his fantasies.

The fear provoked by the “immediate turning” of hate inward is not preceded by a signal. The traumatic dimension of the shock cannot be foreseen; it catches the subject off guard and even breaks through the protective shield and attacks the perception-consciousness system.

In 1912, when Ferenczi, in an attempt to justify his request for personal analysis, tries to shed light on his physical symptoms through the analysis of his dreams, he stumbles on a problem of logic and, as a result, strives to clarify the distinction between trauma and fantasy, and to conceptualise the connection between the two spheres. Later, he would introduce his hypothesis of “narcissistic post-traumatic splitting” to solve this problem which by then had become part of his clinical practice and a major theoretical question in his work.

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