On the False Usefulness of Anxiety and the Benefits of Working Through it : October 2004 : François Leguil

by Julia Evans on October 1, 2004

Translated by Sylvia Winter and Francesca Pollock:

Published in Lacanian Praxis: International Quarterly of Applied Psychoanalysis, No 1, May 2005 – Full copy of Lacanian Praxis No 1, see www.LacanianWorksExchange.net /texts by request, Password from Julia Evans

This text alone available at www.LacanianWorksExchange.net /authors a-z

Published originally  as “De la fausse utilité de l’angoisse et du bienfait d’en venir à bout”: François Leguil: in the Letter Mensuelle, Bulletin de École de la Cause Freudienne: rue Huysmans, Paris: October 2004.

Notes & availability of references

Note : Many of Freud’s texts are now published bilingual at www.Freud2Lacan.com or see  Sigmund Freud’s texts available electronically   or here

P17 :

a history of anxiety that will throw a little light on Freud’s ambition: to acquire some knowledge about its essence (eine Einsicht, die uns das Wesen der Angst erschliesst) : S. Freud, Gesammelte Werke (G. W.), XlV, “Hemmung, Symptom und Angst,” Imago, London, 1940, p. 162. : [It has not been possible to find this exact quote from Inhibition, symptom and anxiety : 1926 : Sigmund Freud. The G. W. edition goes from page 113 to p205.   Thus 50 pages in or 40 pages from the end. I suspect it to be around about Section VIII] : probably the beginning of Section VIII : p288 of pfl in James Strachey’s translation : What we clearly want is to find something that will tell us what anxiety really is, some criterion that will enable us to distinguish true statements about it from false ones.


Freud almost responds to Kierkegaard: anxiety is not a concept, it is first of all some- thing felt (in erster Linie etwas Empfundenes) : S. Freud, G. W., XIV, op. cit., p. 162. : p288 of James Strachey’s translation in pfl : Section VIII of Inhibition, symptom and anxiety : 1926 : Sigmund Freud : Anxiety, then, is in the first place something that is felt.

it is not a concept but a phenomenon, a fundamental phenomenon that poses a crucial problem (das Grundphänomen und Hauptproblem des Neurose) : Ibid., p. 175. : Section IX of Inhibition, symptom and anxiety : 1926 : Sigmund Freud : p302 of James Strachey’s translation in pfl : Thus anxiety would be the fundamental phenomenon and main problem of neurosis.


With anxiety, where id was, ego cannot be: mit der Angst, wo Es war kann nicht Ich werden! : This is a variation on Sigmund Freud’s ‘Wo es war soll Ich werden’ : Where it was I must come to be : This quote is from the end of Lecture XXXI: Dissection of the personality: 1932 : published in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis : 1932 [1933] : Sigmund Freud

That anxiety “involves one’s Being” underlines the fact that it does not reach the Being, that it does not authorize access, it obstructs; Lacan refers specifically to this at the end of his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis : p321-322 of Dennis Porter’s translation : Seminar VII : 6th July 1960 : (Probably) The channel in which desire is located is not simply that of the modulation of the signifying chain, but that which flows beneath it as well; that is, properly speaking, what we are as well as what we are not, our being and our non-being – that which is signified in an act passes from one signifier of the chain to another beneath all the significations. : See Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: begins 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or here

Lacan, in the first Lesson of Seminar X, L’Angoisse, emphasizes that anxiety is not the problem. The second hybridization, combining the spirit of clinical medicine with our own, has a logical consequence that is more unexpected and also more interesting: it leads one to believe it suffices to think the symptom is a defense against anxiety. : Seminar X : 14th November 1962 : (really the whole of this session discusses – the final sentence follows) pI 10 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan: Text in English & References or here : Desire is what is involved, and the affect by which we are urged perhaps to make emerge everything that it involves as a universal, not general, consequence on the theory of affects, is anxiety. It is on the cutting edge of anxiety that we have to maintain ourselves and it is on this cutting edge that I hope to lead you further the next time.

That, in reality, is an anachronism that does not take into account Lacan’s re-reading of Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Jacques-Alain Miller said very recently that Seminar X is devoted to this: Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety : 1926 : Sigmund Freud & Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan: Text in English & References : See here

Lacan who had just written Kant avec Sade; that is to say a Lacan who shows ipso recto that fantasy is notably absent from the 1926 text : Kant with Sade: April 1963: Jacques Lacan or here

a book by an author who remembers having written The Ego and the Id without exploiting the discoveries of A Child is Being Beaten : The Ego & the Id : 1920: Sigmund Freud & A Child is Being Beaten : 1919 : S. Freud : trans. J. Strachey, SE: XVII, PFL Vol 10.

because the symptom is also jouissance: “symptom formation. . . tends to give substitutive satisfaction more and more space, at the expense of denial” (die Symptombildung. . . geht dahin, der Ersatzbeffledigung immer mehr Raum auf Kosten der Versagung zu schaffen). : S. Freud, G. W., XIV, op. cit., p. 148. : Probably Section II or IV of Inhibition, symptom and anxiety : 1926 : Sigmund Freud : Here is Section II p242 of James Strachey’s translation in pfl : The main characteristics of the formation of symptoms have long since been studied and, I hope, established beyond dispute. A symptom is a sign of, and a substitute for, an instinctual satisfaction which has remained in abeyance; it is a consequence of the process of repression. Repression proceeds from the ego when the latter – it may be at the behest of the super-ego – refuses to associate itself with an instinctual cathexis which has been aroused in the id. The ego is able by means of repression to keep the idea which is the vehicle of the reprehensible impulse from becoming conscious. Analysis shows that the idea often persists as an unconscious formation.

The first of these is admirably shown in Lacan’s Lesson of June 12th, 1963. In the Freudian clinic, the particularity of the effect is to not be effectuated. : Seminar X : 12th June 1963 : pXII 196 (probably) of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan: Text in English & References or here : Quote, ‘This recognition is not an effect detached from the functioning of this symptom, it is not epiphenomenally that the subject has to perceive that it functions like that.

The symptom is only constituted when the subject becomes aware of it; because we know from experience that there are forms of obsessional behaviour in which the subject, not only has not noticed his obsessions, but has not even constituted them as such. And the first step, in this case, of the analysis – the passages of Freud on this point are celebrated – is that the symptom is constituted in its classical form. Without this, there is no means of getting out of it and not simply because there is no way of speaking about it, but because there is no way of catching it by the ear. What is this ear in question? It is this something of the symptom that we can say is unassimilated by the subject.

In order for the symptom to emerge from the state of an as yet unformulated enigma, the step is not that it should be formulated, it is that in the subject something should be outlined whose character is that it is suggested to him that there is a cause for that.’ end of quote


The second observation is that one risks not taking heed of one of the points Freud insists upon: although anxiety is universal, it is not general. : No one reference.

The function of anxiety, the key formula of Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, is a formula that Lacan took up at several points in his seminars. :  A list may be developed…

or in the last Lesson of Seminar X, Lacan offers another conception of fear : Note – ‘fear’ does not appear in Seminar X : 3rd July 1963 in either of the translations.

and goes back to the Freudian definition, unheard of before him, of what can be a danger for the subject: “one insists on the fact that the effects of fear would elicit, in principle, an adequate response, that is to say, would provoke flight. This thesis is . . . compromised. . . It is therefore necessary to look elsewhere for the reference that points to the distinction.” : p187 of French edition of Seminar X : Seminar X – 6th March 1963 : pXIII 110 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : On the other hand, it is clear that what is insisted on, that the effects of fear have in a way a character of adequation, in principle, namely of unleashing a flight reaction, is sufficiently compromised by what one must indeed put the accent on, that in many cases paralysing fear manifests itself in an inhibiting, even fully disorganising action, indeed can throw the subject into a disarray which is least adapted to the response, least adapted to the finality, which might be supposed to be the adequate subjective form.

It is elsewhere, therefore, that there must be sought the distinction, the reference by which anxiety is to be distinguished from it. : end of quote

The concept developed by Lacan – the function of anxiety between the opaque function of the real opposed to that of the signifier : p188 of French edition of Seminar X : Seminar X – 6th March 1963 : pXIII 111 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : ‘Because, if I already signalled earlier its problematic character when an external danger is involved – in other words, what warns the subject that it is a danger if not the fear itself, if not the anxiety – but the sense that the term internal danger can have is too linked to the function of a whole structure that must be preserved, of a whole order of what we call defence, for us not to see that in the very term defence the function of danger is itself implied, but is not for all that clarified.

Let us try therefore to follow the structure in a more step by step way and to designate clearly where we intend to fix, to locate this trait of signal on which indeed Freud dwelt as being the one which is the most proper to indicate to us, to us analysts, the usage that we can make of the function of anxiety. This is what I aim at reaching along the path that I am trying to lead you.

Only the notion of the real, in the opaque function which is the one from which you know I begin in order to oppose to it that of the signifier, allows us to orientate ourselves and to say already that this Etwas before which anxiety operates as a signal, is something which is let us say for man “necessary” – in quotation marks – an irreducible aspect of this real. It is in this sense that I risked giving you the formula that among all the signals, anxiety is the one which does not deceive.

Anxiety then is the signal of the real and – as I told you – of an irreducible mode under which this real presents itself in experience, this is just now, at the point that we are at, the guide, the guiding thread that I would ask you to hold onto to see where it leads us.

This real and its place, is exactly what with the support of the sign, of the bar there can be inscribed the operation which, arithmetically, is called division.’ : end of quote

As early as 1916 – eleven years before Sein und Zeit – Freud showed that anxiety is not an abnormal or excessive fear, because anxiety logically precedes fear. : Being and Time (German: Sein und Zeit) : 1927 : by Martin Heidegger &, probably, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis: 1915-1917 (Published 1916-1917) : Sigmund Freud


Freud did not problematize things in that way and that, from the middle of the 1900s on, he hesitated continually – not so much between two theories of anxiety, as between the question of anxiety approached from the point of view of truth or from the point of view of the real. In 1932, far from issuing a challenge, he gave his reasons for not choosing one theoretical construction that another would refute. : Probably New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis : 1932 (Published 1933) : Sigmund Freud

On the last page of his Seminar, Lacan evokes what it is to “confront anxiety,” what it is to surmount it and the “trace of something that goes from the existence of a to its passage into history.” : Seminar X : 3rd July 1963 : pXXV 237 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation. : The interpretation that we give is always brought to bear on the greater or lesser dependence of desires with respect to one another. But it is not a confrontation of anxiety. There is only an overcoming of anxiety when the Other has named himself. There is no love except that for a name, as everyone knows from experience. And the moment that the name is pronounced of him or of her to whom our love is addressed, we know very well that it is a threshold which is of the greatest importance. This is only a trace, a trace of this something which goes from the existence of o to its passage into history. What makes of a psychoanalysis a unique adventure is this search for the agalma in the field of the Other. I have often questioned you about what the desire of the analyst should be in order that, there where we are trying to push things beyond the limit of anxiety, work is possible.

In the night of 2 to 3 July 1963, he came back from Naples where he had been received with a “triumphal welcome” (Le Monde again) : No trace has been found of his texts from this visit.

With anxiety, what “metamorphosis” of the subject does one have to solicit so that he or she can be promised the “peace” that “seals” [Quote from Lacan] that metamorphosis? : J. Lacan, “Proposition sur le psychanalyste de l’école,” Autres écrits, Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 254. : See ‘Proposal of 9th October 1967 
on the psychoanalyst of the School’: Jacques Lacan or here (Published in Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here) : p12-13 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : In this way the being of desire rejoins the being of knowledge in order to be reborn from it by their being knotted in a strip with a single edge on which a single lack is inscribed, the one that sustains the agalma.

Peace does not forthwith seal this metamorphosis in which the partner vanishes for being no more than vain knowledge of a being that slips away.

Here we touch upon the futility of the term liquidation for this hole in which alone the transference is resolved. Contrary to appearances, I see in it only the denegation of the analyst’s desire. : end of quote


Note : If links to any text do not work, check www.LacanianWorksExchange.net . If a particular text or book remains absent, contact Julia Evans.


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Sandwich in Kent & London


Related texts

This text quoted in Some relations between Jacques Lacan and Søren Kierkegaard: Seminars II, VII, X, XVII, XX & two of the Écrits or here by Julia Evans on December 16, 2011

Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan: Text in English & References or here

Further posts:

Reading Seminar X here

On Lacanian History here

Of the clinic here

Use of power here

Translation Working Group here

By François Leguil here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

Or by Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

By Julia Evans here