Helplessness

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French: détresse
German: Hilflosigkeit

Dependency[edit | edit source]

The term "helplessness" is used in psychoanalysis to denote the state of the newborn infant who is incapable of carrying out the specific actions required to satisfy its own needs, and so is completely dependent on other people (especially the mother).

Prematurity[edit | edit source]

The helplessness of the human infant is grounded in its "prematurity" of birth, a fact which was pointed out by Freud and which Lacan takes up in his early writings. Compared to other animals such as apes, the human infant is relatively unformed when it is born, especially with respect to motor coordination. This means that it is more dependent than other animals, and for a longer time, on its parents.

Mother-Child Dual Relation[edit | edit source]

Lacan follows Freud in highlighting the importance of the initial dependence of the human infant on the mother. Lacan's originality lies in the way he draws attention to "the fact that this dependence is maintained by a world of language.<ref>Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 309</ref> The mother interprets the infant's cries as hunger, tiredness, loneliness, etc. and retroactively determines their meaning (see punctuation). The child's helplessness contrasts with the omnipotence of the mother, who can decide whether or not to satisfy the child's needs.<ref>Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 69, 185</ref> The recognition of this contrast engenders a depressive effect in the child.<ref>Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 186</ref>

End of Analysis[edit | edit source]

Lacan also uses the concept of helplessness to illustrate the sense of abandonment and subjective destitution that the analysand feels at the end of analysis. "At the end of a training analysis the subject should reach and know the domain and level of the experience of absolute disarray."<ref>Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 304</ref> The end of analysis is not conceived of by Lacan as the realization of some blissful plenitude, but quite the contrary, as a moment when the subject comes to terms with his utter solitude. However, whereas the infant can rely on its mother's help, the analysand at the end of analysis "can expect help from no one."<ref>Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 304</ref> If this seems to present a particularly ascetic view of psychoanalytic treatment, this is exactly how Lacan wishes it to be seen; psychoanalysis is, in Lacan's words, a "long subjective ascesis."<ref>Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 105</ref>

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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