Jacque Lacan Takes on Freud

Jacques Lacan takes on Sigmund Freud as his patient in Book II of The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Pschoanalysis. The most interesting observation he makes, it seems to me, which is infused throughout the passage in question (Chapters 13 and 14), but which he addresses overtly only near the end, is that, in a dream state, the narcissism of the subject is highly predominant in its significance to the dream’s content.

The Injection of Irma

"The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan," artist unknown. Used under Fair Use.
“The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan,” artist unknown. Used under Fair Use.

Lacan takes as his subject, Freud’s dream of the injection of Irma. Now, Freud had a breakthrough in his theories with this dream, because he perceived that, in all respects, the occurrences within this dream corresponded to the fulfillment of certain desires that he had, most prominently, a relief from personal guilt. The subject of the dream is a former patient named Irma. He had prescribed a treatment for her which had not been fully completed. The day prior to the dream, he met a mutual acquaintance, whom he asked about Irma’s wellbeing. The friend responded that she was improved, but still not well.

Description of the Dream

In the dream, Freud is entertaining in his home, and Irma is among the guests. He rebukes Irma for being a bad patient, and, at a certain point, substitutes her for a patient he regarded as more intelligent and cooperative. Upon examining Irma, he finds evidence of physical ailment. He calls some of the other guests at the party to consult, among whom are “Dr. M,” and “Otto.” Dr. M confirms that the ailment is physical, and Freud speculates that the needle being used for the treatment was dirty, and hence the fault was with the patient and not him.

Lacan’s Alternate Interpretation

Lacan does not, per se, dispute Freud’s interpretation of this as wish fulfillment. In fact, he draws a somewhat sardonic analogy between this and a man trying to return a borrowed pot with a hole in it; “When I returned it, it was fine. It already had a hole in it when I got it. It’s only because the pot was defective to begin with that the hole appeared.” Any one of the reasons provided would be perfectly acceptable, but taken together, they don’t seem to make a lot of sense. But, in a dream, there is no requirement for logical consistency. But Lacan takes an interpretation of the dream that goes much deeper. For him, every aspect of the dream is related to Freud himself, and not merely external objects which Freud sees himself in relation to.

Freud’s Narcissism

The consults are each representative of various stages of the development of Freud’s ego. Dr. M is a Oedipal-paternal figure, Otto is his frenemy, and Leopold is the one that keeps Otto in check. In each case, these individuals represent an object that Freud has a continuous life relationship with. The dirty needle represents the counter-projection that Freud was guilty of in dealing with this patient (Irma was a family friend, and, Lacan speculates, a libidinal object for Freud).

Narcissism as a Waking and Dreaming Norm

Now, in real life, while, according to Freud’s theory, Narcissism shapes our relationships to external objects, it is still the case that, on a conscious level, we come to distinguish these objects from ourselves, even as we may ascribe our own internal mental states to some or all of them (inanimate objects within a primitivist, mystical culture, and people culturally similar to us in a more cosmopolitan one), it is all the more the case that in a dream state, where we interact with the unconscious more directly, objects are seen, fundamentally, in terms of how they integrate into our expansive, appropriating projection of selfhood; or, rather, our pre-self-identity sense of beingness which is fundamentally entangled with everything which it encounters.

Narcissistic Wish Fulfillment

Now if we take this narcissistic interpretation of dreaming and return to Freud’s initial interpretation of the dream as wish fulfillment, we come away with a somewhat more complex and rich interpretation. We are the center of our own universes. The deeper down you go, the less distinct we become from everything else which is, until beingness itself dissolves into a swirling mass of waves and particles; but even then there is a singularity which is our perspective around which all else revolves. So if our surroundings are in any way unsatisfactory, we cannot help but hold ourselves responsible.

Narcissism and Melancholy

In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud makes the point that when an exterior object which should be an object of love fails to be satisfactory as such, we experience “melancholy;” an emotional state which, among other things, entails a sense of loss of self-worth. And this seems to be valid, since victims of abuse or parental neglect tend to project onto themselves feelings of unworthiness.

Dreaming as Self-Forgiveness

What sense does it make for us to project onto ourselves feelings of unworthiness that we perceive in those close to us? We are narcissists at heart. If those around us fail, we cannot help but conclude that it is we who have failed. Our perspective is that we are the god-singularity around which all else revolves. So, surely, we are responsible for all that comes into our experience. From this perspective, a very important aspect of dreams, understood as wish-fulfillment is the fulfillment of the wish for self-forgiveness. We have to convince ourselves that not everything negative which occurs is our fault. This is consistent with Freud’s interpretation, although it adds another of meaning to it.

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