Separation And Refusal: Some Considerations On The Anorexic Choice 1

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1 Copyright 2014 Article Author & Translator: The journal Lacunae (owned by the Association for Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy in Ireland Ltd. [APPI Ltd.]) has permission of the author and translator to publish this article. To reproduce it or a part thereof in any form, permission must be sought from the author and translator. In that event, a mandatory citation of the relevant issue of the journal Lacunae is required. For additional information please contact the Editor. Separation And Refusal: Some Considerations On The Anorexic Choice 1 Massimo Recalcati The Anorexic Choice Anorexia is not a disturbance of the appetite, but is rather a subjective position, namely a choice of the subject. Let s take this definition as our ethical starting point. In the way that Freud spoke of the neurotic choice or the psychotic choice, we can also speak of an anorexic choice, specifying that this latter choice is constituted as a refusal, or even better, we could claim that the anorexic choice is primarily characterised as a choice of refusal. As shown by clinical evidence, the dimension of refusal is always central in anorexia. The refusal tends to manifest itself phenomenologically first of all as a refusal of food, of nourishment, as a refusal to feed the body, to submit it to the laws of biological necessity. But this refusal does not in itself exhaust the complexity of the anorexic refusal. What I am proposing in the following considerations is an 1 This paper is a translation of Chapter IV of Massimo Recalcati s book entitled L uomo senza inconscio. Figure della nuova clinica psicoanalitica (2010). Milano: Raffaello Cortina Editore. 98

2 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 exploration of the different versions of the anorexic refusal, in relation to the need of separation that inhabits the anorexic position of the subject, regardless of the different structures of personality that might be detected by a differential diagnosis. Each clinician who deals with such patients can easily notice how they display an inflexible radicalism, a decisive determination, an extreme expression of willpower, a rare and worrying stubbornness. The anorexic choice strives at diligently governing, through willpower, the very non-governability of the body. This choice and its implementation are sources of enthusiasm, of happiness, delight and enjoyment. The Kestenbergs (1972) efficiently described this sort of ecstasy as domination vertigo. Remaining for the moment outside of the complex field of differential diagnosis, we can claim that anorexia is configured as a choice of mastery. This is the central dimension of the anorexic choice, that which distinguishes anorexia from bulimia and the other eating disorders. We hear it in our patients speech as a recurrent theme: there is a time (instantaneous and progressive) where anorexia takes the form of a proper solution, a decision made by the subject, who dedicates herself to the realisation of her project: Never again will I be a slave to what I do not control! At last I am free from the chains of the drive-ridden body! Finally I am forever separated from the demand of the Other! Never again will I be an object of the jouissance of the Other! If, in the so-called new forms of the symptom, the dimension of slavery prevails, manifesting itself as a pathological addiction to a substance (e.g. drugs, food, alcohol, medications, computer, gambling), in anorexia, by contrast, the subject appears to be able to separate from every object, using willpower to forcedly pursue its aim: to do without everything! In this case the accent is on mastery, while in other contemporary symptoms what is highlighted, in a traumatic manner, is either addiction (dependency) as in toxicomania, bulimia, obesity, alcoholism or a loss of mastery as in depression and panic disorders. Unlike these latter symptomatic forms, wherein the incandescence 99

3 of the unregulated jouissance of the drive prevails, anorexia presents itself as the opposite to slavery, as a celebration of the independence and autonomy of the subject in relation to the Other. More radically, the anorexic subject places herself as if there was no Other. The only Other that matters to her is the Other of the reflected mirror image, the Imaginary Other, the idealised similar one, the Other as an ideal projection of her own body elevated to the dignity of an icon, the Other as a reflected embodiment of the Ideal Ego, as a narcissistic double of the subject, the idealised Other of the reflected image of the thin body. 2 If, in pathological addictions (which are paradigmatic of the new clinic), the object-substance amplifies the slavery-status of the subject its fundamental passivity - and it ties the subject to a repetition of the drive which seems to tyrannically overwhelm the will of the Ego, anorexia fosters the illusion that it is the Ego of the subject that claims its narcissistic-imaginary independence from the Other. By refusing the symbolic dependency which ties her to the signifiers of the Other, the anorexic subject refuses her own division, and she poses herself as a subject that is compact, cold, integral, frozen, non-castrated, self-determined. In this sense anorexia is the exact opposite to the neurotic symptom. While the neurotic symptom divides the subject, producing a vacillation in the identification which destabilises the imaginary identity of the Ego the neurotic subject is a subject who is never master in his own house in a Freudian way; while the neurotic symptom is a mark of the symbolic operation of castration, anorexia by contrast looks to the ideal of a total mastery, striving to abolish the subjective division. We already stated it on numerous occasions: anorexia is, from this point of view, fundamentally Ego-sintonic and not Ego-distonic. The madness of anorexia is the madness of a will that intends to build a subject which is unaffected by castration. 2 It is in relation to this ideal image of herself that the anorexic s mastery is turned into a position of dependency: the subject depends on her own ideal specular image. 100

4 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 A Separation Without Mourning The euphoric tone of anorexia is opposed to the depressive dimension that accompanies neurotic suffering and the subject s difficulty in subjectivising separation from the Other. Anorexia, on the contrary, seems to substitute this difficulty with the nirvanic idea of an absolute separation, which is apathetic, anaesthetic, a separation which is opposed to any experience of lack and loss. This is the deep paradox which characterises the anorexic separation. While separation always implies, structurally, a loss of a fragment of the self, a piece of one s own being, for Lacan separation has, as a logical pre-condition, the alienation of the subject by the signifier in anorexic separation, in the place of this loss we find a sort of reinforcement of the Ego, a narcissistic compression of the subject, a stiffening of identity. It is, ultimately, a separation which works as a defence against separation, a separation which is a warding off of separation, a deception, an avoidance of separation, because it is not based on a loss, but it rather operates as a stiff negation of the loss. For this reason anorexia is an anti-mourning, or, if you prefer, an acting-out of separation, a separation without mourning, a separation dissociated from the work of mourning. It is for this reason that anorexia tends to take the form of a refusal. However, refusal can never coincide with separation. Separation always implies a loss (of jouissance) and therefore, in Lacanian terms, an alienation. Refusal, on the contrary, is an experience of exclusion, of opposition, of rupture with the Other. Its most radical form is that of hatred and it is not a coincidence that hatred occupies as central a place (within the clinic of anorexia) as love. Freud (1924) locates hatred in relation to the need for subjective differentiation. The necessary pre-condition to the differentiation between me and non-me, between the subject and the Other, between the internal and the external world, is linked to the primordial somatic movement of splitting. It is only through this patemic embodiment of negation that the organism-subject gets a chance to detach the Self from the bad object, from the object that perturbs the internal 101

5 equilibrium of the subject, thus humanising itself by means of this movement of expulsion. For Freud this movement of expulsion (Ausstossung), as a somatic-patemic antecedent of hatred, precedes love and it is the primordial pre-condition to the differentiation of the subject. It is from hatred that the very movement of incorporation subsequently arises. For assimilation to take place there had first to be externalisation, distancing, separation from the bad and perturbing object. 3 For the anorexic subject who recuperates this primordial mode of the psyche to differentiate, who recuperates the splitting as an embodiment of hatred and as a movement towards separation the fatal price to differentiation will be giving up on assimilation because assimilation confuses the boundaries which distinguish the subject from the Other, because assimilation annuls the subjective difference by swallowing the One within the Other. This has been noticed by many psychoanalysts: the anorexic is terrified by the relationship with the Other in as much as she longs for this relationship because she is afraid of losing herself in it, of not being able to deal with the intrusion of the Other within her affective life. 4 In this sense, in anorexia, the price for differentiation is an antilove. The movement of distancing, expulsion, separation from the object is crystallised, fixed, fossilised instead of being integrated with the movement of incorporation-assimilation of the Other. An effective movement of separation, on the other hand, implies that the subjects looks to the Other for that which has been lost by means of the action of the Other, following a back and forth dialectic path. Separation, in this sense, is never a dismissal of the Other but it rather implies an opening towards the Other. It does not cancel the 3 For a more articulated clarification of these theses, please see: M. Recalcati, in B. Mondadori (Ed.), Sull odio. Milano, 2004, pp For instance, as proposed by Philippe Jeammet, dependency is perceived by the anorexic subject as a real narcissistic threat, from which she has to defend herself in order to preserve her subjective boundaries, her identity and her narcissistic integrity. See: P. Jeammet, Developmental Psychopathology, Steinkopff, According to Lacan, this confusion between the subject and the Other is played, as we shall see, on the register of indifferentiation between the field of need and the field of desire. 102

6 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 debt, but it assumes it, because it is only by taking it on that the debt can be truly exceeded. The anorexic refusal, on the contrary, wants to cancel every debt with the Other, to negate alienation, to install the subject as a compact absolute, devoid of any lack, therefore tending not to transfer the lost object in the field of the Other. The strength, the absence of slavery and division, the illusion of autonomy in anorexia is produced as a manic effect of a separation of the subject from the demand of the Other, which seems to cut every form of link. Separation then tends to assume the form not only of a separation from the demand of the Other as linked to the oral object, food, nourishment, but rather from the demand of the Other in itself. Not only, then, from the object of the demand, but from the demand itself as a locus of manifestation of the Other. The anorexic reveals, in this sense, a radical need for separation that comes to coincide, in the most serious cases (for instance in melancholic anorexia), with a drive towards death, with a drive to exit the world scene. By exasperating her need for separation, the anorexic preserves a privileged relationship with the developmental phase of adolescence. It is indeed during adolescence that the game of separation from the Other is played out. Following this consideration we may think obesity as a pathology that is structurally linked to the infantile position of the child who depends completely on the demand of the Other and who deals with an impossibility to separate from it. In obesity, the difficulty to separate from the demand of the Other keeps the subject in the position of the (infantilised) object in relation to the Other. The movement of subjectivisation is completely lacking. There is a loneliness of jouissance but without the subjectivisation of separation. If the subjectivisation of separation has as its basis the symbolic action of castration and the loss of jouissance that entails, we can then establish that with obesity we have an opposition to this action in terms of a passive and destructive accumulation of jouissance. By contrast, in anorexia the opposition to castration takes a hyperactive form, where it is not alienation that is made absolute as we see happening 103

7 with obesity but rather separation. So while, in the case of obesity, the object-food is portrayed as a medicine to treat the anguish aroused by separation, in anorexia, on the contrary, the object food is that which causes anxiety. We described how, during adolescence, the need for separation is opposed to the acknowledgement of the symbolic debt. The need to conquer a position for themselves, to differentiate from the world of adults and from the identificatory signs proposed by parents, to earn their own personal taste, and their own personal style, all this puts young people in opposition to the adult world and can push the subject towards a radical declaration of independence which, if it happens in mere oppositional terms, inevitably comes to be factitious, unrealistic, merely provocative and with no foundations. In anorexia the need for separation openly reflects the contradiction of this adolescent mode of separation. Separation, in as much as it is a dry and non-dialectic alternative to alienation, 5 can only be a pseudo-separation, meaning a separation which does not stem from the subjectivisation of the symbolic debt but rather from its anti-dialectic refusal. This weakness of the anorexic separation contrasts with the decisiveness which sustains it. The anorexic choice shows, in fact, a hypertrophy of will. Its paradoxical character tends to reach a hyperbolic character: on the one hand the anorexic position is sustained by an exasperation of will, while on the other hand the will itself tends to become a locus of the drive. This does not only mean that the anorexic masochistically makes of privation a means for jouissance, but also that at the bottom of the anorexic mastery we find the anguished experience of a loss of mastery. This means that the will, in the exasperating attempt at integrally governing itself, reaches a point where it is no longer able to govern itself, a point where, in other words, it loses control over itself and over its will to control. In these cases, 5 In L ultima cena: anoressia e bulimia, to describe the anti-dialectic character of the anorexic position I proposed the formula separation-against-alienation. M. Recalcati, in B.Mondadori (Ed.), L ultima cena: anoressia e bulimia, Milano, 1997, p

8 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 described in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual as restrictive anorexia, the will to control becomes a direct manifestation of the death drive. An instance of this is when an anorexic subject claims she would be willing to recommence eating but she has lost control over her refusal of food, namely she is no more in control of the control mechanism which her will had first activated. The Anorexic Passivity The decisive and driven character of the anorexic choice is not enough to clearly contextualise the position of the anorexic subject. At the edge of this will-driven character anorexia is a will-related illness in terms of a hypertrophy of the will power we can isolate a more passive dimension of anorexia. We have explored how the subject operates to actively separate itself from the demand of the Other. From this perspective anorexia truly is a deliberate choice of the subject. On the other hand though, the subject who chooses anorexia is a subject put in the position of the object by the Other, and confined to a passive position, it is a subject who depends on the Other. What does this mean? What does it mean to claim that the anorexic subject is put in the position of the object by the Other and that this position carries a passive dimension? It means that, generally, the Other of anorexia is an Other who does not regard the subject as a subject of desire. Rather it is an Other who tends to over-eagerly satisfy the demands, the demand for care and the dimension of the primary needs of the subject. As the clinic teaches us, the Other of the anorexic is an Other who is generally very prompt and impeccable in satisfying the so called basic needs. But it is also an Other who is unable to respond to the demand of the subject through its own desire and who, as a consequence, is unable to separate in the subject the dimension of need from the dimension of desire. This is a general thesis Lacan formulated about anorexia: The Other of the anorexic systematically confuses the 105

9 dimension of need with the dimension of desire. It responds to the practical need of care but not to the human need for desire as desire of love and acknowledgement, as desire for the desire of the Other. In this sense, as Lacan reminds us, the Other of anorexia is an Other who tends to reduce the subject to a passive object of care, forcedly reducing desire to the dimension of need. This is what Lacan calls the suffocating dimension of the demand of the Other (Lacan, 2002). 6 To my mother I am merely a mouth to fill up ; To my parents I am only a digestive canal ; They only care about what I have eaten or if I have eaten. These are the complaints of anorexic subjects. So what are the effects of this reduction of the subject to the passive position of an object of care? The main effect is an anguished paralysis and death of desire. Anxiety, as taught by Lacan, intervenes each time the subject is located in the position of an object at the mercy of the Other, reduced to feeling he/she is merely a body. In this perspective anxiety always precedes the choice of anorexia and this choice is configured as a sort of solution against anxiety and against the unbearable feeling of being only a body. It is not by chance that in our patient s histories we persistently find, as a trigger for anorexia, an experience of loss of subjectivity, of being degraded to an inert object. This degradation can take different forms for the subject: the bad and traumatic encounter with the jouissance of the Other, which violently relegates the subject to the position of an object, a separation, the first sexual experiences, the encounter with a medical knowledge that exposes the body to an objective and brutal manipulation, the intrusion of a new sibling who forces the subject to assume a subordinated position within a family where, up to that moment, she was the most adorable and irreplaceable daughter, puberty itself as encounter with the 6 The direction of the treatment and the principles of its power. In Écrits. The first complete edition in English (B. Fink, Trans.). New York & London: Norton & Co. (2002). We can gather here the intersection between psychopathology and the social discourse. The contemporary Other is an Other who systematically mistakes need for desire, refuses the weaning of the subject and tends to fill each empty space with the compelling offer of the object that will satisfy the need. The clinic of anorexia is a clinic of the maternal Other as a social Other. The maternalisation of the social Other consists in the fact that the social Other does not allow the weaning of the subject. 106

10 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 non-governability of the drive-ridden body, which shows the subject s most passive dimension, exposing the subject as unable to master these transformations, a betrayal by a lover who dumps her as a piece of trash, parents imposing their will upon her fundamental life choices, downgrading her to a passive object with no rights to speak, lies about family matters that put the subject in the position of an object which has no right to know. In all of the above triggering instances we can find a common root: the subject is traumatically reduced to an object. However, this common root does not suppress the diagnostically differential nature of the anorexic choice. Our clinical experience taught us to always declare anorexia as plural, meaning that there are many anorexias or, more precisely, there are different subjective forms of anorexia that depend on the different structures of personality (neurosis, psychosis and perversion). 7 In the following paragraphs I ll try to outline the different possible ways of the anorexic refusal and of the need of separation which animates them. Refusal As A Separation Manoeuvre During childhood and adolescence the need for separation can electively take the form of the anorexic refusal as a manoeuvre to separate from the Other. This form of refusal can be frequently found in anorexia in childhood and adolescence, but particularly in relation to the phase of puberty. In this phase, which invests the real of the drive ridden body and its difficult subjectivisation, we witness a possible overturn of the infantile docility of the subject faced with the demand of the Other. The child always tends to match the demand of the Other, in the sense that she gains satisfaction in satisfying the demand of the Other, in satisfying the expectations of the Other. 7 The problem of differential diagnosis in anorexia-bulimia is at the centre of my works: L ultima Cena: anoressia e bulimia and Clinica del Vuoto, Franco Angeli,

11 Lacan reminds us that, in relation to the omnipotence of the Other, the child is necessarily situated in a position of impotence, dependent on the potency (both symbolic and real) of the Other. 8 In relation to this point, clinical experience once again teaches us that little girls destined to become anorexic have been docile children, crushed by the demand of the Other, oblative by tendency, preoccupied with matching completely the narcissistic expectations of the familiar Other. The overly appeasing character of this childhood then sets adolescence on fire. The passive docility of this golden child is subverted into its opposite, into a strenuously oppositional activity against the parental Other. Why this extreme radicalism? What s the reason behind this explosion of conflict in adolescence? Let s try to formulate a general answer: because the borders between the subject and the Other have been set in a confused way, because the subject felt aspirated, sucked, swallowed, in its reduction to an inert object of the jouissance of the Other, because the space of its subjective enunciation has not been sufficiently preserved. Let s take as an example the case of a young anorexic girl forced to be urgently hospitalised because of a very serious form of anorexia. She became anorexic over the previous two years and the illness quickly reached worrying forms. This girl had been sexually abused by a cousin when she was five years old, but she never said anything to anyone about it. Only when hospitalised will she tell her story to the medical carers. The anorexic choice had made her less than appealing to the Other s jouissance. In other words the anorexic choice had been working for her as a separation manoeuvre, re-introducing, in the locus of the passive sexual object, a quota of active negation. Through anorexia the subject makes her body untouchable, separating herself from the abusing Other. The real question remains nonetheless open: why had this little girl silently endured years of abuse without asking for help or protection, without saying a word about it to anyone, just 8 Lacan, J. (2007). Il seminario. Libro IV. La relazione oggettuale [The object relation] Torino: Einaudi. 108

12 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 allowing herself to be overwhelmed by the jouissance of the Other? The story of her childhood is characterised by a very close relationship with her mother. An example of this is the fact that her mother chose to breastfeed her up to the child s fourth year, despite being advised otherwise by the paediatrician. During the breastfeeding the mother literally kidnapped the child, not allowing the father to even go near them. She used to lock the room in which she was breastfeeding and there was no way the father could enter it. The daughter was assigned the function of incarnating realising, Lacan would say 9 the object of maternal jouissance. The physical proximity between mother and daughter had dissolved every possible symbolic sense of limit. We can deduce that the sexual abuse could then happen in that particular modality on this particular background constituted by the cannibalistic mother-daughter relationship. The child does not protest at being violated because being violated is inscribed in her history as a primordial signifier. Only through anorexia can she introduce a separating element between herself and the abusive jouissance of the Other. More generally, in anorexia as a separation manoeuvre, the refusal of need satisfaction to eat the no thing tends to protect the subject s singularity, allowing the subject to separate from the suffocating demand of the Other ( eat! ). Only a separation from the need can grant the existence of the subject as a subject of desire. For this reason the persistence of the demand of the Other can only generate resistance. This is the classic thesis of Charles Lasègue (1873): the persistence of relatives in overestimating the feeding moment sustains anorexia as a resistance, as a refusal to comply with the persistent demand of the Other. 10 The refusal of the object supports the need of separation from a suffocating Other and it s finalised by removing 9 J. Lacan, Two notes on the child, (R. Grigg, Trans.) Analysis 2, 1990, Melbourne Centre for Psychoanalytic Research. 10 C. Lasègue, On Hysterical Anorexia. This thesis is an aura formula to understand children s oppositional behaviours. Where the Other s demand becomes pressing, a resistance is inevitably produced in the subject. This happens in anorexia when the subject is confronted with the demand eat!, as well as it happens in ADHD as a response to the demand be quiet!, or in learning disabilities in relation to the demand study!. 109

13 the subject from the position of the object, claiming the right to be a subject. In this refusal a subjective manoeuvre is put in place in relation to the Other. We need to clarify that refusal as a separation manoeuvre is not a prerogative of the anorexic choice, but it is rather a movement found throughout the clinic of the subject (in childhood and adolescence) to extract the object of desire by separating it from the invasive demand of the Other. Refusal As Refusal Of The Body The refusal of the body is a Lacanian category that allows us to rethink the Freudian clinic of hysteria (Lacan, 2007). The Freudian clinic of hysteria is centred on the metaphorical nature of the symptom: the hysteric body speaks, it manifests itself as a symbol, as a body structured as a language, as a theatrical body. Differently to this, the clinic of anorexia is instead a clinic of the silence of the body, a clinic of the silent jouissance of the body, of the body which does not assume the form of a theatrical performance but rather it takes the form of a wall. As I wrote in The last supper, the anorexic body is a wall-body. Within the anorexic choice the refusal of the body is primarily a refusal of the sexual body. But the refusal of the sexual body means especially a refusal of the body in so far as it is non-governable, inappropriate, a body of the drives which is impossible to discipline. It is the refusal of the structural character of the inappropriateness of the body, of its secretions, of its appetites, of its transformations, of its vitality, of its eccentricity, of its possibility to generate. In this sense the anorexic refusal of the body is always refusal of the body of the Other, refusal of the alterity of the body and refusal of the alterity of the body of the Other. What does this mean? It means that the refusal of the body is refusal of the body insofar as it is the locus of the Other and of the body insofar as it is sexual. It is the refusal of an alterity which escapes any grasp. It is a refusal of what, in the body, cannot be re-conducted to the intentionality of consciousness, of the body as ungovernable real 110

14 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 (the body dies, gets ill, enjoys beyond the will of the Ego). In the clinic of anorexia this refusal is translated into an attempt of the subject to preserve the body from sexual difference, to preserve it as undivided, as not affected by castration, because castration acts by differentiating the sexes and breaking the illusion of an undifferentiated One. This is another instance of the difficulty in subjectivising separation, resulting in an un-subjectivised separation, an acted separation. Clinically this type of refusal might overlap from hysteria to melancholia (what we call the melancholic tendency of anorexia). The refusal of the body can generate a drift of the body, masochism, annihilation, devitalisation. In this melancholic inclination, the anorexic subject manifests her difficulty in processing the mourning of her infantile body, of the phallic body, of the beloved body, the idealised but also enjoyed body of the familiar Other. The sexuation of the body, ratified by symbolic castration, implies the irreversible loss of the infantile body. This happens also in the clinic of obesity, which is, strictly speaking, a clinic of the refusal of the body. In obesity though, there is no acting of separation, but rather an extreme difficulty in separation from the demand of the Other. The subject stays in the position of object, glued to the demand of the Other. The movement of subjectivisation is missing. There is a loneliness of jouissance but there is no separation. If, for Lacan, separation finds its pre-condition in separtition, meaning in the loss of jouissance and in the internal separation of the subject from the objects of the drive (breast, faeces, voice, gaze), in obesity the opposition to the loss of jouissance takes the shape of an incessant and solitary accumulation of the object. There is no weaning, no separtition, no loss of object but only its constant accumulation. Differently from this, in anorexia the refusal of loss of jouissance takes a hyperactive form, characterised by a manic negation and an absolutism not so much of alienation but rather of separation itself. Indeed, while for the obese subject the object reduces anxiety, for the anorexic subject it triggers it. 111

15 Refusal As Appeal Winnicott (1936/1978) described the so called eating disorders in childhood and adolescence as a manifestation of a doubt the child has in relation to his/her parents love. The anorexic refusal of the subject is the way in which the child interrogates the Other regarding its love and to invoke a sign of this love. It involves a negation of the object of jouissance (food) in order to create a lack in the Other. It means refusing what the Other actually has, in order to get the Other to produce what the Other does not have. The anorexic refusal of the object is, in this perspective, an appeal for a sign of love to be produced by the Other. The anorexic negation negates the object of need so as to let the subject of desire appear. The negation of the object aims at transforming the lack in the Other into a gift of love. By contrast bulimia represents a compensation for the frustration of the demand for love by means of the compulsive consumption of the object, meaning that the object-food replaces the absent sign of love. While bulimia, as obesity, follows a compensatory logic, anorexia is the refusal of every possible compensation, its demands are for the sign of love even if it means to give up the object forever. This is another instance where anorexia shows its fundamentalism: what counts is the negation of the object, the absolute separation from the demand, the affirmation of the subject as undivided, annulling the signifying alienation and the symbolic debt. In some forms of anorexia, refusal as an appeal for the sign of love (which animates hysteric anorexia, where desire itself tends to manifest as a refusal) oscillates towards a proper blackmailing strategy. This is a markedly perverse trait of anorexia. Refusal then becomes a way to put the familiar Other at a loss by letting it be consumed by anguish. The body becomes a hostage to put pressure on the Other, to abuse the Other, to throw the Other into the abyss of an anguished 112

16 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 helplessness. 11 For Lacan the perverse strategy consists in provoking anxiety in the Other, in contaminating the place of the Other with the affect of anxiety, in seeing on the Other s face the unsettling smirk of anguish. In this sense the anorexic manoeuvre is always a bit perverse because it plays between life and death, imposing an absolute power over the Other, becoming the means of the Other s anguish. This aims at demonstrating that, not only the familiar Other, but also the Other of the law, the Other of the code, the Other of language, cannot cope with the challenge initiated by the anorexic. The perverse refusal of castration implies first of all the refusal of the alienating function of language which imposes a loss of jouissance. The ruthless and imperturbable characteristic of this refusal unleashes anxiety in the parents, throwing the familiar Other in the deepest desperation in order to become the master of their own being. For this reason, when anorexia was first identified as a psychopathology, Charles Lasègue (1873) included desperation of parents among its symptoms. Refusal As A Defence Anorexia not only is an appeal but also it is a wall. It is a wall against the wall of language: anorexia is locking up the body, a burka of the body. 12 This thickening of the body, made evident by its more or less marked coincidence with the skeleton, can have the aim of defending the subject against the traumatic encounter with the jouissance of the Other. It is indeed a defence against the risk of being reduced to an object, against the anguished risk of the fall of the subject into the rank of an object. For this reason in the most classic cases of anorexia - as discussed earlier in the paper - we frequently find sexual abuse, trauma, intrusions, losses, betrayals, bad encounters with the medical 11 With the figure of the body-hostage we have isolated one of the core themes of the clinic of anorexia. AA.VV. Il corpo ostaggio. Clinica e teoria dell anoressia-bulimia, Roma: Borla. 12 On the theme of the wall of anorexia, see M. Recalcati, L ultima cena, pp

17 institution and knowledge, accidents, frustration of the demand of love or circumstances where the subject finds itself identified as the object of an evil and devastating jouissance. In these cases the solidification of the borders of the body, the walling-up of the body, the confrontational negation of the Other, all become ways of reacting to the traumatic degrading of the subject to being an object enjoyed by the Other. Here the refusal acts not so much as an appeal for love, but rather as a stern defence that can reach the extreme limits of an un-affective autism. In this case refusal does not retain its dialectic function any more, it is no more directed towards the Other, and it functions as a simple barrier against the Other s destructive violence. The clinic of psychotic anorexia clearly illustrates this defensive mode of the anorexic refusal. Psychosis does not manifest itself by means of its basic phenomena (delusions, hallucinations, passage à l acte) but it is kept enclosed by the stiffening of the subjective identity supported by anorexia. The thin body, in these cases, is not pursued as an aesthetic ideal and not even as a fetishistic icon, but rather as a fortress which fortifies the position of a subject wounded by the foreclosure of the Name of the Father. The anorexic refusal thus stabilises the subject, keeping at a distance the threat of the evil and invasive jouissance of the Other. This happens in the case of Lina, a young anorexic, who, confronted with the violent short temper of her father, who is a frustrated musician, and with the narcissistic identification between her mother and her twin sister, finds herself thrown into a desert, into a no-man s land. When Lina s maternal grandfather, who had been acting as a surrogate paternal figure, died suddenly, the only way to defend herself from the erratic irruption of her father s violence was by means of the shield constituted by the anorexic defence. The borders between subject and object seem to be dissolving: Lina has to force everyone around her (but especially her parents) to spit out their chewing gum as she can get fatter by smelling them. She fears she might get poisoned in her sleep. She fears that, when her friends eat some pizza, 114

18 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 she can absorb the same calories as them. To have her skin sticking to her bones, thus cancelling any difference between skin and bone, then becomes her delusional version of anorexia, which aims at preserving a subjective identity constantly threatened by the jouissance of the Other. If my skin perfectly adheres to my bones, claims Lina, then I become a mummy and mummies do not fear anything anymore. Refusal As Appetite For Death This last form of refusal keeps us within the clinic of psychotic anorexias. In 1938 Lacan described the anorexic desire as desire of the larva, as an appetite for death. At the same time a famous patient of Binswanger (1944/1958), Ellen West, defined her anorexia-bulimia as a longing for death. What are we faced with when confronted with these desperate cases where the subject appears to engage in its own destruction? We are faced with a subject who has stopped interrogating the Other, who has resolved all the ties to the Other, who has disconnected from the Other and wants to move towards death, even if not as a direct suicidal passage à l acte, but rather as a deathly differentiation. The appetite for death which animates many anorexic patients with a psychotic structure, the longing for death that crosses over Ellen West, does not demand any sign of love, it is not directed towards anyone, does not want to enter any dialectic with the Other, it does not act upon the Other, but rather it pushes beyond the world scene, towards a locking up of the Self within its own world, towards destruction of life. Here we are looking at the link that connects, within the clinic of psychosis, melancholia and anorexia. If the reference to the hysterical trait of anorexia had pushed Lacan to theorising the disjunction between the level of the satisfaction of need and that of satisfaction of desire, the reference to the melancholic dimension in anorexia 115

19 highlights the loss of the sentiment of life that accompanies some forms of anorexia. For Freud melancholia is defined as the untying of the link between Eros and Thanatos. In melancholia the death drive is manifested in its pure devastation. Desire of the larva, writes Lacan: there is no looking up at an ideal image of herself, there is no fetishism of the image, there s no appeal directed at the Other, there s no blackmailing strategy, there is not even the defence against the invasive jouissance of the Other. Only an abandonment, a disconnection, a dis-insertion from the field of the Other, a pure will to die. What the clinic ruthlessly teaches us is that there are cases where the subject of desire does not seem to exist at all, where desire truly seems to be dead, where life really seems not to want to live any more. The problem here then is not how to separate desire from demand or how to preserve the eccentricity of desire from the level of the need, but rather how to introduce at least a hint of desire in/to those lives, just a little bit, just enough to allow those lives to continue their existence. For these reasons the refusal as refusal of life, as a drive towards death, as an appetite for death, indicates not only a separation from the demands of the Other but also from the social icon of anorexia. We are here talking of the most lethal dimension, the most nihilistic, psychotic dimension of anorexia that the fashion industry strategically occults. When the drive towards death dominates in such an imperious way the social insignia, the icon of the thin body cannot preserve any more the narcissistic identity of the subject, thus alienating the subject to the position of a social signifier that can stabilise being, because anorexia as an appetite for death implies separation from even that signifier. The subject then cannot but show itself as a dead body, a bodymonster, a devitalised body, a body-corpse. This de-vitalisation is, though, not the effect of the signifying cut on the body, but rather it is linked to an externalisation of a signifier which is not inscribed in the body any more. This way the anorexic body is separated even from its own image, contemplating its own horror, contemplating its reduction 116

20 Volume 3 (Issue 2), 2014 to a waste object, to an object-residue, falling from the scene of the world to retreat within its own world. This will to die shows its face in the shade of the anorexic power of will. The will to will is always a will to die. This appears to me as one of the fundamental teachings of anorexia: a separation without mourning, without debt, without alienation, can only produce a catastrophe. An identity without division can only generate madness. A freedom that negates the existence of the other can only bring destruction. A mastery of the Self that wants to cancel desire can only provoke death. Translation by Anna Milleri Author Information Massimo Recalcati is an Analyst Member of ALIpsi (Italian Association of Lacanian Psychoanalysis). Currently he lectures at Pavia University (Psychopathology of Eating Behaviour) and CEPUSPP (Centre d enseignement post-universitaire pour la spécialisation en psychiatrie et psychothérapie) in Lausanne (Psychoanalytic Clinic of Anorexia). He is author of many books and articles including, Jacques Lacan. Desiderio, godimento e soggettivazione (2012). Il complesso di Telemaco. Genitori e figli dopo il tramonto del padre (2012). Ritratti del desiderio, (2012). Cosa resta del padre? La paternità nell epoca ipermoderna, (2011). L uomo senza inconscio. Figure della nuova clinica psicoanalitica (2010). References Binswanger, L. (1944/1958). The case of Ellen West. In R. May, E. Angel & H.F. Ellenberger (Eds.), Existence: A new dimension in psychiatry and psychology. New York: Basic Books. Freud, S. (1924). Instincts and their vicissitudes. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XIV, (pp ). London: Hogarth Press. 117

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