From a Small Blunder to a Refusal of the Unconscious – Alexandre Stevens


This story happened at the end of August after returning from holiday. I still had a few days off and decided to prepare my first classes for the new school year. It was at this moment that I received a telephone call from a colleague with whom I share a part of the teaching. He called to propose a meeting in Liège. A public organisation had asked us to organise a clinical psychoanalytical training for their members.

This is an opportunity to be seized, but the type of meeting that takes up at least half a day does not enchant me. No more than it does my colleague, for that matter. I thought that if I have to interrupt my work, I would rather spend a relaxing day at the North Sea, for example.

On the said day I left to take the train. I arrived at the station just in time, but nearly missed it – I rushed onto the platform at the same moment the conductor’s whistle was signalling the train’s departure. I narrowly managed to hop on by the only door still open.

As I sat down, I realized that the train on the other side of the platform was also ready to leave. I mechanically raised my eyes to the end of the carriage and read the destination “Ostend”. So, I was going to the North Sea after all!

You will agree that the interpretation of this blunder is simple: I did not want to go to this meeting and would rather leave on vacation. Beyond this rather mundane meaning, I might add a few sparkles from childhood memories, as the North Sea – that, to tell the truth, I hardly ever visit – was for me one of my favourite childhood holiday destinations, and this missed act is above all a testimony of the unconscious as a division of the subject.

But in the end, I like the Champ Freudian enough to be willing to change trains at the next station, go back in the opposite direction and arrive in Liège only half an hour late. In order not to bother the people we were meeting, I telephoned my colleague and we agreed that he would go on ahead to the meeting; I would take a taxi there.

And here is where a little unexpected consequence of this unconscious desire happened. A clinical encounter. The taxi driver was rather talkative, but he spoke with that inimitable voice coming from the oesophagus that is a result of an operation of the larynx. He spoke well though and, unlike many who have undergone a laryngectomy, was perfectly audible.

The conversation turned to what had happened to him, and he told me that the operation had taken place only a few months ago. I congratulated him on the quality of his recovery, as he had clearly made great efforts to get there so quickly. He was a determined subject.

He then tells me that this operation is the consequence, as can be expected, of a cancer at the back of the throat. He was a smoker and smoked a lot, he told me. But, he added, one must not believe what one is told: it is not because of smoking that he got cancer, but because of pollution. So here is a determined and desiring subject, who, for the price of his desire, denies any responsibility in the death drive that hits him. It’s a refusal of the unconscious.

Translated by Jane Hodgson-McCrohan