A Commentary on a Quotation from Freud’s Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, by Alexandre Stevens


“Up till now our account of what occurs in repression has laid great stress on this point of exclusion from consciousness. But it has left other points open to uncertainty. One question that arose was, what happened to the instinctual impulse which had been activated in the id, and which sought satisfaction?” (1)

Freud is passing to a new stage in his doctrine of the unconscious. Sure, repression operates on the unconscious representatives of the drive (signifiers), but at the same time there is a modification of the drive impulse (jouissance). In fact, he adds, “A symptom is a sign of, and a substitute for, an instinctual satisfaction which has remained in abeyance (…)” (2) – signifier and substitutive jouissance at the same time. Satisfaction (plus-de-jouir) is obtained only by the symptom and the symptom is satisfaction – Lacan will say this is jouissance.

In Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety, Freud no longer approaches the symptom as repressed meaning, that is, as a formation of the unconscious, but as functioning in bringing jouissance into play. Therefore, “Inhibition, symptom and anxiety is the key to Lacan’s later teaching.” (3)

Jacques-Alain Miller comments on this text in the first course of the Partner Symptom in these terms: “(T)he symptom as truth, is the formation of the unconscious, it is the symptom in as much as it is interpreted (….) (T)he symptom as jouissance in the sense of Inhibition, symptom and anxiety, is a means of the drive that expresses the insatiable demand of drive satisfaction, what Lacan called the will to jouissance”.(4)

This Freudian reference may be read using this distinction between the transferential unconscious and the real unconscious that Jacques-Alain Miller emphasized. Later in the text, returning to the phobia of Little Hans, Freud clearly distinguishes two distinct approaches to repression. There is the substitution of the horse for the father, thus a signifying displacement: transferential unconscious. And there is the repression of the drive impulse as “repressed by the process of being transformed into its opposite. Instead of aggressiveness on the part of the subject toward his father, there appeared aggressiveness (in the shape of revenge) on the part of the father towards the subject” (5) – a paradoxical jouissance, on the path of the real unconscious.

Translated by Joanne Conway

1 Freud, S., Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, (J. Strachey, Ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vo. XX (1925-1926), London: Hogarth Press, p. 91.
2 Ibid. p. 91.
3 Miller, J.-A., Orientation lacanienne, Le partenaire symptôme, class 1, 19-11-1997.
4 Ibid.
5 Freud, S., Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, op. cit., p. 106.