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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Symbolic Differences and the Oedipus Complex in the Work Place: Frustration, Deprivation and Prohibition

As the structuring force responsible for the differentiation of the sexes and generations in psychoanalytical theory, the Oedipus complex should not be considered solely in terms of its customary infantile or familial expressions. Under the images associated with the latter, an internal process of drive transformation is in play which ultimately endows the child with a particular form of self-consciousness. By means of this intrasubjective construction, the subject is then able to position him or herself in relation to others, be this on an affective level or otherwise. As a result, intersubjective relations are closely and dialectically linked to intrasubjective construction, with the Oedipal 'machinery' thereby having the remarkable virtue of transforming violent, partial and erratic drive-components into the capacity of loving and working with others. What interests us in the present paper is the latter dimension and the somewhat hidden way in which Oedipus contributes to it. As elaborated by Lacan in his seminar on the object-relation (1956-1957), the position that falls to the father vis-a-vis the mother-child relation and which he must imperatively assume is that of castration. His castrating intervention can take one of the three following forms (the last of which alone qualifies as castration in psychoanalytical terms):frustration or the imaginary lack of a real object; deprivation or the real lack of a symbolic object;prohibition (castration) or the symbolic lack of an imaginary object. Crucially, castration's various components are responsible for structuring an oedipal situation in which the specific form taken by the lack of the object is what accounts for a great number of symptoms and pathologies on the affective level. It remains, however, to be determined whether an analytical approach to work situations is capable of detecting these same elements. Let us take as an example the prototypical oedipal instance of frustration, which is the reaction of the girl when confronted to the absence of the penis: 'I don't have one' and 'I want one'. This is clearly a case of 'an imaginary lack of a real object' since the girl effectively lacks nothing at all: she is a girl who is to become a woman like her mother and that's that. Frustration consists, therefore, in demanding 'something real' but which the individual doesn't 'really' need in order to constitute herself as a subject. In other words, such a demand is skewed with respect to the said need. As a result any attempt to make up the frustration is not only destined to fail but can merely reinforce or radicalize it insofar as the substitute object is, by definition, not the object that is demanded, whether the context be that of the family or the workplace. This is not, of course, to claim that union demands and the like find their explanation in infantile phantasies alone, but rather a matter of recognizing that whatsoever presents itself in terms of demand in the professional domain must be able to be given its rightful place - failing which one risks provoking or perpetuating a strong sense of injustice that is, moreover, incomprehensible on a rational level. More generally, our approach will show that the three typical forms of frustration, deprivation and prohibition, first identified in the familial domain, do not manifest themselves in exactly the same way at work. By shedding new light on certain situations (such as conflicts), this differentiation of modes of relation equally suggests alternative ways of dealing with these.'