views updated May 21 2018


In psychoanalysis, the state of "incompleteness" does not connote an imperfect or unfinished state, but rather implies openness and retrospective reexamination. The notion of incompleteness in the work of Sigmund Freud presupposes two possibles and one constraint: the integration of new ideas and the reexamination of old ideas in retrospect, provided that the whole remains coherent.

The image of the umbilical knot used by Freud in connection with dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) to represent the unfathomable reaches that are endlessly saturable with meaningthe ego's vanishing pointeventually found its homologue in the realm of reality in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Some form of incompleteness can be deduced from the integration of the new, from the working of deferred action, from demands for the production of coherence; it is a relationship that can be located in psychoanalytic theory, clinical practice, and treatment.

Incompleteness in the realm of theory can be pinpointed, in terms both of Freud's mental moves leading to theoretical creation and of the content of his theories. Several authors, such as Didier Anzieu, Jean Guillaumin, and Jean-Paul Valabrega, have established parallels between certain of Freud's personal mental changes and his great moments of theoretical creation: "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c [1895]); the writings included in the Metapsychology of 1915; the turning point of 1920, when dualism of the instincts was introduced into the corpus; and the years 1937-1938, when the theory of trauma from the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" was revised to make it coherent with the apparatus of the second topography, to cite only a few.

In 1895 Freud was already well advanced in his theoretical conception of neurosis, particularly hysteria. Under a certain amount of pressure from his colleagues, notably Wilhelm Fliess, who was formulating his own theory of the "periods," Freud found himself urgently in need of a homogeneous, totalizing formulation of psychic mechanisms that would take into account the theory of the neuroses and the normal psychic apparatushence his haste in writing "Project for a Scientific Psychology." This essay brings with it a paradox that attests to Freud's felicitous inability to conceptualize a closed theoretical system: Based on the neurological metaphor, he provided a coherent and relatively finished system that he nonetheless called a "Project" in the sense of a sketch (Entwurf ). History showed that this was indeed just a sketch, whose hyper-coherence was dismantled beginning in September 1897at the same time as Freud's work of mourning in connection with the death of his fatherand whose elements were reworked and used in subsequent theoretical developments.

Thereafter, Freud no longer allowed himself to be dominated by the desire to devise a system that would have an answer for everything. The topography, as well as his theories of anxiety, the instincts, and the neuroses, was modified in light of his clinical work, leading to new theoretical acquisitions such as the "splitting of the ego in the process of defense," for example.

As the foundations of the psychic apparatus, the instincts were a theoretical constant that was given even greater emphasis with the introduction of the id in the second topography. Principles and laws of psychic functioning came to modulate and use, to the benefit of ideation and meaning, the power that is inseparable from the notion of the instinct. This force can meet with two economic vicissitudes: "binding" and "discharge." Above all, after the metapsychological complexification of the second topography, a balance between binding and discharge was imposed, even if Freud more particularly indicated the path of binding culminating in the construction of more and more representational units that can be subjectivized. After 1920, and mainly after 1923-1924, around the time of "The Ego and the Id" (1923b), the first trauma-based theories of 1895 were reworked so that the notion of trauma could be integrated and become a constituent part of the Metapsychology. Not only is there a traumatic kernel in neurosis, but the id, even in its normal state, is traumatic for the ego.

The relations of the instincts and the other psychic contents (ideas) are marked by incompleteness. The incompleteness of the fabric of representation and the inexhaustible nature of the quest for meaning and coherence attest to the fact that the relations between the psychic agencies and objects satisfy a complex dynamic, which Freud's successors attempted to theorize.

Incompleteness is at the heart of psychoanalytic practice. Freud refused to reduce the scope of psychoanalysis to that of psychotherapy. To be sure, there are the symptoms and suffering of patients, but analysis opens up other horizons, as Freud unambiguously declared in the "New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" (1933a [1932]): "I did not want to commend [psychoanalysis] to your interest as a method of treatment but on account of the information it gives us about what concerns human beings most of alltheir own nature" (pp. 156-157).

From its own unfathomability to the multiplicity of its exterior, the subject is constantly being transformed. The essential question of psychoanalysis has become that of subjectivity, which today has plunged it into a paradoxical situation. Without doubt, Freud left it to his successors to establish a theory of the subject. They have not yet managed to construct one that would be coherent with Freudian metapsychology, and most often we must content ourselves with invoking what Raymond Cahn has called the "process of subjectivation." This places the emphasis on interpretative intent in psychoanalysis, whose essential aim is no longer simply bringing material into consciousness, but also to enable a constant reworking, through discourse, of the representations and formations of desire, identifications, and affect-fixating memories upon which the analysand writes and rewrites their history. "Where id is, there ego shall be" (1933a [1932], p. 80). Rather than seeing in this the idealistic aim of a Freud limited by a psychotherapeutic ideal, we can infer the modesty of Freud, the psychoanalyst, revealing the magnitude of the analyst's clinical task. It is not the completion of this task, even supposing that would be possible, that would trigger the process of the end of treatment, but perhaps the ability to work through the grieving process it entails.

Whether the emphasis is placed on the subject's coming into being or on subjectivation, this presupposes the corollary idea of maintaining that entity, which requires that it make constant adjustments in relation to the agencies, its ideals, and others. Considering the power of the drives, the state of the subject is precarious, always susceptible of dissolving into actions or symptoms, especially when it is a question of seeking out, through transference, "truths" and new insights, as analysis according to Freud proposes to do. The quest for truth and the quest for causality, moved by the power of the drives, endow the very process of subjectivation with its unstable and ever incomplete character.

The completion and incompleteness of analysis preoccupied Freud until the end of his work, as his "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937c) attests. Today, the idea of a completed analysis is entirely relative, and opinion remains divided as to the criteria for ending treatment. Respect for the idea of incompleteness bears with its full weight on the ethics of the psychoanalyst as one of the elements that protects the treatment from the alienation that would result if the analyst were to impose their own desire upon that of the analysand.

RenÉ PÉran

See also: Indications and contraindications for psychoanalysis for an adult.


Cahn, Raymond. (1997). Le processus de subjectivation à l'adolescence. In M. Perret Catipovic, and F. Ladame (Eds.), Adolescence et psychanalyse: une histoire (pp. 213-227). Lausanne, France: Delachaux et Niéstle.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. Part I, SE, 4: 1-338; Part II, SE, 5: 339-625.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

. (1937c). Analysis terminable and interminable. SE, 23: 209-253.

. (1950c [1895]). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.


views updated May 18 2018

360. Incompleteness

  1. Unfinished Symphony, The Schuberts eighth symphony of two movements instead of the customary four. [Ger. Music: Thompson]
  2. Venus de Milo classic sculpture, discovered in 1820 with arms missing. [Gk. Art: Brewer Dictionary ]

Incorruptibility (See HONESTY .)


views updated May 18 2018


See GÖdel's Incompleteness Theorem; Mathematics