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Sigmund Freud's notion of truth evolved from a factual conception into a relativistic method where the true and the false are defined both in relation to a conventional and bounded space (that of the cure) and the dynamic effects that "plausible" constructions might have on the psyche.

Truth as an objective no longer remains "the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis."[1]

It inclines towards the notion of reality testing that demands that the subject partially abandon their illusions.

Truth as an ideal is inseparable from psychoanalytic inquiry and is unattainable, except partially in the "nuclei" of truth present within individual and collective distortions.

The search for factors that cause psychic suffering can be confused with the search for truth inasmuch as they are both repressed, misrepresented, displaced, represented by their opposite, and the like.

Initially Freud imagined rediscovering the traumatic events in the histories of his patients themselves, but promptly noticing "that there are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between the truth and fiction that is cathected with affect" (letter to Wilhelm Fleiss, 21 September 1897), he ended up privileging the psychical reality of the subject, wherein a dynamic verisimilitude was elaborated which would take on the value of truth.

This relativization of truth seems to coincide with a Pirandellian conception of it (Each in His Own Way).

In fact, truth as a value has not disappeared from the Freudian purview but it has become subtler.

Thus interpretation is not about the exhumation of truth but rather construction through the adoption of a coherent paradigm (Viderman, 1970), originating from the unperceived formulations of the subject's free associations or dreams.

Thus for Jacques Lacan, truth extricates itself from reality:

"In psychoanalytic anamnesis, it is not a question of reality, but of truth, because the effect of full speech is to reorder past contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come."[2]

Truth is not precisely being true to reality, rather it speaks and stutters through its symptomatic distortions.

The analyst has to engage with these "nuclei" of truth, then; Freud, for instance, defined them in relation to the sexual theories of children, which despite being untrue nonetheless each contain "a fragment of real truth."[3]

This is an adult, intellectual mode of investigation whose results, because they are limited to the possibilities of human understanding, would have been false in relation to a broader perspective, but which include nevertheless "inspired" partial but significant interpretations.

The quest for truth proceeds from a "truth fantasy" (Mijolla-Mellor, 1985), which relates to an image of lost harmony (transparency, luminosity) within the I, the others, and one's self.

Truth, in terms of the demand for truthfulness, is central to the fundamental rule that requires the abandonment of secrecy; however, it also guides the behavior of the analyst in their relationship with the patient, in their vision of the world, and in their research, requiring them to relinquish personal illusions for the construction of a coherent schema.

Challenging illusion and narcissistic comfort, truth, according to Freud, is a force in its own right:

"The hardest truths are heard and recognized at last, after the interests they have injured and the emotions they have roused have exhausted their fury."[4]

Piera Aulagnier gives truth a central place in relation to the identity of the subject.

It is the object of a "battle never definitively won nor lost to which periodically the I must surrender in order to modify and defend its positions, failing which it would be unable to turn towards or invest in its own identificatory space."[5]

The notion of truth in psychoanalysis is tied to the history the subject, in the same way as it is to humanity, because it is not simply a case of a balance between understanding and the thing, but of a narrative that is reconstructed using the residues left behind by legend.

  • 1914g, pp. 147, 150
  • 1956, p. 48
  • 1908c, p. 215
  • 1910d, p. 215
  • 1984, p. 147