Denial, Negation, and the Forces of the Negative: Freud, Hegel, Lacan, Spitz and Sophocles (Book Review)

Author:  Ver Eecke, Wifried
Publisher:  SUNY Press
Reviewed By:  Macario Giraldo, Winter 2008 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 1) p. 44

This book then will be of great interest not only for those eager to explore questions put by philosophy and psychoanalysis about the human subject but of great usefulness for therapists applying psychoanalytic concepts in the clinic. Ver Eecke takes as his central purpose an explication of the role of denial in the formation of a sense of self. In denial the subject is caught between the truth and its effects on the other. In this sense we can say that denial attempts to hide a truth to the other because the subject has the awareness of the other’s presence in conflict with the self’s separateness. Denial is then the expression of a subject that needs to be bonded while protecting the self’s autonomy. If one reads the book carefully (and it is indeed a book written for careful readers) one arrives at several conclusions, not the least of which is that in denial there is an underground river of repressed truths, a movement aiming to come out and provide life’s water of freedom provided this river is explored properly with attention to both a primordial need for bonding of the subject as well as for a free and autonomous spirit.

Professor Ver Eecke presents an initial question addressing the difference between denial and lying. He proceeds in his scholarly discourse by informing the reader of intimate connections between Hegel’s dialectic and Freud’s theory of negation. The concept of repression becomes central in this exploration. Ver Eecke gives the reader clear access to central Hegelian thought by showing the path of spirit as caught between self deception and self knowledge. As he points out, “for Hegel, truth is not just an epistemological task. It is also an anthropological adventure.” And in this process, “doubt can become despair” (p.123). Negativity has two sides to it, one positive and one negative.

The author’s presentation of Hegel’s analyses of the will in The Philosophy of Right and how it relates to denial is of particular interest to this reviewer. In very clear, everyday examples of life situations Ver Eecke points out the differences between the four strategies of the will in a progressive movement: natural will, arbitrary will, eudemonic will, and free will. Any therapist confronted with denial in a patient will find these examples of great interest and potential insight in the application of psychoanalytic theory.

VerEecke presents key contributions to our understanding of denial from Lacan, Spitz, and even Sartre. The writings of these authors are used to enlighten three key moments in a child’s life: The social smile, the eight-month anxiety and the “no-saying” at fifteen months. He goes further than Spitz in considering the no-saying, not only as an indicator of higher level of development but actually as “the organizer, the creator of that higher level of development.” (p. 124)

In the final chapter, entitled “Denial, Metaphor, the Symbolic, and Freedom: The Ontological Dimensions of Denial” Ver Eecke presents the case of Anthony Moore, the author of Father, Son and Healing Ghosts. He contrasts the positive lessons of this autobiographical account when it comes to denial with the missed steps of Oedipus, the King, by Sophocles, that he has analyzed in the previous chapter. Moore’s father died in combat in WWII very soon after the birth of Moore, Jr. Step by step, Ver Eecke analyzes the various life decisions Moore takes as examples of the gradual transformation of denial into a quest for freedom, thanks not only to his personal search but also to the involvement of key persons that Moore invites into his quest. For Ver Eecke “the availability of a cultural system rich in symbols, and the ability of emotionally important persons to say ‘no’ to deep forms of identification” make the difference.

When reading this chapter, I found myself entertaining another possible explanation to Ver Eecke’s analysis of Moore’s view and denial of his missed father. In a number of key moments of his life, I saw Moore even more identified with the views of his mother’s towards the husband-father and how mother perhaps was even more in the background struggle of Moore’s self deception and self knowledge. But whether one sees the Oedipal situation in this case tilted more towards the maternal or the paternal figure, what is true is that Ver Eecke has used this marvelous story as a fine teaching method to show the reader what Hegel meant when he said that the road to truth is not solely a path of doubt, but more properly a pathway of despair.

Wilfried Ver Eecke’s book, Denial, Negation, and the Forces of the Negative, was one of a few in the list of finalists for this year’s Goethe prize in the Canadian Psychoanalytic Association’s yearly meeting. It is worthy of this honor and will reward the reader’s efforts to recognize the deep and important links between philosophy and psychoanalysis.

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