The Freud Museum

Events Archive

30 September 2017

Eternal Recurrence and the Unconscious: The Question of Fate in Psychoanalysis

One Day Symposium

The Eternal Recurrence is Nietzsche’s myth of the eternal return, the return of the same. In psychoanalysis we encounter a similar fate. The analysand brings his symptom again and again, unaware of the deceit that sustains his suffering. The return of the repressed, the return of the drive, the return of desire, all feature in the landscape of the psychoanalytic mythos. In this symposium we will be considering the fateful crossing of the psychoanalytic project with Nietzsche’s demon. Can psychoanalysis create a potential space against the domination of fate?

This symposium brings together eminent scholars and practitioners from philosophy, cultural studies, film theory and psychoanalysis to discuss these intricate questions. Reflecting on mythological, philosophical, cultural and metaphysical versions of what returns over and over again, the speakers will offer provocative insights on the topic with important implications for psychoanalytic theory and practice.



Sebastian Gardner (Biog)
Figures of Thought and Unconscious Configurations in Nietzsche and Freud (Abstract)

Dany Nobus (Biog)
Freud’s Nietzsche: Eternal Recurrence, Symptomatic Acts and the Practice of Gift-Giving. (Abstract)

Gwion Jones (Biog)
Eternal Recurrence: An obsessional nightmare? (Abstract)

Elizabeth Hughes (Biog)
Fate in Mythology and Culture: Norns, Moirai and Freud’s ‘Three Caskets’ (Abstract)

Antonios Vadolas (Biog)
The Fatal Gaze of Orpheus: Reversing the Irreversible (Abstract)

Mary Wild (Biog)
Cinematic repetition in The Duke of Burgundy and Paterson (Abstract)

Mike Figgis (Biog)
in conversation with Lesley Caldwell (Biog) (Abstract)


Sebastian Gardner is Professor of Philosophy at University College London. His interests are in Kant, post-Kantian idealism, C19 German philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of psychoanalysis. He is the author of Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (CUP, 1993), Kant and the 'Critique of Pure Reason' (Routledge, 1999), and Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' (Continuum, 2009). The Transcendental Turn (OUP), a collection of papers co-edited with Matthew Grist, appeared in 2015.

Dany Nobus is Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology at Brunel University London, where he also convenes the MA Programme in Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Society. In addition, he is the Chair of the Freud Museum London, and the author of numerous publications on the history, theory and practice of psychoanalysis. In April 2017, he was presented with the Sarton medal of the University of Ghent for his contributions to the history and theory of psychoanalysis, which coincided with the publication of a new book entitled The Law of Desire: On Lacan’s “Kant with Sade”.

Gwion Jones is a psychoanalyst working in private practice as well as lecturer in psychology at Coventry University.

Elizabeth Hughes is a postdoctoral research scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Language at Roehampton University. She completed her Ph.D. in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck in 2014 under the supervision of Stephen Frosh. She was awarded the Symonds Prize 2015 for her work on adoption reunion and her book, Adopted Women and Biological Fathers: Reimagining Stories of Origin and Trauma was published by Routledge in February 2017.

Antonios Vadolas is a lecturer in Brunel University London and since 2007, has been convening two modules in the MA Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Society. He has extensive research and teaching experience in Psychology, as well as in Counselling and Psychotherapy courses in the University of London and training programmes in Athens, Greece. He is a practicing analyst and the author of the book 'Perversions of Fascism' (Karnac, 2009).

Mary Wild is the creator of the popular PROJECTIONS lecture series (psychoanalysis for film interpretation), which has been running regularly at Freud Museum London since 2012. She teaches in the Humanities department at City Lit and is featured in the Shoreditch House cinema events programme. She has produced similar events at ICA, BFI, NYU and Central Saint Martins. Her interests include cinematic representations of identity, the unconscious, hysteria, neoliberal economics, mental illness and love. 

Mike Figgis is a writer/director/composer. From roots in experimental theatre and music, he has gone on to direct over 20 feature films and documentaries, as well as a number of television episodes.

He is recognised as a visionary filmmaker who thrives on taking artistic risks, moving from ‘mainstream’ movies such as ‘Internal Affairs’ and the award-winning ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ to more eclectic personal films such as ’Suspension of Disbelief’.

He was a pioneer in exploring the possibilities of digital video technology which led him to conceive of and direct ‘Timecode’ the first real time feature film ever made. In 2011 Figgis directed Lucretia Borgia for the ENO, which was the first Opera transmitted live in 3D.

Figgis has published several books - ‘Digital film making’ has been translated into 10 languages and has become textbook for students. He teaches at several universities internationally and has currently just finished working on a second book about screen writing (which will be available in mid 2017).

Last summer he took part in Doug Aitken’s Station to Station, a 4 week project at the Barbican, London, where he made a film in 4 days, edited it live on site and screened its premier that week. It has also been released for Channel 4 Film, London.

He has now begun writing a television series, which he will also direct, related to his new book.

Lesley Caldwell is a psychoanalyst in private practice in London. She is a training analyst for the child and adolescent psychotherapy trainings (IPCAPA) and a training and supervising analyst for the IPA China programme. She is Honorary Professor in the Psychoanalysis Unit at UCL where she teaches and supervises Masters and doctoral students and where, from 2010 to 2016 she organised the Unit’s Interdisciplinary programme. She is currently on the organising committee of the Psychoanalysis and Film festival. epf 9 (November 2017).

She is Honorary Senior Research Associate in the Italian department, also at UCL, where she organises the Rome lecture series with Dorigen Caldwell of Birkbeck. She has written extensively on Italian film, the Italian family, and the city of Rome. Her current research interests include analytic communication, silence and the analytic setting, and she is preparing a book on art, film and psychoanalysis. With Helen Taylor Robinson she is joint general editor of The Collected works of Donald Winnicott (OUP, 2016).


Sebastian Gardner
Figures of Thought and Unconscious Configurations in Nietzsche and Freud

I begin by rehearsing briefly the interpretative difficulties familiarly posed by Nietzsche's conception of eternal recurrence. Is eternal recurrence a cosmological or metaphysical hypothesis? Is it a metaphorical formulation of some doctrine of Nietzsche's? Or a thought-experiment with diagnostic value? Or a fiction with ethical and therapeutic import? I suggest that, although the idea of eternal recurrence makes sense as a piece of metaphysics, the indeterminacy of its status – its resistance to classification ¬– is integral to its meaning, as Nietzsche conceives it. In order to address the further question, concerning how eternal recurrence may be related to psychoanalytic theory, I take up the suggestion, found in hermeneutical construals of Freud, that the unconscious exhibits a ''causality of fate''. This allows us, I suggest, to join Nietzsche and Freud on a single conceptual plane without confusing their fundamentally distinct projects.

Dany Nobus
Freud’s Nietzsche: Eternal Recurrence, Symptomatic Acts and the Practice of Gift-Giving.

For his seventieth birthday on 6 May 1926, Otto Rank sent Freud a precious gift from Paris: the special edition of the Musarionausgabe of Nietzsche’s complete works. To Rank’s wife, Freud expressed how pleased he was with the unexpected present; to Ernest Jones, he conceded that it had clearly been a symptomatic act on Rank’s part. Nonetheless, when time came for Freud to pack his belongings in 1938, he could not leave the volumes behind, and they currently occupy a central place in his library at Maresfield Gardens. Over the years, Rank’s gift has been interpreted in different ways, yet little has been said about Freud’s acceptance of this Nietzsche, and even less about whether he actually read any of the books. And what happened to the Nietzsche Freud had bought in 1900, and of which he said to Fließ that he would hope to find words in it for much that had remained mute in him?

Gwion Jones
Eternal Recurrence: An obsessional nightmare?

If we interrogate Nietsche’s notion of eternal recurrence in the light of Lacan’s pronouncements on repetition from Seminar 11, of a failed attempt at mastery over desire, we arrive at a very different appreciation of its dialectic. Using this question as my starting point I propose to apply Lacan's thesis to the psychical operation of magical notions of time in particular, as manifest in obsessional neurosis, thereby extrapolating its implications for the wider themes of the symposium; namely the operation of mythic narratives in human subjectivity more generally, and of the abiding lure of spiritual ideas of fate and destiny. The aim of this argument is to follow a path originally laid down by Jacques Derrida in reconceptualising the influence of Nietzsche on the development of Freud’s metapsychology, through this pathologisation of Nietsche’s seminal thesis.

Elizabeth Hughes
Fate in Mythology and Culture: Norns, Moirai and Freud’s ‘Three Caskets’
“… the eternal return must be thought of as a synthesis; a synthesis of diversity and its reproduction, a synthesis of becoming and the being which is affirmed in becoming, a synthesis of double affirmation.” (Delezue, 1983, Nietzsche and Philosophy, p48)

This paper explores the notion of eternal return in relation to Freud’s Theme of the Three Caskets, an analysis of two scenes from Shakespeare – a comedy and a tragedy – in The Merchant of Venice and King Lear. In both plays, the male suitor is confronted with three choices of women, symbolised by the three caskets. The work, which was inspired by Freud’s own relationship with his three daughters, outlines three possibilities of unconscious wish fulfilment, representative of man’s relation to a woman throughout the life cycle: his mother (birth), the mother of his children (union), and mother earth (the place to which he returns and is buried upon death).

Antonios Vadolas
The Fatal Gaze of Orpheus: Reversing the Irreversible

The myth of Orpheus has been retold and recaptured through the ages in plentiful forms. This reveals a timeless fascination with a tragic story of encountering the same loss twice, the loss of Orpheus’ beloved wife. Yet, if in its first occurrence loss renders the desire of Orpheus stronger than death, it is the same desire that makes his love object vanish for the second time. The desire to reverse the irreversibility of fate operates insofar as desire itself succumbs to fate. It is bound to finitude, lack and loss. Through the scope of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, the irreversible is not a single moment in time, but a returning point ad infinitum. I will discuss the implications this view has for psychoanalytic telos, when the subject revisits her past tracing the irreversible break points that keep being repeated. I argue that, by looking back, the subject encounters an impossible gaze, a crevice between fatalist pathos and the fate of the irreversibility of subjectivity, which does not put an end to repetition, but alters its structure.

Mary Wild
Cinematic repetition in The Duke of Burgundy and Paterson

Mary Wild’s contribution to the Symposium will be to locate and analyse repetition compulsion, uncanny excess of life, and the Nietzschean eternal return in two recent cinema releases: Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy (2014), about a woman who tests the limits of her relationship with her lesbian lover, and Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (2016), a quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life along with the poetry evident in its smallest details. The Freudian death drive will be shown to have very little to do with the desire for self-destruction, or for the return to an inorganic state; it is rather, as Slavoj Zizek says in The Parallax View, “the very opposite of dying – a name for the ‘undead’ eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.”

Mike Figgis
in conversation with Lesley Caldwell
Mike Figgis's brilliant film Leaving Las Vegas is about an individual's descent into alcoholism and self-destructiveness. It also captures something about the tragedy of being human. In his conversation with psychoanalyst Lesley Caldwell he will discuss this and other examples of repetition and fate in his own work and that of others.

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