Gay Knowledge, Sad Truth : 1997 : Serge Cottet

Translated by Russell Grigg

Published by the web-site of the Lacan Circle of Australia (Melbourne) in the Library section, and sadly no longer available.

or from /Authors A-Z or Authors by Date

Originally published: “Gai Savoir et triste vérité,” in La Cause freudienne 35, 1997



As to its meaning, the affect of depression is ambiguous, but leaves no doubt as to its cause. Freud uses this affect as an argument in favour of the existence of psychical causality, of what he calls, in the 1890s, “soul treatment” Seelenbehandlung. [1] Psychical (or Mental) Treatment : 1905b : Sigmund Freud, SE VII p282-302,

Published bilingually at / Freud/Philosophy (45. Psychical (or Mental) Treatment ((Psychische Behandlung (Seelenbehandlung))) Note, Freud’s original title included “soul treatment”.


Moreover, Freud think that these states [depression] to which he himself is subject (cf Freud-Fliess Correspondence) are part of the picture of every neurosis, …

Freud-Fliess Correspondence, References to depression, From The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904, translated and edited by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985. (Letters from Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess from 24th November 1887 to 15th May 1893 are published bilingually at /homepage (The Complete Freud-Fliess Correspondence (bilingual), pt. I)

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (Letter 17) : 19th April 1894 : Sigmund Freud

Extract, p67 from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : Less obvious, perhaps, is the state of my health in other respects. Soon after the withdrawal, there were some tolerable days and I began to write down the state of the neurosis problem for you, then suddenly there came a severe cardiac misery, greater than I ever had while smoking. The most violent arrhythmia, constant tension, pressure, burning in the heart region, shooting pains down my left arm, some dyspnea, all of it essentially in attacks extending continuously over two-thirds of the day; the dyspnea is so moderate that one suspects something organic; and with it a feeling of depression, which took the form of visions of death and departure in place of the usual frenzy of activity. The organic discomforts have lessened during the past two days,; the lypemanic mood [Footnote 1 A state of morbid depression. Incorrectly read in Anfange as hypomanische.] persists, having the courtesy to let up suddenly (as it did last night and at noon today) and leave behind a human being who looks forward with confidence again to a long life and undiminished pleasure in resuming the battle.

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (No Letter Number ) : 25th April 1894 : Sigmund Freud

Extract p69 from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : You wrote so kindly that I cannot let you wait until I have something to say, but rather must report on everyday events.

I certainly consider you more competent than anyone else to make a differential diagnosis in these delicate matters, and I once again let myself be confounded in what to make of my condition. Breuer, for example, quietly accepted the possibility of a nontoxic heart condition. Apparently, I do not have a dilation of the heart; split heart sounds, arrhythmia and the like continue despite my abstinence. My libido [JE notes that this may refer to sexual desire or desire to smoke or perhaps both] has long been subdued. One gram of digitalis in two days has considerably diminished the subjective discomforts and apparently also influenced the arrhythmia, which, however, I detect whenever I find some resonance of my pulse . My mild depression, fatigue, inability to work, and the mild dyspnea have become rather worse.

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess : 25th May 1899 : Sigmund Freud

Extract from p351 of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : And now my news. On Sunday before Whitsun – 6 weeks, 28 + 28/2 days, since the migraine in Innsbruck – the mild depression prevailing in the intervening period (including a new migraine) really stopped suddenly and for no reason, and gave way to an unfounded sense of well-being. Business is in a steady decline, low enough to justify Oscar’s blackest apprehensions; three new contacts have already broken off; a fourth, of no more value, is about to do the same; I foresee all sorts of difficulties, yet remain in the best of spirits.

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess : 19th November 1899 : Sigmund Freud

Extract from p386 of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : On Sunday, the 12th, in the afternoon I again fell il, for reasons unknown to me, with ill humour that continues, intensified with heart and head migraines, and terminated completely with a head migraine on Thursday, so that since then I have not only been well but downright merry. I want to keep this periodic mild depression under observation; its meaning is entirely unclear to me. The attack was shorter than the previous one, which I likewise reported to you faithfully.

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess : 26th November 1899 : Sigmund Freud

Extract from p389 of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : …The hope of maintaining the status quo also keeps cropping up. In this country it is very difficult to bring about changes.

I have actually profited from my mild depressions since they have begun to occur periodically; during the interim periods I feel more consistently well than every before. Inasmuch as you are interested in them, I shall let you know the dates of the subsequent occurrences.

Otherwise, things are slumbering and preparing themselves.

Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (Letter 130) : 11th March 1900 : Sigmund Freud

Extract from p403-404 of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation : If you want to hear more about me, listen to this. After last summer’s exhilaration, when in feverish activity I completed the dream [book], fool that I am, I was once again intoxicated with the hope that a step toward freedom and well-being had been taken. The reception of the book and the ensuing silence have again destroyed any budding relationship with my milieu. For my second iron in the fire is after all my work – the prospect of reaching an end somewhere, resolving many doubts, and then knowing what to think of the chances of my therapy. Prospects seemed most favourable in E.’s case – and that is where I was dealt the heaviest blow. Just when I believed I had the solution in my grasp, it eluded me and I found myself forced to turn everything around and put it together anew, in the process of which I lost everything that until then had appeared plausible. I could not stand the depression that followed. Moreover, I soon found that it was impossible to continue the really difficult work in a state of mild depression and lurking doubts. When I am not cheerful and collected, every single one of my patients is my tormentor. I really believed I would have to give up on the spot. I found a way out by renouncing all conscious mental activity so as to grope blindly among the riddles. Since then I am working perhaps more skilfully than ever before, but I do not really know what I am doing. I could not give an account of how matters stand. In my spare time I take care not to reflect on it. I give myself over to my fantasies, play chess, read English novels, everything serious is banished. For two months I have not written a single line of what I have learned or surmised. As soon as I am free of my trade, I live like a pleasure-seeking philistine. You know how limited my pleasures are. I am not allowed to smoke anything decent; alcohol does nothing for me; I am done begetting children; and I am cut off from contact with people. So I vegetate harmlessly, carefully keeping my attention diverted from the subject on which I work during the day. Under this regimen I am cheerful and equal to my eight victims and tormentors.

Letter from Wilhelm Fliess (Letter 131) : 23rd March 1900 : Sigmund Freud

Extract from p405 of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s translation :

… Anyone who did not understand the more subtle resolution of contradictions would think it incomprehensible that I am not rushing to assent to the proposal. In fact it is more likely that I shall avoid you – not only because of my almost childish yearning for spring and the beauties of nature, which I would willingly sacrifice for the gratification of having you near me for three days. But there are other, inner reasons, an accumulation of imponderables, which, however, weigh heavily on me (from the natural habitat of madness,3 [Footnote 3 Schigan. This term was also used in letter of 9th November 1899], you will perhaps say). Inwardly I am deeply impoverished, I have had to demolish all my castles in the air, and I am just now mustering enough courage to start rebuilding them again. During the catastrophic collapse you would have been invaluable to me; in the present stage I would scarcely be able to make myself intelligible to you. I conquered my depression with the aid of a special diet of intellectual matters and now, thanks to the distraction, it is slowly healing. If I were with you, I could not avoid trying to grasp everything consciously and describe it all to you; we would talk reason and science; your beautiful and positive biological discoveries would arouse my innermost (impersonal!) envy. The upshot would be that I would go on complaining to you for five days and return all upset and dissatisfied to my summer, for which I shall probably need all my composure. No one can help me in the least with what oppresses me; it is my cross, I must bear it; and God knows that in adapting to it, my back has become noticeably bent.


… as he shows in Studies on Hysteria.

See Studies on Hysteria : 1893-1895 : Sigmund Freud, SE II, Published bilingual at /15. STUDIES ON HYSTERIA—with Breuer’s original case history sent to Robert Binswanger in Kreuzlingen


Recall that this is the kernel of truth of melancholia for Freud who does not treat the melancholic’s complain as pure theatre. Falsely guilty, yes; however, one cannot contradict this pain of existence by arguments. “In his self criticism, he is right” Freud says. This truth is no doubt at all.

SE XIV p247 : The essential thing, therefore, is not whether the melancholic’s distressing self-denigration is correct, in the sense that his self-criticism agrees with the opinion of other people. The point must rather be that he is giving a correct description of his psychological situation. He has lost his self-respect and he must have good reason for this.

See Mourning and Melancholia : 1915 [published 1917e] : Sigmund Freud, SE XIV p238-259, Published bilingual at /Freud : The Metapsychological Papers, Papers on Technique and others (10. Mourning and Melancholia)


Take the example of Ferenczi who, in 1916, in his correspondence with Freud, analyses his depressive symptom. Ferenczi links, time and again, the fluctuations of his depression to the absence of his future wire, Gizella. 7 (Footnote 7 Freud-Ferenczi Correspondance, vol. 2, Paris 1998 p178)


Cases of pathological mourning show this impossibility of separating the loss of an object from the radical in the Other and it is not by chance that these cases of pathological mourning concern, notably and notoriously, the real death of a father, as noted by Lacan in Family Complexes.

P44 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation,, The death of the father, at no matter what stage of development it occurs and according to the level of the Oedipus complex that has been achieved, tends similarly to fixate the progress of reality and bring it to a halt.

P76 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation,, Analytic experience suggests that the effects of self‐punishment range ever wider and can even be determinants of organic illness. They throw light on the reproduction of certain more or less serious vital accidents that occur at the same age as they appeared in a parent, on certain sudden changes in activity or character when particularly important moments, such as the age of the death of the father, have been passed and on all sorts of identificatory behaviour perhaps including many cases of suicide which pose a particular problem in psychological heredity.

See Family Complexes in the Formation of the Individual : 1938 : Jacques Lacan. Also in Autres Écrits : 2001 : Jacques Lacan NOTE : Jacques Lacan delivered a paper ‘Le stade du mirroir’ at the fourteenth International Psychoanalytical Congress, held at Marienbad in August 1936 under the chairmanship of Ernest Jones but it was not published until 1938. Its contents are outlined in his article on the family in the ‘Encyclopedie Française’. See this site /4 Jacques Lacan (19380101 or Index of Jacques Lacan’s texts)


This irreparable character of separation (contrary now to what Melanie Klein maintains) gives depression its structural foundation.


… as phenomena of dis-being [désêtre], namely the signs that the existence of the Other is vacillating. Can it be said that mourning is testimony to a moment of truth, fatal truth, in the sense in which the subject has the experience of the place he occupied for the Other? Like a Hamlet confronted with the dead body of Ophelia, the subject realises that he was its lack, the other’s lack, and thus he identifies his own void with the Other’s. He was its lack and now he identifies with this hole.

Related texts:

Melancholia, the Pain of Existence and Moral Cowardice : October1988 : Éric Laurent. See this site /5 Other Authors A-Z (Laurent or Index of Other Author’s texts)

Gay Knowledge, Sad Truth : 1997 : Serge Cottet : See this site /5 Other Authors A-Z (Cottet or Index of Other Authors’ texts (1997))

Some Moral Failings Called Depressions : February 1997 : Pierre Skriabine : See this site /5 Other Authors A-Z (Skriabine)

COVID Sadness, The New Sorrow : 4th November 2020 : José Ramón Ubieto Pardo : See this site /5 Other Authors A-Z (Ubieto Pardo or Index of Other Authors’ texts (November 2020))