Anxiety—genuine or spurious?

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Juliet Flower MacCannell


In this essay I use contemporary accounts, often journalistic, of the extremely anxious condition that young adults, “quarter lifers,” appear to be suffering in large numbers. Their anxiety is often characterized by a paralyzing inability to accomplish the most trivial seeming tasks, while nonetheless working successfully at their jobs. They express bitter disappointments about the state of their lives, when their dreams—framed largely by their parents—have failed to materialize. Why this rise in anxiety— not only in the numbers of diagnoses and treatments we are now seeing—but in young adults’ experience of it as a semi-permanent condition?

The answer lies in Freud’s somewhat difficult 1925 essay, “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,” in which Freud links anxietywith “animal phobias” and “agoraphobias.” Unlike with the other two neurotic indicators (inhibitions and symptoms), anxiety is not an unconscious repression of enjoyment. Instead anxiety stages a unique reenactment of both Oedipus and castration anxiety simultaneously: the anxious person is pulled by contrary impulses, wanting to earn the Father’s love by giving up Oedipal desires (out of fear of castration by the Father), and a unique return of Oedipus (desire to possess the Mother by wishing their Father dead). Freud’s example is Little Hans, he of the horse phobia. The agoraphobia of today’s young adults is prime example of anxiety as the psychical inability to leave home or live their life outside their parents’ restrictive and narrow version of what their child’s life “ought to be.”

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How to Cite
MacCannell, J. F. (2021). Anxiety—genuine or spurious?. Metalepsis: Journal of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis, 1(1), 59-70.
Author Biography

Juliet Flower MacCannell

Juliet Flower MacCannell writes on literature, art, and philosophy as well as psychoanalysis. She is the author of over 90 articles and several books including The Hysteric’s Guide To The Future Female Subject (2000) The Regime of the Brother  (1991) Figuring Lacan: Criticism & The Cultural Unconscious (1986 and 2014--reprinted), and co-author of The Time of the Sign with Dean MacCannell (1982). Her most recent publications include essays on “The End(s) of Violence,” “The Echo of the Signifier in the Body: Drive at Work Today,” “Why Culture? A Psychoanalytic Speculation,” a reassessment of my early book, “The Regime of the Brother Today,” “The Inexplicable Persistence of Strangers,” and “Refashioning Jouissance for the Age of the Imaginary.” In 2015 she was named Outstanding Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and English at UC Irvine, where she taught from 1980 until she retired. She was co-chair of the California Psychoanalytic Circle from 2000-2017, and editor of its journal, (a): the journal of culture and the unconscious. She is also co-creator (with Dean MacCannell) of twenty-one art installations at SomArts Gallery’s curated annual Day of the Dead exhibition (San Francisco: 1998-2019).