Anorexia Nervosa and the dialectic of need, desire and demand

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Mangan, Sandra
Issue Date
Higher Diploma in Arts in Psychoanalytic Studies
Dublin Business School
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As a pathology which stands impenetrable to all conscious logic, even when subjected to the empirism of medical science, anorexia nervosa remains an intractable mystery to those who seek to understand it. Despite the explosion of clinical discourse and investigation enshrouding the disease in recent times, the complexity, destructiveness and illogicity of the vanishing body has eluded scientific knowledge. This has allowed anorexia to remain 'an enigmatic, baffling and paradoxical phenomenon' (Santoro, 1995 p. 99). For while the anorexic offers her symptoms to the doctor on a silver platter, when confronted with the paragon of self-denial at-the brink of her body' s survival the master of medicine has no answer. The claim to need no food, one of the most elementary requirements of survival, constitutes a bodily privation which defies all rationalisation. Psychoanalyst Ripa di Meana describes the incredulous spectacle of Ha hungry person starving to death in front of a leaden table" as a stupefying image which renders modern medicine speechless (Ripa di Meana 1999, p. 121). The emaciated spectre of the anorexic's skeletal body betrays very little of what lies beneath its fragile surface. For this very reason, the distortion of the specular body as it diminishes into oblivion has become one of the most potent and arresting symbols of our times (Hamburg 1999, p. 762).