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In psychoanalytic theory, aphanisis (/əˈfænɪsɪs/; from the Greek ἀφάνισις aphanisis, "disappearance") is the disappearance of sexual desire.[1]

The term was later applied to the disappearance of the subject.


According to the theories of Ernest Jones, who coined the term in 1927,[1] aphanisis is the foundation of all neuroses. Jones suggested that fear of aphanisis was in both sexes more fundamental than castration anxiety, an argument he used against Sigmund Freud in their debate over female sexuality.[2] Jones considered that the Oedipus complex confronted each sex with the threat of aphanisis, and the choice of giving up "either their sex or their incest".[3]

Jones subsequently linked aphanisis to Freud's concept of the trauma of separation, a point taken up by John Bowlby in the context of his own theory of separation anxiety.[4]


Lacan adapted Jones's term to a new meaning: "aphanisis is to be situated in a more radical way at the level at which the subject manifests himself in this movement of disappearance...the fading of the subject".[5]

In Lacanian theory, aphanisis describes the process through which a subject is partially eclipsed behind any signifier used to conceive of him/her: "when the subject appears somewhere as meaning, he is manifested elsewhere as 'fading', as disappearance...aphanisis".[6] The subject as such is, accordingly, barred and riven by the Other (of language), a subject has no choice but to conceive of themself vis-a-vis something other than their self, something 'outside' or radically separated from them.

Because the Other is the sole means through which a 'subject' can be rendered thinkable, aphanisis, the disappearance or the fading of the subject behind any signifier used to conceive of it, is an essential concept for understanding subjectivity and the peril of the subject's fundamental emptiness.

Žižek developed the concept of aphanisis in terms of the dialectic of presence and absence—the gap between the core of the personality and the symbolic narrative in which the individual lives.[7]

Literary examples[edit]

Montaigne has been seen as a classic example of the exploration of the aphanisis of the subject.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford University Press. 2003. p. 47. ISBN 0-19-860761-X. 
  2. ^ J. Laplanche/J. B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (2012) p. 40
  3. ^ E. Schuker/N. A. Levinson, Female Psychology (1991) p. 400
  4. ^ John Bowlby, Separation (2010) pp. 431–2
  5. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) pp. 207–8
  6. ^ Lacan, p. 218
  7. ^ R/ Maule/J. Beaulieu, In the Dark Room (2009), p. 183
  8. ^ J. Lacan, Les quatre concepts fondamnetaux de la psychanalyse (Le Séminaire, Livre XI, 1964), Texte établi par J.-A. Miller, Paris, Seuil, coll. Points, 1990, p. 249.
  9. ^ W. Apollon/R. Feldstein, Lacan, Politics, Aestetics (1996) p. 136

Further reading[edit]