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Hamburg, P. (1999). The Lie: Anorexia and the Paternal Metaphor. Psychoanal. Rev., 86(5):745-769.

(1999). Psychoanalytic Review, 86(5):745-769

The Lie: Anorexia and the Paternal Metaphor

Paul Hamburg, M.D.

to speak with blind alleys

about the face to face,

about its expatriate meaning—:

to chew

this bread, with

writing teeth.

-Paul Celan, Last Poems, 1986

A Familiar Story

Ms. Q was a 36-year-old anorexic woman who evoked dreary landscapes of a hollow life without desire. For four years we struggled together in twice-weekly analytic therapy; she had lived at the edge of her body's survival for 18 years. Her promising career as a concert violinist withered away. Several times each week she would stage a macabre theater, pushing her hungry muscles through an hour's professional ballet class at a local studio where the instructors worried if this exertion might be her last. Only in the last few months did I detect glimmers of reanimation: new, warmer friendships; a willingness to maintain a full-time job; a wish to support herself and pay for her therapy; and a newly articulated yearning for freedom. The austerity of her interior world softened a little, nudging me toward optimism. My optimism had been intermittently interrupted, though, by a half-denied vision of an even gaunter face, an even more angular chin, only partially obscured by the makeup she stored in sufficient surplus as to fill an entire closet in her high-rise apartment decorated with dolls and stuffed animals.

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