Andre Green draws our attention to the work of the negative in Freud, examining aspects which are not normally associated with it: dream work, the work of mourning, identification, etc. From the clinical point of view, it can be said that the Freudian development ranges from neurosis as the ‘negative of perversion’, to the masochism which underlies the ‘negative therapeutic reaction’ reflecting the pessimism of the final years, but whose mystery is unravelled to some extent when one recognises in it the style which is peculiar to non-neurotic structures i.e. borderline cases.
The kernel of Green’s argument is that the development of the ego and any experiencing of ourselves as ‘subjects’ has to be achieved against an essential background of loss and of absence. The phrase ‘work of the negative’ refers to how we do or do not cope with this inevitability of lacking what we want.
The work of the negative as it is conceived of here groups together the heterogeneous forms of repression, foreclosure, disavowal and negation. It enables us both to grasp the unity which exists between them and to recognise the sign of their intervention by distinguishing their effects, for these are the best indicators of the subject’s structure and determine the outcome of the analysis.
The author cautions the reader to be wary of attributing an exclusively pathological meaning to the work of the negative. The negative through repression and sublimation, is a mark of the general human condition; it is necessary to say ‘no’ to excessive instinctuality in order to belong to the human community. However, for some people, who are in the grip of destructive negativity, this ‘no’ becomes a refusal to livehumanely.