Baldly stated, my account of transgenerational transmission of destructive aggression (Apprey, 1993) is as follows. A subject renders archaic preclinical prehistory from the events of history to a sense of history. The subject creates a representational world with that revised history. In psychoanalysis, the analyst takes the command-laden transference and gives the com-

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mand in that transference wish a new home in the public space of the clinical setting until a resubjectivization in the form of sublimation by the subject comes to create one’s own exit strategy. In this short paper, I have added to a subject’s transference wishes, demands, or pleas, a subject’s appropriated archaic command from an ancestral figure.

This is the first time I have used the word “command” in any of my work on the transgenerational transmission of destructive aggression. I have tended to use these words: an unconscious plea or demand in the transference wish in individual work. In the case of cultural transmission, I have used the words prescriptions and constraints in “communal memory.”  Now, I am emboldened to add the word “command” to my repertoire. Why?

In Attic Greek, the verb archein has two meanings: “to begin” and “to command.”  I am indebted to the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2019) for theorizing the implications of this duplicity in his book Creation and Anarchy. Here is my attraction to this duality. One meaning—to begin—announces an inaugural starting point. The second meaning—to create—provides an opportunity for a strategic shift in comprehension of conception. Accordingly, when Agamben plays with the first lines of St. John’s Gospel, “en arche, in the beginning was the logos, the word,” and ponders with us what could have happened if that first sentence had been translated as a command to begin the creation of the logos, we see the profundity of the duality of meanings embedded in the Greek word archein. Suppose then that we heard the first lines of St. John’s Gospel anew: “In the command was the creation of the logos.”  Here, “to begin” and “to command” are horizonal but not interchangeable. For Agamben, then, the beginning is already a command, a principle. For me, it is as if it were an explosion of birth.

I have come to draw inspiration from the way Agamben brings double meaning into unity. Accordingly, to “begin” is horizonal with to command. In that vein, I have variously written about transgenerational transmission with these phrases, “urgent /voluntary errands,” appropriated from the poet, W. H. Auden (1937), to rethink my way of addressing how a subject, in mental life, peremptorily takes an infusion from an ancestral mandate and chooses one’s own poison. Additionally, I have coined the term “pluperfect errands” to suggest that by the time a subject comes to awareness of the mission as not one’s own, the toxic errand shall

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 have already taken place (Apprey, 1993). My term, “subjects in apposition,” accounts for the continuous deferral across generations of the toxic posting (Apprey, 1993). I have in mind a catalog of forms of psychical transmission. To that end, I have expanded Freud’s (1975) idea of Nachträglichkeit, which until recently had insufficiently been translated as “deferral.”

In a forthcoming paper on transgenerational transmission, I have used the phrase, “Before a call and its response, there was already a dislocating errand” in the title and theorized on the call and dislocated subjects. In the body of the paper, I echo Heidegger’s (1962) notion of the source of the call that says: the “call comes from me and yet from beyond me and over me” (p. 320; italics in original); tantalizing hint and incomplete account of a call. Something, en arche, precedes me. I want to know more. Then I am drawn to Marion’s 2002 book Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, which expressed his view that the decentered subject is saturated and thrown but held at the center. Still, we are at a loss regarding the antecedents of the thrownness and dislocation. Romano’s (2009) subject is already thrown into a dislocating saturation but may reconfigure the world.

Now, I can fill a gap at the front end. What was once implicit is now explicit. The posting that was in the errand is now commanded directly or indirectly. In a direct command, the agency of the sub-ject (sic) is explicit. In such an errand, someone calls, another responds, and before them, a commander enjoins and entrusts something to an Other. Such a commander is akin to the spectral representation of Hamlet’s father who, as a ghost, returns to command his son to avenge his death, a mandate that Hamlet considers apt to execute and by which he stays deliriously haunted, a command pointedly given, a mission conflictedly appropriated. A vengeful deed deferred.

In an indirect command-in-an-errand, such as the hint in a case referenced below, an older child interprets a grandmother’s consternation upon seeing “disorder” in his younger brother, a toddler, as his responsible opportunity to create an errand to fulfill. He takes her consternation as his mandated command in an errand to do something about a grandmother’s perception of a child’s disorderly play, and thus remove the dis-order (sic) a few years later. We shall return to this subject that mis-interprets (sic) grandmother’s call and executes her errand.

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Three Leitmotifs

Each one of Heidegger’s (1962), Marion’s (2002), and Romano’s (2009) ideas of a subject’s assignment is insufficient for my project. Each one has a place. All three constitute one of the following: a starting point, an intermediate space, and a relative closure in the trajectory of transgenerational transmission.

A sequencing, then, shows more promise. To be more precise, a sequencing of Heidegger’s subject that experiences the spectral mandate as something that comes from me, beyond me, and over me, Marion’s subject as one who experiences one’s thrownness in saturation and is yet held at the center, and Romano’s resubjectivizing subject’s return, in a three-fold aggregate, provides a phenomenological approximation of my account of transgenerational transmission of destructive aggression. In such a phenomenology, something is designed, something is sustained, and something is reconfigured repeatedly until a resubjectivization can achieve a sublimation that we may call an exit strategy.

These three transition points constitute what I am dubbing “three leitmotifs.”  They announce transition points in the narratives of transgenerational transmission of destructive aggression. Heide Faimberg, in a personal communication, once said that sometime in the fourth or fifth year of psychoanalysis, the intrapsychic participants in transgenerational transmission announce themselves more fully. While I agree in principle with that observation, I often meet these intrapsychic participants sooner, in the history-taking process. In the initial phase of analysis, I watch them appear and reappear in the thick of the transference, and I observe them tamed and transformed toward termination. I shall illustrate with dreams and little historical or identifiable detail so that we can simply focus on the oneiric markers.

The Inaugural Dreams of Urgent Voluntary Errands

A man who once accidentally committed a fatal crime and was not punished has now come to treatment, decades later, in an attempt to come to terms with his crime and determine what is fueling his current state of mental disrepair. Early in treatment, the patient is showing me how he has represented the events of history into a sense of history. Accordingly, he shows me this rendition from the events of history to a sense of history when he dreams that he is in jail. The inmates attempt a jailbreak. He has an opportunity to escape but chooses to stay so that he can assist his prison guards in decorating the outside walls of his prison. This first

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dream allows him to provide more details of his crime that went unpunished and, most importantly, offers a glimpse of the implicit role his father played in the creation of his cavalier attitude of collecting guns without securing them. This act of omission by his father indirectly led to a son’s commission of the fatal accident. As the treatment alliance deepens, he has dreams that show that the prison walls are melting.

The need to be punished for fulfilling the errand appropriated by the grandmother to kill his disorderly sibling became modified. He must create his own prison. Analysis began to disturb his self-imposed confinement. I, a Ghanaian psychoanalyst, entered his dreams as the kind general from Nigeria who was a Head of State (a double figure of a man who kills and a gentle trustee of power). After the thick cavity walls melted, he began to reveal the latent errand. His grandmother was concerned that the dead child was so disorderly that she wondered what the future would bring, which would one day become a violent force the family would have to reckon with. Here comes the disorder that the patient took upon himself to eliminate. He heard the concern and translated the consternation as her wish to remove disorder, a wish that became his errand to kill his younger brother, albeit in an accident. Now a new and kind “general” could stay alive for him as he reconfigured his world, old and new.

In the Thick of the Transference

In the third year of analysis amidst the thick of the transference, he was about to repeat a variation of the crime that had tortured him for decades when I interpreted the “megalomania” (my word in the room and uncharacteristic of me to use big words) that drove him to want to urgently wish to repeat his crime in order to be punished now. He registered a mild protest to my motivated error and countertransference wish to punish him by interpreting the megalomania rather than the motivation behind his penchant to repeat that crime and be punished for it. The next morning, he returned to his session with these words: “I dreamt that Mount Kenya erupted!”  In the thick of the transference, he appropriately dreamt that I was Hades to whom the dead came to confess their sins. After interpreting his enactment and my unconscious reception of his private wish to be punished, his command-laden transference wishes that I receive him, punish him, and witness his suffering emerged fully into a transference neurosis. In the thick of the transference, then, we travel from Ghana to Nigeria, to Kenya, and, eventually, to

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the underworld where he could tell me, a stand-in for Hades, his intrapsychic story.

In dreams that point to his sublimation potential in the sixth year, he comes to a music lesson, underpays his teacher, and recognizes how little I charge for his lessons. In the next dream, he steals a big fat piece of steak from a grocery shop. The assistant manager catches him, threatening to press charges, but the manager, who looks like me, asks him to pay for the steak and leave without punishment.

In Place of a Conclusion

Let us return to Freud to see what we have done with his instinct theory. Freud (1915) wrote that an instinct has a biological source. It operates under pressure with an aim that could be active or passive. It has an object, that is, the body through which the instinctual aim is fulfilled; the body that is colonized, as it were.

When transgenerational transmission is considered in the light of instinct theory, the source of the peremptory urge becomes more than the body. The source exceeds the body. Ancestors enter the picture, slowly and insidiously injecting their pre-scripted (sic) mandates. Instead of active and passive aims between a subject and an object, multiple subjects operate in apposition, one after another and in subsequent generations. The grandmother is an active subject. A father in the next generation is an active subject. The child murderer in yet another generation is still an active subject. Subject and object continue to change places without losing agency until the spectral and ancestral wish or wishes are met and transformed by psychoanalysis. In treatment, the command-in-an-errand (sic) to repeat a death, an injury or self-erasure of one kind or another, can be reconfigured. This process of continuous working through opens the doors for sublimation potential to emerge. Now, the patient can resubjectivize one’s own exit strategy from ensconcement to a gradual process of mental emancipation.

We can now schematize three key phases in an analysis of transgenerational transmission: One, unpacking the traces of the command in the haunt, if it is accessible in the history and early phase of the analysis, and gathering transference traits only. Two, staying alive with and for the patient as the patient brings the archaic command fully into the analysis so that we authentically interpret the wishes in the command. And three, presiding over the processes of resubjectivizing the archaic errand into an exit strategy.

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On a final note, to my colleagues in continental philosophy, I am primarily descriptively constitutive in Husserl’s sense of being faithful to the mind of a subject when I preside over a psychoanalytic process and Freudian in the broadest scope of framing and moving forward psychoanalytic processes through subsequent and palpable interpretation. Exploratory description, then, precedes transference-laden interpretation. When I write retrospectively about human phenomena, I can accommodate Husserl’s detractors, like Heidegger, by using some of their projects as proximal and evocative borders, not as thematic structures to interrogate. Hence, the leitmotifs or musical phrases are used to demarcate shifting contours in a narrative sequence.

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  • Agamben, Giorgio (2019). Creation and anarchy. Stanford University Press.
  • Apprey, Maurice (1993). Dreams of urgent/voluntary errands and transgenerational haunting in transsexualism. In M. Apprey & H. Stein (Eds.), Intersubjectivity, Projective Identification and Otherness (pp. 102-128). Duquesne University Press.
  • Auden, Wystan Hugh (1937). On this island. Random House.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1915). Instincts and their Vicissitudes. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Vol .14 (pp. 109-140). Hogarth Press.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1975). Project for a scientific psychology. In James Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Vol. I (pp. 283-397). The Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1895).
  • Heidegger, Martin (1962). Being and time. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Trans.). Harper & Row Publishers.
  • Marion, Jean-Luc (2002). Being given: Toward a phenomenology of givenness. Stanford University Press.
  • Romano, Claude (2009). Event and world. Fordham University Press.


Maurice Apprey

Maurice Apprey, PhD, DM, FIPA, is Professor of Psychiatry at the University School of Medicine, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a Teaching, Training, and Supervising Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychoanalyst of the Contemporary Freudian Society, and a Component Member of the International Psychoanalytic Association. He is the English language translator, from French, of Georges Politzer’s Critique of the Foundations of Psychology: The Psychology of Psychoanalysis (1994). He can be reached at .

How to Cite This:

Apprey, M. (2023). Three leitmotifs for sequencing the process of transgenerational transmission of destructive aggression. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 208-214.

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