Fatherhood and naming in J.Lacan's works

François Sauvagnat


Summary: The issue of fatherhood has given rise to multiple elaboration in Freud's works, the most brilliant of which is probably his 'Moses and monotheism'. Curiously enough, while most of Freud's concepts have provoked several conceptualizations in Lacan's research, the latter's re-elaboration on fatherhood can be epitomized under the unique term of 'naming'. We will review the main occurrences of this theme in Lacan's published and unpublished papers: his "name-of-the father" concept, inspired by monotheistic religions, his concept of metaphor, and his discussions of the contributions of logicians: Russel, Gardiner, Hintikka. Lacan's elaboration can be opposed to the classical views on the primitivity of the mother-child relationship, understood as the core of the subject's being insomuch as in his view, this relationship tends to refer to a "third party" substantiated by the "father's name metaphor". On the other hand, 'The woman' is implied as a prerequisite of nomination throughout Lacan's elaboration's and implies a certain "degradation of the father function". We shall show that 1) this implication is not totally determinative, i. e., Lacan's version of psychoanalysis should not be seen only as a gender theory, 2) a concept of the multiplicity of femininity is required.

Introduction: retrieving the lost father

In Lacan's elaboration on the father issue, one point can be said to be radically orthodox. Freud wrote, in "The future of an illusion", that there is nothing like an archetypal "oceanic feeling" related to the originary relationship to the mother; on the contrary, the most originary feeling, he thought, was the "Fatersehnsucht", the longing for the father, which was so strongly expressed in religions. Now this theme has been lost sight of by most post-freudians for a long time. While most authors have rejected this Freudian thesis - this can be seen, at least partially, as a consequence of the empirical psychological research on infants, focusing heavily on mothers' behavior and failing to differentiate clearly the role of the father function - it has been strongly supported by the Lacanian research since the thirties. A direct consequence of this has been an original elaboration on the issue of nomination, as a means to explore what empirical studies leave in the shade, ad a heavy emphasis on logic to describe the specificity of the father function.

Nevertheless, in spite of this, Lacan's positions on the question of the father are somewhat different from Freud's, as can be seen in the seminar on the 'Seamy side of psychoanalysis'. The most striking instance of this is perhaps Lacan's criticism of the "father of the primal horde", such as he is portrayed by Freud in "Totem and taboo": omnipotent, enjoying all women, castrating the young males, etc. If something general can be said about Lacan's position on the question of the father, it is that in his view, the father, insomuch as he is confronted with the mother, can hardly be seen as omnipotent. To put it bluntly, the Freudian "pater semper incertus" (and "mater certissima") is here radicalized by the idea that fundamentally, the master is "impotent"1, insomuch as he is confronted with the enigma of feminine jouissance. Conversely, as we will see, the mother - at least from the child's point of view - is frequently qualified as omnipotent. Lacan2 has constantly contended, against the Kleinian view, that what appears as an omnipotence fantasy in the child is not a narcissistic fantasy, but a reaction to what is felt to be a quality of the Other. There is at least one conclusion we can draw from this: the status of the father function, its effect in the subject's mind, can hardly be separated from the status of femininity. We will try to assess this hypothesis in a short journey through some of Lacan's writings on the subject.

As we will see, there has been some misunderstanding - maybe I should say "resistances"- about this issue. A number of authors have proclaimed Lacan's name-of-the father theory to be utterly paternalistic, strongly related to an authoritarian view on society (for instance: Cornelius Castoriadis3), religious, and so forth. Other authors seemed to think that his research on names was merely determined by a personal problem with patronyms; Elisabeth Roudinesco, in her Dictionary of psychoanalysis, bluntly states that Lacan's divorce from his first wife should be regarded as the sole key to his sophisticated elaboration on that matter. In a more academic style, Didier Anzieu has contended that the "name of the father theory" elaborates solely the problematic of the father, leaving in the shade the pregenital aspects of psychosis, namely, the anxieties aroused by the devouring mother. I will attempt to show why these criticisms miss the point, and in particular, fail to understand Lacan's crucial inflexion in favor of the concept of naming.

The question of naming in pre-lacanian psychoanalysis

Three preliminary remarks should be made if we are to discuss Lacan's research on this matter.

First, Lacan was not the first analyst to underscore the import of names; Karl Abraham's famous article on "the determining momentum of names"4 is probably the first in which the issue was clearly raised, stressing the idea that a person's patronym usually had a secret influence on his destiny - of course the term destiny refers here to what Freud calls drives.

Second, although Freud never addresses the issue of naming specifically as a separate concept, it cannot be regarded as totally absent in his works. At least two headings of this issue can be distinguished, a theoretical and a practical one. Under the first heading, we can consider his theory of identification5 and his theory of the Totem6. What strikes us is that both of these converge onto the issue of symptom-formation: Both the second type of identification (the identification to a "single trait" of a lost object, exemplified by Dora's coughing like her father) and the third (identification to the "desire of the other", exemplified by the case of epidemic symptoms of sorrow in schoolgirls as they find that one of them has been abandoned by her paramour) are obviously more related to symptom-formation in a divided subject than to the question of "identity" - although the latter was to become an all-pervading theme in the Ego-psychology. Freud's interest in the Totem issue which was an extremely popular question among anthropologists of his time, focuses on the prohibition of incest and the phylogenetic origin of guilt; that is, how traditional classifications try to organize sexual relationships and erect barriers against incestuous temptations, in a way that, at least occasionally, doesn't seem very appropriate and even amounts to heavily inhibiting measures indicative of the "return of the repressed". Freud's elaboration on this theme have been criticized by several authors, especially Mead, Kroeber7 (about the universality of the Oedipus complex), and Lévi-Strauss (about the scientific relevance of the category of Totemism)8. A substantial part of Lacan's elaboration must be situated in this context: he has tried to elaborate a theory of names which could both remain in the Freudian tradition and take in consideration the recent research on the issue of totemism.

Let us now address the practical issue of how Freud designated his patients. If we put apart President Schreber, who published his own memoirs and so became publicly a juridical and clinical case, Freud uses three naming procedures:

1- clinical diagnoses ("A case of female homosexuality…", "A case of paranoia in contradiction with psychoanalytic theory") in a manner that is quite classical in medicine and psychiatry ;

2- pseudonyms (The little Hans, Dora), a usage belonging both to the literary tradition of novels and to the practice of clinical ethics9.These can be regarded as connoting some qualities or peculiarities of theses patients: "Hans" may be seen as an allusion to several folk-songs10 or a famous circus-horse of the time in Berlin; "Dora" can allude to the importance of the gifts in the case (dôron means a gift in ancient Greek) or to the myth of Medea, etc.;

3- what we could call the "symptom-names", as in the case of the Rat-man and the Wolf-man, in which the patient is designated by the name of an animal playing a prominent role in the elaboration of his main symptom. The same thing happened with Ferenczi when he wrote his famous case of "The little rooster-man", although it appears as a mixture of the pseudonym and the "symptom-name" procedures. It is obvious that this "symptom-name" had a paramount influence on Lacan's ultimate elaboration on the "name of the father" as symptom, even if this was already present in his previous elaboration.

Nevertheless, what we can retrospectively consider as precious hints inside the Freudian doctrine was by no means articulated into a coherent theory; as a result, the vast majority of Freud's followers have elaborated much more on psychosocial issues like that of identity (E. Erikson, J. Stoller, etc.), to such an extent that "identity"(understood as a stable sense of being) has tended to replace the more subtle Freudian concept of identification (implying that such a sense rested, in the last resort, on a necessary illusion.

Lacan's thesis of the "unconscious structured as a language"11 certainly had an important influence on his focusing on the issue of naming. But even before this motto was proclaimed, another factor is conspicuously associated with the promotion of this theme: Lacan's observations on the degradation of the paternal authority in modern societies.

From the degraded figure of the father to the penniless lady

The first paper treating this subject is of course Lacan's article on the Family complexes12 - a paper written for the Encyclopédie française, in which a particularly strong influence of sociology and Marxist research was conspicuous. It, not only did he consider that the image of the modern father is a degraded one, but he also wrote that the oedipal father-image only appeared in a third step, time after the first two imagos (weaning complex, fraternal complex) had taken place, in a late answer to the impasses of the mother-child relationship. We have here a first version of the uncertainty of the father, even if he is said to appear "in the light of astonishment" and inspire a feeling of respect to his child.

It seems that the first occurrence of the expression "name of the father" took place in an unpublished seminar, the seminar on the Wolfman (1951), in which Lacan noticed that one should discriminate between the symbolic father, that is the "plain symbolic function", and the degraded imaginary function, the latter determining the obsessive attitude of the patient toward some masculine figures such as his tailors, and also his heaviest symptoms in his love-life. Lacan noted that both resulted from the incapacity of the patient's father to live up to a "full" father function; this compelled the patient to morbid elaboration about the "name of the father" - a complex theory about Jesus Christ and how his sexual organs had permitted his generation. This theme of the degraded image of the father was abundantly developed in "Le mythe individuel du névrosé" (1953)13, a commentary on the case of the Rat-man which focused on the two faults of the patient's father: his failing to reimburse a colleague after the latter had paid for a most embarrassing gambling debt (he had spent the money of his regiment), and his renunciation to marrying a penniless young woman he was infatuated with. Now four aspects must be underscored in the patient's story, which is also the story of his symptoms:

1) The first point is that a dramatic deterioration of his state occurred when he, too, gave up the project of marrying a penniless lady to marry a woman of a higher social status: his story is a repetition of his father's.

2) The father's faults were considered as such because his wife (who came from a more privileged social class) mocked at him because of them: the degradation of the father's image is determined by the mother's desire.

3) The "obsessional trance" the patient is caught is determined, not only by the fact that his captain tells him the "chinese rat-torture" described by Octave Mirbeau in "Le jardin des supplices", but also by the fact that he had previously chased a young female servant in a country inn during military maneuvers: it has to do with the desire for a woman.

4) His "obessional trance", consisting in a curious computation on how to reimburse his new spectacles, is in fact a substitution: the fault concerning the penniless lady is substituted to the fault concerning the reimbursement.

What is curious in Lacan's interpretation of the Rat-man's story is that he underscores the inseparability of this figure of the woman from the father's figure, as though the father function could not be realized without the figure of a woman. This gives an interesting solution to the splitting of the object described by Freud in his "Psychology of love life", this curious bigamous tendency determined by an insufficient integration of the tender and sensuous impulses in certain men. Lacan's interpretation suggests that this is not only a matter of drives fixations, but that it is more secretly determined by an attempt of the subject to cover up his father's fault through the obsessional love of a "degraded" woman - I actually found this confirmed in several actual clinical cases. In his original paper, Lacan only referred to Goethe "Dichtung und Wahrheit", and the poet's incapacity to make love to the young Alsacian girl he was infatuated with, due to the curse of her deceived and forlorn sister. Whatsoever, the patient's secret "symptom name" has to do with the fact that the word "Ratte" (rat) refers simultaneously to the rat-torture, to the fact that the father was a "Spielratte", a card games addict, and most of all to the fees (Raten) the patient felt he should have paid to the female post-office clerk who had been so kind to him in having his new spectacles sent over to him before he had paid for them. The figure of the desirable woman appeared as a necessary counterpart of the symptom - Lacan was to put it more bluntly in the 70ies:"The woman is a symptom for the man".

The little Hans: the father's kindness, the devouring mother, the horse and sister Hanna

If we now turn to the case of the little Hans, which Lacan studied in details in his seminar on The Object Relations, we find his reading of the case extremely different from that of Freud's, and especially concerning the function of the father. Freud has it that Hans became scared of his father because of his own close relationship with the mother, the horse being nothing else that a slight transformation of the father's actual appearance (his moustache, his spectacles, his mouth, etc.). The father's implication in the treatment , Freud writes, allows the child to experience his castration anxieties differently: he comes to the conclusion that a new phallus is being offered to him by the plumber, presented as a father substitute. J.Lacan, on the contrary, has it that the child is anxiety-stricken because he doesn't know where his desire for the mother- confused as it is with the mother's own desire - is going to take him. The kindness of the father, little Hans interpreted as a weakness, Lacan writes, as an incapacity to give some limits to the mother's fancies. While Freud says little about her - she seems to have been one of his patients - Lacan clearly describes her as "quaerens quem devoret", "at the apogy of her feminine voracity", dissatisfied with her relationship with her husband, exhibiting her colorful underwear to her son, taking him into her bed, etc. While Freud considers Hans' castration anxiety as a sort of an independent problem, Lacan, on the contrary, relates it to this priviledged relationship to the mother. It raises a question for which the boy has no answer, not only because it is a mere instinctual phenomenon, but because his desire is in his mother: he doesn't know, Lacan writes, where his sexualexcitement is taking him to. Now the way the symptom is built, according to Lacan (when Freud quotes it, he does not pay much importance to it) is extremely striking: it is underpinned by the structure of the German language. It seems that the child took the German word for "because" (Wegen), and tied it to … a horse, a procedure made possible by the fact that there is only a small phonological difference between "Wagen" and "wegen".

W(E/A)GEN--------> PFERD



So the horse is what allows Hans to articulate his question. The horse signifier condenses the possibility to create what Lacan calls a "suppléance", a supplementation to the debased father function. The horse metaphorizes the whole situation, and places it on the ground of the "means of communication", the "three circuits" along which the child tries to disentangle his problematic.

Now the case of little Hans provides us with both indications on how the symptom took shape and how it was modified in such a way that the child could be considered as cured.

While Freud considers that the child eventually grows more self confident on the castration issue thanks to the "plumber fantasy", and that this is indicative of a final identification with the father function, Lacan thinks that Hans' father, in spite of all his efforts, offers no effective way of guarantying the father function; the final formula proposed by the child is the following: "I will marry my mother and daddy will marry his", which cannot be considered as a classical outcome of the oedipal conflict. Moreover, Lacan insists, in the "plumber's fantasy", there is no hint that the child feels that he will be granted a new phallus. Furthermore, in the various fantasies that Hans produced about his father accompanying him in several train tours, he manifests that the father is not up to the paternal function. According to Lacan, the ways Hans gets out of the horse symptom is through his fantasies about his sister. Hanna was at first only a dangerous character contributing to the uncanny and castrating mother figure, insomuch as the birth of an other child - without a penis - made a disastrous effect on his fantasies of being able to satisfy the mother. But subsequently, Hans develops a series of fantasies in which he proclaims Hanna to be eternal, and eventually to be able to tame the horse. According to Lacan, she is the one who gives a final solution to the whole story; he also suggests that Hans' subsequent occupation14, managing the scenography on opera scenes, probably allowed him to continue in this vein.

Lacan shows a characteristic hesitation when he discusses the final psychic structure of the child. On the one hand, he recognizes that he is not a pervert, insomuch as he refuses the fetishist solution; neither can he be said to be psychotic; nevertheless, his position as a neurotic seems to Lacan "atypical", and he compares it with that of Leonardo da Vinci. No matter how surprised Lacan was by the result of his enquiry, he seems to have found what he was to consider subsequently as a general solution: an "atypical" symptom structure instead of the Freudian solution of the identification with the idealized father. As we will see, what seemed utterly atypical to him in the mid-fifties was to become a central issue two decades later.

The insulted paranoiac

Quite simultaneously with the examination of neurotic phobia, Lacan discussed the status of nomination in paranoia. In his seminar on "Psychoses"(1955-1956), he showed that the aggressive relationship in which the paranoiac is absorbed should be understood as the consequence of the lack of a "privileged signifier", which he presented as a superego function. The normal formula of the superego, he said, was something like "tu es celui qui me suivras"15, the "s" at the end of the verb showing that the subject can keep a certain personal initiative (second person singular); on the contrary, in the case of the paranoiac, he is confronted with a formula like "tu es celui qui me suivra" (without a final s), in which the subject is objectified (the third person singular according to French linguist Emile Benveniste is in fact a "non-person"). The most striking clinical phenomenon corresponding to this is the fact that the subject feels he cannot separate himself from God, in spite of his own protests.

But the hallucinations DP Schreber suffered from exhibited also what we could call extreme modes of nomination. Lacan16 proposed to use Roman Jakobson's categories to differentiate them.

On one side, he wrote, there was an array of hallucinatory phenomena: the patient had either the feeling of being insulted, of felt compelled to respond to interrupted sentences addressed to him (Denkzwang). Lacan proposed to consider that these phenomena consisted in messages focalized on "what represents the message in the code": in Jakobson's theory, the "shifters" are symbolized as "part of the code referring to the enunciation of the message", a function he writes as follows: C/M . Consequently, we could symbolize this first type of hallucinations thus, M= C/M .

On the other side, Lacan wrote, we have a new code (which Schreber calls Grundsprache) "reduced to messages about the code": in Jakobson's theory, M/C is the formula of translation. We could symbolize this second sort of hallucinations as follows : C= M/C.

Now the most striking peculiarity of the former sort of hallucinations is that they display a quasi-nomination, but under a degraded guise. The hallucinated insults can be analyzed, as I have shown, in the terms developed by the French linguist JC Milner17 in his theory of the "quality nouns". According to Milner, these "quality nouns" are substantives, which have a way of functioning that identifies them to adjectives. This is realized in particular in the case of insults. For example, the French term "espèce" (species) is normally of the feminine gender. But when it is employed with a derogatory or insulting connotation, it functions as an adjective and takes the gender of the noun it is apposed to. One can say for instance," Une espèce de cygne ( a sort of a swan) to designate a particular bird, the indefinite article "une" receiving the feminine -e ending since it is there to determine "espèce", which is of the feminine gender; but when one says, about a man (masculine gender in French) "un espèce d'imbécile", "espèce" takes the masculine gender; it is retrograded to an adjective and fails to behave like a real substantive, like a real noun. The subject is bestowed no "nomination"; all that remains is an insulting designation. While Lacan, in the early fifties, had underscored the relative "namelessness of the neurotic", meaning that for the neurotic, the "symptom-name" took more importance than the debased, patronymic name, the persecuted psychotic can be said to be even more nameless than the neurotic.

But here again we find a feminine figure underlying the symptom-formation. Lacan considers that the development of the delusional system, starting from the intuition that "it would be beautiful to be a woman submitted to sexual intercourse" to the final transsexual delusion, in which Schreber is persuaded that his body has acquired objectivable feminine specificity, is underpinned by the foreclosure of a signifier of femininity, which comes back "in the real". Actually, when this transsexual delusion had completed its course, implying that Schreber would accept to be sexually united with God, his mental state was somewhat stabilized by this "delusional metaphor".

So, Lacan wrote18, instead of being protected by the metaphor of the name of the father against the desire of the mother, Schreber was simply confronted with the "primary symbolization", caught in the discourse of the mother; failing this metaphor, once the figure of an omnipotent father ("Un-père") comes to the fore in the person of his neurologist (Pr Flechsig), the decompensation occurs, which is only alleviated by the development of the feminine delusional theme.

This elaboration of his, Lacan presents as a clear alternative to the current theory according to which paranoia is determined by the repression of homosexual drives (Katan), implying that analysts should not attempt to interpret an "homosexual content" in these cases, but rather try to find how alternative solutions to the metaphor of the father's names can be sorted out. He was to expand on this subject several decades later, but still exploring the issue of femininity.

Perversion: the two mothers and the law

Lacan was obliged to revise his theory of the "name of the father " normally placed in a phallic position in non-psychotic cases when he studied the case of André Gide19. While in psychotic cases, the figure of the mother "letting the child fall" because the father function did not seem to fulfill her desire and to install a privileged signifier in the structure of the Other appeared to the fore, in Gide's case, the mother's figure appeared split in two, in a manner characteristic of the pervert structure. There was the "mother of the law", who managed the boy's life after the death of his father, and absolutely refused all desire - it is suggested that the mother was in fact sexually fascinated by an other woman. This "mother of the Law" refused all sexual manifestations coming from her son; she threatened to commit suicide when her son told her that he had been to bed with a woman. This aspect, Lacan considers responsible of the solitary masturbation Gide was condemned to for most of his life, without the possibility to link it to an acceptable (lawful) object of desire. On the other side, there is the "mother of desire", an aunt who had tried to seduce André Gide when he was a boy. This determined his pedophilic activity, in which he tried to tie both aspects of the mother, forcing the "mother of the law" - his wife, Madeleine, who was also his cousin and the daughter of his seducer - to be aware of this pedophilic activity. To this "division of the mothers" corresponds the subject's personal division, provoked by the fetish. While in the case of the neurotic, the symptom-name provides a sort of a negative confirmation of the effectiveness of the "name-of-the father", a negative correlation between the desire and the law, in the case of Gide, and probably in the case of many perverts, this regulation has to be built up, insomuch as the basic unconscious assumption is that of a total incompatibility between the desire and the law (this, incidentally, also appears in the case of the young female homosexual discussed by Freud in 1918, who re-creates a sort of a law in her "courtly love" conduct toward a "cocotte", committing suicide when her own infuriated father intervenes to stop her scandalous demeanor). In Gide's biography, this comes up for the first time with the feeling of being "forclosed"20, of suffering from what he called "Schaudern", and it is solely stabilized with complex fetishist constructions in which jouissance is forced into the Other that excludes desire. Thus the use of pseudonyms, like "André Walter", appeared as a solution, combined with the writing of autobiographic essays in which he made a generous usage of the journal he kept faithfully every day.

Lacan's elaboration on Gide helped him to separate two figures that tended to be confused until then: the figure of the phallus, and the function of the name of the father. The contradiction between the symbolic and the jouissance then came directly to the fore.

Lacan's response to anthropologists' criticism of Totem and Taboo

As we have already mentioned, Lévi-Strauss' seminar in 1960 and his subsequent book "Le totémisme aujourd'hui" aimed at destroying what he called the "chimère du totémisme" in anthropology, and accessorily showing that what he called the "affective theories" of it , among which Freud's book, had missed the point that "emotions are not anterior to social organization but determined by it". The classical descriptions of totemism, he wrote, were underpinned by the assumption of an adequacy between three dimensions: clanic organization (implying of course special prohibitions of marital choices), the attribution of names or emblems of animals, vegetables and various other things to these clans, and ultimately the belief of a strict relatedness between clans and their totems, the latter implying a common ancestor to the persons designated by these totems. In his enquiry, Lévi-Strauss found that no regular relatedness existed between the three in the very tribes that had been said to be the most "totemic". He went so far as to contest the very presence of all-organizing totem schemes in the Ojibwa society, one of the most frequently cited as a paradigm of unquestionable totemism, showing that totems meant very little in themselves, if they were not considered together with the theological system of the "manidos".

A further famous objection to the theories of totemic organization had been raised by Kroeber: in many instances, babies were not supposed to belong to the same totem as their father or even their mother, but were attributed the totem corresponding to an animal or an event that had struck the mother at a certain moment of her pregnancy. This was commented by Lévi-Strauss with the remark that the attribution of an alien totem did not matter much anyway, since the laws of alliance were as a rule situated on an other level than the affiliation to a specific totem.

In "Les structures élémentaires de la parenté", Lévi-Strauss, inspired by the researches of Marcel Mauss on the organization of gifts, had remarked that an oceanian concept like that of "mana" had much more organizational potency as a rule regulating exchanges than the concept of totem.

If we now briefly sum up Lacan's reactions to the debate, we can observe that while he considered, in his seminar on anxiety21, that proclaiming the death of the "Totem and taboo" theory was going a little too fast insomuch as Lévi-Strauss seemed to promote a flatly formal view of societies, clinical evidence called for a more dramatized view of the concept of structure, the tragic and theatrical dimension promoted by psychoanalysis which he called the dimension of fantasy.

But in other instances, he admitted that Lévi-Strauss' criticism, and even more the instruments he promoted were altogether justified. In "Fonction et champ de la parole en psychanalyse", he proposed to reinterpret the debt theme in the case of the Rat-man in terms of "mana"22. The symbolic aspect of the paternal function he exemplified with Kroeber's objection (the identification of the newborn to a passing-by divinity), allowing a differentiation between the real and the symbolic father.

A few aspects of Lacan's use of theological traditions

A comprehensive study of naming can hardly escape referring at least minimally to theology. Almost every study of proper names23 insist on the fact that in all traditions, "theophoric" names (with such meanings as "god has given, granted", etc.) are by far the more frequent as compared to secular names, and that names referring to the exaltation of the glory of the tribe, for instance in German traditional cultures, can be considered as a local equivalent of theophoric names. Lacan's focusing on the father's name is of course to be referred to the Monotheistic, and especially Christian tradition, in which not only can God be called by his name and be represented, but also, in the Christian revelation, be called a father, father of a unique son. During the Nicea council (325 AD) organized against the Arian heresy, the doctrine was formulated that the Christ had been begotten by God and not created by a temporary act (as the muslim faith was to put it several centuries later), implying that Jesus was in fact eternal, belonging to the same substance as God himself, pertaining to the same name. There is little doubt that Lacan was inspired by this theological tradition when he elaborated on the "name of the father" as an instance capable of warranting the heteronomic existence of the subject.

Nevertheless, when Lacan gave his first seminar on the Name-of-the father, in 1963, he discussed the Old Testament much more than the new one, and especially the sacrifice of Isaac. This allowed him to elaborate more precisely on the names of God, and on one of the most ancient figures of the monotheistic divinity in the Hebrew tradition (El Shaddai), in a very different manner from the Freudian myth of the primal horde. The figure of the original deity appears as an argument to document the function of what he called previously the "real father", capable to separate the subject from an originary undifferentiating jouissance.

The two main questions raised by this, for Lacan, were: how can this originary figure be accounted for in logical terms, and complementarily, how the logical generation of a subject, understood as a necessary loss of jouissance, could be described? This is where he summoned the contemporary logical research.

Lacan and the logical theories of naming

In his seminar on identification - one of the freudian theme implying the naming issue, as we have seen - Lacan discusses Bertrand Russell's theory of names and its critique by Gardiner. Russell24 had upheld the idea that words like "this" or "that" were proper names. Russell's theory was evidently dependent from Gottlob Frege's distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung, and the latter's idea that designation derived from description; for this reason, had it that a proper name was, in common language, an abridged description. But in the logical sense of the term, a "proper name" cannot satisfy this condition; therefore, strictly speaking, only deictic words like "this" or "that" could rightly qualify as "non-descriptive" proper names, devoid of meaning ("words for particulars").

On the contrary, Gardiner25 takes his inspiration from J.Stuart Mill26, for whom what rightly qualifies a proper name is, first, a lack of meaning, and, second, being some sort of a mark. Nevertheless, the latter qualification seems exaggerated to Gardiner, and he prefers to consider that what is particular to proper names is the fact that they are "pure sound", the discriminative quality of sound being devoid of meaning. Therefore, the "purest" proper names are the most arbitrary, those which convey no connotation at all, but this does not in any way justify the Russell's exaggerated solution, considering deictics as a model for names.

Lacan criticizes Gardiner for using a psychological explanation, considering that he misses a crucial point, quite surprisingly for a specialist of Egyptian hieroglyphs: the question is not that of "pure sound", he contends, but what he calls the "function of the letter", the fact that a certain mark can be applied to a certain sign so that it will give it a differential value, this differential value which Ferdinand de Saussure has described as specific of signifiers. This movement, this act of erasing a previous "natural" meaning, he explains, drawing on the researches of James Février27, is that of the passage from ideograph modes of writing to syllabic, and then to alphabetic systems. According to Lacan, the same movement is to be found in the originary inscription through which the subject of the "Urverdrängung" is created.

It has been remarked by several authors that this theory resembles greatly the theory which Saul Kripke developed by the same time, insomuch as he, too, excludes descriptions in his theory of names as "rigid designators in all possible worlds", in favor of a theory of "baptism" - a mere act.

Some ten years later, in his Seminar on the "names of the father"28, Lacan was to discuss J. Hintikka's semantic theory. He remarked that this theory, supposing a subject in possession of the best possible knowledge about a certain truth, could not, in spite of its merit, account for the type of knowledge which is at work in the unconscious, since this knowledge was precisely an "unknown knowledge" (Unbewusste), the determination of which could be best described by the paradox of the "logical time", in which a subject can only become aware of his "truth" through the moves of his partners, who themselves ignore which is their own truth. Only an act could, at the "time for conclusion", and within a limited span of time, determine the subject's secret truth; and this determination of truth could not consist in the communication from one subject to another, but in a first subject finding that a second subject finds that a third does not know a certain conclusive truth.29 If this sort of procedure had to be the result of a father function, then this father function had to include a certain function of ignorance, as is already to be found in the father images described by Freud in his Traumdeutung.30

This theory of "naming against meaning", at the antipodes of the traditional Christian concept of a total fullness of the naming deity, was to be complemented ten years later by a new concept of the feminine counterpart of the father function.

The incompleteness of the woman and the symptom

Lacan, in the seventies, developed a theory of the Other, not as the other of intersubjectivity, not as the Other of Language, but as the Other of sexual relationship. He proposes a new elaboration on the question of the specificity of feminine jouissance, a classical difficulty in the psychoanalytic treatment, which, as we have seen, also has important consequences on the issue of the father function.

In his 1956 article31, he confessed his disappointment with the psychoanalytic theory on this matter: Freud's theory of "feminine masochism", warmly supported by Helene Deutsch, he considered as confusing. He noted that Karen Horney's criticism of Karl Abraham's concept of "feminine donjuanism", ( Abraham pretended to explain penis-envy as an equivalent of the masculine splitting of the object between an idealized part and a debased part) had rightly insisted on the lack of symmetry between the masculine and the feminine position. Nevertheless, Horney's orientation led to a practical impasse: she thought that the insufficiency of the love bestowed by fathers to their daughters could fully account for this penis-envy; this rejection of the fault on the Other quite logically induced her to give up the practice of psychoanalysis. Joan Riviere's theory of masquerade, focusing on the reproaches addressed by women to men (it was also a reproach addressed to her own analyst, Ernest Jones, who contended that men and women had the same type of position - which he called "aphanisis" - toward the castration issue), he considered as an interesting but partial point of view.

Lacan proposed to start again from the "primary masochism" described by Freud as basic concept designed to subsume the various forms of masochism under the heading of the "death instinct". His idea was that this concept of "primary masochism" was inaccurate, and should be replaced by the idea that "sexual relationship does not exist", an idea that has been brilliantly illustrated by Leo Tolstoi in his "Sonata for Kreutzer" and popularized by second-rate American movies of the puritan tradition, in which the sexual difference is bluntly equated with the figure of the devil. The sexual relationship, Lacan contended, "does not exist in the unconscious" where it is insufficiently represented by the phallus, the signifier of the gift between the sexes. Men, Lacan writes in Encore32, are dedicated to phallic jouissance, a jouissance of the Oneness, this somewhat autistic satisfaction they are "embarrassed with" which separates them from women and allows them only a part-object access to the feminine body. Women, on the contrary, are on the side of the Other. They are directly confronted to the fact that the Other is incompatible with jouissance, as JA Miller puts it33; if it existed, it would have that jouissance. This has a physiological correlate (paucity of sensitive nerves in the anatomy of the vagina), and also a logical one: the woman, as such, is "not-all"; she is a stranger to herself insomuch as an other woman is always there to show her that she is uncomplete, even if a man can bestow her a phallic equivalent. Freud has accurately explored the dilemmas of this disappointing relationship to the phallus, especially in his article on "Femininity" (1931). This, better that the theories of paternalistic exploitation, can explain why women are supposed in all religions to have a secret relationship to the divinity.

This is a reversal of the position of Lacan in his Object relation seminar about Dora, in which he explained that the girl is fascinated by Mrs K as an image of the mysteries of femininity, because of the father's gifts to her. In the seventies (Encore34, L'étourdit)35, Lacan writes that the incompleteness of the woman is what secretly allows the exception of the father metaphor to be.

The exception, in its facticity, is ensured by the possibility to distinguish between three feminine positions: a (presenting oneself as an object), Vx (the mystic or "not-all" position) and --->F (the mother position). Very frequently, the second, in psychotic cases, is operationnalized as the sole manner to replace the symbolic castration, the limit allowed by the name of the father in neurotic cases; the result can range from a feeling of persecution to a transsexualist position (being "the woman"). In the case of "artistic sublimation", as in the case of Joyce, art becomes a way to destroy the totalization of meanings (Epiphanies), or create artificially a differentiation between the real and the symbolic (which J. Lacan designates as a "symptom"), the other side being insured by the fact that Nora, Joyce's wife behaved as a "glove" with him.

In this case, the logical structure of femininity replaces what the name of the father cannot do; the subject can elaborate something about the structure of the world on the basis that a woman represents the totality of the objects in the world, insomuch as she presents herself as not-all. Several therapeutic maneuvers can be derived from this, especially in psychotic cases.

Concluding remarks

One of the main issues for psychoanalysis is to take in consideration the uncertainty of the nomination of the subject qua subject of jouissance, in a time when the traditional modes of classification become less effective, and computerized identification and genetic coding threaten to give more and more totalitarian answers to our needs for classification. It may seem paradoxical to envisage the question of naming on the basis of the structure of the symptom. Nevertheless, while behavior therapies have failed to show that symptoms are just a superficial error in the neuronal connections of a person's mental apparatus, experience teaches us analysts that they are more than just the result of a person's weakness; they should also be seen as a creation, the positive side of which we should not be ashamed to utilize for therapeutic goals; ultimately, Freud's message concerning the solidarity of his patients' symptoms with the inadequacies of the father function should teach us to what extent fundamental symptoms should be bestowed some sort of dignity.


1. Lacan, J. Le Séminaire XVII: L'envers de la psychanalyse, Seuil, Paris.

2. Especially in the seminar La relation d'objet.

3. Castoriadis, C.:L'institution imaginaire.

4. Abraham, K. Oeuvres, (French translation), Paris, Payot, 1976.

5. Freud, S. :Identifizierung, 1920.

6. Freud, S: Totem und Tabu,1915.

7. Kroeber, A.L. Totem and Taboo: an Ethnologic Psychoanalysis (1920), in The Nature of Culture, Chicago, 1952. See also Kroeber, AL, Totem and Taboo in Retrospect (1939) in The Nature of Culture, Chicago, 1952.

8. See especially Lévi-Strauss C, Les Structuresélémentaires de la parenté, Plon, Paris 1949; Le totémisme aujourd'hui, PUF, Paris1962; La Pensée sauvage, Plon, Paris 1962.

9. For a discussion of this ethical issue, see the introduction of the Dora case.

10. For instance, this German folksong in which the separation from the mother is a crucial issue: " Hanschen klein
Ging allein
In die weite Welt hinein.
Stock und Hut
Passt ihm gut
Er ist Wohlgemut.
Aber Mama weinet sehr
Hat sie doch kein Hänschen mehr.
Da besinnt
Sich das Kind
Kehret Heim geschwindt. "

11. Lacan,J: Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse.Ecrits, Seuil, Paris 1966.

12. Lacan J:Les complexes familiaux (1938, L'encyclopédie française; 1985, Navarin, Paris).

13. Lacan,J:Le mythe individuel du névrosé, Ornicar? n°21, 1983.

14. On Herbert Graf's subsequent career as an opera director, see L. Mansouri: Herbert Graf, 1904-1973 in Opera, XXIV, 1973, p. 702-704.

15. "You are the one who will follow me". This sentence can be translated into French in these two manners.

16. Lacan,J: D'une question préliminaire à tout traitement de la psychose. Ecrits, Seuil Paris 1966.

17. Milner JC: De la syntaxe à l'interprétation, Seuil, Paris 1978.

18. Lacan,J: D'une question préliminaire à tout traitement de la psychose. Ecrits, Seuil Paris 1966.

19. Lacan,J: Jeunesse d'André Gide. Ecrits, Seuil Paris 1966.

20. The term used by Gide is "forclos".

21. Lacan, J: L'angoisse, séminaire 1962-1963 (unpublished).

22. Sauvagnat,F:"Szególny aspekt funkcji slowa: dlug i funkcja ojcowska w nerwicy obsesyjnej albo "Czlowiek ze szczurami" odwiedzony przez J. Lacan" in Pierwsze dni naukowe Skoly Europejskiej Psychoanalizy w Krakowie: wokol tlumaczenia J. Lacan'a Funcja i pole mówienia i mowy w psychoanalizie, Kraków, 1997, p.26-41.

23. See in particular Encyclopaedia Judaica (article:names), L'encyclopédie de l'Islam (article:'Ism), Encyclopaedia Britannica (Macropedia, article:Names).

24. Russell, B:The philosophy of logical atomism. Logic and knowledge. London, Allen and Unwin, 1956.

25. Gardiner, A. The theory of proper names: a controversial essay.2nd Edition, London, Oxford University press, 1954.

26. Mill, J.Stuart, System of Logic, London, 1843.

27. Février, James: Histoire de l'écriture, Payot, Paris 1952.

28. Lacan, J.:Les non-dupes errent, (unpublished seminar, 1973-74)

29. Lacan, J.: Le temps logique, Ecrits, Seuil, Paris 1966.

30. It is noteworthy that while J. Lacan seems to reject bluntly Hintikka's semantic theory of truth (in his 1974 seminar, he quotes Models for modalities: selected essays, Dordrecht, D.Reidel, 1969), his follower JA Miller, in the middle of the eighties (Unpublished seminar: Un, deux, trois, quatre) was to elaborate on van Heijenoort and Hintikka's distinction between "language as a medium" and "language as computation", holding that the anaytic interpretation should be considered as a particular application of the latter.

31. Lacan,J: Propos directifs pour un congrès sur la sexualité féminine, Ecrits, Paris, Seuil 1966.

32. Lacan, J.: Le séminaire XX:Encore, Seuil, Paris1973.

33. Miller, JA: L'orientation lacanienne, séminaire 1998-1999.

34. Lacan, J:Le séminaire XX:Encore, Paris, Seuil, 1973.

35. In Scilicet, N° 1, Paris 1973.