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Reflections on the Formal Envelope of the Symptom

Infancy: Boys/Girls

The Certainty of Hysteria

Sacrifice and our Destiny


Angel Atrapado X

Interview with
Suzan Etkin

Interview with
Meyer Vaisman

Jenny Watson


Reflections on the Formal Envelope of the Symptom*


Jacques-Alain Miller
translated by Jorge Jauregui

Does there exist a psychoanalyst who does without the concept of symptom, or who does not at least possess a practical notion of it? I don't think so. Although we may believe we can easily do without the concept of structure, and even though we may suspect clinical structures as impenetrable compartments - as a matter of fact, prevalent in one whole area of psychoanalytic practice is the belief in a sort of clinical continuum wherein borderline cases proliferate, and one hears more of states rather than structures - still the notion of symptom seems basic, truly elementary. It belongs, in some way, to natural consciousness, to the spontaneous philosophy of the therapist, of the physician, inasmuch as it constitutes the medical stance to refer to the notion of harmony, of what fits right together, of what is consonant, where the symptom appears as what troubles the said harmony, disturbs it, destroys it. There can be no symptom without reference to some symphony itself disturbed by a dissonance, by an unexpected accident. Such is the meaning of the Greek word sumptôma - which curiously, keeps the sun of synthesis, of reunion, of ensemble - that which happens simultaneously and is coincidental. The symptom carries with it this medical connotation, this connection with harmony, and its value can only change when it is no longer approached from the medical viewpoint but from within the analytical discourse.
We acknowledge it as no longer articulated with a supposed harmony but with a reference of another order, its opposite, one might even say. The meaning of the symptom changes radically when not related to a harmony but to a disharmony, that is, to what, in short, we speak of as castration. It could be said that in psychoanalysis the symptom harmonizes with castration. And certainly this is what gets in the way in our attempt to isolate the being of the symptom in psychoanalysis. Briefly now, to conclude this introduction: we cannot isolate it except as a speaking being, the speaking being of the symptom. Let's abbreviate this as: the parlêtre of the symptom.
I already had the occasion to speak of how, taking my lead from Lacan, one catches in practice the parlêtre of the symptom. I called this intervention "Symptôme et Fantasme," and I would have left it there had Jacques Adam not asked me to lecture about it - which I am pleased to do because it allows me to clarify an expression of Lacan which has always particularly seduced me, possesses a kind of special harmony for me, namely "the formal envelope of the symptom."



* Actes de L'École de la Cause freudienne, N0IX, Les formes du symptôme, 1985 back to top

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