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The Seminars of Jacques Lacan
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1953-1954 Le séminaire deJacques Lacan, Livre I: Les écrits techniques de Freud
French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1975.
English: Book I: Freud's Papers on Technique (edited by Jacques-Alain Miller), New York: Norton, 1988.

The first seminar, open to the public, takes place at Sainte-Anne Hospital just after the creation of the S.F.P (Société Française de Psychanalyse). Lacan cuts in the study of Freud by dint of his theory on the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. The focal point of the discussion is the direction of the cure. Participants are allowed to make presentations, comments and objections. Through the case histories of Freud, Klein, Kris and Balint, the debate elucidates on the convergence of psychoanalysis, philosophy, theology, linguistics and game theory. In keeping with this heterogeneous approach, Lacan will further appeal to the science of optics to systematize his analyses of the specular relation. After his schema of the inverted bouquet the mirror stage becomes part of the topography of the Imaginary. As to the méconnaissance that characterizes the ego, it is associated with Verneinung (dénégation): "...everyday speech runs against failure of recognition, méconnaissance, which is the source of Verneinung." He closes the seminar pondering on the role of the analyst: "...if the subject commits himself to searching after truth as such, it is because he places himself in the dimension of ignorance, what analysts call readiness to the transference. The analyst's ignorance is also worth of consideration. He doesn't have to guide the subject to knowledge, but on to the paths by which access to this knowledge is gained. Psychoanalysis is a dialectics, an art of conversation."
In a spoken intervention (Appendix), Jean Hyppolite comments on Freud's Verneinung and suggests its translation as dénégation instead of négation. The question here deals with how the return of the repressed operates. According to Freud the repressed is intellectually accepted by the subject, since it is named, and at the same time is negated because the subject refuses to recognize it as his, refuses to recognize him in it. Dénégation includes an assertion whose status is difficult to define. The frontier between neurosis and psychosis is drawn here, between repression, Verdrägung, and repudiation, Verwerfung, a term that Lacan will replace by withdrawal, and finally by "foreclosure" (forclusion), the former being related to neurosis, the latter to psychosis.
When answering Hyppolite in La Psychanalyse that same year, Lacan establishes two poles of analytic experience: the imaginary ego and the symbolic speech. Lacan gives precedence to the Symbolic over the Imaginary. The subject who must come to be is "the subject of the unconscious" and "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other." In analysis, he says, "the subject first talks about himself without talking to you, then he talks to you without talking about himself. When he is able to talk to you about himself, the analysis is over."
To this reshaping of the Imaginary by the Symbolic, he opposes the intersection of the Symbolic and the Real without mediation of the Imaginary, which would be the characteristic of psychosis.


1954-1955 Le séminaire, Livre II: Le moi dans la théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalyse
French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1977.
English: Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis (edited by Jacques-Alain Miller), New York: Norton, 1988.

Lacan deliberates on the distinction made in his first seminar between discourse analysis and the analysis of the ego, both in relation to psychoanalytical theory and practice. He claims that "analysis deals with resistances." He reviews three works by Freud: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, on the death instinct; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; and The Ego and the Id.
Consciousness is transparent to itself, whereas the I (je) is not. The I is outside the field of consciousness and its certainties (where we represent ourselves as ego, where something exists and is expressed by the I). But it is not enough to say that "the I of the unconscious is not the ego" since we tend to think this I as the true ego. Lacan proceeds to re-assert the locus of the ego and reinstate the excentricity of the subject vis-à-vis the ego.
The ego is a particular object within the experience of the subject, with a certain function: an imaginary one. When in the specular image the ego is recognized as such by the subject, this image becomes self-conscious. "The mirror stage is based on the rapport between, on one hand, a certain level of tendencies which are experienced as disconnected and, on the other, a unity with which it is merged and paired. In this unity the subject knows itself as unity, but as an alienated, virtual one."
However, for a consciousness to perceive another consciousness, the symbolic order must intervene on the system determined by the image of the ego, as a dimension of re-connaissance.
In "The Dream of Irma's Injection" the most tragic moment occurs in the confrontation with the Real. The ultimate Real, "something in front of which words stop." "In the dream the unconscious is what is outside all of the subjects. The structure of the dream shows that the unconscious is not the ego of the dreamer." "This subject outside the subject designates the whole structure of the dream." "What is at stake in the function of the dream is beyond the ego, what in the subject is of the subject and not of the subject, that is the unconscious."
In his analysis of Poe's Purloined Letter, Lacan speaks of "an other beyond all subjectivity." The question concerns the "confrontation of the subject beyond the ego with the Id, the quod (what-is-it?) which seeks to come into being in analysis."
"The purloined letter is synonymous with the original, radical subject of the unconscious. The symbol is being displaced in its pure state: one cannot come into contact with without being caught in its play. There is nothing in destiny, or casualty, which can be defined as a function of existence. When the characters get hold of this letter, something gets hold of them and carries them along. At each stage of the symbolic transformation of the letter, they will be defined by their position in relation to this radical object. This position is not fixed. As they enter into the necessity peculiar to the letter, they each become functionally different to the essential reality of the letter. For each of them the letter is the unconscious, with all its consequences, namely that at each point of the symbolic circuit, each of them becomes someone else."
When Jean Hyppolite asks: "What use does the Symbolic have?" Lacan answers: "The Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real are useful in giving its meaning to a particularly pure symbolic experience, that of analysis." Since the symbolic dimension is the only dimension that cures, "The symbolic order is simultaneously non-being and insisting to be, that is what Freud has in mind when he talks about the death instinct as being what is most fundamental: a symbolic order in travail, in the process of coming, insisting in being realised."

The Schema L, systematized in La lettre volée (Écrits, 1966), is elaborated in this seminar. A four-term structure maps the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic as replacing the second Freudian topography: ego/id/superego. Two diagonals intersect, while the imaginary rapport links a (the ego) to a' (the other), the line going from S (the subject, the Freudian id) to A (the Other) is interrupted by the first one. The Other is difficult to define: it is the place of language where subjectivity is constituted; it is the place of primal speech linked to the Father; it is the place of the absolute Other, the mother in the demand. The Other makes the subject without him knowing it. With Lacan in Freud's Wo Es war, soll Ich werden, Es is the subject. It knows him or doesn't. The further, more exacting insight, is It speaks or doesn't. At the end of analysis, it is It who must be called on to speak, and to enter in relation with real Others. Where S was, there the Ich should be.


1955-1956 Le séminaire, Livre III: Les psychoses.
French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1981.
English: Book III: The Psychoses. (edited by Jacques-Alain Miller), New York: Norton, 1993.

Psychosis is one of the three clinical structures, the one defined by foreclosure. The other two are neurosis and perversion. By way of forclosure of the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father it is possible to understand psychosis and distinguish it from neurosis. Foreclosure corresponds to Lacan's translation of Verwerfung (repudiaton). The Name-of-the-Father is not integrated in the symbolic order of the psychotic, it is foreclosed: a hole is left in the symbolic chain. In psychosis "the unconscious is present but not functioning." The psychotic structure results from a malfunction of the Oedipus complex, a lack in the paternal function: the paternal function is reduced to the image of the father (the symbolic reduced to the imaginary).
Two conditions are required for psychosis to emerge: the subject has a psychotic structure (inheritance) and the Name-of-the-Father is called into symbolic opposition to the subject. When both conditions are fulfilled, psychosis is actualized; the latent psychosis becomes manifest in hallucinations and/or delusions. For Lacan psychosis includes paranoia (Papin sisters), so he bases his arguments on the Schreber case (as related by Freud). He argues that Schreber's psychosis was activated by both his failure to produce a child and his election to an important position in the judiciary. These experiences confronted him with the question of paternity in the real - called the Name-of-the-Father into symbolic opposition with the subject. The Name-of the Father is the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally. It both confers identity on the subject (naming and positioning it within the symbolic order) and signifies the Oedipical prohibition. When forclosed, it is not included in the symbolic order.
Lacan rejects the approach of limiting the analysis of psychosis to the imaginary: "nothing is to be expected from the way psychosis is explored at the level of the imaginary, since the imaginary mechanism is what gives psychotic alienation its form, but not its dynamics." Only by focusing on the symbolic are we able to point to the fundamental determining element of psychosis: the hole in the symbolic order caused by foreclosure and the consequent imprisonment of the psychotic subject in the imaginary. "The importance given to language phenomena in psychosis is for us the most fruitful lesson of all."
The Saussurian opposition between signifier and signified leads to the radical separation of the two chains, until they are tied through anchoring points, points de capiton. These are points at which "signifier and signified are knotted together." Despite the continual slippage of the signified under the signifier, there are nevertheless in the neurotic subject certain points of attachment between signifier and signified where the slippage is temporarily halted. A certain number of these points "are necessary for a person to be called normal" and "when they are not established or when they give way" the result is psychosis. In the psychotic experience "the signifier and the signified present themselves in a completely divided form." Thus the language phenomena most notable in psychosis are disorders of language: the presence of such disorders is a necessary condition for its diagnosis: holophrases and the extensive use of neologisms (new words or already existing ones which the psychotic redefines). These language disorders are due to the psychotic's lack of a sufficient number of anchoring points: the psychotic experience is characterized by a constant slippage of the signifier under the signified, which is a disaster for signification. Later, Lacan will posit that there is a continual "cascade of reshapings of the signifier from which the increasing disaster of the imaginary proceeds, until the level is reached at which signifier and signified are stabilized in the delusional metaphor." Thus "the nucleus of psychosis has to be linked to a rapport between the subject and the signifier in its most formal dimension, in its dimension as pure signifier. If the neurotic inhabits language, the psychotic is inhabited, possessed by language.

"On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis" (Écrits: A Selection) is a text written in 1958 and contemporary with Les formations de l'inconscient; it is a synthesis of Les psychoses and focuses mainly on the term foreclosure, forclusion, German Verwerfung.
In the Schema L "...the condition of the subject S (neurosis or psychosis) is dependent on what is being unfolded in the Other O. What is being unfolded is articulated like a discourse (the unconscious is the discourse of the Other)."

In the Schema R: "...I as the ego-ideal, M as the signifier of the primordial object, and F as the position in O of the Name-of-the-Father. One can see how the homological fastening of the signification of S under the signifier of the phallus may affect the support of the field of reality delimited by the quadrangle MieI. The two other summits, e and i, represent the two imaginary terms of the narcissistic rapport, the ego and the specular image."

This schema articulates the imaginary triad with the symbolic triad, both of which cut the quadrangle of reality. The term 'reality' is ambiguous in that it designates both our rapport to the world and our rapport to the Real as inaccessible. Schema R is elaborated in terms of a particular form of psychosis (Schreber). Later, Kant avec Sade (1962) will develop the perverse version as Lacan is concerned with creating the formal bases for his theory before addressing the problems of the treatment of psychosis.
The preliminary question seems to be the one of the Other, whose presence commands everything else. It is the place from which the subject is confronted with the question of its existence (sexuation and death). What is the Other? Is it the unconscious where "it speaks?" Is it the place of memory that conditions the indestructibility of certain desires? Is it the place where the signifier of signifiers is the phallus? Is it the place symbolized by the Name-of-the-Father since "the Oedipus complex is consubstantial with the unconscious? When the paternal metaphor does not allow the subject to evoke the signification of the phallus, when the response to the call of the Name-of-the-Father is a lack of the signifier itself, then it is a case of psychosis.
"This applies to the metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father, that is, the metaphor that puts this Name in the place that was first symbolized by the operation of the mother's absence." It designates the metaphorical, substitutive, character of the Oedipus complex.

It is the fundamental metaphor on which all signification depends: thus all signification is phallic. If the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed (psychosis), there can be no paternal metaphor and no phallic signification.

1956-1957 Le séminaire, Livre IV: La relation d'objet et les structures freudiennes.
French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1994.
English: unpublished.

Lacan confronts the theory of object relations defended by the Société Psychanalytique de Paris: Freud did not bother about the object, he cared about "the lack of the object." This lack has nothing to do with frustration. It is a matter of a renunciation that involves the law of the Father: "...between the mother and the child, Freud introduced a third and imaginary term whose signifying role is a major one: the phallus." The study is based on the function of the object in phobia and in fetishism (Freud's Little Hans, A Child is Being Beaten). In his analysis of Little Hans, Lacan states that anxiety arises when the subject is poised between the imaginary preoedipical triangle and the Oedipical quaternary: Hans' real penis makes itself felt in infantile masturbation. Anxiety arises since he can now measure the difference between that for what he is loved (his position as imaginary phallus) and what he really has to give (his insignificant real organ). The subject would have been rescued from anxiety by the castrating intervention of the real father, but the father fails to separate the child from the mother and thus Hans develops a phobia as a substitute for this intervention. It is not Hans' separation from the mother which produces anxiety, but failure to separate from her. Castration, far from being the main source of anxiety, is what actually saves the subject from it.
We find imaginary solutions to the gap (béance) produced by the appearance of the phallus "as that which is lacking in the mother, in the mother and the child, and between the mother and the child," because the father alone is the bearer or possessor of the phallus. Lacan establishes three modes of rapport to this object: frustration (the imaginary damage done to a real object, the penis as organ), deprivation ( the real lack or hole created by the loss of a symbolic object, the phallus as signifier), castration (the symbolic debt in the register of the law and the loss of the phallus as imaginary object). The mother falls from "the Symbolic to the Real" while the objects, through the mediation of the phallus, fall from "the Real to the Symbolic." The fall of the mother leads to the structuring preference for the father. Lacan muses about the way in which "the feminine object conceives the object relation." Lacan talks of motherhood, love, a case of feminine homosexuality (Freud's 1920) in which he sees a type of relation to lack and to the father.
As to the phallus and sexual difference, Lacan argues that in order to assume castration every child must renounce the possibility of being the phallus of the mother; this "rapport to the phallus is established without regard to the anatomical difference of the sexes." The renunciation of identification with the imaginary phallus paves the way for a rapport with the symbolic phallus which is different for the sexes: the male has the symbolic phallus, i.e. "he is not without having it" - woman does not. Yet the male can only lay claim to the symbolic phallus if he assumes castration, i.e. to give up being the imaginary phallus. Further, the woman's lack of symbolic phallus is in itself a kind of possession.

The Real Phallus.
Lacan uses the term penis to denote the biological organ and reserves the term phallus to denote the imaginary and symbolic functions of this organ. However, he does not always maintain the usage. This argues that the distinction between penis and phallus is somewhat unstable and that "the phallus concept is the site of a regression towards the biological organ" (David Macey). The penis has an important role to play in the Oedipus complex. It is via this organ that the child's sexuality is felt in masturbation. The intrusion of the real in the imaginary preoedipical triangle transforms the triangle from something pleasurable to something which provokes anxiety. The question posed by Oedipus is where the real phallus is located, the answer to the riddle is that it is located in the real father.

The Imaginary Phallus.
In the distinction between penis and phallus, the latter refers to an imaginary object. The imaginary phallus is perceived by the child as an object of the mother's desire, as that which she desire ahead of the child, thus the child seeks to identify with this object. The Oedipus and the castration complex imply the renunciation of the attempt to be the imaginary phallus.

The Symbolic Phallus.
The phallus which circulates between mother and child posits the first dialectic in the child's life which, though imaginary, frames the symbolic. An imaginary element is mobilized - the phallus becomes an imaginary signifier. The phallus is a symbolic object; it is a signifier.
The doctrine becomes systematized in Les formations de l'inconscient. In the 1960s the phallus is described as "the signifier of the desire of the Other" and the signifier of jouissance. Also the notion of objet a, the cause of desire, will be added to that of the phallus.


1957-1958 Le séminaire, Livre V: Les formations de l'inconscient.
French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1998.
English: unpublished.

The formations of the unconscious are those circumstances in which the laws of the unconscious are most discernible: the joke, the dream, the symptom, the lapsus (parapraxis). Freud referred to the fundamental mechanisms involved in the formations of the unconscious as condensation and displacement, which Lacan redefines as metaphor and metonymy. With the former, the play of signifiers creates sense in nonsense in relation to truth. The latter reveals the lack of a word, "an item of waste sent like a ball between code and message." In this lack substitute words appear and function like "the metonymic ruins of the object."
At the junction between psychoanalysis and linguistics, Lacan wants to formalize the primordial laws of the unconscious that Freud had uncovered. His project is to define a topology of the levels of functioning of the signifier in the subject by elaborating the graphs that, under the generic name of Graph of Desire, will be at the core of "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious" written in 1960 and published in 1966 in Écrits. Here the key concept is that of desire, and Lacan's dialectic of desire is quite distinct from Hegel's. The Graph of Desire will serve as a topology of the different steps constitutive of the subject. "It is precisely because desire is articulated that it is not articulable" in a signifying chain. Slavoj Zizek commenting on this formulation argues that subject is not substance, "it has not substantial positive being in itself, being caught between 'not yet' and 'no longer'. The subject never is, it will have been - either it is not yet here or it is no longer here, since there is only a trace of its absence."
The subject is dependent on the recognition of the Other who embodies "the legitimacy of the code," he alone can ratify a word as a joke, as stupidity or as madness. With the Other, Lacan moves on to the analysis of the Oedipus complex. Three stages structure the constitution of the subject. First, the paternal metaphor acts intrinsically on account of the primacy given to the phallus by culture. Then, the father intervenes as the one who deprives the mother: to her he addresses the message "You will not reintegrate your product" - the child as phallic object. The child receives "a message on the message," in the form of "You will not sleep with your mother" that liberates and deprives him of the object of his desire. From the alternative "To be or not to be the phallus," he can move to the alternative "To have it or not to have it." The third moment - the exit out of the Oedipus complex - requires the intervention of the permissive and generous father who, preferred over the mother, gives birth to the idea of the ego. It is in this context that the problems of becoming boy or girl - of the inverted Oedipus complex are raised.
Lacan plays with the term "insistence" in order to recall repetition, the characteristic of the signifying chain in the unconscious. "The unconscious is neither primordial nor instinctual; what it knows about the elementary is but the elements of the signifier." In a previous writing, "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud," he defines the unconscious as a memory that can be compared to that of modern thinking-machines where the chain that insists on reproducing itself in the transference can be found, and which is the chain of dead desire.
In "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious," written in 1960, Lacan states that "it is not the law that bars the subject's access to jouissance but pleasure." In 1966 he will add a final sentence: "Castration means that jouissance must be refused, so that it can be reached on the inverted ladder (échelle inversée) of the Law of desire."

"The signification of the phallus" (Écrits: A Selection) is a lecture given at the Max Planck Institute in Munich in 1958. All the research accomplished during La relation d'objet and Les formations de l'inconscient culminates here, and serves as an introduction to Le désir et son interpretation
The alternative seems ineluctable: either the Mother or the Father. To choose the Mother means to be condemned to the dependency of demand, while the Father constitutes the access to desire, hence to salvation. If the Father must be preferred to the Mother, if the Father is the origin and the representative of culture (and of the Law), it is because he possesses the phallus that he can give or refuse. The absolute primacy of the phallus - the single emblem of Man - has become a real doctrinal (perhaps dogmatic) basis of Lacanian theory: "The phallus is the signifier of signifiers, the privileged signifier of that mark in which the role of the logos is joined with the advent of desire," its function "touches on its most profound rapport: that in which the Ancients embodied the Nous, the Mind, and the Logos, discourse, reason." Why such a privilege? "This signifier is chosen as the most tangible element in the real of sexual copulation; it is the most symbolic in the literal sense," since "it is equivalent to the logical copula." Moreover, "by virtue of its turgidity, it epitomizes the image of the vital flow as it is transmitted in generation." Freud says, there is only one libido, masculine in nature. Later, Lacan will assert that "there is no such thing as sexual rapport," il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel, in the sense of proportion or relation: one sex counts for both sexes. Thus the phallus can only appear as veiled.


1958-1959 Le séminaire, Livre VI: Le désir et son interprétation.
French: unpublished.
English: unpublished.

Desire has to be placed at the heart of analytic theory and practice: the title of the seminar does not indicate a mere juxtaposition of the two terms, it ties them around the essential function of language. Desire, if the libido is its psychic energy, indicates the subject's dependency on the signifiers which constitute the structure proper. This is what the cure, based on speech, must make clear beyond the analysand's demand. Lacan even asserts that "desire is its own interpretation."
In approaching this seminar one might be aided by reading the seven lessons on Hamlet (1959) published by Jacques-Alain Miller in Ornicar? in 1983. After Freud Lacan offers a new interpretation. Hamlet is the tragedy of desire: this is why "we are in the midst of clinical experience." What is this "bird-catcher net in which man's desire is articulated according to the coordinates of Freud, Oedipus and castration?" The structural analysis of the play, which orders not only the characters' positions but also the succession of events, should lead us to "situate the meaning and direction (le sens) of desire." The enigma is that of Hamlet's inability to act: he cannot kill Claudius - his father's killer, his mother's lover, and the usurper) - he cannot love Ophelia, "he cannot want." When, at the end, he discovers his desire - by fighting Laertes in the hole that has been dug out to bury Ophelia - this revelation is ineluctably linked to the death in which they all disappear. This tragedy shed light on the masculine drama of desire and on the anxiety of "To be or not to be," hopeless truth of modern man.
On the Father's side, the disappointment is beyond remedy: "There is no Other of the Other." The dead King wanders in quest of an impossible redemption. The Other, the place of truth, does not contain the signifier that could be the guarantor of such truth. The phallus is unavailable in the Other, which is rendered by the sign: - Φ. This would explain the almost desperate tone in Lacan's next seminar, L'éthique.... What if the masculine subject turns toward his mother to praise her woman's dignity? Then he comes up against what she manifests of her desire: "not desire, but a gluttony that is engulfing." The horror of femininity rules over the play and hits Ophelia, the virgin fiancée, in the face. Her character is fascinating because it embodies "the drama of the feminine object caught in the snare of masculine desire," but above all because she is at the same time the object and the touchstone of desire: objet a (part object) of desire and phallus (present in Ophelia). The two terms are not quite distinguished and if Ophelia can only be discovered in mourning - "I loved Ophelia" - such mourning is both that of the object and that of the phallus. Against Jones, whose definition of aphanisis was an attempt to find in the fear of being deprived of one's desire a factor common to both sexes, Lacan maintains a radical asymmetry in the rapport to the phallic signifier. Man "is not without having it" and woman "is without having it." The only object of desire, and at the same time its only signifier, seems indeed to be the phallus, which only appears "in flashes," during decisive phallophanias where death is at the rendez-vous.
Slavoj Zizek notes that for Lacan the phallus is the pure signifier that stands for its own opposite, that it functions as the signifier of castration. The transition from pre-symbolic antagonism (the Real) to the symbolic order where signifiers are related to meaning takes place by way of this pure signifier, without signified. "In order for the field of meaning to emerge, for the series of signifiers to signify something, there must be a signifier that stands for nothing, a signifying element whose very presence stands for the absence of meaning, or rather for the absence tout court." This nothing is the subject itself, "the subject qua S." This Lacanian matheme designates the subject deprived of all content.


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