Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio

The term extimacy (extimité), coined by Lacan from the term “intimacy” (intimité), occurs two or three times in the Seminar, and it will be for us to transform this term into an articulation, a structure, to produce it as an S1 which would allow us to go beyond and over the confusion that we first experience when faced with such a signifier.


1. $


For analysts, referring only to the analytic experience is illusory; for Freud’s and Lacan’s works are also part of our relation to psychoanalysis. And our common reading of the commentary on Freudia texts which forms the subject of the first ten years of Lacan’s Seminar is not unlike the lectio of the Middle Ages. At that time, the lesson of a master was to be divided into three parts: littera, sensus and sententia. Littera is the level of the construction of the text, the most grammatical level; sensus is the level of the signified, of the explicit and easy meaning; and sententia is the deep understanding of meaning. Only this level of sententia can justify the discipline of commentary.


The problem posed by Lacan’s teaching is precisely that one of its constants is a commentary on Freud. Moreover, of his own sayings, Lacan makes maxims or sententiae (in the Middle Ages, the word also meant “common place”). Thus, he does not allow the Other to choose what of Lacan must be repeated – and this, because he formalizes his own thought by expressing it in formulas which are simple, or which at least seem simple. Thus, “The unconscious is structured like a language.” “Desire is the desire of the Other,” and “The signifier represents the subject for another signifier” are sententiae of Lacan. At present, part of our task lies in culling these sententiae, in gathering them into a florilegium. Thus we do with Lacan, because he seems to present himself as an author in the medieval sense of the word, i.e., as the one who knows what he says.

Despite his sententiae however, Lacan is not an author. His work is a teaching. We must take this into consideration; we must know that following his star requires that we do not synchronize and dogmatize this teaching, that we do not hide but rather stress its contradictions, its antinomies, its deadlocks, its difficulties. For, a teaching on the analytic experience is like a work in progress and implies a back and forth motion between text and experience.

2. Extimacy (extimité)

Why this title? First, because last year I gave my attention to gathering, developing, articulating the quaternary structures in Lacan’s teaching; and as a result it seems to me that extimacy must be formalized and dealt with apart from these structures. Second, I could not disregard this question of extimacy since I am particularly devoting myself to the question of the Real in the Symbolic. It so happens that extimacy is a term used by Lacan to designate in a problematic manner me real in the symbolic. Third, it seems to me that this term has a great potential for crystallization. When reconsidering the problems of analytic experience and of Lacan’s teaching from this starting point, one realizes indeed that a number of scattered questions raised by our practice fall into place. Fourth, this expression “extimacy” is necessary in order to escape the common ravings about a psychism supposedly located in a bipartition between interior and exterior.

Let us qualify this last point, however, for it is not enough to say that this bipartition is unsatisfactory; we must also elaborate a relation in its stead. Indeed, it is so easy to slide into this interior-exterior bipartition that we need, for our own use, to substitute for it another relation, the simplest possible, which we will represent with the following drawing:

This very simple diagram of Lacan’s means that the exterior is present in the interior. The most interior – this is how the dictionary defines “intimate” (l’intime) – has, in the analytic experience, a quality of exteriority. This is why Lacan invented the term extimate. The word indeed is not current yet. But with a little effort and luck, it will perhaps come to exist – in a few centuries – in the Académie Française dictionary.


It should be observed that the term “interior” is a comparative which comes to us from Latin and of which intimus is the superlative. There, there is an effort on the part of language to reach the deepest point in the interior. Let us note as well that quotations from literary works given by dictionaries show that one says commonly, constantly that the most intimate is at the same time the most hidden. Therefore, paradoxically, the most intimate is not a point of transparency but rather a point of opacity. And this point of opacity is generally used to found the necessity of certain covers, the most common being the religious cover, as we are going to see.

3. A —> $

Extimacy is not the contrary of intimacy. Extimacy says that the intimate is Other-like a foreign body, a parasite. In French, the date of birth of the term “intimacy” can be located in the seventeenth century; it is found for instance in Madame de Sevigné’s Correspondence, a model of intimacy, from which comes mis sentence: “I could not help telling you all this detail, in the intimacy and love of my heart, like someone who unburdens herself to a maid whose tenderness is without parallel.” Is it not charming that one of the first occurrences in the French language of the term “intimacy” already has a relation to a kind of confession of the heart to someone full of tenderness?

In psychoanalysis, it seems to us natural from the start to place ourselves in the register of intimacy, for there is no experience more intimate than that of analysis, which takes place in private and requires trust, the most complete lack of restraint possible, to the point that in our consulting rooms – these places reserved for the confessions of intimacy – analysands, though in the house of someone else, sometimes act as if they were at home. This is confirmed when such an analysand takes out of his pocket the key to his own house as he is reaching the door-step of his analyst.

However, in no way can one say that the analyst is an intimate friend of his analysand. The analyst, on the contrary, is precisely extimate to this intimacy. Perhaps this shows that one cannot have one’s own house. Perhaps also it is this position of the psychoanalyses extimacy which makes so distinct and so constant the role of the Jew in the history of psychoanalysis.

If we use the term extimacy in this way, we can consequently make it be equivalent to the unconscious itself. In this sense, the extimacy of the subject is the Other. This is what we find in ‘The Agency of the Letter” (Écrits, 172), when Lacan speaks of “this other to whom I am more attached than to myself, since, at the heart of my assent to my identity to myself, it is he who stirs me” (translation modified) – where the extimacy of the Other is tied to the vacillation of the subject’s identity to himself. Thus the writing A—> $ is justified.

There are several covers of this point of extimacy, one of which is the religious cover. Thus Saint Augustine speaks of God as interior intimo meo, “more interior than my innermost being.” God here is thus a word which covers this point of extimacy which in itself has nothing likeable. This implies this schema:

where the circle of the subject contains as the most intimate (intime) of its intimacy the extimacy of the Other. In a certain way, this is what Lacan is commenting on when he speaks of the unconscious as discourse of the Other, of this Other who, more intimate than my intimacy, stirs me. And this intimate which is radically Other, Lacan expressed with a single word: extimacy.

We could apply this term to the psychiatric clinic and call men automatism “extimate automatism” in so far as it manifests in obvious fashion the presence of the Other and of its discourse at the very center of intimacy. In the analytic clinic, it is interesting to note that it is always when extimacy is punctualized that an analyst’s hesitations about the diagnosis occur, between obsession and psychosis for example, despite the very clear distinctions that he makes in other respects between one and the other. Extimacy indeed is so structural for the speaking being that no analyst can say he has never encountered it, if only in the experience of his own hesitations.

4. a ◊ A

Let us introduce now a dimension other than the one from our previous schema, by posing the petit a as pan of the Other. The structure is the same but, this time, the exterior circle is that of the Other and the central area, the area of extimacy, is occupied by a.

This is not the negation of the preceding schema but a new use of the same structure, which responds to another consideration. Up to this point in our argument, we have used the concept of the Other as something obvious. Now, the question of extimacy leads us to problematize this concept, to ask the question of the alterity of the Other, i.e., of why the Other is really other.

“What is the Other of the Other?” is the very simple question asked by Lacan in order to ground the alterity of the Other. To say that this Other of the Other is the subject would not take us very far, for the precise reason that the subject of the analytic experience is nothing that it is a barred function.

The first attempt made by Lacan was to posit that the Other of the Other of the signifier was the Other of the law. This hypothesis concludes his essay on psychoses. [1] There would exist an Other who lays down the law to the Other. This would imply the existence of a metalanguage which would be the Law, for the Law as absolute is a metalanguage.

Later Lacan, thinking against Lacan, says on the contrary that “there is no Other of the Other,” that “there is no metalanguage.” To whom does he say this? He says it to the previous Lacan. Thus, there is no reason to confuse an effort at rationality with a dogmatization. Let us note that this famous sententia, “There is no Other of the Other,” implies a devalorization and a pluralization of the Name-of-the-Father. But it also implies a problem in grounding the alterity of the Other. Indeed, what is it, this Other, if not a universal function, an abstraction? Father Takatsuga Sasaki’s reaction, for example, testifies to it when he tells us that this kind of abstraction seems impossible in the Japanese language, in which there is no Other but various categories of alterity, of plurality.

The Other that we experience through the religious cover is omnivalent. It is precisely what is called, in Christianity, the neighbor. It is a way to nullify extimacy; it grounds what is common, what conforms conformity. It belongs fundamentally, as universal, to this conformity. But if there is no Other of the Other, what is the ground of its alterity?

Jouissance is precisely what grounds the alterity of the Other when there is no Other of the Other. It is in its relation to jouissance that the Other is really Other. This means that no one can ground the alterity of the Other from the signifier, since the very law of the signifier implies that one can always be substituted for the other and vice versa. The law of the signifier is indeed the very law of 1-2, and in this dimension, it is as though there is a democracy, an equality, a community, a principle of peace. Now, what we are attempting to see is what makes the Other other, i.e., what makes it particular, different, and in this dimension of alterity of the Other, we find war. In racism, for example, it is precisely a question of the relation to an Other as such, conceived in its difference. And it does not seem to me that any of the generous and universal discourses on the theme of “we are all fellow-beings” have had any effectiveness concerning this question. Why? Because racism calls into play a hatred which goes precisely toward what grounds the Other’s alterity, in other words its jouissance. If no decision, no will, no amount of reasoning is sufficient to wipe out racism, it is indeed because it is founded on the point of extimacy of the Other. It is not simply a matter of an imaginary aggressivity which, itself, is directed at fellow-beings. Racism is founded on what one imagines about the Other’s jouissance; it is hatred of the particular way, of the Other’s own way of experiencing jouissance. We may well think that racism exists because our Islamic neighbor is too noisy when he has parties; nevertheless it is a fact that what is really at stake is that he takes his jouissance in a way different from ours. Thus the Other’s proximity exacerbates racism: as soon as there is closeness, there is a confrontation of incompatible modes of jouissance. For it is simple to love one’s neighbor when he is distant, but it is a different matter in proximity. Racist stories are always about the way in which the Other obtains a plus-de-jouir: either he does not work or he does not work enough, or he is useless or a little too useful, but whatever the case may be, he is always endowed with a part of jouissance that he does not deserve. Thus true intolerance is the intolerance of the Other’s jouissance. Of course, we cannot deny that races do exist, but they exist in so far as they are, in Lacan’s words races of discourse, i.e., traditions of subjective positions.

5. a ⊂ A

One usually stresses what, of the Other, is subject. When Lacan speaks, for example, of the subject-supposed-to-know, there seems to be no difficulty: there is a way of the Other which is to be a subject. However, we must point out something else, i.e., what in the Other is object. We will develop this point from two seminars by Lacan, The Ethics, and Le transfert.

The opposition between das Ding, the Thing, and the Other is laid out in The Ethics. This antinomy is worked out enigmatically – which explains the fact that das Ding has long remained wrapped in mystery. But it is the case that, in the Seminar on transference, which comes immediately after The Ethics, this opposition if transformed into a relation which can be written in this way: a ⊂ A. Lacan makes this transformation from a metaphor borrowed from philosophy which is nowadays known as that of Silenus which contains the object, agalma, inside itself. Here, we see a revolution in Lacan’s teaching, for this relation, established in a literary, mythical non-formalist way, appears to be completely antagonistic to earlier developments. The Other, in Le transfert, is no longer only the place of the signifier, there the object is included in the Other – which appears somewhat mystical because the Seminar works only with the idea of interior and exterior. Plato’s model is nothing more: a cover which looks like a Silenus and inside of which something else is found. We must therefore formalize this model of interior and exterior.

Something has been introduced in Lacan’s teaching which has only been understood recently, i.e., the devalorization of the Other of the signifier. He could thus say: “The Other does not exist,” which does not prevent the Other from functioning, for many things function with without existing. However, the sentence, “The Other does not exist,” is meaningless if it does not imply that a, on the contrary, exists. The Lacanian Other, the Other that functions, is not real. That is what allows us to understand that a is real, to understand how this a as plus-de-jouir founds not only the Other’s alterity but also what is real in the Symbolic Other. It is not a matter of a link of integration, of interiorization, but of an articulation of extimacy.

Let us illustrate this with the incident which interrupted my class: a bomb scare. [2] The bomb did not exist. However, we had the proof that, without existing, it could produce its effect. My class is of me order of the signifier and is held in a place devoted to teaching, where an object was introduced which, let me tell you, had a great effect, but which no one knew the location of. Thus did we prove that at the very moment when this object crops up via die signifier “Bomb!” the Other is emptied, disappears. Only the object remains, the object in a desert.

This is a good example of the antinomy existing between A and a. And this antinomy is compatible with the formula which we write a ⊂ A. For this object, the bomb – an object which is perfectly efficacious without existing or which perhaps will explode tomorrow or next week – is the result of the discourse of the Other. It is not a natural phenomenon, not an earthquake; it is not a substance but on the contrary a result, a product of the discourse of science. The sentence, “Bomb!” is located on the level of intersections which Lacan studied to prove mat the presence of the subject of the enunciation does not need the presence of the énoncé. At the same time, this sentence gives a clear indication of the relation between signifier and object. Indeed, if the signifier “Bomb!” is truly a reference to the bomb, it still does not represent this bomb; it does not say where the bomb is. There is thus a link between this signifier and the object, but we cannot say that “Bomb” is the signifier of this bomb. The best proof of this is that no one will get the idea to go speak to the bomb so that it will not blow up.

To be done with this point, which has a paradigmatic value, my own position is to say that the young woman who burst into the room shouting “Bomb!” should have written this on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. At that time, I would have asked the people from one side of the room to leave, then from another side, then from a third one; i.e., I would have tried to do things in the most orderly way. This indicates a clinical difference between her and me, and the importance of the way a subject situates him or herself in a moment of crisis. When I asked this person why she had not warned me in writing, she answered: “But the bomb could have exploded any moment “Of course, but identifying with the bomb may not be the best way to get out of such a situation.

6. Quod without quid

This part of my development concerns the type of the object and what makes its localization in the place of the Other difficult When we speak of the objet a, we are not speaking about an object summoned opposite the subject of the representation. If we take the bomb, for example, no one is there to gaze at it; it is really an object incompatible with the presence of the subject; it implies a physical disappearance of bodies and persons that, in this example, represent the subject. If you can sit down opposite a painting and chat with the people next to you, it is not so with the bomb; when you speak about this type of object, the subject disappears.

The objet a is not a chapter of ontology. Indeed, ontology says what is common to all objects. It consists in gathering several features of the object of representation before the object itself is experienced. This is what Heidegger called “ontological pre-comprehension”: we can know a priori that an object is an object if it has such and such a feature. We can also enumerate the object’s criteria. An ontology tells a priori what can be said about objects. These are Aristotle’s categories, where the said is already placed on the object. An ontology is indeed always a doctrine of categories. It can be said that there the structure of objects is already the same as that of the énoncé.

But when we speak of objet a, we speak of another objectivity – let’s say of another “objectify,” an objectity which is not summoned opposite the subject of representation. For representation is not an imaginary function. In The Ethics, Vorstellung is the Symbolic itself – what Lacan will formalize a few years later with the representation of the subject by the signifier. The definition, in the Lacanian sense, of Vorstellung refers thus to the symbolic and not to the Imaginary. However, this new objectify is such that one cannot avoid experiencing it It is an object articulated not to the subject but to if division, to a subject which does not represent to itself the objects of the world but which is itself represented. For this reason, we cannot say that the structure of this object is identical to that of the énoné. There is no specificity of the object in the Other, where, nonetheless, the objet a does not dissolve. It escapes categories because it does not have the same structure as the énoncé. By using the medieval reference reactualized by Yankelevich, we can say that here it is a matter of a quod, in the sense of difference between quodity and quidity. We could also say that it is a question of the difference between existence an essence, of something that there is, but the essence of which one cannot define in the Other.

One can say that it is – i.e., quidity – but one cannot say what it is. There we have a kind of paradox of the quod: something exists but without quid. m this way no one can describe the bomb I was speaking about earlier, except the person who would encounter it, but then, he would not live long! This quod without quid is a “being without essence” (this expression is found once or twice in Lacan).

A/a is constructed on the model of another formula of Lacan, i(a)/a, which means that in reality, the image of the other clothes or covers the real of the object. But this can also be said of capital A. A/a is a formula which implies the devalorization of the Other. It indicates that the Other does not exist, that it has no other status than that of illusion. For this reason, Lacan was able to characterize the end of an analysis as “cynical.” Cynicism means here the end of the illusion of the Other. And sometimes, this fall allows a new access to jouissance, to a jouissance that Lacan terms perverse because it does not involve the relation to the Other. Sometimes, in fact, this is what someone gains at the end of an analysis – which is then nothing more than the naiveté of this cynicism.

Cynicism as such is indeed a form of naiveté, because it consists in thinking that the fact that the Other does not exist means that it does not function. However, deducing from the fact that the Other does not exist that we can erase its universal function and that only jouissance real is naive. Thus, Lacan could say that psychoanalysis made scoundrels stupid. They become so because they think, after an analysis, that the values of the Other do not function.

For lack of time, we won’t develop here me analyst’s position between cynicism and sublimation. Let us only specify mat sublimation can be written a/A. This does not mean that the analyst is only semblance of object – which would imply that the ultimate truth of the objet a is that it is real. The apparatus of analytic discourse involves something more difficult: the objet a is a semblance as such. In the expression “semblance of object” that we often use, we find the naïve belief that the objet a is real. However, the objet a as such, as I must emphasize, is a semblance. And the A which is below the bar can perfectly function as supposition – the fact that it does not exist, as such.

8. a ◊ Φ

We are going to introduce here a case that was presented in Barcelona [3] and in which we can see a way to refer to the absolute risk. It concerns a woman who gets married, then goes to a lawyer to establish a deed stipulating that she will give up all her rights the day her husband ceases to desire her. This case seems to me paradigmatic for explaining the antinomy between these two terms, since it concerns the very inversion of marriage, marriage being precisely what can permit one to insure oneself against the cause of desire. Marriage implies that the cause of desire is inscribed in the signifier, whereas this woman goes to her lawyer to inscribe in the law the risk of desire.

It concerns what I call, in Lacan, the formula of the second paternal metaphor. It corresponds point by point to the formula of the Name-of-the-Father, which we must absolutely not forget but, in the clinic itself, we must refer to the second formula, which poses the signification of the phallus as minus φ and which forces us to operate with the inexistence and the inconsistency of the Other, and not with the function of its consistency. This seems to me to have important consequences for analytic practice.

10. The objet a

The Real, when it concerns the objet a, is thus a semblance. It is so because it is a lie. Where does the objet a come from in Lacan? It comes from the partial object of Karl Abraham, i.e., from a corporeal consistency. The interesting thing is to see that Lacan transforms this corporeal consistency into a logical consistency. It is a fact, and a significant one: Lacan reduces the objet a, which is not a signifler, to a logical consistency. This is why we can read unmistakably, in Encore, that the objet a introduces a semblance of being. Note that he does not say that there is an opposition between semblance and real, quite the opposite. But it is not enough to develop the logical consistency of the Other; it is also necessary to articulate it with the logical consistency of the objet a. It is only from there that
one can understand that the real can be situated only from the deadlocks of logic. Lacan introduces this use of the category of the real in L’étourdit. [4] If there were an ontic in psychoanalysis, it would be the ontic of the objet a. But precisely, this is not the road taken by Lacan. The one he took is the road of logical consistency. It is only in this way that we can conceive of the analyst as the objet a. The analyst is not only a corporeal consistency. He is so also, obviously, as presence, but his value comes especially from logic. And this does not allow one to sit quietly between the signifier and the object, but requires on the contrary seeing in what sense the objet a is a logical consistency. To speak in this way is perhaps equivalent to thinking against what we said previously, but you know now that thinking against oneself is also the lesson of Lacan.

I will add as a final note that this festival of mathemes that I gave here rests on the in-depth work which is done in my class in a looser, more entertaining way, where I make it more palatable by using stories. But these stories are not, for all that, more valuable than the in-depth work of which the present text is the result.


[1] See “Of a question to any possible treatment of psychosis”.

[2] The class of February 19 1986 was interrupted by a bomb scare and was rescheduled the same evening in another location.

[3] See Ornicar? 43, Winter 1988, Paris: Navarin. p. 107.

[4] See Scilicet 4, 1983, p. 5.

Text established by Elisabeth Doisneau and translated by Françoise Massardier-Kenney.

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One Comment

  1. will
    Posted August 7, 2008 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Is this the same article that appeared in the Lacanian Theory of Discourse collection (Bracher…)?

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