The Chiasm of Revolution: Badiou, Lacan, and Lefèbvre
Allan Pero

In summer 1968, Henri Lefèbvre hastily composed a text to address, in part, the event of May 1968 called L’irruption de Nanterre au sommet. (Unlike much of his other work, which still awaits translation, this text was just as hastily translated into English under the title The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval/Revolution and was published in 1969). One of the interesting elements of this text is that he begins with a discussion of the relation of situation to event. He contends that “Events belie forecasts; to the extent that events are historic, they upset calculations. The may even overturn strategies that provided for their possible occurrence. Because of their conjectural nature, events upset the structures which made them possible” (Explosion 7).

Although Events can be “reabsorbed into the general situation” they also work to “reactivate the movement of both thought and practice”(Explosion 8). In reading this statement, I was struck by the theoretical consistency of this aspect of Lefèbvre’s thought with that of Alain Badiou; both thinkers are on the Left, both have an ambivalent relationship to the French Communist Party, and both were taken for a time with Maoist activism. [1] But perhaps most importantly, both figures are fascinated by the relation of situation to the event. As is becoming well-known (since Badiou is now himself the figure of a translation-cathexis), the relation of event to situation is a complex one. The event, for Lefèbvre and Badiou, has the effect of a singularity; that is to say, the event has no “ordinary” ontological status, while the situation, in its facticity, is ontological precisely because it is structured. As Lefèbvre reminds us, “events upset the structures that made them possible”; thus, because of the “upset,” an event cannot be counted as part of the structure or set that makes up the situation. How Badiou goes on to explain this in Being and Event is that “there are in situation evental sites (sites événementiels), but there is no evental situation” (176). The implications of this contention point toward a spatial problem of inclusion/exclusion. An event, then, has a paradoxical nature. It is composed of the elements of the site, even as it is composed of something outside the count of elements that make up the site; it is composed, in other words, of itself (Being and Event 179). An event is, for Badiou (and I would say, Lefèbvre) a moment or point that resists incorporation or inclusion in the set we could call “situation.” The event is a point of undecidability, since it is both part of the situation, yet is supernumerary to it at the same time. It is a excess that we look at, but cannot see.

This undecidability is, for Lefèbvre, governed by a form of agency in relation to the event of its happening; as he puts it in of Critique of Everyday Life: Volume II, “we will call ‘Moment’ the attempt to achieve the total realization of a possibility. Possibility offers itself; and it reveals itself. It is determined and consequently it is limited and partial …. The Moment wants to be freely total; it exhausts itself in the act of being lived” (Critique 348). Such Moments are here figured as exhibiting desire, and is “perceived, situated, and distanced” (Critique 350). In the argument that follows, I want now to focus more fully on the somatic and visual, as well as the spatial and political dimensions of this problematic. For now, one can say this: the event is perceived, but through a glass darkly; an event is a site, but not counted by the situation; and finally, it is distanced insofar as it is located “on-the-edge-of-the-void” as Badiou puts it. It does not exist, if I can refer to it in Lacanian terms, but “ex-sists” (stands apart) from the situation. The event interposes itself between the void of non-being and the being of the situation. It functions, in the Lacanian sense, as a kind of gaze, disrupting the “stupidity” [2] of the fantasy of absolute perspective offered by the technologies of the eye. The event is a kind of uncanny double of being, or is the “being of non-being” that reveals the gaps and inconsistencies of the situation. Badiou himself points to the French Revolution as an example; like Lefèbvre, Badiou admits that the event can be subsumed into the situation only insofar as we mistakenly insist upon say, the French Revolution or May 1968 for that matter, simply as a signifier of the set of everything that happened during a particular epoch, or, on the other hand, deny its status as excess, and transform it into a discernible, decidable objet. In order to retain the theoretical and material inflections of the event as standing apart from the situation, Lefèbvre ascribes to the Moment a kind of enigmatic desire; the Moment wants to be realized, but the task of the witness is: How? If we ignore this problem, we simply become revolutionaries in the banal sense of the term–a perilous and paranoiac proposition (the annoying alliteration of this phrase should be enough of a warning). This is of course part of the danger lurking in all discourses of revolution; revolution ceases to be a point of undecidability on which we wager, and becomes instead the path of the situation, a highway to freedom (and how often, even now, have people been paved over in the name of the Freedom Expressway)?

We see then that signifiers like revolution, democracy, truth, and love are sites of contestation. But for the purposes of this argument, I will focus largely on Love and its relation to revolution. For Badiou, Love, like revolution, is an event in the sense that it disrupts the situation of the Two who find themselves in this singular edge-of- the-void evental site. Love prompts a shift in the discursive formation of the Subject; for Lacan, in its blindness, “love is a sign that one is changing discourses”(Seminar XX 16). He makes this remark in the context of his exploration of love in Encore, as he extends his discussion of the four discourses he began a few years before in 1969-70, in Seminar XVII L’Envers de la psychanalyse. What are the discourses to which Lacan refers? They are, briefly, the discourses of the Master, the Hysteric, the University, and the Analyst. In the wake of May 1968, Lacan is thinking in this seminar about revolution, the role of analysis in the knowledge of contestation, or how to contest discourses of knowledge (or science, in the French) in the name of enjoyment; indeed, his own seminar was famously disrupted and required a hysterical showdown with several students. [3] The mathemes of the discourses are structured by revolution; love, that “sign that one is changing discourses” is a revolution in the specific way in which the discourses literally turn.

The structure of the discourses is:

agent other truth production

Here are the Lacanian algebraic symbols at work in this structure:

S1 – Master Signifier
S2 – Knowledge (le savoir)
$ – Barred Subject (the bar represents the desire or lack in the subject)
a – Surplus jouissance
⌉ – Impossibility
⌈ – Impotence

Let’s look at some examples:

Master’s Discourse:
S1 ⌉ S2
The Master’s discourse can be summarized in the phrase: “Just do it.”

With a quarter clockwise turn of the formula, it becomes:

The Hysteric’s Discourse:
$ ⌉ S1
a ⌈ S2
The Hysteric’s discourse can be summarized in the phrase “Show me the money!”

With another quarter clockwise turn, it becomes:

The Analyst’s Discourse:
S2 ⌈ S1
The Analyst’s discourse can be captured by two reactions: the Analyst’s Silence; or, “What do you think?”

Finally, a quarter counterclockwise turn of the Master’s Discourse, the formula becomes:

The University Discourse:
S2 ⌉ a
S1 ⌈ $
An aphorism that captures this discourse are edu-corporate slogans like “Leading. Thinking.”

All of these discourses circulate around a point, an event, or what Lacan calls, but does not develop mathematically, as a chiasm, or an X, I hope to take up the problem of the X, what I will here call the engine of the revolution that produces the clockwise or counterclockwise shifts in discourse: Love.

Love is an intersection, a Chiasm, an intertwining, a revolution in the history of what is the Two to-come; in terms of revolution, Merleau- Ponty remarks, in The Visible and the Invisible, that the opening of the body to the affect of colour, (one of his examples is the red of the Revolutionary flag), is an encounter with the resistance or “thickness” of what he calls “the flesh,” which points both to the distinction not only between colour and transparency, between the visible and the invisible, between the tangible and the visible, but also between subject and object (134-35). The flesh is both the medium for encountering the other, but is simultaneously a site of resistance to getting to the “heart of things” and the “sole means” by which to make the attempt. The limit of the body as a visible object and the seeing body are themselves intertwined, but Merleau-Ponty is clear that, in terms of touch, there exists a gap not just between subject and other, but also between subject and himself in touching and being touched. A handy example of this phenomenon is the difference between tearing a band-aid from your wounded body, and having someone else tear it off for you. You feel, in a relative sense, that you can measure the extent of the pain this particular touch will yield, yet you feel, or fear to feel, the pain of that touch much more when the other determines how/when to remove the bandage. This phenomenon is the anxiety of touch. If one could superimpose touching and touched, Merleau-Ponty contends, the subjective experience of touching vanishes. Lacan recognized this gap even as he was teaching Seminar XI, when The Visible and the Invisible was posthumously published. The chiastic intertwining of bodies, the distinction of touching and touched, is mapped onto the split between the eye and the gaze. The relation or non-relation of eye and the gaze follows the same logic; if one were to “see” from the perspective of the gaze, one’s subjective experience of the world disappears. One can only see from one perspective at a time; as his famous example of anamorphosis, Holbein’s The Ambassadors tells us, the eye opens us to the desire of the other, to the fantasy of seeing ourselves from the perspective of the other, since the other gives itself to us as an object of vision that inevitably blinds us (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis 79-90). That is to say, the gaze of the other is a scotoma, a blind spot or plough cutting into the field of vision; the gaze looks, but does not see us. Or, more precisely, because what the gaze sees remains a mystery to us, our anxiety about the other’s desire is predicated on this obscure patch, on not being able to see oneself seeing–we cannot see the other and see the other as we see ourselves at the same time. Lacan’s deft use of Holbein’s painting theorizes the complex ways in which technologies of vision like perpsectival space have a blind spot, a point which Holbein seizes in the production of the double portrait; he combines two vanishing points, two perspectives, in order to suggest that death itself (here figured as the anamorphic skull) is not just a subjective vanishing point, but the point at which the subject vanishes.

The optics of the split between the eye and the gaze, like the optics of the eye itself, is structured by a chiasm. However, the function of the chiasm is not the same in these two economies. In terms of the physiology of the eye, the optic chiasm is the part of the brain where the optic nerves partially cross. Specifically, the nerves that are connected to the right eye that attend to the right visual field intersect with the nerves from the left eye that attend to the left visual field. The parts of both eyes that attend to the right visual field are processed in the left visual system in the brain, and vice versa; in effect, the optic chasm relieves us of the necessity (and the embarrassment) of walking around cross-eyed. But in the chiasm of the eye and the gaze, the crossing of the visual fields does not occur between left and right, but between the subject and the other. They meet at the point of the screen or image that the eye mistakes for the gaze. The gaze is not “inside the scopic field”; rather, the image of the other, produced by the eye’s fantasy of vision, places the subject in the visual field, in a state of visual captation. As a result, the subject is captured, transfixed by the screen that, as Merleau-Ponty tells us, makes vision possible at all (Visible and the Invisible 150). Indeed, the non-relation of eye to gaze is a kind of blinded chiasm; the crossing produces a misrecognition of the screen for the gaze; it is a kind of visual antanaclasis, in which an image is produced in the repetitious desire to see from the perspective of the other as one sees oneself; the gaze of the other is a symptom in that “breaks up” this particular possibility of a relation between the subject and the other. What the subject is then fascinated by is his own blind spot, or the anamorphic inscription of his desire in the gaze. One misrecognizes the screen or image for the gaze of the other, much like a man who, cloaked in a polyester leisure suit, and soaked in Old Spice, sucks in his gut, looks in the mirror, and says “Looking Good!” It reveals the difference, in other words, between an Imaginary Identification and a Symbolic One. It’s rather like Barney’s encounter with David Crosby in an episode of The Simpsons: “David Crosby? I love you! You’re my hero!” Crosby: “Oh, you like my music?” Barney: “You’re a musician??” In this particular example, we see that Barney does not identify with David Crosby the singer and lyricist, the participant in Woodstock’s historic “Three Days of Peace and Love,” but instead as a notorious, yet successful, drunk. True Love, if I can dare call it that, is the hideous recognition of the emptiness of this fantasy; hence the renewed anxiety about one’s “look,” the sudden attention paid to the seen body, when one falls in love. Suddenly, a phalanx of products are brought to bear on the body, scrubbing, polishing, cutting and ex-foliating, in hope of producing another kind of intertwining; one is no longer content with the blandishments of the image, the screen, the mirror, the porn; one surrenders oneself to the event of Love.

But of course, it is not that simple. We have narcissistic reassurance of the image, we have the violence of Love, but is there not a third term? The third term is–lust. One of the differences between lust and love can be captured in Judith Viorst’s chiastic phrase: “Lust is what makes you keep wanting to do it, even when you have no desire to be with each other. Love is what makes you keep wanting to be with each other, even when you have no desire to do it” (Grown-Up Marriage, 37). Another way of coming at the problem is to recall the lyrics to a song by a Canadian band of the mid-1980s called Images in Vogue. Here, in the song Lust for Love, the accusatory stance usually taken by the aggrieved lover is here reversed:

You mistook my lust for love, didn’t you? Didn’t you?
How could you?
Why would you?

Love, in this context, is figured as a hideous, absurd refuge of the parvenu, and lust is its reserved, level-headed counterpart, shocked at the vulgarity of the confession. What this inversion reveals is the perversion of being in love when the other does not acknowledge or feel the event of love. In this regard, it is rather like the sinister perversity of Dido’s song White Flag: “There is no White Flag above my door. I’m in love, and always will be….” Love, in this instance, has become not a confession, but a threat of violence. The declaration of love in the form of a threat occurs in the aftermath of a failed relationship (and what the relation itself unconsciously masks); it is the moment when the other rejects the pressure to enact the fidelity to the event of love. The lover says “I love you” and the other does not happily buckle, does not shyly, joyfully, or cheerfully admit, “I love you, too,” but instead says “What’s that smell?” or “I know (heavy sigh).” Remarks such as these are examples of what Badiou calls illusory love. Love is not merely an imaginary illusion, nor is it the result of the “follies and torments of those in love” (What is Love? 39) that one’s identity as a loving subject is conferred. Why? As Badiou contends, such an assumption would merely reduce love to one of the three definitions of love that will not be retained: fusional or Romantic love (1+1=1); ablative love (1+1=3); or the anamorphosis of Courtly love (1+1=1+1). Instead, Badiou reverses the logic of “follies and torments” that confer the identity of love on the subject, averring, on the contrary, that the identity of the subject is dependent upon the consequence of becoming a subject of love.

Love, like Revolution then, would seem to be a process of becoming, or more specifically, an “amorous consciousness” of the l’avènement or the coming-to of the Two (What is Love? 44), in which the experience of love is not governed by a knowable “Law.” Instead, love throws the subject into the paradox that Lacan insists is crucial to understanding the Cartesian cogito not as “cogito ergo sum,” but rather that the cogito is the subject of the unconscious. In this regard, the cogito experiences a disjunction between thought (knowledge) and being, which Lacan captures in his chiastic phrase “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think” (Écrits 166). If we turn back to love, one can say that it is necessary to keep the detritus of love, its passions, jealousies, its imbrication in sex as a relation, even death itself at bay. For Badiou, love, in order to be theorized, needs the space of “pure logic”–a rhetorical and conceptual mode that informs his allegiance to set theory, to the event, and to the situation.

So let me now return to Revolution as a turning that transforms discourses; love is a form of revolution that suggests a re-imagining of one’s encounter with the other. Of course, love is ambivalent; this is not the love of Failure to Launch or Maid in Manhattan. Thinking of love as an event belies its subsumption into reassuring pabulum about “liking Pina Coladas, and gettin’ caught in the rain.” The re- imagining of love as an event brings us to a particular juncture; the chiasm can help us think through the problems of impotence and impossibility in Lacan’s discourses. As a rhetorical figure, chiasm is a form of inverted parallelism, which can reveal radical turns of events at the point of its crossing. The torsion of the chiasm is analogous to the kind of torsion one finds in a joke or surprise ending. The chiasm’s function then is to bring into relief an element which falls outside, for which we cannot account. As Christian Bök explains in his reading of chiasm as syzygia, one of the effects of the inversion is that it maintains the tension between conjoining and disjoining to bring into focus the “neglected part of the pair” that constitutes a binary (‘Pataphysics, 41). The void that ex-sists in the intertwining, in the chiasm, is one way of thinking about the event which, in Badiou’s phrase, is “something which had its own identity beyond the count, which was not taken account of” (Ethics 134). The utility of this figure as a means of thinking through the site of the edge-of- the-void occurs in the clash between discourses; whereas Lacan thinks of the subject as an “empty set,” Badiou prefers to figure the subject as a consequence of an event (Badiou: A Subject to Truth 144). What is crucial to understanding the implications of the empty set as consequence emerges in the paradox that the chiasm plays with; Lorenzo Chiesa usefully theorizes that the real is structured by the enunciation of the nothing in order to think or “originate” as the affirmation of a something, or that the impossible can either precede or institute the possible (“Count-as-one, Forming-into-one, Unary trait, S1,”164). By constructing and interrogating how these discourses grind against each other, Lacan, in my view, is attempting to think, in broader terms, about the connections between and among love, revolution, and surplus enjoyment to work out the subject’s knotty, yet partial, relation to truth.

By way of explanation, I want to turn to a film version of a Jean Giraudoux play called The Madwoman of Chaillot. One of the interesting things about this version (starring Katharine Hepburn, Charles Boyer, Yul Brynner, Giulietta Masina, Edith Evans and Danny Kaye) is that it was filmed in Paris in the fateful spring of 1968. Bryan Forbes, the self-confessed reactionary director, incorporated footage taken from the marches and demonstrations that took place that May into this text about toppling capitalism in the name of love and beauty. This footage functions as a kind of “hole” in the film, an event “on-the-edge-of-the-void” that is both singular and incongruous in the context of the rest of the film; the dialogue itself is brittle and artificial, evoking a campy re-imagining of Art Nouveau, while the demonstration footage is more akin to the visual logic of that generic darling of the 1960s, cinéma vérité. The film is a kind of camp allegory, which places these two scopic regimes together without permitting them to coalesce into a whole; for me, it is the radical collision of these regimes, the uncanniness of their conjoined disjuncture as montage, that constitutes the event of the film, while their discourses constitute the situation of the narrative. The film simultaneously refuses to be seduced by the discourse of truth attendant to cinéma vérité, even as it fragments the discourse of realism ideologically produced by Hollywood cinema. It transforms the event of May 1968 into an allegory that does not sanctify this historical moment, but ironizes its energy as profane illumination, in Walter Benjamin’s use of the term. In his complex reading of allegory, Benjamin theorizes the profane as a site of expression that tarries with the excesses of convention; allegory stages, through ruin and decay, the gap or eventual site left open with the collapse of the sacred. The expression of allegory, its truth, can only appear in a particular interpretative relation to the destruction and collision of conventions (Origin 175-85). In the film, the Countess Aurelia, Madwoman of Chaillot (Hepburn), living in a naïve, contented fantasy that she moves through the Paris of 1900, abruptly discovers that the world she inhabits is no longer happy, beautiful, and free. Freedom has been usurped by free enterprise, by the entrepreneurial spirit (contra Bush–who says the French don’t know what the word means?). She learns that a consortium is planning to blow up Paris in order to drill for oil. Significantly, her dreamworld is simultaneously shattered and strangely buoyed by this news. The appropriation of happiness in the name of the agent knowledge (capitalism, as we know, embodies the discourse of “Leading. Thinking” since it imagines leading is thinking) in turn leads the Countess to the very revolutionary, Badiouesque conclusion that one must act from the position of knowing the place “from where politics prescribes the state” (qtd. in Hallward 227) and proceed accordingly. Having heard that a cabal of businessmen want to extract the oil that apparently runs under Paris, she hatches a revolutionary plot; claiming to be a prospector who has discovered a rich deposit of crude oil under her house, she decides to invite all the capitalists:

My dear Mr. President: I have personally verified the existence of a spontaneous outcrop of oil in the cellar of Number 21 Rue de Chaillot, which is at present occupied by a dignified person of unstable mentality. This explains why, fortunately for us, the discovery has so long been kept secret. If you should wish to verify the existence of this outcrop for yourself, you may call at the above address at 3 P.M. today.

On the surface, her reaction would appear to be that of the hysteric; she points the way toward knowledge. Her discourse, which is that of the Hysteric, is in conflict with capitalism, a version of the discourse of the University. If you turn back to Lacan’s mathemes, you will notice that they are, of course, inversions of each other, grinding against each other in the spaces of clock-and-counter-clockwise. If in the Hepburn character, “the chiasm reveals a cleavage ‘not for Itself for the Other’ but rather it is more exactly that between someone who goes into the world and who from the exterior, seems to remain in [her] own ‘dream’” (Visible and the Invisible 214), then the chiastic clash of discourses suggests two constructions. These two discourses attempt to occupy the same discursive plane at the same time; if we read them chiastically, we arrive at the following conclusions:

University Discourse + Hysteric’s Discourse = S2 ⌉ a $ ⌉ S1

S1 ⌈ $ a ⌈ S2
1. Mastery of Surplus Enjoyment is the Surplus Enjoyment of Mastery

2. Subject’s Knowledge is that Knowledge is the Subject

These are not, I hope, Heideggerian tautologies, but paradoxes that point to the minimal difference for which the Analyst’s Discourse (which attempts to occupy the space of surplus enjoyment, the space of revolution) has a way out. As Alenka Zupancic has recently theorized, the notion of tautology is disrupted by the very minimal difference that emerges in the placement on the sides of both the subject and the other. [4] The chiastic shift provokes, by way of being the non-being of an event, but does not guarantee the following: The Surplus Enjoyment of Language (nonsense) produces the truth/knowledge of the Subject; this “truth” is what Lacan insists can only be taught as a form of reading, not as a form of writing (Encore, 37). If you look again at the Analyst’s discourse, the agency of residing in the position of Analyst (of surplus jouissance) is that which exceeds the production of mastery. It is the truth of this knowledge, or truth as process, that permits the subject to recognize the torsion and torture of the gap in subjectivity as possibility or a chance on which to gamble. The structure of this knowledge is perforce subjective; it is not nonsensical in the usual sense of the term. Rather, analytic truth must “speak” to the analysand, but, from the analysand’s perspective, appear enigmatically nonsensical to the analyst. In order to claim this truth as one’s own, it must somehow remain opaque or blind to the analyst. If the analyst appears to have this truth “ready to hand,” that this truth is already a constituted object, then the analytic truth loses its enjoyment. The axis of this revelation is the revolution produced by the event of love. Love, as Lacan tells us, is “giving what you don’t have” (Seminar VIII 147). In her loving shift from Hysteric to Analyst, the Countess functions as the agent of surplus enjoyment, the objet petit a, who gives the capitalists, the prospectors, and the public relations men exactly what she does not have (the desire for the precious knowledge/possession of the oil). She gives them what she lacks–her desire. In a twist worthy of Poe, she leads them to the cellar, to the edge of a void, to the empty labyrinth that lies behind the vaulted door to the Paris sewers; she leads them toward the knowledge of pure enjoyment–the path they’ve been on all along–the path of the death drive:

Countess: You don’t suppose, by any chance, there is oil down there?
Sewer Man: There’s only death down there (Madwoman of Chaillot 41).

What to make of this particular ending? What seems bizarre is that it requires so much psychic production, so much work, to justify the jouissance of the Other, or as Lacan puts it, knowledge (knowledge is the jouissance of the Other). The “madness” of the Countess’s discourse, that is, that she hystericizes the discourse of capitalism, produces the nonsensical truth of the capitalist’s desire (which of course, is only partial, half-said). But the question remains: the truth for whom? Clearly not the capitalists, who cheerfully get themselves out of the way with dispatch. The truth lies elsewhere, in its relation to revolution. As Lacan contends in L’Envers de la psychanalyse, he has been trying to get analysts (here he singles out women analysts, specifically) “à confondre la vérité avec la révolution” (Seminar XVII 62) or, in English, “to confuse [analytic] truth with revolution.” Revolution then, like truth, is a process; for Lacan, they are intertwined by love. Of course, the Countess plays a joke on them, a dangerous, killing joke; but this joke is precisely that of the chiastic logic of the event. The joke is that which escapes being by standing on-the-edge-of-the-void; the capitalists encounter the “being of non- being,” but, in keeping their appointment, they miss it. They choose the repetition of death drive, and death, (neither of which should not be confused with an event in Badiou’s sense), over the event of revolution as a form of intervention. The capitalists and their ilk have misidentified the object of the drive (capital itself) with the aim of the drive (repetition). The absence of the object, the fact that there is no oil to be plundered, disrupts what Lacan, in an awkward pun, calls “la pulsion en fait le tour” (Seminar XI 168). In other words, the purpose of the drive (pulsion) is not only to go around the object (fait le tour), but also to “trick” (tour) the object into thinking that the goal and the aim of the drive are coterminous. As the film version of Giraudoux’s play shows, the men are stopped in the very circuit of the drive. They have tricked themselves into a fantasy of direct access to the object of the drive. We see performed, allegorically, wittily, a “politics of the impossible,” as if one could enact a political revolution simply by getting rid of a few capitalists (a fantasy similar to the conclusion of the film Fight Club, which stages the fantasy of blowing up the debts accrued through credit). The Countess, I would argue, does not discern what is to be done about the unhappiness of the world; rather, she decides what to do by making herself both an actor and a target of the event, which by definition is itself undecidable. She stages what Badiou calls an “intervention” that is active, not reactive. It is, in a political sense, a leap of faith, recognizing that the circumstance of the greed for oil under Paris has presented itself as the Moment, as Lefèbvre would put it, when action has presented itself to be taken. The leap of faith the Countess takes is in the name of love. She is not the disinterested onlooker, gazing passively at the revolution, but is a participant in the way an analyst must be in the analytic session. The analyst’s function is to intercept a moment in the analysis when one can speak not to the ego, but to the unconscious of the analysand. In political terms, the Countess chooses the moment when intervention is necessary, not the moment when circumstances dictate themselves to the participants. [5] The moment appears, as Slavoj Žižek contends in The Sublime Object of Ideology, at the moment when the lost or failed attempts at revolution come together and crystallize in the future (141-42). This future is now. In recognizing and articulating that she had missed her appointment with love so many years ago, the Countess meditates upon the ruin of her life, and offers a young couple a chance to redeem what she has lost. At the close of the play, she brings a young man and woman (Roderick and Irma) together, pushing them not toward a discernment of their love for each other, but toward a fidelity of the event of love:

It’s three hours since you’ve met and known and loved each other. Kiss each other quickly. Look at him. He hesitates. He trembles. Happiness frightens him….How like a man! Oh, Irma, kiss him! Kiss him! If two people who love each other let a single instant wedge itself between them, it grows–it becomes a month, a year, a century; it becomes too late. Kiss him, Irma, kiss him while there is time, or in a moment his hair will be white and there will be another madwoman in Paris. [They kiss.] Bravo! Oh, if only you’d had the courage to do that thirty years ago, how different I would be today! …. Well, there we are. The world is saved. And you see how simple it all was? Nothing is ever so wrong in this world that a sensible woman can’t set it right in the course of an afternoon. Only, next time, don’t wait until things begin to look black. The minute you notice anything, tell me at once…. Well let’s go on to more important things…. My poor cats must be starved. What a bore for them if humanity had to be saved every afternoon. They don’t think much of it, as it is (72).

In this bizarre speech, she transforms the couple into allegorical doubles, standing in nostalgically and nonsensically for the Countess and her lover decades ago. Their love redeems the past by negating its melancholy by proxy; in her role as analyst, the Countess reveals their desire to them by pointing to her own ruination. If we can return one last time to Lacan’s discourses, you may have noticed that the encounter of a (surplus enjoyment) and $ (subject) in the Analyst’s discourse bears a striking similarity to the fantasy of perversion (a $); what distinguishes them is that, unlike the pervert or sadist, the analyst does not attempt to effect have a direct relation to the analysand. The truth that the analysand comes to is itself through an indirect torsion, and is a function of the chiasm I described previously: the Surplus Enjoyment of Language (nonsense) is one bar of the X; this nonsense produces the truth/knowledge of the Subject, or, the Other bar of the X. The fact that this truth cannot be fully said or seen is a function of the gaze, the scotoma that appears in the crossing of these two bars. That is to say, the psychoanalytic act functions as a recognition that the “hystericizations” of the patient’s discourse (the silences, the provocations lurking in such phrases as “What do you think?,” “How do you feel about that?,” “That’s all for today,” “Why do you want to be happy?,” or “Why do you love your depression?,” etc.) are interventions prompting the analysand to enunciate the possible from the impossible, to let it, the analysand’s Truth, speak. The problem psychoanalysis confronts in its attempts to work through a relation to history is that it must produce a distinction of relation between, for example, the traumatic event and what would seem to be its “situation.” The rehearsal of the situation does not speak merely to the “repression” of the event; rather, the confusion of situation and event by the analysand is the repeated search for precisely this distinction–a distinction for which the situation cannot account. If event and situation are indeed separated, then the analysis is not engaged in a flight from history, but in a fidelity to the event as truth-procedure by the investigating the gap produced by the minimal differences produced by the chiastic relation of analyst to analysand. [6] In other words, the successful analysis relieves the analysand of the paranoiac burden of forcing the event to be reconciled, or to be accounted for, by the situation. The fulfillment of this fantasy of vision, that truth can be made transparent by the situation, is an attempt to give a narrative texture to the void in the subject. This gesture ignores the chiastic torsion, the intertwining, that produces this void or knot in the subject. [7] In psychoanalytic terms, the hysteric must refuse it, insist that the fulfillment is not it, because it would mean that the question of her desire had been adequately answered; the problem or limit that informs the hysteric’s insight is that she perpetually reads each new iteration of the situation as yet another traumatic event–an even which must be avoided at all costs. In such a relation, the hysteric insists that there is no distance between herself and her desire. As a result, the blind chance that informs the hysterical symptom arising from the evental site, that informs its “falling together,” is too easily transformed into a symbol that can be adequately accounted for and anticipated by the situation. As a site of resistance, her body would calm and transform what Henri Lefèbvre calls the “blind field,” a space that is lived, into a determined point on the grid of ideology (Urban Revolution 31). By way of comparison, one could say that the political hysteric persistently reads the situation as the event, while the political conservative reads the event as another element of the situation. Ultimately, both conceits suggest a fidelity not to the event, but to witting or unwitting preservation of the status quo. As both Lefèbvre and Badiou insist, these impulses must be resisted. Instead, the analytic truth is the event that one can call “the end of the analysis.” If we return to The Madwoman of Chaillot, what becomes apparent in the text is that the Madwoman’s patient is not capitalism or capitalists; it is everyone else in the play! She functions allegorically in the sense that she brings the revolution full circle; it is crucial that she does not have any revolutionary aspirations. If she did, then she would simply be another Hysteric, hectically seeking a Master. She does not promise utopia, she does not make any telic claims about knowing what History has in store; rather, she operates locally, specifically, acting only when circumstances look ominous. She retains a fidelity to the event as a process that has been, as Walter Benjamin famously put it, “singled out at a moment of danger … Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives this configuration a shock” (Illuminations 262). This moment of danger, this “tarrying with the excess,” as Alenka Zupancic puts it, [8] provides the trembling subject with an agency that is governed by taking responsibility for one’s desire in the gap produced in the structure of the situation. Knowing that Roderick cannot be her lover (in a nice irony, Roderick is played by Richard Chamberlain), that this transference is a fantasy, the Countess instead points toward a truth that comes in the impossible that precedes the possible: the intertwining, the kiss of two lovers. Her act initiates a revolution that does not end, but continues to turn, and the engine of that turning is the event of love.

Like Truth, revolution is thus marked by chance — the gap between the event on the edge of the void, or that the impossible has happened, and its articulation in action. But let us think briefly about the relation between these two words: aleatory and event. Modernity is not contingency, Lefèbvre contends (contradicting Baudelaire); it is aleatory. It is dependent on a throw of the dice, on “a dialectical unity between necessity and chance, where chance expresses a necessity and necessity expresses itself via a network of chances” (Introduction to Modernity 202-03). What do we make of this particular chiasm? In this text, Lefèbvre avers that gaps exist in the spaces set up by this intertwining, which inverts through repetition. The aleatory is, for Lefèbvre, Modernity’s continuing potential for revolutionary praxis. Capitalism, like Modernity, has the fantasy of producing a completely abstract space, a space in which counter- space, an uncanny opposition, cannot be permitted to exist. But as the chiastic figure deployed suggests, Modernity is not a “structure” in some overarching sense. It is chiastic in that the figure of intertwining reveals an inherent instability that is produced by the relation of need to chance. Need produces the situation that cannot be accounted for by the appearance of the evental site, but, in response, the situation then fetishizes that which persists or remains beyond need; need is the process of repetition that fails to account for chance, that which disrupts “business-as-usual.” Intervention is a kind of wager on the space produced by the event; as Badiou says, reminding us of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés, “wagering that something has taken place cannot abolish the chance of it having- taken-place” (Being and Event 201). The moment of intervention is thus unconscious; it is not working toward a taxonomy of the event, but deciding how to be faithful to its undecidability. It is the decision itself, made in the name of process, not progress, that alters our relation to the situation, and being prepared to accept responsibility for its consequences; and one of those consequences is the emergence of the subject itself.


[1] See Daniel Bensaid, “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Ed. Peter Hallward. New York: Continuum, 2004, 94-105 and Rob Shields, Lefèbvre, Love and Struggle: Spatial Dialectics. New York: Routledge, 1999, 106-07, 90. Of course, it must be said that Badiou’s politics are leftist in scope, but not aligned with a parliamentary party. See Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2001, 98-100.
[2] See Lacan’s discussion of stupidity as revealing a necessary limit to discourse, a limit that must be “nourished” in order to be put “in its rightful place” through analysis in Seminar XX: Encore – On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998, 14.
[3] For a provocative reading of this encounter, see Joan Copjec, “May ‘68, The Emotional Month” Lacan: The Silent Partners. Ed. Slavoj Žižek. London: Verso, 2006, 90-114.
[4] Alenka Zupancic, The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003, 167.
[5] In this respect, the Countess can be thought of as a camp version of Lenin. See Vladimir Lenin, “The Crisis Has Matured (29 Sept. 1917),” Selected Works, 348-50.
[6] Badiou’s rigorous distinction between situation and event has been described as an attempt to “refuse” history and render politics an “unthinkable” concept. See Bensaid, “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event,” 100-06. Yet it preserves a space for action by any subject to break away from the situation and re-imagine a political relation to the event, not the situation.\
[7] Bruno Bosteels, “On the Subject of the Dialectic” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, 159-61.
[8] Alenka Zupancic, “The Fifth Condition” Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, 196-97.

A Problem of Scientific Influence
B. Burgoyne and Darian Leader

Authors’ Bios

In October 1895, Freud completed a work that has since been given a multiplicity of titles by its various editors. This nameless work remained unpublished for fifty-five years before receiving a first name, given by the editors of the original German publication: Princess Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris. The baldness of this first baptizing led to their choice being subsequently abandoned, but the original title under which Freud’s Project made its name in the world was Entwurf einer Psychologie – “Project for a Psychology”. Already however, in this 1950 edition, the editors were drawing attention to the similarity of theme, and probability of influence, between Freud’s work and a text published in 1894 by Freud’s teacher and colleague, Sigmund Exner: “Project for a Psychological Interpretation of Psychical Phenomena”. The term “project” which is common to both titles is lost in the current Spanish translation of Freud’s Works, where the Exner work is translated as “Intento de explication…” and in this willingness to ignore words, the translators follow in the footsteps of the 1954 English translation, where the Exner title appeared as “Outline of a Physiological Explanation…”. The relation between psychology and physiology in these two works has been fairly inadequately treated: there are a number of complex problems involved, none of which lead to the commonly made assumption that physiology has priority over psychology in Freud’s text. In a tradition that tends to rely on science only as a source of authority, physiology is often treated as a synonym for the scientific base of psychological research, yet it is clear that the physiological work of Freud’s colleagues is unintelligible without the consideration of detailed philosophical assumptions and arguments that are germane to their work. The hypothesis that such a scientific orientation was adopted, and then soon left behind by Freud misrepresents the problems of science that Freud was grappling with; and distorts any proper perspectives on the subsequent development of his work. The theme of a scientific psychology, so lacking in these variant titles, reopens the field of problems that enable one to grasp the conceptual framework of nineteenth century German psychology, and to bring to light the way in which desire is the real problematic of Freud’s Project. Standard categories such as ‘mechanism’, ‘materialism’, ‘biologism’, or ‘psychophysics’ are impotent in the face of the problem of reconstructing the real nature of the influences on Freud’s work, and help only in eliminating from the Freud literature the key variable of desire.

The 1950 editors had named the Project by taking Freud’s own words – in a truncated form: the phrase that Freud uses in the introductory preamble to his work is “it is the intention of this project to provide a scientific psychology”, and it is this fuller phrase that James Strachey chose to reinstate for his 1954 English translation: “Project for a Scientific Psychology”. It was the dual theme thus resuscitated that created the earliest style of interpretation of Freud’s project during the 1950s: the aim of the Project according to these schools was to create a scientific theory of the mind, based on the kind of physiological principles found in Exner. Implicitly, this orientation is followed in the Spanish translation of the Project, which in addition reverts to yet another title for Freud’s work – this time one formed by a criss-crossing of themes, picking up the term “project” from the beginning of the work, and conjoining it to a phrase used in a letter to Fliess, “the psychology for neurologists”. This obscures the problem of the nature of science, and in particular the problem of the variety of the scientific programmes adopted by Freud, and their possible coherence. Jones represents this tradition, when he says of the Project in his 1953 biography of Freud, “one suspects that an important immediate stimulus” was Exner’s Project; James Strachey represents the end of its domination when he says in the commentary to his second translation of the Project, prepared for volume One of the Standard Edition in 1966 that the aims of the project can be compared “with Exner (1894), with a similar title and a similar programme, very differently carried out”.

The equating of the aims of Exner’s programme with those of Freud’s has produced also a secondary gain. Both in Freud’s time and in ours, the stress on problems of the body at the expense of consideration of relations between the body and the mind has paradoxically had the effect of desexualizing the motives of psychoanalysis: as Freud reports in his Introductory Lectures, the triumphant discovery of the theme of childbirth as an underlying leitmotif in many cases of hysteria provided those authorities who were looking for it with the semblance of a refutation of Freud’s general theory of sex. The physiological reductionist is generally led to the same conclusion about psychoanalysis: “there’s nothing sexual about childbirth”.

The sexual nature of feeding at the breast has recently been denied by an author attempting to provide a “comprehensive intellectual biography” of Freud, and the grounds for the denial turn out to be that Freud was supposedly a “crypto-biologist”, influenced by “psychophysics”, and thus unable to avoid the distortion of clinical findings by this prior commitment to metaphysics. Such absurdities are fairly common in the literature that tries to construct programmes of influence on Freud’s work, thereby hoping to tame Freud’s clinical work by subjecting it to a world-view. In Sulloway’s case, this search for influencing “myths” leads him to attempt to describe the Project in some detail, without making one single reference to desire. The problem of desire is juggled away by a large proportion of authors writing on the Project. Perhaps it is time to center the question of influence on this question of the place of desire.

In Strachey’s revised translation, the frequent references to desire (”Begierde”) in the German original of Freud’s text are always rendered by the term “craving”. Why Strachey opted for this avoidance of desire is unclear: the hypothesis that he preferred to censor terms that he took to be redolent of Hollywood in favor of terms that he took to be allusive of science, is as likely as any. Clearly a problem at issue is of how to iquestions of the nature of desire within a scientific theory – and it precisely this embarrassment that led to the invention of the “schools of influence” put forward by interpreters of Freud’s work in the 1950s. Siegfried Bernfeld’s important papers of the late 1940s set the initial terms of the debate. His labeling of a tradition within the’ German scientific tradition as “the Helmholtz School of Medicine” set the fashion for a historiography founded on “schools”; it has subsequently been shown in numerous articles, that there was simply no such thing as a school of Helmholtz. Those writers who uncritically adopted Bernfeld’s term were led to the relative discounting of the “schools of Naturphilosophie” and of “vitalism” present in nineteenth century German science. This in turn led many commentators to assume that well-established explanatory categories were readily available, and that, for the most part, they were made up of taditions local to the circumstances of Freud’s writing, and as often as not created in the work of his colleagues. Jones, for example, claims to spot the influence of the “Helmholtz-Brucke school…powerfully reinforced by Meynert”, whilst using this orientation to speculate that the term “quantity… is probably derived from Breuer”. Now there is no doubt that this term “quantity” derives from the German psychologist who first introduced the idea that the structure of the mind underlying the production of the qualities of experience is amenable to the language of mathematics, Johann Friedrich Herbart, who had these themes from the very beginning of the nineteenth century. That Jones is oblivious of this merely indicates that the pioneering work of Maria Dorer, which he cites, on the immense influence on Freud of Herbart, has been largely unread. The theme of the relation of Freud and Herbart had first been introduced by Louise von Karpinska, in 1914, but Dorer’s book produced an extensive development of Karpinska’s claim, detailing common themes in Herbart and Freud at length. The topics she works on include the following herbartian concepts – threshold of consciousness; repression; the generation of a field of forces from the conflictual interaction of mental representations; the corresponding interrelation of the domains of quality and quanta and quantity; the energy of free and bound representations; inhibition; the relation of drives to instincts; the narrowness of consciousness, and its dependency on mental representations; the determination the ego through the conflict between repressed and unrepressed representations; the dependency of perception, observation, reproduction and affect on the domain of representations; the notion of rows and networks of representations, and the dependency of the concepts of space and time on these networks; the concepts of good and bad in drive functioning, the partial working of the nervous system; and desire and affect as determined by the conflict and tension within the network of representations. Affect, by the way, Herbart understood as the “ending of peace of mind” brought about by the conflictual effect of the network of representations on the body, and on the structure of the mind. All of these themes therefore, were understood to be part of the influence of Herbart on Freud, by anyone familiar with Dorer’s work, and within the psychoanalytical tradition, from as early as 1932. It is common in the modern literature for this work of Dorer’s to be saluted as a significant source, without any detailed reference to the content of her arguments, as is done, for instance, in the Doctoral thesis of Lothar Julicher. So the real tradition of Herbart has not had any effective influence in the contemporary formulations of the problem of the relation of physiological and psychological variables in Freud’s work. Jones, in his Freud biography, seems confused about all of these influences. He talks about the “slight volume” by Dorer, and contrasts it to the “huge tome” by Exner. Both of these writings are in fact comparable to a book of normal length, and given that some German psychology texts of the 1890’s extend to well over a thousand pages, there is something clearly amiss with Jones’s standards of comparison.

What any of these later commentators could have noticed, if they had attended to it, is that Herbart is emphatic in claiming that psychology, in the mathematical mode that he gives it, is a grounding for the sciences of space and time, and that physiology in particular is a derivative of psychology. There thus appears the opposite motive from that proclaimed by Exner in his title. The mathematician Riemann, in particular, could have enlightened readers of the Jones history as to the most appropriate formulation of the study of quantity in Herbart’s psychology. Riemann took the mind to be subjected to the dynamics of representations (Vorstellungen), governed by a herbartian calculus, “the psychic-masses occurring in the soul appear to us as representations: their varying internal state determines the changing qualities of these representations”. The “reproduction of a representation” Riemann took to be the most general and “simplest” element of the subsequent theory of thinking, and the further development of these theories led both Riemann and Herbart to develop a theory of the mental space of representations. In his Psychologie als Wissenschaft of 1824, Herbart writes: “psychological phenomena are not in space, but space itself…The question is not where sensations come from, but how sensations acquire the from of space”, and apart from the work of Gauss on geometry, these hervartian motives are the only antecedents cited by Riemann in the programme of work which was to become its own non-Euclidean formulation of a new basis for the theory of space. Psychologists such as Helmholtz were clearly aware of this development, and hence cognizant of the orientation or Herbart’s program. The main text in which the outlines of Herbart’ s program are announced is this Psychology as Science, a title in fact much closer to Freud’s themes of 1895 than are the phrases of Exner’s tome. Compare the openings of the two books: Herbart’s Psychology as a Science starts with the following preamble: – Die Absicht dieses werkes… The intention of this work lies in bringing about an investigation of the mind similar to the researches of the natural sciences … and to trace mental phenomena through an examination of the facts, through careful conclusions, through reasoned, proved, determined hypotheses, finally – where it can be done – through the consideration of quantities, and through reckoning.” Freud’s project starts with the following phrases: Es ist die Absicht dieses Entwurfs… It is the intention of this project to produce a psychology that is like a natural science, that is to say, to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determined states of specifiable material parts, and thereby to present them in a demonstrable and consistent way.”

So where can Freud have found these herbartian themes? There exist in the literature various tales about the sources of Freud’s knowledge of Herbart, but they seem fairly mythical. However, one which has not yet to our knowledge been indicated in the literature is Wilhelm Fridolin Velkmann von Volkmar, the fourth edition of whose psychology text appeared in two volumes in 1894 and 1895. Freud is mentioned in this 94/95 edition, as is Breuer, and it would seem probable that Freud knew of the work for this reason alone. Quite independently of this, Freud would have encountered Volkmann’s work through his contacts with Brentano. In the 1874 and later editions of Brentano’s psychology text, Volkmann is mentioned as a herbartian: indeed Volkmann changed the title of his book radically on its second edition in 1875, paralleling the title chosen by Brentano, so there are some grounds for believing that Volkmann saw his book as contesting the same field as that covered by Brentano, but from a different “standpoint”, this second standpoint being the program developed by Herbart.

So what does this display? The conjuring away of desire we have shown to be implicit in the program of physiological reduction of Freud’s work. The other side of this coinage is apparent when the content of Volkmann’s herbartian program is investigated: in this work, the theme of desire is ubiquitous. There are clearly themes of desire in Freud’s Dream-book and also in his Project, but there is only one reference to Herbart in the former, where Freud quotes from the 1892 re-issue of Herbart’s Collected Works. The text he refers to is Herbart’s Psychology as a Science, and the [text is lost] statement in such terms seems more scientific”. Volkmann was certainly concerned with the problem of psychology as a science, but as a preliminary, he took it that a study of the construction of the concepts of space and time was necessary, and that this study; was to be based on the functioning of Vorstellungen. The consequence of this particular dynamics of the mind would include a theory of the representation of the body, an account of the localization and projection of sensation, a theory of the external object, of perception, of sense-deception, and of hallucination. Moreover, Volkmann moves from this to an account of the ego viewed from three orientations: the ego as a sensational and desiring body, as a reproducing and desiring inner structure, and as a thinking and willing subject. The themes he raises in this account are the problem of inner perception, and self-consciousness and attention, and the thematic of abnormalities of the ego. He concludes with an account of thinking and desire, in particular the themes of concept, judgment, and deduction, and the relation of emotion and affect to Vorstellung, sensation, and thinking. Under the investigation of the structure of desire he includes the concept and varieties of desire, and their relation to the concept of satisfaction, the relation of satisfaction to Vorstellungen and to affect, the question of the interaction of desires, and the bearing of this problem on the distinction between drive and instinct. The final themes of the book constitute formulations of the problems in the relation of freedom, reason, passion and action. The earlier themes had included the questions of mediated and unmediated Vorstellungs-dynamics, the relation of old Vorstellungen to newly acquired ones, the fixation of Vorstellungen, the function of sleep, and the interaction of mind and body. Reflex movement, instinctual movement, and the transformations brought about by the development of speech, are investigated in the context of the question of the functioning of memory and imagination, and in particular the dream as a function of unmediated reproduction, and the general ability of a mathematical psychology to analyze the whole of these notions. The famous list of “24 themes” which Jones gives as his summary of the Project, together with the whole of Jones’s gloss on these themes, can best be fitted into the volkmannian scheme, rather than into some physiologized “scientific” schemata.

The formulations of desire in the herbartian tradition owe their construction to Herbart’s debt to Leibniz. The action of an internal principle “which effectuates the change or the passage from one perception to another”, is taken by Herbart to constitute the notion of the displacement of one Vorstellung towards, or away from, another representation, which process he takes to be the operation of desire. It is this tradition which leads Volkmann to talk of the “release of the tension” of desire in relation to the experience of satisfaction, a notion recapitulated in Freud’s Project, where Freud writes “the tension of desire dominates in the ego”. Now, not only are the terms desire and wish often interchanged and regularly misrepresented in other ways by translators of the Project, but this particular statement appears regurgitated in the French translation as “une aspiration ardente cree dans le moi une certaine tension”, and in the first of Strachey’s two translations as “the craving involves a state of tension in the ego” – a version faithfully and literally repeated in the Spanish translation. That the tension is not in the ego but within the structure of desire, and that the ego is dominated by this state of desire are two immediate consequences of Freud’s text, both lost completely in these translations. That the desire is generative of states of wishing, and of expectation, as well as of all forms of thinking, is something that we can only expect to be garbled in most existing translations. We hope that it is clear from these comments that any translation undertaken from within the herbartian tradition would have felt no temptation to produce such tamperings with Freud’s text.

The theory of the ego in Herbart is constructed on the notion that the antagonism between Vorstellungen needs to produce the transcendence (Aufhebung) of a Vorstellung as a prerequisite to the functioning of the ego. This is developed into a distinction between mediated and unmediated reproduction of Vorstellungen, and the notion of mediated reproduction in Herbart seems to bear exactly upon the notion introduced by Freud in the Project under the heading of “reproductive thinking”. Herbart’s description of this process is as follows: “a complex a + αis reproduced by means of a new perception which is similar to a”, whereupon this complex finds itself opposed by a complex a + β where β is antagonistic to α: an example of this being the following the perception of a trout brings to mind the complex of a fishing-holiday where one catches trout; this comes into conflict with the complex attaching to the trout of the need to work, which inhibits the affect-less presentation of the first complex. Herbart’s comment is that “the α is the source of an unpleasant feeling, which may pass over into desire, namely towards the through – α -reproduced object, in cases where the inhibition through β is weaker than the push from α”. The formulation in Freud is the following: first the primary succession of association is determined as taking place in the absence of antagonistic interaction with other invested neurones. Secondly, the process of reproductive thinking is constructed as a secondary process, operating through the conflict between investments. Thirdly, the

Herbart example of the two complexes a + α, a + β, is congruent to Freud’s presentation of the two complexes a + b, a + c in reproductive thinking. The most famous instantiation of this is given by Freud in terms of the child’s relation to the breast: the complex a + b is the wished for perception of the breast-with presented-nipple, and if a + c is the presentation of the breast-allowing-adverse- access, then a + c mayor may not allow a path to be traveled from it towards a representation of the desired-object. In this field of the relation of Vorstellung and desire, Freud and Herbart regularly turn out to be attempting to solve the same problem.

What then is the problem of desire? The antagonism between representations in Herbart is prior to the construction of the ego, just as the tension of desire is given priority by Freud over the functionings of the ego. As a consequence, the dialectic of desire exists for both authors on a level that is presupposed in object- relations, and this is very unfortunate for any reading that wants to set up the ego as an autonomous zone, free from such conflicts. It is in these same texts that one finds the claim that the ego is structured as a symptom: “(the particular characteristics of hysterical compulsion) hyper-intense representations confer on the ego its special properties”. It can be seen that” in these circumstances, most of the classical theories of thinking devised within the traditions of philosophy, are challenged by such results from within the domain of psychology and psychoanalysis. No world-view can govern psychoanalysis, since thinking, and particularly scientific thinking, is subject to the results flowing from its domain. Hence, it seems, Freud set out to write the Project, and hence, it seems, he worked within the psychological tradition of Herbart.

Still, the “Helmholtz tradition” was meant to be a powerful image within the field of science, and some authors are still convinced by it. There is still a prevalent notion in the history of the life sciences that science takes over from philosophy, and this attitude is exemplified by Holt’s remark that the Project was “a) 1 ambitious attempt to be as scientific, in the nineteenth-century helmholtzian sense, as possible, which meant to be rigorously materialistic and mechanistic”. In the Bernfeld myth, the Helmholtz position is presented as an assertion of the dominance of physiology, whereas those who were working closely with Helmholtz were aware that the relation between psychology and physiology constituted a problem, to which duBois- Reymond’s extremism represented an infuriated reaction of impotence. The confusion, however, as regards the nature and prestige of science, is long-standing. Even Merz, in his turn-of-the- century classic survey of European thought, says “Muller’s school has the merit of having … chased away the vague notions of the older metaphysical school, and diffused the truly scientific spirit”. However, Merz has at least the merit of identifying a school associated with the program of Johannes Muller, Helmholtz’s teacher, and unlike the Bernfeld construction, this interpretation at least has some historical basis. Metz also indicates the falsity of the view that “there only remained mechanism and materialism” for the German scientist of this period: “it is well known”, he says “that none of the great men to whom we are indebted for the real extension of our knowledge of biological phenomena favored or embraced this view”. As Cohen and Elkana point out, in their edition of Helmholtz’s Epistemological Writings, the supposedly anti-metaphysical Helmholtz of the 1840s – the base for the school of Helmholtz’s mythology introduced by Bernfeld – represents an image of German science very far from the actual preoccupations that governed Helmholtz in his work. The Kantian introduction originally intended to preface Hemhortz’s 1847 paper ‘On The Conservation of Force’ was omitted from the paper only on the advice of duBois-Reymond, and however much Bernfeld may have been taken by the resulting myth, Freud could hardly have been similarly deceived: “most of the discarded material” seems to have been included in the lecture given by Helmholtz for the Anniversary Celebrations of the University of Berlin: The Facts in Perception, given in 1878, and published in 1884 in the popular edition of Helmholtz’s works.

These issues are complex; and some – such as the warfare between the research-programs of vitalism and materialism are beyond the scope of the problem of the direct influences on Freud’s Project. Some others however, have fairly direct consequences for the nature of Freud’s work: there is for instance some gain to be had in replacing the problem of the relation of the “Helmholtz school” and Freud, by the problem of the relation of Freud to Helmholtz.

Helmholtz – in The Facts in Perception – takes Locke as the authority on the relation between “our corporeal and mental make-up”. Moritz Schlick – in his notes to the 1921 edition of this work – refers the general distinction of quantity and quality, in its turn, to Locke and Galileo. Now, such philosophical and scientific traditions are regularly referred to by Herbart and Volkmann, and indeed it is largely their school that is responsible for the maintenance of problem-traditions of this kind. In this sense, there is a community of tradition between the herbartian school and the program of Helmholtz; the whole problematic of Vorstellungen, in particular, is best raised in such a context. Helmholtz, in his Berlin address, develops his consideration of Vorstellungen to the following point: “the representation (Vorstellung) of different things…one beside another, can in this manner be acquired”. At this point it is clear that Helmholtz takes the study of space and time to be a derivative of the study of Vorstellungen, since “one beside another” is a spatial concept, and he takes it to be such. In fact, he goes further, since he makes clear in this respect his reliance on Riemann: “Thus it is not a linear sequence, but a surface-like ‘one beside another’, or in Riempnn’s terminology “a second-order manifold”. This sort of consideration is called by Helmholtz “metamathematical”, and he is aware that in accepting the term, he is placing his studies within a contemporary debate about the relation of mind and space: “The name ‘metamathematical’ was of course bestowed in all ironical sense by opponents, and modeled upon metaphysics. But … we may very well accept the name”.

Considerations of topology and surface may seem difficult, but they have been accepted by the proponents of theories of perception ‘as germane to the formulation of issues in this field since the time of the Greeks. Freud is working within this tradition in the Project, as can be seen from a study like Koppe of neurone, synapse, and contact-barrier where a dialectic of topological nearness and energetic investment is displayed as being essential to the question of localization and nearness in the psychic structure. Effectively what is being claimed in this tradition is that a study of topological space is intrinsic to an analysis of the structure of the mind. Only in such a way, it seems, are the real problems of the relations of science and philosophy, of psychology and physiology, of body and mind, developed rather than rendered more obscure. This pathway to analysis was of, course taken by Jacques Lacan, at many junctures in his work. It is being further developed by his school – as recent articles by Nathalie Charraud demonstrate. The continuation of this work can be hoped to establish what in reality was the content of the program of Helmholtz, and of Freud.

Sex as Fantasy and Sex as Symptom
Kirsten Hyldgaard

Author’s Bio

The conflict between on the one hand a biological naturalism or essentialism and on the other hand a social constructivism is a conflict or an opposition that is as old as psychoanalysis itself. It can even be claimed that it is a pre-Freudian conflict as the necessity of using the uncommon concept of drive made psychoanalysis resistant to a reduction to either biologism or culturalism. Nevertheless there have been spokesmen for both biologism and culturalism from the beginning of psychoanalysis.

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, following Freud, you find a defense of the concept of sex as “real”, not in the sense of a biological determinism but in the sense of that which resists symbolization, that which creates ail impasse, that which is nevertheless not pre- symbolic but intrinsically connected to the symbolic and the imaginary. In the late Lacan the real is never “pre-” or ontologically prior to the symbolic. Instead of wearying everybody with this constant “it is not… ,” Lacanian formalism serves the purpose of presenting this impasse, the inconsistency of the symbolic.

The seemingly naive question of why it was necessary for Lacan to express or present his thinking in pseudo-mathematical terms, his so-called “mathemes”, why he was obsessed with mathematics in the widest sense of the word—logic, algebra, and topology—can find an answer in the question about the impasse of sex. It shall be argued that the turn to mathematics is an effort to think against the negation and disavowal of sex which both biological determinism and sex conceived as gender—as a social construction—represent.

In the following interpretation of the formulas of sexuation from the Encore Seminar [1] in connection with some points concerning negations in intuitionistic logic it shall be argued that this particular formalization is exemplary for the necessity of formalization. The interpretation can never replace the logical and algebraic terms, the mathemes. The “prosaic” interpretation or translation of these is always just one possible interpretation among others of an impasse that can only be presented adequately in mathematical terms. Consequently Lacan could call mathematics “the science of the real”.

This justifies or can at least explain the fact that one does not find an interpretation of the formulas of sexuation in the Encore Seminar or the previous unpublished Seminar …ou pire, only short hints at an interpretation. Their enigmatic status provokes different interpretations, and they thereby reveal the fundamental precondition for thinking, that is, transference. Thought or knowledge is supposed to be condensed in those formulas and each from his point of view develops an interpretation. [2]

I will start with a brief summary of some basic points concerning the way sexual difference is thought in psychoanalysis in order to show how the traditional conception of sexual difference are different variations on the same theme: the negation or disavowal of sex.

According to Freud castration is a threat as far as the boy and the man are concerned, a fait accompli for the girl and the woman. Sexual difference is defined by the question whether one has or has not a penis. The woman’s body is defined by what you do not see, defined by what she lacks. According to Freud sexual difference is not a question of one sex having something—a penis—and the other sex having something else—clitoris, labia, and vagina—that could be considered to be worth just as much. This would be a comforting democratic fantasy about equality between the sexes. Sexual difference concerns the fact that woman is represented by her lack of the masculine attribute par excellence. She is not complete.

To Lacan, however, castration is not a question whether the subject has or has not what he calls the phallus [3] as no one can “have”, possess the phallus. Therefore you cannot distinguish between the sexes as far as castration is concerned as all, irrespective of sex, are subject to castration.

The definition of the subject as lack is a point made elsehwehere in the history of philosophy, but the originality of Lacan’s point is that it turns the issue of castration away from the questions of whether or not the subject has the phallus toward the issue of whether the Other does not have it. It is the Other who lacks, it is the Other who is incomplete, written is the Other who is castrated.

A traditional evolutionary or ontogenetic exposition of the question goes as follows: the child discovers that the (phallic) mother lacks something, that she acts according to laws the child does not understand, that according to the law her desire has to be directed elsewhere, “the father”, “work”, “what ever” demands her attention, her desire. Lacan’s famous thesis, “desire is the desire of the Other” means that my desire is not “mine” but the question of what the Other desires, the question of the lack of the Other, that the subject is the question about what it is for the Other. When for instance the Other is an enigma you ask the question: this is what he says, but what does he mean, and what does he want from me, if anything? What am I to him? An enigma is an “enonciation” without an enoncé, a statement without a meaning. Any statement can therefore represent an enigma.

The name for what is lacking in the Other is the phallus. Phallus is the signifier of the lack of signifier, the signifier of castration. The phallus is the name of the object of desire, but as it is not possible to decide what is the object of the desire of the Other, the phallus is the name for the fact that desire has no object that can be represented as such, but is the well known metonymic “slide” from signifier to signifier, it is the signifier of lack as such.

Sex as a fantasy

For Lacan, however, the case is that man can only be a universal via the fantasy of the woman. The way woman and sexual difference has usually been thought of is fantasmatic in the sense that these are ways in which it can be covered up that man is not whole neither as a man nor united with a woman. The well-known points concerning the representation of sexual difference are all variations on the same theme, ways to cover up the lack and the fact that there exists no sexual relationship. This lack is covered up by representing sexual difference as a symmetrical relationship that ascribes the lack to the woman—man represents the well known clichés: rationality, activity, culture. The woman incarnates the reverse side of these clichés, irrationality, passivity, intuition, nature. This has been shown and repeated over and over again. Sexual difference is thought of as complementary elements as in Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium where man is cut into two parts, a female part and a male part, and thereafter the visible result: the two sexes that desire to be reunited, that united will form a whole. The lack has been covered up, “the twain become one flesh” as it is called in The Old Testament.

The basic point concerning sexual difference is that the two poles are not symmetrical and equal not only in the sense that the male pole is more culturally appreciated but also in the sense that the two poles are not both original – as Aristophanes’ speech could imply. One pole is the original; one pole is ontologically prior to the other. If we once again start with the beginning of our culture, with nothing less than Genesis, we learn that Eve has been taken from or built from the famous rib of Adam. The woman is derived from man, man is the cliché and woman is a deviation from this form and norm. Therefore we can talk about the human being as being identical with man, man as man, man as universal.

These are all too well known points. The attempt to represent woman must inevitably be a definition in relation to man, man and woman as opposites. Femininity is within this horizon necessarily the seamy side of man. Woman is only as a result of the comparison to man. There can be no such thing as an independent definition of woman, a definition that does not imply a definition of man.

Sexual difference is a contradictory one, which means in logic that if one proposition is true, its negation must be false, also called “Law of Excluded Middle,” p or not-p. If, however, sexual difference was thought of as a contrary relationship there would be a third possibility. The traditional example goes: all swans are white, which is contrary to ‘no swans are white’. There is a third possibility: ’some swans are black’, so both propositions can be false. This means for our present problem concerning sexual difference that if everybody is castrated contrary to ‘nobody is castrated’, there would be a third possibility: some have a vagina, labia, clitoris. And sexual difference would not be a question of castration, but a question of having a penis in contrast to having a vagina, labia, clitoris. The psychoanalytic point is simply that this would be a fantasy of completeness, a fantasy that denies castration. For Lacan there is only one thing to be said about woman which is “that she does not exist” and “that nothing can be said about the Woman”. But what does “exist” mean here?

The woman as a symptom

Lacan also states that, “there is no sexual relationship”. In the seminar … ou pire (unpublished from 1971-72) the female position is defined as “that which is not included in the phallic function without, however, being its negation”. And this is what the formulas of sexuation from the seminar Encore present.


∃x ¬(Φx) ¬(∃x) ¬(Φx) ∀x Φx ¬(∀x) Φx

On the left, male side it says ∃x ¬(Φx), which means that there exists someone, Φx, for whom the law of castration does not count. And then ∀x Φx, which means that it applies to everybody, ∀x, that they are subject to the law of castration. On the male side we have the two contradictory propositions. The crucial point is firstly that both propositions cannot be true and secondly that the particular negation of the phallic function, ∃x ¬(Φx) is not the woman. The woman cannot and should not be thought of as a negation of man, as the particular in contradiction to the universal. Not to be defined by castration is rather a position that consists of the limitless power and the limitless access to and enjoyment (jouissance) of all women. The mythical primal father in Freud’s Totem and Taboo, is not subject to the law against incest and thereby castration. He is the law by being the exception to the rule or the law. In other words, this last modern myth is like all myths, an answer to a structural and logical necessity, a logical impasse and not just a fairy tale. The universal is defined by its limit, in our case if ‘men’ are a set that is defined by castration it must imply in all its banality that there is someone or something that has produced this law by which it can be decided whether or not an element belongs to the set, is inside or outside, and consequently this ’something’ or ’someone’ cannot be defined by the trait of being castrated. It is the exception that proves the rule. In this sense the universal quantifier presupposes the particular negation and the dead primal father fills the place of the exception. It is no doubt a fairy tale, but nevertheless a necessary one. If it is true that everybody is subject to castration it cannot also be true that there exists one who is not subject to castration. The idea must nevertheless be thought of in the form of a negation, the particular negation is a logical consequence. In Freud this is thought of as a creation myth in order to explain how the fundamental law against incest is constituted and is constitutive for culture in general.

On the right side, the female side it says ¬(∃x) ¬(Φx). There exists no one who is not castrated. The question is why this is not identical with the male side ∀x Φx, why two negations do not as in classical logic negate each other, not, not-p is identical with p. Lacan receives assistance from intuitionistic logic which dreams of a mathematics free of negations. [4] The reason for this dream is rather metaphysical than mathematical as it concerns the question of the nature of the mathematical object. Platonism, or realism, is based on the assumption that mathematical objects exist independently of mathematics and mathematicians.

For intuitionists, however, mathematical objects exist only by virtue of being what they call “mentally constructed”. “To exist” means “to be a mental construction”, that is without reference to the metaphysical questions regarding the nature of the constructed objects, such as whether these objects exist independently of our knowledge of them. The basis for intuitionists is consequently that we can only assert a proposition p if we can prove p. That we do not have a proof of the negation of p does not imply that we have proven p. The object has not been constructed wherefore we cannot say that it has been proven to be true. Intuitionistic logic does not recognize the principle of the “Law of Excluded Middle.” If we assume a proposition not-p and this leads to contradictions, we have indirectly proven the proposition p. But intuitionists do not recognize p or not-p as a universally valid inference. It is a rule that is not valid concerning infinite sets. Heyting’s example is a sequence of prime numbers. A prime number is a number that can only be divided by 1 and itself (1,2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19, etc.) The definition of a natural number can be,

1) “k is the greatest prime such that k-l is also a prime, or k=1 if such a number does not exist.”

2) “1 is the greatest prime such that l-2 is also a prime, or 1= 1 if such a number does not exist.”

The difference between 1) and 2) is that k can be calculated. k=3, as 2 is the only even prime number, all following prime numbers-l must necessarily be even numbers and therefore not prime numbers. The definition of k is therefore finite, since k can be defined. The point is that we do not possess a general method for calculating l, as it is not known whether the sequence of pairs of twin primes p, p+2 is or is not finite. Therefore intuitionists will reject 2) as a definition of a natural number. It cannot be decided whether the sequence of twin prime numbers is or is not finite (1+3, 3 + 5, 5+7, 11+13, 17+19, etc.) We can only take one prime number at a time and add 2 infinitely. There is no proof of or general method for deciding whether this set of prime numbers is or is not finite. It transcends verification. Therefore l-2 cannot intuitionistically be recognized as being a natural number. l-2 cannot be defined as there exists no general method for calculating it.

The difference between Cantor’s and the intuitionists’ definition of a set concerns the difference of how the law is determined. Following Cantor the law which decides which elements can be comprised as a set is there in advance. This law does not concern itself whether there are actually any elements that can be subsumed under the definition of this law. Therefore you can operate with the empty set, Ø. A set is any collection of objects that can be thought of as One, as a whole. The set corresponds to the platonic Idea. As far as the intuitionists are concerned, however, it makes no sense to talk about a law or a set irrespective of its being possible to decide if an element belongs to the set and if there are any elements that can be said to belong to the set at all. As far as the intuitionists are concerned the empty set is an “empty formal postulate”. The set is a law that decides whether this or that predicate can designate this or that element. “Cantorians” can operate with “the set of the eternal feminine” independently of and unconcerned with whether there actually exist any elements that can be attributed to the predicate “the eternal feminine”. Intuitionists, however, cannot operate with the set of “women” without deciding the question whether there exist any elements in the set. For an intuitionist the intension of a set is identical with its extension. The set of “women” can be determined by a law that designates the predicate “delicate” and “maternal”. Thereafter it must be decided one by one whether this or that element belongs to the set of “delicate” and “maternal” and thus can be said to belong to the set of “women”.

The elimination of the double negation, on the ground that two negations negate each other, is not a valid inference in intuitionistic logic. You cannot assert not-, not-p → p, but you can assert p → not-, not-p, as a proof of p must result in that you cannot get a proof of p’s negation. It must be noted that it is not shown how you move between the formulas – you can infer from the left side to the right side, but not the other way round. The formulas do not indicate rules of inference but must be interpreted as propositions about elements.

The contradictory sentence on the right side says “not all women are subject to castration” and corresponds to “there exists someone who is not subjected to castration” on the left side, that is, Freud’s primal father or “the name of the father” in Lacan. But, again, here you cannot talk about a proposition that can be shown to be either true or false. Therefore Cathrine Millot can note (following Lacan) in her essays on transsexualism, that ¬(∀x) Φx, the idea of Woman with a capital letter is one of the names of the father. The Woman = The primal father. Consequently you can only be a woman if you are not a real woman.

“Nothing can be said about the woman,” says Lacan. No one exists who is not determined by castration, but hereby you have stated nothing about the woman as distinct from man, and nothing has been stated that can be judged to be either true or false. The right side of the formulas says only that women are also subjected to the law of castration but it says nothing about what they are as distinct from men. In other words, woman does not form a well-defined set where you can decide in advance whether this or that element belongs to the set. The question of castration is undecided. It transcends verification. The woman is not a universal. The formulas serve the purpose of presenting the idea that there both is and is not a difference between men and women, and this difference cannot be decided.

Thus the difference between Freud and Lacan is that Freud was a platonist or a Cantorian—the set of women was decided by a law called lack of penis—and Lacan was an intuitionist. But this difference only holds until Freud’s old age when he became a skeptic. Both Freud and Lacan reached the same conclusion: as far as the question of women was concerned they did not have much to contribute. For Freud, femininity stayed as the much-quoted “dark continent” when you leave out Freud’s youthful shortcuts in three Themes of Sexuality, where femininity fits masculinity like a glove. In his old age he became a skeptic and appealed to the women among his pupils and colleagues for an answer to his doubt. In his late article from “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis” it is stated that “the little girl is a little man” in the pre-oedipal phase. In the less popular and more subtle article “Female Sexuality”, this idea of “a complete parallelism” has been given up. The famous passage goes: Aile Erwartungen eines glatten Parallelismus zwischen mannlicher und weiblicher Sexualentwicklung haben wir ja langst aufgegeben. Die Einsicht in die praodipale Vorzeit des Madchens wirkt a1s Uberraschung, ahnlich wie auf anderem Gebiet, die Aufdeckung der minoisch-mykenischen Kultur hinter der griechischen. Alles auf dem Gebiet dieser ersten Mutterbindung erschien mir so schwa analytisch zu erfassen, so a1tersgrau, schattenhaft, kaum wiederbelebbar, als ob es einer besonders unerbittlichen Verdrangung erlegen ware. [5]

Comparably Lacan’s notations are precise and elegant ways in which the same point about the impasse of sex can be presented. Apparently the woman fits man like a glove, as being his negation, seemingly there is a relation, a symmetrical relationship, ein glatter Parallelismus. But a closer inspection of the formulas shows that apparently the same thing is stated on both sides (with and without negations). If we follow the rules of inference in classical logic as far as negations are concerned, there is no difference between men and women; all are castrated. But if we follow intuitionistic logic there is the small but crucial difference between the male and female side of the formulas, insofar as on the feminine side nothing has been proposed that can be shown to be either true or false.

When Lacan says, “there is no sexual relationship”, relationship means a symmetrical, complementary relationship as for instance the interior in relation to the exterior, culture-nature, rationality-intuition, sense-sensibility, logic-epic. The phallus is indeed what marks the sexual difference, but not that which can represent sexual difference. “Nothing can be said about the woman”, there is no feminine essence, the woman is not a universal. It is rather sex that disturbs the universal man. Consequently the point is not that instead of having just one universal, man, we must have two universals, man and woman, for the sake of completion. The point is rather that sex is the constant contestation of the universal “man”. Phrased in the terminology of psychoanalysis: castration, the pointing out of incompletion, of lack.

Woman—that does not exist – has been the name of that which has been expelled, exiled from the symbolic—but also that which “keeps coming back”, “keeps returning” and with a disruptive effect on the symbolic and the imaginary in the guise of that which cannot be without friction, “that which keeps returning to the same place”. In short, a symptom. A symptom is “something” that is neither a thing nor nothing. It raises a question and implies a lack of knowledge. Its place is in speech. It is something to be heard by the Other. A fantasy, however, does not raise but rather answers a question. It is an answer to an impossibility, an answer that covers up a lack and prevents further questioning. In this sense all representations of femininity are fantasies.

To conclude: sex and woman have to be thought of in “the real”. That something “does not exist” (woman) and “is not” (the sexual relationship) does not mean that it is “nothing” but rather that no signifier can represent it, that it belongs to the real. To exist means to be represented by a signifier.

The logical notations serve the purpose of talking about a difference that cannot be determined, a presentation of difference that does not end up in imaginary complementarity. The interpretation of the formulas of sexuation above is one of many examples of the fact that Lacan’s formalizations are not only to be considered a short hand for that which could be expressed adequately in ordinary prose. The formalizations are not just supposed to be redundant. If that were the case an exposition in ordinary prose would be able to replace the formal notations. The contrary is the case: the formalizations serve the purpose of presenting and talking about an experience of a paradox, an impasse, an impossibility. With the help of the formulas it becomes possible both to recognize an impossibility as an impossibility without covering it up in imaginary representations or historically variable constructions and to know what kind of impossibility we are talking about.

It is in this sense that psychoanalysis can be reduced to neither a biological nor a constructivist, historicist perspective. Both poles of this opposition negate the impasse, negate “the real” of sexual difference.


[1] Jacques Lacan, Le Seeminaire, Livre XX, Encore, Paris: Seuil, 1975.
[2] For another interpretation of the formulas in connection with the antinomies of reason in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, see Joan Copjec Read My Desire, chapter 8 ”Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason,” The MIT Press, Cambridge: Massachusetts, 1994. See also Catherine Millot’s Horsexe, Essai sur le transsexualisme, Point Hors Ligne: Paris 1983.
[3] With the exception of the article on “Fetichism” Freud writes the noun “phallus”, more the adjective as in the “phallic” phase and the “phallic” mother.
[4] Heyting, A., Intuitionism. An Introduction, Amsterdam 1956.
[5] GWXIV, p.519.

Art: Hellen Van Meene, Untitled, C-print, 2008.

The Refusal of the Language of the Other
Maria Cristina Aguirre

Author’s Bio

I propose that the difficulty certain subjects have to learn and speak the language of their adopted country is a symptom.

My hypothesis is that the difficulty to learn the language of the Other is a refusal to submit to the discourse of the Master. It defies its knowledge, and it points to the hole in the Other. In this sense it obeys to the logic of the hysteric, who seeks a Master to castrate him. The state of the art of medicine is worthless without access to the language. But in the other hand, it indicates its link to jouissance. It aims at the supposed jouissance of the Other.

The lacanian orientation disturbs the traditionally setting of practice, unmasking the jouissance at stake. We know that by emptying the words of their meaning, the analytic act inscribes itself as the limit of the flight-of-sense and by doing so it aims at the real.

Some patients with multiple and diverse somatic symptoms are referred for mental health services for treatment of depression and/or anxiety symptoms.

The somatic symptoms are meaningless and as such silent. The complains must be expressed first to access later the realm of jouissance. When this space is created we hear the stories of love and desire, of pain and suffering, that constitutes our contemporary practice.

In the Lacanian orientation we analyze case by case but we can also put these cases side by side and obtain a series. Here are some clinical vignettes to illustrate this.

The ravage of man

C. suffers from multiple somatic pains, the consequence of a terrible accident many years ago when a wall fell on her. She was bedridden, in a cast for more than 3 years. But it is the relationship with her ex-husband that made her suffer most. It took her a long time in the group before she could talk without crying. She married young, and her husband took her to live with his aunts. She was a stay-at-home mom, rarely going out, because she taking care of her 4 children, while her husband did as he pleased. This went on for almost 30 years until the day she asked him where had he been. When he replied that he had been with the mother of his daughter, something snapped and she threw him out the house, his clothes and belongings out of the window. What became unbearable to her was that somebody else was the “mother”. A boundary had been trespassed.

L.’s husband sold lottery tickets. She dreamt a number and told her husband to reserve that number. When the lottery played she asked him about it and he said he had sold that number. Some time later a neighbor congratulated her for her good fortune in winning the big stakes at the lottery. She was surprised and denied it but he was adamant, as he himself had accompanied her husband to the bank. Having found the bank statement together with a house deed she waited in vain for her husband to tell her. She eventually took him to the house and confronted him. Then she took her children and left him. What is unbearable for her is that after more than 15 years of marriage he deceived her and cheated on her, putting the house in his sister’s name. She has not forgiven him.

These women relate the devastating effects of their relationships with their partners. The love failures, the discovery of infidelity, life in a couple without desire and without words plunge these women into a particular state of panic or depression. Some can be considered cases of domestic violence. But above all, their stories tell us about the crossing of a line, a boundary trespassed and a betrayal that cannot be forgiven nor forgotten.

The Ravage of the m(Other)

For some of these patients the relationship with the mother constitutes a ravage. E. was robbed at gunpoint at the store where she worked. Some time later her home was burglarized and her jewelry stolen. She lives this as an irreparable damage that nothing can replace. She cries, she flushes, she is inarticulate. E. was often punished and beaten as a child. A childhood memory: one day, half- teasing, half in defiance she swallowed a coin. Her mother beat her so hard that until today she suffers from headaches and vision problems related to that incident.

K. was raised by her aunt. She stayed with her mother while waiting for her visa to join her aunt in USA. The mother “gave” her to a man when she was in her early teens. He prostituted her. She managed to run away and joined her aunt later. She has three children each from a different man. Her oldest daughter died suddenly last year. While she is still mourning for her daughter, her mother is constantly asking for money. She questions why did her mother do this to her. The m(Other) is a terrifying Other to whose will and jouissance they are submitted, helpless in the confrontation to the mother’s feminine jouissance.

From the m(Other) to the Partner-symptom to the language of the master

I propose that there is transference from this ravage in the rapport to the m(Other) or the partner to the Other of society. They abide to the rules and the laws paying more than their pound of flesh but they reject the language of the Other. Their survival as subject of desire is at stake. Libido as a lost object is concentrated in lalangue. Refusing the language of the Other, constitutes their last refuge against an absolute Other. It is a way to render the Other incomplete.

They would never have sought for psychotherapy. Their physical symptoms brought them to the Hospital and they handed their bodies to science. If they had not been referred to Mental Health Services these patients will have been treated only for their physical symptoms, maybe with some medication for depression and anxiety and they would have continue to drag their unhappiness and their misery, prisoners of the jouissance trapped in a mortifying relationship to the Other.

Ricardo Seldes [1] stresses the fact that there are subjects who demand us to authenticate their illness for several reasons. Our task is not to satisfy this demand offering a therapeutic listening or a dialogue to restore the subjective lack.

The work of psychoanalysis invites the subject to be responsible for their choices and their jouissance.

Let me quote one of them: Why is it that we choose suffering as a partner? The offer to go beyond the well-being and reestablishment of a functional equilibrium but to address the real is what is at stake. It is the position of the analyst that matters, in a practice that does not adjust to the statistical requirements of the contemporary master or to its utilitarian aims.

Jacques-Alain Miller [2] asks whether the encounter with an analyst may be useful or not, produce good or evil. He proposes the model of the psychoanalyst-object versatile, receptive and multi-functional, to loosen the ideal identifications, to consolidate a viable organization, to articulate, to liquefy and dialectelise sense,to introduce stopping points, quilting points to non-stop flowing sense.

If the psychoanalyst knows how to be an object, then he says, the contraindications are decided case by case. He defines this place as a place that welcomes contingency, where necessity loosens its grip, the site of the possible, versus the impossible of the real. The challenge is to become the psychoanalyst-object as a place of pure semblance, the reverse of every day life and for the subject to face what lies beneath the suffering to trade it for an analyzable symptom.

[1] Seldes, R. Papers 10.
[2] Miller, J.-A., Contraindications to psychoanalytical Treatment, psychoanalytical Notebooks # 4.

This paper was originally presented at the NLS Congress in London in 2004. This is a modified version.

Art: Nicky Nodjoumi, To Point Out, oil on canvas, 2003.

Three Poems
Raphael Rubinstein

Author’s Bio

Becoming One with the Dusty World (1966-2002)

Everyone is trying to recover the project.
What project?
Which everyone?
OK, maybe I’ve overestimated the power of music and the diminuendo of psychedelic Marxism
and the longevity of recycled sounds.
Gone, the one whose endless choruses underwrote so many of my poems,
pages that fatally depended
just as this one probably does
upon the irreplaceable,
infinitely suggestive
background vocalizations
of Mary Hansen, RIP.

Surely I owe you more than one poem!
You kept me company on so many nights,
across and down so many pages.
Who cares if most of them
turned out more or less worthless
without the Stereolab tracks
that inspired them?
I even met you once.
Just after The Fearless Microbe Hunters came out,
introduced by Charles Long on a verdant Battery Park evening. You were so nice
and I was so incapable of articulating
anything remotely resembling what your voice
had meant to me.


The Afterlife of Pop

as old as Morrissey

Yes, some day I’ll be
as old as Morrissey
and crawl up to the mirror
with a wave of enthusiastic horror.

Boys and girls once young,
veterans of divine love and despair, everyone eventually has to say it: Yes, some day I’ll be
as old as Morrissey
and crawl up to the mirror
with a wave of enthusiastic horror, but sans thousands of diehard fans, and sans his glorious back catalogue,
hoping for the grace to be born
in a grim city (leave as early as you can!) and to age as vicariously as possible.


After the Slits

He is set to “self-destruct.”
Meet my messed-up friend,
my razor-thin underground hero.
As I hardly need to tell you,
he is set to “self-destruct.”
Does this bother you?
I can’t see why it should.
Doesn’t everyone have the right to his or her own fate? I know I do. Just look how I deposit my blossoming life in his pale, shaky hands
to crush, drop or pleasure as he likes.

Exhibit the exquisite corpse
or rush on to the next emulator
or the next thousand of them,
flowing into the dead zones
of a rich, feeble culture.
Sound as fleeting monument to ragged dissent
and all the elusive riffs smart poems pretend to ignore.
But not this one.
Meet my messed-up friend, my razor-thin underground hero.
As I hardly need to tell you,
he is set to “self-destruct.”
Does this bother you?
I can’t see why it should.
Doesn’t everyone have the right to his or her own fate?
I know I do.
Just look how I deposit my blossoming life
in his pale, shaky hands
to crush, drop or pleasure as he likes.
Later there will be time to redeem our pisspent youth,
get married and have a house in the country,
slip into some much more reasonable sequel,
a life barely haunted by every one of our dead 20-something friends. I remember a customer jumping on a table that night
as the local news cameras rolled
at that improvised Park Avenue South funeral
for another “only curious” boy
who liked himself less than me, than you, than tomorrow.

Lacan and Gödel
Richard Klein

Author’s Bio

In “Science and Truth” there is a reference to Gödel’s theorem of incompleteness (Lacan, 1965: 861). Gödel was a mathematical logician who invented his theorem in 1931. It is applied to formal systems and asserts that those containing” minimum of arithmetic are incomplete and inconsistent. The arithmetic they contain is logical according to Peano’ s axioms.

Lacan is applying this theorem to the subject of science. I will try to show that this is the point in the Écrits at which a formalisation of psychoanalysis begins as a system which contains a minimum of arithmetic.

Gödel’s proof his conclusion is left for whomsoever desires to work through it. Only the conclusion is stated as follows: In any formal language A there exists a statement S such that if A is consistent, neither S nor its negative can be proved in A. The propositions of A cannot be proved by reference to A. It does not mean that S is false but undecidable. The axioms of A are not just incomplete but incompletable since the addition of an axiom does not block the emergence of another statement S’ that cannot be decided. His theorem of incompleteness entails that the consistency of A cannot be proved by any means within A.

Let A be the Other which is the concept of the unconscia-us. In “Science and Truth”, Lacan is not applying the theorem to the concept of the unconscious but to the subject of the unconscious. Nevertheless, Gödel’s theorem asserts that there is a lack in the Other, that the Other is incomplete and inconsistent, which is why Lacan writes it as the barred Other: A.

A statement S in the field of the Other cannot be guaranteed as true. Take a construction or any form of interpretation which attempts to complete the Other and make it consistent, that is, to fill out the lack in the Other. Such an intelpretation is neither true nor false, but undecidable; it is a proposition of the Other and cannot be proved by reference to the Other. Whatever fresh knowledge follows in the wake of an interpretation is not an indication of its truth since this knowledge is also a proposition of the Other. Neither the analysand’s ‘yes’ nor his ‘no’ are signs of the truth or falsity of an interpretation. Freud says in “Constructions in Analysis” that what is important is what comes indirectly (Freud, 1937d). The analysand says “no” and somewhere else says “yes.” That would be an interpretation that keeps the subject divided between the true and the false, which does not suture the subject.

The subject of science is being made the focus of logic. Modem logic sutures the subject of science. Gödel’s theorem, says Lacan, demonstrates that the suture has failed.

Logic makes a decision on what is true and false. Aristotelian logic makes it in natural language. Modern logic creates an artificial language, that is, a formal system, in which the decision is made.

The subject of natural language is described by Lacan in “Science and Truth” as the speaking suhject of linguistics in which the subject is determined as meaning in a battery of signifiers (Lacan, 1965: 860). This is not the subject of science. The subject in psychoanalysis, however, is the subject of science (Lacan, 1965: 858). The subject of science cannot be, then, a subject of natural language. It seems to me that this can be taken as the point at which a formalization is beginning.

Modern logic attempts to reveal the structure of science ostensibly. Lacan says it sutures, not science, but the subject of science. Science does not say true or false; the subject does. In a philosophy of science called logical empiricism theoretical terms are made dependent on observation terms. The truth of the observation terms must be guaranteed in theoretical terms. The subject of science must always be true. The subject who says “no” and somewhere else says ‘yes’ is divided between the true and the false (see Miller, 1994). Suturing this division makes the subject true. Gödel’s theorem confIrms the existence of the division. The subject is a logical inconsistency. The fIrst step in this formalisation asserts that the subject is undecidable, which is an indication that the subject contains arithmetic.

In the clinic it is an empirical fact that the subject speaks a natural language. On the other hand. the division of the subject is not an empirical fact but the effect of a reduction which may take a long time to accomplish (Lacan, 1965: 855). This reduction has to do with the shrinkage of knowledge since the subject is also described by Lacan as the result of the rejection of knowledge (Lacan, 1965: 856). The reduction is the direction of the treatment to a decompleted and inconsistent Other. the effect of which is the subject of science.

The subject is divided, Lacan argues, between truth and knowledge (Lacan, 1965: 856). If knowledge shrinks, it is contingent. In logic truth is necessary. It is not, however, the subject thal is necessarily true. According to Gödel’s theorem, it is a logical inconsistency.

There is a formalisation of both ends of the fantasy; beginning with the subject, arithmetic is introduced into the system, and, therefore, Gödel’s theorem is asserted. In the paper that precedes the one under consideration, Lacan begins by stating that the drive as constructed by Freud is prohibited to psychologising thought which supposes a moral in nature (Lacan, 1964: 851). Here is a good reason for formalisation. The basis of psychologising thought is natural language. The drive cannot enter natural language.

In his introduction to the Foundarions of Arithmetic, Frege says that his method goes against psychologising thought. Formalisation constitutes a reduction that may take a long time of psychologising thought. Knowledge shrinks, and the subject encounters the truth of the drive. The drive divides the subject and desire (Lacan, 1964: 853). The truth of desire seems to account for the logical inconsistency of the subject. Such is the structure of fantasy, according to Lacan.

Also in the article which precedes “Science and Truth” is Lacan’s account of the point at which an analyst is made (Lacan, 1964: 854). At the end of analysis the drive has something to do with the emergence of the desire of the analyst. This is not enlarged upon by Lacan here, though elsewhere he states that it is also the desire of the analyst which has been operating in the accomplishment of the analysis. It must be the desire to create a language in which the subject can say the truth. Formalisatbn is the expression of the relation of the desire of the analyst to the truth. It seems to me that the desire of the analyst is structured by Gödel’s theorem, and the form of interpretation must be affected by it. Without it, there will be no concept of the sometimes long reduction to the division of the subject, to the point of a manque à savoir, a want-to-know, since the subject is a lack outside knowledge. It seems to be a reduction to the first axiom of Peano: zero is a number. A lack in the foundations is just this zero; a painful emptiness that will make the subject inconsistent between the true and the false, and make it desire to find an Other that is complete and consistent.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem

The opening paragraph of Kurt Gödel’s 1931 paper:

The development of mathematics in the direction of greater precision has led to large areas of it being formalized, so that proofs can be carried out according to a few mechanical rules. The most comprehensive formal systems to date are, on the one hand, the Principia Mathematica of Whitehead and Russell and, on the other, the Zermelo-Fraenkel system of axiomatic set theory. Both systems are so extensive that all methods of proof used in mathematics today can be formalized in them; i.e., can be reduced to a few axioms and rules of inference It would seem reasonable, therefore, to surmise that these axioms and rules of inference are sufficient to decide all mathematical questions which can be formulated in the system concerned. In what follows it will be shown that this is not the case, but rather that, in both of the cited systems, there exist relatively simple problems of theory of ordinary whole numbers which cannot be decided on the basis of the axioms.

Kurt Gödel, “Über unentscheidbare Sätze del Principia Mathematica und verwandter Systeme I”, Monatshefte für Mathematik und Physik 38: 173-98. Composite translation, cited in Raymond Smullyan, The Lady or the Tiger?, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982, p. 163.

My Own Private Austria
Slavoj Zizek

Author’s Bio

How are we to locate Josef Fritzl, the Austrian monster who had her daughter imprisoned for a quarter of century and, after thousands of rapes, had many children with her?

Hegel was fully aware of how the weight of an event provided by its symbolic inscription “sublates” its immediate reality – in his Philosophy of History, he provided a wonderful characterization of Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian war: “In the Peloponnesian War, the struggle was essentially between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides has left us the history of the greater part of it, and his immortal work is the absolute gain which humanity has derived from that contest.” One should read this judgment in all its naivety: in a way, from the standpoint of the world history, the Peloponnesian war took place so that Thucydides could write a book on it. The term “absolute” should be given here all its weight: from the relative point of our finite human interests, the numerous real tragedies of the Peloponnesian war (suffering, devastation) are, of course, infinitely more important than a book, but from the standpoint of the Absolute, it is the book that matters.

Blasphemous as it may sound, one is tempted to say that the same holds for the Austrian subterranean reality into which we got a glimpse in the case of Josef Fritzl: the work of Elfriede Jelinek is “the absolute gain which humanity has derived from” such terrifying crimes. For decades, Jelinek was uncompromisingly describing the violence of men against women in all its modalities, including women’s own libidinal complicity in their victimization. Without mercy, she was bringing to light obscene fantasies that underlie the Middle European respectability, fantasies which crawled into public space in the Fritzl affair which effectively has the unreality of a ‘bad’ fairy tale. No wonder Jelinek is for decades a thorn in the eyes of Austrian conservatives who dismiss her as a degenerate woman publicizing her depraved private fantasies: during an election campaign, Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party used posters with a simple question Jelinek oder Kultur? – do you want true culture or Jelinek’s writings? The answer is clear: the true formula is Jelinek oder das Unbehagen in der Kultur – Jelinek stages the obscene discontent that dwells in the very core of our culture, her work is in this respect similar to that of Rammstein in rock music.

There is, of course, an obvious difference between Thucydides and Jelinek: Thucydides came afterwards, writing a history of the war, while Jelinek is even more than as contemporary, he is almost writing a history of the future, detecting in the present the potentials for the forthcoming horrors. This temporal reversal – the symbolic depiction precedes the fact it depicts, history as story precedes history as a process in reality – is an indicator of our late modernity in which the real of history is assuming the character of a trauma. When we think we really know a close friend or relative, it often happens that, all of a sudden, this close person does something – utters an unexpected vulgar or cruel remark, makes an obscene gesture, casts a cold indifferent glance where compassion is expected – which makes us aware that we do not really know him/her: we become suddenly aware that there is a total stranger in front of us. At this point, the fellow man changes into a Neighbor. This is what happened in a devastating way with Josef Fritzl: from a kind and polite fellow-man, he suddenly changed in a monstrous Neighbor – to the great surprise of the people who met him daily and simply could not believe that this is the same person.

Freud’s idea of the “primordial father (Urvater)” which he developed in his Totem and Taboo, is usually met with ridicule – and justly so, if we take it as a realist anthropological hypothesis arguing that, at the very dawn of humanity, the “ape-men” lived in groups dominated by the all-powerful father who kept all women for his own exclusive sexual (ab)use, and that, after the sons gathered and rebelled, killing the father, the dead father returned to haunt them as a totemic figure of symbolic authority, giving rise to guilt-feeling and imposing the prohibition of incest. What if, however, we read the duality of the “normal” father and the primordial father of the unlimited access to incestuous enjoyment not as a fact of the earliest history of humanity, but as a libidinal fact, a fact of “psychic reality,” which accompanies as an obscene shadow the “normal” paternal authority, prospering in the dark underground of unconscious fantasies? This obscene underground is discernible through its effects – in myths, dreams, slips of tongue, symptoms… and, sometimes, it enforces its direct perverse realization (Freud noted that perverts realize what hysterics only fantasize about). Does the very architectural arrangement of the Fritzl house – the “normal” ground and upper floors supported (literally and libidinally) by the underground windowless enclosed space of total domination and unlimited jouissance – not materialize the “normal” family space redoubled by the secret domain of the obscene “primordial father”? Fritzl created in his cellar his own utopia, a private paradise in which, as he told his lawyer, he spent hours on end watching TV and playing with the youngsters while Elisabeth prepared dinner. In this self-enclosed space, even the language the inhabitants shared was not the common one, but a kind of private language: it is reported that the two sons Stefan and Felix communicate in a bizarre dialect, with some of their sounds “animal-like.” The case of Fritzl thus validates Lacan’s pun on perversion as père-version, version of the father – it is crucial to note how the underground secret apartment complex materializes a very precise idelogico-libidinal fantasy, the extreme version of father-domination-pleasure? One of the mottos of the May ’68 was “all power to fantasy” – and, in this sense, Fritzl is also a child of ’68, ruthlessly realizing his fantasy.

This is why it is misleading, even outright wrong, to designate Fritzl as “inhuman” – if anything, he was, to use Nietzsche’s title, “human, all too human.” No wonder Fritzl complained that his own life had been “ruined” by the discovery of his secret family. What makes his reign so chilling aspect of his reign is precisely the way his brutal is that his exercise of power and his usufruct of the daughter were not just a cold act of exploitation, but were accompanied by an ideologico-familial justification (he did what a father should do, protecting his children from drugs and other dangers of the outside world), as well as by occasional displays of compassion and human considerations (he did take the ill daughter to the hospital, etc.). These acts were not breaches of warm humanity in his armor of coldness and cruelty, but parts of the same protective attitude that made him imprison and violate his children.

Fritzl claimed that he noted Elisabeth wanted to escape her home – she was returning home late, looking for a job, having a boyfriend, was maybe taking drugs, and he wanted to protect her from all that.

The contours of the obsessional strategy are clearly recognizable here: I’ll protect her from the dangers of the outside world even if it means destroying her… According to the media, Fritzl defended himself: “If it weren’t for me, Kerstin wouldn’t be alive today. I’m no monster. I could have killed them all. Then there would have been no trace. No-one would have found me out.” The underlying premise of these defense is: as a father, he had the right to exercise total power over his children, including sexual usufruct and killing; it was his goodness that he showed some consideration and didn’t fully use his power – after all, didn’t he bring the ill (grand) daughter Kerstin to the hospital, didn’t he abstain from killing them all… And, as every psychoanalyst can confirm, we often find traces of such an attitude even in the most “normal” and caring fathers: all of a sudden, the kind father explodes into a father-Thing, convinced that his children owe him everything, their very existence, that they are absolutely indebted to him, that his power over them is limitless, that he has the right to do whatever he wants to take care of them.

Fritzl’s own “psychological” explanation (that Elisabeth reminded him of his mother, a tyrannical matriarch) is, of course, a ridiculous example of a common sense imitating Freudian jargon. One should avoid here the trap of putting the blame on patriarchal authority as such, seeing in Fritzl’s monstrosity the ultimate consequence of the paternal Law, as well as the opposite trap of putting the blame on the disintegration of the paternal Law. Such an attitude is neither a component of “normal” paternal authority (the measure of its success is precisely the ability to set the child free, to let him/her go into the outer world) nor a sign of its failure (in the sense that the void of the “normal” paternal authority is supplemented, filled in, by the ferocious figure of the all-powerful “primordial father”), but, one can say, both simultaneously: a dimension which, under “normal” circumstances, remains virtual, was actualized in the Fritzl case.

The attempts to blame Austrian particularity commit the same ideological error as those who dream of an “alternate modernity” to the predominant liberal-capitalist one: by way of shifting the blame upon contingent particular Austrian circumstances, they want to keep clear and innocent paternity as such, i.e., they refuse to see the potential for such acts in the very notion of paternal authority. And, incidentally, it is rather comic to see critical analysts blaming for the Fritzl affair the Austrian sense of orderliness and maintaining appearances, of turning a blind eye and refusing to take a closer look even when we obviously can see that something must be wrong, and, simultaneously, hinting at the Austrian dark Nazi past – does one not usually associate with Nazism rather the opposite stance, that of “totalitarian” spying on neighbors in order to detect any subversive activity and denounce it to police? (Turning the blind eye on what one doesn’t want to see was, of course, part of the Nazi universe, but at a different level: pretending not to know about horrible crimes committed by the state, like the killing of the Jews. What is needed here is a more precise analysis of different types of turning a blind eye: one should not put under the same category the attitude of pretending not to notice the holocaust activities, and the fundamental politeness of pretending not to note when our neighbor looks really bad or inadvertently commits some embarrassing act.)

This, of course, does not mean that any debate about the “Austrian” character of the Fritzl crime should be rejected: one should just be aware that the excessive violence of the “primordial father” assumes in every particular culture specific fantasmatic features. With regard to Austria, instead of the miserable attempts to blame for Josef’s terrible crime the Austrian Nazi past or the Austrian excessive sense of orderliness and respectability, one should rather link the figure of Fritzl to a much more respectful Austrian myth, that of the von Trapp family immortalized in The Sound of Music: another family living in their secluded castle, under the father’s benevolent military authority which protects them from the evil Nazi outside, with generations strangely mixed (the Sister Maria, like Elisabeth, a generation between father and children…) The aspect of kitsch is relevant here: The Sound of Music is the ultimate kitsch phenomenon, and what Fritzl created in his basement also displays features of a kitsch family life realized: the happy family getting ready for diner, with the father watching TV with children while mother is preparing the food… However, one should not forget that the kitsch imagery we are dealing with here are not Austrian but belong to Hollywood and, more generally, Western popular culture: Austria in The Sound of Music is not the Austrian’s Austria, but the mythic Hollywood image of Austria – the paradox is here that it is as if, in the last decades, Austrians themselves started to “play Austrians,” i.e., identified with the Hollywood image of their own country.

This parallel can be extended to include the Fritzl-version of some of the most famous scenes from The Sound of Music. One can imagine the frightened children gathered around mother Elisabeth, in fear of the storm of the forthcoming father’s arrival, and mother calming them down by a song about some of “some of their favorite things” they should focus their minds on, from the toys brought by father to their most popular TV show… Or what about an upstairs reception in the Fritzl villa to which the underground children were exceptionally invited, and then, when the time for bed comes, the children performing for the assembled guests the obscene song “Aufwiedersehen, Goodbye” and departing one after the other… Really, in the Fritzl house, the basement, if not the hills, was alive with the sound of music.

Ridiculous as The Sound of Music is as one of the worst cases of Hollywood kitsch, one should take very seriously the sacred intensity of the universe of the film, without which its extraordinary success cannot be accounted for: the power of the film resides in its obscenely-direct staging of embarrassing intimate fantasies. The film’s narrative turns around resolving the problem stated by the nuns’ chorus in the introductory scene: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The proposed solution is the one mentioned by Freud in an anecdote: Penis normalis, zwei mal taeglich… Recall what is arguably the most powerful scene of The Sound of Music: after Maria escapes from the von Trapp family back to the monastery, unable to deal with her sexual attraction towards Baron von Trapp, she cannot find peace there, since she is still longing for the Baron; in a memorable scene, the Mother Superior summons her and advises her to return to the von Trapp family and try to sort out her relationship with the Baron. She delivers this message in a weird song “Climb every mountain!” whose surprising motif is: Do it! Take the risk and try everything your heart wants! Do not allow petty considerations to stand in your way! The uncanny power of this scene resides in its unexpected display of the spectacle of desire, an eros energumens which renders the scene literally embarrassing: the very person whom one would expect to preach abstinence and renunciation turns out to be the agent of the fidelity to one’s desire. In other words, Mother Superior effectively is a superego figure, but in Lacan’s sense, for whom the true superego injunction is “Enjoy!” One can well imagine, along these lines, Josef Fritzl visiting his priest, confessing to him his passionate desire to imprison his daughter and rape her, to what the priest answers: “Climb every mountain…” (Or, as a matter of fact – literally, much closer to facts -, a young priest confessing to his superior his pedophiliac lust, to which he gets as the reply the same “Climb every mountain”…)

The key fantasmatic scene of the film is the one after the children and Maria return from their trip to Salzburg, dirty and wet; the angry baron first plays the strict disciplinarian father, coldly dismissing them and reprimanding Maria; when, however, he thereafter returns to the house and hears them singing in chorus “The hills are live…”, he immediately breaks down and shows his true gentle nature: he starts to hum silently the song and then joins them singing – after the song, they all embrace, father and children are reunited. Father’s ridiculously theatrical disciplinarian rituals and orders thus appear what they are: a mask of its very opposite, a soft and gentle heart… So what has this to do with Fritzl? Wasn’t Fritzl a fanatical-terrorizing disciplinarian with no soft spot in the heart? This, exactly, is not true: Fritzl’s power was used to enforce his heart’s dream, he was not a cold disciplinarian, but, precisely, the one who was too much “alive with music” and wanted to directly realize his dream in a private space of his own.

In the last years of the Communist regime in Romania, Nicolae Ceaucescu was asked by a foreign journalist how does he justify the constraints on foreign travel imposed to Romanian citizens – is this not a violation of their human rights? Ceaucescu answered that these constraints are here to protect an even higher and more important human right, the right to have a safe home, which would have been threatened by too much free travel… was he not reasoning here like Fritzl, who also protected his children’s “more fundamental” rights to a safe home, where they will be protected from the dangers of the outside world? Or, to use Peter Sloterdijk’s terms, Fritzl protected his children’s rights to live in a safe self-enclosed sphere – while, of course, reserving to himself the right to transgress the barrier all the time, up to visiting the Thai sex tourist places, the very embodiment of the danger he wanted his children protected from. Remember that Ceaucescu also perceived himself as a caring paternal authority, the father protecting his nation from the foreign decadence – as in all authoritarian regimes, the basic relationship between the ruler and his subject was also the one of unconditional love.

In his care for his own house, the city of Bucharest, Ceausescu made a proposal which strangely recalls the architecture of Fritzl’s house: in order to solve the problem of the polluted river which runs through Bucharest, he wanted to dig beneath the existing river bed another wide channel beneath the earth in which all the dirt will be directed, so that there would have been two rivers, the deep one with all the pollution, and the surface one for the happy citizens to enjoy it…

Inhibition, Heautoscopy, Movement
Maire Jaanus

In the Freudian Lacanian body

Author’s Bio

Although we have not yet clarified in any ultimate way the distinction between matter in motion and an animate, living body in motion, we have since the time of Heraclitus, with rare exceptions (the Eleatics thought motion an illusion), believed in motion as a cosmological principle underlying all physical reality. A body in motion, however, includes the opposition of movement and nonmovement. At either extreme of motion or immobility there is suffering, some kind of deadly bliss, or death itself. To live a human rather than an animal life, we have, paradoxically, to arrest life, to inhibit its fundamental motility. To create a modicum of stable civilization we have had to learn all about nonrandom motion and measured variations. At certain periods, we have tended to privilege nonmovement, at others movement. Nonetheless, we have always been haunted by the fact of some kind of polarity, which is why Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is not only an antiphon to the unanswerable question after the cause of motion (and thus an arrest of infinite regression) but a symbolic image that reconciles two impossible reals: motion and immobility. [1]


“A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis” is an account by Freud at age eighty of something that happened to him in 1904′, when he was only forty-eight years old, and in Athens for the first time with his younger brother. The incident is one he says he has “never understood,” and one that has, in recent years, begun to recur, troubling him often. [2]

The essay is a miniature case history of Freud himself, a heautoscopy. Freud is analyzing an abnormal manifestation in his own mind: a repudiation of pleasure. He dissects a pathological moment, in which there is a certain failure of functioning on his part, a default of an earned experience of delight. His acknowledgement that there was a loss of “happiness” – of something that “would have been so lovely” (314) – lends the essay a melancholy and even tragic tone because it is painful to see that even Freud could not evade the common human lot of disappointment and could not solve even for himself the enigma of human unhappiness.

Freud offers this self-analysis, as “the gift of an impoverished being” (311), to Romain Rolland on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, noting that the ten year difference between himself and Rolland is the same as that between himself and the brother with whom he had traveled, On one level, therefore, the essay is addressed to this brother to whom he now says something he omitted saying on the Acropolis.

Why does this moment above all others recur to Freud and demand analysis? Why does it recur now? What is the pathological episode about?

In German culture, Greece is like Mecca, a national spiritual ideal of the ego repeatedly formed and reformed into an array of dazzling myths by important cultural figures like Winkelmann, Wieland, Lessing, the Schlegel brothers, Hegel, Goethe. Eichendorf. Kleist, Nietzsche, Hofmannsthal, and Rilke, to name only a few. The German dialogue with Greece has been more intense and continuous than that of any other European country. Greece is a cultivated German’s very soul, a site where he expects illumination, inspiration, revelation, even bliss, and at the very least, pleasure. Every notable German on the Acropolis, or at the very thought of it, has somehow been deeply moved. Here is where totality had once existed (Schiller), where the idea of Humanität developed (Herder), where Christ and Dionysus will one day be reconciled in a new golden age of love (Hölderin). Most recently, it is here that Christa Wolf heard the voice of Cassandra:

I began to read Aeschylus’s Oresteia. I witnessed how a panic rapture spread through me, how it mounted and reached its pinnacle when a voice began to speak:
Aiee! Aieeeee!
Apollo! Apollo!
Cassandra, I saw her at once, She, the captive, took me captive… It worked at once, I believed every word she said; so there was still such a thing as unqualified trust. Three thousand years – melted away. [3]

But Freud on the Acropolis, also an heir by education to all this love of Greece, hears nothing, He sees nothing, he feels no delight. He remains unmoved.

Instead, he stands there, like the obsessional he always was doubting that he is where he is. He finds himself disbelieving in the very existence of Athens, The specific thought (actually sentence) that disrupts any sensuous or aesthetic experience he might have had is: “So all this really does exist just as we learned at school!” (313)

Freud says his disbelief and doubt were doubly displaced: from his relation to the Acropolis to the very existence of the Acropolis and from the present into the past of his schooldays – for the initial, incredulous affirmation, with its effect of negation: “So all this really does exist, just as we learned at school,” is displaced temporally into a past. This past thought, in yet a further displacement, turns out to be the replacement of a quite different thought that he had in fact had as a child. For it is not that he had, as a child, ever disbelieved in the existence of the Acropolis, but that he had doubted that be would ever have the happiness of being there.

Incredulity is the essential subject matter of his thought or speech. Instead of a direct consciousness of “joyful astonishment at finding myself at that spot” (316), there is the distortion and the distorting, rather senseless, and unpleasurable mental action of doubting. Freud says to himself: “By the evidence of my senses I am now standing on the Acropolis, but I cannot believe it.” His momentary feeling is:

“What I see here is not real.” (317) The feeling of “the unbelievable” and “the unreal” are the essential elements in his experience, (316) so that he fails in fact to have a phenomenological experience of the Acropolis, but becomes absorbed instead in lucubrations and worries that concern, in a sense, the substratum or presuppositions of having any experience whatever. He stops at the threshold of the act of experience, debarred from entry by disturbing, irrelevant thoughts.

His self splits into a speaker and listener, where each is surprised at the other: because one is forced by sense evidence to accept what he had doubted and the other because he never imagined that the Acropolis’s existence had or ever could be an object of doubt. Such an inner division is always inhibiting and a sign of conflict. [4] Potentially, this kind of break within and disintegration of one’s being is also a sign of the death drive or the turning around of the aim of a drive from pleasure to pain.

Freud calls his experience an experience of derealization (ein Entfremdungsgefuhl). He feels estranged or distanced or alienated from reality. To de-realize or to estrange is to say that what is, is not. Or it is to say that what is does not belong to me; it is not familiar, but strange. Derealization is a refusal of phenomenological reality; it is a refusal to see, to form. Reality is undone: it is not formed; it is not.

Complete de-realization would be not to constitute reality at all, not to form, and not to be able to see it because it is not formed. Freud obviously does constitute it, but refuses to believe in what he sees. He cannot see what he sees because he cannot believe what he is seeing. He refuses to affirm it. He withholds a positive judgment. Freud says derealization involves an anxiety that concerns keeping something out of oneself, and he contrasts it with déja vu and fausse reconnaissance, illusions in which we seek to accept something into our ego. (317) Derealization is a judgment of negation: it is a refusal to incorporate whereas déja vu is an affirmation and a willingness to incorporate.

Every doubter seems to become once again a Descartes: does what I perceive exist or not? What is real? Am I and my body real? Freud twists what concerned himself – a burning desire of his childhood to travel – into an ontological question alter the existence or nonexistence of Athens – as well as into an epistemological question alter the status of perception: is what I see here real? so that his incredulity seems to be directed primarily at reality. But the real question concerns himself, his feelings, his body, and his desire to see Athens, which seemed to him as a child “beyond the realms of possibility.” (319)

Disbelief, which is an attempt to repudiate a piece of reality, is comprehensible when reality threatens unpleasure, but the real question, as Freud says, is: “Why should disbelief arise in something which, on the contrary, promises to bring a high degree of pleasure?” (314)

Doubt is capable of striking at one’s very existence, at the body, and Freud is aware of this when he says that derealization is intimately connected to depersonalization, a state in which a piece of one’s own self, rather than a piece of reality, is strange to one. (317) In his self-analysis Freud brings back one estranged piece of himself – the child with its immense longing to travel for which Athens had long been a “distant, unattainable thing of desire” – but he does not mention his disembodiment, the immediate failure of his senses and perception before the Acropolis, and the alienation of his drives. For to exchange sensuous perception for doubt is to submit to an estrangement of one’s drives and thus, to a partial kind of disembodiment. It is a consent to the loss of bodily sense pleasure. Freud here loses, as did the doubter, Descartes, his carnal value. He too becomes a disembodied thinker.

The range of one’s erotic life – in the broad sense of all that one can love, transfer or become attached to: new places, objects, knowledge, etc. – as well as the success of the psychoanalytic treatment, as Freud often said, depends on the fundamental mobility or lack of motility of the libido. [5] Everyone has certain transference boundaries. The Acropolis seems to be Freud’s. Why?

The Acropolis seems to symbolize for Freud an object that is unobtainable (and it remains that), inconceivably distant, and distant in particular from his father. The unsaid, the consciously unwished, the words that he utters now in retrospect to his brother and that he might have said to him when they stood on the Acropolis are: “We really have gone a long way! … ‘What would Monsieur notre Père have said to this, if he could have been here to-day?”’ (320) The Acropolis is “a long way” from the lather. Peter Gay writes of the most secret layer of Freud’s mind as “bespeaking his never-quenched thirst for the days when he loved his young, beautiful mother and ran away from his old father.” [6] Is it that the Acropolis, which could have been “so lovely,” is in some way connected as well to all the fantasies of happiness linked at one time with his young, beautiful mother, the one so different and distant from the old lather?

Freud’s associations and examples at this moment have to do with power. The second sentence above is a quotation from Napoleon, the words he purportedly said to one of his brothers during his coronation as emperor, confirming that for Freud too Athens is a crowning moment. Another example (given to illustrate that derealization is a defense) concerns King Boabdil, who, to retain his feeling of power, burnt the letter and killed the messenger who brought him news of his city’s fall. Is it that acknowledging joy, always a power-enhancing experience in itself, would give Freud too much a sense of power over his lather, bringing on a conflict with the father, just as joy might bring unity with the mother? Such a combination of power and joy has to be prohibited. His prohibition takes the form of a castration of the senses and of belief in the senses and their ability to deliver a world.

Freud, we can say, following a commentary of Jacques-Alain Miller, speaks to himself (in lieu of the father, who represents speech) and with speech interdicts himself enjoyment. As Miller says:

But what does it mean to speak of lather and mother as signifiers? It means … that for both sexes, the father is prohibitor, and … the mother is a signifier of the primary object…what we call the function of the father is language itself, as dead… On the contrary, the mother is always linked to jouissance, to enjoyment. And that is why… what appeared in Freud as the father prohibiting access to the mother appears in Lacan as speech interdicting jouissance. And that is why you find in Lacan the idea that enjoyment as such is forbidden to the one who speaks. [7]

On the Acropolis, then, Freud re-encounters his father, dead now eight years, the father who forbids enjoyment, dreaming, wishing, and fantasy, who makes one submit to law, and who is too impoverished to enable one to fulfill one’s dreams of traveling. Law is necessity, and necessity, as Hegel said, is motionless.[8] The fantasy of traveling, on the other hand, is motion, part of the motor imaginary, and the exterior realization of an interior desire. It is an imagined escape from the pressure of the law as well as from the reduction and impoverishment of one’s wild, wishful capacity for joy that the father’s presence opposes. It is an escape that Freud did not indulge in enough and that he now realizes he cannot ever have again since he is old and “can travel no more.” (320)

Traveling is a substitute for the kind of concrete motor activity, movement, and motor control for which Freud had such an immense appreciation. One need only think of his concern fundamentally with activity and rest or mobile versus bound excitation in the Project For A Scientific Psychology or of his sympathy for little Hans and his interpretation that Hans had at root difficulty understanding the movement and excitation in his own body (“I’m a young horse”) and in that of others, so much so that he had to bring everything to a phobic arrest.

The content of his phobia was such as to impose a very great measure of restriction upon his freedom of movement, and that was its purpose. It was therefore a powerful reaction against the obscure impulses to movement, which were especially directed against his mother…since this pleasure in movement included the impulse to copulate, the neurosis imposed a restriction on it and exalted the horse into an emblem of terror.” [9]

Freud was in many ways more obsessed with the “obscure impulses to movement” than with the “obscure object of desire” (to borrow a title from Buñuel). He never abandoned his conviction that primal satisfaction comes from a discharge through motility[10] and that jouissance is in an essential relation to motion. Motor action means that for a moment thought is suspended. And it is this essential suspension of thought that Freud cannot attain on the Acropolis. Instead he thinks, and ideas themselves, as Freud said, can be symptoms covering up the truth of wishes. [11]

Traveling is essentially moving from place to place, a displacement. Hence, it is also related, as Miller has brilliantly pointed out, to consistency (knowledge), staying in a fixed place mentally, and therefore, also to its opposite, inconsistency (truth), the new, different, that which displaces. Psychoanalysis, Miller has said, constantly relearns a necessary dissatisfaction with knowledge from hysteria, which questions knowledge in the name of desire. The “barred ‘S’,” says Miller, “is fundamentally the subject who does not keep to his place; a displaced person, and we know eventually the importance of the symptoms of travel for such a person.” [12] Freud in his search for truth never kept to his place. His displaced himself constantly, almost hysterically, while always searching for the new, right insight. It reminds one that Freud discovered hysteria as a substratum also in obsessional neurosis.[13]

Freud always spoke of the rebellion against God as a displaced rebellion against the father, and Freud says here that what finally interfered with their enjoyment of Athens was a feeling of piety towards their father. Freud says that Athens could not have meant much to his uneducated father and so it ends up not being able to mean much to the son, who finds himself unable either to trespass beyond the father or to believe in him. Freud’s use of the word piety as well as his concern with the polarity of belief-disbelief throughout the essay strongly suggests that in his own case too his religious stand reflects his ambivalent stand towards his father. Athens is the pagan and Freud despite his atheism and his severe criticism of religion remained a Jew: “My parents were Jews, and I have remained a Jew myself.” [14] He could resolutely reject belief in the religion of his father, but not the religion itself. A fundamental impiety would be involved in becoming Greek-identified, as had so many other eminent Germans. Thus, although Freud allowed himself to disbelieve in religious belief and to characterize it as illusion, he could not allow himself to believe in something else.

Credo ergo sum – “To believe is to be” – Kierkegaard wrote in answer to Descartes’ cogito ergo sum.[15] To believe is to be connected to something, to disbelieve is to be disconnected. Belief is love, connection, identification, and a sense of power.[16] Disbelief is inherently allied to negation, unpleasure, and unreality just as belief is to affirmation, joy, and reality. To believe is to be because one allows the other to guarantee that one is. Not to believe is not to be or at best to doubt. Freud here in part is not. He doubts. Something in him is dead; something (guilt?) makes him resistant to joy. The immobilization of his sensuous perceptions and imagination is a self- punishment.

Is this an inhibition or a symptom? Freud says it is a failure in functioning and an abnormal structure. (317) In Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, Freud calls an inhibition a “simple lowering of function” and a symptom an unusual change in function.”[17] A symptom is a degraded form of satisfaction, a substitutive process which must not find discharge in motility or become transformed into action, unless it is an action making an alteration in the subject’s own body.[18] Freud’s symptom is slight and momentary, a fleeting abnormality that most people would no more notice than they would a minor parapraxis, but Freud knows that the price such a momentary abnormality exacts is joy and that joy is related to motility.

Why is it so difficult to have pleasure? How much pleasure did Freud give himself? Enough to be on the Acropolis – for the most remarkable part of the essay for me is how he and his brother came to be on the Acropolis at all.

In Trieste on the way to Corfu, they saw an acquaintance who strongly advised them against going to Corfu because of the heat and suggested they take the Lloyd boat sailing to Athens that afternoon instead. The suggestion immensely depressed both brothers because they agreed that the idea was impractical, full of difficulties, and probably, impossible to execute because without passports they would not be allowed to land in Greece. Freud traces this depression to the immediate negation by his superego of such a deep fantasy, something he had uncovered in those wrecked by success and in those whose guilt or sense of inferiority made them feel unworthy of happiness and not capable of going beyond a certain pleasure-threshold.

Freud says that they spent the hours before the Lloyd office opened in a “gloomy state.”

But when the time came, we went up to the counter and booked our passages for Athens as though it were a matter of course, without bothering in the least about the supposed difficulties and indeed without having discussed with one another the reasons for our decision. (313)

Wordlessly, even stealthily, the brothers decide to go to Athens, an act of impious superiority over their father as it turns out later, as if these two represented the entire fraternal horde acting against the father. They move unhesitatingly, almost mindlessly, towards their object “as though it were a matter of course.” Freud sees their depression of that morning as a prefiguration of the symptom he experienced later: “We could not believe that we were to be given the joy of seeing Athens,” (315) but he says little about this sure, joint, silent action of their bodies, moving in mute consort, full of unspoken desire and belief, that brings the brothers to the Lloyd ticket window. He calls their behavior “strange” and says it was possible because Athens was at that moment only a possibility and not yet a reality! (313)

Thus the mere possibility of the actualization of a desire allows not only the motor imaginary, but motor movement and action whereas actuality itself stops motor activity – moving, even the drives, seeing, absorbing – because movement recalls some early unknown motion of excitement that it is dangerous to re-approach (perhaps in Freud’s case, the excitement and loveliness represented by his young mother, whom he saw undressed (nudam) as a child, on an overnight railway journey from Leipzig to Vienna).[19]

The Real (as opposed to reality) is approached by movement memories as well as by hallucination, and a motor image contains in it as much desire and as much danger of being transformed once again to jouissance as does an hallucination. For there is no doubt that only that has to be derealized which is immensely real: a reality that intimates behind it a Real, a desired encounter with sexual reality.

Freud was never quite sure where to locate motor movement. It is normally, certainly, in large part in the control of the ego (the will) and in the service of reality and action.[20] Still, given that movement has deep endogenous roots in the interior of our body and in our earliest experience, Freud also knew that the ego’s control of motility is more form than fact.[21] For the internal stimuli coming from our organs, that initially produce need, can, in their altered and modified erotic form as drive, produce a thrust (Drang) almost equal in charge to the major quantities of energy coming from the external world. It is certainly unusual to catch Freud himself at a moment when he is both wordless and acting wordlessly, a moment when his own motor movements are seemingly in the control of his id. Drive and desire join for a moment: he moves almost unconsciously (just short of literally sleepwalking) to get to Athens, but once there, he is immobilized. He does away with that which moves, his body. Disembodiment is not to be in the representation (the Darstellung as opposed to the Vorstellung) of the Real that is your body.”[22]

Thus we have, on the one hand, a cause of desire – the Acropolis – a fantasy object, associated perhaps in multifarious ways with all that for Freud was jouissance, and the elaboration of a motor imaginary, and real action. And, on the other, a lack of enjoyment, inhibition, and prohibition. Inhibition (the initial depression in Trieste) is the precursor of the prohibition (the disturbance on the Acropolis). The binding up of pleasure is a necessity, but an unconscious arrest of pleasure or a turning about of pleasure into pain or unpleasure is a symptom.

Freud chooses to analyze his unpleasure and failure rather than such pleasure as he had (after all he was there), giving himself more unpleasure (granted that it is less pleasurable to analyze unpleasure than to analyze pleasure). Thus, when it is a matter of enjoyment, Freud’s superego always returns him to the Imaginary relation (to the other who disapproves, the father who could be looking at him and his brother), to the oedipal scene and its forbidding laws, but when it is a matter of intellectual discovery, knowledge, and truth, Freud is unbounded and uninhibited, his own law. Evidently, his knowledge could not harm his father, but his desires, including those for his mother, could. His very desire for joy, maintained by a guilt at the thought of having it, assured his inability to have it.

Before his death Socrates’ daimon told him to “practice music!” Nietzsche interpreted this as Signifying that Socrates finally sensed that something was missing in his philosophy: the acknowledgement of death, of Dionysus, and of unreason.[23] One cannot accuse Freud of all these omissions, but if the essay on the Acropolis, written two years before his death, catches Freud as if asking for one last time: what have I missed and why? What crime have I committed that I am debarred from joy? One can imagine Freud’s daimon answering him: “practice movement!” Freud was condemned always to look for the meaning, but movement is designed for pleasure, not for meaning.


I turn now to the astonishingly brilliant commentary where Lacan looks at Freud looking at himself in the dream of Irma, in which Lacan is in fact not only interpreting Freud’s dream but presenting his own understanding of his three orders: the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Lacan says that he will try to see what the dream “signifies in the symbolic and the imaginary order,” but clearly what utterly fascinates him in the dream is the order of the Real.[24]

Lacan calls this the first dream, the initial, typical, inaugural dream – “the dream of dreams” (147,152) – not only because Freud positions it first in The Interpretation of Dreams (an act by means of which he in any case says implicitly that it is the most important dream) but because in it Freud discovers and reveals his own unconscious desire which is his desire for the unconscious and his desire to become the Freud he became, the founder of psychoanalysis. In essence, here Freud discovers that he desires to be Freud; he affirms being Freud: and he finds the way to be Freud.

Therefore, what Lacan is saying is that it is possible, paradoxically, to discover the truth in dreams. We come at once upon a reevaluation of the neoclassical evaluation of the dream. For example, Descartes believed that dreaming, like the imagination, was inevitably inferior to reasoning (less clear and distinct) and not entirely false only because it was God after all who had placed the senses and the imagination in us.

And because our reasoning is never so clear and complete during sleep as when we are awake, although sometimes the acts of our imagination are then as lively and distinct, if not more so than in our waking moments, reason furthermore dictates that, since all our thoughts cannot be true because of our partial imperfections, those possessing truth must infallibly be found on the experience of our waking moments rather than in that of our dreams.[25]

Lacan and Freud make much of this “more so than in our waking moments,” discovering that this long mysterious vividness of dreams is the result of the hallucinatory gleam casts by images afire with desire and of the extreme motility of signifiers free of their signifieds or meanings. Freud and Lacan reverse Descartes’ diminution of the value of dreams: our truth (although we ourselves can never entirely know it) is found in dreams.

Freud tells us that this dream reveals his wish “to be innocent of Irma’s illness.” Lacan brushes this aside as a preconscious or rather an entirely conscious desire.(151) The unconscious desire is far vaster, enormous, impossible to obtain: it is to be exonerated of all guilt, of the very guilt of having discovered the unconscious and of instituting psychoanalysis as such.

According to Lacan, the dreamer, the true subject, says:

I am he who wants to be forgiven for having dared to begin to cure these patients, who until now no one wanted to understand and whose cure was forbidden. I am he who wants not to be guilty of it, for to transgress any limit imposed up to now on human activity is always to be guilty. I want not be (born) that … Precisely to the extent that I desired it too much, that I wanted to be myself, the creator. I am not the creator. The creator is someone greater than I. It is my unconscious, it is the voice which speaks in me, beyond me. This is the meaning of this dream. (70)

Freud is the mere scribe, the recorder, not only of his own dream but of the dream of psychoanalysis itself: which has to be of and about the unconscious, concerned with its fundamental substance and form. Freud’s dream, for Lacan, states what the unconscious is, namely language, and affirms that the subject of the unconscious really says something beyond the ego or beyond what consciousness is able to say. Given that Freud is truly only a scribe, then he is exonerated in all guilt, even that of having discovered the unconscious, because it is and he is merely its spokesman.

In this dream, in which Freud establishes the truth of the existence of a subject of the unconscious, he moves definitively beyond the nineteenth century identification of the unconscious with the body to a vision where the unconscious is rather the recoil from carnal reality, a recoil and decampment made possible by language. (This decampment, of course, is never absolute, not even in psychosis). Lacan grants his own discovery of the unconscious, as built upon signifiers, scraps of linguistic material free of meanings, to Freud. Freud was already dreaming Lacan.(170)

The essence of the Freudian discovery, says Lacan, is that there is a subject beyond the ego and de-centered in relation to the ego. If this is not true, if this subject beyond consciousness does not exist, says Lacan, then all his own teachings are false.(148)

Philosophers have always looked for a subject beyond the ego, although never before in the dream. And it had not occurred to them to suspect that this subject is linguistic. One of the forms that this search for a meta-subject has taken is the notion of a social subject, ethically elevated above the individual. Thus, historically, a strong ethical injunction against narcissism (precisely. as certain moralists, like Rochefoucauld and Molière, pointed out, because we are selfish) always existed alongside the idea that the perfection of the self was attained together with the common social good.

Descartes helped do away with all these pieties about our interest in the good of the all, says Lacan, by discovering that a formal, empty, solipsistic subject is indeed all he is. He discovered, essentially: when I think, I exist; when I don’t think, I don’t exist. Beyond the certainty of my thinking, I know nothing. God alone guarantees everything else: the world, the body, others, and in a sense one can add, His own existence, because il one’s single and central certainty is that “I” exist, then by implication one is not sure that God exists. Not that Descartes ever said that, but his position implies a heresy.

Lacan asks, what thinks ”I” in Descartes? Does something like an object really become visible with or to the “think?” (6-7) Lacan wants to point out that language thinks this “I” of Descartes. What “thinks” is “materialism” (motérialisme), as he later calls it, playing on the French words, mot and matérialisme.[26] This “moterialism” is what is autonomous, not the ego, which is always dependent on others. (”The ego is never just the subject … it is essentially a relation to the other.”) (177) And only an “I,” emerging from “moterialism,” can attain separation from others (albeit not from language). Thus, the subject of the signifier, objective and “scientific”, is not the ego of classical theory, or the outwardly oriented individual of Darwin or the behaviorists, who talk of our adaptation to the world (8-9), but the inner core of our being (der Kern unseres Wesens), able to speak when we are not conscious.

It is clear that in the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant was also searching for a subject beyond the ego, an objective subject, free of purely subjective factors, such as need, sell-love, sell-interest, desire, inclination, or anything that appeals to our imagination, like the idea of perfection or social unity, or the classical ideal of the ethical citizen of the state. Kant’s subject wills only what is universal, necessary, unconditional, objectless, and free: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become universal law,” (a willing which in fact does not at all escape the relationship to the other but, on the contrary, makes it absolute).[27] This subject is dedicated to what would win everyone’s unqualified consent, as a mathematical truth or formula does: the categorical imperative. This imperative makes of every human being a legislative being, able to give the law to himself by his reason. It gives us the dignity of beings who need obey no other law but that which we have given to ourselves.[28] (The implicit heresy here lies in the fact that ethically we have obviated God and the need for the decalogue.)

Kant’s subject commands. it does not speak, which is why Lacan says in “Kant aver Sade.” that what we hear here is neither the voice of the ego nor that of the subject of the unconscious, but the inhuman voice of the superego.[29] By contrast, what humanizes Lacan’s (and Freud’s) discovery of the signifiers of the unconscious is that they are linked to desire, to Freud’s impossible wish, for example, to be completely exonerated. Because the Kantian voice commanded, nothing less than the universal. it could not wish the individual. The ten commandments (that Kant managed to reduce to one) and the categorical imperative prohibit subjective desires. Human truth, however, can only be found when you do not prohibit desires.

Thus, whereas for Kant it was reason that enabled us to legislate autonomously without God, and to create another realm, the realm of ends or of understanding (in opposition to the realm of nature, the Sadean realm of motion and motor discharge) and to apprehend a moral commandment that operates on us like a law of nature, like gravity, for Lacan what could give such impartiality can only be something other than us, as language is. Language as a set of material signs and syntactical rules (not speech) is autonomous and operative without us, like a machine. Such a semi autonomous mechanism, outside of us and yet inexorably active in us, gives us the equivalent of what the Greeks called fate, the irrational: a linguistic destiny, something which simultaneously exculpates us from guilt while making us guilty.

In the second and final climax of this dream, Freud sees “trimethylamine.” spelled out before him “very vividly, hallucinated as a formula.” as he says in the Project for a Scientific Psychology.[30] He sees signifiers in denuded, abstract, and skeletal form, “beyond the hubbub of speech.” language in fact as a wall, separating us both from the Real and the Imaginary. The formula, says Lacan:

gives no reply whatsoever to anything. But the very manner in which it is spelt out, its enigmatic, hermetic nature, is in fact the answer to the question to the meaning of the dream. One can model it closely on the Islamic formula – There is no other God but God. There is no other word, no other solution to your problem, than the word. (158)

The formula is a hallucinated vision of language as the Other: the signifier, without signified, without meaning, communication, or the transit to others: without the dimension of the voice or the drive or therefore the Real, as body or action.[31] As a radical reduction of language to structure, to a set of formal signs obeying formal rules (”This word means nothing except that it is a word”) (170), it is a kind of an extreme, an absolute, the Mene, Tekel, Upharsin of the Bible,” the mystifying handwriting on the wall in chapter five of Daniel.(158) But that, in fact, as Lacan says:

is what the dream leads up to. The coming into operation of the symbolic function in its most radical absolute usage endsup abolishing the action of the individual so completely that by the same token it eliminates his tragic relation to the world… The extreme use of the radically symbolic character of all truth makes it lose the sharp edge of its relation to truth. At the heart of the flow of events, of the functioning of reason, the subject from the first move finds himself to be no more than a pawn, forced inside his system, and excluded from any truly dramatic, and consequently tragic, participation in the realization of truth.(168)

The symbolic alone, disconnected from the other orders, is no longer human truth. In a world where we would be radically and exclusively determined by language, where there would only be “this speech which is in the subject without being a speech of the subject,” (171) all ethics would be abolished and we would, therefore, be guiltless. If language acts and we are only the subjects of language (subjected to language, its effect) our action loses its tragic character and we are no longer responsible or even co-responsible.

To excuse himself is Freud’s desire and he structures his dream brilliantly to attain his wish. In his dreams, albeit only in his dreams, Freud, always so guilty (as on the Acropolis), really has satisfaction and unlike most of us, he knows it. Outside of dreams, however, the price of being exclusively determined by the symbolic (which we are not) would be psychosis or death.

The formula issues from the “mouth” of no one (Nemo), from a “subject outside the subject,” (159) from a Freud who has broken away from others, from his body, and who has broken through his ego and its image, (which are both pure resistance and Vemeinung) (159), from a Freud, therefore, who is acephalic or headless because the head (the ego) is Imaginary.

If there is an image which could represent for us the Freudian notion of the unconscious, it is indeed that of the acephalic subject, of a subject who no longer has an ego, who doesn’t belong to the ego. And yet he is the subject who speaks … (167)

One can see in Lacan’s interpretation a clear prefiguration of what he later named the Borromean knot, the necessary interlinking of the three orders, because it is evident that Lacan sees at once the scientific subject (given to us by “moterialism”) and its limitations, meaninglessness, and even logical impossibility without the order of the Real and the Imaginary. The subject inheres in all three orders and uses one order or allows himself to be used by it in order to attempt to escape from another order. Freud lands in the unconscious symbolic (or Lacan grants him his own vision of the nature of the unconscious signifier) just after he has experienced a trauma in the Real and a crisis in the Imaginary.

It is Freud’s experience in his dream of a crisis in the Imaginary, a drastic impasse in all his relationships and identifications, that inexorably forces him to leap to the comparative stability and seemingly “scientific” orderliness of language, submitting himself to being caused by language rather than by nature (the Real), the body or by other people (his Imaginary identifications), and certainly not by their incoherent discourse, their “great cacophony” of dubious and unsure scientific opinions. (168) The only law which this crowd seems capable of coming up with is the nonsensical consensus: “if no one is right, everyone is right.” (160) It is the futility of the interhuman discourse, the speech of the group, of the polycephalic or multi-headed subject, (l67) that gives Freud’s desire the final incentive to find and encode another law, the speech of the unconscious.

After his trauma in the Real (to which I will return anon) Freud convokes his peers and friends (stand-ins and repetitions of his original oedipal relations) for succor, anchorage, and stabilization. 1167) He is trying to halt his dissolution, since he knows perfectly well that his ego is nothing but a contingent, ragbag collection of fusionary identifications, “a precipitate of abandoned object- cathodes,” other selves and things identified with to avoid helplessness or get a bit of power and pleasure.”[32] The encounter with the Real does not produce regression, (155) but makes us cry out for the other. The death-intimidating Real makes us want to be something, which means being with someone or something, almost anything, even something entirely inert, since the human capacity and tolerance for “structuring identifications” is as Lacan says, exceptionally loose compared to that of the animal. (166)

The ego is a wildly heterogeneous conglomerate, not an organically developed entity like a “great tree” which achieves “a miraculous equilibrium.” (155) Because it is a conglomerate, the ego can be lost, “blown up;” it can decompose, fade away, “dissociate into its various egos.” (176) In Freud’s dream, says Lacan, we are dealing with a “spectral decomposition of the function of the ego,” “with an imaginary decomposition.” (165) The “great tree” of consciousness (an allusion perhaps to Hegel’s mighty vision of the organic development of Absolute Spirit at the opening of the Phenomenology”)[33] – orderly, unified, and rational – cannot be relied on because it doesn’t exist. When the ego, with its special inertness, because structured always along the lines of the body image (167) is destroyed, so is Freud’s guilt (168) because the guilt is towards others, in the Imaginary order. Immediately, he finds himself in the liberating, but also dangerously abstract and scientific order of the Symbolic.

However the Symbolic, unless loosened psychotically from the Real – as is possible in dreams, which are, in any case, inherently psychotic”[34] – is not as autonomous as the nonhuman use of language (cybernetics for example) suggests, but still inexorably related to the Real – in the case of physics, to matter, and in the case of humans, to bodies, sex, and death. Freud’s trauma in the Real begins with the mouth.

What comes out of Irma’s mouth, a potent condensation if ever there was one (and for Lacan more so than Freud), is amazing: a chemical formula as well as the odor of spent sperm: words and vomit;[35] eros and death, the alpha and omega of life. The formula for trimethylamine, though itself abstract, is the sign of the chemical that is a decomposition product of sperm, the ammonia-like smell of sperm in the air, pointing to something absent but real. (158) In other words, the still and sacred signs beyond the ego, the handwriting on the wall, point back to sexuality and excitation, to something else, moving and in flow, which is neither Imaginary nor Symbolic, but Real, the smell of expiring semen. Given the two climaxes of the dream: the mouth (the encounter with the formless) and the formula (the form), we see that the one issues from the other, the word from the mouth, along with the sperm.

Irma, whose mouth Freud tries to open so that he can look in (the whole point of analysis, as Lacan points out), stands in at once for his relationship to the feminine as such, to that which makes “libidinal demands on the mind” (also Fliess), and to death (his two major anxieties). (176) She is the composite of several women whom he wants or doesn’t want (as patients), who are toothless or not (who can or cannot incorporate or devour him in an oral death), widowed or not, dead (Mathilde) or not, and who remind him of his own body, his ailments, his vulnerable finitude, and his desires.[36]

The mouth, for Freud, was itself something inaugural, a beginning:

The first organ to emerge as an erotogenic zone and to make libidinal demands on the mind is from the time of birth onwards, the mouth. To begin with, all psychical activity is concentrated on providing satisfaction for the needs of that zone…baby’s obstinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction, which…strives to obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason may and should be termed sexual.[37]

This first zone, related to sexuality and the feminine, object and hole at once, absent pleasure and drive, is the point in the dream to which Lacan returns, again and again, almost compulsively, revealing his fascination in the very fact of the multiple returns as well as in his heightened figurative language. This mouth, says Lacan, is a horrendous discovery…of the flesh one never sees, the foundation of things, the other side of the head, of the face… the flesh from which everything exudes, at the very heart of the mystery, the flesh in as much as it is suffering, is formless, in as much as its form in itself, is something which provokes anxiety. Spectre of anxiety, identification of anxiety, the final revelation of you are this – You are this, which is so far from you, this which is the ultimate formlessness. (154-5)

“You are this” here means that Freud is looking at the very source of the drive, the unknowable point where it disappears into organic, somatic reality, where it and with it any sense of our body that we have, are lost in the organism as such, in formlessness. Freud leads us, says Lacan, to the terrifying anxiety-provoking image, to this real Medusa’s head, to the revelation of this something which properly speaking is unnameable, the back of this throat, the complex, unlocatable form, which also makes it into the primitive object par excellence, the abyss of the feminine organ from which all life emerges…and the image of death in which everything comes to an end. (164)

The metaphoric condensation collapses mouth, vagina, womb, phallus, birth, and death. It is a frightening, but privileged experience of the Real, the unnameable and unlocatable. What Freud sees is not seeable. because it is not an object, but an apparition of the real. It is:

the real lacking any possible mediation…the ultimate real…the essential object, which isn’t an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fails, the object of anxiety par excellence. (164)

The third time Lacan turns to it, he calls it the “enigmatic image,” the navel of the dream, an “abyssal relation to that which is most unknown…in which the real is apprehended beyond all mediation be it imaginary or symbolic.” (176-7) Clearly, for Lacan, this encounter with the flesh is a sublime experience, but one in which the imaginative accent falls on the apprehension of formlessness and anxiety rather than, as in Kant, on the surpassing of the anxiety- provoking unbounded sublime by means of the concept of totality.

It is of course Lacan to whom the vision belongs or who extends it, because he seems to sense, as if for the first time, or certainly with the radiant freshness that characterizes the first time, the full weight of the Real compared to the other orders as well as the fact that the status of the unconscious depends as much on establishing its inherence in the Real as in language.

Lacan’s vision is a classical descent into “the inferior domain” as Cixous called it – a descent into Hell, into the Inferno, to death, to where creation begins, to where there is formlessness, namelessness, chaos, the intense anxiety of nonbeing, incoherence, physiological disfunctionalisation,[38] but where, one might add, there is also incomprehensible commotion, turbulence, and excitation; and undefined, meaningless movement – non coordinated, objectless, painful and pleasurable at once.

For why would we be so concerned with all that is stable and stabilizing: with the power of language images, names, nomination, structuration, law – if at the core were not something radically unstable, not merely the formless, but movement itself?

It is through nomination that man makes objects subsist with a certain consistence…The name is the time of the object…If the human subject didn’t name…no world, not even a perception, could be sustained for more than an instant. (169-170)

True enough, but there is something in the subject besides the signifier, or the object and non-object, or even the mysterious, founding, and lost objet a,[39] and that is movement and immobility, which we sense in the action of needs and drives. The original anxiety, provoked by the Real, is not only the anxiety of formlessness, or the loss and fall of objet a, but an anxiety having to do with movement and immobility. Objet a is unknowable, but motion, what Freud originally called “Q” in the Project for a Scientific Psychology, is also unknowable.

The mirror is a surface that reflects back form, the dream is a mirror that reflects back movement, being moved or not, being satisfied or not. The mirror provides us with the opportunity of a heautoscopy; we see our body image, and in the light of it, the world. The dreamwork is a labor for our satisfactions. Autoscopy forgets movement. The dream reminds us of all the motion and stillness we have lived and witnessed. It is the apprehension of living matter by its most essential characteristics: motility and mutability.

Lacan tends in this analysis to focus on the highly condensed images – the mouth, the acephalic Freud, the formula – that seem to form and then to explode under the force and pressure of their own massive condensation. But he also sees the fluidity and mobility of these images. They are unsettled, mutable, plastic, inconstant, and shifting. Pulsating with the libidinizing drives, these images, in the midst of waves and oscillations, are unarrestable, gleaming, driven; the entire dream, with “’the outline of Luder-Amour coming into Sight at the darkest center’” (162) is a pulsing series of micro and macro movements.

It is an image of waves, of oscillations, as if the entire world were animated by a disquieting imaginary pulsation and at the same time an image of fire…(162)

Dreamwork, the essence of dreaming, is not about thought, nor is it primarily about form, or the formation of hallucinated images, or even about transformation,[40] but about work. It is libidinized labor and action, a labor of desire that requires the literal moving about of “moterialism” and images to different positions and places to suit desire and to keep alive its fire, while avoiding conflagration by nothing less than an ingenious and “demonic”[41] activity of dramatization, displacement, fragmentation, and condensation. What guides all the commotion is actually “compromise.[42] Even while dreaming we seem to know that the reality principle for us concerns the moderation or inhibition of pleasure since otherwise pleasure ends (given that to cease is its aim) or becomes a painful excess. There is a shift in emphasis in the later Lacan, as Jacques-Alain Miller has argued, from “the unconscious speaks” to “the unconscious plays” and “enjoys,”[43] which also means, one might add: the unconscious moves, as it plays, as it enjoys.

In his effort to conceptualize movement in Die Kindliche Bewegungsunruhe (”Movement Unrest or Motor Restlessness in The Child”), Karl Landauer postulates that birth is an autoplastic “motor storm” – which subjects the newborn to an excess of stimulation both from the exterior world and its own interior organism (as temperature changes, new tactile sensations and respiration begin etc.) – and which creates a fundamental link between anxiety and movement, rather than anxiety and the objet a.[44] This initial movement is fragmented, afunctional. Incoherent, and at once pleasurable and unpleasurable: a catastrophic jouissance. In the infant’s initial movements pleasure and suffering are scarcely distinguishable. These movements are at once an expression of unpleasure (at excess stimulation) and an attempt to create satisfaction by means of a discharge of the stimulation (so as to bring about a stimulus stillness or arrest).

A continuity of movement is only established gradually, just as is the unity of the body image. Coordinated and coherent movements, and entire, harmonized movement sequences, montages, or scenarios come to inhibit and organize movement in order to assure motor pleasure and control. Landauer argues that movement is the very terrain where the reality principle begins as the infant learns to shape, to regularize, and to “rhythmisize” its movement, for example, by sucking. Sucking – an even, rhythmic movement, self- soothing and pleasurable – is already a considerable achievement (as every mother knows), a regularization of the oral drive, since the newborn does not necessarily know how to suck, but has to be forced into doing it or tricked by drops of milk on its lips.[45] Modeled, shaped, patterned – random motor excitation becomes a resource that can be deployed against catastrophic jouissance, and it can become a way to renew the pleasure that always ends, that plunges always into the death drive.

Motor anxiety concerns a fundamental apprehension of an inadequacy of pleasure within excitation, or an inability to elicit it out of excess excitation. Anxiety in relation to movement has to do with the absence of control, and the sense of one’s autoerotic inadequacy and incompleteness, as well as with the fundamental absence of the object.[46] Landauer gives the example of an infant whose hand would strike out wildly into space until she found her hair, a first love object, whose discovery allowed the movement to direct itself and to repeat itself, creating a scenario of more limited and regulated enjoyment, but one with a design, with a beginning and an end.[47] Here “the moment of the object is the moment in which movement congeals.”[48] But even when the drives course around the mere “presence of the hollow, the void” – and the itinerary is goalless and aimless, “the way taken” shapes the drive.[49]

There is no pleasure without movement or having moved. One cannot “come” without moving. This is why the Sadean philosopher in the bedroom can despise God because He does not move or only did “one single time and, thereafter through millions of centuries, is fixed in a contemptible stillness and inactivity.” The Sadean philosopher turns to nature which, by contrast, is matter in action.[50] To discharge is nature’s holy law. It God doesn’t move, He doesn’t “come”, and what is a God who cannot discharge!

Movement is pleasure, but not exclusively. The Sadean philosopher pursues pleasure (via pain) to its end, which is death. He knows nothing about the intricate compromises in movement and displacement demanded by pleasure and desire, as revealed in the dream. He sees no distinction between matter in motion and a living body in motion.

Insight into the motor imaginary is reached only when the physical body is forgotten and the body image and all the other forms and objects that are pinned on it are shattered. For the body image is too caught up in the pleasure of the perception of objects to describe the movement of the drives. Insight comes, perhaps, in dreams and art because these attack the ego, and go beyond the ego, putting consciousness in danger. When the ego is tom apart so is the body image, which means that the subject falls into pieces in immoderate excitation, and only then perhaps can it come symbolically to appreciate the absolute beauty and lenitive power of life in rhythmic motion.

This is why our more sophisticated cultural motor imaginary combines movement and immobility in its representations. Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover – immaterial, actuality without matter – is at rest, unmoved himself, but with the power to move other objects by acting as the object of their desire and their thought.

And Dante, at the end of Paradiso, contemplating the mystery of the three, the Trinity, and then of the two, the double nature of Christ, realizes that he is turning what is the eternal light into mathematics, “like the geometer who sets his mind to the squaring of the circle…I wished to see how the image was fitted to the circle.” The ancient and mathematically insoluble problem is something no mind is equal to, but he says he was granted, nonetheless, to experience a solution, that his mind was “smitten by a flash of lightening wherein came its wish” and he convinces us that he was satisfied because he goes on to say: “but now my desire and will, like a wheel that spins with even motion, were resolved by the Love that moves the sun and other stars.”[51] “Even motion,” the movement of the sun and stars regulated by perfect desire, a balance of the moved and the unmoving -that was Dante’s last vision.


[1] A shorter version of this paper was delivered at the Fifteenth Annual Meeting of The International Association for Philosophy and Literature on Bodies: Image, Writing, Technology at the University of California. Irvine on April 28. 1990.

[2] Sigmund Freud. “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis” in Character and Culture, New York: Collier Books, 1963.

[3] Christa Wolf, Cassandra, trans. Jan van Heurck, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984.

[4] Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. A.A. Brill, New York: Random House, 1938.

[5] See Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans.
James Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton. 1966.

[6] Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time, New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.

[7]Jacques·Alain Miller. “To Interpret the Cause: from Freud to Lacan,” Newsletter of the Freudian Field, Spring/Fall. 1989.

[8] G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Fine Art, vol. I., quoted in Reconstructing Aesthetics, eds. Agnes Heller and Ference Feher, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

[9] Sigmund Freud, “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy” in The Sexual Enlightenment of Children, New York: Collier Books, 1963.

[10] See Sigmund Freud, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, trans. Alex Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton, 1959.

[11] See Sigmund Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho·Analysis, trans. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990).

[12] Jacques-Alain Miller, “A and a in Clinical Structures” in Acts of the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop.

[13] Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety.

[14] Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study, trans. James
Strachey, New York: W. W. Norton, 1952.

[15] Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death in Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death, trans. Walter Lowrie, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.

[16] See also Freud’s discussion of variants of such Jove, identification, and power in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, trans. James Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton, 1959.

[17] Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety.

[18] Ibid

[19] Peter Gay notes that even at age 41, Freud cannot describe to Fliess this episode of the awakening of his libido “toward matrem” without “Iapsing into safe distancing Latin.” Freud: A Life for Our Time.

[20] Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviera, New York: W.W. Norton, 1960

[21] Ibid

[22] Monique David-Ménard makes this distinction between Vorstellung and Darstellung in Hysteria From Freud to Lacan: Body and Language in Psychoanalysis, trans. Cathetine Porter, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

[23] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Goltting, New York: Doubleday, 1956. See Maire Jaanus, Literature and Negation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

[24] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-5, ed. Jacques·Alain Miller, trans. Sylvia Tomaselli, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

[25] René Descartes, Meditations, trans. John Veitch in The Rationalists, New York: Doubleday, 1960.

[26] Jacques Lacan. “Geneva Lecture of the Symptom,” Analysis 1, 1989.

[27] Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals in Philosophical Writings, ed. Ernst Behler, New York: Continuum, 1986.

[28] Immanuel Kant, Foundations.

[29] Jacques Lacan, “Kant avec Sade,” in Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 1966.

[30] Sigmund Freud, “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” SE I.

[31] I am indebted here to Marie-Hélène Brousse and the distinctions that she made between language and speech.

[32] Freud, Ego and Id.

[33] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B. Baillie, New York: Doubleday, 1963.

[34] See one of the many times Freud states this: “A Dream, then is a psychosis, with all the absurdities, delusions and illusions of a psychosis. A psychosis of short duration, no doubt, harmless, even entrusted with a useful function. None the less it is a psychosis, and we learn from it that even so deep-going an alteration of mental life as this can be undone and can give place to the normal function,” An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.

[35] Irma has a particular “tendency to vomit”, Lacan reminds us. Seminar II.

[36] Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.

[37] Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis.

[38] Hélène Cixous, “The School of Roots,” a lecture at the University of California, Irvine, April 26, 1990.

[39] Jacques Lacan, Television, trans. Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss, Annette Michelson and A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, ed. Joan Copjec, New York: W.W. Norton. 1990.

[40] Jean François Leotard, “The Dream·Work Does Not Think” in The Lyotard Reader, ed. Andrew Benjamin, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981.

[41] Sigmund Freud, On Dreams, trans. James Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton, 1952.

[42] Ibid

[43] Jacques-Alain Miller, lecture at the Lacan Conference 1990 April
14, 1990, Barnard College. New York.

[44] Karl Landauer, “Die kindliche Bewegungsunruhe: Das Schicksal dec den Stammganglien unterstehenden triebhaften Bewegungen,” in Internationale für Psychoanalyse, 12, 1926.

[45] Ibid

[46] David-Ménard, Hysteria, 160.

[47] Landauer, 383-4.

[48] David-Ménard, 155.

[49] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho- Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York. W.W. Norton, 1981.

[50] Marquis de Sade, The Philosophy in the Bedroom in The Marquis de Sade, Three Complete Novels, trans. Richard Seaver, Austrian Wainhouse, New York: Grove Press, 1965.

[51] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, III , Paradiso, trans. J.D. Sinclair, New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

literature and psychology, vol. XXXVI, 4, 1990.

The Short Session
Pierre-Gilles Guéguen

and the question concerning technique with Lacan

Author’s Bio

Of the many ways to define the analyst I’d like to keep to one: the analyst is he who, following Freud or Lacan, knew how to make psychoanalysis happen in his own life. He demonstrates that desire, all together singular, is called “the desire of the analyst”. This assumes that he “perseveres” and that he knows, at the right moment, to not give way on his desire.

Such was the case with Lacan who withstood the pressures fixing to bring him back into the supposed orthodoxy of the IPA, that is a professional practice of consensus. Of course, this led to his eviction, to what he named his “excommunication”, thus echoing Spinoza.

As for the short session, Lacan called it a “chipped stone” (pierre de rebut) [1] in a 1966 note to a page of “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” (Écrits). As much a “chipped stone”, it was a “cornerstone”, an essential element in his theory of psychoanalysis. A “cornerstone”, Lacan chose the expression carefully, highlighting the central aspect of question concerning the short session in a debate where it was never officially made the object of a rejection: “Whether a chipped stone or a cornerstone my forte is that I haven’t given in on this point”, Lacan declared.

On that page of the “Discours de Rome”, when he’s developing a critique of standard analytic technique, Lacan announces a point of view which, then as ever, consists in substituting for the formalism of “technical rules” a formalization of theory: principles.

In that passage he describes the analyst as “Master of the truth”. He is also a scribe and a depositary, and at the same time, judge of the price of the discourse held by the analysand, a discourse in which meaning is fixed by the analyst’s punctuation. Without fail, the analysand interprets every break in the session as a “punctuation of his progress”. It must be avoided, then, the automatic break of the standard, lest a fixed session length furnish the analysand “pretext for a retaliatory ruse”. Besides, the “benevolent neutrality” of the standard can become an obsession for the analyst and maintain the subject’s connivance, which means as much as avoiding the bien dire.

It is in this context that Lacan pens the expression: “what they call our short sessions” (ce qu’on appelle nos séances courtes). For him, the short session is a means to promote “a precise dialectical meaning in analytic technique”, to seize the coming of the cure and not to make decrees on the rules of interpretation. There, Lacan truly shows himself to be a freudian.

In their canonical form, the standard rules applied to the IPA stem from 5 of Freud’s texts. Ralph Greenson cites them in the introduction to his 1967 work The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, articles entitled: “Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psycho-Analysis”, “On the Beginning of Treatment”, “The Dynamics of Transference”, “Observations on Transference-Love”, “Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through”, all of them written between 1912 and 1915.

But rereading “On the Beginning of Treatment”, for example, it’s quite obvious that the texts Freud consigned to the modalities of technique (doubtless in the heat of the quarrel with Jung) are first of all, not texts of technique pure, but texts that subordinate the question to the treatment of a theoretical problem. Moreover, Freud’s tone is more conciliatory than prescriptive, that every “rule” is paired with a commentary that effectively modalizes it.

Take for example the rule of the number, and above all, the duration of sessions, disputed so passionately for the way Lacan put it into practice. For years this was the mark of lacanianism, what the IPA psychoanalysts fought against the harshest.

It’s remarkable that Greenson doesn’t so much as mention the rule of number and duration, neither does Etchegoyen. In France, following André Green, the IPA analysts tended to give a theory “of the Framework”, which insists on the value of ritual in analysis and attempts to justify it, but no one dared to put forth the appropriate duration of the session for the good reason that everyone was cutting it short… Etchgoyen, in a piece called “Les fondements de la technique analytique” (“The foundations of Analytic Technique”) approaches the analytic practice of number and duration through the lens of the contract. He distinguishes among analysts (doubtless, according to the numerous tendencies of the IPA) between conservative authoritarian approaches, and more democratic modalities (”liberal” in the American sense of the term) of drafting the terms of said contract. In that light, we can see that he still treats the “framework” as a part of a reality external to the space- time in which analysis happens: the space and the time of the analysis itself. The fixing of the frame is then to be conceived as an element of deontology or social morality; it is measured in terms of respect for the other, reciprocal engagements, and possible breeches of the contract.

Compare that to the Lacan’s rigorous formulation in “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power”: “The direction of the treatment…consists, first of all, in getting the subject to apply the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis, that is, the directives whose presence at the heart of what is called ‘the analytic situation’ cannot be neglected, under the pretext that the subject would best apply them without thinking about it. These directives are initially laid out to the patient in the form of instructions which, however little the analyst comments on them, convey, even in the very inflections of his statement of them, the doctrine the analyst himself has arrived at.” (Écrits 490)

Note the contrast between the flimsy position of the IPA (the contract) and the rigidity that accompanies that position when it comes to applying the rules to the session, and the austere rigor in which Lacan announces what goes and what doesn’t, the principles unfolding with the understanding that the practice works on a case by case basis, crafted entirely on flexibility, with attention to the particular.

Where Freud outlined the rules he was nuanced (except for the fundamental rule of free association) and he gave a reason: “When the sessions are too far apart, one runs the risk of falling out of step with the real incidents of the patient’s life, of seeing the analysis lose touch with reality and getting off track.” (TP 1913)

In contrast to the IPA approach, it’s clear that Freud won’t allow himself to separate out the analysis, the patient’s life, and the manifestations of the concrete desire to undergo analysis, whereas, according to Greenson, the framework is made to encourage regression, to make the patient feel secure in the framework of “the working alliance” (l’alliance de travail). We can grasp Freud’s concern when he indicates, for example, that analysts will prefer to take on patients who are disposed to invest the time and money necessary for their treatment.

Lacan takes hold of the spirit of the freudian approach, whereas the post-freudians have tended to apply it to the letter. For Lacan, as for Freud, far from separating the session and the patient’s life, it’ll be about getting psychoanalysis to happen in the patient’s life. That means, among other things, that nothing in the patient’s life can be left aside. Psychoanalysis enters into relation with the whole signifying system in which the analysand moves. Lacan says as much in the 1967 text “On psychoanalysis in its Relations with Reality”: “… the interpretation that carries out the psychoanalytic mutation bears on that reality, on that which cuts it up to be inscribed in the form of the signifier”.

From that standpoint, the session isn’t a space reserved for psychoanalysis, inscribed in the daily timetable as an intellectual or recreational activity. On the contrary, the session is an element in the signifying series out of which the patient is inscribed into reality. The mutation comes to fruition once the signifier that delivers the session enters into a gödelian rapport with the others, when it becomes “extime”.

The lacanian session is not a space that invites regression. On the contrary, it is the occasion for a tuché of an encounter. There’s a paradox in the session that Lacan describes: in effect, it enters into a series with “a quasi-bureaucratic regularity” (“De la psychanalyse dans ses rapports avec la realité”) [2] but, fundamentally, the session is tuché, which means interpretation, surprise.

The lacanian subversion of the session time, the heart of it, finds rhyme and reason insofar as it requires that the analyst pay with his words and his character, with “what is essential in his most intimate judgement” to quote Lacan in “The Direction of the Treatment” (490). Hence, the “quasi-beauracratic regularity” is nothing but a base out from which the analysis becomes, in itself, the analyst’s interpretive tool and which, if necessary and on a case by case basis, the analyst might find fit to vary, in terms of number, duration, even price. The sole principle that must be respected is that the analyst cannot respond to the demand, he can’t find himself in a position of connivance with the patient.

Over the years, analysis in the IPA developed according to a model where the act referenced is the doctor’s, the therapeutic. Over and against that, we submit the analytic act, from which Lacan derived the principle of action of the analyst and his conception of the session. The setting thus demanded, on the part of the patient as on the part of the analyst, goes well beyond the therapeutic and the aspects of care which always lie, on one side or another of charity. If there is a principle of charity in analysis, it’s in the sense that the logician Davidson understands the term, that is, the analyst and the analysand are both situated on the same side of the Other, the same in whom the patient’s got to grasp the operating logic, the Other that’s led his life thus far. In that way, the analysis, and so the analytic session, takes part in the patient’s life at the same time that it’s the lever he can pull on to change it.

Here, Lacan has succeeded where the post-freudians failed: he put the frame into the picture, a topological operation that makes of the lacanian session now and forever something more than an IPA session cut short, it’s a new objet, an inventive object in touch with the finalities of a psychoanalytic discourse in the world.


[1] Translator note: “Chipped stone” follows Bruce Fink’s translation of the term in Écrits. Rebut, in French, means rubbish, discard, scrap, and ultimately, in the sense that Guéguen develops the term “what is unfit, what is rejected.”

[2] Conference at the Institut Français de Milan, December 18, 1967; in Scilicet 1, pp. 51-59, Paris: Seuil, 1968.

A Pound of Flesh
Charles Shepherdson

Lacan’s Reading of The Visible and the Invisible

Author’s Bio

This cut in the signifying chain alone verifies the structure of the subject as discontinuity in the real.
-Lacan, “Subversion of the Subject…”

This moment of cut is haunted by the form of a bloody scrap—the pound of flesh that life pays in order to turn it into the signifier of signifiers, which it is impossible to restore, as such, to the imaginary body.
-Lacan, “Direction of the Treatment…”

A philosophy of the flesh is the condition without which psychoanalysis remains anthropology.
-Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible

1. The Limit of Language

When The Visible and the Invisible was published in 1964, Lacan was teaching for the first time at the École normale supérieure. In the fall of 1963, the previous semester, the French Society for Psychoanalysis had excluded Lacan from its list of approved training analysts, which also meant his rejection from the society founded by Freud himself, the International Psychoanalytic Association. As a result, Lacan cancelled his seminar at Sainte-Anne Hospital, where it had been running for ten years, and began teaching for the first time before a university audience (at the invitation of Femand Braudel, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, and other supporters who had arranged for him to continue his teaching). Philosophers like Jean Wahl and Jean Hyppolite had of course taken an interest in his work for many years, but this was the first time that participants in his seminar no longer needed the special credentials required to enter the psychiatric clinic at the teaching hospital. The seminar was now open to the public, was considerably larger than it had ever been, and its participants came mainly from the university. Lacan was now obliged to make a case for his work before the academic world.

The seminar he had planned for that year was called Les noms-du- père (The Names-of-the-Father), but only one session took place. When he moved from Sainte-Anne to the École normale, he offered a different course, which was published as Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, although it was originally entitled Les fondements de la psychanalyse (The Foundations of Psychoanalysis). It is clear, therefore, that this seminar constitutes a new beginning of sorts, a return to fundamental principles. It also involves a concerted effort, on Lacan’s pan, to prove himself. If we begin with these historical details, it is not because of their intrinsic importance, or because a theoretical text can be reduced to its historical milieu, but because Lacan’s remarks on The Visible and the Invisible can be grasped only if we recognize the specific concerns that occupied him during this course.

Before we turn to that course, however, let us sketch its horizon more precisely. The ill-fated session from the Names-of-the-Father seminar, which has been published in the English (but not the French) edition of Television, contains an analysis of the “voice” which is very close to the account of the “gaze” that organizes his discussion of Merleau-Ponty (see Salecl and Zizek), The session on the “voice” develops through a reading of the biblical account of Abraham and Isaac (see Derrida), which is in turn elaborated by reference to Caravaggio’s depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac and Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling—the entire session providing a brief summary of Lacan’s course on anxiety from the previous semester (the unpublished Seminar X: L’ angoisse, 1962-63), in which Heidegger is never far away. The context for his treatment of Merleau-Ponty is therefore extremely complex and overdetermined, opening in many directions, but at the same time it is extremely precise, in the sense that Lacan’s purpose in exploring these materials is not primarily philosophical, but concerns the development of a fairly narrow and technical point within psychoanalytic theory, namely, the problem of the drive.

We thus have an initial orientation: as objects of the drive, the “voice” and the “gaze” are not properties of the subject (the power to look or to speak), and as a result, there is a considerable difference between “the gaze” as it functions in some film theory, and the gaze as an object of the scopic drive (see Saper). Lacan’s discussion in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis of Sartre’s account of the gaze (in which the voyeuristic subject is suddenly surprised by the look of the other) is intended to draw a sharp distinction between the Sartrean framework, which may do justice to the peculiar way in which the relation between two subjects can vacillate between “objectification” and “intersubjectivity,” and the Freudian account of the drive and its object. This suggests that if Lacan turns from Sartre to Merleau-Ponty, it is because Merleau-Ponty has moved beyond the intersubjective formulation toward a constitutive “invisibility” at the heart of the visible. But this only makes more acute the question of why Lacan in turn disagrees with Merleau-Ponty.

Let us recall the four fundamental concepts that Lacan treats in Seminar XI: the unconscious, repetition, transference, and the drive (SXI 16/12). The editorial divisions have broken the seminar into four sections and a short conclusion. The first section is called “The Unconscious and Repetition,” and the third section is called “The Transference and the Drive.” These two sections would therefore seem to cover the four main topics of the seminar. Two other sections remain. The second contains Lacan’s remarks on Merleau-Ponty (which occupy four chapters). The comments on Merleau-Ponty thus interrupt the seminar, suspending it at the very center, separating the first pair of “fundamental concepts” from the second pair. Lacan’s discussion of The Visible and the Invisible could thus be said to provide a sort of hinge, or a point of suspension, particularly between the treatment of the “unconscious” and the treatment of the “drive.”

As for the fourth section, I will not develop it here, although it has a crucial bearing on his treatment of Merleau-Ponty and can be said to contain Lacan’s most important theoretical contribution in this seminar, his main step forward in relation to his earlier work. Let us say only this: that it presents us with a consolidation of a development in Lacan’s work over the preceding two or three years, which concerns his refusal to account for the unconscious as an exclusively “symbolic” phenomenon. It is the notorious “symbolic” conception of the subject that Lacan now wishes to complicate or modify, by stressing the category of the real in an unprecedented way. And it is this emphasis upon the real that will lead him to develop his account of the objet petit a, the object of the drive. “In advancing this proposition,” Lacan says,

I find myself in a problematic position—for what have I taught about the unconscious? The unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech…the unconscious is structured like a language…And yet this leaching has had, in its approach, an end that I have called transferential. (SXI 137/149)

This transferential dimension introduces a problem because Lacan has insisted in this seminar upon a new definition of the transference, namely: “the transference is the enactment of the reality of the unconscious” (SXI 137/149, emphasis added). We may tend to think of the transference in purely “symbolic” terms, as a process of speech that allows the unconscious to appear through the signifier, in the classical form of the dream, in the lapsus or parapraxis, or in any of those verbal formations that present the subject’s “unconscious thought,” revealing in symbolic form what the ego does not wish to say. But with this definition of the transference as an enactment of the reality of the unconscious, we are forced to conclude that the unconscious is not reducible to a purely “symbolic” phenomenon. This is in keeping with Freud’s own claims, and Lacan immediately points this out, adding: “The reality of the unconscious is sexual reality” (SXI 138/150). Whatever he means by “sexual reality,” and however complex may be the relation between “reality” and the “real.” it is clear that the unconscious is no longer understood in purely “symbolic” terms (see Shepherdson, “Vital Signs”). As we shall see, this new development has a decisive bearing on his treatment of Merleau-Ponty, and on the concept of the “gaze.”

The same difficulty is present at the very beginning of the seminar, in a chapter entitled “The Freudian Unconscious and Ours.” “Most of you will have some idea of what I mean when I say—the unconscious is structured like a language,” he writes (SXI 23/20). “It is this linguistic structure… that assures us that there is, beneath the term unconscious, something definable, accessible and objectifiable. But when I urge psychoanalysts not to ignore this field,” he asks, “does this mean that I hope to include the concepts historically introduced by Freud” within this linguistic structure? Can we maintain that the unconscious (or “sexual reality”) is reducible to a symbolic phenomenon? “No, I don’t think so. The unconscious, the Freudian concept, is something different, which I would like to try to get you to grasp today” (SXI 24/21). We will not develop this turn in Lacan’s thinking any further here. It is enough to recognize that the “gaze” introduces a dimension that is located at the very limit of the symbolic order, in the sense that the gaze marks the “limits of formalization,” the point at which the symbolic structure is incomplete. As such, the gaze belongs to the category of the real, which is neither symbolic nor imaginary, but is rather linked to the concept of lack, a concept which begins to play a new and decisive role in Lacan’s thought and presents us with a radical development in his conception of the subject. We can summarize this development through the epigraph chosen from his essay “The Subversion of the Subject…,” which speaks of a certain disruption in the linguistic field, a rupture in the signifying chain: “This cut in the signifying chain alone verifies the structure of die subject as discontinuity in the real” (Écrits, French 801/English 299, emphasis added).

Keeping in mind the basic orientation of his work in this seminar, let us now turn to a discussion of the second section, which deals directly with Merleau-Ponty, focusing in particular on the first two chapters of the four which treat The Visible and the Invisible. The question we will ask is how this conception of the subject as “discontinuity in the real” is linked by Lacan to the question of the body, and in particular to the problem of the drive.

2. The “Gaze” As Object

On February 19,1964. Lacan walked into his seminar and announced: “It is not by mere chance…if this very week I have received a copy of the newly published, posthumous work of my friend Maurice Merleau-Ponty” (SXI 68/71). It is not a matter of chance because this text addresses a problem which Lacan himself was trying to resolve, even if the two thinkers formulate this problem in very different ways. Lacan immediately dedicated the entire session of his seminar, and the following three weeks, to The Visible and the Invisible, posing questions which, even if they do not constitute a rigorous philosophical analysis of Merleau-Ponty’s work, nevertheless constantly bring him back to this remarkable text.

His comments are not easy to understand. The Visible and the Invisible is a notoriously obscure and difficult text, but this is not the only problem. Lacan’s references to philosophical works are never very well developed, and his treatment of Merleau-Ponty is no exception. When he speaks of Hegel or Aristotle, it is always in the course of an attempt to clarify some detail of Freudian theory, and not for strictly philosophical reasons. In addition, his references are usually combined with allusions to several other texts, so that one can never be sure how much he really knows about the material in question, or how precise his analysis is intended to be. And even when he speaks of particular details, of Aristotle’s concept of chance (tuche), for example, or the moral law in Kant’s ethical theory, one cannot know which version of the philosopher he has in mind, which school of thought or interpretive framework he is presupposing. He does not elaborate the philosophical text enough to show us exactly what he takes the author to be saying, and this makes it difficult to see what he is criticizing when he objects, and what he approves of when he agrees. It must therefore be acknowledged at the outset that we cannot find anything like a properly philosophical account of Merleau-Ponty, or a responsible exegesis, in the four chapters that touch on The Visible and the Invisible. Nor can it be said that he does justice to this work, or that he takes us very far into its intricately woven fabric.

The Visible and the Invisible, acknowledging its importance, yet marking what he takes to be its limitations. It should therefore be possible to isolate a few propositions and to grasp the essential features of Lacan’s encounter with this work. If he is concerned, as always, with Freudian theory more than he is with the philosophical tradition, it should be possible to grasp what it is in psychoanalysis that leads him to make the specific claims about Merleau-Ponty that we find in Seminar XI.

One might expect Lacan to take up Merleau-Ponty’s work in terms of the category of the imaginary and its role in the formation of the body—exploring the concept of the Gestalt and the question of the visual field as an imaginary formation that goes beyond classical theories of perception, sensation, or visual experience. But this is not what interests Lacan in 1964. One might expect him to stress the symbolic order, either celebrating Merleau-Ponty’s turn toward Saussure or criticizing him for elaborating the question of language without giving sufficient attention to the unconscious. But this is not what we find in his analysis of The Visible and the Invisible. One might expect, finally, that he would regard the most important achievement of Merleau-Ponty to be his remarkable treatment of the relation between the visual and the verbal—the complex interplay between language and perception that we find in his chapter on the “chiasm,” in the essay “Eye and Mind,” and in the impressive work on painting, in which Merleau-Ponty shows how color, texture, and the whole material arrangement of painting is already a rhythm, a harmony, a language and system that contains its own logic, its own mode of ideality, its own structure of memory and rigorous abstraction. “Once this strange system of exchanges is given.” Merleau-Ponty writes in “Eye and Mind,” “we find before us all the problems of painting” (164). And again in the chapter on the chiasm, he writes:

“Pure” ideality already streams forth along the articulations of the aesthetological body, along the contours of the sensible things. …It is as though the visibility that animates the sensible world were to emigrate, not outside of every body, but into another less heavy, more transparent body, as though it were to change flesh, abandoning the flesh of the body for that language. (VI 200/152-53)

“Ideality” would thus be given, not by the systematic logic of the philosophical tradition, but by that level of abstraction which is grasped by the painter’s eye and hand, that process of “emigration” which allows the visible world to inhabit the domain of language. Lacan was concerned for many years with the interplay between the imaginary and me symbolic, and there is perhaps no other thinker who addressed this problem with more diligence and sensitivity than Merleau-Ponty. Yet this is not what concerns Lacan when he turns to Merleau-Ponty’s last work.

Instead, we find that his remarks arc entirely focused on the Freudian concept of the drive, and that he turns to Merleau-Ponty’s account of the “gaze” in order to claim that the gaze is not a matter of vision or perception, nor even a matter of the invisible horizon of visibility, but must rather be understood as an object, and more precisely as the object of the drive. In short, the “gaze” is a version of the “object a” in Lacan, and it therefore concerns the category of the real, which is neither symbolic nor imaginary. As he says in the chapter entitled “What Is a Picture?” “The objet a in the field of the visible is the gaze” (SXI 97/105). The “gaze” is therefore placed by Lacan within a series of objects, each of which corresponds to a different corporeal dimension, a different aspect of the body. As we know, Freud distinguishes between different forms of the drive, and we find in his work a series of objects, the “breast,” the “feces,” the “phallus,” and so on, objects that correspond to the oral, anal, and phallic stages of what Lacan calls the constitution of the subject; and Lacan adds to the Freudian list, giving special attention to two other objects, the gaze and the voice—the first being the object of the scopic drive, the second being the object of what he calls the “vocative” drive. Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on the gaze are thus taken up by Lacan in terms of the object of the scopic drive, and thus in terms of a very specific moment in the constitution of the subject. This leads him to an entire series of questions that are quite removed from the ones Merleau-Ponty was asking in his final work. This difference in orientation is considerable and should not be overlooked, but it should nevertheless be possible to show how Lacan came to find his own concerns already present in Merleau-Ponty, though in a veiled or indirect way.

3. Beyond “Intentionality”: The Gaze and the Superego

We can distinguish three different moments in Lacan’s treatment of The Visible and the Invisible, one which designates the continuous path of Merleau-Ponty’s work, another which marks out what is new in his last writings, and finally a moment in which Lacan parts company with Merleau-Ponty. These three moments are stressed on several occasions by Lacan, and merit further elaboration.

In Seminar XI, in the chapter called “The Eye and the Gaze,” Lacan writes: “This work, Le Visible et l’invisible, may indicate the moment of arrival of the philosophical tradition. . . In this work, which is both an end and a beginning, you will find both a recapitulation and a step forward” in relation to The Phenomenology of Perception (SXI 68/71). He elaborates the recapitulation as follows:

One finds a recapitulation of the regulatory junction of form . . . which is governed, not only by the subject’s eye, but by his expectations, his movement, his grip, his muscular and visceral emotion—in short, his constitutive presence, directed in what is called his total intentionality. (SXI 68-69/71)

As always, this attention to form, and to the formative power of embodied life, is intended to avoid the alternative of idealism and empiricism: beginning with the gradual, quasi-dialectical movement in which the world takes shape and is realized through actual experience, thereby providing the subject with the finite, material horizon of its own corporeal existence and cognitive activity, Merleau- Ponty’s attention to form is intended to avoid the division between subject and object, the alternative which forces us to choose between (1) the traditional, constituting subject whose representations would serve as the transcendental origin of things, and (2) the domain of empirical positivity which would precede consciousness and exist independently, patiently awaiting the subject’s exploration. This concept of form also entails a more careful analysis of the body. The body provides us with a point of access to things, but it is also of the things themselves: its flesh is the flesh of the world. “To be sure,” Merleau-Ponty says in the chapter on the chiasm, “one can reply that… there is the abyss that separates the In Itself from the For Itself…But here, seeking to form our first concept in such a way as to avoid the classical impasses, we do not have to honor the difficulties that they may present” (VI 180/136-37). Like the concept of form, the question of the body thus continues to provide Merleau-Ponty with a properly phenomenological point of departure that would correct the deficiencies and contradictions of the philosophical tradition. Lacan begins by recognizing the continuity between this new vocabulary of the “flesh” and Merleau-Ponty’s earlier work, noting that the relation between the seer and the visible, between the touching and the touched, is in some respects a reformulation of earlier concerns.

In addition to this recapitulation, however, we also find something new: “Merleau-Ponty now makes the next step by forcing the very limits of this phenomenology” (SXI 69/71-72). How does Lacan characterize this “next step,” and what allows him to regard it as marking the “limits of… phenomenology”? We must understand Merleau-Ponty’s “step forward,” Lacan claims, through fee concept of the invisible, a concept Lacan specifies in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s account of the gaze, and more precisely, in terms of the division between the eye and the gaze. For with the concept of the ”invisible,” Merleau-Ponty brings to our attention what we might call the dependence of the visible on a gaze that precedes it, a gaze that opens the domain of visibility. As Merleau-Ponty says, “It is as though our vision were formed in the heart of the visible.” He elaborates:

What there is then are not things first identical to themselves, which would then offer themselves to the seer [au voyant], nor is there a seer who is first empty and who, afterward, would open himself to them—but something to which we could not be closer than by palpating it with our look [en le palpant du regard] things we could not dream of seeing “all naked” because the gaze itself [le regard meme] envelopes them, clothes them with its own flesh. Whence does it happen that in so doing it leaves them in their place, that the vision [la vision] we acquire of them seems to us to come from them. (VI T73/T31)

We must stress this final phrase, for it is this peculiar independence of the visible world that interests Lacan—not the autonomous existence of empirical things (a classical theme of philosophy), but the peculiar way in which vision occurs only under the sovereign, and pervading experience of a gaze which comes from the things themselves, a gaze which continues itself m the very act of one’s own sensory experience. “What is this talisman of color,” Merleau- Ponty writes, “this singular virtue of the visible that makes it, held at the end of the gaze, nonetheless much more than a correlative of my vision, such that it imposes my vision upon we as a continuation of its own sovereign existence?” (VI 173/131). And again, in another passage, Merleau-Ponty writes: “he who looks must not himself be foreign to the world he looks at… it is necessary that the vision… be doubled with a complementary vision or with another vision: myself seen from without, such as another would see me, installed in the midst of the visible” (VI 177/134). It is this imposition (”it imposes my vision upon me”), this sovereign invisibility of a “gaze” that precedes all our seeing, that allows Merleau-Ponty to restructure the entire question of “intentionality” and the subject-object relation.

What does Lacan take from this analysis? He is unequivocal: “What we have to circumscribe, by means of the path he indicates for us, is the pre-existence of a gaze—I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides” (SXI 69/72). “This experience of being under the gaze is what constitutes Merleau-Ponty’s “step forward” according to Lacan: “I mean, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty points this out, that we are beings who are looked at, in the spectacle of the world” (SXI 71/74-75).

We have thus arrived at the second stage of Lacan’s reading, the point where we can grasp what is new in Merleau-Ponty’s last work. Why, then, does Lacan find it necessary to reformulate Merleau- Ponty’s account of the “gaze”? Before we take up this question, let us open a parenthesis—for already at this second stage in Lacan’s account, it is possible to locate a certain convergence between Merleau-Ponty’s remarks and the concerns of Freudian theory. Faced with Merleau-Ponty’s analysis, and before any divergence between them, we can ask what Lacan will make of the “gaze.” How will Lacan develop Merleau-Ponty’s claim, and what does he regard as its importance for our understanding of the subject? Is the “gaze” a matter of the imaginary or the symbolic? Will it lead Lacan to a reflection on narcissism, or is it rather a question of the superego—a reflection on the punishing and obscurely malevolent presence that seems to watch us from above, invisible and omnipresent, like an agent of the Law that has suddenly shown its sadistic face? One recalls the last sentences of Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Child’s Relations with Others” (1960):

We might ask what kind of relationship must be established between the crisis at three years mentioned by Wallon and the Oedipal phase of development which certain psyche/analysts locate at the same moment and which accompanies the emergence of the superego, the true “objective” relation, and the surpassing of narcissism. (155)

Could it be that the very moment in which narcissism is apparently overcome, the very moment in which the excesses of the ego appear to be tamed, and a mature, “objective” relation to the world has been established, is also, paradoxically, a moment in which the most unnatural dimension of the Other is manifested? Could it be that the supposed transcendence of narcissism somehow entails the peculiar production of the gaze, a dimension of experience in which the very fact of vision, the most “natural” sensory experience, is haunted by a peculiar, invisible, and tyrannical presence, a presence that cannot be seen but that looks at us and secretly governs the movement of the body with its own malicious or uncanny intention, soliciting our look, directing our vision as an extension of its own imperious existence? What does it mean for Lacan, and for the theory of the subject, when Merleau-Ponty opens up this experience in which we are “looked at in the spectacle of the world” (SXI 71/74-75)? Is it a matter of narcissism, or is it something that emerges precisely in the surpassing of narcissism?

Merleau-Ponty certainly seems to entertain the first possibility, when he writes these words in the chapter on the chiasm: “Since the seer is caught up (le voyant étant pris) in what he sees, it is still himself he sees: there is a fundamental narcissism of all vision.” Yet the passage immediately continues:

“And thus, for the same reason, the vision he exercises, he also undergoes from the things, such that, as many painters have said, I feel myself looked at [je me sens regardé] by the things, my activity is equally passivity—which is the second and more profound sense of narcissism: not to see in the outside, as the others see it, the contour of the body one inhabits, but especially to be seen by the outside, to exist within it, to emigrate into it, to be seduced, captivated, alienated by the phantom, so that the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen (qui voit et qui est vu). (VI 183/139)

The gaze in Merleau-Ponty’s sense would thus seem to emerge only in the moment at which narcissism is overcome, only when the mirror no longer gives me back to myself in an imaginary form, only when my body is no longer its own possession, its own unity, but is rather mat opening upon the world in which “the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen.” Let us not pursue these questions any further here. It is enough to see the first points of contact between Merleau-Ponty and Freud, as Lacan seems to present them. Let us close this parenthesis, and continue with our exegesis.

The concept of the gaze is a recapitulation, but it is also a “step forward” in relation to the earlier analyses of form and Gestalt. And this step forward would mark the limits of phenomenology insofar as it opens a certain invisibility at the heart of the visible, something that cannot be seen. that is beyond “appearance’” and “phenomenon,” but that looks at me as I look at the world, with a gaze that solicits my vision in advance, even before I begin to see. And since it is a matter of being seen, being “looked at from all sides,” the gaze is not a property of the subject, a power to look or to speculate, but something that comes from the world of things. The gaze is not a property of the subject, but at the same time, it is not a property of objects, a natural phenomenon, a feature of the empirical world, or even a characteristic of light, but something that precedes the domain of the visible and opens it up to our look. Such would be Merleau-Ponty’s step beyond phenomenology, as Lacan presents it: the gaze does not belong to empirical things, but designates a dimension of invisibility—not a transcendent sphere, but a domain of experience that is unique to the human animal, and that captures the peculiar character of human embodiment, something that cannot be grasped in terms of “subject” and “object,” sensory perception and external positivity.

In “Eye and Mind,” Merleau-Ponty speaks not of visibility, but of “the soil of the sensible and opened world”: “scientific thinking,” he writes,

[…] must return to the “there is” which underlies it; to the site, the soil of the sensible and opened world such as it is in our life and for our body—not that possible body which we may legitimately think of as an information machine but that actual body I call mine, [a body which can only be understood in its conjunction with] associated bodies… the others who haunt me and whom I haunt… as no animal ever haunted those beings of his own species. (EM 160-61)

It is therefore a question of the body not as an organism with its sensory-motor capacities, its memories and expectations, but as a uniquely human phenomenon: “not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement” (EM 162), the body without which “there would be no humanity.” (EM” 163)

In short, the gaze is not a property of the subject, but it is not a property of things either; a feature of the visible itself. It has no specular image, but is rather something invisible, something that cannot be seen but that nevertheless comes from the world of things, something that, in Lacan’s language, comes from the Other, preceding my vision and calling it forth, “such that it imposes my vision upon me” (V/173/131), continuing itself in the very act of my vision, reducing my most active sensory exploration to a fundamental passivity, and indeed to the very point at which we may speak of the annihilation of the subject (see SXI 78, 83/82,88). The gaze is something to which I am subjected. This is what Lacan isolates from Merleau-Ponty’s last work: “It is no doubt this seeing, to which I am subjected in an original way, that must lead us to the aims of this work.” (SXI 69/72)

4. Negotiating Platonism: Chora or Subject?

According to Lacan, we thus have in The Visible and the Invisible a recapitulation of earlier themes and also a step forward, which consists, in the elaboration of the concept of the gaze. Finally, however, we must mark out the point at which Lacan parts company with Merleau-Ponty, the point at which his analysis of the gaze takes a different direction. For he also writes in this chapter that “the field offered us by Merleau-Ponty… is presented by its most factitious, not to say outworn, effects” (SXI 69/72). He continues:

It is not between the invisible and the visible that we have to pass. The split that concerns us is not the distance that derives from the fact that there are forms imposed by the world towards which the intentionality of phenomenological experience directs us… The gaze is presented to us only in the form of… our experience, namely, the lack that constitutes castration anxiety. The eye and the gaze—this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field. (SXI 69-70/72-73)

We have distinguished three moments in Lacan’s analysis: first, a recognition of those elements in The Visible and the Invisible which deepen and continue Merleau-Ponty’s entire philosophical trajectory; second, the introduction of a genuinely new beginning, the invisible horizon of visibility; and finally, a divergence, in which Merleau-Ponty’s analysis would be deficient from a Freudian point of view.

In the next chapter, “Anamorphosis,” we find the same three steps. This chapter provides an analysis of the scopic drive, and Lacan returns again to Merleau-Ponty, acknowledging that “the scopic function is situated…by Merleau-Ponty’s recently published work, Le Visible et l’invisible” (SXI 75/79). At this point, having introduced Merleau-Ponty’s name, Lacan recalls some major figures in the philosophical tradition, and in two pages he refers to various conceptions of the subject—(1) “the irreducible method of Bishop Berkeley,” which “goes so far as to reduce the subject apprehended by the Cartesian meditation to a power of annihilation,” (2) the Hegelian revolution which “throws the subject towards the transforming historical action,” and finally, (3) “as for the meditation on being that reaches its culmination in the thought of Heidegger, it restores to being itself that power of annihilation” (SXI 77/81). This does not tell us much about the philosophical tradition, but it allows us to see how Lacan situates Merleau-Ponty’s work: “This is also the point to which Merleau-Ponty leads us” (SXI 77/81). Here again, according to Lacan, we have a continuation of the philosophical tradition in its reflection on the subject, and a certain “negativity” in the subject, but one that is formulated in a manner that carries us right to the limit of this tradition, right through Heidegger’s deepest ontological investigations. We are now presented with a conception of the “flesh” as the element in which my body as well as the things themselves are given. As Merleau-Ponty himself says:

[…] the thickness of flesh between the seer and the thing is constitutive for the thing of its visibility as for the seer of his corporeity: it is not an obstacle between them, it is their means of communication….It is thus, and not as the bearer of a knowing subject, that our body commands the visible for us, but it does not explain it, does not clarify it, but only concentrates the mystery of its scattered visibility; and it is indeed a paradox of Being, not a paradox of man, that we are dealing with here. (VI 178-80/l35-36)

Following Mzerleau-Ponty, and regarding his work as a path that takes us right to the limit of the tradition, to the point at which the question of the subject can no longer be posed in anthropological terms, Lacan nevertheless insists that Merleau-Ponty does not take us far enough, at least not far enough to grasp what is at stake in the psychoanalytic account of the scopic function, of the gaze as an object of the drive. Following his summary of the tradition and his reference to Heidegger, Lacan writes:

[…] this is… the point to which Merleau-Ponty leads us. But if you refer to his text you will see that it is at this point that he chooses to withdraw, in order to propose a return to the sources of intuition concerning the visible and the invisible, to come back to that which is prior to all reflection, thetic or non-thetic, in order-to locate the emergence of vision itself. For him, it is a question of restoring…. the way by which, not from the body, but from something he calls the flesh of the’” world, the original point of vision was able to emerge. (SXI 77/81 -82)

Why does Lacan regard Merleau-Ponty’s meditation as somehow falling short, or withdrawing in the face of its own most radical analysis? Is it because Merleau-Ponty’s account of the gaze somehow remains bound to the metaphysical tradition, or marked by a certain “Platonism”? Some writers (in particular Lacanian analysts) have made precisely this claim, arguing that, for Merleau-Ponty, there is an all-seeing presence, something like a Platonic divine being who remains unseen, invisible, but who looks at us and directs our vision toward the splendor of the phenomenal world (see Quinet, “Look” and “Gaze”). This is a reductive and mistaken account of Merleau- Ponty, and Lacan himself does not appear to settle for it. To be sure, it is a possible understanding, a possible way of taking, or perhaps mistaking the strange experience of the gaze. As Lacan says, “The spectacle of the world, in this sense, appears to us as all-seeing. This is me phantasy to be found in the Platonic perspective of an absolute being” (SXI 71/75). But we do not have to put this phantasy of an absolute being in place of the “phenomenon” (it one can still use this term) that Merleau-Ponty uncovers for us, even if the phenomenon of the gaze may also explain the phantasy that it makes possible. Lacan writes: “There is no need for us to refer to some supposition of me existence of a universal seer” (SXI 71/74).

Let us be clear on this point: Lacan seems to entertain the possibility for a moment that Merleau-Ponty indeed falls prey to the idea of a “Platonic” universal seer, a sort of “substance” or primordial “element” which would precede me subject and serve as its place of birth, its origin, chora, and so on. Referring to the “gaze” that comes from the world and solicits our vision in advance, and to the concept of the “flesh,” Lacan writes:

It would seem that in this way one sees, in this unfinished work, the emergence of something like the search for an unnamed substances from which I, the seer, extract myself. From the toils (rets), or rays (rais), if you prefer, of an iridescence of which I am at first a part, I emerge as eye. (SXI 77/82)

On this view, the gaze would be something that, in the arena of vision, functions like the chora, the primordial substance or place that would precede the subject, and from which the subject would emerge. But this is not what Lacan takes Merleau-Ponty to be doing. He immediately adds: “Yet is this the way he really wished to take? The traces that remain of the part to come from his meditation [i.e. the “working notes”] permit us to doubt it” (SXI 77/82). What then is Merleau-Ponty doing, if not engaging in the great, speculative enterprise of the metaphysical tradition, “the search for an unnamed substance” (SXI 77/82)? In Lacan’s view, “he may have been directed towards some search/original in relation to the philosophical tradition, towards that new dimension of meditation on the subject that analysis enables us to trace” (SXI 77-78/82). It is therefore a new meditation on the subject, and not a metaphysical speculation on primordial substance, that Lacan finds in the concept of the gaze.

5. Of Sacrifice: The Other and the Object

Why then does he insist that psychoanalysis must part company with Merleau-Ponty, or that we will find in psychoanalysis a more precise account of the gaze than we find in Merleau-Ponty? The answer to this question is obvious: where Merleau-Ponty presents the gaze as something that comes from the world—not from objects in the world but from the world as a whole, the world in a phenomenological sense, and even perhaps from the experience of the worldhood of the world, that invisible horizon in which visible things find their place—where Merleau-Ponty, in other words, presents the gaze as something that, in Lacan’s language, comes from the Other, Lacan by contrast regards the gaze as an object, not as an empirical thing but as a specific form of the objet petit a, and more precisely as the object of the scopic drive. What does this mean, and what is its importance for our understanding of the subject?

In order to clarify this final point, let us return to the question of passivity, to the point at which Lacan speaks of the experience of the gaze as something “to which I am subjected,” so that we may even speak of the “annihilation of the subject.” In the experience of the gaze, “we find ourselves looked at in the spectacle of the world” (SXI 71/74-75). Our look is solicited in advance by a gaze that continues itself in the very act of my perception. Thus, in the experience of the gaze, my perception is revealed in its fundamental passivity—not a passivity understood as the familiar opposite of “activity,” in keeping with a symmetrical and binary dualism, but a more fundamental, more primordial passivity, on the basis of which both passivity and activity are possible. It is a question of that elemental experience which precedes the division between subject and object and makes possible both my passive reception of sensory data and my active, intentionally directed exploration of the world. The flesh opens us to a fundamental passivity in which activity and passivity, subject and object, no longer retain their traditional meaning. Stressing this point, and noting the remarkable richness of Merleau-Ponty’s prose, its atmosphere of luxurious sensuality, Lacan asks the following question: “Is there no satisfaction in being under the gaze?” (SXI 71/75). Why does Lacan focus on the question of “satisfaction” at precisely this” moment, at precisely this level in the structure of the subject? We are brought by Merleau-Ponty to see the remarkable way in which our look is already possessed, already compelled to emigrate beyond itself, to be seduced and captivated in advance by the gaze of the world, a gaze which continues itself in my own experience of vision, as if my sight were the implement and medium of a gaze that comes from the Other. “What does this mean,” Lacan asks, if not that “some form of ’sliding away’ of the subject is apparent” (SXI 72/75)? One hundred pages later, Lacan returns to this point, claiming that it is precisely in the encounter with its own lack, its own radical division, and as a unique attempt to circumvent that division, that “the subject makes himself the object of another will” (SXI 168/185), “It is the subject who determines himself as object, in his encounter with the division of subjectivity” (SXI 168/185). We thus see more clearly the function of the “objet petit a” in Lacan, as a paradoxical “object of lack.” a localization of lack, a “particularization” which allows the lack in the Other to be veiled at the very moment of its manifestation and veiled in a quite precise way, namely, in a peculiar instance of substitution (metaphor), which Lacan regards as sacrificial, since the subject offers himself up as the object that shows itself to be missing in the Other, identifying himself with the primordially lost “Thing” which makes the symbolic order incomplete. This is why Lacan claims that the experience of the gaze has to do with the lack that constitutes “castration anxiety”: “the eye and the gaze—this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field” (SXI 69-70/72-73). “At this level,” Lacan says, “we are not even forced to take into account any subjectification of the subject. The subject is an apparatus. This apparatus is something lacunary, and it is in the lacuna that the subject establishes the function of a certain object, qua lost object” (SXI 168/185). In short, in the experience of the gaze, it is the subject who identifies with the object that would make the Other complete, fading or vanishing in a sacrificial movement of identification.

In 1963, during the only session of the cancelled seminar on the Names-of-the-Father, Lacan provides a remarkable account of the sacrifice of Isaac and the symbolic relation which allows the ram to be substituted for the child, thereby also defining a new relation between the Jewish people and the Other, beyond this “pound of flesh,” beyond the sacrificial labor that seeks to satisfy the Divine jouissance. In the face of the enigma presented by the inscrutable Other, the void that is opened by this “question of being” (”What does the Other want from me”?), the subject can only be propelled into a profound and unnatural anxiety—one that brings with it a peculiar temptation: in Lacan’s words, “the offering to obscure gods of an object of sacrifice is something to which few subjects can resist succumbing, as if under some monstrous spell” (SXI 246/275). The symbolic pact of substitution, represented by the hand of the angel, a hand that reaches out to touch the hand of Abraham, stopping it at the very instant of the sacrificial cut, at the very limit of the Law, is thus a new way of touching, a new way of negotiating the division, within the field of the Other, between desire and jouissance.

It is here that we find the clearest division Between Lacan and Merleau-Ponty: for Lacan, Merleau-Ponty’s analysis has shown us— perhaps without intending to do so— what Freud meant when he spoke of the satisfaction of the drive, a phrase Lacan recalls in asking, “Is there no satisfaction in being under the gaze?” (SXI 71/75). It is a question, for Lacan, of that peculiar pleasure in which we simultaneously see the annihilation of the subject, the fading or aphanesis of the subject, that fundamental mark of death which Freud insisted upon when he wrote that all the drives are death drives. For Lacan, it is a question of distinguishing between the pleasure of the drive, that pleasure in which the subject disappears (which Lacan called jouissance), and, by contrast, the order of desire in which the subject finds its life. According to Lacan, this is the antithesis that Merleau-Ponty uncovers, without pursuing it in the direction Freud requires us to take: the experience of being under the gaze, and more precisely the satisfaction that attends it, is precisely the experience of the scopic drive, that primordial experience which is always a possibility of the subject, but one in which desire is lost, and the subject moves toward its own annihilation.

Diacritics, vol. 27 no.4, Winter 1997.

Art: Shilpa Gupta, Untitled, C-print, 2006.

Ordinary Psychosis
Thomas Svolos

in the era of the sinthome and semblant

Author’s Bio

We may first place Ordinary Psychosis in a diachronic sense within the work of Lacan. The signifier “Ordinary Psychosis” is not one of Lacan’s, but of Jacques-Alain Miller, but the signifier and its conceptualization are linked to the last teachings of Lacan. First, we find Ordinary Psychosis articulated with the sinthome, from Seminar XXIII. Some analysts use Ordinary Psychosis to designate a psychosis without evidence of an acute break, or the extraordinary symptoms of a classic psychosis, in the model of Schreber. In this context, analysts use Lacan’s sinthome to articulate a psychic stabilization, that holds psychic structure together, as Lacan did with Joyce, where his ego, his writing, repaired a deficit in Joyce’s Imaginary presumed from the bodily disturbance described in Stephen Hero. This has led to a debate: is Joyce an Ordinary Psychotic? Joyce may have never presented with an acute psychosis, but his means of sinthomatic stabilization is not ordinary, but quite extraordinary. This question of Joyce interrogates the way we use Ordinary Psychosis. Do we take ‘ordinary’ to refer to all subjects with a psychotic structure for whom there is no evidence of extraordinary phenomena, or is it rather to be used in a circumscribed sense, in which the sinthomatic stabilization is what is ordinary, ‘banal’ as M.-H. Brousse elaborates, one more like neurosis?

Ordinary Psychosis is also linked to what Miller has referred to as the semblantization we find in the last Lacan. One is that of the semblantization of the Name-of-the-Father. No longer the crucial ‘real’ pivot point in psychic structure of “A Question Preliminary …,” Lacan first pluralizes the Name-of-the-Father in the eponymous Seminar and then makes it a function, or predicate. The object a, a residue of jouissance in The Four Fundamental Concepts…, is reformulated in Seminar XX (Encore) as a semblant of being. The same is true of the Other. This had substance, as the ‘treasure trove of signifiers’ in “The Subversion of the Subject” (Écrits). Here too we find a shift in Lacan’s teaching to an Other which is barred, which does not exist, but which still functions as a semblant. This semblantization generates a tension between a use of Ordinary Psychosis that preserves the distinction between neurosis and psychosis and a perspective in which we find a universal character to psychosis, which we find elaborated in a variety of ways, from Lacan’s statement that ‘all the world is mad’ to Miller’s elaborations of a universal foreclosure (of jouissance itself, always excessive to the power of the Symbolic—language itself functioning as a delusion for all speaking beings).

The notions of sinthome and semblant also allow us to shift from a diachronic to a synchronic perspective about Ordinary Psychosis and psychic structure. Freud’s clinic and Lacan’s first clinic is a clinic of neurosis. There is a substantial quality to the Other and the Name-of-the-Father (as the stabilizing point of the Other) which exist. In this clinic, psychosis is conceived with reference to neurosis, as an exception, based on foreclosure, the non-existence of this thing in that place. In the clinic of the last Lacan, however, the sinthome has a universal place as the way in which each subject may singularly knot his psychic structure, or form a social bond with the Other. In such a clinic, the Name-of-the-Father is merely one form of the sinthome. The Name-of-the-Father is merely an especially stable form of knotting. Lacan gave us an indication of this in the introduction of the four-ringed Borromean knot in Seminar XXII: R.S.I., where Lacan identifies the fourth ring as “psychic reality,” which—for Freud—he identifies as the Oedipus complex. In the next Seminar, this fourth ring is generalized to the sinthome, the Name- of-the-Father one form of it. While this latter clinic supplants the clinic of foreclosure, it does not invalidate it. The stability of the Name-of-the-Father as a sinthome is such that it seems to have substance, rather than semblant. In neurosis, the stability of the structure is such that the logic of the clinic of foreclosure applies. Indeed, this relationship of the clinic of foreclosure to the clinic of the sinthome is not unlike the relationship between Newton and Einstein. Newton’s physics are valid within certain parameters of mass and velocity that are not too great nor too small. Newton’s physics is not useful in extreme values of those parameters, in the way that Einstein’s physics proved useful. However, while Einstein’s physics does thus supplant Newton’s, Newton’s physics is still valid in the limited parameters. In the same way, while the sinthomatic clinic covers a broader array of psychic structure with greater utility, the clinic of foreclosure is useful in certain parameters.

This clinic of the sinthome brings us a greater flexibility in our treatments with subjects with Ordinary Psychosis. In the clinic of foreclosure, the treatment is directed along the lines of signification, anchored in the Name-of-the-Father. Jouissance in this clinic is the imaginarized jouissance, as Miller has specified, a jouissance that is evacuated through the process of symbolization. In contrast, the clinic of the sinthome is organized along a direction indicated by Lacan’s lalangue, based on a direct linkage between signifiers and jouissance. While the evacuation of jouissance may be an issue at play in treatment, the treatment is not oriented only towards signification and the elimination of jouissance, but towards a linking of signification and jouissance. As Laurent specifies, this shift from the relation of S1 to S2 to the relation between S1 and object a is crucial in the clinic of Ordinary Psychosis. In many treatments, the quantity of jouissance remains intact (to use an old Freudian notion), but the psychotic finds new ways to manage his jouissance. A subject’s sinthome links a significatory identification to that subject’s objet a, a piece of jouissance, his semblant of being. With the sinthome, the subject does not eliminate the jouissance as such (often so destructive for the psychotic), but rather finds a way to make do with it. The sinthome is the point de capiton of lalangue for the psychotic.

The sinthome is nothing other than the social bond for the subject. In the case of neurosis, it is the sinthome as Name-of-the-Father structuring the Other, or in its Freudian reading, Oedipus rex ruling over society and the unconscious like the Aristotelian topos over discourse. But, in its most general form, the sinthome establishes the social bond. While the Other doesn’t exist, for each speaking being, there is a semblant of the Other. This is the Other the subject makes use of to engage the world, be it through the fantasies of neurosis or the most singular ways of the psychotic, those sinthomatic and semblantized structurations of the Other, so a-typical, reigning over the Other—the A-topos rex. In this situation, the analyst has considerable latitude to assist the psychotic subject to make use of an Other that will work for the subject, an Other specific for the subject’s sinthome. This process of elaboration of a semblant of the Other for the psychotic subject constitutes the other level for the direction of the treatment. In some of the most striking cases presented in the Paris English Seminar on “Ordinary Psychosis,” we heard just this process described variously as “creating his own personal myth,” “creating a bond with the Other,” “creating a symbolic matrix that gave him a possibility of negotiating in the world,” “allowed her to enter into the discourse of the Other,” and “built a family romance.” Indeed, it is fully the desubstantialization of the Other into a semblant that has created not only the perspective of a new diagnosis for psychosis, but a new horizon of possibility in treatment.


M.-H. Brousse, “Ordinary Psychosis in the Light of Lacan’s Theory of Discourse,” unpublished.
J.-A. Miller, “Semblants et sinthomes,” la Cause freudienne, 69.
J.-A. Miller, “The Ironic Clinic,” Psychoanalytic Notebooks, 7.
J.-A. Miller, “Paradigms of Jouissance,” Lacanian Ink, 17.
E. Laurent, “Ordinary Psychosis,” unpublished.

Art: He Sen, Come Together, oil on canvas, 2008.

Science and Truth: an Introduction I
Dylan Evans

Author’s Bio

In the reading room at the British Library, a number of subject- headings are displayed in white lettering above the bookshelves at regular intervals around the circular wall. Anyone who wishes to consult Freud’s works will find that these are located exactly mid- way between two of the subject-headings. These two headings are ’science’ and “religion”.

The librarian at British Library is certainly not the only one to have wondered about the status of psychoanalytic theory. From its very first days, psychoanalysis has been the subject of an intense debate over whether or not it truly merits being described as a science. Freud himself, however, had no doubts. ‘While it was originally the name of a particular therapeutic method,’ he wrote in 1924, “it has now also become the name of a science—the science of unconscious mental processes” (Freud, 1925d: 70). In The Future of an Illusion, he went on to contrast the scientific approach employed by psychoanalysis with childishness of religion (Freud, 1927c).

On this point, Lacan agrees completely with Freud. His boldest statements come towards the end of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, when he states that “psychoanalysis is not a religion. It proceeds from the same status as Science itself (Lacan, 1964: 265). These claims invite reflection on the nature of scientific enquiry and psychoanalytic research, and Lacan hoped that such reflection would both throw light on psychoanalysis and also “may even enlighten us as to what we should understand by science.” (Lacan, 1964: 7).

Lacan’s engagement with these questions can be traced back to some of his earliest writings on psychoanalysis. However, it is not until 1964, in The Four Fundamental Concepts, that these questions receive his full attention. This seminar is followed by that on Problèmes cruciaux pour la psychanalyse (1964-5), in which he seeks to support his claims for the scientificity of psychoanalysis by further developing his earlier (1961-2) remarks on the topological figures of the moebius strip, the cross-cap, and Klein’s bottle. The following seminar, L’objet de la psychanalyse (1965-6), also deals extensively with questions of science, thus completing a kind of trilogy. The text which forms the basis of the principle seminar programme in the London Circle this year, “Science and truth”, is in fact a transcript of the first talk in the 1965-6 seminar.

In this text, Lacan takes up a number of themes from the two previous seminars. One important theme revolves around the concept of “Science itself”, La science (Lacan italicizes the definite article here and spells it with a capital L). This, Lacan argues; is a strictly modern phenomenon which must be rigorously distinguished from all pre-modem simulacra of scientific enquiry. “Science itself” first emerges in the seventeenth century with the birth of modem physics, which is also the moment of the Cartesian cogito. These two events are not merely related by some accident of time; Lacan argues that the Cartesian subject is none other than the “subject of science”, the subject implied by the axioms”of the scientific method.

Lacan bases this account of the history of science on the writings of Koyré, whose account of Newtonian physics seems to have been a great influence on Lacan. In addition to Koyré, Lacan is indebted to the philosophical work of Bachelard and Canguilhem, which clearly place him in the rationalist rather than the empiricist tradition in the philosophy of science. In other words, for Lacan, what marks a discourse as scientific is a high degree of mathematical formalization. This is what lies behind Lacan’s attempts to formalize psychoanalytic theory in terms of various mathematical formulae. These formulae also encapsulate a further characteristic of scientific discourse (perhaps the most fundamental one in Lacan’s view), which is that it should be transmissible (Lacan, 1973: 60).

Lacan’s allegiance to the rationalist tradition helps to explain the often biting criticisms which he levels at much modern scientific research. These criticisms are almost always aimed at forms of science based on empiricist assumptions (whicb Lacan regards ultimately as a false form of science), and not at science itself. When he criticises modern science for ignoring the symbolic dimension of human existence and thus encouraging modern man “to forget his subjectivity” (Lacan, 1953: 70), he clearly has sueh empiricist vehicles as communication science and behaviourist psychology in mind. Thus Lacan is not criticizing Science itself, but only a particular form which he regards as a deviation from ‘true science’.Thus it would certainly be wrong to describe Lacan as a luddite, fiercely opposing the advance of any and all scientific enquiry. Far from it; he insists that the subject of psychoanalysis can only be the subject of science, for in the era of science it is impossible to recapture any ‘humanistic’ subject. Indeed, Lacan stresses that this is what separates Freud from lung. Whereas lung wanted to restore ‘a subject gifted with depths’, a subject with some direct, archetypal access to knowledge (which can be seen as a form of intuitionism), Freud insisted that an exclusively rational route to knowledge is now such a common presupposition that it cannot be ignored. In stating that psychoanalysis operates only on the subject of science, Lacan is arguing that psychoanalysis is not based on any appeal to an ineffable experience or flash of intuition, but on a process of reasoned dialogue, even when reason confronts its limit in madness.

The “subject of science” and the “subject gifted with depths”, are not the only subjects whom Lacan mentions in the article. Indeed, the article prolifera’:es with different subjects, the relationship between which is not immediately apparent and invites further reflection. Thus, in addition to the two subjects already mentioned, and the kng-farniliar “subject of the enunciation” and “subject of the signifier”, Lacan also introduces new terms such as the “responsible subject”, the ’suffering subject’, and the “subject of understanding”. Such distinctions introduce greater complexity into the Lacanian theory of subjectivity, and undermine any simplistic account of Lacan’s thought that is content with merely outlining his distinction between the subject and the ego.

As well as discussing the subject of science, Lacan is also concerned to elucidate something about the object of science. There is something about this object, Lacan argues, which has remained obscure ever since the birth of modern science, and upon which psychoanalysis can perhaps throw some light. However, it is not simply a question of identifying the object of Science itself, but also a question of identifying the object which is unique to psychoanalysis. For two decades prior to the paper on science and truth, Lacan had been arguing that a science is only constituted as such by isolating and defining its particular object of enquiry. Thus in 1946 he had argued that psychoanalysis had actually set psychology on a scientific footing by providing it with a proper object of enquiry —the imago (Lacan, 1946: 188). Hence when, in the 1965 paper which is our text for this year, he isolates the objet petit a as the object of psychoanalysis, he is in effect claiming a scientific status for psychoanalysis (Lacan, 1965: 863).

This brings us back to our initial problem. What status are we to attribute to psychoanalytic theory? Is it a truly scientific discourse? Lacan’s confident claims in 1964 about psychoanalysis ‘proceeding from the same status as science’ seem to imply that it has already attained scientific status. However, in “Science and truth”, only a year later, there are signs that Lacan is becoming more cautious. Thus he now distinguishes psychoanalysis from science on the grounds that each has a different mode of relationship to truth as cause. His growing uncertainty is reflected by apparently contradictory statements in the same paper; he both states that psychoanalysis is not a science but a “practice” (pratique) with a “scientific vocation” (Lacan, 1965: 863), and also speaks of ‘the psychoanalytic science’ (Lacan, 1965: 876). By 1977 he has moved even further away from the confident claims of 1964, and now explicitly denies that psychoanalysis is a science.

Psychoanalysis is not a science. It has no scientific status – it merely waits and hopes for it. Psychoanalysis is a delusion—a delusion which is expected to produce a science… It is a scientific delusion, but this doesn’t mean that analytic practice will ever produce a science. (Lacan, 1976-7: Ornicar? 14: 4 [seminar of 11.01.77])

However, this statement is perhaps less categorical than it seems at first sight. For in psychoanalytic theory, ever since Freud’s remark on the similarity between delusions and philosophical systems, there has been an awareness of the logical rigour of psychotic phenomena (Freud, 1912-13: 73). Indeed, in his later work, Lacan goes on to describe psychosis as “an essay in rigor”, and half-jokingly (but only half) muses that if he had been a little more psycholic he might have produced a more rigorous theorisation of psychoanalysis than he did. However, in the paper on science and truth, it is not psychoanalysis that Lacan compares to a delusion. but science itself; he describes science as “a fully realised paranoia” (Lacan. 1965: 874). This is because scientific constructions resemble the architecture of a delusion in their rigour and explanatory power, and because both science and paranoia are based on the operation of foreclosure.

Thus the statement in 1977 that psychoanalysis is not a science but a delusion invokes an opposition that is simply not present, even undermined, in the 1965 paper on science and truth. In terms of the 1965 paper, the statement that psychoanalysis is a delusion can only be read as confirming its scientific status. This radical position places, Lacan at an even further distance from the empiricist tradition than do his appeals to rationalist philosophers. And this is what makes Lacan particularly impervious to’the kind of criticisms levelled at psychoanalysis today by Anglo-American philosophers of science. Inspired by Eysenck’s famous tirade against psychoanalysis in the 1970’s (Eysenck & Wilson, 1973), a new generation of philosophers have argued in recent years that psychoanalytic theory is not scientific because it is not falsifiable (eg. Grunbaum, 1984; Macmillan, 1991;’ Esterson, 1993). Such criticisms are based entirely on the empiricist account of science which Lacan rejects.

Despite their inadequacies, the criticisms of Grunbaum, Macmillan and Esterson raise complex and important issues in the philosophy of science which could be profitably reworked in the light of Lacan’s 1965 paper. However, although the question of whether or not psychoanalysis can be called a science is an important matter for debate, it is perhaps more interesting in the present situation to step back from this debate for a time and to consider the question as to why the accusation of unscientificity carries so much weight. The answer is surely that science occupies a hegemonic place in modem society as the exclusive means of access to “the truth.”

It follows from this that the question raised by the accusations of unscientificity is that of the relationship between science and truth. It is thus not only important to examine what we understand by “science” but also important to clarify what we mean by “truth.” Does something qualify as truth only when it can be validated by the discourse of institutionalized science? Or does modern science, as Lacan argues, derive its power precisely from the fact that it wishes to know nothing of truth as cause? It is to these questions that the London Circle will turn its attention this coming year.

Drawing the Impossible
Jamieson Webster

Author’s Bio

“The object is a failure,” Lacan says in Encore. And the conditions of its barely succeeding, are, by always failing, by learning how to live there. Taking Lacan at his word, could we say that love, like the analyst’s love of the unconscious, is also a love of failure, giving what one does not have, till we are blue in the face, full of shame, but nonetheless, continue to play at this game?

No one would say that love is easy, but perhaps what we forget is the demand that it be so, which leads us astray from its “essence as failure”. Only in this failure, the particular failure of the object, does love approach the infinite. This, Lacan made clear in Encore, when he links infinity to a question of jouissance and the woman who is also this failed object. The solution he marks at this place is wholly in the line of the feminine. We will come back to her.

As an analyst, these dilemmas of love and the necessity of an ethics weigh heavily, like a body that refuses to slough off, and it seems, perhaps in the youth of my practice, an almost constant failure and near impossibility. And yet, within that minimal distance, I will say that the work “just barely succeeds” hearing juste in the just of just barely.

The move from failure to fall is quick, like trying to find the center of an ellipse where one must drop down to an imaginary point. It is this which must be heard in what Lacan will always say about the analyst, with a slight smirk on his face—that we are dead, that we are masochists, that we are women, that we are prostitutes, but moreover, that we occupy the place of pure semblance. In other words, his object a, upon which the entire act of analysis will turn round.

So it is that I as an analyst hover incessantly between being the object as failure and a woman who falls. The fateful hysterical wish heard most clearly in the fantasy of degradation implied by the latter becomes part and parcel of the problem, but it is one, which, god willing, contains a solution. And so to the question of God. It is after all to this Other that we address our concerns about knowledge, love, and the feminine. For Lacan, knowledge does not progress through critique or filter or force but through an audacious leap through artifice in which we give truth back to God. Strange atheism of the analyst. Even stranger the faith of the patient.

What is now to be added to this real, given back its place (as if one could add anything there), is the subject forced to love the impossibility of not being able to die from shame and impossibility. This is the same as loving one’s unconscious. So we find out from there where we are to go. This is what he says that psychoanalysis comes to delimit.

The shame I experience, in particular as an analyst that happens to be a woman goes something like this: after sessions I turn around between a shame that asks ‘what have I done’, or wonders, ‘why, in God’s name did that work?’ In centering on this object that can only fail, just barely succeeds, perhaps this shame can be drawn to its outermost limit where knowledge progresses precisely as a radical semblance. This is why for Lacan the analyst is not only the dummy but also the dupe. Maintaining such a position is the subversive power of the analytic discourse and charts out that elusive passing at the termination point of a cure.

So by virtue of what do we proceed by such leaps and bounds? I will not say love, which is the answer I most easily want to give, but will instead first venture that it is by way of this shame. Its presence is already implied both in the failure of the sexual relation and in the fallen woman. It is the affect for Freud of both women and children in the Three Essays, particularly in relation to their body and the pleasures it emits, now here, now there.

But it, shame, also exerts a decisive force of reversal for the subject with respect to the Other. It does so in the direction of the infinite, in particular in the impasse found in the formal hiatus between truth and knowledge, which forces the latter to function in the register of the former. By putting the object a in the place of the semblance, the analyst through this shame, is in the best position to do what should rightfully, justly even, be done, namely, to force the analysand to investigate the status of knowledge, particularly in the power it yields in being always directed towards jouissance.

So Lacan suggests in Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, that one go in the direction of shame to get out from under the discourse of the master. This was how we could concern ourselves with the dimension of the Real. Others have likewise drawn this conclusion. Levinas says of shame and its value in relation to infinity: “The first consciousness of my immorality is not my subordination to facts, but to the Other, to the Infinite… The freedom that can be ashamed of itself founds truth … and is desired in my shame.” So begins ethical consciousness for Levinas.

Shame has the power of reorienting the subject in his act in relation to this Other who is for Lacan always an affaire, a doing that escape us. As Joyce said in Finnegans Wake: “Its something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall.” Joyce was certainly no stranger to shame in the throws of a love come jouissance, written everywhere in his love letters to Nora. Like a glove being turned inside out, he said to her, and man, woman, things start to barely just fit. For Lacan, it was because of his shame, even his disgust with his own body, that he held out this idea of a woman. A woman, in this Joycean regard, transforms the function of the Father, not the reverse Oedipal expectation. I’ll come back to Joyce as well.

Genet, the child criminal, unwittingly says, “in the presence of the person I adore… here am I turning inside out like a glove”… my death in danger of being the knowledge of my shame. With Lacan can we say that “what appears from this whole survey is that in short, all that subsists of the sexual relationship is the geometry alluded to in the inside out glove?” If there is anything to grasp there, we must do it through reckoning with shame. Shame stands for me as the truth of the analytic discourse, an opening onto the infinite.

I turn now to a case of mine almost impossible from the start, and so fitting in that regard. It is this patient that has shown me, perhaps more than any other, the importance of shame in analytic work. The impossibility, nay shame, of speaking about one’s cases, particularly when they still trudge on, seems right to attempt. Let me hope that I barely succeed in doing so in just the right way.

The child who fate will have it is named Delilah, is both a criminalized child and the child of a criminals. In her way she obviates that we are all nothing more than hanged men and brings this truth to bear. She is as powerful as her name decrees outstripping my every move in her uncanny sensitivity to hypocrisy. With her, what I gain by way of knowledge I instantly lose, truth being on her side. She has this ability to make me ashamed in this dimension where knowledge and truth are separated, which forces, as I said, my tact as an analyst. If anything this is what has the most bearing on the articulation of her truth and an ethics that can be read there—my act must be absolutely sound, at best, in its very stupidity and shame. Otherwise, it is rightfully the indication of a hierarchy that she will instantly reverse on me. Such is the movement of failure in this analysis.

What is important to understand and stands as what I can see for now as the guiding question of her analysis, is the impossible status of the object, its failure, tied directly into a question of feminine sexuality and love.

The object for Delilah has many incarnations which she plays at—the body, the child, the woman, the spouse, the victim, the discarded, the loser, the analyst. In some way, these all fall equivalent. Knowing the hazards of the object means to know the power of truth over what stands as a hypocritical value placed on knowledge of which she as child is ejected. “You don’t know about that” being what is and has been said to her. The “don’t know” here concealing the “shouldn’t” of the adult ashamed in the face of the truth that the child speaks like a symptom. “No, you don’t know about that,” is her response, without even a hint of searching or professing to have an answer herself.

She shows me this radical position of speech in our very first session, saying to me— “you know my parents threw me away. Not really but that is how I feel”. A child just six years old. This identification with the discarded object, the question of what it means to be thrown away, concerns the very status of being an object for another. It concerns the question of love and the failure of the sexual relationship. For now, let us say that what she doesn’t know is what ‘love’ can and cannot do, not because she is mistrustful, misguided, or mistaken, but because she isn’t.

The child is first an object for the parents echoing that more primordial object that one is when one has a body. The subject is a signifier for another signifier—that oft repeated Lacanian mantra— meaning the subject risks vanishing before the Other. Behind the signifier the subject fades and only in an elusive and indeed illusory game of desire, do we refuse that fading. The neurotic, when most sick, protects their desire in order to avoid such moments, only to lapse into a series of complaints about dissatisfaction, jouissance always prohibited. So we spend a lifetime of symptoms investigating the status of the object, perhaps all too passively. Delilah begins with its hopeful endpoint—assumed failure—and acts there from. She uncannily asks me in a number of sessions, “if I die will I ever have a life,” her eyes fixed on the impossibility, the paradox, and finally, hopefully, the necessity. She voices it like a sphinx.

So while neurotics fail to play at being objects for one another and then escape too soon from any realization of this by way of insular fantasies, they are light years behind this little girl. Never getting as far as a psychotic delusion of hallucinated satisfaction, in either case —neurotic, psychotic—there is the status quo of a desire little known, barely assumed, along with the traps of narcissistic illusion. Psychosis is, as Lacan said, not a privilege, and neurosis, on the other hand, is a banal one.

It is this particular delineation of love in the illusions of the neurotic and even in the psychotic delusion that Delilah refuses and rather locates herself in the place of the hole that opens up like an abyss. Delilah, indeed like Joyce and the child criminal Genet, underlines the failure of the system whereby sickness seems the only possible redemption. Certainly for her, adaptation sounds like one more condemnation. This is, once again, Lacan’s not being able to die from a shame that the system perpetuates in its very perversity. Her magnificent albeit symptomatic solution is to play at refusing to play the game.

The truth is, if we were ever to truly become an object, we die—we are in fact, just barely, not discarded. So she will not partake in the illusions that we use to pass over this truth in silence on a day to day basis. Its truth is too palpable to her. She obviates it in the most severe of fashions in both a refusal and a direct mockery.

I watch her say I love you to her paternal grandmother (her caretaker). The words “I love you” are voiced by her with the chilling instability that belongs to them every time they are uttered. She uses pure intonation to add the ellipse most of us cover over—“…for the time being”, “… as myself”, “… when you behave the way I like”, “… until I no longer do”, and so on and so forth. One would be naïve to call this cynicism, or failure, or fear.

The truth of her question—“if I die will I ever have a life” speaks to the truth that death is the condition of life. What we are left with is very little, almost nothing. It is with that we manage to carry on. She stares into the void with a bravery I envy. The profound position of this child is that she starts on that edge where it may take years to get an adult to even begin to approach that limit. For now though, the stakes of this game, since she is a child and the consequence of her life is not entirely hers to assume, will have to be born out later. Nevertheless, she tries to force the consequences in real time and it is startling to watch. One might say, in a reversal of the acts of Antigone, that for Delilah the murder has been committed and she will not let the corpse be buried.

How has she become so? It is impossible to know. But one sense that she has given me has to do with her relation to shame. She has gone to the depths of a shame in her radical identification with the object of refuse. At times this brings about a shamelessness and impudence. Such is her hysteria and it is true that she terrifies almost everyone around her. She had her school up in arms declaring that she had overturned the entire order of the second grade. Surely this is not the impotence of a neurotic who holds onto all sorts of illusions beneath manifest failure. This impotence is always the denial of the lack of sexual rapport implicit in an understanding of what it means to be an object, in particular the horror of the sacrifice and shame implicit in the fantasy of the loved Other. But we are quite somewhere else with Delilah.

Psychoanalysis and Science
Eric Laurent

Author’s Bio


Is psychoanalysis a science? How does it find a standing amongst the sciences? These crucial questions repeat themselves in the teaching of Lacan. As they repeat themselves, they receive different replies. We are not going to consider all of them, not going to exhaust them. We are going to concentrate on a single point: how Lacan put back into question in the name of psychoanalysis the classical epistemological postulate which claims to define a science by its object.

When Lacan intervened in it, psychoanalysis was the object of a lively debate: is it a science of nature or a science of culture? The Hungarian psychoanalytical school, with the ethnologist Geza Roheim and the biologist Michael Balint, was particularly torn by debates of this kind. In the adventures of Wilhelm Reich the Viennese encountered another, more political and social way of exploring the scientific postulates of the Freudian discipline. From the 1920’s until his death, Freud never stopped redefining psychoanalysis from the point of view of civilisation and its discontents. Without renouncing in any way the drive as “rudder” with one end of the stern-post in biology and the other in grammar, he kept open the trans-individual perspective of psychoanalysis. Past and present collective modes of organization—religion and politics—are for Freud indissociable from psychoanalysis whose curative mission is for him more global than individual. The paradox of his modus operandi, from case to case, one by one, is only apparent.

At the end of the 1930’s Lacan established his epistemological point of departure in two texts, one from 1936 and the other from 1938. In “Beyond the reality principle,” he proposes the term “complex” as ‘the most concrete and fertile one to have been brought into the study of human behavior in opposition to the concept of instinct which had been shown to be inadequate and sterile in this domain’. Two years later, in Les complexes familiaux, he adds that in this opposition one recognizes ‘translated into psychological terms … the essential character of the object studied: its conditioning by cultural factors ai the expense of natural factors’. This ‘a; the expense of seems today to be the key-term. Lacan refuses to consider one of the options in the alternative culture/nature and proposes, on the contrary, to maintain the predominance of the relation to the counterpart insofar as man is, from the beginning, a “denaturalized” animal, exiled from a felicitous union with nature by the vital misery of his, early years. This first proposition has a number of repercussions: as far as we are concerned, we will limit ourselves to questioning the absolute separation between natural science and cultural science in order to determine the object of psychoanalysis. On this point we shall probably already meet the premiss Lacan established in his text of 1965, “Science and truth” (Écrits), advancing in another direction, as formulating ‘the opposition between exact sciences and conjectural sciences which can no longer be held’ today.

In this way, from his entry into psychoanalysis. Lacan endangers the intellectual comfort of those who believed that a vague reference to biology was enough and that, whatever the progress of this science and its branches, the Brucke/Helmholtz model adopted by Freud at the beginning of his work remained adequate to anchor psychoanalysis in science.

In any case, we see that Lacan’s point of view cannot be reduced to a culturalist proposition. It consists in a subversion of any myth of naturality in the heart of psychoanalysis.

The decisive step in the 1950’s which Jacques-Alain Miller has called “Lacan’s hypothesis about the unconscious”, the definition of the unconscious as structured not by the complex or by me imago but like a language, will radicalise the epistemological question. Beginning here, the scientific horizon of psychoanalysis will have to be sought in the forms of knowledge produced by the formulation of the discourses: languages and logics. To the point, still happening, at which exact science and conjectural science—according to the terminology proposed by Lacan—join up.

We shall limit ourselves today to formulating two observations on the development of Lacan’s epistemological point of view. The first refers to the mode of emptiness introduced by what Lacan calls the subject of science. The second refers to the relation that the “subject of the drive” maintains with excess generated by the objects produced by science.

The subject of science and emptiness

According to a certain epistemological current, the sciences can only be defined by the relation they have with the local knowledge that they develop. As for other currents, it is possible to establish alongside the plurality of science, the relation of science itself with the beyond of knowledge; truth.

Karl Popper and his students were able to impose a singularity on the Anglo-Saxon domain which was not favorable. For Sir Karl, a statement is scientific if an ordered experiment can invalidate it. To the thesis according to which science is a set of confirmations of knowledge, he opposed another: “what can be falsified is scientific.” In this way, he situated the position of truth in science. In order then to deduce that science pursues and carries to its culmination the task of the science of being, that the true philosophical activity of our time is epistemology such as be practised it.

Lacan also chose to consider the links between science and truth but in order to deduce something very different. In agreement with French epistemology in the way Bachelard and Koyré developed it, he insisted on the radical discontinuity introduced by the inception in the sixteenth century of mathematical physics which established, after Galileo, a new regime of scientific activity in general. Sciences as intellectual activity existed before this: the calculations of the Chinese and Egyptian astrologers did not wait for the century of genius, and nor did the Greek geometers. Chinese physics and chemistry, capable of producing bronze and very remarkable canons, besides gunpowder, ensuring the success of the armies of the Empire of the Middle Dynasty, did not wait for mathematicalphysics. Needham was able to demonstrate in his studies on Chinese science to what point physics and chemistry preceding science had experimental aptitudes.

What was at stake with Galileo is very different. From the moment when the conjunction of the preoccupations of the well-diggers in Florence with mathematical calculations cut off from the will of the master was produced, science penetrates into the sublunar world in a way which escapes any discourse which pretends to master it. Science does not have any need of heroes and martyrs in order to ensure i;s expansion; apparently, it is enough to be open to anyone who leafs through its writings. In his Galileo Galilei, Berthed Brecht grasped in a remarkable way the profound changes operated by science in the traditional figures of the great man.

Lacan accepts the “epistemological break” of French epistemology but in order to radicalize it, having remained broken down in its task of explaining the new status of science in the world—to explain it, it had remained too attached to the reduction by which each science defines its object. Indeed, epistemology ensures that no science is a science at all except by describing its slow reduction from the enormous field it confronts initially to obtaining a limited object.

In the very terms of Bachelard, science goes from the complex to the simple, and Koycré has shown that the definition of the object of physics supposes the invention of a new concept, acceleration, hence the definition of a new movement, a movement of uniform acceleration. Accepting favourably the results obtained by this proposition, Lacan considers it insufficient and questions it in an explicit way in 1965: “for I don’t know that it (epistemology) has fully taken into account by the means of that decisive mutation which by way of physics founded Science itself in the modern sense, a sense taken as absolute.”

To the diversity of objects in play in the different sciences., Lacan opposes “a (radical) modification in our position of subject in a double sense: that it is inaugural and that science is always reinforcing it more.” In 1964 Lacan asks what a science which could include psychoanalysis would look like, The following year, he takes a step towards that inclusion, in advancing the concept of the “subject of science.”

His point of departure consists in reconsidering the Cartesian cogilo defined as a moment of ‘rejection of all knowledge’. The term rejection (rejet) carries a lot of weight because Lacan uses it for psychosis; throughout his teaching he himself brought into focus the relations between science and psychosis. That does not imply that they are confused, but rather that psychosis and science have the same model as do obsessional neurosis and religion.

Lacan reads the first meditation of Descartes as the rejection of knowledge, which implies its reappearance in the being of the subject, under the form of the “I am”, which “attempts to found for the subject a certain anchorage in being (un certain amarrage dans l’être), whence the subject of science is constituted. What Lacan understands by this term is a radically new way of conceiving of the subject: as the product of an operation which strictly concerns knowledge.

Armed with the subject of science, Lacan was able to re-read the Freud of “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense’ and “The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis.” Indeed, Freud defined the splitting of the subject as an operation which concerns knowledge with respect to the existence of the maternal penis. From the logical structure of the subject of the fetish is deduced his place in being. “The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis” establishes the same movement between rejection and anchoring. What is lost in psychosis cannot be distinguished from what returns in that place, Freud emphasizes. Negative phenomena are no longer anything but a time of productive phenomena.

The discussion thus considered from the perspective of rejection allowed Lacan to refuse a certain reading of the term “psychic reality” in Freud. The reading consisted of opposing it to “perceptible reality’ by the system Pept-Cs. in such a way that it would suffice to rectify the subject’s relation to his psychic reality, understood as fantasy, in order to situate himself in reality—such as it is and as sense data inform us about it. The fundamental scope of the subject is not the perception of something which would already be present but of something which comes in the place of what has been submitted to doubt, rejected. This scope is made of what was bejahgt, admitted, and what was rejected, aussgestossen, in accordance with the terms that Freud employed in Die Verneinung. The real of the subject’s position, his place in being (here we admit the equivalence of two formulations, even it means discussing them) depends not on the positivity of a perception but on a previous, rejecting movement. That does not imply a confusion of the two.

In this reading of Freud the link between science and psychoanalysis is founded on the identity of the operation of the subject of science and of the subject of the unconscious. The psychoanalytic unconscious, founded in the discussion of the subject, would never have been able to emerge before scientific experience. The man of re-emerging humanism does not lead to psychoanalysis despite his preoccupation with love; it is more the Pascalian man, the mathemaiisation of human experience in the conjecture of probability, which will lead us there.

Knowledge is not obtained in the name of man but in the name of the subject linked a knowledge but which it is demonstrated that he was already there, suddenly. In order that one may believe it, in order that one believe in the unconscious, it will be necessary for science to discover an ordered knowledge to a point previously unthinkable. Lacan makes his perspective precise in his “Italian note” of 1974. What is crucial in science does not reside in if, mode of transmission by the matheme but in what refuses it, in what ceaselessly escapes and permits new refutations. Lacan uses the Popperian term of refutation in order to link refutation and rejection. “To believe that science is true on the pretext that it is transmissible (mathematically) is a properly delusional idea that each step of science refutes by rejecting a first formulation to old means. By virtue of this fact there is no progress that would be notable because what follows is not known. There is only the discerning of a knowledge in the real.” This accounts for the belief of certain actual researchers, for whom knowledge is posed in the real. written in mathematical language, by God himself. Newton maintains he read the great divine book with its mechanics in the same way that he would have read the Book of Daniel. Contrary to the belief held for a time in the nineteenth century, not only were the great physicists not spontaneous atheists but, moreover, it seemed especially difficult for them to become so.

The reason for the consistency of psychoanalysis is its articulation, not with the belief of scholars, but with the “subject of science.” Freud is not a man of a scientific epoch but a man of all time—to paraphrase Ben Johnson speaking of Shakespeare—in as much as according to Lacan, he linked the unconscious with the subject of science. Freud got out of the impasse of the fin de siecle Viennese spirit by inventing a new concept: the divided subject.

Where is this subject to be met? What is his mode of being? The most contrary to the Lacanian orientation—the title of a course by Jacques-Alain Miller—would be to give body to the subject of the unconscious by making it a homunculus. The error, the epistemological obstacle, against which other disciplines before psychoanalysis knock up, is to pretend to incarnate it according to the teleological term used by Lacan. For example, when considering permutation groups of a certain number of statements which operate in the configuration of the structure of myth, one attributes to them a pre-logical character. The same thing happens when a Piagetian child, passing from a topological orientation in what concerns the world to metric space is qualified in the same way. We could add the child of psycholinguistics.

It is precisely where the subject has been most “disincarnated”, in game-theory, linguistics and logic, that access to a new knowledge is gained. What Lacan calls in 1965 the “work of structuralism” is the rejection uf the incarnation of the subject of supposed knowledge which subsists in a mode of a particular presence, the last approximation to which is the incompleteness theorem of Godel. This theorem demonstrates how in a system as well defined as arithmetic there will always be indemonstrable true propositions. In 1964, Jacques-Alain Miller proposed the term ’suture’, or rather the impossibility of such a suture between knowledge and truth, to designate this phenomenon.

To speak of subjective incidence in a given discipline that Lacan proposes is “a very special mode of the subject which has only a topological index… (a subject) in internal exclusion to its object.” This subject, produced by a truth which reserves itself for knowledge, emerges, sent like algae against the rocks in a baroque cascade. Psychoanalysis has access in the treatment to a certain practice of this subject as the latter acquires in it an ethical status. Lacan says in his “Founding Act” of 1964: “a practice of theory is required without which the order of affinities that we call the conjectural sciences design will remain at the mercy of a political derivative which supports itself with the illusion of universal conditioning.” Although psychoanalysis admits no other subject than the subject of science, it notes that the ‘for all’ that the application of science supposes produces in the master the illusion of a universal treatment. In the meantime, multiplication of the means of calculation by computer always allows larger sets to be treated. This illusion of mastery provokes in the mirror the illusion of the neurotic subject who struggles not to be a number and to preserve a status of exception by carrying it to the height of narcissistic rage or of hysterical insurrection, also of obsessional sabotage which, striving for the piece of number, touches it again ceaselessly and errs ritually in calculation. The subject ol the unconscious is “for all”, but the facts of desire and the replies of jouissance are singular. By using the distinction between the universal and the existential logical quantifiers. Lacan carries this dialectic to an extreme, showing that not only does the universal not imply existence but also that the existential is an objection to the “for all” of the universal. In its references to the existence of the psychoanalyst this dialectic is carried to its apotheosis.

The analyst and the excess of the objects of science

In the “Italian note” from 1974, Lacan indicates that Freud in creating the International Psychoanalytical Association made the function of the analyst exist in the world. Today, “there is some analyst” functioning. But, does there exist one, or are there only servants of psychoanalysis, of a mystery which goes beyond us? In order TO reply to this question, there is no reason to begin with an ideal definition of the function but with the result when it is set going, that is the objet a which is produced as reject of the analytical operation, limit and point of arrest in the domain of application of the function.

Psychoanalysis, as a practice of disidentification, as rupture by the unchaining of the subject of the unconscious, of the established identifications, produces an emptiness and in this operation leaves a remainder. This operation permits the analysand-subject new possibilities. The knowledge that the subject produces about his jouissance can allow him “to support in the fantasy the most effective realizations and the realities to which he is most attached.” But in psychoanalysis, if it is carried to its end. it is a matter of going beyond, to the point at which the objects of the fantasy and the being of the subject separate. We can illustrate this by using the painting that appears on the cover of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis; Holbein’s The Ambassadors. It is not a question of adding one more trick to the background, but of perceiving (he death’s head in anamorphosis.

In Seminar XVII The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, four years before the “Italian note”, Lacan brings out in a different way the same point about the moment when the production of objects for science intersects with the production of the object for psychoanalysis. Chapter eleven, entitled “The furrows of the alethosphere”, begins with an observation on the objects produced by science. Science allows us to see, not the objects already present initially, but the objects it itself produces as a result of its own operation. Lacan clearly takes sides a rationalist epistemology which generates the development of science from the results of its calculus. Science adds objects to the real. Hence the term Lacan invents, operévoir, coined from opérer (to operate) and perçevoir (to perceive). How does the subject link itself to these productions since it does not do so by means of sense-perception? The example Lacan takes is that of the cosmonauts. In space they are moored to earth by the means which permanently supply them with calculations, permitting them to know where they are and what they can do. Nonetheless, they are limited to keeping up an exchange of words which is very poor in information. This participation of the voice permits them, says Lacan. although having no perception of the entities which populate the universe and which are produced by science, to keep up their morale. Throughout their mission, they will be certain that they are men and women.

We have the following sequence, science produces the object-cause and immediately finds the means to unite the subject to this object by virtue of the voice. It is what the voice hides in a complete deception in order to set up the subject. Psychoanalysis for its part must operate in this retracing by means of which it gives some voice everywhere in order to keep itself in the productions thai receive operators. That is the knowledge that psychoanalysis can bring into the world where the discourse of capitalism, encouraged today by science, distributes what we might call gadgets which drown the truth and the jouissance of the subject.

If psychoanalysis can proceed by backtracking from this excess of production of objects, it can only do it in any case by following the path of the furrow traced by science. Il is by adding itself to the world as the result of an operation thai psychoanalysis can bear witness to the destiny of the drive such as it is elaborated in psychoanalysis. It is a matter of discovering, beyond phallic signification, how the crossing of the fantasy can be transmitted outside meaning. In these two aspects, that of the emptiness of the subject of science and that of the excess of the objects it produces, psychoanalysis is confronted with the horizon of its ethics. It is a matter for psychoanalysis of breaking with the imaginary just as mathematics has, since the Greeks, been able to break with the figure. The inventory of the imaginary has already been made. Lacan ends his “Italian note” thus: “The knowledge designated by Freud as the unconscious is invented by the human for its durability from one generation to (he next, and now that it has been inventoried, one knows that it’s proof of a frantic lack of imagination.” The exhaustion of fantasies has already been done. From thence the desire “to plug an organ on into the instrument.” Not to plug into the nerves a microphone with a voice or a television screen in order to feel the eye but to plug something logical into the device produced by psychoanalysis.

The unique proof of the effect that psychoanalysis produces in the way an epoch lives the drive is to verify it by the result of psychoanalysis. It determines the pass as the experience and the device which must contribute to the passing of psychoanalysis towards science. The pass is the mark which permits (he verification of a subject who operates/perceives (aperçoit) the sexual.

The Seminar of Jacques Lacan
Bruce Fink

Author’s Bio

The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, W.W. Norton & Co. and Cambridge University Press, 1988. Book l: Freud’s Papers on Technique (1953- 1954), ed, J.-A. Miller, trans, John Forrester, and Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and the Technique of Psychoanalysis 11954-19551, ed. J.-A. Miller, trans, Sylvana Tomaselli.

There’s no two ways about it: Lacan’s early seminars are a damn sight easier to read than his Écrits and later seminars and writings. The appearance of his first two seminars in English marks a milestone in publishing history: English translators of his work have thus far preferred to present his later, more impenetrable texts, for which few English readers could in fact be truly prepared. Lacan’s early and most accessible work is finally becoming available to the whole English-reading public, and Norton and Cambridge seem committed to bringing out other seminars little by little. These eminently readable translations offer a manageable way into Lacan’s opus for beginners, and a firmer grasp on the history and foundations of Lacan’s theory and practice for readers already familiar with the Écrits, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, and/or the texts collected in Feminine Sexuality.

But there’s still a hitch. As the seminars come out in book form, readers are inclined to think of them as finished products, expecting them to lay out theses, justify and develop them in the course of the various chapters, and wind it all up at the end in a conclusion. But here we must heed the old adage: “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The first seminar that appeared in English, Seminar XI, has somewhat more of that kind of coherence readers expect of a Book, which is not surprising as it was specifically designed to provide Lacan’s view, albeit still developing, of certain fundamental psychoanalytic concepts. It does not fall into a sort of “Best of Jacques Lacan” category, in no sense constituting a summary of his work up until then, but it is rather more structured than many of his other seminars, earlier and later.

Seminars I and II give the reader a real sense of the work in progress that took place in the early years of Lacan’s seminar, as well as of Lacan’s modus operandi right up into the 1970’s. In the early years, a number of analysts and philosophers actively contributed (either willingly or with a bit of arm-twisting) to the exploration of the subjects taken up each week, struggling with the German of Freud’s as yet untranslated texts, and attempting to pin down some of his most allusive concepts in theoretical and clinical contexts. As for Lacan, we see him proceeding on the basis of an impressive knowledge of psychiatry, animal ethology, phenomenology, and German, using a distinctly Hegelian perspective to understand Freud’s writings. In his usual seminar style, he begins with a theme and a handful of articles or books, not really knowing where he will end up nor how he will get there, but systematically extending his tried and tested (though still evolving) categories of the real, symbolic, and imaginary as well as his then current notions of “desire” and the “other” to invent little by little new categories, determine the meanings of certain of Freud’s terms, and construct models helping one conceive of the relations between different terms. Lacan is often no more than one or two steps ahead of the other seminar participants in his thinking about certain questions, but this does not stop him from creating an element of surprise with his interpretations of schemas and obscure passages./span>

The reader looking for a clear and concise summary of the essentials of psychoanalytic technique in these first two seminars is bound to be disappointed. Certain crucial theoretical and clinical notions are, nevertheless, quite straightforwardly developed, and can be laid out without too much difficulty:

Many of the biggest blunders in the history of analysis have arisen because analysts allow themselves to slip into relationships of rivalry with or think of themselves as on the same plane as their patients; in such cases, analysis gets bogged down in a sort of struggle for the upper hand. Lacan situates this mis-positioning of the analyst in the imaginary register, suggesting that his or her true role is to intervene in the symbolic register, steering clear of such specular, ego vs. alter-ego, competition. Countertransferential feelings—made so much of by those who promote the “analysis of the defenses”—are precisely those the analyst indulges in or suffers because he identifies with and/or sees himself as his patient’s rival. Such feelings should, according to Lacan, be set aside by the analyst and play no role in the interpretations he proffers.

“Countertransference is nothing other than the function of the analyst’s ego, what I have called the sum total of the analyst’s prejudices.”

“If the only analyzing subject, the analyst, has felt some jealousy, it is up to him to take it into account in an appropriate manner, to be guided by it as by an extra needle on the dial. No one has ever said that the analyst should never have feelings towards his patient. But he must know not only not to give in to them, and that he is to keep them in their place, but also how to make adequate use of them in his technique.”

What is usually termed “interpretation of resistances” often involves those very “countertransferential” feelings. Lacan situates resistance on the imaginary axis, and explains it in terms of his then operative distinction between empty speech—speech as simple mediation—and full speech: speech as revelation. Resistance amounts to a breakdown in the full speech the analyst attempts to elicit from the analysand, and “is produced at the moment when the speech of revelation is not said.” The analysand sinks his claws into the analyst “because what is pressing towards speech cannot attain it. [. . .] If speech then functions as mediation, it is on account of its revelation not having been accomplished.” Not being able to attain the full symbolic role Lacan assigns it, speech “reverts” to the imaginary role of pure mediation between the ego and its other. Transference, defined as a symbolic function whose motor force is full speech, degenerates into the imaginary bog of countertransferential standoffs.

Despite the importance of the imaginary in the animal kingdom, in particular in sexual development and mating rituals, Lacan takes the primacy of the symbolic in man so far as to show how his imaginary is itself structured by the symbolic—thus the essential difference between man and animal. Lacan distinguishes between the ego-ideal and the ideal-ego, two often confounded concepts in Freud’s work, the former operative on the symbolic level alone; this distinction is taken up again in Seminar VIII on transference where one finds an extension/rereading of the mirror stage on the basis of the ego-ideal.

Lacan parts ways from the outset with certain Anglo-American trends in psychoanalysis by stressing that history is not the past: it is not so much remembering that goes on in analysis, but reconstruction. According to Lacan, Freud more regularly emphasizes “the aspect of reconstruction than that of reliving, in the sense we have grown used to calling affective. The precise reliving—that the subject remembers something as truly belonging to him, as having truly been lived through, with which he communicates, and which he adopts—we have the most explicit indication in Freud’s writings that that is not what is essential. What is essential is reconstruction, the term he employs right up until the end. [I]t is less a matter of remembering than of rewriting history.”

This leads Lacan to formulate that while the unconscious is ideally inaccessible, it is realized in the symbolic; more precisely, “it is something which, thanks to the symbolic progress which takes place in analysis, will have been.” At some point in the future, its past configuration will be determined; it is always caught up in a future perfect. As for the symptom, its meaning will also be realized (not “discovered” as the translator would have us believe). Meaning is not there from the outset, but constructed during the analytic process.

The ego is asserted to be an imaginary function, to come into being simultaneously with the advent of the object, and to be itself an object for the subject in question. Lacan’s investigations and remarks in these seminars take us to the brink of what may be “beyond” the ego:

“Why does the subject alienate himself all the more the more he affirms himself as ego? We thus come back to last session’s question—who, then, is it who, beyond the ego, seeks recognition?”

Who indeed but the Lacanian subject?! And it is above all in the second seminar that Lacan begins to seriously address the above question.

Book II, aside from continuing the work on the imaginary and symbolic begun in Book I, affords the reader a glimpse into Lacan’s “purloined letter” workshop, showing his essay on Poe to have arisen, not like Athena from Zeus’s head, all in one piece, but rather gradually. The odds or evens game drawn from Poe’s story is transformed in a relatively straightforward way into a plus and minus chain, a numeric matrix, and then into an alphabetic matrix with characteristics surprisingly akin to those found in “natural languages.” The groundwork for Lacan’s theses concerning the autonomy of the signifying chain, the nonsensical nature of unconscious contents, and the symbolic character of repetition is laid here, Lacan pushing back ever further the frontiers of structure—to such an extent that one wonders whether Lacan leaves any room for subjectivity.

His “purely structural” subject, determined by a particular combinatory of signifiers, corresponds to what Lacan later (in “Science and Truth,” Écrits, 1966) calls the “non-saturated subject”: a purely positional subject appropriate to game theory. Lacan’s own “saturated” subject—saturated by object a—is something of a later development, but object a’s own “logical deduction” from the simple rules generating the alphabetic combinatory, carried out in the 1966 postface to the “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” is based on principles already laid out here in Book II.

Though not much time is devoted in Books I and II to truth and being as existing in speech alone, love vs. imaginary fascination, desire as the other’s desire, and transference, Lacan does provide some very thought-provoking glosses on them. They are all developed at great length elsewhere in his work, and are discussed year after year in his seminars.

Having praised the seminars as well as the translation let me now make a few more pointed remarks about the latter. Like other translators of Lacan’s texts, the translators (especially Forrester) show a certain penchant for Gallicisms, but in general they should be commended for a flowing, conversational (at times markedly British) style rather suited to the spoken style of the Séminaire. Certain expressions and grammatical forms have, however, slipped through the translators’ “filter,” and have been imported into the text without prior acclimatization: expressions like “at the limit” (à la limits: if pushed, in a pinch, or at a squeeze), “special” (spécial: peculiar, unusual, or odd), “adequation” and “inadequation” (adéquation: correspondence; inadéquation: non-correspondence or lack of correspondence), “represent to yourself” (se représenter: imagine or conceptualize) have succumbed to the path of least resistance— posing but a slight obstacle to the reader familiar with French, but a more sizable one to the uninitiated. This is compounded by unwillingness on the translators’ part to transform French punctuation into more typically English punctuation. The French quite blithely string together terms, placing commas between them, which are sometimes all there to explain one and the same word or idea, while at other times they constitute something more on the lines of a laundry list: e.g. “socks, towels, and underwear.” Whereas in French, one can make it clear that one is translating the German term Bejahung by “affirmation” in saying Mr. Hyppolite nous a montré la différence de niveaux de la Bejahung, de l’affirmation, et de la négativité, comprehensible English grammar requires us to say that Mr. Hyppolite “has shown us the difference in level between Bejahung—that is, affirmation—and negativity”; otherwise we are left wondering how Lacan suddenly jumped to a three-tiered structure involving (1) Bejahung, (2) affirmation, and (3) negativity. Translation of punctuation is as necessary as that of words and expressions themselves: when it is clear in the original, it seems to me that it should also be clear in the translation. Fortunately such confusions do not arise all that frequently. My suggestion is that, when confronted with ambiguous punctuation, readers who are familiar with French go back to the original to sort things out. Translating Lacan is generally a thankless task, in any case, and while Forrester and Tomaselli’s translations are overall quite laudable, readers who wish to closely study any particular concept will sooner or later be led astray by a slight inaccuracy or a failure to consistently translate an important term (i.e., a term the reader deems important) with the corresponding term or circumlocution in English. For such readers, there is, unfortunately, no getting around the need to learn French.

What I personally find the most valuable in the publication of Seminars I and II is that they are a first step to getting the study of Lacan in this country on the right track. People are often attracted to Lacan’s writings because they are dense, obscure, and at times poetic—perfectly fine reasons to be attracted—but when they try to talk about them in much the same way, it just doesn’t go over; behind Lacan’s most poetic, polysemous and obfuscatingly enticing passage lies twenty or more years of careful, painstaking and yet brilliant textual analysis, studies of case histories, and clinical experience. When Lacan in the 1970s quickly dismisses a notion from ego-psychology with a sarcastic innuendo, it should be kept in mind that he read more articles by and learned more from ego- psychologists than perhaps any other psychoanalyst of his generation (despite encouraging all of those around him to do the same); his own advances grew directly out of his critique of theirs. The word play is fun in and of itself, but Lacan uses it at the same time to launch incisive critiques. Oddly enough, a sort of “second” forgetting of Freud is occurring, as everything Lacan ever said is adopted as gospel truth, drowning out his insistence on returning to the founder (this is regretfully just as true at times in France as in America). Lacan’s thought, like that of any other difficult thinker, is becoming associated with a small number of passe-partout buzzwords, stopgaps for the hard work involved in grasping the origin and evolution of major concepts as well as the complex interrelations amongst them. These two seminars, however, make it crystal clear that Lacan was a psychoanalyst grappling with the philosophical and psychological baggage of his time, attempting to forge a theory that would account for clinical experience, while avoiding the reification inherent in ego-psychology and a predominantly Cartesian metaphysical tradition. His work is incomprehensible when divorced from the context in which it evolved, and the virulence of his attacks on certain notions can only be understood when one realizes that he is criticizing views he himself formerly held!

Art: Rosemarie Trockel, RAF (recycled Arnulf Rainer), mixed media, 2004.

literature and psychology, vol. XXXVI, 4, 1990.

On a Finally Objectless Subject
Alain Badiou

Author’s Bio


What does our era enjoin us to do? Are we equal to the task? It seems to me too easy to claim that the imperative of the times is one of completion, and that, as modem Narratives linking subject, science and History are foreclosed, we must either explore the formless dis-covered this foreclosure bequeaths us or sustain turning back towards the Greek origin of thinking – a pure question. I propose instead the following hypothesis: what is demanded of us is an additional step in the modem, and not a veering towards the limit, whether it be termed “post-modem” or whatever. We know, thanks in particular to mathematics, that the making of an additional step represents a singularly complex task as the local status of problems is often more difficult and muddled than their global status. The predication of an “end” is a hurdling lacking in resolution value when one is unaware of how to proceed on to the next step. Rather than ask “what is there beyond?”, because of methodical distrust of the beyond, I will formulate the question as follows, on the basis of the hypothesis that modem thinking requires its continuation: what concept of the subject succeeds the one whose trajectory can be traced out from Descartes to Husserl, and which wore thin and fell into ruin between Nietzsche and Heidegger, as well as throughout the whole of what should be called “the age of the poets” (Hölderlin, Hopkins, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Trakl, Pessoa, Mandelstam, Celan)?

Which amounts to asking: can we think an objectless subject? In the twofold sense in which, concerning such a subject, one can neither designate his correlate in presentation, nor suppose that he answers to any of thought’s objectives. I would argue that the process of the destitution of the subject has, over the course of a complex history going back at least as far as Kant, been confused with the ineluctable process of the destitution of the object. From within the modem imperative – to which the predication of an “end” opposes but a dissipated torment – we must base what succeeds on the fact that the form of the object cannot in any way sustain the enterprise of truth. This imperative thus raises the following question: is it possible to de-objectify the space of the subject?

If it is possible, what is thus beyond the subject if not the very same subject dissociated or subtracted from reflexive jurisdiction, un- constituting, untied from all supports unrelated to the process of a truth – of which the subject would be but a finite fragment?

I call subject the local or finite status of a truth. A subject is what is locally born out.

The “subject” thus ceases to be the inaugural or conditioning point of legitimate statements. He is no longer – and here we see the cancellation of the object, as objective this time – that for which there is truth, nor even the desirous eclipse of its surrection. A truth always precedes him. Not that a truth exists “before” him, for a truth is forever suspended upon an indiscernible future. The subject is woven out of a truth, he is what exists of truth in limited fragments. A subject is what a truth transits, or this finite point through which, in its infinite being, truth itself passes or transits. This transit excludes every interior moment.

This is what allows me to deny that it is necessary “truth” henceforth being disjoined or dissociated from “knowledge” – to suppress the category “subject”. While it is impossible in our era to identify “truth” with a status of cognitive statements, it cannot be inferred that we can thereby go beyond what modem thought (post-Galilean or post- Cartesian) has designated as its own locus using the term “subject”. Granted: the meaning of the word “truth” may hang on the question of being; still it seems more apposite to make this meaning depend on the supplementation or exceeding-of-being which I term “event”. Does it follow that the “subject” is obsolete? That would be to confuse the classical function of the subject (as transparent punctuality on the basis of which the true or its limit is established) and being which props up this function (i.e. the finite which, since Galileo, must endure truth’s infinite nature).

Let us make a forward pass with this being, dissociating it from its hereditary function.

1. Axiomatic provision

An irrevocable step forward has been made through the critique of earlier concepts of the subject, which is thoroughly based on the notion that truth is neither a qualification of knowledge nor an intuition of the intelligible. One must come to conceive of truth as making a hole in knowledge. Lacan is paradigmatic on this point. The subject is thus convoked as a border-effect or a delimiting fragment of such a hole-piercing.

To conceptualize the subject outside of any object position makes no sense except from the point of view of a doctrine of truth which has been so completely recast as to go well beyond the critique of correspondence theories of truth, and to out-radicalize hermeneutics of unveiling. Such a doctrine cannot be laid out here in its ontological complexity. I will simply summarize it in four theses, fully aware though I am that in philosophy summary is impracticable; one would better conceive of it as an axiomatic shortcut. The four theses which follow must thus be solidly founded as everything else depends upon them.

(1) A truth is always post-eventual. Its process begins when a supernumerary name has been put into circulation – extracted from the very void which reduces every situation to its being (”sutures” every situation as being) – by which it has been decided that an event has supplemented the situation.

(2) The process of a truth is fidelity (to the event), i.e. the evaluation, using a specific operator (that of fidelity), of the degree of connection between the terms of the situation and the supernumerary name of the event.

(3) The terms of the situation that are declared positively connected to the supernumerary name form an infinite part of the situation, which is suspended upon a future, as this infinity only comes into being through a succession of finite evaluations, and is thus never presented.

(4) If this infinite part will have avoided (we have here the future anterior as truth’s own temporal regime or register) coinciding with what knowledge determines as known, consistent or discerned sets in the situation if, thus, the part in question is indiscernible for knowledge, i.e. absolutely indistinguishable or generic – then we will say the post-eventual procedure produces a truth. A truth is therefore, in substance, a procedure of post-eventual fidelity which will have been generic. In this sense, a truth (indiscernible within knowledge), is the metonymy of the situation’s very being – i.e. of a pure or unnamed multiple into which this being is resolved.

Let us call “subject” every finite state of a generic procedure.

2. Negative delimitation of the concept of the subject

From the preceding definition, we can infer a whole series of negative consequences which make it clear that we are proceeding (through discontinuous continuity) forward from the classical concept of the subject.

(a) A subject is not a substance. If the word substance has a meaning, it designates a multiple which is counted as one in a situation. The intrinsic indiscernibility into which a generic procedure resolves excludes a subject’s being substantial.

(b) Nor is a subject an empty point. The void, which is a proper name of being, is inhuman and a-subjective. It is an ontological concept. In addition, it is clear that a truth is realized as multiplicity and not as punctuality.

(c) A subject is in no sense the organizing of a meaning of experience. He is not a transcendental function. If the word “experience” means anything, it designates presentation as such. Now a generic procedure, hinged as it is on the event which a supernumerary name qualifies, in no way coincides with presentation. We should also differentiate meaning and truth. A generic procedure realizes the post-eventual truth of a situation, but this indiscernible multiple in which a truth consists yields up no meaning.

(d) A subject is not an invariant of presentation. The subject is scarce in that the generic procedure runs diagonally to the situation. One could add that each subject is rigorously singular, being the generic procedure of a situation which is itself singular. The statement “there is subject” (il y a du sujet) is uncertain or haphazard: it is not transitive with respect to being.

(e) A subject is neither a result nor an origin. He is the local status of the procedure, a configuration which exceeds the situation.

Let us now examine the twists and turns of the subject.

3. Subjectivization: intervention and the faithful connection operator

The subject is at the core of a problem of twofold origin concerning fidelity procedures. We have the name of the event, which I say results from an intervention, as well as a faithful connection operator which regulates the procedure and institutes truth. To what extent does this operator depend upon the name? And doesn’t the emergence of this operator constitute a second event? Let us take an example. In Christianity, the Church is that through which connections to and disconnections from the Christ-event, originally called the “death of God”, are evaluated. As Pascal says, the Church is thus verily “truth’s history”, as it is the faithful connection operator sustaining “religious” generic procedures. But what is the link between the Church and Christ? Or between the Church and the death of God? This point is continually under debate and has given rise (like that concerning the link between the Party and the Revolution) to all kinds of schisms and heresy. One suspects the faithful connection operator itself of being originally unfaithful to the event in which it takes pride.

I will call subjectivization the emergence of an operator which is consecutive to the interventional naming that decides the event. Subjectivization takes the form of the Two. It is oriented towards the intervention in the vicinity of the eventual site. But is also oriented towards the situation by its coincidence with the rule of evaluation and proximity which grounds the generic procedure. SUbjectivization is the interventional naming from the point of view of the situation, i.e. the rule governing the intra-situational effects of putting a supernumerary name into circulation.

Subjectivization, i.e. the singular configuration of a rule, subsumes the Two of which it consists in the absence of meaning of a proper name. St. Paul for the Church, Lenin for the Party, Cantor for ontology, Schoenberg for music, but also Simon or Claire, should they declare their love, are all designations – made by the “one” of a proper name – of the subjectivizing scission between the name of an event (the death of God, the revolution, infinite multiples, the destruction of the tonal system, or an encounter) and the setting into motion of a generic procedure (the Catholic Church, Bolshevism, set theory, serialism, or singular love). The proper name here designates that the subject, qua situated and local configuration, is neither the intervention nor the fidelity operator, but rather the advent of their Two, i.e. the incorporation of the event into the situation in the form of a generic procedure. The absolute singularity of this Two, dissociated as it is from its meaning, is shown by the un-signifying nature of the proper name. But this un-signifying nature also dearly recalls that what the interventional naming convoked was the void which is itself the proper name of being. Subjectivization is the proper name in situ of this general proper name. It is a manifestation of the void.

The commencement of a generic procedure grounds, as its horizon, the collecting of a truth. Subjectivization is thus that which makes a truth possible. It turns the event towards the situation’s truth for which this event is an event. Thus the proper name bears the trace of both the event and the situation, being that by which one comes to be for the other, qua generic trajectory of a truth. “Lenin” is at once the October Revolution (the eventual component) and Leninism – true-multiplicity of revolutionary politics for half a century. Similarly, “Cantor” is at once the madness which requires the conceptualization of pure multiples and articulates and relates the infinite prodigality of being-as-being to its void, and the process of total reconstruction of mathematical discursivity (up until Bourbaki and even beyond). The fact is that the proper name contains both the interventional naming and the faithful connection rule.

Subjectivization – as the aporetic nexus of a name-too-many and an un-known operation – is what traces in situ the multiple becoming of the true, starting from the non-existent point at which the event has convoked the void and interpolated itself between the void and itself.

4. Randomness, from which every truth is woven, is the subject’s material

If we consider the local status of a generic procedure, we notice that it depends on simple encounters. The faithful connection operator prescribes if one or another term of the situation is linked or not to the supernumerary name of the event. It in no way prescribes, however, that we examine one term before, or rather than, another. Thus the procedure is regulated in terms of its effects, but entirely random in its trajectory. The only empirical evidence in this respect is that the trajectory begins just at the outskirts of the eventual site. Everything else is lawless. There is thus an essential randomness in the procedure’s itinerary. This randomness is not visible in its result, viz. a truth, for a truth is an ideal collecting of “all” the evaluations: it is a complete part of the situation. But the subject does not coincide with this result. Locally there are only illegal encounters, for nothing ordains – neither in the name of the event nor in the connection operator – that one term be evaluated at a certain moment and in a certain place. If one considers the subject’s material to be the terms submitted to the fidelity operator, this material – as multiple – has no assignable relationship with the rule dividing the positive results (where connection is established) from the negative ones (where disconnection is. established). Conceived of in his operation, the subject is qualifiable though singular: he breaks down into a name (of the event) and an operator (of fidelity). Conceived of in his multiple being, i.e. in the terms which figure in the actual evaluations, the subject is unqualifiable in that these terms are arbitrary with respect to his twofold qualification.

Of course, a finite series of evaluations of terms encountered by the fidelity procedure is a possible object of knowledge. But the active element of the evaluation – its evaluating – is not, as it is only accidental that the terms evaluated therein by the faithful connection operator turn out to be presented in the finite multiple of the evaluations. Knowledge can retroactively enumerate the components of this multiple, as they are finite in number. As knowledge cannot, at that very moment, anticipate any meaning whatsoever of their singular regrouping, it cannot coincide with the subject whose whole being is in the encounter with terms within a random trajectory. Knowledge never encounters anything. It presupposes presentation, representing it in language by discernment and judgment. What, on the contrary, constitutes the subject is the encounter with his material, though nothing in its form (viz. the name of the event and the fidelity operator) orders this material. If the subject has no other being-in-situ than the multiple terms he encounters and evaluates, his essence – having to include the randomness of these encounters – is rather the trajectory which links them. Now this incalculable trajectory comes under no determination within knowledge.

There is, between the knowledge of finite regroupings, their principled discernibility, and the subject of the fidelity procedure, this indifferent-difference which distinguishes the result (some of the finite multiples of the situation) from the partial trajectory of which this result is a local configuration. The subject is “between” the terms the procedure.

The subject is neatly separated from knowledge by randomness. He is randomness vanquished term by term, but this victory, subtracted from language, is accomplished only as truth.

5. Subject and truth: indiscernibility and nomination

I axiomatically stated above that “a-truth” – infinitely gathering the terms positively evaluated by the fidelity procedure – is indiscernible in the language of the situation. It is a generic part of the situation.

As the subject is a local configuration of the procedure, it is clear that truth is equally indiscernible “for him”. For truth is global. “For him” means exactly that a subject who effectuates a truth is nonetheless incommensurate to it, he being finite, truth being infinite. Moreover, the subject, being within the situation, can only know (i.e. encounter) terms or multiples presented (counted as one) in this situation. And finally, the subject can only construct his idiom (langue) out of combinations between the supernumerary name of the event and the language (langage) of the situation. It is in no way assured that this idiom will suffice to discern a truth, a truth being in any case indiscernible by the resources of the language of the situation alone. One must absolutely abandon every definition of the subject which would assume that he knows the truth or is adjusted to it. Being the local moment of the truth, the subject fails to sustain its global adjunction. Every truth transcends the subject precisely because his whole being consists in supporting the effectuation of that truth. The subject is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness of the true.

The singular relationship of a subject to the truth whose procedure he supports is the following: the subject believes that there is a truth, and this belief takes the form of knowledge. I term this educated belief “confidence”.

What does confidence mean? The fidelity operator locally discerns connections and disconnections of multiples of the situation with or from the name of the event. This discerning is an approximative truth, for the terms positively connected are yet to come – in a truth. This “yet to come” is the distinctive characteristic of the subject who judges. Belief here is the yet-to-come which goes by the name of truth. Its legitimacy derives from the fact that the name of the event, having supplemented the situation with a paradoxical multiple, circulates in the evaluations’ as that on the basis of which the void as latent and wandering being of the situation – has been convoked. A finite series of evaluations thus possesses, in a manner at once effective and fragmentary, the being-in-situ of the situation itself. This fragment materially pronounces the yet-to-come for, though it is locatable by knowledge, it is the fragment of an indiscernible trajectory. Belief consists merely in the fact that the encounters’ randomness is not vainly gathered up by the faithful connection operator. Held out as a promise by the event alone, belief represents the genericalness of the true as possessed in the local finitude of the stages of its trajectory. In this sense the subject is self-confidence, in that he does not coincide with the retroactive discernibility of these fragmentary results. A truth is posited as the infinite determination of an indiscernible of the situation, the latter being the intra-situational global result of the event.

That this belief may take the form of knowledge results from the fact that every subject generates namings. Empirically, this point is born out. What one can the most explicitly connect up with proper names that designate a subjectivization is an arsenal of words which make up the deployed matrix of fidelity marks. Consider “faith”, “charity”, “sacrifice”, and “health” (St. Paul), or “party”, “revolution”, and “politics” (Lenin), or “’sets”, “ordinal numbers”, and “cardinal numbers” (Cantor), and everything which then articulates, ramifies and stratifies these words. What is their particular function? Do they simply designate terms presented in the situation? In that case they would be redundant as concerns the established language of the situation. One can in fact distinguish ideological sects from truth’s generic procedures on the basis of the fact that whereas the words used by such sects only replace – through meaningless shifts – those declared appropriate by the situation, the names used by a subject in supporting a generic truth’s local configuration generally have no referent in the situation. They do not thus double over the established language. But what purpose do they then serve? They are words which clearly designate terms, but terms which “will have been” presented in a new situation, one which results from the adjunction of an (indiscernible) truth of the situation to that same situation.

Belief is sustained by the fact that with the resources of the situation – its multiples and its language – a subject generates names whose referents are in the future anterior. Such names will have been assigned referents or meanings when the situation will have come to be in which the indiscernible which is only represented (or included) is finally presented, as a truth of the former situation.

At the situation’s surface, a generic procedure draws attention to itself above all by the nominal aura which surrounds its finite configurations: the subject. He who is not involved in extending the procedure’s finite trajectory – who was not assessed positively regarding his connection to the event – generally considers the names to be empty. He obviously recognizes them, as these names are fabricated on the basis of terms of the situation. The names with which a subject surrounds himself are not indiscernible. But the outside observer, noticing that the names are mostly lacking in referents in the situation as it is, considers that they make up an arbitrary and contentless language. Which explains why revolutionary politics are always thought to involve utopian (i.e. unrealistic) elements, scientific revolutions are greeted with skepticism or viewed as non-experimentally continued abstractions, and lovers’ babble is cast aside as infantile madness by prudent people. Now these observers are, in a certain sense, right. The names generated – or rather composed – by a subject are suspended, as concerns their meaning, upon the yet-to-come of a truth. Their local use is to sustain the belief that the terms positively polled designate or describe the approximation of a new situation in which the truth of the actual situation will have been presented. Every subject is thus locatable by the emergence of a language inside the situation, whose multiple-referents are, however, conditioned by an as yet uncompleted generic part.

Now a subject is separated from this generic part (of this truth) by an infinite series of random encounters. It is entirely impossible to anticipate or to represent a truth, as it comes to be only in the course of evaluations or connections which are incalculable, their succession being solely ruled by encounters with the terms of the situation. It follows that, from the subject’s point of view, the referentiality of the names remains forever suspended upon the uncompletable condition of a truth. It is only possible to say that if such and such a term, when it will have been encountered, turns out to be positively connected to the name of the event, then such and such a name will be likely to have a certain referent, for the generic pan which remains indiscernible in the situation will have such and such a configuration or partial property. A subject is that which uses names to make hypotheses about truth. But as he is himself a finite configuration of the generic procedure from which a truth results, one can equally sustain that a subject uses names to make hypotheses about himself, “himself” meaning the infinite of which he is the finite. An idiom (la langue) here is the fixed order in which a finitude attempts to postulate – within the condition of the finite effectuated by the finite – a referentiality yet-to-come. Finitude is the very being of truth in the combination of current finite evaluations and the future anterior of a generic infinity.

One can easily show that this is the status of names such as “‘faith”, health”, “communism”, “transfinite”, “serialism”, or names/nouns used in a declaration of love. Let us note that these names can support the future anterior of a truth (be it religious, political, mathematical, musical or existential) as they combine local evaluations (predications, statements, works, addresses) and (re)appropriated or recast names already available in the situation. They slightly shift the established meanings so as to leave the referent empty, the referent which will have been filled if the truth comes to be as a new situation (the reign of God, the emancipated society, absolute mathematics, a new musical order with a range comparable to that of the tonal order, a thoroughly amorous life, etc.).

A subject is that which fends off the generic indiscernibility of a truth – a truth he effectuates in discernible finitude by an act of naming which leaves its referent in the future anterior of a condition. A subject is thus, through names’ good graces, at once the real of the procedure (the assessor of the assessments) and the hypothesis of the novelty the procedure’s uncompletable result would introduce into presentation. A subject emptily names the universe yet-to-come which is obtained from the fact that an indiscernible truth supplements the situation. He is concurrently the finite real, the local stage of this supplementation. Naming is only empty insofar as it is pregnant with what sketches out its own possibility. A subject is the autonym of an empty idiom (langue).

Interview with Jacques Derrida
Jean-Luc Nancy

Author’s Bio


Jacques Derrida: From the question which introduces this interview one might pick out two phrases: firstly, “Who comes after the subject?” the “who” already signaling, perhaps, towards a grammar which would no longer be subjected to the subject: and secondly, “a prevalent discourse of a recent epoch concludes with its (the subject’s) simple liquidation.”

Now should we not take an initial precaution with regard to the doxa, which in a certain way dictates the very formulation of the question? This precaution would not be a critique. It is no doubt necessary to refer to such a doxa, should it only be to analyze it and possibly disqualify it. The question “Who comes after the subject?” (this time I emphasize the “after”) implies that for a certain philosophical opinion today, in its most visible configuration, something named “subject” can be identified, as its alleged passing might also be identified in certain identifiable thoughts or discourses. This ·opinion” is confused. The confusion consists at least in clumsy mixing up a number of discursive strategies. If over the last 25 years in France the most notorious of these strategies have in fact led to a kind of discussion around “the question of the subject”, none of them has sought to “liquidate” anything (I don’t know moreover to what philosophical concept this word might correspond, a word which I understand more readily in other codes: finance, crime, terrorism, civil or political criminality; one only speaks of “liquidation” therefore from the position of the law, indeed the police). The diagnostic of “liquidation” exposes in general an illusion and an offence, it accuses: they tried to “liquidate”, they thought they could do it, we will not let them do it. The diagnostic implies therefore a promise: we will do justice, we will save or rehabilitate the subject. A slogan therefore: a return to the subject, the return of the subject. Furthermore, one would have to ask, to put it very briefly, if the structure of every subject is not constituted in the possibility of this kind of repetition one calls a return, and, more importantly, if this structure is not essentially before the law, the relation to law and experience itself, if there is any law, but let’s leave this. Let’s take some examples of this confusion, and also some proper names which might serve as indices to help us along. Did Lacan “liquidate” the subject? No. The decentered “subject” of which he speaks certainly doesn’t have the traits of the classical subject (though even here, we’d have to take a closer look…), it remains nevertheless indispensable to the economy of the Lacanian theory. It is also a correlate of the law.

Jean-Luc Nancy: Lacan is perhaps the only one to insist on keeping the name…

JD: Perhaps not the only one in fact. We will speak later on about Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, but we might note already that Althusser’s theory, for example, seeks to discredit a certain authority of the subject only by acknowledging for the instance of the “subject” an irreducible place in a theory of ideology, an ideology which, mutatis mutandis, is just as irreducible as the transcendental illusion in the Kantian dialectic. This place is that of a subject constituted by interpellation, by its being-interpellate (again being-before-the-law, the subject as a subject subjected to the law and held responsible before it). As to the Foucault’s discourse, there would be different things to say according to the stages of its development. In his case, we would appear to have a history of subjectivity which, in spite of certain massive declarations about the effacement of the figure of man, certainly never consisted in “liquidating” the Subject. And in his last phase, there again, a return of morality and a certain ethical subject. For these three discourses (Lacan, Althusser, Foucault) and for some of the thinkers they privilege (Freud, Marx, Nietzsche), the subject can be re-interpreted, restored, re-inscribed, it certainly isn’t “liquidated”. The question “who”, notably in Nietzsche, strongly reinforces this point. This is also true of Heidegger, the principal reference or target of the doxa we are talking about. The ontological question which deals with the subjectum, in its Cartesian and post- Cartesian forms is anything but a liquidation.

J-LN: For Heidegger, nevertheless, the epoch which comes to a close as the epoch of metaphysics, and which perhaps closes epochality as such, is the epoch of the metaphysics of subjectivity, and the end of philosophy is then the departure from the metaphysics of subjectivity…

JD: But this “departure” is not a departure, it cannot be compared to a passage beyond or a lapsing, even to a “liquidation”.

J-LN: No, but I can’t see in Heidegger, what thread in the thematic or the problematic of the subject still remains to be drawn out, positively or affirmatively, whereas I can see it if it’s a question of truth, if it’s a question of manifestation, a question of the phenomenon…

JD: Yes. But two things. The very summary exposition which 1 have just ventured was a quick response, precisely, to whatever summariness there might be in this doxa which doesn’t go to the trouble of analyzing up close, in a differentiated manner, the differential strategies of all these treatments of the “subject”. We could have chosen examples closer to us, but let’s move on. The effect of the doxa consists in saying: all these philosophers think they have put the subject behind them…

J-LN: So it would now be a matter of going back to it, and that’s the slogan.

JD: It’s the effect of the slogan I was getting at. Second thing: what you called the “thread to be drawn” in Heidegger, perhaps follows, among other paths, that of an analogy (to be treated very cautiously) between the function of the Dasein in Being and Time and the function of the subject· in an ontological-transcendental, indeed ethico-juridical selling. Dasein cannot be reduced to a subjectivity, certainly, but the existential analytic still retains the formal traits of every transcendental analytic. Dasein, and what there is in it which answers to the question “who?”, comes to occupy, no doubt displacing lots of other things, the place of the “subject”, the cogito or the classical Ich denke. It retains from these certain essential traits (freedom, resolute-decision, to take up this old translation again, a relation or presence to self, the “call” (Ruf) towards a moral conscience, responsibility, primordial imputability or guilt (Schuldigsein) etc.). And whatever the movements of Heideggerian thought “after” Being and Time and “after” the existential analytic, they left nothing “behind”, “liquidated”.

J-LN: What you are aiming at in my question then is the “coming after” as leading to something false, dangerous…

JD: Your question echoes, for legitimate strategic reasons, a discourse of “opinion” which, it seems to me, one must begin by critiquing or deconstructing. I wouldn’t agree to enter into a discussion where it was imagined that one knew what the subject is, where it would go without saying that this “character” is the same for Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, Foucault, Althusser, and others, who would somehow all be in agreement to “liquidate” it. For me, the discussion would begin to get interesting when, beyond the vested confusion of this doxa, one gets to a more serious, more essential question. For example, if throughout all these different strategies the “subject”, without having been “liquidated”, has been re-interpreted, displaced, decentered, re-inscribed, then firstly: what becomes of those problematics which seemed to presuppose a classical determination of the subject (objectivity, be it scientific or other, ethical, legal, political etc.), and secondly: who or what “answers” to the question “who”?

J-LN: For me, “who” designated a place, that place “of the subject” which appears precisely through deconstruction itself. What is the place that Dasein, for example, comes to occupy?

JD: To elaborate this question along topological lines (”What is the place of the subject?), it would perhaps be necessary to give up the impossible, that is to say the attempt to reconstitute or reconstruct what has already be deconstructed (and which moreover has deconstructed “itself”, an expression which encapsulates the whole difficulty) and ask ourselves rather: what are we designating, in a tradition which one would have to identify in a rigorous way (let’s say for the moment the one which runs from Descartes to Kant and to Husserl), under the concept of subject, in such a way that once certain predicates have been deconstructed, the unity of the concept and the name are radically affected? These predicates would be for example the sub-jective structure as being-thrown-or-under-lying of the substance or the substratum, of the hypokeimenon, with its qualities of stance or stability, of permanent presence, of sustained relation to self, what links the “subject” to conscience, to humanity, to history … and above all to the law, as subject subjected to the law, subject to the law in its very autonomy, to ethical or juridical law, to political law or power, to order (symbolic or not)…

J-LN: Are you proposing that the question be reformulated, keeping the name “subject” used in a positive sense?

JD: Not necessarily. I would keep the name provisionally as an index for the discussion but I don’t see the necessity of keeping the word “subject” at any price, especially if the context and conventions of discourse risk re-introducing precisely what is in question…

J-LN: I don’t see how you can keep the name without enormous misunderstandings. But in lieu of the “subject”, there is something like a place, a unique point of passage. It’s like the writer for Blanchot: place of passage, of the emission of a voice which captures the “murmur” and detached itself from it, but which is never an “author” in the classical sense. How might one name this place? The question “who” seems to keep something of the subject, perhaps…

JD: Yes.

J-LN: But the “what” is no better, for example the “process”, the “functioning”, the “text”…

JD: In the case of the text, I wouldn’t say a “what”…

J-LN: Can you be more precise?

JD: Yes, a little later, that can wait.

I assumed, rather naively, that in our discussion here we would try to bypass the work that we have both done concerning the “subject”. That of course is impossible; in fact it’s idiotic. We will refer to this later. Yes, it’s idiotic. Moreover, one could put the subject in its subjectivity on stage, submit it to the stage as the idiot (the innocent, the proper, the virgin, the originary, the native, the naive, the great beginning: just as great, as erect and as autonomous as submissive, etc.).

In the text or in writing, such as I have tried to analyze them at least, there is, I wouldn’t say a place (and this is a whole question, this topology of a certain locatable non-place, at once necessary and undiscoverable) but an instance (without stance, a “without” without negativity) for the “who”, a “who” besieged by the problematic of the trace and of différance, of affirmation, of the signature and of the so-called “proper” name, of the je[c]t (above all subject, object, project) as destinerring of missive. I have tried to elaborate this problematic around numerous examples.

Let’s go back a little and start out again from the question “who?” (I note first of all in passing that to substitute a very indeterminate “who” for a “subject” overburdened with metaphysical determinations is perhaps not enough to bring about any decisive displacement. In the expression the “question ‘who’?”, the emphasis might well later on fall on the word “question”. Not only in order to ask who asks the question or on the subject of whom the question is asked (so much syntax which decides the answer in advance), but to ask if there is a subject, no, a “who” before being able to ask questions about it. I don’t yet know who can ask himself this nor how. But one can already see several possibilities opening up: the “who” might be there before and as the power to ask questions (this, in the end, is how Heidegger identifies the Casein and comes to choose it as the exemplary guiding thread in the question of Being) or else it might be, and this comes down to the same thing, that which is made possible by the power (by being able to) ask questions about itself (who is who? who is it?). But there is another possibility which interests me more at this point: it overflows the question itself, re- inscribes it in the experience of an “affirmation”, of a “yes” or of an “en-gage” (this is the word I use in De l’esprit to describe Zusage, that acquiescing to language, to the mark, which the most primordial question implies), that “yes, yes” [1] which answers before even being able to formulate a question, which is responsible without autonomy, before and in view of all possible autonomy of the who- subject, etc. The relation to self, in this situation, can only be différance, that is to say alterity, or trace. Not only is the obligation not lessened in this, but on the contrary it finds in it its only possibility, which is neither subjective nor human. Which doesn’t mean that it is inhuman or without subject, but that it is from this dislocated affirmation (thus without “firmness” nor “c1osedness”) that something like the subject, man, or whoever it might be can take shape. I now close this long parenthesis).

Let’s go back. What are we aiming at in the deconstructions of the ’subject” when we ask ourselves what, in the structure of the classical subject, continues to be required by the question “who?”

In addition to what we have just named (proper name in exappropriation, signature or affirmation without closure, trace, différance from self, destinerrance, etc.), I would add something which remains required by both the definition of the classical subject and by these latter non-classical motifs, namely a certain responsibility. The singularity of the “who” is not the individuality of a thing which would be identical to itself, it’s not an atom. It is a singularity which dislocates or divides itself in gathering itself together to answer to the other, whose call somehow precedes its own identification with itself, for to this call I can only answer, have already answered, even if I think 1 am answering “no” (I try to explain this elsewhere, notably in Ulysse Gramophone).

Here begins no doubt the link with the larger questions of ethical, juridical and political responsibility around which the metaphysics of subjectivity is constituted. But if one is to avoid too hastily reconstituting the program of this metaphysic and suffering from its surreptitious constraints, it’s best to proceed more slowly and not rush into these words…

J-LN: For me, the subject is above all, as in Hegel, “that which can retain in itself its own contradiction.” In the deconstruction of this “property”, it seems to me that the “that which”, the “what” of the “itself” brings forth the place, and the question, of a “who” which would no longer be “to itself” in this way. A who which would no longer have that property, but which would nevertheless be a who. It is “him/her” I want to question.

JD: Still on a preliminary level, let’s not forget Nietzsche’s precautions regarding what might link metaphysics and grammar. These precautions need to be duly adjusted and problematized, but they remain necessary. What we are seeking with the question “who?” perhaps no longer stems from grammar, from a relative or interrogative pronoun which always refers back to the grammatical function of subject. How can we get away from this contract between the grammar of the subject or the substantive and the ontology of substance or the subject? The different singularity which I named perhaps does not even correspond to the grammatical form “who” in a sentence where in “who” is the subject of a verb coming after the subject, etc. On the other hand, if Freudian thought has been consequential in the decentering of the subject we have been talking about so much these last years, is the “ego”, in the elements of the topic or in the distribution of the positions of the unconscious, the only answer to the question “who”? And if so, what would be the consequences of this?

Henceforth, if we might retain the motif of “singularity” for a moment, it is neither certain nor a priori necessary that “singularity” be translated by “who”, or remain the privilege of the “who”. At the very moment they marked, let us say, their mistrust for substantialist or subjectivist metaphysics, Heidegger and Nietzsche, whatever serious differences there may be between the two, continued to endorse the question “who?” and subtracted the “who” from the deconstruction of the subject. But we might still ask ourselves just how legitimate this is.

Conversely, and to multiply the preliminary precautions and not to neglect the essential entanglement of this strange history, how can one forget that even in the most marked transcendental idealism, that of Husserl, even where the origin of the world is described after the phenomenological reduction, as originary consciousness in the form of the ego, even in a phenomenology which determines the Being of beings as an object in general for a subject in general, even in this great philosophy of the transcendental subject, the interminable genetic (so called passive) analyses of the ego, of time and of the alter ego lead back to a pre-egological and pre- subjectivist zone. There is therefore, at the heart of what passes for and presents itself as a transcendental idealism, a horizon of questioning which is no longer dictated by the egological form of subjectivity or intersubjectivity. In the French philosophical scene, the moment when a certain central hegemony of the subject was being put into question again in the sixties was also the moment when, phenomenology still being very present, people began to become interested in those places in Husserl’s discourse where the egological and more generally the subjective form of the transcendental experience appeared to be more constituted than constitutive, in sum to be as grounded as precarious. The question of time and of the other became linked to this transcendental passive genesis…

J-LN: Still, it was by penetrating into this Husserlian constitution, by “forcing” it, that you began your own work…

JD: It is within, one might say (but it is precisely a question of the effraction of the within) the living present, that Urform of the transcendental experience, that the subject conjoins with non-subject or that the ego is marked, without being able to have the originary and presentative experience of it, by the non-ego and especially by the alter ego. The alter ego cannot present itself, cannot become an originary presence for the ego. There is only an analogical a- presentation (apprésentation) of the alter ego. The alter ego can never be given “in person”, it resists in principle the principles of phenomenology, namely the intuitive given of originary presence. This dislocation of the absolute subject from the other and from time does not come about, nor does it lead beyond phenomenology, but rather, if not in it, then at least on its border, on the very line of its possibility. It was in the fifties and sixties, at the moment when one became interested in these difficulties in a very different way (Levinas, Tran Duc Tao, myself) [2] and following moreover other trajectories (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger), that the centrality of the subject began to be displaced and this discourse of “suspicion”, as some were saying then, began to be elaborated in its place. But if certain premises are to be found “in” Husserl, I’m sure that one could make a similar demonstration in Descartes, Kant and Hegel. Concerning Descartes, one could discover, following the directions of your own work, [3] similar aporia, fictions and fabrications. Not identical ones, but similar. This would have at least the virtue of de-simplifying, of “de-homogenizing” the reference to something like The Subject. There has never been The Subject for anyone, that’s what I wanted to begin by saying. The subject is a fable, as you have shown, and to concentrate on the elements of speech and conventional fiction which such a fable presupposes is not to stop taking it seriously (it is the serious itself)…

J-LN: Everything you have recalled here comes down to emphasizing that there is and never has been any presence-to-self which would not call into question the distance from self that this presence demands, in short. “To deconstruct”, here, comes down to showing this distance at the very heart of presence, and in so doing, this prevents us from simply separating an outdated “metaphysics of the subject” from another thinking which would be, altogether, elsewhere. However, something has happened, there has been a history both of the thinking of the subject and of its deconstruction. What Heidegger determined as the “epoch” of subjectivity, has this taken place, or has the “subject” always been only a surface effect, a fallout which one cannot impute to the thinkers? But in that case, what is Heidegger talking about when he talks about subjectivity?

JD: An enormous question. I’m not sure that I can approach it head- on. To whatever degree I can subscribe to the Heideggerian discourse about the subject, I have always been a little troubled by the Heideggerian delimitation of the epoch of subjectivity. His questions about the ontological inadequacy of the Cartesian view of subjectivity seem to me no doubt necessary but inadequate, notably in regard to what would link subjectivity to representation, and the subject-object couple to the presuppositions of the principle of reason in its Leibnitzian formulation. I have tried to explain this elsewhere. The repudiation of Spinoza seems to me to be significant. Here is a great rationalism which does not rest on the principle of reason (inasmuch as in Leibnitz this principle privileges both the final cause and representation). Spinoza’s substantialist rationalism is a radical critique of both finalism and the (Cartesian) representative determination of the idea, it is not a metaphysics of the cogito or of absolute subjectivity. The import of this repudiation is all the greater and more significant in that the epoch of subjectivity determined by Heidegger is also the epoch of the rationality or the techno-scientific rationalism of modem metaphysics…

J-LN: But if the repudiation of Spinoza stems precisely from his having distanced himself from what was dominant elsewhere, does that not confirm this domination?

JD: It’s not Spinoza’s case which is most important to me. Heidegger defines a modem hegemony of the subject of representation or of the principle of reason. Now if the delimitation works through an unjustified repudiation, it is the interpretation of the epoch which risks becoming problematic. And so everything becomes problematic in this discourse. And I would graft another remark at this point. We were speaking of dehiscence, of intrinsic dislocation, of différance, of destinerrance, etc. Some might say: but precisely, what we call “subject” is not the absolute origin, pure will, identity to self or the presence to self of consciousness but indeed this non-coincidence with self. This is a riposte to which we’ll have to return. By what right do we call this “subject”? By what right, conversely, can we be forbidden from calling this “subject”? 1am thinking of those today who would try to reconstruct a discourse about the subject which would not be pre-deconstructive, about a subject which would no longer include the figure of mastery of self, of adequation to self, centre and origin of the world, etc… but who would define the subject rather as the finite experience of non- identity to self, as the underivable interpellation inasmuch as it comes from the other, from the trace of the other, with the paradoxes or the aporia of being-before-the-law, etc. Perhaps we’ll pick this up again later on. For the moment, since we’re speaking of Heidegger, let me add this. I believe in the force and the necessity (and therefore in a certain irreversibility) of the act by which Heidegger substitutes a certain concept of Dasein for a concept of subject still too marked by the traits of the vorhanden being, and hence by an interpretation of time, and insufficiently questioned in its ontological structure. The consequences of this displacement are immense, no doubt we have still not measured their extent. There’s no question of laying these out here in an improvised manner, but I simply wanted to note this: the time and space of this displacement opened up a gap, marked a gap, they left fragile, or recalled the essential ontological fragility of the ethical, juridical and political foundations of democracy and of every discourse which one can oppose to national socialism in all its forms (the “worst” ones, or those which Heidegger and others might have thought of opposing). These foundations were and remain essentially sealed within a philosophy of the subject. One can quickly perceive the question which might also be the task: can one take into account the necessity of the existential analytic and what it shatters in the subject and turn towards an ethics a politics (are these words still appropriate?), indeed an “other” democracy (would it still be a democracy?), in any case towards another type of responsibility which safeguards against what a moment ago I very quickly called the “worst”? Don’t expect from me an answer in the way of a formula. I think there are a certain number of us who are working for just this, are letting ourselves be worked by this, which can only take place by way of a long and slow trajectory. This cannot be dependent upon a speculative decree, even less upon an opinion. Perhaps not even upon philosophical discursivity.

Having said this, whatever the force, the necessity or the irreversibility of the Heideggerian gesture, the point of departure for the existential analytic remains tributary of precisely that which it puts into question. Tributary in this respect – I am picking this out of the network of difficulties which I have associated with it at the beginning of De [‘esprit (on the question of the question, technology, animality and epochality) – of that which is intimately linked to the axiom of the subject the chosen point of departure, the entity exemplary for a reading of the meaning of Being, is the entity which we are, we the questioning entities, we who, as open to the question of Being and of the being of the entity we are, have this relation to self, which is lacking in everything which is not Dasein. Even if the Dasein is not the subject, this point of departure (which is moreover assumed by Heidegger as ontologico-phenomenological) remains analogous, in its “logic”, to that which he inherits in undertaking to deconstruct it, it isn’t a mistake, it’s no doubt an indispensable phase, but now…

J-LN: I’d like to point something out to you: a moment ago you were doing everything to dismiss, to disperse the idea of a “classic” problematic of the subject. Now you are targeting in Heidegger that which would remain tributary of the classical thinking or position of the subject. That seems a bit contradictory…

JD: I didn’t say, “there is no problematic of the subject”, but that it cannot be reduced to a homogeneity. This does not preclude, on the contrary, seeking to define certain analogies or common sources, provided that one takes into account the differences. For example, the point of departure in a structure of relation to self as such and of re-appropriation seems to me to be common just as much to transcendental idealism, to speculative idealism as the thinking of absolute subjectivity, as it is to the existential analytic which proposes its deconstruction. Being and Time always concerns those possibilities most proper to Dasein in its Eigentlichkeit, whatever be the singularity of this “propriation” which is not, in fact, a subjectivation. Moreover, that the point of departure of the existential analytic is the Dasein privileges not only the rapport to self but also the power to ask questions. Now I have tried to show (De l’esprit, p. 147, n.1 sq) what this presupposed and what could come about, even in Heidegger, when this privilege of the question was complicated or displaced. To be brief, I would say that it is in the relation to the “yes” or to the Zusage presupposed in every question that one must seek a new (post-deconstructive) determination of the responsibility of the “subject”. But it always seems to me to be more worthwhile, once this path has been laid down, to forget the word somewhat. Not forget it, it’s unforgettable, but rearrange it, subject it to the laws of a context which it no longer dominates from the centre. In other words, no longer speak about it, but write it, write “on” it as on the “subjectile” for example. [4]

In insisting upon the as such, I am pointing from afar to the inevitable return of a distinction between the human relation to self, that is to say that of an entity capable of conscience, of language, of a relation to death as such, etc. and a non-human relation to self, incapable of the phenomenological as such – and once again we are back to the question of the animal. [5] The distinction between the animal (which has no or is not a Dasein) and man has nowhere been more radical nor more rigorous that in Heidegger. The animal will never be either a subject nor a Dasein. It doesn’t have an unconscious either (Freud), nor a rapport to the other as other, no more than there is an animal face (Levinas). It is from the standpoint of Dasein that Heidegger defines the humanity of man.

Why have I rarely spoken of the “subject” or of “subjectivity”, but rather, here and there, only of “an effect” of “subjectivity”? Because the discourse on the subject, even where it locates difference, inadequation, the dehiscence within auto-affection, etc., continues to link subjectivity with man. Even if it acknowledges that the “animal” is capable of auto-affection (etc.), this discourse nevertheless does not grant it subjectivity and this concept thus remains marked by all the presuppositions which I have just recalled. Also at stake here of course is responsibility, freedom, truth, ethics and law.

The “logic” of the trace or of différance determines this re- appropriation as an ex-appropriation. Re-appropriation necessarily produces the opposite of what it apparently aims for. Ex- appropriation is not what is proper to man. One can recognize its differential figures as soon as there is a relation to self in its most elementary form (but for this very reason there is no such thing as elementary).

J-LN: When you decide not to limit a potential “subjectivity” to man, why do you then limit yourself simply to the animal?

JD: Nothing should be excluded. I said “animal” for the sake of convenience and to use a reference which is as classical as it is dogmatic. The difference between “animal” and “vegetal” also remains problematic. Of course the relation to self in ex- appropriation is radically different (and that’s why it is a thinking of différance and not of opposition) in the case of what one calls the “‘non-living”, the “vegetal”, the “animal”, “man”, or “God”. The question also comes back to the difference between the living and the non-living. I tried to indicate the difficulty of this difference in Hegel and Husserl, as well as in Freud and Heidegger.

J-LN: For my part, in my work on freedom, I was compelled to ask myself if the Heideggerian partition between Casein on the one side and, on the other side, Vor– or Zuhandensein would not reconstitute a kind of distinction between subject and object.

JD: The categories of Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit are also intended to avoid those of object (correlate of the subject) and instrument. Dasein is first of all thrown. What would link the analytic of Dasein with the heritage of the subject would perhaps be more the determination of Dasein as Gewoifenheit, its primordial being- thrown, rather than that of a subject which would come to be thrown, but a being thrown which would be more primordial than subjectivity and therefore also than objectivity. A passivity which would be more primordial than traditional passivity and than Gegenstand (Gegenwurf, the old German word for object, keeps this reference to throwing, without yet stabilizing it into the stance of a stehen). I refer you to what I have said about the dé-sistance (in Psyché) [6] on the subject of the subject in Philippe Lacoue- Labarthe. I am trying to think through this experience of the throwing/being-thrown of the subjectile beyond the Heideggerian protocols about which I was just speaking and to link it to another thinking of destination, of chance and of destinerrance (see again “My Chances”, [7] where I situate a (repudiated) relationship between Heidegger and a thinking of the Democritean type).

Starting at “birth”, and possibly even prior to it, being-thrown reappropriates itself or rather ex-appropriates itself in forms which are not yet those of the subject or the project. The question “who” then becomes: “who (is) thrown?” “Who becomes “who” from out of the destinerrance of the being-thrown?” That it is still a matter here of the trace, but also of iterability (cf. “Limited Inc.” in Glyph) means that this ex appropriation cannot be absolutely stabilized in the form of the subject. The subject assumes presence, that is to say sub- stance, stasis, stance. Not to be able to stabilize itself absolutely would mean to be able only to be stabilizing itself. Ex-appropriation no longer closes itself; it never totalizes itself. One should not take these figures for metaphors (metaphoricity implies exappropriation), nor determine them according to the grammatical opposition of active/passive. Between the thrown and the falling (Verfallen) there is also a possible point of passage. Why is Geworfenheit, while never put into question, subsequently given to marginalization in Heidegger’s thinking? This is what, it seems to me, we must continue to ask. And ex-appropriation does not form a boundary, if one understands by this word a closure or a negativity. It implies the irreducibility of the relation to the other. The other resists all subjectivation, even to the point of the interiorization-idealization of what one calls the work of mourning. The non-subjectivable in the experience of mourning is what I tried to describe in Glas and in Mémoires (for Paul de Man). There is in what you describe in your recent book [8] as an experience of freedom, an opening which also resists subjectivation, that is to say it resists the modem concept of freedom as subjective freedom.

J-LN: In what you are calling ex-appropriation, inasmuch as it does not close in upon itself and although it does not close in upon itself (let us say in and in spite of its “passivity”) is there not also necessarily something on the order of singularity? It is in any case something in the order of the singular that I was getting at with my question who.

JD: Under the heading of Jemeinigkeit, beyond or behind the subjective “self” or person, there is for Heidegger a singularity, an irreplaceability of that which remains non-substitutable in the structure of Dasein. This amounts to an irreducible singularity or solitude in Mitsein (which is also a condition of Mitsein), but it is not that of the individual. This last concept always risks pointing towards both the ego and an organic or atomic indivisibility. The Da of Dasein singularizes itself without being reducible to any of the categories of human subjectivity (self, reasonable being, consciousness, person), precisely because it is presupposed by all of these.

J-LN: You are getting around to the question “who comes after the subject?”, thus reversing the form “who comes before the subject?”…

JD: Yes, but “before” no longer retains any chronological, logical, nor even ontologico-transcendental sense, if one takes into account, as I have tried to do, that which resists the traditional schema of ontologico-transcendental questions.

J-LN: But I still do not understand whether or not you leave a place for the question “who?” Do you grant it pertinence or, on the contrary, do you not even want to pose it, do you want to bypass every question…?

JD: What troubles me is what also commands me; it involves the necessity of locating, wherever one responds to the question “who?” – not only in terms of the subject, but also in terms of Dasein – conceptual oppositions which have not yet been sufficiently questioned, not even by Heidegger. I referred to this a moment ago and this is what I have been aiming at in all my analyses of Heidegger. [9] In order to recast, if not rigorously re-found a discourse on the “subject”, on that which will hold the place (or replace the place) of the subject (of law, of morality, of politics – so many categories caught up in the same turbulence) one has to go through the experience of a deconstruction. This deconstruction (we should once again remind those who do not want to read) is not negative, nor nihilistic; it is not even a pious nihilism, as I have heard said. A concept (that is to say also an experience) of responsibility comes at this price. We have not finished paying for it. I am talking about a responsibility which is not deaf to the injunction of thought. As you said one day; there is a duty in deconstruction. There has to be, if there is such a thing as duty. The subject, if subject there must be, is to come after this.


[1] Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, transl. B. Harlow, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; “Prejugés” in La faculté de juger, Paris, Minuit, 1984; Ulysse Gramophone, Paris, Galilée, 1987; De l’esprit: Heidegger et la question, Paris, Galilée, 1987; “Nombre de oui” in Psyché: Invention de l’autre, Paris, Galilée, 1987.

[2] For example La voix et le phenomène, Paris, PUF, 1967, p. 94; Speech and Phenomena, trans. David B. Allison, Northwestern University Press, 1973, p. 84. This note develops the implications of Husserl’s sentence: “‘We can only say that this flux is something which we name in conformity with what is constituted, but is nothing temporally ‘objective’. It is absolute subjectivity and has the absolute properties of something to be denoted metaphorically as ‘flux’, as a point of actuality, primal source-point, that from which springs the ‘now’, and so on. In the lived experience of actuality, we have the primal source-point and a continuity of moments of reverberation (Nachhallmomenten). For all this, names are lacking.” The note ends with: “There is no constituting subjectivity. The very concept of constitution must be deconstructed.”

[3] Ego Sum, Paris, Flammanon, 1975.

[4] “Forcener le subjectile” in Antonin Anaud, Portraits et
, Paris. Gallimard, 1986.

[5] De l’esprit, op. cit., and Psyché, op. cit.

[6] “Desistance”, preface to the American translation (E. Cadava and Ch. Fins) or Philippe Lacoue-Labarhe’s Typography, Harvard University Press.

[7] “My Chances” in Taking Chances, transl. A. Ronell and J. Harvey, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

[8] L ‘expérience de la liberté, Paris, Galilée, 1988.

[9] Also, for example, The truth in painting (tr. G. Bennington, The University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 286: “Unless Heidegger ignores (excludes? forecloses? denies? leaves implicit? unthought?) an other problematic of the subject, for example in a displacement or development of the value “‘fetish”. Unless, therefore, this question of the subjectum is displaced otherwise, outside the problematic of truth and speech which governs The Origin.”

Topoi, no.7, 1988.

Action of the Structure
Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio



This text was published in Cahiers pour l’analyst 9 (Généalogies des sciences), Summer 1968. It is a text that needs to be introduced by its circumstances. On June 27th 1964, Jacque Lacan founded l’École Freudienne de Paris and opened it to non-analysts. In order to join, a few students from the École normale got together and, as the statutes required, formed a “cartel” which went by the name of its object of interest: “Discourse Theory.” The following pages were meant to justify that title, a heading under which the members of this group thought to place those works tributary and dated to the same conceptual field. They were to appear in l’Annuaire de l’École Freudienne, which in the end was little more than a list of names, and so they remained astray.

If I publish them today, it’s because it seems to me that despite the time gone by, the seminars of all kinds held to decipher Freud, Marx, and Lacan, those that bring difficult truths within the reach of all intellects being few and far between, despite what les Cahiers pour l’Analyse has already made known—what was articulated in this text of the relations between the structure of the subject and science is not yet realized by so many.

Psychoanalysis, as with Marxism, sets out to organize anew the conceptual field. Which is why no one knows just yet how to hear it properly, how to understand it, why they have it silenced, or, suppression from the inside, welcome it in and ward it off by recitation in languages theoretically anterior, even those over and against which it’s detached itself—psychology, biology, the philosophy of spirit—its name is usurped and its truth exiled.

To call it up today is a demand forever untimely.

For our part, we intend to underwrite that reorganization, explicate the expenditure of its economy. Perhaps it is believed that we are blind to our limits, that our ignorance of psychoanalytic praxis necessarily narrows our discourse. But it seems to us that to have recognized those limits does not undermine the legitimacy we claim, on the contrary, it provides foundation and assures it against the possible intemperance of our presumptions. The discourse in which we envisage this project would restrict itself to a critical vocation within the Freudian field, experience, as such, appearing only in its conceptual form. Thus, our intervention hinges on the mediation of a discourse that precedes it, one we’ve identified from the beginning in that it alone takes its departure from an idea on the Freudian specificity of Lacan’s own discourse. Our first undertaking—not the least ambitious—was to comprehend it, to come to grips with it in furnishing a systematic exposition. Our thinking intends to extend the consequences of its object, to join it with intersecting discourse, to elaborate their unifying theory so that its power and its richness might diffuse in the various spaces in which some among us will already be circumscribed. On the whole, this work on concepts takes for watchword Georges Canguilhem’s definition: “…to work through a concept is to vary its extension and comprehension, to generalize it by incorporating its exceptions, to export it beyond its origins, to take it as a model, or inversely, to seek a model for it, in short to confer upon it, progressively in regulated transformations, the function of a form.” [1]

Naturally, critique may lay claim to free establishment: it is judged only by the measure of its own rigor. In this occurrence, however, it receives the blessing and sanction of its discourse-object; critique is brought swift before it to lend the means of its progress, the very concept of its exercise; it hazards that it’s not only authorized, but already thought by what it thinks, required and even already underway, that it is no way self-propagating: that it splits its object without exceeding it. Little by little, this uncovering becomes its theme. What is proper to the discourse of Jacques Lacan, to be the preceptor of its own critique, holds, first and foremost, to what it has created and implemented in the concept of the structure.


Here, structure belongs within scientific discourse.

Models gain on the distance to experience, and yet, to include what is irreducible in their definition, ensure the maintenance of the gap; this distance must now disappear and, in its place, operate an exact integration that proceeds from the lived to the structural.

Models gain on the distance to experience, and yet, to include what is irreducible in their definition, ensure the maintenance of the gap; this distance must now disappear and, in its place, operate an exact integration that proceeds from the lived to the structural.

When the structuralist operation finds itself rejecting temporality and subjectivity in the neutralized space of the cause, it is forced to guarantee its objects constituted beforehand, referring them to “social life”, “culture”, anthropology, biology, spirit. To fault, it pleads with linguistic structuralism to open its field by the preliminary exclusion of any relation maintained by the speaking subject, forbidding itself so much as a word on the matter. Until the alteration provoked by the exclusion of the speaking subject is made null and void, linguistic structures do not hold outside the area of its origin. Psychoanalytic structuralism, in our opinion, realizes their legitimate exportation insofar as its objects are experiences wherein an ineliminable subjectivity is situated and which proceed according to their own interior time, indiscernible from the progress of their constitution. Hence, the topology of the structure does not contradict its dynamic, a pulse matched to the rhythmic displacement of its elements.

Structure is what sets in place an experience for the subject it includes.

Two functions qualify our concept of structure: structuration, or the action of the structure, and subjectivity qua subjected (assujettie).

To take stock of the consequences of such a hypothesis engenders the structure.

To begin with, structuration must be repartitioned in two dimensions: the actual, in which it would offer to an observer, and in which its state will be constituted, and the virtual, according to which all of its states will be susceptible to deduction. Thus, it is necessary to distinguish between a structuring structure and a structured structure (structure structurante, structure structurée), between structurer and structured.

Thus far, the first belongs to the second as its immanent clause, that is: the point of view to be taken by an investigation that de- implicates itself in order to pass from description to knowledge. The two orders are in continuity with one another, their relation simple, their partition relative only to the method employed, there is no delay and so no structural time, and a movement established in the structure is only apparent.

If we now suppose an element that turns back on reality and perceives it, reflects upon it and signifies it, an element capable of redoubling reality on its own account, a general distortion follows which affects the whole structural economy and recomposes it following new laws. As soon as this element is introduced:

— its actuality becomes experience
— the virtuality of the structurer becomes an absence
— this absence is produced in the real order of the structure: the action of the structure comes to be supported by a lack.

The structurer, to disappear (pour n’y être pas), governs the real. Here we grab hold of the driving strife: the introduction of the reflexive element is enough to institute the dimension of the structured qua lived, as taking effect only of itself, lays down an imaginary ordinance, contemporaneous and different from the order of the real, but nevertheless co-ordinated with it, and henceforth, intrinsically taking part in reality. A tertiary structure, imaginary, constitutes itself within the real. As a result, the structural system, ideal to begin with, is redoubled and finally accomplished. This duplicity, in turn, afflicts the reflexive element that provoked it— insofar as it isn’t reflexive on the level of the structurer—which is what defines it as a subject, reflexive in the imaginary, non-reflexive in the structuring structure.

In the second case, its subjection reduces it to no more than a support. The relation of subject to structure is circular in that the two terms owe each other their definitions, but dissymmetric in that it’s an insertion, which turns out to be inconceivable without the mediation of méconnaisance reestablishing a continuous reality through the production of representations which themselves respond to the absence of the structurer, and compensate for the production of the lack. Structuration functions behind the curtain of representation, and in this sense, the imaginary is its means. But, at the same time, it is its effect: representations are staged by that which they hide (dérober)—what they hide as a matter of function, they exist only to conceal the reason for their existence. What is proper to their structuring structure is that they conceal, for the same that structures reality structures representation. That their reflection in subjectivity assures them a certain coherence, an inertia, constitutes them in systems, and works tirelessly to give them the appearance of being independent from the action of the structuring structure, implies that the lack, which they prepare and watch over, intimates these representations interiorly.

Cause is reflected among the effects it determines and which, as such, are ignored. It follows that their subordination to the formative transformations is necessarily indirect. The action of structuring, according the degree of resistance present in representations or systems of representations, exerts itself in measure upon the imaginary (and so upon the real), and differentiates and multiplies the levels of the structured as a whole. We call surdetermination the structuring determination which, in order to exert itself through the imaginary, is made indirect, unequal, and eccentric with respect to its effects.

To reconstitute the totality of the structure, effects and their lateral cause must be made to correspond within this space of permanent distortion, shifting, and gap. The incidence of the cause must be measured and brought back to the lack as to its principle.

And yet, the lack is never apparent; precisely in that the structured misrecognizes (méconnaît) the action that forms it, and is itself ostensibly coherent, homogenous. From this, we can deduce that at this place where the lack of the cause is produced in the space of its effects, an element intervenes to accomplish its suturing.

Hence, every structure includes a lure, taking the place of the lack, connected to what is perceived, but as the weakest link in the given sequence, a point of vacillation, which only belongs to the actual plan ostensibly: the whole of the virtual plan (the structuring space) erases it from the map. This element, exactly the irrational in reality, by inserting itself, denounces the place of the lack.

Of this element, which does not frame, but tricks the eye, through which all perception is méconnaisance, of this element we distinguish its function in naming its place the utopic point of the structure, its improper point, or its point at infinity.

Without a doubt, positivist investigation doesn’t miss the opportunity to bite the lure and to be eluded by it, for nothing falls into its trap that exceeds the flat surface over which its gaze meanders. Its apperception demands a conversion of perspective. This place, impossible to occupy, is announced by its singular allure, contradictory, unequal to the plan; the element that masks it now signals, by a kind flexion in its configuration, that its presence is undue, that it shouldn’t be there. But it is to this point, precisely here where the outspread space of the structured and the “transcendental” space of the structurer intersect and join together that its gaze must be led and fixed and the taking-place (tenant-lieu) be taken for the very principle of organization: soon enough that space will pivot on itself, accomplishing its division with a full rotation, discover what reigns on the inside of its law, the order that adjusts in secret what is offered up to the onlooker: the translation of the structure opens it to a diagonal reading. The topology that represents it must be constructed upon a space wherein its center joins with the exteriority of its circumscription in periodic convergence: its peripheral exterior is its central exterior. The outside passes into the in.

Every activity that does not simply play out in the imaginary, but transforms the state of the structure, begins at this utopic point, this strategic post specific to each of the levels where the structurer is lacking. It goes without saying that the subject concerting such a practice is not, for all that, relieved of the méconnaisance proper to its place.


The theory of the subject must be approached starting from the structure; the subject takes for granted his insertion therein. It is essential to preserve this order, from structure to subject: it’s enough to deny the very possibility of a discourse when foundation is sought in the sphere of immediate givenness, at the end – at the very beginning—of the historical or methodical course of a consciousness—self-consciousness (de soi), the detour being at once preambulatory and essential. But if structure alone is at origin, if no amount of self reflexivity could discover for consciousness its organization, then the immediate is no more ultimate than it is initial, it’s neither a matter of rediscovering it nor waiting for it, reality is neither to be unburied (désensevelir) nor passed over, it must be crossed, traversed, and in its withdrawal, occasion what sets it in place. If, against the philosophy of structuralism, we implicate subjectivity, it is not as monarch but subject of the kingdom. Subjectivity is required by representation, but not to the position of foundation with the causal function that implies. Its blank (lacune) repartitions conscious being along each of the levels induced by the imaginary in structured reality; as for its unity, subjectivity holds fast to its localization, its localization within the structuring structure. Thus, the subject in the structure retains nothing of the attributes of the psychological subject; it escapes definition, forever vacillating between the theory of knowledge, morality, politics, and law.

Tasks for a theory of the subject: To begin, it must refute the phenomenological attempt to recover the naïve, savage state of the world through an archeological investigation bearing on perception. In effect, phenomenology, proceeding with a reduction of the visible to the visible, hopes for the givenness of a secret support, the unchanged, ahistorical, underbelly of knowledge and of history; definitively, the invisible it encounters is nothing but the inverse of the visible of miracles. When, on the contrary, the invisible is taken to house a structure that systematizes and conceals the visible, when the invisible varies and transforms the visible, there begins a truly radical archaeology of perception, through and through historical, absolutely specialized, and structured like a discourse, which restores seeing and saying their principal identities (identité principielle). Of this archaeology, Michel Foucault’s work is today the first example. [2]

Second, the psychological analyses of the subject must be considered and worked through in detail. These intersect in that they assign the subject a position statutorily identical before the various objects of the world, the function of the subject coming down to grouping the objects together, gathering them between a parenthetical under the name reality. This reality, in turn, measures the correction of what is functionally subjective. On the contrary, the discourse of surdetermination leads us to recognize in the subject a spontaneous orientation towards the lure. Fundamentally, the subject is deceived, and the mistake is constitutive. This does not prohibit the subject from taking in, registering, and capitalizing on experience, from having a system of awareness and detection in reality whereby existence adapts and perseveres. But of the subject’s adaptation to the real, nothing can make native. The adaptation cannot be thought according to the models that apply in the animal world; it is executed only through the secondary intervention of a correctional system. Here, it is necessary to distinguish between two kinds of misrecognition (méconnaisance): one that is adequate and necessary to the action of the structure, and one that is inadequate, one harmful to the subsistence of the subject. At this point, perception and ideology, as well as what we can now call sensibility, are brought together in the single concept of méconnaisance.

Méconnaisance is not quite the opposite of knowledge (connaissance); it is not terminated with awareness (la prise de conscience), that is the operation whereby the lived becomes explicit, but, on the contrary, it takes part in it. The formation of conceptual systems, which are closed for all practical purposes, continues the dimension of the imaginary. The psychological sphere of volitions and appetites, which is to say motivations, derives from the functional misrecognition of the structurer, wherefrom it follows that men are always acting in view of an end, toward the useful insofar as they can make it out. For Claude Lévi-Strauss, the adequate systems that work out the misrecognition of cause comprise the object of ethnology, and so ethnology remains a psychology; only psychoanalysis is capable of delimiting the psychological field.

The theory of the subject leads to a doctrine of intersubjectivity that cannot be articulated in terms of simple reciprocity. The relationship established between one subject and another is no more reversible than it is exclusively dependent on one of the two: even this simple alterity, twins or binary fission, dwells in the imaginary, and deducing its organization from just one its terms is hopeless, a fact which qualifies it for the miraculous. What unites and arranges its links, what is only visible in the intimation of its effects, takes shape and is decided on an Other Scene and refers to an absolute alterity in absentia, exponentiated so to speak. It is never given in the present, and yet, there is no presence that does not pass through it, that is not constituted in it.

No relation between a subject and another subject, or between a subject and an object can fill up (combler) the lack, except in the imaginary formation that sutures it together, only to be found again on the inside. The contestation of reciprocity in the psychologies of intersubjectivity must come in corollary to the refutation of every politics of liberalism or humanism. These, it could be said, stem from reciprocity, and are perpetually in search of the object that will come and fill the stomach of human hunger, satisfy what they conceive of as human “dissatisfaction” (Locke’s uneasiness), and thus assure the transparence of all interhuman relations. Knowing that it’s not after a “having” that man has, but rather, after his “being” or, without the metaphor, that the imaginary determines a structure which includes and comports a subject, a politics of happiness, i.e. an adaptive politics (politique de l’ajustement) must be considered the surest means to reinforce the inadequacy that goes from subject to the structure.

Finally, the analyses must be grouped and gathered into a doctrine of alienation in open conflict with Hegel and neo-hegelianism. When reflexivity no longer suffices to define subjectivity, alienation cannot be treated as the hell out from which it must be freed to possess itself and jour his activity; all of that is conceivable only in the autonomous sphere of self-consciousness, not so with a subject reduplicated and so porous (lacunaire), the imaginary subject-agent of the structured structure, subject-support and element of the structuring structure, which only appears as a subject in the real on the condition that it’s misrecognized (méconnue) in the imaginary as an element in the structuring structure. But a kind of alienation is essential to the subject in that it only effects itself as agent in the imaginary to mistake for its own the effects of the structuring structure, wherein it’s already been counted.


Once the enterprises of the subject are brought back into their radical dependence with respect to the action of the structurer, and alienation is defined as constitutive of the subjected subject, the question becomes whether or not a discourse that takes up an adequate object and develops it set of norms is possible. Even before that we have to ask if the discourse of surdetermination is itself possible. The very fact that it is open to come up against, or better, in its advance necessarily gives rise to the problem of its own possibility, a problem, moreover, which is beyond the question of scientificness in general, manifests a singular circuit of a reflexive implication: it falls under a scientific doctrine based on reason, but it belongs to the discourse alone to assign its place therein, to constrain the concept, and dictate the categories. It is this problem, which comes both first and last, from which we intend to take our thematic departure and order our process.

If we consent to say that it is in the field of the statement where logic establishes itself, the field of speech being that of psychoanalysis – anticipating our aim, we will announce the need for a new position within the space of language, and we will put forth this proposition: that a field, which considers of cardinal importance the question of scientificness, is to be constituted under the heading: the field of discourse.

When logic constructs a formalized system, it writes in the alphabet of its symbols an initial set of formulas and rules for their subsequent formation and deduction, such that the statements produced are not doubled and a virtual dimension is avoided; when a logical activity attaches to systems that it didn’t itself engender, the resulting virtual dimension always remains reducible de jure. On the contrary, statements isolated in the linguistic field refer to a code whose virtuality is essential and, in effect, defines them as messages. But communication itself isn’t taken into account and emission, as well as reception, delimits the field more so than it takes part in it.

If, from the linguistic relation, we try to derive a subject capable of supporting it, it becomes clear that an undivided support, at once of message and of code is impossible. The subject cannot maintain an identical relationship with them both: the code, necessary to the production of speech, but absent from the word as the subject states it, does not belong to the subject that issues speech and so is not to be situated in his place; reception requires the code as well, and it’s there, in the exponentiated dimension of alterity that we’ve indicated above where it must be situated. The distribution of topics taking shape disjoins the plan wherein the subject, in first person, is effectuated and the place of the code where the subject ends up but precisely as subject-agent is elided. His speech can trace its origins to this same place where it turns over its utterance and to which it returns in definitive, for here is the place that guarantees its intellection and its truth. Together, the lack of the code on the level of speech and the lack of the subject-agent at the place of the code (the two being correlative) open, within language, the splitting (refente) of the unconscious. Thus, it can be said: the subject is capable of an unconscious.

To this splitting, psychoanalysis articulates that Other scene where speech is decided and structured, where the subject figures with a passive function as an element whose transitivity is commissioned by a quaternary combinatorial, an other Scene which brings the human animal into language, and towards which his word, left alone, turns as if to primordial and generate dependence.

But other circuits plug into this splitting. We concern ourselves with a speech constrained by the conscious aim of its end in truth, which we name discourse. The topology remains intact, but, here, the connection is only established by a secondary selection, in the Other scene, the primordial; said otherwise: according to the modes of language, the connection is made with other Other scenes grafted onto the place of the code. For example, the Other scene of the class struggle, wherein the combinatorial disposes of “class interests”. A specification of lacks is thus announced.

The articulation is fundamental; it structures discourse as constrained speech and prescribes a reading that is neither commentary nor interpretation. Not a commentary because it’s not in search of a sense-making that, owing to a misfortune inseparable from the verb itself, the text somehow abstains from. And yet the text calls for it, implicates it necessarily, calls for what could be restored and indefinitely multiplied with recourse to tacit foundations, for what is inexhaustible in all exploitation, for speech. Neither is it a matter of extracting the meaning from one text and applying it to another, for example, translating it into the vernacular of a philosophy constituted without excluding the possibility that another interpretation might come along reclaim its meaning; such a discourse is, with respect to the first, a neutral element and it latches on like a parasite. To pick up a statement through others supposedly closer to the mystery of its meaning presupposes the relationship to the letter that Spinoza critiqued in his biblical exegesis. In the end, a text cannot be restored to continuity, to logical simultaneity, by spelling out the surface. “Structuralism” at the level of statement can be no more than a passing moment for a reading that seeks, across its taking- place, the specific lack that supports the structuring function. For that reading, for the transgression that crosses the statement towards the stating, the name of analysis seems, to us, suitable.

The lack concerned is no dead word wherefore it’d suffice to bear unto the light of day, it’s not the impotency of the verb nor the ruse of the author, it is silence, the default that organizes stated speech, the concealed place which sheds no light nor lets light be shed for it is only in its absence that text is possible and that discourse is uttered: Other scene where the eclipsed subject sits, from whence he speaks, wherefore he speaks. The exteriority of the discourse is central, this distance interior. The reciprocal determination wherein the elements of an object confer in a structured network, must be broken: we are seeking an unequivocal determination—not only what it means to say but what it doesn’t say at all, insofar as it means not to say it. Thus, we consider the whole of a text to be the border of a lack, principal of the action of the structure, which bears the marks of the action it accomplishes: the suture. Beginning with the taking- place toward which the disorders of the statement of its contradictions converge, pivoting the plan of the statement will reveal the discourse of the subject as a discourse of misrecognition at the place where, qua element or support, it is situated in the structuring structure. The subject receives the very same discourse it issues; it’s just that determination is reversed so that it’s heard in first person. Thus, we will explore the space of determination displaced. At once unequivocal, suppressed and interior, withdrawn and declared, that space can only be qualified in terms of metonymical cause. Cause changes itself into a discourse, an in general, such is that case for all structures: for the necessary condition of functional structural causality is that the subject takes the effect for the cause. Such is the fundamental law of the action of the structure.

How then, is a discourse that only takes orders from itself, a flat discourse and adequate to its object, how is it possible? Clearly, it’s not the return to a reality beyond all discourse, a de-implicated attention and simple positivity that opens its field; once more, it is the singular state of the structurer, a position particular to the subject with respect to the place of truth, which closes speech on itself. This closing of scientific discourse is not to be conflated with the suture of non-scientific discourse, because that one shows the lack to the door, reduces its central exteriority, disconnects it from the other Scene. Thought of as being interior to the field it circumscribes, it will be named: cloture. But this is a circumscription with thickness, it has an outside, an exterior; said otherwise, scientific discourse is not struck with a simple lack, but the lack of a lack is also a lack.

This double negation confers a positivity on its field, but on its periphery one must recognize the structure that makes it possible, a structure whose development is not independent. Within scientific discourse, the lack of a lack leaves open the place of méconnaisance; the ideology that accompanies it, without being intrinsic to it: a scientific discourse, as such, includes no utopian element. It would be necessary to figure two spaces superimposed onto one another, without an anchor point (point de capiton), without slippage between them. Thus, the closure of science effectuates a repartition between a closed field, limitless when considered from the inside, and a foreclosed space. Foreclosure is the other side of cloture. The term is sufficient to indicate how all science is structured like a psychosis: the foreclosed returns in the form of the impossible.

This is, in fact, the old manner of the epistemological break (coupure épistémologique), but approached from the outside; we must recognize the privileged and the almost unheard of status of a discourse of surdetermination which constitutes its field outside of science in general; its injunction, theoretical as well as practical, is given in the Wo es war, soll ich werden, which, for us, convokes the scientific subject as it is to be grasped.

There are two discourses of surdetermination: the Marxist discourse and the Freudian. Louis Althusser has bailed out the first from the bad mortgage that weighed it down in the conception of society as a historical subject, just as Jacques Lacan has done for the second in the debunking of the notion of the individual as a psychological subject—to join the two now seems possible. We hold that the discourses of Marx and Freud are given to communicate by the means of regulated transformations and mutual reflection in a unified theoretical discourse.

September 1964

Note on the causes of science

The crucial problem for the Doctrine of science, the same that defines it, hinges on its proper status.

Science alone, in effect, has the power to confer that status, for unlike a particular science it has no outside: the principles that govern it fall under their own jurisdiction. Thus, the Doctrine cannot be asserted lest it be counted among its own objects; if it has no outside, it is interior to itself. As soon as it is established, it is subjected to an introjection and doomed to the phenomena of self- reflexivity.

The consequences of this property are as follows: the Doctrine doesn’t make sense, or at the least none that could be stated. As such, it cannot be said because it cannot be constructed. Right away, to expose it (that is unfurl, explain it, set it out) is impossible. If nothing is that cannot be said, it is because nothing is without name (our version of the principle of reason, and according to punctuation there are two ways to understand it – Heidegger demonstrated as much for Leibniz), [3] the project of a Doctrine of science is impossible, it has the name of the un-nameable: the “Anonymous Doctrine.”

Hence, every statement that aims at such a thing as a Doctrine of science would be perambulatory and peripheral, and at the same time, the thing itself is nothing but preamble and periphery, it is sucked up by what surrounds it. The discourse, which is adequate to it, is always beside it, for it is itself nowhere, and so too, everywhere.

Such marvelous properties follow from this alone: self-reflexivity, forbidding its statement to be divided, produces in its field the indiscernible meta-language of the language-object. To isolate the “Anonymous Doctrine” somewhere within the Universe of discourse runs counter to its very concept. To expose it amounts to missing it (la manquer), and exposing by entourage to produce its absence in language is an infinite enterprise.

No doubt, this is why Fichte, who was working towards exactly that, is first and foremost a philosopher who speaks, whose books comprise no more than the residue of his words. In a way, his was a discourse that couldn’t keep, uttered with a nod to its disappearance, and always including the clause of annulment which echoes in 6.54 of Wittgenstein’s Tractus: The Science of Knowledge of 1794 is “manual for its listeners”, every presentation of the Doctrine takes up again the conference at large. The Doctrine’s interior incompletion isn’t an accident: dispersion is the sole form of its possibility. There is no meta-language of the Doctrine and the essential is never said, or it is said at every instant, always present, but never there. Its listeners don’t amount to a public, each one before the work, confiding in his own solitary self. The discourse does not think for those who listen, in their place perhaps, or outside of them altogether; but for their own sakes, and each time as if it were the first, each among them must effectuate the annulment of the enunciation process, for the process can only end when it discovers itself unending, when the operator catches sight of the fact that he wasn’t constructing the Doctrine in himself, that it was the Doctrine in which he himself was constructed. Thus, it amounts to same thing to say that the Doctrine is impossible, that its exposition is infinite, that it precedes all that it concerns, that it envelops all that would seek to hem it in. And so for everything that lives and moves within it, everyone who seeks to speak it or to write it down, the Doctrine presents itself as a considerable effort: “not as something that exists, but as something that we ought to, and yet cannot achieve”. [4]

What is stated here depends on a law: a priori of reason, or a posteriori of the sign: a self-reflexive object, thus a self-reproducing object, takes for correlate an impossible construction, or an infinite activity.

Which is why you can say in the same breath that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it’s indestructible. Freud had to have some knowledge of this object (whose self-reproduction is not division, it’s indivisible, but repetition) to have recognized the indestructible in desire [5] and subtracted the unconscious on the principle of contradiction. As for analysis, its termination can have nothing in common with the end of a physical process; its movement is perpetual.

I add, to mark the spot for further developments, that Fichte’s proposition above is the point of departure for his conversation with Spinoza.

“If we go beyond the I am, we necessarily arrive at Spinozism”, [6] and hold to the I am as the Unconditioned returning to give the absolute Ego (Moi) the properties of substance, as indicates the young Schelling in Of the Ego as Principle of Philosophy: “Spinoza characterized the Unconditional perfectly, for everything he says about substance can be applied, word for word, to the absolute Ego.” Know this however: because God is not self-conscious, Spinoza’s theory is exposed definitively as a text.

Perhaps these coordinates for Fichte, somewhere between Spinoza and Freud, curb the laughter of he who senses right under his nose, in the aporia of Doctrine, an ideology.

To explain my position, that it is, in fact nothing of the ideological kind, we have to take up Fichte’s four problems in the opuscule of 94: Concerning the concept of Wissenchaftslehre [7] or of So-called Philosophy, take them back, hijack them for our own ends.

How can the Doctrine be sure to exhaust all science, including the science to come?—it must discover its causes. How is it to be distinguished from particular sciences?—in that the Doctrine thinks what the particulars cannot integrate into their fields, namely, the decisions that found their principles. How is it to be distinguished from logic?—as the logic of the signifier. How does it behave with respect to its object?—the Doctrine is antinomic to its object, that is, incompatible with it, the Doctrine absorbs it or the object fades into the Doctrine: they exist together only in a non-rapport, incommensurable with one another.

These responses are not to be mistaken for the Doctrine itself: I’m merely outlining what it must be. But it’s already clear that what is to be understood by science is not the indistinct sum of human knowledge (that is, what for Kant began experience without deriving from it), but the thinking that calculates, verifies and experiments, at the exclusion of perception, of consciousness, of all the modes of sentiment; there is room in the Doctrine for the history of the sciences insofar as it teaches the position of the subject that makes science possible.

To situate the position of a subject in all conjecture, the relations it undertakes must be known: relation to the instance of the guarantee, relation to its statements and relation to the objects thereof. If and only if we succeed in fixing the modes wherein the subject correlative to science relates to these three determinations, will we be capable of knowing the causes of science.


[1] Dialectique et philopsophie du non chez Gaston Bachelard”, Revue Internationnale de Philosophie, 1963.

[2] Such is the explicit theme in Birth of the Clinic. This is less about discrediting the phenomenological discourse (Maurice Merleau- Ponty’s work in particular), positivist discourse insofar as it blinds itself to the mutations of the structural invisible, than picking it up again to set it on a new foundation: as a rigorous discourse, in and of the imaginary.

[3] Tr. The French reads: Et si rien n’est qui ne peut être dit, c’est si rien n’est sans nom. Liebniz’s formulation is in Latin: nihil est sine ratione.

[4] Johann G. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, tr. Peter Heath and John Lachs (New York: Meridith Co., 1970) p. 102.

[5] Preservation in the sense that Spinoza gives the term is an identical effect

[6] Loc. cit.

[7] TR. The German word Wissenschaftslehre is rendered “Doctrine de la Science in French.” Literally, Wissenschaftslehre translates to “Science-teaching,” the teaching of science.

Another Lacan
Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio


In the time allotted to me, I will try to present to you another Lacan. The Venezuelan newspapers report these days in their headlines Lacan’s axiom that the unconscious is structured like a language. This is fine. We could not expect to keep this to ourselves since the fact is obvious in the analytic experience as well as in the writings of Freud. The question rather seems to be why nobody noticed it before Lacan said it.

As the unconscious-structured-like-a-language becomes a public truth, the time has come, perhaps, for a slightly different accent. Who then is this other Lacan? One who says, for instance, that the unconscious is not structured like a language? Certainly not. This other Lacan is the Lacan that you know. However, he has drawn from his famous hypothesis a number of consequences that are not always recognized. A number of difficulties recently encountered in the psychoanalytic community are a result of this distortion, which also accounts for the current stagnation of theory.

These unrecognized consequences concern specifically the end of analysis, and therefore the moment termed the pass. I would like to delineate this complex question for you as I can.

The pass, Lacan’s term, refers to the impasse which, according to Freud, is the normal end of the analytic experience for any subject.

There is an end to the analytic experience, but this end is an impasse—this is the legacy which Freud has left us from his practice, notably in his article “Finite and Infinite Analysis.” Every psychoanalysis, according to Freud, eventually encounters an insuperable resistance.

The existence of this block does not in any way depend on the clinical particulars of the patient or on the lack of skill of the practician; it is not because the subject is too neurotic or the analyst incompetent that this block is encountered. Freud defines this rather strange occurrence as a structural impasse, valid for every subject.

In fact, according to Freud, the further the analysis is pursued and the more competently and in conformity with his procedures it is conducted, the more evident will be the impasse.

You are familiar with the Freudian term for this impasse. It is the castration complex—for woman, penis envy, which is, if I may say so, her thorn in the flesh. This block, according to Freud, is not contingent but occurs necessarily; the impasse occurs not de facto but de jure. The most careful handling of the treatment cannot but run directly onto this rock, which is thereby revealed as a reef.

According to Freud, the analytic experience therefore comes to a close, despite those who value only open-ended experiences —”Questions must remain open!” This claustrophobia is a heritage of phenomenology, the extension of which to psychoanalysis cannot be taken for granted.

There is here an irony, a paradox: The analytic experience has an ideal ending, distinct from any accidental interruption or termination for personal reasons, and this ideal ending amounts to a failure. The final clause can only be the castration complex.

So, to take up Lacan’s debate with Freud, it is clear that Lacan means to push his analyses beyond what Freud saw as the irreducible residue, the caput mortum of the experience, beyond the Freudian ending. Lacan therefore speaks of the pass where Freud discovered an impasse.

Thus, Lacan and Freud agree that the analytic experience is finite. But Lacan’s final clause is entirely different from Freud’s, since it means the transformation of analysand into analyst, a reversal from one position to the other. The question thus concerns not only the analyst, but also, and foremost, the analysand.

The word pass can be used in many ways as a glance at the dictionary will reveal. Is the pass a passage beyond the castration complex? That would be a nice title, but perhaps a little too neat. I would prefer to emphasize Lacan’s allegiance to Freud, the Freudian Lacan more than the Lacanian Lacan.

What is it that blocks the experience? What, according to Freud, does not come to pass? It is the clause which prescribes to a man how to be a man for a woman, and to a woman, how to be a woman for a man. Freud finds that this clause, which he anticipates, fails to appear, and therefore he posits the castration complex as irreducible.

But what did Freud expect of the experience if not a formula for the sexual relation? He hoped to find it inscribed in the unconscious; hence his despair at not finding it.

And after Freud, what happened? In attempting to solve the question of the end of analysis, analysts have again and again proposed formulas for the sexual relation. To cast the end of analysis in the event of a possible sexual relation has necessarily led them to rub out the castration complex—with the genital eraser.

Lacan, on the other hand, is true to Freud when he states that there is no sexual relation. This formula preserves the irreducibility of what Freud designated as castration, but it also suggests that the question of the end of analysis cannot be posed in terms of the sexual relation which does not exist.

The question of the end of analysis cannot be solved if such a solution requires the sexual relation. It can only be solved on the basis of its absence.

It is a fact that psychoanalysis does not bring about the sexual relation. For Freud this was cause for despair. Eager to redress this state of affairs, the post-Freudians have been attempting to elaborate a genital formula. Lacan brings these attempts to a close. The end of the analytic process cannot be tied to the emergence of the sexual relation. It depends rather on the emergence of the sexual un-relation.

The question of the end of analysis thereby finds a solution in a way that was previously inconceivable. The solution appears on the side of the object—the object dismissed as pre-genital by the post-Freudian trend.

It is not the object that obstructs the emergence of the sexual relation, as the expectation of its eventual coming might lead one to believe. On the contrary, the object is that which stops up the relation that does not exist, thereby giving it the consistency of the fantasy. lnasmuch as the end of analysis supposes the advent of an absence, it depends on breaking through the fantasy and on the separation of the object.

These are the problems of the pass. However difficult its implementation may be in analytic groups (the École Freudienne certainly did everything possible to pervert its procedure), the pass is and remains one of Lacan’s major advances. It confirms and sums up the fundamentals of his teaching.

The unconscious knows nothing of the relation of man to woman or of woman to man. Provisionally it can be said that the two sexes are strangers to one another, exiled from each other.

But the symmetry implied by this statement is slightly misleading. In fact, the missing sexual knowledge concerns only the female. If nothing is known of the other sex, it is primarily because the unconscious knows nothing of woman. Whence the form: The Other sex, meaning the sex which is Other, and absolutely so.

Indeed, there is a signifier for the male and that is all.we’ve got. This is what Freud recognized: just one symbol for the libido, and this symbol is masculine; the signifier for the female is lost. Lacan is thus entirely Freudian in stating that woman as a category does not exist. It is Freud then who is not completely Freudian.

This explains why the subject who enters the analytic device is bound to go through a structural hysteria. He not only experiences himself as split by the eHects of the signifier, but also finds himself thrust willy-nilly into the search of the signifier for woman on which the existence of the sexual relation depends. The psychoanalyst need not inscribe on his door, “Let no one enter here who seeks not the woman, It for whoever enters will seek her anyway.

The absence of the signifier woman also accounts for the illusion of the infinite, which arises from the experience of speech, even while that experience is finite. Indeed the diacritical structure of language by which anyone signifier points to another (S1 – S2) accounts for the very recursiveness of speech-the fact that last words cannot be said.

Naturally, if the Other signifier, that of woman, existed, it could be assumed that things would come to an end.

The analysand therefore appears as a kind of Diogenes with his lantern, but in search of woman rather than a man. For men are not hard to find. One might even take one for another without making much of a mistake.

The passion for things symbolic has no other source. Science exists because woman does not exist. Knowledge as such substitutes for knowing the other sex. This formula can be readily applied. For instance, the question why everyone now plays with pyramids can now be given a scientific answer: everyone is mad about pyramids because woman does not exist.

The series S1 —> S2 provides the rational basis for the illusion of infinite analysis. The very absence of the sexual relation leaves the hop.e that what is still absent will come in a little while.

However, the un-relation grows ever weightier as the experience goes on. Lacan contends that the unconscious shouts but one message, the absence of the relation. It may thus be said that the Freudian device represents this absence.

Somewhere, Queued says of young virgins that they are vestiges in noli me tangier. It’s a delightful image. The analyst, no doubt, cloaks himself in noli me tangere, and this accounts for his (and especially her, the woman analyst’s) tendency to identify more than is fit with the Lady of courtly love.

Another point should now be mentioned: what are the implications for analytic interpretation of the fact that any one signifier has value only with reference to another? It follows that interpretation is both possible and infinite. In other words there is no dosing formula for the analytic experience. This is what Freud considers the “navel of the dream’”. It means that interpretation proceeding from the retroaction of S2 on S1, can never end. Analysis then must be interminable.

But let us not forget that in matters of interpretation, religion is our teacher. As is the psychotic’s délire d’interpretation.

In certain analytic milieus, there has developed a tendency to value interpretation as a wealth of meanings. Set on this path, psychoanalysis may well tum into a delirium of interpretation. The unconscious is accorded a faith which is not only naive, but precisely paranoiac. We may think of Lacan’s definition, now somewhat dated, of psychoanalysis as a controlled paranoia. After all, who better to control a paranoia than a paranoiac?

There is a trend in this direction in contemporary psychoanalysis. For this reason, Lacan recommended preliminary interviews at the start of an analysis. The analytic device, the device of psychoanalysis, dearly favors the manifestation of psychosis. What classical French psychiatry refers to as automatisme mental is really only the subject- supposed-to-know-to know all my thoughts. At Sainte Anne several years ago, we had a very fine case of chronic hallucinatory psychosis in which a psychoanalyst figured as the operator of the influencing machine. The case is not rare.

A lot of people are being criticized here in Caracas: Melanie Klein, the American analysts… A little criticism, perhaps, could also be given Lacan, at least to those effects of his teachings which lead to exalt the function of interpretation. In Lacan himself, there is none of this fervor. On the question of interpretation, he is after all quite discrete. It must be done properly—that is what he often said, and that about all.

The interpretative function proceeds from the structure of language as language of the Other: it is the receiver who establishes the meaning of a message. In emphasizing this point, Lacan goes as far as to call the analyst the master of truth. Lacan used this formula in 1953. He did not repeat it, yet it explains well enough why interpretation can be reduced to mere punctuation, a scansion, no more.

The existence of a master of truth may be argued on the basis of the semantic retroaction of S2 on S1. So considered, S2 becomes the master-signifier of truth. However, the notation S1 —> S2 implies the contrary as well in that there is no signified master of truth, since any signification depends on a subsequent signifier. Signification essentially shifts along the signifying chain; its metonymy accounts for the impossibility of all the truth being said.

You know that Lacan divides the Freudian wish between demand and desire. He thus equates desire, arising from the signifier, with the metonymy of signification that results from the “being for another.” Whence Lacan’s vectorial representation of desire which you know.

On this point, students of Freud found Lacan easiest to follow. Here they found the freshness of the Freudian experience, the taste of things new. Desire, indefinable, inconstant, elusive, changing shape, always a function of something else, always running away, as indestructible as the continual chain, and at the same time, malleable to the signifier, docile yet indefatigable, submissive and untamable.

The very possibility of sublimation, its facility even, springs from this plasticity of desire. Desire naturally harmonizes with the signifier; it cannot but agree with it. just think how the image of woman has changed over the centuries. In our days it changes from month to month. The phenomenon of fashion would not exist if desire were not hooked to the signifier hooked that is to the Other.

The very possibility of sublimation, its facility even, springs from this plasticity of desire. Desire naturally harmonizes with the signifier; it cannot but agree with it. just think how the image of woman has changed over the centuries. In our days it changes from month to month. The phenomenon of fashion would not exist if desire were not hooked to the signifier hooked that is to the Other.

You know Lacan’s title “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious.” Consider, however, that there is nothing obvious in speaking of a dialectic of the sexual desire. The fact that desire is both indestructible and plastic has not escaped Jung who gave it prime importance as the “metamorphoses of the libido.” We know where this led him—to desexualize the libido. This is not surprising since sublimation is indeed a transfonn of desire.

Does Lacan offer anything else? Why did the philosophers and scholars who red Lacan and learned from him to reread Freud make such a case of metonymy? The reason is simple: they found there a means to desexualize desire.

Yes, they have turned Lacan into another Jung, the Jung of the signifier. Wherever Lacan’s influence has been felt, his teaching has been used to exalt the play of signifiers. But this is not what Lacan is about, not at all.

The ticklings of desire, its sneaky ways, its Fregolian metamorphoses, its clowning masquerades, all these are a part of the analytic experience. Analysis unquestionably allows the subject a certain leeway, a space for straying within the path of the signifier. This makes for the joy of interpretation. It is also what is paid for: the gain in pleasure that analysis produces, the surplus value of jouissance thereby obtained. Correspondingly, the analyst celebrates interpretation as a “passion for the word,” appraises it as poetic creation, confuses his business with that of the writer, plays Sir Oracle, and with all this, imagines himself a Lacanian.

It would be easy to find in Lacan authority for this enthusiasm. Yet Lacan’s unconscious, structured-like-a-language does not exclusively value the poetic signifier, just as it does not endorse the practice based on this position.

I would rather bend the thing the other way around. It is neither for the analyst nor the analysand to be inspired. The analytic experience follows precise rules and routines; there is, says Lacan, a “quasi- bureaucratic” style to it. Desire certainly darts and flashes, but also, like the ferret, it runs in a circle.

This circle is called the fantasy.

Ah! How much less entertaining is the theory of fantasy than the metonymy of desire! The latter, in fact, is inconceivable without the former, if it were not merely to be a feasting on the leftovers of scriptural exegesis.

Certainly, the subject of desire is a drifter, but it is tethered to a fixed point, to a stake about which it drifts in a circle. It is the little goat of Mr. Seguin.

We have here a dimension of the analytic experience the phenomenology of which is surely different from that of metonymy. There one lets oneself go with the drifting subject, here we emphasize its being tied.

Please note that S1 —> S2 does not mean that the subject can find in the signifier d specific identity, an absolute representation, his own true name. The Other of the signifier provides no name for the subject of the unconscious.

That which arrests the signifier, that to which it is tethered, is the object. Subjective certainly is always tied to the object.

In contrast to the signifier in which they all delight, the object has no Other to substitute for it. It represents nothing for another, it does not shift. It rules the desire, sustains it, gives it consistence.

We can go as far as to say that the object provides for the illusion of unity in the subject. The ego’s underpinnings are to be found in the fantasy, because the fantasy is the function which relates the drifting subject of desire to the object which holds it.

In speech, the subject has the experience of self-loss. He experiences the “lack-in-being” ($), especially the lack-in-being represented by one signifier. Only in the fantasy does the subject gain access to whatever being the signifier grants him.

Whence the paradoxical structure of fantasy, joining two heterogeneous elements—and Lacan’s reference to the topology of the cross-cap to explain this structure (the cross-cap consisting of a pIece of a sphere and a moebius strip).

The subject of the signifier is always displaced and lacks being. It is never there except through the object cloaked in the fantasy. The pseudo-Dasein of the subject is the object denoted as objet petit a.

You may at this point understand why for Lacan the end of analysis is played out at the level of the fantasy, specifically on the level of the objet petit a.

The pass is Lacan’s name for the disjunction of the subject and object brought about by the analytic experience, for the fracturing or breaking of the fantasy.

The fundamental structure of the fantasy is not the same as the structure of the formations of the unconscious. Relying on the latter, the analytic discourse reveals the fonner-and therefore consists of the correlated pairs S1 —> S2 and $ —> a.

When the so-called “influence” of Lacan is used solely to endorse the play of signifiers: it has the effect of completely disorienting the analytic experience.

We idealize the experience if we leave out the function of repetition in fantasy, the inertia which fantasy provides to the desire, its stifling effects on desire’s metonymy, the sense of no progress, the tedium of redundancy which it gives to the experience.

It seems odd that the enthusiasm, even the pseudo-manic fit, which the very procedure of the pass engenders, would so often lead to this idealization in those who should be in the best position to counter it.

No doubt “breaking through the fantasy” confers wings, but what wings: those of the albatross or those of Plato’s doves?

This paper was presented at the first Rencontre Internationale du Champ freudien, Caracas, Venezuela, 1980

A Monster Found Everywhere
Shariar Vaghfipour

Author’s Bio

On the year 2002, in Mashad, the sacred and pilgrimage town of Iran, a serial killer appeared who had killed 19 women and been named by press as “spider killer” because of his constant way of murdering. As a typical trend, all his victims were helpless disfranchised rejected women, i.e. addicted aged prostitutes. Then a TV documentary made by an Iranian director for BBC network, including some interviews with murderer, his wife and his son, father and two daughters of a victim, judge of the case and some people who had acquainted murderer through living in same neighborhood or working in same place. What was probably surprising for good- willing people was all interviewees’ same position about these crimes. Murderer claimed his only intention was cleansing the society of guilty ones, of those villains who aimed corrupting his people’s living atmosphere. All interviewees, certainly except victim’s relations, praised his intention and actions. After all, they attested he was a pious, well-behavior and very civilized man. Nevertheless the “spider killer” is not an exceptional phenomenon, whether in east or west. Everywhere we witness the man who think of himself as a kind of savior whose mission is “to refine” society, even world; but eventually, albeit his supposedly benevolent motive, his actions take on monstrosity shapes.

Although in reality almost no one wants to meet a serial killer or other kinds of monster-man, all kinds of cultural representations of them occupy a privileged status. Horror movies have populated fan- communities, modern gothic fictions are among best-selling literature and monsters and evil agents are objects of cultural fascination. Twenty century did witness this frenzy fascination to evil and gory representations even in high-art movements: horrifying writings of Bataille, Artaud’s “cruelty theater”, scaring paintings of Bacon or disgusting artworks of artists like Stuart Brisley who belonged to “happening” movement and violent praised movies of Lynch or Cronenberg.

Now the question is raised here is that whether there is a link between serial killers and contemporary cultural representations of monster, especially in the frame of horror (slasher) movies? From the outset, we must keep in minds that this question does not mean that whether slasher-movies monsters are the adequate representations for the serial killers in the world outside the movies; but that aims that which thing prompt us to call these two kinds of beings with the same name? And similar horror monsters appear on a screen, “on what screen social serial killers appear”? This question is inserted because it is evident that close encountering with monsters must be so shocking and the reason of maintaining the ordinary lives of those ones lived close to such serial killers, as “spider killer” is these monsters appear on screen too, providing some easiness and security for the others. Psychoanalytically, this screen is of fantasy and maybe the “big Other”; for thank to that, we can conceive everyone, certainly who we designate, as innocent. This is some kind of “inter-passivity” and somehow a pervert inclination, for as though we know perfectly who we are (for the Other). But presently it is sufficient.

Before turn to our question, let’s make a detour, and to do so, we should recall Lacan formula of signifying, i.e. that one which about relations about signifier and subject. Beware that we use this for notifying what is remained un-signifying and whether we are right to call killers, such as “spider”, monsters?

S1 —————> S2 $ ————————a

We also note this formula to elucidate function of screen that is covering the bars which mean inconsistencies and dissymmetry of representation. More than this, the screen provides some sense of security and also a means of perceiving things which projected on it. Now, let’s come back to notion of monstrosity.

The first way of observing beings called monsters is that one is offered by Freudian conception of “the uncanny” or “unheimlich”, in the sense of something bizarre, something unhomely, the homelessness, something that can not be posited. In one sense, especially in the terms of language and representation, the uncanny is the same with the Real, something, or better speaking, a trauma that can not be symbolized, i.e. the Real of sexual difference.

If we elaborate further, we can claim that the uncanny is excrement, the waste that must be expelled but its otherness marks, or infects, the clean body of representation. As Lacan noted, the burden of excrement is characteristic of human culture and civilization. The human being is that being who (or what) do not know what to do with his (or its) shit. Shit is a natural excess that through the treatment of human being turns into the unnatural, turns into a means that demarcates the man. So the dark moment, the vanishing mediator that gives possibility to culture is the moment a being forges a way to expel this waste. So the way to treat this disturbing excess, the rituals of cleanliness and purification provides the index of cultural difference and symbolic identity. It may sound Freud elaboration of development of child identity: passage from anal stage to oedipal stage. If we turn to Lacan interpretation of evolution of human identity, we must regard child’s relations to its specular double, its image in the mirror. Through the mirror stage, the distinct presence of (m)Other inserts itself to the psyche of child; and by the strategy of recognizing itself in regarding to (m)Other, the child’s psychic drama begins. Subject is born when the child can situate itself in the world that names Other’s desire. It is well-known debate but it is crucial to keep in mind this fact that thing is not prior to word, contrary, it is word creates thing; so this is the signifier that give birth to subjectivity. Subjectivity is Hegelian moment that the signifiers which mark child psychic separation of maternal realm are repressed. This process is castration. Castration does not mean enslaving child by authority of father but emancipation of devouring mother’s jouissance. Castration means subversion of omni-powerfulness of mother for she lacks signifier of phallus, and more, the child cannot provide this for her or offer himself to her as phallus. Also it is crucial that from this lack of phallus erupts sexual identity.

The strategy that is adopted by subject to treat with mother’s desire forms its psychic state: neurosis, perversion or psychosis. It is worn debate that how is the logic of perversion, so it seems enough merely to note that perversion is result of refusal of lack in the mother. The pervert does not accept that his mother lacks signifier of phallus, and more, he unable to act as what she lacks. So as though, mother, or the Other, is the main feature for perverts. Social interactions for perverts devoid of small others, so their world is empty of human passions, especially capacity of negation or “saying- no”. And for this reason, usually perverts are completely socialized. Their actions are fully in accordance of social rules. Perversion is the way of perfect compromise. They act as so obediently, as we see in the most of slasher movies (or in Kantian moral subject who with no condition, actualizes universal imperatives).

We concentrate on the role of “the Other disguised as mother” in the purpose of observing closely Psycho of Hitchcock, that movie which apparently has had a main effect on formation of subgenre slasher. This movie had major slasher generic elements such as blade or sharp murdering tool, gory scene(s) of murdering, collection or heap of dead bodies (in this case, taxidermist birds), silent dim building and a weird family (as if the only constitutive element which was absent in Psycho was displaying of mutilation scene itself). Except this inventory, nowadays some unimportant scenes in psycho has supplied standard images in slasher movies: brutally murdering victim because of some unrelated moral deficiency, horrified searching in a silent gothic house with the premonition of a fatal attack, being killed when been showering or been naked, conversion of subjective point of view (supposedly belong to a pursuer killer) to the objective P.O.V. (for example, the picture could be said framed by the gaze of house). In the heart of psycho, we can see some paradigmatic figures and themes of main slasher movies: murdering as a kind of consummate sexual relation, or strictly speaking, successful intercourse; intervention of dead mother into tragedy, mummy mom or undead maternal figure and embodiment of lingering omen voice and so on. Norman Bates is a harmless adolescent-like son who is subordinated to his mother; a meek-hood one who shockingly slaughters a defenseless female figure while the face of he, himself, is not shot. We can say Norman Bates is psychically disturbed one, a split subject who resigns his place to his dead (or better, un-dead) mother, and finally can overcome to this schism through offering his body for inhabiting his mother phantom (the final scene where dead mother talk through the Bates’ mouth).

Before we go further, it is worthwhile to note that every subject is split, so it must find a way to tarry with its split-ness. Some subject get satisfaction of playing with this split who called hysteric, and some try to suture every split symbolic it find called obsessive. Maybe it can be possible to design some formulae about subjects in respect to kinds of treatment with their split; but now, this is not of interest. Presently about Bates, he is confronting with a split between horizontal motel and vertical house (just as the narrative itself that is compound two dissymmetrical parts: the horizontal metonymic half that is a moral adventure tale and the vertical half that is a mystery fiction revolved around a murder); a split between being a desiring subject and being a desired object; a split between treating as a living servant and treating like an undead, a moving haunted body.

This spectral plot and subject matter haunt the edifice of slasher subgenre: a ruptured psych lives on in a pre-oedipal state, the one who does not succeed to separate his ego from his monster mother (to be more effect, dead in Halloween or undead, mummified mother, in Texas Chainsaw Massacre), acts like a serial killer. Evidently, refusing to enter (or better, banned of entering to) symbolic order and being castrated, he invents a fundamental fantasy to secure himself of threats of The Real, forges a fantasmatic solution to the enigma of sexuality. He disavows the lack of phallus in her mother and so can not translate his desire into Other’s desire. In this sense, in psycho, watching the naked Marion by the killer, was not a voyeuristic sexual act because his only act from which he could derive sexual satisfaction was being an object/thing for her mother’s jouissance, and punishing a guilty sexy girl who could seduce him, so actually could introduce a fissure on the imaginary perfect surface of the continuity between child and its mother or Other. Its likely aftermath would be foreground the real lack in (m)Other.

This is exactly what that happens in the apropos of many supposedly reformist serial killers, for example “spider” and the likes, make themselves appointed to annihilate all that is somehow a threat to their fantasy, i.e. being the object/thing of (m)Other’s jouissance. For “spider” the serial killer, the addicted prostitutes, not even “grandiose whore”, were the mere objects what impede realization of society’s unity. They were conceived as threats for they acted like objet a, they are treated as though they were stealing the jouissance that was belonged to Other. For such male serial killers, suggestive women are those not only snatch their jouissance, but also hindrances to fulfill their fantasy; and perverts are those ones who, unlike neuroses, starve to fulfill them. Paradoxically, these women are known as a foreign body and at once the only one that could access to the most intimate and hidden treasure of Other. The perverts like “spider” think they have become deprived of being happy for losing especial concern and desire of Other because of some mysterious guilt and some obtrusive stain obstacle receiving Other’s gaze; so cleansing this stain could establish the perfect state, i.e. being the only object for Other’s jouissance. Only recall obsessive Bate’s works for keeping clean everything. These obsessive actions are not interpreted as neurotic deeds, because these deeds are done with a kind of successful air not desperation.

It may be fruitful to reflect a little on act of cleansing or purifying, especially when be acted obsessively, the act aims obliterating all stain, all left-over. Is not it familiar with God’s anger, with divine supreme punishment, in cases such Sodom’s or Pharaoh’s soldiers who pursuit Moses’ people? It suffices to recall etymology of “monster”: derivative of “monere” means “warning” or “anticipation of impeding catastrophe”. In this sense, monster is an agent of God’s will and this equation echoes Lacan’s seminar on “God and Woman’s jouissance” which relates jouissance with “just”, “justice” and Aristotle’s notion of justice as “golden mean” or “happy medium”. When cleansing is a medium to receive enjoyment to its proper possessing, that means justice again, so it sounds logical to say that the divine to fully attain itself, must rely on something that is not divine; it means “God” lacks something that a monster can afford: this is another translation of pervert theology. This theology is worked through an affirmative divine gesture, the divine that disavows its incompleteness. So, do not these etymological plays witness to the fact that monster is an (secret) agent of mother jouissance, especially when this enjoyment bears witness to desert a body? Is not that that enjoyment equates with pain?

Now we can step back and review our statements about the lost moment when mankind traverse from nature and receive culture: repelling the one’s own waste. But presently when the notion of “God” is involved, is it working to incite from Luther (through Lacan quotation) that “human kind literally are the waste matter which falls into the world from the devil’s anus”. The world is all and all is sinful and has excremental nature; so the most authentic deed, for a protestant, is say no to the world, just like a devotee believer of Buddha. Thanks to Weber and Zizek (in the cases of Protestantism and Buddhism, respectively) we know the inverted result (rise of capitalism and brutal crimes). But this belief is not restricted to religion.

In some respect, all humane rituals and customs are efforts to wash away these disgust waste. Some feminist thinkers, for example Julia Kristeva, claim that patriarchal societies always identify feminine body with abject and many cultural representations we call monsters are various embodiments of masculine fear of other repressed feminine, fear of all repressed things that coming back with doubled power. It may sound homological to Freud’s interpretation of monster as embodiment of coming back of something that is repressed; but in fact it is not. The reason lies in statements like “there is only one libido”; “there is no woman” and so on. Thanks to Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, we know that there is nothing beyond phallic function and that the notion of existence of something hidden, mysterious and subversive in women that evades from phallic function is only another masculine fantasy, serving to secure subject from The Real of sexual difference. From this perspective, such interpretations that are based on equation of monster and feminine thing are various male fantasies. They work like strategy of enemy-making in formation of nation-state in narration of Carl Schmitt. Unity and harmony of our world relies on a powerful enemy what threats our world with a vengeance. Equation of feminine with a all-powerful evil monster resulted from male fantasy not something intrinsic and essential called femininity.

What is feminine sexuation? There is a kind of covering lack of phallus that is conceived feminine and evolves around masquerading, i.e. being masked, playing hysterical, pretending to be phallus. But what is under mask? Nothing. The real horror is this nothing and in order to not being faced with this nothing, the man invents some fantasy signifying that there is something: a kind domestic angel, a demonic monster, something revolutionary and so on. But what is relation between this “nothing behind feminine sexuation” and “destitution of subject”?

The answer is they are the one. Destitution of subject is the end of psychoanalytic experience when as analyst occupying the position of objet a, the analysand acknowledge that subject is an effect of signifiers, that all the time subject is nothing but presupposition. Subject is nothing, is Cartesian Cogito itself when the world is wholly subtracted of that. In this respect, what is desiring subject? Let us back to one of our departure points, that is formula about signification: “subject is what that one signifier represents for another signifier”. After all, afore-mentioned formula originally based on Charles Peirce’s model of sign and it means a sign (compounded of signifier and signified) refers to another sign. After post- structuralism we know that signifying is the infinite play of signifiers, as even Lacan said. But from the notion of The Real, it becomes evident that there is some stopper to that play that maybe not fair. (It maybe interesting to posit that believing unending play of signifier and un-decidability is somehow perverse theory, is somehow academic discourse that is unable to say no and insert an end to that unending chain, that is unable to act messianic, as Benjamin theorized.) That is a, objet petite a. And what is this element? This is very object that causes our desire, in meaning that is Other’s desire. This is not some structuralist notion, meaning that we do not desire, we are forced to desire by something could called Other, language and so on. This object is a question that asked by subject addressing Other: “what do you want of me?” or “what am I for you?”

This question remains without answer and it remains enigmatic for good. Fantasy is an effort to prepare an answer to this question that is not grasped at all. But why? Because the subject has no substance, it is produced of signification, strictly speaking, subject is what rejects being subjected, subjected to any signifier. Subject is very impossibility of being positioned the subject. In this sense, subject is what that is “unheimlich”, is “uncanny”. So, what is true monster?

Referring to the formula that is introduced in this essay firstly, we can conclude that subject is not “somebody” but is “something”, and furthermore, supposing this subject is a barred subject for this is not “one”, subject is pure negativity, is suspending all reality, is an empty void that has no content. The subject is a fissure on the surface of nature, is the vanishing mediator between nature and culture. (In this sense, subject likes cracks on the walls of “house of Usher”. In this story, the male protagonist, Radrick suffers of a family sickness, of an evil power inclining melancholia and intensified sensation. In other hand, the mansion that is called Usher refers both to mansion itself and the family. So, male Usher represents a perfect thought-sensation machine; but in this so human one, the madness is intrinsic. So fall of Usher is fall of reason too, because madness is not out of this machinery but is very element that constitutes reason.)

We claimed that subject is the very Cartesian Cogito. Remembering the name Descartes gave to Cogito, Res Cogitant, we can call creatures like Androids in Blade Runner subject too. So is not the only real monster is very the subject? Referring to figures like “creature of Frankenstein”, “Count Dracula” and so on bears witness to this statement. So we can conclude every horror narrative is narrative of subjectivization, or in another way, narrative of constituent fantasy of a subject or subject-position (it is crucial that we must distinguish between subject and subject-position, and this fact can make for us a cognitive tool to categorize two distinct horror narrations: narration of “void” and narration of “loss”, narration of fear of internal impossibility or fear of external block for realization). Now we can relate sub-subgenres of horror movie (sub-slasher) to relevant fundamental (male) fantasies, for example: Texas Chain- Sow Massacre signifies possibility of a harmonic society (murderer family locate outside of industrial society). Dominant orthodox interpretation of this narration is this is embodiment of repressed groups by industry trends: a bankrupt farmer family because of industrialization of butchery. In this respect, this movie narration of un-symbolized people, those ones that are not integrated by current order. But all this interpretation is an imaginary fantasy.

A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th stage the male fantasy about the role of femme fatale that is portraying dangerous female serves for unity and stability of male universe and covering the Real of sexual difference. Prevailing avant-guard interpretation shows this fantasy in another way, an exegesis that is found mostly in feminist writings which say: “historically individual identity is marked by the rejection of the maternal bond and acceptance of the law of the father. But the abject is never far removed, always threatening the stability of the subject and the social order as a whole and consequently always in need of ritual expunging of the abject element”.

(We can continue this praxis and demonstrate fundamental fantasy for another sub-genres:

Ring, exemplary Far-East horror movie about malevolent ghosts embodies fantasy about perfect and harmonious society that could be retained through paying an undoubted symbolic debt that is realized by revenging specter. Notably, the most of these phantoms have feminine figure (mother and child) that their existence demonstrate the male fantasy about constituent and mysterious power of maternal figure.

Zombie movies purportedly give image to fear of uncivilized people, actually stage a Nazi-like fantasy about society and Zombie, pointing to Jewish-like man who is devoid of all citizenship rights, embodies bare life.)

From this account, we can prepare a sense interpretation for some stereotypes in these kind movies: for example, “last girl”, a virgin female who finally come over the monster is representation of phallicized female who could be occupies position of castrated mother; we must not forget that monster or serial killer have some kind of interest to this girl who is innocent and never have affair with guilty ones.

Some movie theorists relate the rise of these movies to intensification of feminist and homosexual movements that insert a sense of instability to societies, especially the USA. Ideological delusion lies here for referring inner instability of sexuation to some external cause, making an implicit hint that establishment of stable sexes is possible. As we reviewing this account, we most keep in mind that psychic romance is not merely a familial case, but a universal one; for example, is Obama a “last girl” eventually kill Bush the monster? So, it is necessary to be acute and do not err that a kind of phallicization could be attained. Furthermore, we must learn how to tarry with the monsters and this does not mean the only way to treat a monster is killing as done in so many places and times.

Art: Hellen Van Meene, Untitled #318, C- print, 2008.