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