The Non-Existent Seminar
Jacques-Alain Miller
Wangechi Mutu

Author’s Bio

Translation by Asunción Álvarez.

Among all semblances in the world, some operate in the psychoanalytic experience to deal with the relations between men and women. For there are Lacanian semblances, those that Lacan places on the level of concepts. Everything is but a semblance, even in vanities in art, for example, which make it clear that, with regard to the castration inflicted by time, life amounts only to a few things. Are we therefore the ridiculous puppets of a general relativism? Should we take literally Woody Allen’s motto-like title, “Whatever Works”? Lacan coined a term to say what psychoanalysis is. Neither nominalist nor materialist, or rather partaking of the one and the other, it is based on “moterialité” [a pun on mot, word, and materialité, materiality], as J-A Miller reminded us in his course. This is a practice of semblances, but in their relation to jouissance and sinthome, and thereby it touches the Real.

Among Lacanian semblances, the phallus plays a key role to the extent that Lacan surprisingly said: “The phallus is the organ inasmuch as it is, i.e., it is a matter of being, inasmuch as it is feminine jouissance.”

If the phallus could be reduced to the penis organ, I cannot see why women would be concerned or encumbered with it as they obviously don’t have one. It is this that made Lacan say that in women castration is, in a way, the origin, and made Freud say that women entered the Oedipus complex as if entering a harbor.

Freud truly brought the question of the phallus to the foreground with the famous “penis envy” which so shocked feminists. It cannot be said that the formulation was a very happy one, but it did signal an outcome in Freud’s doctrine and an attempt to punctuate the multiplicity of propositions made by his female students. He provides its substitutional logic in the text called “On the transpositions of drives” : “…” The 1932 conference closed with the statement that the fate of women is motherhood, and that the “pre-oedipal” is essential (according to the child=penis=feces equation established by Freud in 1915).

I will not trace the roots of the “phallus controversy” or the way in which the descriptions of the relations between men and women have been interwoven in psychoanalysis and its history.

I will only remind you that Lacan takes up the Freudian position where Freud had left it in his discussion with Jones, and that one of his main texts called “The signification of the phallus,” is based on this.

Thus it is, for his own part taking the father as his starting point and as a reaction against the object-relations school and the Kleinians, that Lacan takes up the question of sexuation – that is to say, on the basis of the phallic signification, which he approaches in its two values, Sinn and Bedutung, in reference to Frege’s paper “On Sense and Reference” (Sinn=sense, Bedeutung=meaning or reference). Thus the phallus is not an organ, but a signifier leading to a referent, which answers in the unconscious the question that every subject, man or woman, poses regarding his or her sexuated being.

Thus for Lacan, at the time of his teaching until Seminar 13, man and woman are represented by one single signifier. This is the elegant solution which he found to close and reinstate the debate on the phallus controversy. Let us point out that in this way he inscribes himself in Freud’s lineage while at the some time detaching himself from it.

He inscribes himself in Freud’s lineage in that he believes that feminine sexuality is ordained like men’s sexuality on the basis of the phallus: but whereas Freud based himself on a form of medical empiricism, Lacan plumbs the depths of the psychoanalytical experience in the field of speech and language.

Thus the phallus becomes a signifier: the Signifier of desire. That is why it is affected by such a lack as desire, and is written -. This is an essential point as it will provide the reason for Lacan’s permanent construction of feminine sexuation around a void.

Thus the phallus as a signifier serves for both sexes, but it indicates a special relation to desire and castration for each sex. And that is what separates Lacan from late Freud: women and men are parlêtres, beings of speech, and as such they have a relation to castration by the very fact that castration comes from language.

Hence castration itself, like the phallus, becomes the necessary semblance to indicate what is Real about subjects’ jouissance. Freud’s term, castration, prefigures what Lacan would call later on in his teaching, the sexual “non-relation”.

Two 1958 texts give Lacan’s position regarding femininity. They are often overlooked these days by comparison to Encore, and yet they contain the embryonic origin of many developments.

For the purposes of this talk, I will limit myself to commenting on two passages written by Lacan at this time. I would like at least to illustrate, if not to prove, why the phallus better corresponds to the concept of semblance than to that of signifier, which quickly proves insufficient for describing the matter at hand

1: In a first passage (p … of the Ecrits) Lacan describes feminine sexuation on the basis of fetishism, which is at first sight surprising:
“C’est pour être le phallus c’est à dire le signifiant du désir de l’Autre que la femme va rejeter une part essentielle de la féminité, nommément tous ses attributs, dans la mascarade. C’est pour ce qu’elle n’est pas qu’elle entend être désirée en même temps qu’aimée. Mais son désir à elle, elle en trouve le signifiant dans le corps de celui à qui s’adresse sa demande d’amour. Sans doute ne faut-il pas oublier que de cette fonction signifiante, l’organe qui en est revêtu , prend valeur de fétiche.”

2: In a second passage (p of the Ecrits), he deals with the veil on which this fetish is inscribed.
” Pourquoi ne pas admettre en effet que s’il n’est pas de virilité que la castration ne consacre, c’est un amant châtré ou un homme mort (voire les deux en un), qui pour la femme se cache derrière le voile pour y appeler son adoration — soit du même lieu au delà du semblable maternel d’où lui est venue la menace de castration qui ne la concerne pas réellement.”

I. The organ takes the value of a fetish

This indicates:

1 – That a woman is not the phallus but desires to be the phallus for an Other as a signifier of his desire. Here appears the theme of woman’s otherness with regard to herself: she turns herself into the signifier of the Other’s desire. For the Other desires the phallus. The phallus or the object?

Thus femininity is based on a lack. She is not the lack; rather, she desires to become the lack for an other. That is to say, she turns herself into a symptom. A woman turns herself into a symptom for a man as she incarnates for the man the phallus that the mother lacks and which for the man denies maternal castration. Thus a woman serves as a screen in man’s relation to castration, and that is why she is a symptom. But she is not the phallus, even if she takes on the semblance of being the phallus. It is by way of this “lie” that she manages to arouse desire. Thus a woman is from the start a social individual. But on the basis of this fact Lacan is also able to refer to a “duplicity” concerning femininity, thus a doubling, but also, as the dictionary says, “the character of a feigning person”.

“Après quoi s’ouvre la question de savoir si le pénis réel, d’appartenir à son partenaire sexuel voue la femme à un attachement sans duplicité…” A woman is sensitive to this “lie” that divides her. This fundamental duplicity of the feminine subject is painful for her.

I will give as an example a case that was presented at the ECF conference, and which I will briefly sum up here:

The subject is a woman whose father had not received much of an education. She soon discovered an intense satisfaction in providing her father with “the word he lacked.” Thus she sustained her father’s desire by becoming in childhood and then in her own education, “the one who speaks well.” Then she chose her interlocutors among her teachers: mean who have a superior access to speech (like the father but in an ideal version). With them she came to have high-level verbal jousting, but when she had to teach, she soon came up against the anxiety-inducing feeling that she herself was not in the words she was using. She feels that she is in the dimension of feigning and describes this by means of the term “the thief.” In this case, thus, the “projection surface” for masculine identification both completes the father so that he becomes equal with the ideal father and his failing is masked, while presenting herself as armed with what he lacks, which leads immediately to the anxiety-inducing feeling of being “the thief.” Hence the “golden tongue” is also “the thief.” Which leads us next to the following phase:

2 – She rejects an essential part of her femininity in the attributes of the masquerade:
The masquerade is built on this primordial lack in being. What is the essential part of her femininity that is rejected? Let us say it in a first approach: it is the sexual organ. She veils the sexual organ (the anatomical gap), whereas she displays other parts of her body.

This leads nowhere, and Courbet’s painting, “The origin of the world”, however scandalous it may have been also leads nowhere, as the painting itself, the painted surface with the artifice of perspective, constitutes the veil that Lacan talks about in Seminar 11. A woman makes the phallus ex-ist (here sense corresponds to the ensemble as well as to reference: the Bedeutung is the phallus, but the mother’s phallus, the one that does not exist). Thus she makes what does not exist exist, but at the same time as she turns herself into an object for man (Lacan designates women by means of the formula the appellants of sex), she fetishizes it on the surface of the veil, the ensemble, the parade of the parlêtre.

But the hysteric does not consent to this internal doubling that is constitutive of femininity: he or she experiences it as his or her symptom. The hysteric subject thus proves to be appended to truth, but also as supported by refusal and in the rule as supremely divided between man and woman.

3 – C’est pour ce qu’elle n’est pas qu’elle entend être désirée en même temps qu’aimée.
She believes that she is desired as well as loved because she is the Phallus. But she only is the Phallus in the parade for men. In a way, “it’s fake,” it is a semblance. Why does she believee that she is loved as well as desired? Because love is addressed to the One: Lacanian love as the dream of the One. Love covers the duplicity that desire arouses. Let us remember here Freud’s description of the feminine “object choice” as the convergence of love and desire and of the masculine “object choice” as their divergence: Lacan takes it up in “The Signification of the Phallus.” But I will stress the phrase “being loved.” “Being loved” signals an erotomaniac variety of feminine love. Loving in order to be loved might be women’s motto (let us remember here the feminine sensitivity to abandonment, which Freud so finely noted, which can lead to the partner’s becoming devastating for a woman).

Hermione, a young, beautiful, and passionate woman “is seeing” Oreste, who it seems must “remain” as until now she has only had brief and tempestuous affairs arising from her dissatisfaction. She envisages having a stable relationship with this young man. But, particularly on the mornings after certain nights when Oreste proves gallant and Hermione experiences sexual satisfaction, she must quarrel with her lover at all costs. She cannot help herself. Oreste, stunned by what is incomprehensible to him and the reproaches made to him from the very moment he wakes up, sulks. In the face of this feminine “senselessness”, he waits for Hermione to apologize. And thus he makes a mistake.

For Hermione arrives to her session angry and complaining about him: he hasn’t called her since yesterday, he has not made any gestures towards her, he has let her down, she cannot rely on him. I point out to her that she herself does not understand the reasons for her morning rage, and that thus Oreste may be finding it hard to call her. She agrees. Encouraged, I cautiously suggest to her that she might take the first step herself, via text message, for instance. She absolutely refuses. Even if she was wrong, it is up to him to provide proof – proof that, in addition to desiring her, he loves her (even when she does everything to be detested)… Thus she understands “being loved as well as desired”, and verifies it by all means.

4 – Mais son désir à elle, elle en trouve le signifiant dans le corps de celui à qui s’adresse sa demande d’amour.
Sans doute ne faut-il pas oublier que de cette fonction signifiante, l’organe qui en est revêtu , prend valeur de fétiche.”

There are two points in this sentences which I find essential:

She finds the signifier of her desire in the body of the Other to whom she addresses her demand for love. Wanting to be loved – no doubt to be opposed to man’s jouissance of his organ, which is always largely autistic. His desire and his love are linked. The organ suddenly takes on the value of the fetish if we assume that the fetish, an element that is detached from the partner’s body, is the condition that arouses desire.

This note on the fetish and feminine sexuality is surprising as we do not have the notion that fetishism is a particularly feminine activity.

There are two aspects to this move described by Lacan: a demand for love, “Love me!” which can go so far as to become an imperious demand. And there is also a tendency to appropriate a symbolic and imaginary mixture of the organ as a fetish (that is to say, that which makes it possible to approach the other sex and serves as a denial of the maternal Other’s castration). From Freud’s example of fetishism (glance at the nose), we know that the fetish is first a signifier and then a material condition that is imaginarized in reality. The nose, shiny with sweat that serves as an index to select the partner, has replaced the “glance at the nose” that was the term associated by the subject since childhood to sexual frolics. Lacan refers to this text when he talks about the partner’s organ, which acquires the value of a fetish by metonymic substitution. On rereading him, we can grasp the great complexity of this. In particular, it is because fetishism takes a wide range of values for Freud from the absolute denial of the mother’s castration to a redoubled admissión of a rejection of castration (in the case of the man who cut plaits off). The text leads to a generalization of fetishist perversion.

A woman reports a dream in which she is talking to her analyst. She tells herself that he is wearing a dazzling jacket, which contrasts with the darkness that reigns everywhere else. He takes off his jacket. She is afraid. He moves one leg aside, and she cannot see anything at first. Then his anatomy appears: a Y-shaped scar runs from the thigh to the pubis.

The dreamer makes the following associations: it is very nice work. The scar reminds her of a scar on her mother’s legs. Its shape, the Y, makes her think of the male chromosome. She tells herself that she is dealing with a man who deals well with castration.

Then it seems to her that she is not responsible for his castration: “it’s linked to anatomy.” She then perceives that this dream relieves her of a death wish which she had held against her brother (who died soon afterward in an accident).

This analysis sequence shows how a woman finds the signifier of her desire on the body of the Other to whom her demand for love is addressed. It also shows how what is in question is the penis as a signifier and thus the organ that is not there, which introduces the second text from the Écrits, “Propos directifs pour un congrès sur la sexualité féminine.”

Ii. The Veil

Lacan had introduced the function of the veil in Seminar 4 (The Object Relation). In page … he turns this singular notion into an ancestor of the semblance: “Sur le voile- dit-il- peut s’imager c’est-à-dire s’instaurer comme capture imaginaire et place du désir, la relation à un au-delà, qui est fondamentale dans toute instauration de la relation symbolique.”

He takes it up as an essential element, of the same kind as the fetishism that characterizes the feminine position in the paragraph taken from “Propos directifs pour un congrès sur la sexualité féminine” that we have chosen as the object of our commentary:
“Pourquoi ne pas admettre en effet que s’il n’est pas de virilité que la castration ne consacre, c’est un amant châtré ou un homme mort (voire les deux en un), qui pour la femme se cache derrière le voile pour y appeler son adoration — soit du même lieu au delà du semblable maternel d’où lui est venue la menace de castration qui ne la concerne pas réellement.”

Four elements are to be distinguished:

1. Il n’est pas de virilité que la castration ne consacre. Castration on man’s side has the value of an ordeal: What man does is surmount castration anxiety, which makes him capable of a sexual relationship with a woman and of facing the father’s threat. On the woman’s side: the partner she chooses must prove his virility and surmount castration (in the sense of Freud’s paper on Medusa’s Head). It is not unusual in the clinic for an accentuation of this condition to turn a woman’s partner not only into a symptom, but into something devastating (for example, in the case of the choice of a partner who has not submitted to castration).

2. C’est un amant châtré ou un homme mort qui pour la femme se cache derrière le voile. Castrated or dead: one cannot be any more virile.

In his course, Eric Laurent located the “Dead Father” in this place. At the beginning of the course “On the nature of semblances,” JAM highlights that the dead father is the father of the Name: from which he deduces that the name-of-the-father is a semblance that protects one from the Real father. In the same way, what Lacan calls the feminine fetish is a semblance that supports a père-version [a pun on père, father, version, and perversion], a version of the father. Behind this semblance lies the void, the hole of the Real, to which the feminine subject is particularly sensitive. When man’s relay is missing, this leads woman to the side of what Lacan called “feminine madness” that he explored throughout his teaching: Aimée in his thesis, but also Antigone or Cygne de Coûfontaine or even Medea or Madeleine Gide serve as examples of what the lack of a phallic limit in women can produce as regards panic, namely the passage to the act.

3. Pour y appeler son adoration

A man is for a woman always a straw man, as Lacan reminded us. He is never up to the standards of the ideal man, the man who would have vanquished the castration threat. For it is to him that her love is addressed. Lacan reminds us of this in Seminar 20 — in love, it is not a matter of sex (which does not mean that love for a person of the opposite sex — or even of the same sex — does not exist), but love places no limit (this is what is illustrated by the mystics of whom Lacan talks in Encore: they are dealing with an enjoying God who does not mediatize the symptom procured by the human partner.

4. Au delà du semblable maternel d’où lui est venu une menace de castration qui ne la concerne pas réellement.

Does this not amount to signaling that the phallus which the mother lacks is not subjectivized by the daughter? In a recent article in a weekly publication, J-A Miller argued that a new race of women, particularly incarnated in politics by Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton, was a good illustration of the kind of women who are not attained by castration (both of them are by far women most admired by Americans, if polls are to be believed).

A dream had by an analysand after many years of analysis translated exactly what Lacan is here indicating with regard to the feminine position:

There was a shop which only sold things for women. There were many floors filled with products, but the most desirable products (perfumes, jewelry) were on the top floors, and I couldn’t see how to get up there. In the center of the shop there was a void, a huge hole. In order to make their purchases, women had to go through a secret passage which only other women knew about.

One of them asks me to go behind. I follow her.

In the middle of a long corridor, there is a window. Through this window I can see a huge bull, a prehistoric beast. He is held by a chain. The patient describes in full detail the obscene aspect of the bull. She calls all her girlfriends on her cell phone and recommends them not to miss the show when the bull is taken to the bullfighting ring in the afternoon.

A woman leads her down the secret passage, but she finds herself up against the void: she wakes up. She can’t tell whether she crossed the void. She claims to be stunned to have a dream that questions her femininity. She adds that one can only access femininity through the mediation of an initiatory revelation that only concerns women. For confidentiality reasons, I will not comment further on this dream. I will only note that it has the structure of what Lacan describes in the paragraph that is the object of my commentary:

On the other side of the window (the veil), there is the castrated lover or a dead man: the bull that must die. The beast is chained (a castration trait). He is the object of her adoration (she calls all her girlfriends). She thinks that access to the attributes of femininity can only be had through other women. Let us finally remark that the entire scene revolves around a void.

There is no doubt that this is not a dream of passage, but it certainly is a dream of crossing. It seems to correspond to a remark made by Freud in his 1927 paper on fetishism: there are cases in which the fetish is more or less well dealt with by the subject and cases in which the fetish is disliked, and this corresponds to a partial or rather a “cleaved” acknowledgement of maternal castration: the subject holds the father responsible for the mother’s castration, claims Freud. What we are dealing with here is this latter case.


Art: Wangechi Mutu, Intertwined, 2003.

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Towards a New Concept of Existence
Alain Badiou 
Wangechi Mutu

Author’s Bio

More than a year into the Obama presidency, I, as neither Republican nor Democrat, am struck by how much he resembles not Jimmy Carter, as conservatives like to say, or FDR, as liberals prefer, but his immediate predecessor, not just in similarly pursuing certain unfortunate policies in ballooning our national indebtedness and doomed military activities.

Both men have benefited from a highly biased core constituency, which regards its prez as “our kind of guy,” who is thought to do no wrong, from whom much is expected, until such fans they realize that they have stuck themselves with supporting a President whose activities they judged profoundly disagreeable. Just as Dubya failed on his promise to reform social security, so Obama failed to pull American troops out of Iraq and violated his pledge against secret dealings. The principal beneficiaries of the “stimulus” have so far been stock-market investors, who mostly vote Republican.

In its comparable girth of over 2,000 pages, Obama’s The Health Care Reform Art resembles the Patriot Act in hiding a lot of government give-aways that would be objectionable if presented by themselves. (It was not for nothing that insurance-company stocks rose the day after it was passed.) Though commonly oblivious to (or protected from) dissent, both Obama and Dubya discovered that they lacked the political skills they thought they had, surviving not from their own genius but the opposition’s temporary insufficiencies.

The fact that Obama and Dubya are fairly similar not just with an aura insulating them from acknowledging disappointment but in physical height (and five-letter monikers) makes them almost indistinguishable to me, other physical dissimilarities notwithstanding. More predisposed to Obama than Dubya, I surprised myself with this perception in April 2010.

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Why the Idea and Why Communism?
Slavoj Zizek

Author’s Bio

Translated by Asunción Álvarez, Miller’s “Le Séminaire inexistant: L’orientation lacanienne II, 11: Leçons 1 et 2, was published as “Comentario del Seminario inexistente,” in Manantial, Buenos Aires, 1992, and as “De la nature des semblants ” in Carnets cliniques de Strasbourg, 1999, n°1.

At the end of our previous meeting I told you that we would try to carry out a line-by-line reading of the non-existent seminar. This seminar does not exist, precisely, due to a censorship effect, Lacan’s self-censorship, which he rightly ascribes to heterocensorship by the International Association. But what censorship suppresses or cancels can be read nonetheless in the traces left by this operation. It can also be read between the lines, which is what we will be attempting now.

Given that this cancellation leaves a trace in Lacan’s work, some of its pages can be referred to this non-existent seminar, of which, as I reminded you last time, we have the first session. Thus we have material enough to work this year, in which our topic is the nature of semblances. And let us add that semblance of the father is, if not the main one, one of the most important semblances.


Let us start with a footnote in page 852 of the Écrits: “Pusimos en reserva -dice Lacan- el Seminario que habiamos anunciado para 1963-4 sobre el Nomebre-del-Padre, despues de haber cerrado su leccion de apertura (nov.63) [EXACTAMENTE, EL 20 DE NOVIEMBRE] sobre nuestra dimision al cargo de Sainte-Anne, donde nuestros seminarios tenian lugar desde hacia diez anos.” This was Lacan’s second resignation. The first one, which had taken place in 1953, had led him to leave the International Association against his will. For it had not been his intention to give up the Paris Psychoanalytical Society. Through a mistake, he found himself, together with his colleagues at that time, expelled from the psychoanalysis organization created by Freud.

His resignation from his post in Sainte-Anne in 1963 confirmed this exclusion. Removed, as I said, by his French colleagues from the list of training analysts, his response was a resignation that led him to change his direction. The first ten years of the Sainte-Anne seminar and the two previous years of the seminar, held privately in his home, addressed an audience that was mainly composed of analysts, both in training and working. The 1963 resignation from Sainte-Anne led him, two months later, to address all Latin Quarter audiences from then on. After that, the Freudian cause ceased to be exclusively in the hands of specialists. And this transference shows only to him the specialists’ failure and the fact that the return to Freud took place by way of a displacement, a change of place. Maybe reserving the seminar of the Names of the Father, whose subject was the Name-of-the-Father in the singular, made provisional sense to Lacan in this 1966 footnote (and this is, moreover, what is implied by the verb to reserve – that is, to keep something available), which however became explicitly definitive later on – after 1967 – in a different work.

The footnote on page 852 is a note to the following sentence in the main text: “I am inconsolable at having had to drop my project of relating the function of the Name-of-the-Father to the study of the Bible.” (p 742) This sentence provides us with a very precise indication on the aim of the seminar that has become non-existent regarding the particular procedure Lacan intended to use to relativize the Name-of-the-Father. Referring its function to Bible study thus amounted to underlining, working, elaborating on the idea that the Name-of-the-Father depends on a tradition. Whatever logical, structural function one might wish to ascribe to it, this name does not belong in the discourse of science as such, but rather in a tradition which has been unbroken for five thousand years, apparently – the Jewish tradition, which is, after all, the mainstay of the Western tradition.

>Truth be told, the Western tradition, as James Joyce rightly pointed out, is oddly enough, both Greek and Jewish. From the Greeks we get God’s relation to being, elaborated with the passage of time; and from the Jews, God’s relation to the Real. One might rightly think that the reference to Bible study in the non-existent seminar was a stab at disentangling both relations. This opposition was well located by Pascal in his Pensées when he opposed the God of philosophers of his own time to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and it is also reflected for us in our distinction between the god of the subject supposed to know and that of object a.

The topic is fully presented in a page in something Lacan wrote and which I will gladly assign to the non-existing seminar – in any case, it clarifies it and helps us to read it. This is the text entitled “The mistake of the subject supposed to know”, which you will find on page 34 of Momentos cruciales de la experiencia analitica. I will read you this passage: “La equivocacion del sujeto supuesto al saber. Dios mismo para llamarlo con el nombre que le da Pascal, cuando se precisa su contrario: no el Dios de Abraham, de Isaac y de Jacob, sino el Dios de los filosofos…” This quotation, this equivalence established between the subject supposed to know – a function of the analytical experience – and the god of philosophers, is accompanied by a sarcastic critique of ecumenism, which at that time was de rigueur in the Roman Catholic Church as part of its aggiornamento. We also find this critique in page 742 of the Écrits: “Ecumenism only seems to have a chance if it is grounded in an appeal to the feebleminded.”

This repeated sarcasm has a very precise theoretical value: ecumenism involves the search for the common denominator to the deities of different religions and beliefs, and then the removal of what are regarded as the details of these beliefs. And this can only converge in the god of philosophers, the subject supposed to know; whereas the root of beliefs, its very energy, does not come from there, but from that other god that is in the Jewish tradition – and in the religions derived from it – the god of Abraham’s sacrifice. This god is rather a subject supposed not to want to know anything at all concerning man’s affects, who spits in the milk of human kindness, if I may put it like that. He is such an inhuman god – a god who ignores man as much as Schreber’s god does at the start of his delusional Memoirs. The ecumenical god, by contrast, is a subject not only supposed to know, but who also wants the good of man, a sort of Santa Claus. Indeed, Santa Claus proved to be God the Father, capable of turning into the very symbol of consumption – not only a god of being but a god of having – by means of a conversion that is emblematic of the current stage of our civilization (where, as can be ascertained, those who haven’t reached it yet aspire to join us).

The return to Bible study, which was Lacan’s ambition, involved the return to the vigor of the original tradition, to which we owe the Name-of-the-Father. The non-existing seminar is a return to the Bible as the core of what is upheld by Freud himself, as heir to this tradition, which he made use of in order to mask what Lacan tries to bring to light as the scandal of psychoanalysis, both with regard to this tradition and to the discourse of science. Moreover, Lacan wished to remind us in this seminar that the first of the names of the father is God the Father, whose outline can be seen behind Oedipus’s father.

Then in “The mistake of the subject supposed of knowledge”, a conference of December 1967 in Naples which was never delivered (it was replaced by an improvisation which, as far as I know, left no traces), there is something that completes or seals the reference on page 852 of the Écrits: “Ese lugar de Dios-el-Padre es el que designe como Nombre-del-Padre y el que me proponia ilustrar en lo que debia ser el decimotercer ano de mi seminario (mi undecimo en Sainte-Anne) cuando un paseje al acto de mis colegas psicoanalistas me forzo a ponerle punto final despues de mi primera leccion. Nuna retomare ese tema, pues veo en el que ese sello no podria aun ser abierto por el psicoanalisis.” The word seal has here the value of the sealing, the closing of a message, as with a letter that cannot yet be opened and read. We are trying to open it and see how throughout his teaching, by means perhaps more discreet, Lacan effectively broke the seal that encloses within psychoanalysis its holy of holies, the room that must not be entered, where mystery dwells.

In these pages of “The mistake of the subject supposed of knowledge”, which I am attributing to the non-existent seminar so as to be able to read it, Lacan distinguishes very precisely between two discourses on God: theology, the traditional term which he highlights by distinguishing between both components (theo-logy), and what he amusingly terms, coining a neologism, diology (this time he uses the Latin name of God to establish a difference). He claims that theology is always theory, and all that is of the order of theoria – taking up the Greek term to stress the contemplative aspect of this concept – is, in his view, “theology’s place-in-the-world”.

The fact that the theological discourse on God has a place in our world under the form of theory means that the subject supposed to know, who elaborates theology in particular, is present as masked or, as Lacan puts it, as latent in theory. Moreover, the subject supposed to know is the essential mistake of the subject of theory, which means that theoretical knowledge is ascribed to a subject who already has that knowledge. Hence according to Lacan at least, there are no atheistic theories, even though they may be believed to exist; in particular, when in the name of a theory someone opposes the notion of God, God is preserved, because the supposition is preserved that the knowledge in question is already there.

To this theology then, Lacan opposes diology, and he gives a list of its Fathers – not of the Church but of this anti-Church: Moses, Master Eckhart, and James Joyce as other possible stations of the non-existent seminar, which we might suppose was a seminar of anti-theological diology. Lacan  says that, in his view, it was Freud who best marked the place of this diology that he invented and which is not the discourse on the god subject supposed to know but rather the god of the object a. He clarifies in page 21 of Momentos cruciales de la experiencia analitica: “Como lo dije: sin ese lugar marcado, la teoria psicoanalitica se reduciria a lo que es, para mejor o para peor, un delirio de tipo schreberiano.” One might well think that the phrase as I said refers very precisely to a sentence in his “Proposicion del 9 de octubre” of 1967 – that is, of the previous month where we read: “…retiren el Edipo, y el psicoanalisis en extension, dire, se vuelve enteramente jurisdiccion del delirio del presidente Schreiber.” It’s only logical!

I am advancing step by step for we will read these pages as though they were part of the non-existent seminar. Thus, we must move cautiously, testing the consistency of this construction that we are rebuilding. And it is consistent to posit the idea that the Oedipus complex is the place characterized by diology, that the Oedipus complex is a logos, the psychoanalytic logos, the psychoanalytic form of the discourse on God the Father.

>Lacan relativizes the Name-of-the-Father when he claims that this father, the father of the famous paternal metaphor, is nothing but the place of God the Father. Then he encourages us to establish a firm distinction within psychoanalytic theory between the subject supposed to know and the Name-of-the-Father, and to perceive all that is supported by a confusion between both terms, demanding us to revise the results of these confusion in analytic technique itself, even in the semblance of the psychoanalyst. The Name-of-the-Father, which is in the place of God the Father, should not be confused with the subject supposed to know, the essential mistake as regards theory.

A very gaping relation

Let us now return – in order to try and open it – to the seal that closes the holy of holies of psychoanalysis. I will take up the following sentence by Lacan: “Em efecto, la posicion del psicoanalista esta suspendida a una relacion muy hiante. Pero no solo a ella, pues se le requiere que construya la teoria de la equivocion esencial del sujeto en la teoria: lo que llamos el sujeto supuesto al saber.” I extract two propositions from this: according to the first one, the psychoanalyst’s position depends on a … relation. But which one? Apparently, he doesn’t say. Secondly, the theory of the subject supposed to know is not in itself enough to account for it. In this sense, he provides the following example or complement.  Beyond the theory of the subject supposed to know, a theory is needed that will include a gap that must be encountered on all levels, inscribed here as indeterminacy, there as certainty, and constituting the knot of the non-interpretable. This is what I struggle towards, while not ceasing to experience its unprecedented atypicality. The question here is: who am I to dare carry out such an elaboration? The answer is simple: a psychoanalyst. The answer will suffice if its scope is limited to that which is proper to the psychoanalyst in me: namely, practice.

>This is a passage which I used to gladly quote in the past, which has become classic yet I am reviewing again today. I am carrying out once again an inquiry into the nature of the double inscription of a gap as indeterminacy and certainty to which a third term is added: the non-interpretable, the knot of the non-interpretable. I am trying to read the non-existent seminar with the help of these indications. In the end, I am not surprised that this passage ends with the term practice, and that Lacan only claims, for this elaboration, the title of having a psychoanalyst’s practice.

And why use the term practice if not to oppose it, precisely, to theory? If psychoanalytic theory has the chance of overcoming the mistake of the subject of theory, it does so inasmuch as whoever elaborates it does so in accordance with his or her own practice. Secondly, the term practice suspends the interrogation on being a psychoanalyst. When he answers that he is carrying out his elaboration in his capacity as a psychoanalyst, Lacan clarifies that this is not because he has his being – which is problematic – but because of his practice. From this point of view, the indeterminacy in the being of the psychoanalytic subject maybe corresponds to the certainty which the psychoanalyst could extract from his or her practice, or more accurately, from his or her act. If you read this passage, you will see that the indeterminacy of the subject is opposed to the certainty of the act. Indeed for Lacan, certainty always seems to escape contemplation and to be the result of the act. Remember his sophism on logical time, conceived to show that on this side of the act, there is only the impossibility to conclude, and that the act is required for verification, in this case of being – to know what is at stake in psychoanalysis. Hence Lacan claims it is a gap that establishes the law of the act. For it is beyond the act and through the act that what could only be doubted previously is verified – that is, the affect generated by indeterminacy.

The psychoanalyst, as Lacan has it, is determined by a structure which he should make himself equal to: that of the mistake of the subject supposed to know. He then offers us two possibilities of what this self-equalization involves. On the one hand, it might involve a self-equalization in its mental form, that is, the representation of the mistake – which leads to a dead end, as this structure is not representable. It bursts it, if I may say so, it doesn’t stay long enough to be contemplated. Thus it does not fulfill the condition for any representation that it must have a certain duration. That is why Lacan said in is last seminars that he would be talking about topology and time. On the other hand, the self-equalization might be with respect to the very position of the subject as it is inscribed in the Real, namely, through the act, which might touch the Real. From this point of view, Lacan tries to define what position of the subject makes him or her capable of the analytic act.

>But, what does it mean to say that the analyst is determined by the structure of the mistake of the subject supposed to know, and why does this posit an essential and non-solvable problem for its definition? It would be easy to define the psychoanalyst by means of the acquisition of a certain knowledge, as in University. What is a diploma but the guarantee that through learning, a certain level of knowledge was attained? It is the Begriff, the ‘concept’, but also the ‘conquest’, the ‘acquisition’. In French universities, the first level of the gradus is called, amusingly enough, maîtrise, mastery, which means that students are ready to succeed in the career which they are starting, in such a way as to be able to progress from the rank of private – if you will allow me the metaphor – to the highest ranks. Claiming that the analyst, on the other hand, is determined by the structure of mistake involves seeing him as incapable of such a qualification and of a conquest of knowledge. Vergreifen, a term that Lacan translates as ‘mistake’ [méprise], refers in Freud’s work, as he points out, to symptomatic acts: someone makes a huge mistake, drops a brick, deceives himself… Go give them a diploma for this!

Thus for Lacan, the psychoanalyst is determined by a particularly twisted relation to knowledge that cannot be captured. It is a fleeting knowledge, but not because of a mere flight, like knowledge of the noumenon, access to which is forever closed and which is confined within its mute solitude. That’s why it always leads us by the nose. Nonetheless, it escapes the sense which it ruins, and into which it bursts when least expected. Thus, mistake means not only that it leaves, but that it is the mode proper to the conquest of that knowledge – which is seized only by mistake and is accessed only by making a mistake. To access this knowledge one must try, there must be an intention, and then one is rewarded for his or her mistake as a form of failure, of failing, which is precisely the only success that this relation can bring. Hence only dupes make mistakes and non-dupes are incapable of the mistake that gives access to this knowledge. A mistake [méprise] is not the mere denial of the conquest [prise], in the sense of being something that would escape it, but rather the form proper to the conquest of unconscious knowledge.

The subject supposed to know is the mistake with respect to the knowledge in question, which is the mistake par excellence that covers the mistake, the mistake consisting in believing that a subject knows that knowledge. By contrast, the Freudian unconscious is a name for the fact that there is something that is said without any subject’s knowing it. The subject supposed to know is synonymous with the unconscious that supposes that there is no unconscious – what is understood as such is an attribute of the subject. The subject supposed to know is located wherever there is a hole or gap in knowledge. If you like, you can write it with the following letters:

Hence the religious example taken from the Bible by Lacan in that text: mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, written as a sentence on the wall, which is nothing but a signifier to be read. This knowledge belongs to no subject, and it is only by means of an artifice that it is attributed to the Almighty. In any case, it is the apology which Lacan remarks on in this sense, this Bible commentary, which is not hard to imagine as part of the non-existent seminar. In this way, the hole – which consists in the fact that the signifier appears on the wall and nobody knows how or why – closes up again at the same time by means of the artifice of this attribution as it is referred to God the Father.  Thus, let us top our first metaphor with a second bar over the subject supposed to know, where we will write NF, short for Name-of-the-Father.

While the subject supposed to know is, as Lacan puts it in page 13 of his “Proposicion del 9 de octubre”, a “formacion, no de artificio sino de vena”, the attribution to the Name-of-the-Father of this signifying inscription takes place by artifice, a term which he uses in “La equivocacion del sujeto supuesto al saber.”. Thus I give its full value to the difference between the vein formation and the artifice formation. The subject supposed to know is formed by the analytic experience itself, by the practice of mistake itself that makes attributing it to a previous knowledge inevitable. The Name-of-the-Father, by contrast, is an artificial formation. The dialectic between the subject supposed to know and the unconscious, which makes the illusion of the knowledge of the subject supposed to know arise from the knowledge of a subject that is no such, is replaced – crushed – traditionally easier by way of the Name-of-the-Father.

The Lacanian critique of analytic infatuation must be located here as it is not a mere moralizing critique, but rather availing itself to the passionate search for authenticity that moved the 17th-century French moralists. Infatuation is the exact term for the position of the psychoanalyst who covers him or herself with the subject supposed to know, identifies with this subject, believes him or herself to be this subject, and builds this illusion with the Name-of-the-Father. Infatuation in Lacan’s critique is, if you will, the semblance proper of the psychoanalyst, who looks like an expert and seems to know everything in advance! Just pretend that some subject already knows that knowledge and you will have the condition to produce such a subject. By upholding his or her presence with this as if, the analyst supports the act, his or her act, whose law is dictated by a gap to be crossed. This gap is present in the least interpretation that turns the subject’s indeterminacy into certainty, eventually an oracular certainty.

The gap in the act is crossed in every interpretation and the analyst lends him or herself to it unawares. An interpretation is a throw of the dice that appears to abolish chance and is in effect liable to verification. Sometimes a cynical starting analyst is paralyzed when he or she doesn’t know enough to provide a sufficiently motivated interpretation, which also concerns his or her dignity. And it is precisely in this gap in the act where the examination of the pass can be located, which is not good for someone for whom the crossing of the gap has become a habit, routine, but rather for the recent clinician, or at least for someone who retains the astonishment of the first crossing of the act.

Lacan said that this crossing of the act amounted, from a sarcastic point of view, to calling psychoanalysis a con. Calling it so implies a derogatory way of talking about the gap dictated by the law of the analytic act, where the psychoanalyst is also led to talk without knowing. Or, put more nicely, Lacan called psychoanalysis a loufoque [extravagant] practice, a term which derives from fou [mad], even though a suffix is added that is sometimes dingue [crazy]. I’m not sure whether you employ this expression, which was still in use in schools in my youth.  If you judge it by the criteria of the subject supposed to know, this dingue nature of psychoanalysis is a way of marking that there is a gap which only this scandalous act is able to cross.

Following Lacan, the analytic passage to the act, a special type of passage to the act, usually defined by a not wanting to know any more and a precipitation, is characterized by the conversion of indeterminacy into certainty. The particularity of this analytic passage to the act is that it is a condition for knowledge that involves the psychoanalyst’s renouncing to operate as a subject in his or her practice. If the psychoanalyst operates in his or her practice in order to learn more about him or herself, to continue his or her analysis by other means as some people were theorizing not long ago and presumably still are, then we are dealing with a real con. Remember also that all that the entire theory of counter-transference says is that analysis in which one operates as an analyst is just the continuation of one’s own analysis by other means. The condition of knowledge acquired by the other presupposes that the analyst, for his or her own part, has knowledge regarding his or her own being as a subject. Otherwise, the analyst must go into analysis again.

The void in signification

However, not only do we find this conversion of indeterminacy into certainty in the analytic act, but also in psychosis. To this end, I will refer to the passage on page 450 of the Écrits, where Lacan analyzes what are known as intuitive phenomena in classic psychiatry. This text inspired the topic for the Clinical Section lectures that take place fortnightly on Wednesday evening, and particular tonight’s lecture, which will be the second one.

I will read you the passage in question:

Let us note, on the other hand, that we are presented here with phenomena that has mistakenly been called intuitive due to the fact that the effect of signification anticipates the development of signification therein. What is actually involved is an effect of the signifier, insofar as its degree of certainty (second degree: signification of signification) takes on a weight proportional to the enigmatic void that first presents itself in the place of signification itself.

Briefly, what we have here articulated is the transformation of a void into certainty. And I think that at this point in the course it will be useful to try and go through this little construction of Lacan’s which, I believe, clearly refers to the schema of the matrix of the desire graph, namely, that retroactive loop where we locate the place of the Other in the right-hand crossing, and the signifying effect , s (A), in the left-hand one.

As you know, for a long time Lacan located the relation of the signifier to the signified on the basis of this schema. The horizontal line is the signifier and the retroactive vector is the signified, which entails that notwithstanding any signifying intention emerging from the bottom right, the signification effect depends on this place of the Other. This dependency is supposed to be evidenced in a particularly obvious manner by a number of psychotic phenomena and all the xenopathic effects which the subject can fall prey to. The Other is then introduced into the Real to address messages to the subject. Even though I cannot summarize here the entire theory of voices as detailed in Lacan’s seminar, let us give an overview of it. There is a disturbance in the working of the schema in psychosis, such that when the signification effect should take place on the left-hand side (it is known what that is talking about), another effect takes place there (it is not known what that is talking about). It talks yet it is not known what about. Let us write it as follows:

So (A) <-- U

To indicate the enigmatic void in signification, we will write So. Actually, according to this schema, it must depend on something that takes place at the level of the Other. Let us suppose that this enigmatic void in signification is the way in which the forclusion of the Name-of-the-Father appears semantically to the subject, as well as – why not? – when in the place of the Other there arises the function – which I already mentioned last time – of the One-father in the Real, that is, of what is covered by the semblance of the Name-of-the-Father. When the One appears in the place of the Other, we will write it as U. If we have this effect which we have called the enigmatic void in signification, instead of writing So (A), we will write. So (U):

So (U) <-- U

Here is, moreover, phallic signification, which is what is always involved, as Freud proved, in any normal signification effect; whereas what is inscribed on the level of the Other is, in its place, the Name-of-the-Father.

Its relation to the enigmatic void in signification prevents us from grasping that, after all, when there is no forclusion of the Name-of-the-Father, there is a relation to phallic signification. Every time something is understood, one stands in a relation to phallic signification, and depends on the inscription of the Name-of-the-Father in the place of the Other. Should there be, on the contrary, a One-father in the place of the Other, a special signification arises which Lacan calls an enigmatic void, that consists in not knowing what is meant, and is located at the moment of the crossing in the triggering and even, sporadically, at different points in the course of a psychosis.

Lacan then points out that in the enigmatic void of signification, there is an indeterminacy of this signification: the subject does not know what a number of signs addressed to him or her by the world mean; but at the same time, and in a manner proportional to that void, the subject has nonetheless the certainty that they mean something. There is a void in signification as regards contents, but there is the signification of signification. From this point of view, this is the deviant analogue of the psychoanalytic act, at least as regards this inscription of indeterminacy as certainty. And here we can give the difference between void and indeterminacy its full value.

Indeed, a supplementary element – which perhaps is here a sign proper to the register of psychosis – is that this would be less an indeterminacy than a void. And that is precisely what we may obtain from this year’s research in the Clinical Section lectures: an accurate clinic of these moments that are called intuitive phenomena. In order to do so, we must see how they were observed in the literature of classic psychiatry (and at this point we must acknowledge that there was an exquisite precision that already lent itself to many constructions), and determine the modalities of this clinic – and not of the entire view – in detail, as there is a difference between void, indeterminacy, and a number of other modalities.

And here Schreber’s sentence, which he highlighted and which Lacan mentions in page 479 of “On a Question Prior”, acquires its full value: “Aller Unsinn hebt sich auf!”

“All Nonsense cancels itself out!” It is, as he pointed out, something relative to this functioning, which he calls a special mode of Aufhebung of the Unsinn proper to psychosis, where Lacan recognizes the very law of the signifier. But why is it the very law of the signifier, and yet at the same time, what characterizes psychosis? “All Nonsense cancels itself out,” means precisely that everything has a sense, and that is what follows from this signification of signification when certainty is extended, if you will, to the subject’s entire perceptum: Umwelt and Innenwelt pass into each other, and then, indeed, everything has a sense!

This is the ideal, above all the ideal of Logical Positivism, Wittgenstein’s ideal for whom as Lacan suggests in The Reverse of Psychoanalysis, the diagnosis of psychosis would be particularly appropriate. The Logical Positivist ideal is precisely to create a language which makes the formulation of nonsense impossible. If we follow Lacan, Wittgenstein realized his psychosis by means of mathematical logic, or, put otherwise, mathematical logic is the continuation of psychosis by other means. From this point of view, we should point out that a language in which everything has a sense is nonetheless a language without metaphor inasmuch as metaphor plays precisely on nonsense. And along this line, the characterization of psychosis by the failure of the paternal metaphor can be seen in the remarkable absence of metaphor in Schreber’s discourse itself.

Thus one might think that psychoanalysis is a form of psychosis. It is possible – and Lacan said so from the very start – that psychoanalysis is a sort of directed paranoia, that is, an artificial relationship where everything has a sense. At this point, Lacan’s warning acquires its full value: if the Oedipus complex is withdrawn from psychoanalysis, one falls into Schreber’s delusion.

Freud found the metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father in the resources of tradition, precisely, in order to prevent psychoanalysis from turning into psychosis. But when he arrived to that point, Lacan was never content with the Oedipus complex and always thought of going beyond… There are many who believe that beyond the Oedipus complex lies some dark region to which bleating idiots would be led by evil pipers. Not at all. This region beyond the Oedipus complex is the most constant orientation in Lacan’s teaching, most particularly when, instead of Freud’s appeal to the Jewish tradition, Lacan tried to establish the theory of the mistake by the subject supposed to know. Nonetheless, this is doubtlessly not enough: there is also the theory of the analytic act, which for Lacan also lies beyond the Oedipus complex. This theory – which Freud was unable to develop because his resorting to the Name-of-the-Father blocked his way – makes it possible to re-establish without resorting to the Name-of-the-Father, the existence of nonsense, the existence of a knowledge belonging to no subject, which is sometimes, and rightly, called truth.

4th December 1991

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Boris Groys: Communist Art Historian
Rex Butler

Author’s Bio

Translated by Asunción Alvarez, “La Musique ne pense pas seule” is from Séminaire Entretemps Musique/Psychanalyse (2001-2002), which Regnault dictated at Paris VIII.

Taking the non-relation as a starting point is always something fundamental for Lacan. As François Nicolas puts it, “The extreme hypothesis remains which I must count as hypothesis 0 or hypothesis + 1, and which would be that of a non-relation: there would be no relation between music and psychoanalysis. This hypothesis would establish as the aim of our seminar the exploration of a non-existence even more than that of an impossibility” (“How Can Music Think With Psychoanalysis?” II, end).

I have always been struck by the silence of psychoanalysis with regard to music when it comes to the few classic writings on this matter: nothing in Freud, almost nothing in Lacan. One exception is Theodor Reik’s Variations on a Theme by Mahler; but on reading it in more detail, I found that it was only a comment on the texts which Mahler set to music, that is to say, some remarks on Mahler’s fantasies, but nothing at all, for example, on the “inside” of music, such as: what is a dominant seventh for psychoanalysis? By contrast, Schopenhauer, about whom I will write later on, wrote: “The complete cadence requires the preceding chord of the seventh on the dominant; because the most deeply felt satisfaction and the most entire relief can only follow the most earnest longing.” [1]

There was also the 1972 issue 9 of Musique en jeu: “Psychoanalysis and music”, including an article by Guy Rosolato – “Repetitions” – and an article by Dominique Jameux – “Game of evils” to which should be added some writings by Alain Didier-Weil: on perception by the listener: “On four subjetivizing times” (Ornicar? 8, winter 1976-7) and a whole chapter devoted, among other things, to musical timing, “The time of the other: music”, in his work Les trois temps de la loi [The Three Times of Law] (Seuil, 1995).


Is it not that Freud, despite his statements (or denials) was as deaf as he claimed to be regarding music: he analyzed Sarah Bernhardt’s voice (this is drama, but nonetheless), he praised Yvette Guilbert’s songs (although, it is true, he knew her), he narrated in a dignified style worthy of the Marx brothers a performance of Carmen in Italy, and it is obvious that he knew this opera by heart. Maybe he did not wish to give in to Vienna’s conservative conformism, concerning which Theodor Reik described the opposition between Strauss, beloved of the reactionary bourgeoisie, and Mahler, supported by progressives. Lacan stated only that music and architecture are the supreme arts (non-published seminar, the reference for which I am unable to find). Diego Masson introduced him to the work of Gesualdo. He regularly attended concerts at the Domaine musical. He seemed unwilling to decide on music. A symptom, in both writers, of a non-relation. This non-relation might be supported (if I dare say so!) on three chasms which I will briefly describe:

1) If the unconscious is structured like a language (Lacan’s thesis), musical language is not defined as Saussure’s language: or in any case, leaving linguistic considerations aside, no primary processes can be found in music in the sense in which Freud turned them into the process par excellence in dreams, symptoms, etc. and in the sense in which Lacan takes them up (displacement and condensation).

2) The voice taken as Lacan’s object a is not “the human voice”, not even the sense in which Barthes talks about its grain (“The grain of the voice”, an article also published in issue 9 of Musique en jeu), and Jacques-Alain Miller goes so far as to say that the voice cannot be understood as the object a, the cause of desire, and thus in the invocative drive: “The Lacanian voice”, he says, “the voice in Lacan’s sense, not only isn’t speech, but has nothing to do with talking. […] In this regard, the voice, in the very special use that Lacan makes of this term, is without a doubt a function of the signifier, or even better, of the signifying chain as such.” And he goes on: “Thus the voice is not made use of; it inhabits language, it haunts it. It’s enough to say something for it to emerge, for the threat to arise that what cannot be said will come to light. Lacan’s thesis involves that if we speak, if we confer, if we chat, if we sing and if we listen to singers, if we make music and if we listen to it, it is all to silence what deserves to be called the voice as the object a.” [2]

3) Does the field of affects in psychoanalysis correspond better to the effects of music? We can easily see that there is a difference between the passions we experience and the feelings that music arouses in us. Everybody knows that it makes sense to in saying once more, following others, that “music expresses nothing”. Commentators get away with unjustified projections: that day the composer was feeling depressed, triumphant, in love. It is always true, and thus always non-provable. But of course, each of these impossible relations must be turned immediately into a Real (Lacan’s thesis: “the impossible is the Real”).

Applied psychoanalysis:

How should the question be posed? Among the ways for psychoanalysis and music to meet which François Nicolas deduced in his article, I was interested in the category of compatibility, the idea of a reciprocal conditioning due to the times: a certain structuralism located between Lacanian psychoanalysis and serial music, for example (as with Lévi-Strauss’s anthropology and Dumézil’s mythology). [3] Supposing that psychoanalysis referred to music from Freud to Lacan, it would have done so by going from what can be called a “deep way” to a “structural way”. Put otherwise, it would have moved from affective premises regarding music (which can be found in Theodor Reik, for example) to structural premises, in the same way that there was a passage from Impressionism to Cézanne and, in music itself, from impressionistic music to serial music, the abandonment of tonality, etc. This without being too careful about dates, for Freud was objectively a contemporary of the Vienna School in music, but certainly not subjectively. He was even contemporary with Mahler, whom he received for consultation.

This visible (audible) connivance does not arise in any case from applied psychoanalysis. Let us remember: “Psychoanalysis is applied, strictly speaking, only as a treatment and thus to a subject who speaks and hears,” [Écrits, p. 630]. Which would strictly lead to a psychoanalysis of the listening (or listened to) subject, (which partly overlaps with Alain Didier-Weil’s argument), but not to a psychoanalysis of music itself, of thought on music. Lacan’s point of view would thus be: how can music advance psychoanalysis? We will see that in reality, once we are at the heart of the reflection between psychoanalysis and another art, it is hard to tell which one “advances” the other, because bringing them together gives rise to a sort of intersection or non-division between them both. Art decorates the hole of “The Thing”, and the Thing is thus treated through art: as Lacan puts it,  “All art is characterized by a certain mode of organization around this emptiness.” The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. [4]

In the same way, when Lacan talked about Hamlet, whom he refused to turn into a clinical case, nothing prevented him from applying to Shakespeare interpretations that were the theory of desire; but they were also applied, even if only as interpretations, to Shakespeare’s text, which he even changed. Thus, when talking about the sentence “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body”, Lacan says “Replace the word king by the word phallus and you will perceive what precisely we are dealing with…” (Le Séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, April 29 1959, in Ornicar ? 26/27, p.43]. Rather, such applications are made; thus, “La confusion d’Ophélie et de Phallos n’a pas besoin de voisins, elle apparaît dans la structure.” [session of 8th April 1959, in Ornicar? 25, 1982. Psychoanalysis, which is not applied to an entire work, nonetheless allows for local applications which are really interpretations. Thus we can distinguish here between the operation of (word) displacement carried out by Lacan, and the clinical diagnosis of Hamlet, something which he refuses to do. Let us start once again from a general point of view, taking into account what is generally said about music: that is has a musical side and an expressive or affective side. Let us not scorn these common views. They encourage me to take as my starting point, by opposition, Schopenhauer’s original point of view on music: one of the most original views in the history of philosophy (no doubt, together with Plato’s). To begin with, Schopenhauer takes up Leibniz’s definition: “Exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi” (“A concealed exercise in arithmetic in which the mind ignores [the fact] that it is counting”). This concerns the mathematical part of music. Schopenhauer replaces this accurate, but in his view “inferior” definition, by another one, which according to him takes in account an “infinitely elevated” point of view: “Musica est exercitium metaphysices ocultum nescientis se philosophari animi” (“Music is a concealed exercise in metaphysics in which the mind ignores that it is philosophizing”). [5] We will take our inspiration from this point of view.

A Borromean knot: can a definition of music by psychoanalysis be given? Yes, if psychoanalysis becomes aware of its impossible relations to music, which, it seems to me, are of three orders (taking up the three impossibilities mentioned at the start):

1) From the structural point of view, which must be preferred to the question of language.  For the “most broadly practical structure of the data of analytic experience” in psychoanalysis is, for Lacan, retroactivity [Écrits, p. 681]. The subject becomes aware that the afterthought returns upon what was already there, etc. In the same way, music delineates time, to the point that Mozart claimed in a letter that he could encompass in one single look or one single inner perception, immediate or instantaneous, the entire piece which he had just composed in his head, and which he only had to transcribe. [6] But this impression of a unity of vision only takes place in the mathematical space of music, in which the pleasure of numbers that cannot be named is directly experienced: the pleasure of calculations that cannot be carried out, of balances that cannot be evaluated, of temporalities that are exactly divided or not, of commensurabilities or incommensurabilities, of anticipations and retrospections, and all this unawares: there are laws there, but they are unknown to us, and this goes also for the composer, who knows the laws for the composition of a sonata, a fugue, but also faces laws of a different order, which he gradually discovers. In the same way as every clinical case is an exception to the structure within which it would be placed, in the same way every Bach fugue reveals what escapes the laws of fugue. That is why every great musical work is pregnant with possibilities: think about everything that Schönberg claimed to owe his predecessors, and which he nonetheless experienced in a creative way.

2) It is not the voice, no doubt, but something similar to discourse, for in music there are phrases, affirmations, interrogations, etc. – briefly put, something that makes the Other’s discourse audible, as Lacan says about drama, in which “il est clair que l’inconscient se présentifie là sous la forme du discours de l’Autre, qui est un discours parfaitement composé.” (Seminar 4, session of 18th March in Ornicar ? 25), save for the fact that in music we are dealing with no explicit senses. (It is a well-known fact that many popular songs served as cantus firmus for religious music – not because, in those happy times, the difference between the sacred and the profane was ignored, but rather because there was a discourse effect (affirmation) in such phrases. This is the “it speaks” of music. From this point of view, music is the unconscious itself. A sentence that must be withdrawn as soon as it is stated, but anyway. It is even a non-barred Other to which we would have some sort of access, while ignoring nonetheless what he may say: a latent discourse become manifest while remaining incomprehensible. (Alain Didier-Weil even alludes to the idea of the “trustworthy Other”, op. cit. p. 270).

3) Finally, affect. It is an (oral) thesis of Alain Badiou that music deals with the two passions of joy and sadness and with no other – or at least other passions must present themselves through the mediation or under the guise of these two. These are analogical affects: the proof lies in the distribution that Greek modal music made between the contrasting natures of these modes, through the distribution made by tonal music between the major and the minor mode (that is to say, between diatonic and chromatic scales), or the distribution made by a large number of extra-European musical theories between pacifying and exciting modes, to the political fears of certain States regarding the effects of jazz, etc. These are aesthetic feelings, as proven by the fact that joy and sadness in music are supposed to be pleasurable, in the same way that the Lessons in Darkness must cause the supreme enjoyment of redeemed pain, or in the same way that Wagner’s music makes Madame Verdurin ill, albeit because of its happiness.

Music has a therapeutic function in the largest (non-clinical) sense: it saddens, annihilates, appeases, wakes up, reassures, encourages, etc. by means of musical joy and musical sadness. Referring to gay science as the virtue opposed to sadness qua moral cowardice, Lacan defines it as follows : “not understanding, not a divining at the meaning, but a flying over it as low as possible without the meaning’s gumming up this virtue, thus enjoying the deciphering.” [Television, p. 22]  Is not the question in music not to express contents, but rather to propose a deciphering? This is even a music term which has its own price. Hence the idea of a Borromean knot which would fasten the structure of music, which is of the order of the Real; Discourse, which is of the order of the symbolic; and the two affects of joy and sadness, which are of the order of the imaginary. From the point of view of psychoanalysis, there is then the following triple relation: analogy with the structure, allusion to discourse, catharsis in affects. The question here is not effects on the listener, but rather what is plotted, what is fastened in the composition itself (a “parfaitement composé” unconscious, says Lacan, which is precisely the paradox!), in the same way as the commentators of Aristotle’s Poetics clearly explain that fear and pity lie in the tragedy itself, not in the spectator’s soul. [7] Catharsis lies in the thing, not in the subject. But at the same time, and as far as the symptom joins the Borromean knot as the fourth loop in the knot, a “musical knot” can be added to the loop in order to account for the integration of the listener in the process. For the subject is in the structure.

This will yield – for there is nothing to stop us in this speculation – two definitions of music from the point of view of psychoanalysis (for two are required: not, as for Schopenhauer, the inferior Leibnizian definition and  his own superior one; but rather a structural and a subjective definition). Theoretical definition: “Music is the exercise of unconscious psychoanalysis by the subject who is unaware that he is enjoying the deciphering”. Clinical definition: “Music is an unconscious exercise of a cure where the subject is unawares that he is healing”. [8]

Of course, this is a musical cure, Vinteuil’s little phrase, if you will. It is a (symbolic) phrase. It returns (Real), and it saves (imaginary).

– Saturday 12th March 2002


[1]Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, §52 (end of Book III). Translated by J. Kemp. London: Kegan Paul, 1909.

[2]Jacques-Alain Miller, « Jacques Lacan et la voix », in Quarto (journal of the École de la Cause freudienne  ACF  Belgique) N°54, June 1994 (repetition of a presentation given in a conference on voice in Ivry on 23rd January 1988). If Miller is right, the analytical cure, which supposes that the subject gains some sort of access to the object a, excludes music. Thus there is no music therapy. Or rather, in the same way as there is psychotherapy in disjunction with psychoanalysis, music therapy and psychoanalysis exclude each other. Of course, “in practice”, as we say, everything can be mixed.

[3]A review of these conditions can be read in Jean-Claude Milner’s Le périple structuraliste (Seuil, 2002). In particular p.62, footnote 9, and the rejection of Fraser. In a certain sense, Lévi-Strauss are Dumézil are to Lacan what Robertson Smith and Frazer were to the Freud of Totem and Taboo.

[4]Lacan, Seminar 7. Later on, Lacan says that in art there is “un refoulement de la Chose”. For example, he characterizes architecture as organization around the void, and gives the temple as an example. We might easily deduce from this that music organizes silence, in the sense that voice as object a is a guise of the Thing, of the void (see footnote 2). Hence the banalities about the silence following Mozart’s music being also Mozart, etc.

[5]It is well-known that in The World as Will and Representation, his main work, Schopenhauer adds a very important supplement to each of the chapters in the book: thus chapter XXXIX, a supplement to the third book, entitled “On the Metaphysics of Music”, is his most important text on music, particularly given its fate within Wagnerism (it should be noted nonetheless that Wagner read Schopenhauer rather late in his life, which evinces more of a convergence than an influence. The same goes for Freud, but this time with regard to the metaphysics of love, supplement XLIV to the fourth book). But §52 in Book III already includes the main thesis of Schopenhauer’s highly original position on music: “That music acts directly upon the will, i.e., the feelings, passions, and emotions of the hearer, so that it quickly raises them or changes them, may be explained from the fact that, unlike all the other arts, it does not express the Ideas, or grades of the objectification of the will, but directly the will itself.”

[6]I cannot find this reference. It was quoted the other day by Philippe Sollers in his conversation with Jacques-Alain Miller of 17th January. (Alain Didier-Weil has given a subchapter of his book the title: “Forclusion of time”, op. cit. p.266 ).

[7]Aristotle, Poetics. In Latin this would be (I will not change animus ensubjectum):

[8]Definitio clinica: Musica est exercitium psychanalyseos occultum nescientis se decifrando frui animi.
Definitio theorica: Musica est exercitium curae analyticae occultum nescientis se sanari animi.

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François Regnault

Author’s Bio

Why is structuralism serious? For the serious to be truly serious, there must be the serial, which is made up of elements, of results, of configurations, of homologies, of repetitions. What is serious for Lacan is the logic of the signifier, that is to say the opposite of a philosophy, inasmuch as every philosophy rests on the appropriateness, transparency, agreement, harmony of thought with itself. There is always some part hidden, in a philosophy, an I = I, which constitutes what Lacan called at some moment ‘the initial error in philosophy,” which consists in privileging this equality and thus making one believe that the ‘I’ is contemporary with itself, while its constitution is always after the emergence of its cause, of petit a. The unconscious means that thought is caused by the non-thought that one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences. This is how Georges Dandin recaptures the consequence of stopped time when he stops to say: Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin! (You wanted it, Georges Dandin.) He makes time stop to recapture in the consequence what was caused by the non-thought. [1]

The only thing one cannot fully agree with in this quoted passage concerns Miller’s (and Lacan’s) all too quick and slick condemnation of philosophy: the very German idealist who articulated the infamous I=I, the formula of the I’s self-identity Lacan is distancing himself from, Fichte, also made clear the subject’s dependence on a cause which is de-centered with regard to the subject. Fichte was the first philosopher to focus on the uncanny contingency in the very heart of subjectivity: the Fichtean subject is not the overblown Ego=Ego as the absolute Origin of all reality, but a finite subject thrown, caught, in a contingent social situation forever eluding mastery. It is important to bear in mind the two primary meanings of Anstoss in German: check, obstacle, hindrance, something that resists the boundless expansion of our striving, but also impetus, stimulus, something that incites our activity. Anstoss is not simply the obstacle the absolute I posits to itself in order to stimulate its activity so that, by overcoming the self-posited obstacle, it asserts its creative power, like the games the proverbial perverted ascetic saint plays with himself by inventing ever new temptations and then, in successfully resisting them, confirming his strength. If the Kantian Ding an sich corresponds to the Freudian-Lacanian Thing, Anstoss is closer to objet petit a, to the primordial foreign body that “sticks in the throat” of the subject, to the object-cause of desire that splits it up: Fichte himself defines Anstoss as the non-assimilable foreign body that causes the subject division into the empty absolute subject and the finite determinate subject, limited by the non-I. Anstoss thus designates the moment of the “run-in”, the hazardous knock, the encounter of the Real in the midst of the ideality of the absolute I: there is no subject without Anstoss, without the collision with an element of irreducible facticity and contingency – “the I is supposed to encounter within itself something foreign.” The point is thus to acknowledge “the presence, within the I itself, of a realm of irreducible otherness, of absolute contingency and incomprehensibility… Ultimately, not just Angelus Silesius’s rose, but every Anstoss whatsoever ist ohne Warum.” In clear contrast to the Kantian noumenal Ding that affects our senses, Anstoss does not come from outside, it is stricto sensu ex-timate: a non-assimilable foreign body in the very core of the subject – as Fichte himself emphasizes, the paradox of Anstoss resides in the fact that it is simultaneously “purely subjective” and not produced by the activity of the I. If Anstoss were not “purely subjective”, if it were already the non-I, part of objectivity, we would fall back into “dogmaticism”, i.e. Anstoss would effectively amount to no more than a shadowy remainder of the Kantian Ding an sich and would thus bear witness to Fichte’s inconsequentiality (the commonplace reproach against Fichte); if Anstoss were simply subjective, it would present a case of the subject’s hollow playing with itself, and we would never reach the level of objective reality, i.e. Fichte would effectively be a solipsist (another commonplace reproach against his philosophy). The crucial point is that Anstoss sets in motion the constitution of “reality”: at the beginning is the pure I with the non-assimilable foreign body in its heart; the subject constitutes reality by way of assuming a distance towards the Real of the formless Anstoss and conferring on it the structure of objectivity. What imposes itself here is the parallel between the Fichtean Anstoss and the Freudian-Lacanian scheme of the relationship between the primordial Ich (Ur-Ich) and the object, the foreign body in its midst, which disturbs its narcissistic balance, setting in motion the long process of the gradual expulsion and structuration of this inner snag, through which (what we experience as) “external, objective reality” is constituted.

The temporality of the subject’s cause is not that of the linear deployment of time (and of the corresponding notion of causality in which past causes determine the present); it is the temporality of a circular time in which “time stops” when, in a convoluted self-relating, the subject posits its own presupposed cause. Miller himself concedes this when he points out that the cause of desire is “a cause moreover which is posed by retroaction.” It is in this precise sense that subject and object are correlative: the subject’s emergence, his breaking of (cut into, suspension of) the linear causality of “reality” has a cause, but a cause which is retroactively posited by its own effect. It is this minimal retroactivity, not just some kind of structural “complexity,” which allows us to pass from linear natural causality, no matter how complex it is, to structural causality proper.

“You wanted it, Georges Dandin.” quoted by Miller is a line from Molière in which the subject is reminded that the present deadlock that befalls him is the un-intended outcome of his own past acts; Miller gives it an additional twist: the subject should recapture in the consequence that he encounters in reality the results of their absent and non-thought cause – in the case of Billy Bathgate, he should recapture in the two “real” objects, the novel and the film, the consequences of their virtual cause, the spectral “better novel.”

Deleuze characterized his reading of philosophers as guided by the tendency “to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery” or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.” [2] Deleuze is here deeply Lacanian: does Lacan not do the same in his reading of “Kant with Sade”? Jacques-Alain Miller once characterized this reading with the same words as Deleuze: the aim of Lacan is “to take Kant from behind,” to produce the Sadean monster as Kant’s own offspring. (And, incidentally, does the same not go also for Heidegger’s reading of pre-Socratic fragments? Is he also not “taking from behind” Parmenides and Heraclitus? Is his extensive explanation of Parmenides’ “Being and thought are the same” not one of the greatest buggeries in the history of philosophy?) The term “immaculate conception” is to be linked to the notion, from The Logic of Sense, of the flow of sense as infertile, without a proper causal power: Deleuzian reading does not move at the level of the actual imbrication of causes and effects; it stands to “realistic” interpretations as anal penetration does with regard to proper vaginal penetration.

This Deleuzian procedure has an unexpected theological precedent – not the Christian immaculate conception, to which he himself refers, but the Jewish legend about the birth of the Messiah, reported by Joseph in a monoscript from the 13th century. God wants to give birth to the Messiah, but knows that all of the forces of evil are waiting in front of the vagina of Shekina to kill the Messiah the minute he is born. So God goes at night to his mistress, Lilith, the symbol of evil, and penetrates her anally (the expression used can also mean that he pees into her vagina). The Messiah will come from Lilith after anal sex: this is the way God tricks the forces of evil, by bringing the Messiah through evil. [3]

If the founding move that establishes a symbolic universe is the empty gesture, how is a gesture emptied? How is its content neutralized? Through repetition. Giorgio Agamben tried to indicate this process with the notion of profanation: in the opposition between sacred and secular, profanation of the secular does not equal secularization; profanation puts the sacred text or practice into a different context, it subtracts it from its proper context and functioning. As such, profanation remains in the domain of the non-utility, merely enacting a “perverted” non-utility. To profanate a mass is to perform a black mass, not to study the mass as object of the psychology of religion. In Kafka’s The Trial, the weird extended debate between Joseph K. and the Priest about the Law (which follows the parable of the Door of the Law) is deeply profanatory – one can even say that Kafka is the greatest profanator of the Jewish Law. As such, profanation – not secularization – is the true materialist undermining of the Sacred: secularization always relies on its disavowed sacred foundation, which survives either as exception or as a formal structure. Protestantism realizes this split between the Sacred and the secular at its most radical: it secularizes the material world, but keeps religion apart, plus it introduces the formal religious principle into the very capitalist economy. (Mutatis mutandis, the same goes for the Stalinist Communism – it is secularized, not profaned religion.)

Here one should perhaps supplement Agamben: if we conceive profanation as the gesture of extraction from the proper life-world context and use, is not such an extraction also THE VERY DEFINITION OF SACRALIZATION? Say, apropos of poetry: is not the “birth” of poetry when a phrase or group of words is “decontextualized” and gets caught into an autonomous repetitive insistence? When, instead of “come here,” I say “come, come here,” is this not the minimum of poeticization? There is thus a zero-level at which profanation cannot be distinguished from sacralization. So we have here again the same paradox of displaced classification as the one of passive, active, and middle verbs analyzed by Emile Benveniste (the original opposition is not the one between passive and active, with the middle intervening as a third mediating/neutral moment, but between active and middle): the original opposition is between secular-everyday-utile and the Profane, and the “Sacred” stands for the secondary shift/mystification of the Profane. The emergence of the human/symbolic universe resides in the minimum gesture of the “profanatory decontextualization” of a signal or gesture, and “sacralization” comes afterwards, as an attempt to gentrify, to domesticate, this excess, this rapturous impact, of the profane. In Japanese, bakku-shan signifies “a girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn’t when seen from the front” – is the relationship between profane and sacred not something like this? A thing which appears (is experienced as) sacred when viewed from behind, from a proper distance, is effectively a profane excess… To paraphrase Rilke, Sacred is the last veil that conceals the horror of the Profane.

So what would the profanation of Christianity be? What if Christ himself – the embodiment of God in a ridiculous mortal, the comical aspect of it – already IS the profanation of divinity? What if, in contrast to other religions which can be profaned by men, only in Christianity God profanes HIMSELF?

Laclau’s duality of difference and equivalence remains caught in the logic of external opposition. What Laclau doesn’t develop is the conceptual mediation of the two opposites, i.e., how the very logic of difference (differentiality: the identity of each element resides only in its difference towards all others) IMMANENTLY leads to antagonism. Differentiality, in order to remain pure (i.e., to avoid the reference to any kind of external support in the guise of some element which is not grounded in differences but sustains itself in its identity), has to include a marker of the difference between the field (of differences) itself and its outside, i.e., a “pure” difference. This “pure” difference, however, already has to function as antagonism, i.e., it is what curtails/thwarts the identity of each of the elements. This is why, as Laclau put it, external difference is always also internal difference: it is not only that the difference between the field itself and its outside has to be reflected into the field itself, preventing its closure, thwarting its fullness; it is also that the differential identity of every element is simultaneously constituted and thwarted-curtailed by the differential network.

In Henning Mankel’s police procedural series, Inspector Kurt Wallander has a father whose means of survival is painting – he paints all the time, in hundreds of copies, the same painting, the forrest landscape over which the sun never set (therein resides the ÈmessageÇ of the painting: it is possible to hold the sun captive, to prevent it from setting, to freeze a magical moment, extracting its pure appearance from nature’s eternal circular movement of generation and degeneration. There is, however, a “minimal difference” in these otherwise identical paintings: in some of them, there is a small grouse in the landscape, while others are without the grouse, as if eternity itself, frozen time, has to be sustained by a minimal variation, a kind of stand-in of painting’s reality for what really distinguishes each painting, its unique purely virtual intensity.

If “individuation is a relation conceived as a pure or absolute between, a between understood as fully independent of or external to its terms – and thus a between that can just as well be described as ‘between’ nothing at all” (Hallward 154), its status is then that of a pure antagonism. Its structure was deployed by Lacan apropos sexual difference which, as a difference, precedes the two terms between which it is the difference: the point of Lacan’s “formulas of sexuation” is that both masculine and feminine position are two ways to avoid the deadlock of the difference as such. This is why Lacan’s claim that sexual difference is “real-impossible” is strictly synonymous with his claim that “there is no sexual relationship.” Sexual difference is for Lacan not a firm set of “static” symbolic oppositions and inclusions/exclusions (heterosexual normativity that relegates homosexuality and other “perversions” to some secondary role), but the name of a deadlock, of a trauma, of an open question, of something that RESISTS every attempt at its symbolization. Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very “impossibility” that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what “sexual difference” will mean. And the same goes for the political difference (class struggle): the difference between Left and Right is not only the difference between the two terms within a shared field, it is “real” since it is not possible to provide its neutral description – the difference between the Left and the Right appears differently if perceived from the Left and from the Right: for the first, it signals the antagonism which cuts across the entire social field (the antagonism concealed by thje Right), while the Right perceives itself as the force of moderation and social stability and organic unity, with the Left reduced to the position of an intruder that disturbs this organic stability of the social body – for the Right, the Left is as such “extreme.”

Let us all hear yet another time Levi-Strauss’s exemplary analysis, from his Structural Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, one of the Great Lake tribes. The tribe is divided into two sub-groups (“moieties”), “those who are from above” and “those who are from below”; when we ask an individual to draw on a piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of the first sub-group (let us call it “conservative-corporatist”) perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member of the second (“revolutionary-antagonistic”) sub-group perceives his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an invisible frontier… The central point of Lévi-Strauss is that this example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according to which the perception of social space depends on the observer’s group-belonging: the very splitting into the two “relative” perceptions implies a hidden reference to a constant – not the objective, “actual” disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to account for, to “internalize”, to come to terms with, an imbalance in social relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are simply two mutually exclusive endeavors to cope with this traumatic antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic structure. Is it necessary to add that things stand exactly the same with respect to sexual difference: “masculine” and “feminine” are like the two configurations of houses in the Levi-Straussian village? And in order to dispel the illusion that our “developed” universe is not dominated by the same logic, let us return to our example of political struggle, of the splitting of our political space into Left and Right: a Leftist and a Rightist behave exactly like members of the opposite sub-groups of the Levi-Straussian village. They not only occupy different places within the political space; each of them perceives differently the very disposition of the political space – a Leftist as the field that is inherently split by some fundamental antagonism, a Rightist as the organic unity of a Community disturbed only by foreign intruders.

In this precise sense, sexual (or political) difference is the “dark precursor”, never present, a purely virtual “pseudo-cause”, the X which always (constitutively) “lacks at its own place” (all its actualizations already displace it) and, as such, distributes the two actual series (masculine and feminine in sexuality, the Right and the Left in politics). In this sense, Lacan advocates a non-relational concept of phallus: the phallic signifier “founds sexuality in its entirety as system or structure”: it is in relation to the phallic object that the variety of terms and the variation of differential relations are determined in each case /…/. The relative places of the terms in the structure depend first on the absolute place of each, at each moment, in relation to the object=x that is always circulating, always displaced in relation to itself /…/. Distributing the differences through the entire structure, making the differential relations vary with its displacements, the object=x constitutes the differentiating element of difference itself. [4]

Here, however, one should be careful to avoid the same trap as the one that lurks apropos Deleuze’s notion of pure past: this fixed element which, as the “absent cause”, distributes the elements, is a purely virtual element which is present only in its effects and is, as such, retroactively posited (pre-supposed) by its effects; it has no substantial independent existence prior to this process.

This brings us to the dimension of symbolic castration: phallus as the signifier of the pure virtuality of meaning has to be a “signifier without signified”: it is non-sense, the absence of any determinate meaning, which stands for the virtuality of pure meaning. (Or, to put it in more Deleuzian terms: the very counter-actualization, the move backwards from actuality to the virtual field that is its transcendental condition, has to occur WITHIN actuality, as a displacement, disorder, out-of-joint, of the elements within this order.) This is why it is not nonsensical to speak about “signifier without signified”: this absence of meaning is in itself a positive feature, inscribed into the field of meaning as a hole gaping in its midst. (In a homologous way, Jews are the “phallic” nation, the “phallic” element among nations: they are a nation without land, but so that this absence is inscribed into their very being, as the absolute reference to the virtual land of Israel.)

Art “allows for an absolute and genuinely transformative liberation-expression, precisely because what it liberates is nothing other than the liberating itself, the movement of pure spiritualization or dematerialization” (Hallward 122): what has to be liberated is ultimately liberation itself, the movement of “deterritorializing” all actual entities. This self-relating move is crucial – and, along the same lines, what desire desires is not a determinate object but the unconditional assertion of desiring itself (or, as Nietzsche put it, the will is at its most radical the will to will itself).

Therein resides the ultimate irony of Deleuze’s critique of Hegel: when, against Hegel, Deleuze claims that creation “is immediately creative; there is no transcendent or negating subject of creation that might need time in order to become conscious of itself or otherwise catch up with itsellf” (Hallward 149), he thereby imputes to Hegel a substantialization-reification which is not there and, in this way, obliterates precisely that dimension in Hegel which is the closest to Deleuze himself. Hegel repeatedly insists that Spirit is “a product of itself”: it is not a pre-existing Subject intervening into objectivity, sublating-mediating it, but the result of its own movement, i.e., pure processuality. As such, it does not need time to “catch up with itself,” but simply to generate itself.

In order to describe the blind “seer” (blind to actual reality but sensible to the virtual dimension of things), Deleuze resorts to a wonderful metaphor of a spider deprived of eyes and ears but infinitely sensitive bto whatever resonates through his virtual web: “Actual or constituted forms slip through the web and make no impression, for the web is designed to vibrate only on contact with virtual or intensive forms. The more fleeting or molecular the movement, the more intense its resonance through the web. The web responds to the movements of a pure multiplicity before it has taken on any definite shape.” (Hallward 118)

When Deleuze talks about a process which creates and sees in a single movement, he thereby consciously evokes the formula of intellectual intuition, the prerogative of God alonbe. Deleuze pursues a pre-critical agenda, passionately defending Spinoza’s and Leibniz’s metaphysical “realism” (direct insight into the very core of things in themselves) against Kant’s “critical” limitation of our knowledge to the domain of phenomenal representations. However, the Hegelian reply to this would have been: what if the distance of re-presentation, the distance that renders the thing inaccessible to us, is inscribed into the very heart of the thing itself, so that the very gap that separates us from the thing includes us into it – therein resides the core of the Hegelian Christology, in which our alienation from God coincides with the alienation of God from himself. Deleuze says that propositions do not describe things but are the verb al actualization of those things, i.e. these things themselvese in theire verbal mode – would Hegel not claim, in the same way, that our re-presentation of God is God himself in the mode of representation, that our erroneous perception of God is God himself in erroneous mode?

Here is how Hallward formulates the core of Deleuze’s critical rejection of Hegel: “whereas according to Hegel anmy given ‘thing differs with itself because it differs first with all that it is not,’ i.e. with all the objects to which it relates, Deleuze’s Bergson affirms that a ‘thing differs with itself first, immediately,’ on account of the ‘internal explosive force’ it carries within itself.” If ever there was a straw-man, it is Deleuze’s Hegel: is not Hegel’s basic insight precisely that every external opposition is grounded in the things immanent self-opposition, i.e., that every external difference implies self-difference? A finite being differs from other (finite) things because it is already not identical with itself.

Deleuze accepts the Leibnizean hierarchy of monads: the difference between monads is ultimately quantitative, i.e., every monad is substantially the same, it expresses the whole infinite world, but with a different, always specific, quantitative intensity and adequacy: at the one – lowest – extreme there are “darkened monads” with only one clear perception, their hatred of God; at the other – highest – extreme, there are “reasonable monads” which can open themselves to reflect the entire universe. What, in a monad, resiststhe full expression of God is its stubborn attachment to its creatural delusion, to its particular (ultimately material) identity. Humanity occupies here the place of the highest tension: on the one hand, humans are, even more than other living beings, caught in the thrall of absolute egotism, obstinately focused on the preservation of the identity of their Self (which is why, for Deleuze, the highest task of philosophy is to elevate man above his human condition, to the “inhuman” level of the “overman”); on the other hand, Deleuze agrees with Bergson that man stands for a unique breakthrough and the highest point in the evolution of life – with the emergence of consciousness, a living being is finally able to by-pass its material (organic) limitations and advance to a purely spiritual plan of the unity with the divine All… From a Hegelian standpoint, one can say that what Deleuze fails to fully percveive is what, among others, Schelling saw clearly: the ultimate identity of these two features, of the lowest and the highest: it is precisely THROUGH his stubborn attachment to his singular Self that a human individual is able to extract himself from the particular convolutions of actual life (with its circular movement of generation and corruption) and enter in relation with virtual eternity. This is why (insofar as another name for this egotistic stubborn attachment is Evil) Evil is a formal condition of the rise of the Good: it literally creates the space for the Good.

For example, in the social sphere, this is how economy exerts its role of determining the social structure “in the last instance”: economy in this role is never directly present as an actual causal agent, its presence is purely virtual, it is the social “pseudo-cause”, but, precisely as such, absolute, non-relational, the absent cause, something that is never “at its own place”: “that is why ‘the economic’ is never given properly speaking, but rather designates a differential virtuality to be interpreted, always covered over by its forms of actualization” (DR 186). It is the absent X which circulates betweenh the multiple series of the social field (economic, political, ideological, legal…), distributing them in their specific articulation. One should thus insist on the radical difference between the economic as this virtual X, the absolute point of reference of the social field, and the economic in its actuality, as one of the elements (“subsystems”) of the actual social totality: when they encounter each other, i.e., to put it in Hegelese, when the virtual economic encounters in the guise of its actual counterpart itself in its “oppositional determination”, this identity coincides with absolute (self)contradiction.

This brings us to the central paradox of Deleuze’s thought: perhaps the most succinct definition of his philosophy would have been that it is a “Fichteanized Spinozism” – and we should just bear in mind that Fichte was (perceived himself as) the absolute anti-Spinozist. In Deleuze’s notion of pure Life as the flux of virtual creativity, Spinoza’s substance as causa sui overlaps with the Fichtean self-positing of the pure absolute I: The concept posits itself to the same extent that it is created. What depends on a free creative activity is also that which, independently and necessarily, posits itself in itself: the most subjective will be the most objective. (WP 11)

This purely virtual self-referential creating moves at infinite speed, since it needs no externality in/through which to mediate its self-positing movement: “Infinite speed thus describes a movement that no longer has anything to do with actual movement, a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has alwayus reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” [5]

This is why Deleuze insists that desire has no object (whose lack would trigger and sustain its movement): desire is “a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has alwayus reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” This is the thrust of Deleuze’s reading of masochism and courtly love – in both cases, not logic of sacrifice, but how to sustain the desire… According to the standard reading of masochism, the masochist, like everyone, also looks for pleasure; his problem is that, because of the internalized superego, he has to his access to pleasure with the pain, to pacify the oppressive agency which finds pleasure intolerable. For Deleuze, on the contrary, the masochist chooses pain in order to dissolve the pseudo-link of desire with pleasure as its extrinsic measure. Pleasure is in no way something that can only be reached via the detour of pain, but that which has to be delayed to the maximum since it is something which interrupts the continuous process of the positive desire. There is an immanent joy of desire, as if desire fills itself with itself and its contemplations, and which does not imply any lack, any impossibility. (MP-192)

And the same goes for the courtly love: its eternal postponement of fulfillment does not obey a law of lack or an ideal of transcendence: here also, it signals a desire which lacks nothing, since it finds its fulfillment in itself, in its own immanence; every pleasure is, on the contrary, already a re-territorialization of the free flux of desire. (193)

Recall the old Catholic strategy to guard men against the temptation of the flesh: when you see in front of you a voluptuous feminine body, imagine how it will look in a couple of decades – the dried skin, sagging breasts… (Or, even better, imagine what lurks now already beneath the skin: raw flesh and bones, inner fluids, half-digested food and excrements…) Far from enacting a return to the Real destined to break the imaginary spell of the body, such a procedure equals the escape from the Real, the Real announcing itself in the seductive appearance of the naked body. That is to say, in the opposition between the spectral appearance of the sexualized body and the repulsive body in decay, it is the spectral appearance with is the Real, and the decaying body which is reality – we take recourse to the decaying body in order to avoid the deadly fascination of the Real which threatens to draw us into its vortex of jouissance.

A “raw” Platonism would have claimed here that only the beautiful body fully materializes the Idea, and that a body in its material decay simply falls of from its Idea, is no longer its faithful copy. From a Deleuzian (and, here, Lacanian) view, on the contrary, the specter that attracts us is the Idea of the body as Real. This body is not the body in reality, but the virtual body in Deleuze’s sense of the term: the incorporeal/immaterial body of pure intensities.

Deleuze’s most radical anti-Hegelian argument concerns pure difference: Hegel is unable to think pure difference which is outside the horizon of identity/contradiction; Hegel conceives a radicalized difference as contradiction which, then, through its dialectical resolution, is again subsumed under identity. (Here, Deleuze is also opposed to Derrida who, from his perspective, remains caught within the vicious cycle of contradiction/identity, merely postponing resolution indefinitely.) And insofar as Hegel is the philosopher of actuality/actualization, insofar as, for him, the “truth” of a potentiality is revealed in its actualization, Hegel’s inability to think pure difference equals his inability to think the virtual in its proper dimension, as a possibility which already qua possibility possesses its own reality: pure difference is not actual, it does not concern different actual properties of a thing or among things, its status is purely virtual, it is a difference which takes place at its purest precisely when nothing changes in actuality, when, in actuality, the SAME thing repeats itself. – Effectively, it may appear that it is only Deleuze who formulates the truly post-Hegelian program of thinking difference: the Derridean “opening” which emphasizes the endless difference, the dissemination that cannot ever be sublated/reappropriated, etc., remains within the Hegelian framework, merely “opening” it up…

But, here, the Hegelian counter-argument would have been: is then the “pure” virtual difference not the very name for actual self-identity? Is it not CONSTITUTIVE of actual identity? More precisely, in the terms of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, pure difference is the virtual support/condition of actual identity: an entity is perceived as “(self-)identical” when (and only when) its virtual support is reduced to a pure difference. In Lacanese, pure difference concerns the supplement of the virtual object (Lacan’s objet a); its most plastic experience is that of a sudden change in (our perception of) an object which, with regard to its positive qualities, remains the same: “although nothing changes, the thing all of a sudden seemed totally different” – as Deleuze would have put it, it is the thing’s intensity which changes. (For Lacan, the theoretical problem/task is here to distinguish between the Master-Signifier and objet a which both refer to the abyssal X in the object beyond its positive properties.) As such, pure difference is closer to antagonism than to the difference between two positive social groups one of which is to be annihilated. The universalism that sustains an antagonistic struggle is not exclusive of anyone, which is why the highest triumph of the antagonistic struggle is not the destruction of the enemy, but the explosion of the “universal brotherhood” in which agents of the opposite camp change sides and join us (recall the proverbial scenes of police or military units joining the demonstrators). It is in such explosion of enthusiastic all-encompassing brotherhood from which no one is in principle excluded, that the difference between “us” and “enemy” as positive agents is reduced to a PURE formal difference.

This brings us to the topic of difference, repetition, and change (in the sense of the rise of something really new). Deleuze’s thesis according to which New and repetition are not opposed, i.e., according to which New arises only from repetition, is to be read against the background of the difference between the Virtual and the Actual. To put it directly: changes which concerns only the actual aspect of things are only changes within the existing frame, not the emergences of something really New – New only emerges when the virtual support of the Actual changes, and this change occurs precisely in the guise of a repetition in which a thing remains the same in its actuality. In other words, things really change not when a transforms itself into B, but when, while A remains exactly the same with regard to its actual properties, it imperceptibly “totally changes”…

The Lacanian Real, in its opposition to the Symbolic, has ultimately nothing whatsoever to do with the standard empiricist (or phenomenological, or historicist, or Lebensphilosophie, for that reason) topic of the wealth of reality that resists formal structures, that cannot be reduced to its conceptual determinations – language is grey, reality is green… The Lacanian Real is, on the contrary, even more “reductionist” that any symbolic structure: we touch it when we subtract from a symbolic field all the wealth of its differences, reducing it to a minimum of antagonism. Lacan himself is here not beyond reproach, since he gets sometimes seduced by the rhizomatic wealth of language beyond (or, rather, beneath) the formal structure that sustains it. It is in this sense that, in the last decade of his teaching, he deployed the notion of lalangue (sometimes simply translated as “llanguage”) which stands for language as the space of illicit pleasures that defy any normativity: the chaotic multitude of homonymies, word-plays, “irregular” metaphoric links and resonances… Productive as this notion is, one should be aware of its limitations. Many commentators have noted that Lacan’s last great literary reading, that of Joyce to whom his late seminar (XXIII: Le sinthome [6]) is dedicated, is not at the level of his previous great readings (Hamlet, Antigone, Claudel’s Coufontaine-trilogy). There is effectively something fake in Lacan’s fascination with late Joyce, with Finnegan’s Wake as the latest version of the literary Gesamtkunstwerk with its endless wealth of lalangue in which not only the gap between singular languages, but the very gap between linguistic meaning and jouissance seems overcome and the rhizome-like jouis-sense (enjoyment-in-meaning: enjoy-meant) proliferates in all directions. The true counterpart to Joyce is, of course, Samuel Becket: after his early period in which he more or less wrote some variations on Joyce, the “true” Becket constituted himself through a true ethical act, a CUT, a rejection of the Joycean wealth of enjoy-meant, and the ascetic turn towards a “minimal difference,” towards a minimalization, “subtraction,” of the narrative content and of language itself (this line is most clearly discernible in his masterpiece, the trilogy Molloy – Malone Dies – L’innomable). So what is the “minimal difference” – the purely parallax gap – that sustains Becket’s mature production? One is tempted to propose the thesis that it is the very difference between French and English: as is known, Becket wrote most of his mature works in French (not his mother tongue), and the, desperate at the low quality of translations, translated them himself into English, and these translations are not mere close translations, but effectively a different text.

It is because of this “minimalist” – purely formal and insubstantial – status of the Real that, for Lacan, repetition precedes repression – or, as Deleuze put it succinctly: “We do not repeat because we repress, we repress because we repeat.” (DR-105) It is not that, first, we repress some traumatic content, and then, since we are unable to remember it and thus to clarify our relationship to it, this content continues to haunt us, repeating itself in disguised forms. If the Real is a minimal difference, then repetition (that establishes this difference) is primordial; the primacy of repression emerges with the “reification” of the Real into a Thing that resists symbolization – only then, it appears that the excluded/repressed Real insists and repeats itself. The Real is primordially nothing but the gap that separates a thing from itself, the gap of repetition.

The consequence of this is also the inversion in the relationship between repetition and remembrance. Freud’s famous motto “what we do not remember, we are compelled to repeat” should thus be turned around: what we are unable to repeat, we are haunted with and are compelled to memorize. The way to get rid of a past trauma is not to rememorize it, but to fully REPEAT it in the Kierkegaardian sense.

What is the Deleuzian “pure difference” at its purest, if we may put it in this tautological way? It is the purely virtual difference of an entity which repeats itself as totally identical with regard to its actual properties: “there are significant differences in the virtual intensities expressed in our actual sensations. These differences do not correspond to actual recognizable differences. That the shade of pink has changed in an identifiable way is not all-important. It is that the change is a sign of a re-arrangement of an infinity of other actual and virtual relations.” [7] Is such a pure difference not what takes place in the repetition of the same actual melodic line in Robert Schumann’s “Humoresque”? This piece is to be read against the background of the gradual loss of the voice in Schumann’s songs: it is not a simple piano piece, but a song without the vocal line, with the vocal line reduced to silence, so that all we effectively hear is the piano accompaniment. This is how one should read the famous “inner voice /innere Stimme/” added by Schumann (in the written score) as a third line between the two piano lines, higher and lower: as the vocal melodic line which remains a non-vocalized “inner voice” (which exists only as Augenmusik, music for the eyes only, in the guise of written notes). This absent melody is to be reconstructed on the basis of the fact that the first and third levels (the right and the left hand piano lines) do not relate to each other directly, i.e. their relationship is not that of an immediate mirroring: in order to account for their interconnection, one is thus compelled to (re)construct a third, “virtual” intermediate level (melodic line) which, for structural reasons, cannot be played. Schumann brings this procedure of absent melody to an apparently absurd self-reference when, later in the same fragment of Humoresque, he repeats the same two effectively played melodic lines, yet this time the score contains no third absent melodic line, no inner voice – what is absent here is the absent melody, i.e. absence itself. How are we to play these notes when, at the level of what is effectively to be played, they exactly repeat the previous notes? The effectively played notes are deprived only of what is not there, of their constitutive lack, or, to refer to the Bible, they lose even that what they never had. The true pianist should thus have the savoir-faire to play the existing, positive, notes in such a way that one would be cable to discern the echo of the accompanying non-played “silent” virtual notes or their absence… This, then, is pure difference: the nothing-actual, the virtual background, which accounts for the difference of the two melodic lines.

This logic of virtual difference can also be discerned in another paradox, namely the above mentioned cinema version of Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the specter of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed – this is NOT the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition (of a failed novel in the failed film) thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. This is an exemplary case of what Deleuze deploys in the crucial pages of his Difference and Repetition:

While it may seem that the two presents are successive, at a variable distance apart in the series of reals, in fact they form, rather, two real series which coexist in relation to a virtual object of another kind, one which constantly circulates and is displaced in them /…/. Repetition is constituted not from one present to another, but between the two coexistent series that these presents form in function of the virtual object (object = x).(DR-104-105)

With regard to Billy Bathgate the film does not “repeat” the novel on which it is based; rather, they both “repeat” the unrepeatable virtual x, the “true” novel whose specter is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although “unreal,” is in a way more real than reality: it is the ABSOLUTE point of reference of the failed real attempts. This is how, in the perspective of the materialist theology, the divine emerges from the repetition of terrestrial material elements, as their “cause” retroactively posited by them. Deleuze is right to refer to Lacan here: this “better book” is what Lacan calls objet petit a, the object-cause of desire that “one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences,” the two really-existing books.

The underlying movement is here more complex than it may appear. It is not that we should simply conceive the starting point (the novel) as an “open work,” full of possibilities which can be deployed later, actualized in later versions; or – even worse – that we should conceive the original work as a pre-text which can later be incorporated in other con-texts and given a meaning totally different from the original one. What is missing here is the retroactive, backwards, movement that was first described by Henri Bergson, a key reference for Deleuze. In his “Two Sources of Morality and Religion”, Bergson describes the strange sensations he experienced on August 4 1914, when war was declared between France and Germany: “In spite of my turmoil, and although a war, even a victorious one, appeared to me as a catastrophy, I experienced what /William/ James spoke about, a feeling of admiration for the facility of the passage from the abstract to the concret: who would have thought that such a formidable event can emerge in reality with so little fuss?” [8] Crucial is here the modality of the break between before and after: before its outburst, the war appeared to Bergson “simultaneously probable and impossible: a complex and contradictory notion which persisted to the end” [9]; after its outburst, it all of a sudden become real AND possible, and the paradox resides in this retroactive appearance of probability:

I never pretended that one can insert reality into the past and thus work backwards in time. However, one can without any doubt insert there the possible, or, rather, at every moment, the possible insert itself there. Insofar as inpredictable and new reality creates itself, its image reflects itself behind itself in the indefinite past: this new reality finds itself all the time having been possible; but it is only at the precise moment of its actual emergence that it begins to always have been, and this is why I say that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once this reality emerges. [10]

THIS is what takes place in the example of Billy Bathgate: the film inserts back into the novel the possibility of a different, much better, novel. And do we not encounter a similar logic in the relationship between Stalinism and Leninism? Here also, THREE moments are in play: Lenin’s politics before the Stalinist takeover; Stalinist politics; the specter of “Leninism” retroactively generated by Stalinism (in its official Stalinist version, but ALSO in the version critical of Stalinism, like when, in the process of “de-Stalinization” in the USSR, the motto evoked was that of the “return to the original Leninist principles”). One should therefore stop the ridiculous game of opposing the Stalinist terror to the “authentic” Leninist legacy betrayed by the Stalinism: “Leninism” is a thoroughly Stalinist notion. The gesture of projecting the emancipatory-utopian potential of Stalinism backwards, into a preceding time, signals the incapacity of the thought to endure the “absolute contradiction,” the unbearable tension, inherent to the Stalinist project itself. [11] It is therefore crucial to distinguish “Leninism” (as the authentic core of Stalinism) from the actual political practice and ideology of Lenin’s period: the actual greatness of Lenin is NOT the same as the Stalinist authentic myth of Leninism.

And the irony is that this logic of repetition, elaborated by Deleuze, THE anti-Hegelian, is at the very core of the Hegelian dialectics: it relies on the properly dialectical relationship between temporal reality and the eternal Absolute. The eternal Absolute is the immobile point of reference around which temporal figurations circulate, their presupposition; however, precisely as such, it is posited by these temporal figurations, since it does not pre-exist them: it emerges in the gap between the first and the second one – in the case of Billy Bathgate, between the novel and its repetition in the film. Or, back to Schumann’s Humoresque, the eternal absolute is the third unplayed melodic line, the point of reference of the two lines played in reality: it is absolute, but a fragile one – if the two positive lines are played wrongly, it disappears… This is what one is tempted to call “materialist theology”: temporal succession creates eternity.

The Deleuzian notion of sign can only be properly grasped against the background of his redefinition of what is a problem. Commonsense tells us that there are true and false solutions to every problems; for Deleuze, on the contrary, there are no definitive solutions to problems, solutions are just repeated attempts to deal with the problem, with its impossible-real. Problems themselves, not solutions, are true or false. Each solution not only reacts to “its” problem, but retroactively redefines it, formulating it from within its own specific horizon. Which is why problems are universal and solutions/answers are particular.

Deleuze is here unexpectedly closer to Hegel: for Hegel, say, the Idea of State is a problem, and each specific form of the state (Ancient republic, feudal monarchy, modern democracy…) proposes a solution to this problem, redefining the problem itself. And, precisely, the passage to the next “higher” stage of the dialectical process occurs when, instead of continuing to search for a solution, we problematize the problem itself, abandoning its terms – say, when, instead of continuing to search for a “true” State, we drop the very reference to State and look for a communal existence beyond State.

Problem is thus not only “subjective,” not just epistemological, a problem for the subject who tries to solve it; it is stricto sensu ontological, inscribed into the thing itself: the structure of reality is “problematic.” That is to say, actual reality can only be grasped as a series of answers to a virtual problems – say, in Deleuze’s reading of biology, the development of eyes can only be grasped as attempted solution at the problem of how to deal with light. And this brings us to sign – actual reality appears as “sign” when it is perceived as an answer to virtual problem:

Neither the problem nor the question is a subjective determination marking a moment of insufficiency in knowledge. Problematic structure is part of objects themselves, allowing them to be grasped as signs (DR-63-4)

This explains the strange way Deleuze opposes signs and representations: for the common sense, a mental representation directly reproduces the way a thing is, while a sign just points towards it, designating it with a (more or less) arbitrary signifier. (In a representation of a table, I “see directly” a table, while its sign just points towards the table.) For Deleuze, on the contrary, representations are mediate, while signs are direct, and the task of a creative thought is that of “making movement itself a work, without interpositions; of substituting direct signs for mediate representations” (DR-16).

Representations are figures of objects as objective entities deprived of their virtual support/background, and we pass from representation to sign when we are able to discern in an object that which points towards its virtual ground, towards the problem with regard to which it is an answer. To put it succinctly, every answer is a sign of its problem. Does Deleuze’s argument against the (Hegelian) negative not hold only if we reduce the negative to the negation of a pre-existing positive identity? What about a negativity which is in itself positive, giving, “generative”?

For a Deleuzian Christology. How are we to grasp the (often noted) weird impassivity of the figure of Christ, its “sterility”? What if Christ is an Event in the Deleuzian sense – an occurrence of pure individuality without proper causal power? Which is why Christ suffers, but in a thoroughly impassive way. Christ is “individual” in the Deleuzian sense: he is a pure individual, not characterized by positive properties which would make him “more” than an ordinary human, i.e., the difference between Christ and other humans is purely virtual – back to Schumann, Christ is, at the level of actuality, the same as other humans, only the unwritten “virtual melody” that accompanies him is added. And in the Holy Spirit, we get this “virtual melody” in its own: the Holy Spirit is a collective field of pure virtuality, with no causal power of its own. Christ’s death and resurrection is the death of the actual person which confronts us directly with the (“resurrected”) virtual field that sustained it. The Christian name for this virtual force is “love”: when Christ says to his worried followers after his death “when there will be love between two of you, I will be there,” he thereby asserts his virtual status.

Deleuzian repetition “is not an objective fact but an act – a form of behavior towards that which cannot be repeated” (JW-33). This is why there is asymmetry between the two levels – actuality of facts and virtuality of pure differences – is radical: not only does the repetition of pure differences underlie all actual identities (as we have seen in the case of Schumann), i.e., not only do we encounter pure virtual difference at its purest in actual identity; it is also that “the repetition of actual identities is disguised in any determinate idea of pure differences” (JW-28): there is no “pure” difference outside actuality, the virtual sphere of differences only persists-insists as a shadow accompanying actual identities and their interactions. Again, as in the case of Billy Bathgate the virtual specter (“Idea”) of the true novel arises only through actual repetition of the actual novel in the film.

The starting point of Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism” is that there is always a hidden virtual aspect to any given determined/actual object or process: actual things are not ontologically “complete”; in order to get a complete view of them, we must add to it its virtual supplement. This move from an actual given thing to its virtual conditions is the transcendental move, the deployment of the transcendental conditions of the given. However, this does not mean that the virtual somehow produces, causes, or generates, the actual: when Deleuze talks about genesis (of the actual out of the virtual), he does not mean temporal-evolutionary genesis, the process of spatio-temporal becoming of a thing, but a “genesis without dynamism, evolving necessarily in the element of a supra-historicity, a static genesis” (DR-183). This static character of the virtual field finds its most radical expression in Deleuze’s notion of a pure past: not the past into which things present pass, but an absolute past “where all events, including those that have sunk without trace, are stored and remembered as their passing away” (JW-94), a virtual past which already contains also things which are still present (a present can become past because in a way it is already, it can perceive itself as part of the past (“what we are doing now is (will have been) history”): “It is with respect to the pure element of the past, understood as the past in general, as an a priori past, that a given former present is reproducible and the present present is able to reflect itself.” (DR-81) Does this mean that this pure past involves a thoroughly deterministic notion of the universe in which everything to happen (to come), all actual spatio-temporal deployment, is already part of an immemorial/atemporal virtual network? No, and for a very precise reason: because “the pure past must be all the past but must also be amenable to change through the occurrence of any new present” (JW-96). It was none other than T.S. Eliot, this great conservative, who first clearly formulated this link between our dependence on tradition and our power to change the past: tradition cannot be inherited, and, if you want it, you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. [12]

When Eliot writes that, when judging a living poet, “you must set him among the dead,” he formulates precisely an example of Deleuze’s pure past. And when he writes that “the existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted,” he no less clearly formulates the paradoxical link between the completeness of the past and our capacity to change it retroactively: precisely because the pure past is complete, each new work re-arranges its entire balance. Recall Borges’ precise formulation of the relationship between Kafka and the multitude of his precursors, from old Chinese authors to Robert Browning: “Kafka’s idiosyncrasy, in greater or lesser degree, is present in each of these writings, but if Kafka had not written we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not exist. /…/ each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” [13] The properly dialectical solution of the dilemma of “Is it really there, in the source, or did we only read it into the source?” is thus: it is there, but we can only perceive and state this retroactively, from today’s perspective.

Here, Peter Hallward falls short in his otherwise excellent Out of This World, where he stresses only the aspect of the pure past as the virtual field in which the fate of all actual events is sealed in advance, since “everything is already written” in it. At this point where we view reality sub specie aeternitatis, absolute freedom coincides with absolute necessity and its pure automatism: to be free means to let oneself freely flow in/with the substantial necessity. This topic reverberates even in today’s cognitivist debates on the problem of free will. Compatibilists like Daniel Dennett have an elegant solution to the incompatibilists’ complaints about determinism (see Dennett’s Freedom Evolves): when incompatibilists complain that our freedom cannot be combined with the fact that all our acts are part of the great chain of natural determinism, they secretly make an unwarranted ontological assumption: first, they assume that we (the Self, the free agent) somehow stand OUTSIDE reality, and then go to complain how they feel oppressed by the notion that reality with its determinism controls them totally. This is what is wrong with the notion of us being “imprisoned” by the chains of the natural determinism: we thereby obfuscate the fact that we are PART OF reality, that the (possible, local) conflict between our “free” striving and external reality resisting to it is a conflict inherent to reality itself. That is to say, there is nothing “oppressive” or “constraining” about the fact that our innermost strivings are (pre)determined: when we feel thwarted in our freedom by the constraining pressure of external reality, there must be something in us, some desires, strivings, which are thus thwarted, and where should these strivings come if not from this same reality? Our “free will” does not in some mysterious way “disturb the natural course of things,” it is part and parcel of this course. For us to be “truly” and “radically” free, this would entail that there would be no positive content we would want to impose as our free act – if we want nothing “external” and particular/given to determine our behavior, then “this would involve being free of every part of ourselves”(Fearn 24). When a determinist claims that our free choice is “determined,” this does not mean that our free will is somehow constrained, that we are forced to act AGAINST our free will – what is “determined” is the very thing that we want to do “freely,” i.e., without being thwarted by external obstacles. – So, back to Hallward: while he is right to emphasize that, for Deleuze, freedom “isn’t a matter of human liberty but of liberation from humanity” (139), of fully submerging oneself into the creative flux of the absolute Life, his political conclusion from this seems too fast:

The immediate political implication of such a position /…/ is clear enough: since a free mode or monad is simply one that has eliminated its resistance to the sovereign will that works through it, so then it follows that the more absolute the sovereign’s power, the more ‘free’ are those subject to it. (139)

But does Hallward not ignore the retroactive movement on which Deleuze also insists, i.e., how this eternal pure past which fully determines us is itself subjected to retroactive change? We are thus simultaneously less free and more free than we think: we are thoroughly passive, determined by and dependent on the past, but we have the freedom to define the scope of this determination, i.e., to (over)determine the past which will determine us. Deleuze is here unexpectedly close to Kant, for whom I am determined by causes, but I (can) retroactively determine which causes will determine me: we, subjects, are passively affected by pathological objects and motivations; but, in a reflexive way, we ourselves have the minimal power to accept (or reject) being affected in this way, i.e., we retroactively determine the causes allowed to determine us, or, at least, the MODE of this linear determination. “Freedom” is thus inherently retroactive: at its most elementary, it is not simply a free act which, out of nowhere, starts a new causal link, but a retroactive act of endorsing which link/sequence of necessities will determine me. Here, one should add a Hegelian twist to Spinoza: freedom is not simply “recognized/known necessity”, but recognized/assumed necessity, the necessity constituted/actualized through this recognition. So when Deleuze refers to Proust’s description of Vinteuil’s music that haunts Swann – “as if the performers not so much played the little phrase as executed the rites necessary for it to appear” -, he is evoking the necessary illusion: generating the sense-event is experienced as ritualistic evocation of a pree-existing event, as if the event was already there, waiting for our call in its virtual presence.

What directly resonates in this topic is, of course, the Protestant motif of predestination: far from being a reactionary theological motif, predestination is a key element of the materialist theory of sense, on condition that we read it along the lines of the Deleuzian opposition between the virtual and the actual. That is to say, predestination does not mean that our fate is sealed in an actual text existng from eternity in the divine mind; the texture which predestines us belonmgs to the purely virtual eternal past which, as such, can be retroactively rewritten by our act. This, perhaps, would have been the ultimate meaning of the singularity Christ’s incarnation: it is an ACT which radically changes our destiny. Prior to Christ, we were determined by Fate, caught in the cycle of sin and its payment, while Christ’s erasing of our past sins means precisely that his sacrifice changes our virtual past andf thus sets us free. When Deleuze writes that Èmy wound existed before me; I was born to embody it,Ç does this variation on the theme of the Cheshire cat and its smile from Alice in Wonderland (the cat was born to embody its smile) not provide a perfect formula of Christ’s sacrifice: Christ was born to embody his wound, to be crucified? The problem is the literal teleological reading of this proposition: as if the actual deeds of a person merely actualize its atemporal-eternal fate inscribed in its virtual idea:

Caesar’s only real task is to become worthy of the events he has been created to embody. Amor fati. What Caesar actually does adds nothing to what he virtually is. When Caesar actually crosses the Rubicon this involves no deliberation or choice since it is simply part of the entire, immediate expression of Caesarness, it simply unrolls or ‘unfolds something that was encompassed for all times in the notion of Caesar. (Hallward 54)

However, what about the retroactivity of a gesture which (re)constitutes this past itself? This, perhaps, is the most succinct definition of what an authentic ACT is: in our ordinary activity, we effectively justy follow the (virtual-fantasmatic) coordinates of our identity, while an act proper is the paradox of an actual move which (retroactively) changes the very virtual ÈtranscendentalÇ coordinates of its agent’s being – or, in Freudian terms, which does not only change the actuality of our world, but also “moves its underground”. We have thus a kind of reflexive “folding back of the condition onto the given it was the condition for” (JW-109): while the pure past is the transcendental condition for our acts, our acts do not only create new actual reality, they also retroactively change this very condition. This brings us to the central problem of Deleuze’s ontology: how are the virtual and the actual related? “Actual things express Ideas but are not caused by them.”(JW-200) The notion of causality is limited to the interaction of actual things and processes; on the other hand, this interaction also causes virtual entities (sense, Ideas): Deleuze is not an idealist, Sense is for him always an ineffective sterile shadow accompanying actual things. What this means is that, for Deleuze, (transcendental) genesis and causality are totally opposed: they move at different levels:

Actual things have an identity, but virtual ones do not, they are pure variations. An actual thing must change – become something different – in order to express something. Whereas, the expressed virtual thing does not change – only its relation to other virtual things, other intensities and Ideas changes. (JW-200)

How does this relation change? Only through the changes in actual things which express Ideas, since the entire generative power lies in actual things: Ideas belong to the domain of Sense which is “only a vapor which plays at the limit of things and words”; as such, Sense is “the Ineffectual, a sterile incorporeal deprived of its generative powers” (DR-156). Think about a group of dedicated individuals fighting for the Idea of Communism: in order to grasp their activity, we have to take into account the virtual Idea. But this Idea is in itself sterile, has no proper causality: all causality lies in the individuals who “express” it.

The gist of Deleuze’s critique of Aristotle, of his notion of specific difference, is that it privileged difference to identity: specific difference always presupposes the identity of a genre in which opposed species co-exist. However, what about the “Hegelian complication” here? What about a specific difference which defines the genre itself, a difference of species which coincides with the difference between genus and species, thus reducing the genus itself to one of its species?

Bodies without organs, organs without bodies: as Deleuze emphasizes, what he is fighting against are not organs but ORGANISM, the articulation of a body into a hierarchic-harmonious Whole of organs, each “at its place,” with its function: “the BwO is in no way the contrary of the organs. Its enemies are not organs. The enemy is the organism.” [14] He is fighting corporatism/organicism. For him, Spinoza’s substance is the ultimate BwO: the non-hierarchic space in which a chaotic multitude (of organs?), all equal (univocity of being), float… Nonetheless, there is a strategic choice made here: why BwO, why not (also) OwB? Why not Body as the space in which autonomous organs freely float? Is it because “organs” evoke a function within a wider Whole, subordination to a goal? But does this very fact not make their autonomization, OwB, all the more subversive?


[1] Jacques-Alain Miller, “Detached Pieces,” lacanian ink 28, Fall 2007, p. 37.

[2] Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997, p. 6.

[3] Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1988.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, Cambridge: Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 185-6.

[5] Peter Hallward, Out of This World, London: Verso, 2006, p. 142.

[6] Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIII: Le sinthome, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2005.

[7] James Williams, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: a Critical Introduction and Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2003, p. 27.

[8] Henri Bergson, Oeuvres, Paris: PUF, 1991, p. 1110-1111.

[9] Bergson, ibid.

[10] Bergson, ibid.

[11] One of the few historians ready to confront this excruciating tension is Sheila Fitzpatrick, who pointed out that the year 1928 was a shattering turning point, a true second revolution, not any kind of “Thermidor,” but rather the consequent radicalization of the October Revolution. See Stalinism. New Directions, ed. by Sheila Fitzpatrick, London: Routledge, 2001.

[12] T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” originally published in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, (1922).

[13] Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions: 1937-52, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966, p. 113.

[14] Gilles Deleuze – Felix Guattari, Mille plateaux, Paris: Les editions de Minuit, 1980, p. 196.

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Timothy Lachin

Author’s Bio

Translated by Asunción Alvarez, the article was first dictated in Buenos Aires and published by the Freudian Field the year 1983. This version is from CONFERENCIAS PORTEÑAS where it has been re-published in 2009.


I am delighted to be back in Buenos Aires, in this Teatro Hebraica, where I first gave a seminar with Eric Laurent back in September 1981. It’s been two years already, but since then contact between the local analytic community and ours has been uninterrupted. In February 1982 some members of the Argentinean Lacanian psychoanalytic community traveled to Paris to attend the 2nd Meeting of the Freudian Field. Both their presence and their papers left a very strong impression among the Paris and French analysts who listened to them. I believe that in 1984 a hundred French analysts will come to Buenos Aires to take part in the 3rd International Meeting, which we are now preparing.

Lacanianism – as it is called – is a discourse that has consequences for analytic practice; and this will be precisely the topic of the 3rd Meeting.

Some people take Lacan’s work as a discourse with no consequences. We know who those people are. They are – it can now be said – those belonging to that international organization that calls itself the IPA. Now, in the IPA, they are all Lacanians; they are still in the beginning, but this is something that will eventually develop.

The symptom/fantasm opposition

Our common ambition – in Paris, in Buenos Aires, and in some other places too – is to prove that there is no psychoanalytic clinic without an ethics.

I will elaborate a bit on this topic, as an introduction to the topic of this seminar: “Two clinical dimensions: symptom and fantasm”. But, as an introduction to that introduction, I would like to first say something about my own path in the field of psychoanalysis, about a place which has changed for me in recent years. A place which now is that of someone who practices psychoanalysis practically every day, as he sometimes practices on Sundays too. I will not speak for long, and will only give a summary of that path, for it is hard to focus on your own place, your own novelty within psychoanalysis.

The question is whether we Lacanians are condemned to repeat Lacan’s discourse or not. And, if we wish not to repeat it, how can we invent? There is one way of inventing and that is delusion. In a certain way, there is a delusional component in knowledge. The only question is knowing whether others share your own delusion, and whether that delusion of knowledge can be used by others.

This has been my attempt since last year where in Paris I proposed the clinical division between symptom and fantasm as essential to the direction of the cure. As I will try to prove, this division stems both from my reading of Freud and Lacan, and from my analytical practice.

I would say that the path that led me to this question began in Caracas in 1980, in a meeting where Dr Lacan gave his last public seminar. My paper then had for me an inaugural nature, for it was there that I started a certain amendment of the reading of Lacan that we might regard as the standard, received reading. My idea was to stress that it is a mistake to suppose – as it used to be supposed – that Lacan’s teaching follows from the proposition by which everything would be a signifier. For Lacan, not everything is a signifier.

In Lacan’s own view, his discovery was not that the unconscious is structured like a language. That was his starting point and the Archimedean point that he found to support the lever with which he raised Freud’s teaching. It is true that this point is not formulated in his teaching and that it is external to the whole of his sayings, but from Lacan’s point of view, it is a formulation that follows immediately as a conclusion thereof.

It was the object a, on the other hand, that Lacan regarded as his discovery in psychoanalysis, and its status requires taking as a starting point, the fact that in the field of psychoanalytical experience not everything is a signifier. When I said this in Caracas in 1980, I stressed the existence of a cut in Lacan’s teaching, and pointed out that the same terms, the same concepts, don’t have the same value before and after, on one side or the other of that cut. For example, something that Diana Rabinovich will elaborate in her part of this seminar, the definition of the ego (moi) cannot be the same before and after the discovery of the object a as such. And the same thing happens with interpretation and transference.

On the basis of the statement I made in my Caracas paper, I gave a course in 1981-1982 in Paris to basically show the generalized mistake of taking Lacan’s “The agency of the letter” as the interpretative principle for his teaching. But I also think that the easiest and most common entry to Lacan’s teaching was regarding metaphor and metonymy as his universal key. This is a similar phenomenon to the one that took place when analysts fromEgo Psychology (Kris, Loewenstein, and Hartmann) decided to take “The Ego and the Id” as the text from which to reinterpret the entirety of Freud’s work. Actually, they didn’t care much for reinterpreting all of Freud’s work, either – rather, they amputated from it everything that didn’t fit in with “The Ego and the Id”. I have studied the princeps text of the current New York psychoanalytic orthodoxy, written by two gentlemen who lord over it there and whose names are Jacob Arlow and Charles Brenner. To begin with, they expound what they call Freud’s first theory, his first topology, and the “unconscious” vs. “preconscious-conscious” opposition. Then they expound what they call the structural theory of ego, id, and superego. Finally, they state that both theories are incompatible and that the one that best suits analytical practice is the latter. I am not exaggerating – you only have to read the book – I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they don’t care in the least about what Freud’s path might have been and what he was seeking.

With “The agency of the letter”, I would say that people turned deaf to a whole aspect of Lacan’s teaching. Two years ago, I wanted to show that scansion, as well as the direction, from my point of view, of Lacan’s path. I wanted to show to what extent he would think against himself on the basis of a large part of his teaching, and how he would amend and further make precise this topic that leads me to the division between symptom and fantasm.

I took up the question last year, in Paris, in the Freudian Field meeting, where I entitled my paper “Clinic under transference”, in which I opposed those two notions against each other once again. I will quickly sum up that paper. I took as my starting point Lacan’s definition of the end of analysis in terms of the crossing of the fantasm, and I wondered what the corresponding correlative for the symptom might be. For it makes no sense to talk about “crossing the symptom”; and we shouldn’t forget that Lacan linked the end of analysis to the fantasm, not to the symptom.

If we now take into account the fact that a term only derives its meaning from its being chosen from among many other possible terms – and I’m just referring here to the relevant structuralist thesis – it is undeniable that Lacan deals with the question of the end of analysis in terms of fantasm, not of symptom. This is something that must be specified. Why? What is this about?

Given that the basis for Lacan’s definition of the end of analysis is the fantasm, it would be interesting to wonder whether, on the contrary, entry into analysis is particularly linked to the symptom. In that paper, I tried to describe that aspect of the symptom that concerns the entry into analysis as what is precipitated in its formalization.

The opposition between symptom and fantasm is an opposition between signifier and object, inasmuch as what prevails in the symptom is its signifying articulation. There is also an involvement of the object in the symptom, but, for the time being, as general reference points, we can hold onto these two: for the symptom, its signifying articulation and its prevalence in the entry into analysis; for the fantasm, the prevalence of the object and the fact that it is what is at play at the end of analysis. This opposition between symptom and fantasm also comes from my experience as an analyzand. It gave me the chance to reflect on my experience from that side of analysis.

Finally, I took up again this question in my 1982-1983 seminar, the precise title being: “From the symptom to the fantasm and back”. As you can see, this opposition that I am putting forward is, I believe, a key opposition. Much can be gained from rereading Freud and Lacan and rearranging things on the basis of this rereading. I believe it is also important to rectify the clinical orientation taken by the work in the School of the Freudian Cause in the two years following Lacan’s death.

A book has been recently published in France which is meant to present in two volumes the entire history of psychoanalysis all over the world, country by country. In the last part of the presentation of psychoanalysis in France, it attributes me of having stressed the clinic. I will not deny this. It certainly seemed to me, after Lacan’s death, that in previous years in Paris there had been a period that lacked all orientation. This was a period in the Paris Freudian School in which nobody knew what to do with Lacan’s teaching. In particular, it seemed to me that indeed, we should return to the clinic. And this notion was quite widely accepted in Paris. Those who had been trained by Lacan were able to talk about cases, and on the basis of that training or even on the basis of reading Lacan’s work, they were able to talk about cases more precisely or better than others. I am thus very happy about the effect produced by that return to the clinic, but, as with any good thing, it also had a detrimental effect, which consisted in a certain return to the clinical picture. That is, the return to something that generally amounts to forgetting – as happens in psychiatry or psychology – that the analyst is also in the picture, and that, in addition, it is him or her who painted this picture. Hence it is necessary not to reduce the clinic to the symptom, and uphold its difference by means of the fantasm, in order to remind us that our clinic operates under transference, and cannot lack an ethics. For however singular it may seem, it is the fantasm that leads us to the ethical dimension of psychoanalysis.

Thus it is understandable that Lacan’s text on what could be quickly called the fantasmization of the Marquis de Sade talks precisely about Kant and his ethics. This is easy to understand if we ask the following question: What problem is introduced by the symptom? A therapeutic problem – the question of its cure. That is why we talk about the “lifting of the symptom” or “disappearance of the symptom”, and everyone understands what we are talking about. But precisely, if Lacan talks about the “crossing of the fantasm”, it is in order not to talk about the “lifting or disappearance of the fantasm”. In the case of the fantasm, the question is rather, mostly, to see what is behind, which is difficult, because there is nothing behind. Nonetheless, this is a nothing that can take various guises, and the crossing of the fantasm amounts to taking a walk on the side of those nothings. There is nothing better, even for one’s health, than to take a walk on the side of nothing, but I should also confess that nothing forces one to do so. That is why, at this point, what is called “the analyst’s desire” is necessary. The definite article in this expression is deceiving, because it is not a question of the desire of every analyst, but the desire of the analyst as such, the desire of this or that analyst, the desire of an actual analyst, the desire of each one of us who practice analysis. This is not compulsory, for the analyst can perfectly well limit him or herself to his or her therapeutic desire, that is, to the doctor’s desire.

What is a doctor, a therapist? It is someone who in a way fits Lacan’s definition of the master: someone who wants things to work, to work at the level of the individual he or she is faced with. Historically, many correlations have been established between the optimal functioning of the body and the functioning of political society, and metaphors are swapped between the living body and the social body.

However, things working well goes absolutely against the fantasm, and in this sense so does the doctor. I would even say that the symptom, as a formation of the unconscious, must be linked to the master’s discourse. And I would point out that for Lacan entry into analysis is properly modeled on what would be later be the schema for this discourse, the representation of the subject by the signifier:


By contrast, it is the structure of the fantasm and the end of analysis that is privileged in analytical discourse:


We could also say that what is proper to analysis is true beyond the clinic, and this is the sense that can be given to the formula “no clinic without ethics”. It is the analyst’s task, to begin with, to stress his or her wish or desire. What do you want? is the question proper to desire, and when we say “no clinic without ethics”, this question is posed to the analyst him or herself. The analyst is asked: what do you want to obtain? It may be that the analyst wants to obtain subjects who fit the order of the world or who get on with the master. Or the analyst may want to obtain a repairing effect, for example, in the sense the cars are repaired. All of which has consequences for the patient.

There is a part of the analyst’s experience and practice which consists in calming and tempering the patient. When they are panicked or anxious there is an impulse to calm them, reassure them, give them some serenity. But this is not all that analysis is. I could talk about those cases that our friends in the U.S. call borderline. These are cases which for the most part have nothing to do with psychosis and are really clearly hysterical subjects. Sometimes it takes a year to lead a clear hysteric to what might be called normal behavior. It is not ideal, for example, for the hysteric to take off his or her shoes and walk barefooted around the office. It is also not ideal for free association for the hysteric to stare at each of the objects in the office in order to check that they are still there, that they remain the same, that they have not changed places. It is not ideal that the hysteric wants to go on with the session once it is over. And it is over with some difficulty, for adhesion to one’s own discourse is also a hysterical trait. All of this sometimes forces the analyst to take the hysteric to the waiting room so that he or she may have another session. And there are also those times when the analyst has to chase the hysteric all the way down the street because he or she left before the session ended.

I don’t regard these as borderline cases, but rather as cases of hysteria. They can be gradually led to regularity. To our “bureaucratic” regularity, as the hysteric rightly says, after some protest. Some effects may be achieved, such as a hysterical patient being able to remember a fateful sentence pronounced by her mother, who told her that she was like a pair of too-small shoes; it felt good to take them off. It took a year for this case to enter the norm of the device, and for this person to start to work. Even for her to start paying regularly. Sometimes these patients must be given credit for quite some time. Then it was necessary to make her pay in cash, in order for her to find, after all that “dance”, as she called it, her reference point in the analyst. After a year then and despite its precariousness, the result was satisfactory. In a way, she adapted to society, to the struggle for life, and she is able to make her way through life. For our friends in the United States, some time would still be required in order for her to get married, have children, etc. Thus, the ethical question for the analyst amounts to deciding the point at which analysis starts, that is, has not ended.

Precisely at the point when one might regard it as over is when analysis really starts. It starts beyond the patient’s alleged well-being and beyond the point when the patient starts to feel good about him or herself. It is also here that the analyst has a weighty responsibility. For going beyond that point of alleged well-being means breaking off with all the ideals common to our universal society, because the ethics proper to psychoanalysis means taking on values that are strictly unacceptable for any constituted power. That’s why we shouldn’t talk too much about this. If we placed too much emphasis on the question of what lies beyond well-being and the cure of the symptom, we might even be regarded as very suspicious for public security. But we can talk about that among ourselves.

Analysis presents itself, with regard to social norms, as having a certain “asocial” nature. This “asocial” aspect really corresponds – and herein lies Lacan’s extraordinary effort, his joke – to another kind of social link: psychoanalytic discourse. It is a joke, because the extension of that alleged social link is tiny by comparison to the extension of the universal social link. Thus Lacan removed the “asocial” element of analysis by defining it as another social link… This is a wager that must be shown to be right.. Thus it turns out that there is something subversive about the analyst, inasmuch as he or she aims at something that lies beyond well-being; and that is the same subversion that Lacan finds in Kant with regard to the fantasm. This is what is attained when the social link is directly attacked.

“No clinic without ethics” can also be judged by the way in which one accepts or is not a demand for analysis. Because, as Lacan says, those who enter analysis are always innocent. Which is to say that it is the analyst that is guilty. Those who enter are innocent because they don’t know that the true end of analysis is subjective destitution – something that, funnily enough, looks like personality development even though it is something different.

Finally, and before I move on to the clinical phenomenology of symptom and fantasm, I must add that the expression “no clinic without ethics” also concerns the analytic group. For the analytic group must conform to the ethical demands of practice. In this way, it’s useless to try and transpose Lacan’s clinic to a group that has no ethics. Indeed, I believe that the IPA is a group without an ethics, because it was created and is maintained in order to be blind to that beyond which we were referring. Of course, claiming that the IPA is a group without an ethics is not say that it is a group without morals. They do have morals, generally the master’s morals. They also have, for example, the idea of absorbing Lacan’s work after amputating its ethics. From the beginning of our contact with them through the Foundation of the Freudian Field, our aim has been to prevent that absorption of Lacan without his ethics. In order to do so, criticizing the IPA, by the way, is not enough. We must also establish that the question of the group, not only in France but in all countries where there are people who practice psychoanalysis from the point of view of Lacan’s teaching, is an open question. None of us has an answer.

Phenomenology of the Analytic Experience

After this introduction, I will now take up the clinical question of the symptom and the fantasm on the level of the more concrete phenomenology of our experience. This is not easy, because on this plane any other analyst might believe that things are not so. This is the simplest level because it does not go beyond what can be seen and heard from the patient, but it is also the riskiest. I will take a risk, then, but will carry a parachute, as I already talked about this last year in Paris. Let us see if other conceptions appear on this first level.

It seems to me that the analytic experience teaches us that the patient, when it comes to his or her symptom, talks, and talks a lot. I say that he or she talks about his or her symptom in the singular because of its formalization at the beginning of the analysis. And he or she talks to complain about it. That is the reason why the patient is starting analysis.

As for the fantasm, on the other hand, the situation is completely different. Usually, the patient does not complain about his or her fantasm. On the contrary, we can say that he or she derives pleasure from it. This is an observation that any analyst can make, a very simple observation, but enough to locate the symptom and the fantasm on two different regions: that of displeasure and that of pleasure. Displeasure of the symptom. Pleasure of the fantasm. With regard to this first distribution, a small objection might be raised concerning the ambiguous term that is obsession. Obsession is a symptom but it can also appear as a fantasm. We will talk about this later on.

It seems to me then, and even though we don’t realize it, that our clinic works in the way that I have just described. And that we can rightly say that the patient finds a resort against his or her symptom, in his or her fantasm, a comfort. The fantasm has a comforting function which was remarked upon by Freud, who introduced the fantasm into psychoanalysis as an imaginary product that the subject can resort to more or less frequently. Freud called it the “daydream”, and under this form the fantasm burst into analytic discourse. References to it are well-known.

In Freud and Breuer’s Studies on Hysteria, it is not hard to notice when the now famous Anna O. is talking about her private theatre, about the link between the fantasm and that comforting function. There is also a link between the fantasm and what can be called the philosophical comfort par excellence: masturbation. When we read the text that is the analytic paradigm of the fantasm, “A Child is Beaten”, we see that Freud opens the paper by showing the relation between the fantasm and masturbatory satisfaction. This satisfaction is a “phallic enjoyment”, a term that refers to a jouissance other than the “jouissance of the Other”. If there is a place that is the difference between both, it is in this practice of masturbation. What is masturbation but a jouissance without an Other? Without an Other body? Let us clarify, in this respect, that this satisfaction is available both to men and to women, and that women are not linked only to the jouissance of the Other, but they also have a relation to phallic enjoyment.

Summing up: from Freud’s first consideration of it, the fantasm appears as something that seems to bring pleasure to the subject, whereas the symptom, by contrast, brings him or her displeasure.

However, going on with this immediate description of the experience in question, we come across another inversion between symptom and fantasm, namely: the subject talks, a lot, about his or her symptoms, but when it comes to his or her fantasms there is a strong reticence. The subject may be prolix in his or her description of his or her dreams, enjoy his or her own slips of the tongue, believe that he or she is amusing the analyst and enjoy his or her own jokes. But as for the fantasm – nothing. Wordless. An obsessive, for instance, with various inhibitions, has no inhibitions about talking about them in analysis. On the contrary! If allowed, he or she will talk about them for hours on end. His or her fantasm, on the other hand, can be one of the best concealed things in the world. I have had analysands who had said nothing about their fantasms in previous analyses, even if they had lasted for seven, nine, or ten years. Freud also points out, in a 1907 short talk called “The Poet and Fantasy”, that the fantasm seems to be the subject’s treasure and most intimate property. And this is not the case with the symptom at all.

How could we account for such an acute clinical difference? To begin with, we can consider the existence of a shame of the fantasm. Generally speaking, the neurotic is ashamed of his or her fantasm because it contradicts his or her moral values. Generally speaking, the neurotic takes the content of his or her fantasm from the discourse of perversion, as claimed by Freud and Lacan, and which we can also observe in our experience. The fact that a neurotic has perverse fantasms does not mean that he or she is a pervert. An obsessive, for instance, who obtains his or her fantasm from the discourse of perversion, takes it from the field of a jouissance that is not his or her own, and generally, stays at a certain distance and keeps a margin of security with respect to the fantasms taken from the discourse of perversion. Thus we find an explanation of the dimension of shame that surrounds the fantasm. For example, in analysis we often find feminist women with masochistic fantasms which they don’t know how to handle because this contradict their ideal. Sometimes this brings them great suffering. We can also find humanistic men whose fantasms are particularly aggressive.

How clearly is the split of the subject already made manifest in this first immediate level of experience! And how hard it is to uphold the notion of a synthetic personality when this dichotomy is taken into account!

But inasmuch as we have referred to the subject’s moral values, we must now be even more accurate with regard to this question and say clearly that the fantasmatic component is not in harmony with the rest of the neurosis. This, a formalization of Lacan’s, is something that Freud says very clearly at the end of the second part of “A Child is Beaten”. He says that one of those observations which the analyst would rather not remember must be made, namely, that the fantasm remains distinct from the rest of the content of a neurosis. This is what I am picking up now: the fantasm is elsewhere, somewhere other than the rest of the symptoms; and in the direction of the cure, we must take into account the idea that the field in which the analytic experience takes place is not a unified field. The symptom and the fantasm are located in different places.

I will demonstrate in the rest of the seminar that in this way some of Lacan’s mathemes and many of his sayings can be given sense, and this difference is essential in providing a framework for the clinic. We have seen that the fantasm as something that allows the subject to derive pleasure, is a strictly Freudian idea. This being so, it seems to me that it is a strictly Lacanian hypothesis that the fantasm is like a machine for turning jouissance into pleasure. Like a machine, shall we say, for taming jouissance, for due to its own movement, jouissance is not aimed at pleasure but at displeasure. This was one of the topics of my lectures here two years ago. There is also a Freudian line of research which can be found in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Beyond this principle lies a dimension of jouissance, and the fantasm appears as a means for its articulation with that corresponding to the pleasure principle. This is what can be observed in the function of the famous Fort-Da game that Freud introduces in that text in which the subject dominates a situation and learns to derive pleasure from it by way of a little device in the game. Fort-Da seems to me to have an exemplary value for our question. It is an emblem of the way in which the fantasm works as a machination to obtain pleasure. Also, in the lecture that I just mentioned, Freud says that if adults don’t play as they used to play when they were children, it is because the fantasm replaces the activity of child’s play in them. In this sense, the fantasm has a similar function to that of play, which is, from a situation both of jouissance and of anxiety, that of giving pleasure. Let us remember that the necessary condition for Fort-Da is the mother’s absence. It is because that Other left that the child is left in an anxiety-inducing situation from which he obtains pleasure thanks to his playful machination. It is important to remember this absence because it is the Other’s absence that makes the desire for the Other present and evident. On this basis, Lacan builds his formula of the paternal metaphor, for what appears there as the Desire of the Mother is something that takes the place left by the mother’s absence. When she is not there, the child can wonder what her desire is, what it is that she desires. That’s why the Fort-Da child creates that machination when the desire for the Other becomes evident. But what this illustrates can be generalized: the fantasm is a machine that comes into play when desire for the Other is made manifest.

Let us now move on in the description of the differences between symptom and fantasm taking up the question from the point of view of interpretation.

Let us say it straight away: the fundamental fantasm is never interpreted, and in the analytic experience and in the analyst’s function not everything is interpretation. By fundamental fantasm I am referring to what Freud stresses as the second time of the analysis in “A Child is Beaten”, a time about which he says that it never appears in the experience itself as such. And not only because the patient is reluctant to communicate it, but because it is located in such a place that it never appears in experience. It is never really interpreted. Interpretation is fundamentally the interpretation of symptoms.

My thesis can be said to be the following: interpretation is never that of the fundamental fantasm. The fundamental fantasm is not an object for interpretation by the analyst, but an object for construction. It is hard to put things like this, and at the beginning of my course last year it seemed to me even harder because no one had put it quite that way. We must be careful when we introduce this kind of distinction to an audience of analysts, but I think it is worth risking because I presuppose a certain level of common experiences in them. Moreover, it is interesting to see that Freud also said this, although in a less obvious way, in “A Child Is Beaten”.

Finally, and to wrap up the establishment of the difference between symptom and fantasm for the time being, I will say that it illustrates in the most evident way the corresponding analytic literature. Let us point out that when it comes to symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, Freudian slips, and generally the entire field of what Lacan calls the “formations of the unconscious”, we come across books, books, and more books. Only that already in Freud we have The Interpretation of Dreams, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, etc.

But not many books have been written on the basis of a great variety of fantasms, a fact which is worth reflecting upon. Can a collection of fantasms be imagined if their paradigm is a sentence such as “a child is beaten”? A list of sentences of this kind does not a book make. It is the case that, unlike the formations of the unconscious, in Freud’s first discovery, which constitute such a fun dimension of psychoanalysis that everyone has been passionate about for the last eighty years, there is a monotony of the fantasm.

What helps one to see this is an exceptional literary work, built in its entirety around the fantasm, and thus of a great monotony: that of the Marquis de Sade. That is why it was taken up by Lacan in his seminar text on the fantasm, in “Kant With Sade”. Sade’s oeuvre is not much fun, and maybe it remained an object of interest for two centuries because it was very hard to find. As Lacan says, these were books which were kept in second rank in libraries, while Thomas Aquinas’s work was prominent in the first rank. There are no jokes in Sade’s work, which is not based on the structure of the symptom, but on what might be called the “monotony of the fantasmatic instant”. The 120 Days of Sodom are one hundred and twenty days devoted to the same fantasm. It’s not very entertaining, for the same reason that it is not very entertaining to tell the same joke for one hundred and twenty days. What we have here, then, is a good example of the difference between the fantasm and the formations of the unconscious.

At first, one can simply talk about “fantasms” or “fantasmization” with a rich wealth of characters. But the distillation of those fantasms is precisely a construction effect proper to psychoanalysis, in which case we are getting close to formulas of a simplicity similar to that offered by Freud in “A Child Is Beatern”. At first, then, and like in The 120 Days of Sodom, we come across an entire world of characters and situations that justify the term used by Lacan to refer to this dimension: “the fantasm jungle”. But through analysis, all this is gradually cleared towards a formalization, a simplification, a sort of singularization, if I may say so, of the fantasm.

In the text I just mentioned, Lacan refers to an entire oeuvre, Sade’s, which has hundreds of characters. But he provides a formula for Sade’s fantasm which is merely something like this:


This is the distilled fantasm. The fundamental fantasm is a limit point in analysis, and one can have undergone analysis without having come before it.

The term “fantasm” is on the other hand, as a variable scope, and in a way everything can seem to be a fantasm. We can say that a subject’s very behavior is a display of his or her symptoms, and at the same time we can use the term to refer to that limit point I just mentioned. We could decide to use different words, claiming that such diverging senses are deceiving, and yet it is precisely the equivocation and plasticity of the term that allow us to cross entire analytic fields by means of it. We can see this in commonly used books, such as Laplanche and Pontalis’s dictionary of psychoanalysis. You can find there the things they learnt with Lacan, for example, the fact that there is a use of the term “fantasm” that corresponds to the “daydream”, that is to say, to its conscious presence, which Freud preserves nonetheless when it comes to its unconscious dimension. This plasticity is necessary in practice because, should we wish to directly locate the fundamental fantasm, we would lack all references. Freud also builds this point on the basis of what the subject communicates.

Even though I will later take this up in a more precise manner, I will now quickly say that the fundamental fantasm corresponds to Urverdrängung. It is correlative to that part of what undergoes repression that will never come to light. Freud points this out in “Inhibition, Symptom, and Anxiety”, when he claims that there is an original repression that has no content or anything that cannot be said, but rather there is always a further repression, there will always be a further signifier that may come. My thesis this year, in my course, was precisely that the fundamental fantasm corresponds to original repression.

What one can expect at the end of analysis is a change in the subject’s relation to that fundamental fantasm. The limit point of analysis. But before that, we must articulate in greater detail what appears to us first on a phenomenological level, because it is here that analysts can agree both as to their experience and as to their reference to Freud. We must build more, give more sense and weight, and further articulate the facts in the analytic experience, because there aren’t quite so many. That’s why, when there are facts, we must love them, protect them, and build things upon them.

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Thoughts about the current forms of the impossible to teach
Éric Laurent

Author’s Bio

Laurent read this paper at a conference that was given in Tours, September 11th, 1999.
This article was translated by Marcus A.K. Andersson.

Entering immediately into the theme of the declensions of love, I would like to note that it is an excellent idea to have chosen this theme for a series of conferences that wants to address itself to everyone who is interested in the consequences of psychoanalysis, in order to see whether psychoanalysis has something to say about the modern status of love, that is, its contemporary status.

We are in a period fecund with changes in love sayings, with a certain embarrassment that makes itself felt in literature, in the vastest forms of narrative, in cinema or the modern, dependent forms of narration, all of which fall more or less within the frame of literature. We have a sentiment of embarrassment that is marked by different symptoms. Certain of these are the multiplication or refraction of pre-established clichés about love in literature, and on occasion the literature of our times recycles these clichés in a mechanical manner while maintaining a degree of irony; one could call this point of view postmodern: we no longer believe in modernity or in a solution that can be invented – we simply no longer believe in old solutions, which gives the irony or the citational quality. At the same time, it is an obligatory citation: the difficulty of inventing new figures, and irony: one no longer believes in love stories. Hence the difficulty of escaping the ironic attitude, the “I’m not buying these love issues.” End of ideologies, and the end of love stories as well. At the same time, though, we see the inevitability of this closure.

For example, at the Venise Mostra, one sees the impact that a film like Une liaison pornographique made, in which the author contrasts the title with the fact that the audience never sees, or very rarely sees, the love making implied by the mentioned term (i.e. “pornographic”). Rather, one wants to leave a story that would be uniquely centered on sex, and, of course, one arrives at love, to the special surprise of the boy who – although he was planning to involve himself in the story exclusively by sexual satisfaction – falls into the paradox of love. It is one of the classic clinical phenomena of the obsessional subject who thinks he is keeping his guard up against love at all times but cannot stop mixing himself up in a series of difficulties. And in this respect, the psychoanalytic clinic seized these different paradoxes in other ways than the difficulties of the narration of modern love. It is for this reason that I think it is an excellent question to pose for psychoanalysis: what do you have to say about the disorder of contemporary love? Is psychoanalysis permitted to orient itself towards these questions?

It is an especially good idea to do this at Tours, because Touraine is the ideal region for asking oneself these types of questions; it was, at least, for a good century, when French literature adopted a type of discourse about love that came from Italy, that declined it otherwise. In the 16th century, then, Ronsard didn’t live too far away; Ronsard’s Les Saisons is a good example of how the difficulty of telling love stories declines itself in literature. He wrote love poetry his whole life. Put simply, the century began well, we know this: in the 16th century, people believed that it was going to be beautiful, that the epoch would clear the clouds of scholastic oppression, and then arrived Luther, and then the end of the century and diverse forms of destruction. In Ronsard’s love stories, one sees fortune, man is grateful for fortune, the taste for astrology, the impossibility of calculating a good combination between men and women, themes that occupied him until the end of his life. Touraine is thus a good region to meditate on the manner in which stories of love and great malaise were registered in the very spaces where we have traced them in literature.


But I chose to start, or as an exergue to prepare my conference for today, not with Ronsard but an excerpt from La Rouchefoucauld. Why La Rouchefoucauld, who arrived a century later? He is also an excellent French moralist and the author of a remark that greatly pleased Stendhal, according to which many people would not know what love was if they had not first read about it in love stories. On this theme – namely, love as semblance (semblant), love that is not natural, love as artifice, as convention – there is an acute sentiment of 17th century morality that at the same time refers to a very masculine perspective. To call it masculine is not self-evident. Essentially, it is not until the birth of psychoanalysis that one can say this, and only from the interior of the psychoanalytic discourse. I don’t know if there are people who teach literature at high schools and universities among you, but if there are, you know that you can read all the commentaries you would like on this phrase, and God knows that if there were a small library of them, nothing would be emphasized but the following: it is not a universal point of view, but a perspective of a century, that there is something profoundly masculine about it. And even in the great books, like Les Morales du grand siècle by Paul Benichou, or the book by Robert Mauzi on happiness in the 17th century, you don’t see the opposition between the sexes schematized concerning love.

And in particular, this is a theme that, on the other hand, French feminist authors (who are often excellent professors of letters) or Americans, in a more brutal fashion, have developed. There would be, there is in literature, a dissymmetry with regard to love that could easily support the idea that only women speak of love: this thematic of feminine literature, or the literature of women, written by women, l’écriture feminine, would be centered precisely on the systematic exploration of love, its impasses, its sufferings and it is from this exploration that the invention of a modern form of love most profoundly interrogates itself.

It is corroborated, furthermore, by the fact that Marguerite Duras, for example, made herself a durable name in the country of French literature like a sort of oracle about the forms of love and that which love can give back. We see this across the extremely varied forms of literature she wrote, because she began her career with a piece more or less derivative of the Gidean canon – a canon that profoundly marked French letters – and later entered an experimental period, concluding with a literature at the border of cliché that earned her phenomenal circulation, with her rewriting of The Lover, for example, which was reminiscent of the conversions of Phillipe Sollers, giving to formal literature all the azimuths of a slightly debauched classicism in the most recent novels he has been able to write.

This dissymmetry shows that women speak about love differently than men. But, at the same time, it would be wrong to schematize when one approaches, for example, the conceptions of happiness or love that make a given era: the Renaissance, the Classical Age, as opposed to the 17th and 18th centuries, love in the 19th, etc., and so on.

Freud, the Disparity between Sexes

Psychoanalysis must be able to help identify this disparity, which is our theme today. Because it is a point, straight away with Freud, that psychoanalysis has firmly advanced itself towards and that it has succeeded to maintain as a course, like an acquisition. The point toward which Freud advanced is that there is a profound dissymmetry between the masculine and feminine positions. Freud centered it on teachings that, from the moment when women entered in numbers into psychoanalysis, appeared doubtful for female psychoanalysts.

First, Freud emphasized that anatomy is profoundly dissymmetric. The masculine organ is evident, while the feminine organ is hidden. Freud had first formulated the castration formula by a type of imaginary evidence that is in the order of representation: one does not see what the girls have. Thus the boy’s reasoning is: if there are humans that don’t necessarily have the small appendix that I have, then I can very well lose it. And, thus, the famous regime of terror for the small boy: the menace of castration.

Freud didn’t see it right away. Even in 1909, that is to say ten years after the establishment of psychoanalysis, with little Hans, he considered that if this small five-year-old boy whom he had analyzed had a phobia, he was surely suffering from the castration complex. It was a specific case, and he didn’t generalize it any further. It was after the analysis of Hans that Freud began generalizing the complex of castration for boys as such, claiming that all boys live under castration’s regime of terror, and that there is no medium to avoid it. One can be nice, cute, speak with them about all this, being under no duress to tell them: if you don’t behave, we will cut it off, etc. Even if one uses all this rhetoric to assuage the menace, which will always be present, the child always continue to live with it.

Insofar as Freud generalized this theory, he posed himself the question: and what about girls? It was an additional ten years afterwards, in the 1920s, that he generalized a position for feminine sexuality, where he noted that the significant difference for girls is that they don’t live under the menace of castration, and that they, by consequence, have an active attitude towards the world. In the place of the threat that terrorizes the boy, they have certitude: they don’t have it, thus they must search for it. It is this that helped Freud explain the greater intellectual vivacity of girls, noting the dazed character of boys and the more awakened character of girls during adolescence; the especially lost character, always in adolescence, of boys and the more decided character on the girl’s side—this could moreover hold true for distraction as well.

This opposition creates an asymmetry in love, one side marked by the threat and anguish of castration and the other by the certitude of knowing what it wants, with just one specific threat for the girl: she needs the love of the other, the love of that other from whom she will take what she is missing. Hence the particular menace that marks feminine life: the menace of losing love. This, in effect, installs love on the side of the women in a particular position, dissymmetric with respect to that of the masculine, which is fastened to an object in the presence of anguish.

This antagonism, which positions love in a eminent place, helps us to realize – through the ages, in literature, when women were able to express themselves on these topics – the significance of love when we possess traces of it. However, this leaves a question unanswered, that which Freud formulated in the 30s: “What do women want?” The whole problem is: why did Freud construct this question, since he had apparently found a response: What do women want? –response: they want to be loved. Where, then, is the necessity to maintain an open question? The open question is: what do they want in the realization of amorous life?

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Why It’s Fun Being a Girl: Witnessing Adolescence in Charlie White…
Anne Swartz

Author’s Bio

Translated by Scott Savaino, Badiou’s “The Formulas of l’Étourdit” was first published in lacanian ink 27 – out of print – the Spring of 2006.

Clearly the word “formulas” in the title “The Formulas of l’Étourdit” needs to be heard in two senses. The first is quite obviously as in the mathematical formulas inherent to the expression “formulas of sexuation.” But then the second is as in Rimbaud’s poetic sense: “The place and the wording came to me” (J’ai trouvé le lieu et la formule). The relation between these two meanings must be thought through. How can a formula figure in the registers of both the matheme and the existence of a subject?

It is often said that psychoanalysis in general, and Lacan in particular, play on equivocations in the signifier. It is also said that Lacan completely de-ontologizes the comprehension of language because the equivocation of the signifier, and the plurality of interpretations that result, destroy one of the most fundamental conceptions of philosophical ontology from Aristotle to Deleuze, which holds that being is univocal. But formulas contradict this point of view, because a formula is a univocal proposition so absolute that its literal universality is immediate.

Even though for Lacan the course of the analytic cure runs through the realm of equivocation, we know its ultimate aim is a knowledge (savoir) that is wholly transmissible, without remainder. The aim is to heed a commandment to symbolize or, as he put it, to fashion an “exact formalization,” without a trace of equivocation.

I would like therefore to situate my remarks with respect to a difficult question: How is the passage in psychoanalysis made from linguistic equivocation to something—the formula, formalization – that is at once both its borderline and negation? What precisely is this hole in equivocal language that beckons the void of the univocal to the surface? I want to situate myself within this question of the hole that formulaic univocality bores into the hermeneutics of equivocation, because I believe this is where l’Étourdit is also fundamentally situated.

A sizable portion of l’Étourdit is devoted to the question of the matheme, and the issue of mathematical relations. Lacan is clearly touching upon the key point when he asks himself how, in the cure, to make the passage from impotence (Imaginary) to impossibility (Real). As the text makes clear, this relation is unintelligible if we do not ask ourselves what a formalization is.

The only direct quote from l’Étourdit I shall make, and which everything I am going to say will be a commentary on, is on page 8 or 452, depending on the edition. Here it is:

Freud steered us onto the path to the effect that ab-sense assigns sex: A topology in which the word is what is decisive
is laid out when this ab-sex sense becomes inflated.

Freud nous met sur la voie de ce que l’ab-sens désigne
le sexe: c’est à la gonfle de ce sens ab-sexe qu’une
topologie se déploie où c’est le mot qui tranche

For the moment I shall leave this quotation to shine in the obscurity of its letter, and will instead say what my guiding thread is going to be. My guiding thread is going to be, as always, Lacan’s relation to philosophy. Ultimately this is the only thing that interests me. This examination will be based on the following conceptual triplet: truth, knowledge (savoir), Real. My argument is that l’Étourdit is a proposition that creates a disjuncture between analytic discourse and philosophical discourse, based on their two entirely different ways of joining together this grouping of truth-knowledge-Real – a triplet which in truth could be said, assuming we keep it in the right order, to be in itself common to the discourses of both the philosopher and the analyst. This triplet is indeed the borderline between two discourses.

What, in Lacan’s eyes, is the true nature of how philosophy operates? What does Lacan identify as “philosophical,” in order for his anti-philosophy to assume its full meaning? Philosophy operates, in Lacan’s eyes, by affirming that there is such a thing as a meaning or sense of truth (sens de la vérité). But why would philosophy maintain this? Because its objective, the consolation it offers us, and which goes by the name “wisdom,” is to be able to assert that there is a truth of the Real. This is its implicit or explicit axiom: there is a sense to truth because there is a truth of the Real. However, in l’Étourdit Lacan argued, contrary to what he judges to be the way philosophy operates, and against even what he himself at times maintained prior to it, namely that there is no sense to truth whatsoever because there is no truth of the Real. L’Étourdit’s main argument is that the Real serves as the basis of a function of knowledge only, which exists but is not of the order of the truth as such.

In l’Étourdit the Real is clearly definable based on the absence of sense. The result of this is that the truth-knowledge-Real triplet must be juggled around a bit with respect to the question of sense, if we are to be able to think it through completely. In her brilliant commentary on Book Gamma of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Barbara Cassin speaks of a “decision of sense,” and it could be said that l’Étourdit is another kind of sense decision, different from the Aristotelian one. With respect to this decision, the Real may be defined as a sense which is ab-sense. The Real is ab-sense, and therefore an absence of sense, but which absence of course implies that sense does exist.

The point that needs to be understood, as concerns the complex decision Lacan is formulating here, is that ab-sense must be held absolutely distinct from nonsense. Lacan’s argument is not absurdist or in a general sense existentialist. He is not asserting that the Real is nonsense. He is asserting that an opening onto the Real cannot be breached save through the presupposition that it is an absence in sense, an ab-sense, or a subtracting of something from, or out of, sense. Everything depends on this distinction between ab-sense and non-sense.

Why does this entire issue impact the disentangling of psychoanalysis and philosophy in the most fundamental way? Basically because the distinction between absence and nonsense cannot be envisioned save in its correlation with sex, and more specifically in its correlations with what constitutes the Real of the unconscious, that there is no sexual relation. Sex determines, rather “nakedly” I daresay, the Real as impossibility itself: the impossibility of the relation. The impossible, the Real I mean, is thus correlated with ab-sense, and in particular with the absence of any kind of relation, meaning the absence of any kind of sense of sexuality (sens sexuel). The entire process follows a logical genealogy: based on the fact that sense is ab-sense, the Real may be designated as impossibility itself, and this is why one of the synonyms for ab-sense in Lacan’s text is ab-sex sense. “Ab-sex sense” is a formula, the one which says that there is no sexual relation. It is of tantamount importance for it to be clearly understood that these negative expressions (“there is no” and “there is ab-sense”) are ultimately equivalent to the non-negative formula “ab-sex sense.”

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Mysteries of Love
Chiara Mangiarotti

Author’s Bio

Badiou’s “The Courage of the Present/Contemporary Obscurantism” is an article from Le Monde, February 15/2010.

The present time, in a country like ours, has been, for almost thirty years now, a disoriented time. I mean: a time which presents its own youth, and particularly working-class youth, with no principles by which to orientate their existence.

What does disorientation exactly consist in? One of its main operations consists in rendering the previous period unreadable – the period which was itself rather well oriented. This maneuver is characteristic of all backlashes and counter-revolutionary periods, such as the one we have been experiencing since the end of the 70s.

We might, for instance, remark that what characterized the Thermidorian reaction, after the plot of 9th Thermidor and the execution with no trial of the main Jacobins, was to make the previous period unreadable: its reduction to the pathology of some bloodthirsty criminals precluded all political understanding. This view of things persisted for decades, seeking to permanently disorient the people, who are seen – who are always seen – as practically revolutionary.

Making a period unreadable is something else, it’s much more than simply condemning it. For one of the effects of unreadability is to preclude finding in the period in question the same principles that might provide a way out of its dead ends. If the period is declared to be pathological, then there is nothing in it that the orientation can extract for itself, and the conclusion – whose harmful effects we can see on a daily basis – is that we must become resigned to disorientation as a lesser evil.

Let us thus posit, concerning a previous period, visibly close to the politics of emancipation, that it must remain readable for us, and this independently of the final judgment passed on it.

In the debate on the rationality of the French Revolution which took place in the Third Republic, Clemenceau provided a famous formula: “The French Revolution constitutes a unitary block”. This formula is remarkable in that it declares the integral unreadability of the process, whatever the tragic twists in its development might have been.

Nowadays, it is clear that the prevailing discourse on communism turns the previous period into an opaque pathology. Thus I daresay that the communist period, including all nuances within the idea, both in power and in the opposition, also constitutes a unitary block.

What can the principle and the name of a true orientation be today then? In any case, I propose calling it – out of faithfulness to the history of emancipation politics – the communist hypothesis.

Let us note that our critics try to discard the term “communism” under the pretext that an experience of State communism, which lasted seventy years, tragically failed. What a joke! When it comes to upturning the domination by the rich and the hereditary nature of power, which have lasted for millennia, we are reproached for seventy years of groping, of violence and dead ends! Truth be said, the communist idea has only had a minuscule time for its verification, its implementation.

What is this hypothesis? It consists of three axioms.

Firstly, the egalitarian idea. The common pessimistic idea, which once more dominates these times, is that human nature is doomed to inequality, that it is a shame, but after shedding a few tears over this, it is essential to persuade oneself of its truth and accept it. To this, the communist idea replies not exactly by means of the proposition of equality as a program – let us bring about the fundamental equality that is immanent to human nature – but by declaring that the egalitarian principle makes it possible to distinguish, in any collective action, what is homogeneous to the communist hypothesis, and thus to a real value, and that which contradicts it, and thus brings us back to an animal view of mankind.

Next comes the conviction that the existence of a coercive, detached State is not necessary. This is the thesis, common to anarchists and communists, of the decline of the State. There have been Stateless societies, and it is rational to posit that there can be other ones. But above all, popular political action can be organized without its being subject to the idea of power, of representation in the State, of elections, etc.

The liberating constraint of organized action can be exerted from outside the State. There are many examples of this, including some recent ones: the unexpected power of the December 1995 movement delayed by several years the unpopular measures concerning pensions. Militant action on behalf of illegal workers did not prevent a number of villainous laws, but it made it possible for them to be largely acknowledged as an element of our collective and political life.

Final axiom: the organization of labor does not involve its division, the specialization of tasks, and particularly the oppressive distinction between intellectual and manual labor. We must and can envisage an essential polymorph nature of human labor. This is the material basis for the disappearance of classes and social hierarchies.

These three principles do not constitute a program, but rather orient mottos, which anyone can invest as an operator in order to assess what he is saying and doing, personally or collectively, in his relation to the communist hypothesis.

The communist hypothesis has had two main stages, and I would like to state that we are entering the third stage of its existence.

The communist hypothesis was installed on a grand scale between the 1848 revolution and the 1871 Paris Commune. Its dominant themes are those of the workers’ movement and insurrection. There followed a long interval of almost forty years (between 1871 and 1905), which corresponds to the apogee of European imperialism and the distribution of many regions of the world. The period between 1905 and 1976 (Cultural Revolution in China) is the second period in the effecting of the communist hypothesis.

Its dominant theme is the theme of the Party and its main (and unquestionable) slogan: discipline is the only weapon of those who have nothing. In 1976 starts a second period of reactive stabilization which lasts until our day – a period in which we still find ourselves, during which we have witnessed the collapse of the single-party Socialist dictatorships created in the second period.

My belief is that a third historical period of the communist hypothesis will inevitably take place – a period different from the two previous ones, but paradoxically closer to the former than to the latter. This period shared with the prevailing period in the 19th century the fact that what was at stake was the very existence of the communist hypothesis, which is nowadays massively denied. We can define what I, together with others, am trying to do, as a preliminary work towards the reinstallation of this hypothesis and the unfolding of its third period.

We are in need, in this new start of the third period in the existence of the communist hypothesis, of a provisional morality for a disoriented time. The point is to minimally maintain a consistent subjective figure, without thereby having the support of the communist hypothesis which has not yet been reinstalled on a large scale. What is important is to find a real point on which to stand -whatever the cost may be – an “impossible” point which cannot be inscribed within the law of the situation. We must have a real point of this kind and organize its consequences.

The key witness to the fact that our societies are obviously in-humane is nowadays the illegal proletarian alien: he is the mark, immanent to our situation, of the fact that there is only one world. Treating the proletarian alien as if he came from another world is the specific task of the “Ministry for the National Identity”, which has its own police force (the “Border Police”). Stating, against such a State device, that any illegal worker comes from the same world as me, and drawing the practical, egalitarian and militant consequences of this, is an example of provisional morality, a local orientation which is homogeneous to the communist hypothesis, within the global disorientation which only its reinstallation can ward off.

The main virtue which we are in need of is courage. This is not the case universally: in other circumstances, other virtues may be required as a priority. Thus, at the time of the revolutionary war in China, Mao promoted patience as a cardinal virtue. But nowadays it is courage. Courage is the virtue that manifests itself, regardless of the laws of the world, through the endurance of the impossible. The thing to do is to maintain the impossible point without accounting for the situation as a whole: courage, inasmuch as it is a question of treating the point as such, is a local virtue. It arises from a local morality, and its horizon is the slow reinstallation of the communist hypothesis.

Le Monde, Point de vue, “Le courage du présent,” 13.02.10


On Contemporary Obscurantism

What should we call the extraordinary intellectual constructions that are the works of Darwin, Marx, and Freud? They are not strictly sciences, even if biology – including contemporary biology – is thought within the Darwinian framework. They are certainly not philosophies either, even if dialectics, that old Platonic name for philosophy, was given new momentum by Marx. They cannot be reduced to the practices which they throw light upon, even if experimentation proves Darwin right, even if revolutionary politics tries to verify Marx’s communist hypothesis, and even if the psychoanalytic cure places Freud on the ever-shifting borders of psychiatry.

Let us call “the 19th century” the time that goes from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. I propose calling these three attempts of genius thought devices, and claiming that, in a certain sense, these devices identify what the 19th century brought, as a new power, to the history of mankind’s emancipation. After Darwin, the movements of human life and existence, irrevocably detached from all religious transcendence, were left to the immanence of their own laws.

After Marx, the history of human groups was removed both from the opacity of providence and from the almighty, oppressive inertias of private property, the family, and the State. It was left to the free play of contradictions within which an egalitarian future might be written – even if it was with effort and uncertainty. After Freud, it was understood that there is no soul, whose training would always be a moralizing one, opposing the primordial desires through which childhood brings about what will be. On the contrary, it is in the core of these desires, particularly sexual desires, that the subject’s possible freedom is at stake – the freedom of the subject inasmuch as he or she falls prey to language, that summary of the symbolic order.

For a long time, all sorts of conservatisms attacked these three great devices. It’s only natural. It is a well-known fact that in the United States, even today, educational institutions are often forced to oppose Biblical Creationism to evolution in the Darwinian sense. The history of anti-Communism practically overlaps with that of the dominant ideology in all the large countries in which Capitalo-Parliamentarism reigns under the label of “democracy”. Normalizing psychiatric positivism, which sees deviances and anomalies everywhere that must be counteracted by means of chemical brutality, desperately tries to “prove” that psychoanalysis is an imposture.

For a long time, particularly in France, it was nonetheless the huge emancipating effects, in thought and action, of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, which prevailed, of course in the midst of ferocious arguments, agonizing revisions, and creative critiques. The movement of these devices dominated the intellectual arena. Conservatisms were on the defensive.

After the vast normalization process on a global scale which started in the 80s, any sort of emancipating or even merely critical thought is inconvenient. Thus we have seen the attempts follow each other, trying to remove all trace of the great thought devices which have been termed “ideologies”, whereas they are exactly the rational critique of ideological serfdom. France, according to Marx “the classic land of class struggle”, has found itself under the action of small groups of renegades of the “red decade”(1965-1975), who are at the front line of this backlash. We have witnessed the mushrooming of the “black books” of communism, of psychoanalysis, of progressiveness, and of everything that does not equal the contemporary stupidity: consume, work, vote, and shut up.

Among these attempts, which, under cover of “modernity”, recycle obsolete liberal nonsense from the 1820s, the least detestable are not those that are derived from a materialism of enjoyment in order to act as a sort of watchman, particularly with regard to psychoanalysis. Far from being related to any kind of emancipation, the imperative “Enjoy!” is the one which so-called Western societies command us to obey. And this in order for us to prevent ourselves from organising what counts: the process by which some available truths are freed which the great though devices used to guard.

Thus we shall refer by “contemporary obscurantism” to all forms, without exception, of undermining and eradication of the power contained, for the benefit of all mankind, in Darwin, Marx, and Freud.

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The Text of the Revenge
Olga Kirillova

Art by Albert Herter, “Wit’s End,” 2010.

“What is realized in my history is…the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.”

I am still in the beginning. The beginning is very gentile, friendly, civilized. A theoretical discussion, nothing on the line really. Nothing I couldn’t step back from. I have put concepts on the table which are worthless. The first time I saw my analyst–who I will refer to as Venus– I was walking behind her into a lecture hall, and she suddenly turned around and said hello, smiling. I said hello and smiled and she turned around and we continued walking in. A pleasurable and surprising first encounter. The next contact I had with her was three years later when I emailed her about entering analysis. In her email back she mistook me for a mutual friend of ours I had mentioned as way of introduction. I don’t think I responded to that email. Before our first session I was struck by a long wait that imposed some feelings of anxiety. Later I would learn to love this long wait. We talked about her situation for a while, some troubles, and then she said “That’s my story. What’s yours?” The first words that came out were “I’m an artist.” A few sessions later she mentioned that in many countries people don’t say “I am an artist.” That it’s an adjective. I think we continued to speak about art and various shows and one in particular at the New Museum. I said I thought conceptual art had a tendency to be too cute. I asked her if this particular show was old. She said it’s older than JESUS. I bare some resemblance to Jesus (I’m tall and had long brown hair at the time, maybe even a bit of beard) and so I thought this was some sort of message. I thought about it for a while. Later I found out that was the actual name of the art show we had been speaking about. Many misrecognitions. I remember her opening her legs a bit which I also thought was some sort of maneuver. It sounds a bit adversarial. I thought of it later as being called to an appointment, not knowing why, and knowing that one had made the appointment oneself. I referenced Lacan’s statement on beginning from a point of not understanding. And then the session was over, a friendly introduction. We had faced each other.

The next session continued in the same vein, art, aspects of Lacanian analysis and it’s present developments. I began to feel frustrated that we weren’t talking about what I had come here to talk about. Towards the end I said I would like to speak about my “personal problems”. My Venus in Furs asked if I would like to start now or next time. I said we could start now. I said “I tear the skin around my fingernails. My cuticles. I tear them till they bleed. I lie in bed and read my book and play with my penis or tear my cuticles.” She stopped the session there and said I had named it and said it well, that often it could be hard for men.

I enjoyed my own bewilderment when friends asked me about my analysis. I recounted things I’d said and my analyst’s responses, letting the words hang without any anchoring points. My most intimate formulas delivered to a stranger. I felt like analysis accentuated the absurdity of all other intersubjective contact.

I missed one session, out of absent mindedness.

I recounted a dream of driving a Porsche into a giant pile of laundry. She said it reminded her of my sculptures and cut the session.

She asked me what the mandate was and I said “Economic and to sleep with lots of women.” She said “But it’s a mandate so you know you don’t have to do it.”

Everything was infused with meaning. It’s a realm I invested with power and knowledge.

“You’ll find some way to tell me.”

She said something about a “Narcissistic world where there is no desire.”

“I don’t know what words mean. I need to understand my words before I say them.”

“You postpone yourself.”

Sometimes I noticed her perfume.

“Look at you” she said.

I said “I say ‘You know, I don’t know.”
She said “You say that?”
I said “That’s something I say.”

You can see I simply dictate words I heard while in analysis. I haven’t yet threaded them into any larger fabric.

At one point I said “This isn’t exactly a doctor’s office.” Defending myself against any power she might have over me.

At first I moved her chair closer to the couch before she arrived, it couldn’t really be close enough, preferably in my ear. I couldn’t hear her words properly. Now I hear her well enough, though there are still some mumbles and slurs I don’t have the courage to ask her to repeat. I just smile and nod.

She said “There’s something regal about you.” I smiled, embarrassed. She shook her head, “Not in a stupid way.” There’s nothing more stupid than an angel’s smile.

Once I lay on the couch, mind racing for some talking points, coming up empty. I began to panic. She entered- began in our usual way- “How are you?”- “Good”- “So?”- “So.”

I said “I don’t know…I feel…I don’t know…I feel…”
“Wow,” she said “and twice!”

That was the first time I had sat in my uncertainty, without hypotheses.

I entered analysis with the ulterior motive of combining Lacanian theory with the physics of Roger Penrose, specifically two books he had written on the impossibility of artificial intelligence due to the non-algorithmic, non-deterministic nature of consciousness. He postulated a theory of consciousness based on some subtle quantum mechanical procedure, which would necessarily take advantage of some physics yet to be unveiled. Penrose does not take the neuron as the atom of consciousness, discretely either firing or not, but rather the empty space within microtubules. This stance seemed to have an affinity to that of psychoanalysis. Cognitive scientists, brain science, and string theorists to one side. Penrose and Lacanians to the other. But as Venus said, quoting her analyst “Psychoanalysis is not Kabbalah.” Nor is it physics. Though there may be phystricks or

I named a symptom, right off the bat. Venus said that Miller says “One can’t read Lacan and tear at one’s fingers.”

I wasn’t sure why I was there. I was worried I wasn’t crazy enough.

She said “You make me the analyst.”

I am only a few months into my first analysis, and so there is no clarity of hindsight. But like, from a speeding train, I can try to name some discernable landmarks. What I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.

We only had two sessions face-en-face before she said I was “beginning to go.” I was ready for the couch. She laughed upon entering the next time because I was already lying down. I took to the couch.

She said for Lacan, Don Juan was great. That night I went to a club and across the street was a neon sign in red and white pulsating “Don Juan”. I went home and took Byron’s Don Juan off the shelf. This really made her laugh.

Every week I would come in with a new diagnosis or thesis. “My father is my father and my mother. My mother didn’t want me. Why do women read mystery novels? I tear my cuticles and play with my penis while I read. My father plays with his penis when he speaks to me and plays with his nipples when he speaks to my girlfriend. I want a woman like my father. I play with my penis so I know it’s there.”

I made an art video in which tearing my cuticles till my fingers are bloody and a baby infinitely reflected in two mirrors figure prominently. At one point I wondered aloud whether I was the viewer looking at the fingers and babies or if I was the finger and babies exposing myself to the viewer. That was a cut.

She asked me to name the part of me that had made that video and I said “Albert the pervert.”

One would have to finish an analysis to know how long the beginning lasted. I’m not sure the beginning has begun.

In the midst of an analysis, one doesn’t see the forest for the trees. I have one side of a formula and hope she can provide the other.

I am beginning to remember dreams, and to linger in bed, gathering evidence.

Of her I know very little. I want to sustain the illusion.

Once I tried to slip her a note, a list of all my sins and character flaws.

I was willing to say anything, confess to any crime in order to be successfully finished.
In the beginning, I am desperate for activity, concrete signs of improvement, or at least change. A lever, to move a weight.

I prepared the sessions, formulating.

I try to dig deep into my sentences and find the hottest stone I can and throw it up into the air.

Lying on the couch, head cocked to the side, staring out the window, grimacing, arms crossed over my head, then across my chest, never in my pockets, fingers laced across my belly, squirming.

I was completely caught up in the images and words.

I thought most people had elaborate personas they constructed for the outside world, to get the job done and as a sexual lure.

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Lacan’s Prophecies
Jacques-Alain Miller

Translated from the French by Asunción Alvarez, Lusas’ case study is based on her day-to-day practice.

Sonia, 36 years old, is a pretty woman of Slavic beauty, who carries her head in an elegant way and is carefully groomed. She came to the CPCE by way of someone she knew socially within the framework of social inclusiveness aid.

Sonia is of foreign extraction. She is alone and has no man, no children, no family, no job. While waiting for an HLM lodging which takes long, she is living in an apartment lent to her by a friend. She dislikes the suburbs very much, as she is a Parisian. Because of this, she feels isolated, she says. She does not go out very often and stays most of the time at home.

Sonia has great difficulty integrating; that is, finding a real job. For her, that would amount to having a long-term job, and thus to being exploited. Which is out of the question. She has never wanted to work like her parents, who, she claims, broke their backs and sold their bodies to survive. According to her, working is a form of prostitution.

Her parents, who were both Central European, are deceased. Her mother was a seamstress and her father, when alcohol or depression gave him respite, was a welder and a painter.

She has been able to find small jobs, unemployment insurance, state benefits, short-term contracts, etc. This has been her way of life since the age of 19. It suits her. She does not complain about it.

In our first meeting Sonia lets me know that she had a very bad experience with a psychoanalyst. This happened three years ago. Her ex-fiancé had encouraged her to work on myself: he thought that talking to someone would do me good. Not really convinced that this course of action would be the best solution for her, Sonia nonetheless decided to give the experience a try. It went very badly. In fact, if she finds herself in her current situation, it is because of this woman. She is very angry with her. She claims that this psychoanalyst advised her to leave the apartment where she was living to move in with her fiancé.

This bad advice has had deplorable consequences. Indeed, soon after moving in with her fiancé, the couple split up. She found herself with nothing: no man and no lodging. After leaving my apartment, I felt I had lost a part of myself. Having my own place was crucial. Since losing her apartment, she has an odd feeling, the feeling of having no bearings, of belonging nowhere. Then she cries, in a rebellious tone: A psychoanalyst should never give advice, much less such advice!

The tone has been set. Sonia bears a grudge against psychoanalysis. I am inheriting the negative transference from the relationship with the first analyst. Moreover, what seems to take the place of the subject supposed to know is something that appears as the Other’s malignity. She also opposes her former analyst’s incompetence to know-how.

This is the dominant tone. Prudence, thus, is advisable. I learnt afterwards that, after this deplorable experience, she had entertained the project of producing a document against psychoanalysis. It should be pointed out that her Black Book of Psychoanalysis never saw the light of day.

It was during this period of loss and terrible grief that she came across her social referent. This person, she told me, had become, since that time, a support, a friend, a confidant, a reference, in short, someone who she fully trusted. It was he who gave her our address, she reminds me. That is why, despite her mistrust and disbelief regarding psychoanalysis, she came to the CPCT.

She remembers that, following the two meetings she had with the analyst who first received her at the CPCT, she had to talk with me about the link that might exist between her difficulty to work and love. According to Sonia, work is one thing and her love life is a different thing. She talks little about her love life and her relationship with men, and when she does, it is always in a roundabout way. Nonetheless, hers is a devastating love life. All her partners are marked by the father’s traits. She has always found disastrous partners, violent, jealous, and alcoholic men. Her father was a depressive, jealous, and alcoholic man who beat his wife and would constantly pounce on her. Her mother was submissive and felt no desire for this man.

One day, in a very natural way, she lets me know that as a young girl she committed incest with her father and a first cousin. This was no trauma for her. She experienced neither shame nor disgust nor guilt. No effect which might bear witness to her subjective split.

You see, I’m a very natural person. You too seem to me to be someone who is very natural, you wear no make-up, like me, I like that.

Sonia becomes familiar very easily. She lives in a universe where everything is natural, direct, and familiar. For this young woman, we are all one great family, where people love each other, sleep with each other, are close to each other. It was in order to be closer to him that Sonia slept with her first cousin from the age of fifteen to the age of nineteen.

In fact, what Sonia calls incest with her father is an episode in which she was touched, and which she describes as follows:

She was twelve. She would wait for her mother to leave for work, and then would get into bed with her father. Her father would lovingly caress her thighs.

She found her father’s caresses very natural.

The explanation she gives:

Her father was not properly loved by her mother, who was a mother to him and to her, and thus Sonia was the object of his desire. Sonia believes that this episode had absolutely no effect on her, as this only happened two or three times, no more. She also justifies and explains her father’s violence, depression, and alcoholism by the terrible hatred that her grandmother bore towards her son, and the rejection which he had experienced.

This naturalness indicates that something regarding the transmission of the paternal function has not worked for Sonia. The father-daughter relationship is not marked by the incest ban: she finds it very natural that her father should enjoy her body. The law of the incest ban has never existed, that is to say, it has never reached the symbolic. But what has not reached the symbolic is neither symbolized nor symbolizable. This non-inscription of the paternal function corresponds to what Lacan called the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father.

When Sonia remembers her mother, it is in a completely different tone. She is described as a distant, cold and closed-up woman. Sonia describes her arrival into the world as an accident. My mother put up with me, she wanted an abortion. It was my father who wanted me. She didn’t want a child of this man, men and sexuality didn’t interest her. As for the relationship between her parents, she only says that they killed each other.

Sonia has no idea that her social life might be continuous with her family life. She is incapable of establishing any signifying connection between her discourse and her history. She has never made any association, or the least link, between what repeats itself today in her life and what happened yesterday. No interrogation concerning what that might mean. Nor does she see any link between the men she chooses and the father figure.

For example, she tells me that she got married at the age of twenty-four to a man she vaguely knew and who was an illegal alien. Essentially, she wanted to marry him in order to leave the hell that was her family home. Three years later, she left this man because he was insanely jealous, violent, and we were killing each other. I point out to her: “Well, you left what was identical to find the same thing”. Let us just say that this remark slid off her like water off a duck’s back. It had absolutely no effect on her. No surprise effect, no truth effect, no subjective crisis. There is no belief in any sort of unconscious determination. She only saw a series of random events due to chance.  Thus she was just exposed to contingent meetings, for better or worse.

We could say that from the point of view of the unconscious, Sonia is unavailable. Everything is open, nothing is enigmatic, nothing poses a question. There is nothing to decipher. And yet the unconscious can be defined as the place where all signifying determinations that govern the existence of a subject are inscribed. This symbolic place, which allows a subject to ordain his or her relation to sex, to his or her identity, and to the world, is called by Lacan the place of the Other.

It is on the level of this unavailability of the place of the Other that, it seems to me, this subject’s true isolation should be located: it is a “psychic” isolation. This isolation must be here understood as the impossibility of the subject to place itself within a series of signifiers which would represent it. Thus events cannot but be isolated, with no links to each other, incapable of being articulated in a signifying chain that would historicize her. That is the reason why Sonia cannot establish links between the signifiers of her history and her current life.

On the other hand, what takes the place of the symbolic place of the Other for Sonia is a Real place which is incarnated in her apartment. That is why, dislodged from her place by the first analyst, she finds herself with no bearings, with the feeling of belonging nowhere. The apartment has a very particular consistency, inasmuch as it is a container where she places her being. It clothes her. It anchors her and provides her with continuity. Hence the importance that the fact of finding an apartment has for her: having her own place, as she says, is crucial.

The social Other demands stability, work, a family. But Sonia can only exist precariously. Her refusal to work has its own causality. Whereas the social Other thinks that having a long-term job would be a solution that would enable her to leave her precarious state, for our subject, this solution becomes very problematic.

As a natural woman, Sonia ignores the law of incest. Her father has enjoyed her body: she finds this natural. Only, what has been neither admitted nor subjectivized returns in the Real as her cry of rebellion. She will not sell her body. She will never allow herself to be exploited at work. Put otherwise, the Other will not enjoy her body.

Of course, Sonia can use speech, but only on the imaginary axis. That is to say, in a position that is symmetrical to an other who is made in her own image. Briefly put, she can talk to a fellow being who is as natural as she is. But talking to an Other who is absolutely an Other is impossible for her. This leads to anxiety and to a feeling of being persecuted, wherein talking amounts to touching and thus endangering the symptomatic solution which she has been able to find in order to survive. She must protect herself from the deadly desire of the mother who wanted to abort her, of the father who enjoyed her body.

She is natural. This organizes her existence and allows her to make her way through life. When someone takes refuge in this identification, he or she is not hiding behind the artifices of knowledge; he or she does not break his or her head trying to know what things mean. Things flow from their source: a cat is a cat.

The question is to know how to put an end to the interviews, which is not the same thing as dropping her. An occasion arose during the sixth session.

She tells me, smilingly, that finally, she has found an apartment and she is moving to Paris. I reply that this is excellent news. Then, she establishes a link to tell me that the affair with her boyfriend, whom she found some time before, is making her suffer. I indicate that she can tell me about this, if she wants to.

It’s then that she cries, in a dry tone:

Stop this massacre!

I reply that this had not been my intention at all.

– For me – she goes on – telling a stranger about my private life is an aberration!

Then I quietly reply:

– Maybe for someone who is natural like you psychoanalysis goes against nature.

At this point, her expression and her tone change. Anxiety and persecution cease. With a big, relieved smile, she asks me:

Then, can we stop here?

– Yes, I tell her.

I lead her to the door. On the doorstep, Sonia turns towards me, shakes my hand, and in a peaceful voice says: Thank you!

Stop the massacre! This means: Stop! Forbidden area! Don’t push me towards the symbolic: I’m not used to it. Don’t push me to talk about my relationship with men, for there is nothing to know or understand. I am natural.

Sonia tells the truth. She is a natural woman: that is her symptom. This symptom allows her to make her way through life. It responds to everything and provides the quilting point for all significations. And that is what my cut validated.

What Sonia teaches us is that we should not force every subject to symbolize, that is to say, we should not push people towards speech at any price under the pretext that talking is good. When a subject has found a solution that allows him or her to face existence, we should not touch it without taking precautions.

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Alain Badiou

This film by Gus Van Sant, featured in the article, won the 60th Anniversary Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The director of Elephant based his script on a Blake Nelson novel. The plot takes place in his home town of Portland, Oregon.

The film tells the story of a teenager in a skatepark, where the plot unfolds following an accidental death.

Van Sant is to be commended for capturing the subjectivity of contemporary teenagers.

Alex, a 16-year-old skater, lives in a dismembered household: his parents are splitting up, he has a pretty girlfriend whom he is not interested in, and his life is as aimless as a swinging skate.

He goes with a friend to a place known as Paranoid Park, a marginal place created by skaters themselves. One night, while a new, rather older friend is teaching him how to jump onto a train, they are caught in the act by a security guard, who tries to hit them with a torch. By accident, Alex defends himself by hitting the guard with his skate – the guard falls onto the line and is run over by an oncoming train.

After this episode everything breaks loose. Alex tries to call his father, who is on the beach with his uncle, in the small hours to tell him about what happened, but he gives up. He has no one to tell about the appalling episode.

He is questioned by the police, together with others, at school, but in no way do they suspect in the least that he accidentally killed the guard. The dialogue with the Asian policeman who questions him seems to lend itself to a confession, but Alex, like most teenagers today, knows how to hide things.

The script posits an interesting problem: there is a secret that the main character cannot tell anyone about, but which affects him. As he himself says: “I need this to stop.”

He expresses no particular interest in his girlfriend, with whom he has had a sexual encounter. In a key scene, after sex, she kisses him, leaves the room, and calls a girlfriend to tell her how wonderful it was.

There is no mention of love between them. Alex resembles Camus’s stranger during the sex scene.

Adolescence essentially involves the encounter with the other sex. The film shows that in these no longer Victorian times, when everything is allowed, access to sex is not regimented by morality. When Alex’s friends learn that he has left his girlfriend, all they tell him is that he has lost the means of getting free sex.

The plot unfolds like a tragedy. The hero has a secret: that of a crime, a death he unwillingly caused, but he has nobody to tell about it, he has nobody to address and in turn nobody finds out.

The world of these teenagers is a world of lonely subjects linked by skating, which is an aimless drifting, just the pure enjoyment of swinging. There is a deep chasm between this world and the adult world: teenagers do not trust adults and know how to lie to them.

We grownups know how emos and floggers dress and wear their hair, but we know nothing about them. They sometimes confide in their peers but not in their parents, much less in their teachers, but in the best scenario they keep a certain privacy to themselves.

Gérard Wajcman, a French psychoanalyst, playwright, and essay writer, has written a brief memoir in the recently published book The Rule of the Game (1).

Wajcman says “The possibility of what is hidden is not simply a conquest, it is a condition of the subject: there is only a subject if he or she cannot be seen (…) The condition for intimacy is inserted within the subject’s possibility of removing him or herself from the power of the all-seeing other. The right to secrecy draws the border of intimacy, and thereby arise three possible states of the border. It can remain watertight, instituting and preserving two disjunctive spaces, leaving the subject outside the Other’s influence. Or else the Other wants to see. This is an inquisitorial time. It is the time, for instance, of video surveillance, police control, urban monitoring, planetary monitoring”

The film moves between these two stages, secrecy and the all-seeing other, the “security” Big Brother.

Gérard Wajcman posits a third way of crossing the border: “(…) it may well be that the subject decides to open up his or her intimacy, talk about it or expound it. Psychoanalysis corresponds to this desire, and art and literature are also places for the exercise of this freedom.”

Alex is at a crossroads. No one has found out about what he did, but there is something that he has been unable to say. Only one friend senses that there is something which he cannot tell anyone about, and she suggests that he write it down, that he send a letter to some newspaper, or simply that he burn it.

Alex writes his story down and then burns it.

The act of writing is a subjectivization of the secret, but it is not addressed to anyone.

There is no Other is a good Lacanian formula to describe the time of the “non-existent Other”, as formulated by Jacques-Alain Miller and Eric Laurent.

The key to the film lies not in the guard’s death, but in the sex scene.

In a world in which everything is seen, in which anything goes, how can sexual jouissance be accessed, taking into account that there is no knowledge of sex?

The intimacy of sex is a crime: Victorian and religious morality used to give guilty sense to enjoyment. In these times, characterized by the Lacanian superego as a command to enjoy, the encounter is blocked by the fact that there is no sexual relation.

In a home that has been broken by his parents’ separation, Alex finds no way to approach a woman. He finds someone to follow in a recently made, older friend, who takes him train hopping – a transgressive jouissance.

One reading of the plot might be: sex is the crime. Alex has nobody to follow: it is quite striking that the only person he tries to tell about what happened at first is his father, but he immediately gives up.

There are four fathers in the film: the dead guard, run over by the train; the policeman who seems to know everything, a persecuting other; his older friend, whom he follows; and his father, in whom he does not really believe.

All four do not make one father: Alex is forced to find his solution in the act of writing, which enables him to take responsibility in his own way, and then burn what he wrote.

Psychoanalysis is a refuge for intimacy, and in this sense it is the psychoanalyst who incarnates and protects it, producing the operation of analysis as a solution and an assumption of the singularity of every subject’s jouissance.

Current adolescent modalities are very well captured in this film. What ideals sustain them? Is killing someone something serious? Is it something fun, as in Elephant? How can a love encounter take place at a time when the discourse of late capitalism rejects both bonds and love? What is the ethics of these new times?

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Psychoanalysis and Negative Dialectics
Philip Pilkington

Ivonne Thein

Author’s Bio

This article has been modified from its original version. At first published in Lacanian Ink 10 under the name of Rena Grant, here is the actualized version the author read at THE PARIS-USA LACAN SEMINAR, MAY 1 & 2, 2010, re-formatted by herself.

I first glimpsed Rena at the initial meeting of the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop, co directed by Stuart Schneiderman and Jacques-Alain Miller at Barnard College, Columbia University, in the Fall of 1987.

She didn’t look like anyone else. For all that, her illogical unseasonable clothing – feet bare inside high heeled shoes, her body wrapped in abstruse layers of brown, her spread of hair, her enormous eyes, made for a bizarre magnetism and a radical presence.

If Rena had a seat with a subliminal name, in the sense that no one would sit there even if she didn’t come to the Seminar, it wasn’t only because she carried the regular crowd of at least two or three hard-core punk students with her. An ongoing show, Rena in the class embodied revolt.

Whether it was against Stuart Schneiderman himself – our Lacanian professor – or maybe contra some celebrated guest who dared confront her stance – Oh! She would scream at them! The thick Scottish accent, the lilting quality of her voice, the seductiveness of her wit, added well to Rena’s self-confident posture calling on a “Lacanian, feminist, Troskist, Marxist mode of analysis.” The class would combust when cases like Freud’s Dora were seen through the new perspective.

Several months into the Seminar, I brought myself forth through the suggestion of the institution of forming a Lacan study group. Rena’s voice raised in marvel.

—What Lacan?
I heard myself say —The one and only

I shivered… How had I come to call aloud such a glib response? The delight in Rena’s face, mischievous, daring, was by now answering a secret question to myself – if I liked her so much, feared her as well it was because her rule was always amazement, indeed challenge. She surprised me once again when she said no more and how soon the silence became unbearable.

Baffled, I walked my way to the blackboard. The professor, my analyst, was asking for my name and phone number in white chalk. The class done with, Rena addressed me in the elevator – where are you from? Where do you live? Why do you want to assemble a Lacanian study group? It didn’t take long for us to decide on a drink at some bar in the neighborhood. She ordered a scotch on the rocks, myself a glass of red wine, she ordered another scotch on the rocks, myself a glass of red wine, she ordered another scotch on the rocks, myself a cappucino… Our conversation wandered from her being a teacher in the Literature Department at Columbia, to me being what they call a Lacanian… from her living and erring in the University area most of the time, to me trying to settle down in NYC; from her enjoying transgression in the meanderings of the libido, to me being mesmerized by her skill and her guts.

Through the next three years, the radiance of the Paris-New York Workshop gleaming, we managed to have a constant sort of fun, which pursued through long talks on the phone, episodes in bars, and such deviant situations as Rena winning an award for the best personal ad in the Village Voice.

In 1989, the end of the Seminar coincided with the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop at the Alliance Française. The topic was Gender and Perversion, the outcome division – of Paris and New York.

At the same time Rena left Columbia to become a professor of English at NYU. If she offered me a room to lecture at the Literature Department – the famous study group had become the Lacan Circle of New York – it was because she cherished Lacan’s ways, specifically his way with words.

lacanian ink had, as of now, achieved a certain consistency. Rena was assumed to be writing an article on King Lear. The impossibility of finishing the article, compounded by her sporadic appearance at the meetings became the unsettling issue.

Not to mention Rena’s faucets which you had to open with a wrench, or the walking in her bathroom through puddles of water, or the columns of magazines she used for a seat… Though parties at her place were always great and somehow hilarious, an increasing loss of energy started showing up in her pale countenance.

5 years of analysis were coming to an end. To a point that my analyst’s famous blue eyes – like my father’s ones — weren’t there, not anymore…

—Talking of little objects a flying— said Schneiderman
I came to Paris, had a series of sessions with Eric Laurent

—Your analysis is finished—said Laurent
What did I feel?

I wanted a patient. I found him in the street, as he was trying to sell a toy to the passer by.

—do you know of a lacanian analyst in NYC?—
—yes, I do.

Again I came to Paris. Eric Laurent listened…

—perfume… père-fume… père-fumiste…

till he uttered,

—yes, that is your name of symptom!
That sudden.

Jacques-Alain Miller’s “cynical twist” came to mind. What a moment…! If anything it was the point in time I allowed myself of myself.

If the Symptôme with a formal name did the rest, it did it by itself… as if it knew the way.

Was Rena discussing the details of her own burial. How did I come to think Rena was talking about it? If the tale took me off any gloomy thought it was on account of her wonderful use of words, her lovely accent, the binding charm of her wit.
Thus she found a way to stage her fate, for us – her friends – for herself. She died in the Spring of 1992, at 32 years old, of internal bleeding.

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Benjamin, Adamite Language and Pastiche Master
Shahriar Vaghfipour

Ivonne Thein

Author’s Bio

Laurent read this paper at “Neurosciences and Psychoanalysis…” on May 27, 2008 at the College de France. It was published in La Cause freudienne no. 70, December 2008.
Translation by Marcus A.K. Andersson.

Francois Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti preserved the homonymy proposed by Éric Kandel between the trace left by an associative learning experience in the nervous system and the traces which Freud wrote about in his “Project for a Scientific Psychology.” They gave, however, an essential twist to the Kandelian model, in that they placed the accent less on inscription than on the processes of constant consolidation and re-consolidation that reveal the nervous system’s plasticity. They also subverted the Kandelian model by including internal, corporeal stimuli under the notion of the trace, making the brain an homeostatic organ of sensations, whether these stimuli arise from the body or the environment.

With this conception of the nervous system, Ansermet and Magistretti maintain a horizon of possibility to explain psychical facts on the basis of an association of traces left by experience in the neural network. However, they emphasize that subjectivity as such cannot be reduced to a cartography of stimulus and behavior. They underscore that the essential discrepancy introduced by the constant re-association between traces leads to the production of a singularity (l’unique), which is different each time according to the variation of mental states over time. They generalize this approach by taking epigenetic mechanisms into account. Whence their formulas “the individual [appears] to be genetically determined not to be genetically determined,” and “plasticity thus enables us to take maximal advantage of the spectrum of possible differences, leaving due place to the unpredictable in the construction of individuality, and the individual can be considered to be biologically determined to be free, that is, to constitute an exception to the universal that carries him.”

It would thus be possible to understand the connection between the speaking subject and the function of biological activity as such—the function of the biological activity of the brain as well as that of the body from the perspective of the neurosciences—as well as the paradoxes of the system of learning and the traces that it leaves and, finally, the basis of these relations in physical laws.

It is this point that I wish to interrogate. I underline, first, that the Freudian project of a “Scientific Psychology” was constructed, in effect, using the state of neurology at the end of the 19th century. The theory of the inscription of “facilitations,” for example, stated that facilitations are provoked by discharges and leave inscriptions in the psychic system—and that they, furthermore, induce a feeling of satisfaction in the subject. According to this model, a quantity “Q” searches to discharge itself by circulating in the nervous system until it finds an efferent pathway (i.e. one leading away from the central nervous system). Freud’s conception of this energy, however, was problematic, since the quantity that he theorized was marked by a specificity irreducible to biological quantities as such. This energy was, rather, reserved for experiences belonging exclusively to the domain of sexuality that Freud constructed. The libido was postulated to be a quantity that remained constant through its operations of displacement, condensation, and repression, operations that mark representations of the sexual in psychic activity. It could also explain the excess or the lack of presence of representations in different pathologies. The obsessive mechanisms of restraint, for example, are marked by excess, a radical “plus,” whereas the fading of hysteric mechanisms is marked by a minus, a lack also fundamental in the experience of satisfaction. However, as Freud’s oeuvre developed, the pleasure principle conceived as a discharge of postulated libido was increasingly called into question. By forming the hypothesis that there exists something “beyond” the pleasure principle, Freud consummated his rupture with the biological mechanisms presupposed in the “Project,” and Civilization and Its Discontents affirmed that one must search for what is impossible to discharge—i.e., the impossible at the core of sexual satisfaction as such—in its connection to the social link. We pass, then, from the oeuvre of biological references to Freud’s anti-biological hypothesis, where the relationship of the body to the social implies an essential relation to a death that is no longer biological. After this rupture, then, psychoanalysis no longer upheld the psychological perspective of Helmholtz, which was compatible with physical laws.

It is from this point of departure that Lacan writes his “Presentation on Psychical Causality.” He refuses to localize the genesis of mental illness in the nervous system, since mental activity takes place in another dimension than that of physical space. Lacan’s position is Cartesian in a sense, because it refuses to confound thinking substance and extended substance. But Lacan’s Descartes is one filtered through Husserl and his Cartesian Meditations, thoroughly marked by phenomenology. In a commentary on the “Presentation,” Jacques-Alain Miller underlines the importance of the opposition between the notion of “psychical activity” as conceived by neuropsychiatry and the subjective function as such, which is always marked by a flaw, a shortage (défaut), a lack. Lacan opposes “that [hybrid] chain which is made of fate and inertia, throws of the dice and astonishment, false successes and missed encounters…which makes up the usual script of a human life” to “psychical activity, doublet of the neural functioning.” Similarly, but even more exaggeratedly in neuroses, clinical phenomena of psychosis such as hallucinations call into question not only a sensoriality, but also the personal signification that the subject aims for: “madness is experienced entirely within the register of meaning.” As soon as man speaks, he is submitted to the question of his truth. His most intimate identifications become responses to the paradoxes of his relationship to what he says and to what has been said to him. The materiality of the unconscious is not formed by learning, but by things said to the subject, things that hurt him, things that are impossible to say that make him suffer. The opposition between the principles of the nervous system’s functioning, which follow biological and physical laws, and the register of another causality, then, determines the foundation of psychology.

This is what is at stake in re-visiting Freud’s “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895), a posthumous text that was first published in 1951. This text was read passionately in the analytic movement as well as in Ego-Psychology circles, around Ernst Kris and around Lacan. Eric Kandel, frequently visiting Kris and his family, was deeply influenced by this reading of Freud. By bringing psychoanalysis back to general neurology, Kandel accomplished the project of Kris’s colleague, Heinz Hartmann, who wished to return psychoanalysis to the discipline of general psychology. Lacan, however, read the “Project” as a function of a particular type of memory. He didn’t relate it to phenomena of facilitation, but to phenomena of impossible routes. The cybernetics of the epoch gave Lacan the resources to situate the impasses of this memory’s functioning. Jean-Pierre Dupuy has noted that “[Lacan] took an interest, as we have already seen, in the theory of closed reverberating circuits that Lawrence Kubie’s work in the 1930s had led McCulloch to take up, and he was familiar with the work of the British neuroanatomist John Z. Young…[who tested] this theory in the octopus.” Lacan, then, broke the direct link with the analogy of neurological traces by rejecting that the Freudian “traces” inscribe themselves on the nervous system, claiming, by contrast, that they “are signifiers.” These traces, however, had to be related to the system of the organism as such. Lacan’s original solution was that the organism realizes itself by points of impossibility. The living being, to which the symbolic order attaches itself like a parasite, produces the impossible to represent.

The first consequence is that there can never be a unified representation of the subject of the experience of jouissance. This subject cannot speak of itself completely in its real, no more than Truth can, which cannot tell everything about itself. This perspective is opposed to the cognitivist position, according to which the individual’s relation to his body and to the world is unified. This cognitivist point of view could be analogous to Aristotelian “common sense,” as Stanislas Dehaene or Antonio Damasio maintain, exploring the biological foundations of “knowledge of the self.” It could just as well be the modulating multiplicity proposed by Daniel Dennett in his radical critique of all unifying perspectives. The important point with these cognitivist perspectives, however, is that all “psychical activity,” unified or not, responds to the needs of the living body. And yet, for psychoanalysis, nothing assures this adequation of the body and the subject. Even access to the bodily image is incapable of doing away with the initial fragmentation of the relation to the body, the experience of the fragmented body. Nevertheless, this body-image is unifying and fascinating, as our society of images bears witness to in exploiting the resources of our fascination in all possible manners. The discovery of mirror-neurons has allowed us to think of a yet larger extension of the powers of the imaginary field. Similarly, in terms not of the image but of the signifier: “far from being a function of total mental synthesis, mental integration is always fragmentary, and what we call the subject is precisely what is partial and fragmented in this integration,” flawed when there is not a lesion, no partial other, the impossible to totalize.

What authorizes cognitivism to confidently advance an exhaustive representation of psychical activity when this representation escapes any accessible knowledge? It is Chomsky’s introduction of the notion of the “unknown rule” that lets this approach account for the aporias of learning a language. Confronted with the impossibility for a subject to learn through hearing alone, Chomsky proposes a radical break with the hypotheses of associative learning. For the tradition of associative learning, which Kandel propagates, the brain is malleable. It configures itself to adapt to experience. There are no organs of learning specific to themes that are dealt with, no organs that calculate representations of different aspects of the world based on animal experience. Chomsky suggests, “by contrast, that learning is mediated by distinct learning organs, each with a structure that enables it to learn a particular kind of contingent fact about the world. The non-contingent facts, the universal truths, are not learned; they are implicit in the structure of the learning organs, which is what makes it possible for each such organ to learn the contingent facts proper to it (Hawkins and Kandel, 1984).” The specialized organ “learns,” and the subject is supposed to follow a rule that he is unaware of, a rule that is embedded.

As Jean-Claude Milner has noted, it is by generalizing this notion of the “unknown rule” that cognitivism can proceed. This conception is radically opposed to the explicit and declared character of the rule, which is essential for Wittgenstein. The opposition is complete between appearing to obey the rules and conforming to objective laws. The modular conception of the mind, which Jerry Fodor proposed after freeing himself from David Marr’s visual module, accomplishes the shift from Chomsky’s computational conception to a computo-representational model of the mind.

These two conceptions are radically separate with regard to their understanding of the relationship between language and the world. For Chomsky, language “doesn’t speak of the world.” Words are, by themselves, devoid of reference. There is no inscription of reference, because reference is an action accomplished by human agents. As Pierre Jacob argues: “Unlike what a human being knows, what he does is, according to Chomsky, bound to remain a mystery. Generative grammar has shown the way to scientific understanding of an aspect of what a human knows: their HLF [faculty to learn languages]. But an epistemic divide separates the problems encountered in understanding what a human knows and the mysteries involved in explaining an intentional action…Thus, because on Chomsky’s view any act of reference (and what Chomsky also calls the ‘creative use of language’) involves the freedom of the will, it is presently an epistemic mystery, not a scientific problem.”

On the other hand, “according to the computo-representational theory of the mind, not all thinking amounts to some intentional (or voluntary) action. For example, the cognitive process whereby my auditory perception of a stimulus is turned into a conceptual representation of a dog is not an intentional (or voluntary) action. When it results from my perception of a stimulus, my conceptual representation of a dog—the occurrence of my mental symbol “Φ”—is independent from any intention to refer to a dog.” This affirmation brushes aside Searle’s objection that it is necessary to admit that the rule can be known. We must note that this conception authorizes a type of modular multiplicity presenting such an extreme proliferation of models that it is now in search of its own Occam’s razor; Fodor himself defines the current state of the theory as a “modularism gone mad.”

The computo-representational theory of the mind, unlike Chomsky’s, seeks to bridge naïve psychology and the computational models of cognitive science. They want to function as laws that bridge, reconnecting the world of causes and the world of reasons, the physical and psychology. And this is what Chomsky refuses—and what Donald Davidson refuses as well, emphasizing that even if there is only one substance (i.e. even if the identity of mental and physical events is posited), the psychic field, governed by reasons, must still function in a lawless manner. He defines his position as that of an “anomalous monism.” I would like to put in a series, elucidating one after the other, in their radical differences, the three positions of Chomsky concerning the mystery of the “without law” of human action, Davidson’s anomalous monism, and Lacan’s approach to the Real in psychoanalysis through the impossible. I will follow this path until I am prepared to speak of the Real “without law.”

The temptation in the cognitive approach to the psychic field is to efface the relation to the impossible. It operates in two distinct ways. On one hand, through game theory, it attempts to produce a theory of decision governed by the principle of maximum utility, “according to which the agent chooses, among the actions available to him, the one that guarantees the probability of the greatest utility… balanced by the subjective probabilities with which he affects the eventuality of the consequences of his different actions.” On the other hand—refusing to consider optimizing thought processes alone—one wants to reduce the subject to be understood exclusively by the determinations of its activity as a living organism. I would like to oppose this temptation of naturalization to W.V.O Quine’s objections to such claims, objections that he posed throughout his oeuvre.

Sandra Laugier has very incisively defined the multiform anti-positivist strategy of analytic philosophy: “In ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ (1953), Quine criticizes one of the foundations of logical empiricism, namely analyticity (in the sense given to it by Frege and, later, Carnap, as the truth founded on logical linguistic conventions), and proposes to efface the distinction between empirical and a priori enunciations. He goes even further in 1960 with his celebrated thesis of translation’s radical indeterminacy, when he destroys the idea of common significations between different languages, affirming that a linguist, in a situation of radical translation (without prior contact, nor commonality, between his language and the indigenous language), can elaborate manuals of translation in contradiction and compatible with what is given; there is, therefore, nothing on which the translator can base his accuracy.” He proceeds, finally, to a radical denaturalization in his Ontological Relativity published in 1969.

The thesis of indeterminacy in translation received multiple interpretations itself. It was radically opposed to Carnap’s positivist translation. It didn’t claim that translation was impossible, but, rather, that it was only too possible. There are only too many translations, without our being truly able to choose among them. Even more profoundly, it destroyed the myth of signification, because translation never exhausts itself. It doesn’t make us leave our language, nor our meaning (sens). Every operation of translation, every passage between languages, between distinct worlds, supposes a confrontation with the incommensurable within the interiority of a system of reference. It confronts us with the oxymoron of losing because of excess. It shows us that there is no “exile beyond the learned culture” and its language. This perspective renders obsolete the perspective of interlocking without a solution of continuity and retranslation of signs in worlds or in “successive symbolic frames of reference.” Truth is completely immanent to the activity of translation, “there is no extra-theoretic truth, no higher truth than the truth we are claiming or aspiring to as we continue to tinker with our system of the world from within.”

In this Quinian conception, language is not placed one side and experience of the world on the other. All certitude of the world passes through language, but it is obtained by an experience. “The analyticity criticized in “Two Dogmas” is, in effect, progressively replaced by a concept of the social, founded on the learning of language.” The analyticity of an enunciation is not what is independent of experience; an enunciation is analytic if everyone learns that it is true when learning the vocabulary of a language. Quine gives a definition of a gradient between empirical and analytical enunciations that is very interesting for psychoanalysis. “Each of us learns to take certain enunciations as true; there are enunciations whose truth is learned by many of us, and others whose truth is learned by few or none of us. The former enunciations are more analytic than the latter. Analytic enunciations are those whose truth is learned in this manner by all of us; and these extreme cases do not differ in a notable manner from our neighbors, and we cannot always say what they are.” It is language as a social link that is our only naturality. I will compare the relationship between the symbolic order and the experience of jouissance in psychoanalysis and the Quinian conception. In Lacanian terms, we would say that there is a point of the Real that never finds its ultimate translation into the symbolic. The Real insists. The subjects encounters his jouissance in a contingent fashion. It is a Real he believes in, that he posits as an exterior in the construction of the fantasm; this fantasm is a sort of theoretical system by which the subject is related to the experience of jouissance. The sublimation or the shared nature of the fantasm is of the same order as the Quinian construction: each of us encounters certain words or enunciations that are tied to our jouissance in a contingent fashion. There are fantasmic enunciations that are commonly shared, and others that are for few or for no one. The former are more sublimated that than the latter. Certain of the most intimate traits of the experience of jouissance of great artists become shared by almost everyone. They are sublimated.

Michel Leiris gives us one example of an encounter between an enunciation and an experience of jouissance in a screen memory published in the beginning of his great memoir, The Rules of the Game: Scratches. He marks his relationship to happiness, or more precisely to sadness and to women. While playing with small soldiers in the same room as his mother, a solider that he loves more than the others falls. He catches it just in time and exclaims “tunately” (“reusement”). His mother immediately corrects him, saying, “one doesn’t say ‘tunately’ one says, ‘fortunately’ (heureusement).” We know that his relationship to happiness was not always easy. He went into psychoanalytic treatment after a complicated night with Georges Bataille led him to a particularly severe temptation to commit suicide. Furthermore, he constructed a literary corpus with an admirable style, marked by a rigorous clarity. He never let anyone correct him again; he had become the master of it. The state where language marks the limit, impossible to cross, of the origin of the knot between symbolic, imaginary, and real is that of a language before routine usage, or “proper usage,” can be taught. Lacan calls this level of language lalangue, and it marks the most private, intimate relationship with language. It is the noise of language for everyone in the interior itself of the public language that is used. Psychic reality is that of lalangue, the point of the Real where public and private languages are entwined. The contingency of the encounter that creates lalangue is also the foundation of interpretative, and always contingent, activity of psychoanalysis.

However, one must not believe that it is possible to simply denounce the appearances that constitute the referential system of public language in favor of the fragmented elements that constitute the private fantasm, which provides direct access to jouissance. This is what Lacan calls the “cynical” perspective: the denunciation of appearances in public language in the name of the jouissance in private language. It corresponds to what, on the ontological plane, is a radically skeptical position. In fact, skepticism, to be tenable, supposes knowledge that knowledge alone can lead to. “It is science itself that teaches us that there is no absolute knowledge.” The theory of knowledge has its origin in doubt, certainly, but it is also knowledge that produces doubt: “skepticism is a product of science.” Believing and knowing are two logical grammars with distinct uses. For all that, knowledge doesn’t eliminate the register of belief, as Quine brilliantly shows at the end of his article on the “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.”

It is, in particular, because learning language repeats the learning of science that everyone, according to Quine, continues to learn and revise his or her language indefinitely. It is a logic of the same order as the logic that operates in the fantasm. The knowledge of the fantasm never ceases to target the failure of jouissance through the symbolic order. There is, however, no other access.

The isolation of the elements of the private fantasy, in what is most real about them, only obtains in the outcome of an analysis. The trajectory cannot be avoided. To address himself to his partner, the subject lends him sentiments, beliefs, expectations in reaction to what he says, and he wishes to act on the beliefs and expectations he anticipates. The decoding of sense in exchanges between analysand and analyst is not the only thing at stake. There is also the aim of he who speaks. It is about recuperating something lost through one’s interlocutor. This recuperation of the object gives the key to the Freudian myth of the drive, and it founds the transference that knots the two partners. The Lacanian formula according to which the subject receives the inversion of his own message from the other includes both the decoding and the will to act on the addressee. In the last instance, when the analysand speaks, he wants, beyond the sense of what he says, to attain in the Other the partner of his attempts, beliefs, and desires. He aims for the partner of his fantasm, without being able to attain the proper jouissance. The discovery of psychoanalysis is first that of the impotence of the subject to attain full sexual satisfaction (i.e castration). Beyond this, psychoanalysis, with Lacan, formulated the impossibility of a norm concerning the relationship between the sexes. If there is not full satisfaction and if there is no norm, it is up to each subject to invent a particular solution, a solution that inevitably rests on their symptom. The solution of each person can be more or less typical, relying more or less on the tradition of common rules. The solution may, by contrast, want to bring forth a rupture or a certain clandestinity. The fact remains that the relation between the sexes does not have a solution that can be “for all.” In this sense, it remains marked by the seal of the incurable, and there will always be a flaw. Sex, for the speaking being (l’être parlant), arises from the “not all” (pas-tout).

From this point, J.-A. Miller shows the originality of the dimension of the Real in the work of Lacan. “Lacan had approached something like a sort of first Real, that he formulated ‘il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel’. Already in this instant, he isolated a contravening trait to the idea that there had to be knowledge in the Real… Lacan translated the absence of the sexual relation in human life, in his species being, as a tear in the Real, as a hole in the Real: ‘Freud located the fact that what is called sexuality makes a hole in the Real.’”

The not-all, the impossible, the hole, marks the situation of the symbolic with regard to its relation with the body and defines the field of the Real of the experience of jouissance. The use psychoanalysis can make of the neurosciences should be taken into account. Psychoanalysts who close the hole of the experience of jouissance use the different approaches of the neurosciences in an immediate way. The following affirmation of Mark Solms, for example, is such an immediate use: “the recent neurological cartographies are adequate with Freud’s description. The central cerebral trunk at the limbic system—responsible for instincts and drives—corresponds to the Id. The frontal ventral region that controls selective inhibition, the frontal dorsal region that controls conscious thought, and the posterior cortex that perceives the external world correspond to the ego and the superego.” Similarly, we see this immediate use when the contemporary current of Ego Psychology proposes to rethink psychoanalysis from the perceptive of consciousness. Under the title “A Missing Link in Psychoanalytic Practices: Psychoanalytic Consciousness,” M. Busch surprises himself by discovering that what is interesting for neurosciences, namely, consciousness, doesn’t interest psychoanalysis, and he wants to remedy the situation: “It is my position that inherent in every interpretation of the unconscious in clinical psychoanalysis is an implied definition of psychoanalytic consciousness. Whenever we interpret something unknown to a patient we express our belief it is knowable.” It seems to me that even the direct use that Daniel Widlocher makes of the neurosciences in his work on emotional cognitivism, in particular what M. Damasio uses to found his ontology of signification, is subject to caution. “Affect is not easily located in the intimacy of the situation… But of what affect are we speaking? Of that which begins to mark each mental state that succeeds over the course of the session, of those which are ready to come forth at the evocation of such and such an associative chain….?”The “double work of locating affect in the psyche of the Other like that in one’s own” that he attempts to describe makes a direct encounter with emotional “mapping.” The direct use of neurosciences is always likely to become metaphoric or to make psychoanalysis function like a meta-language. M. Lionel Naccache makes many pertinent criticisms of the temptation to directly use the neurosciences in this manner.

I propose, rather, a mediated use of the neurosciences for psychoanalysis, mediated by the quasi-immediate consequences of the contributions of neuroscience: namely, psychopharmacological medicines. If one believes the report recently published in The Academy of Medical Science, which The Economist commented on, the works we are trying to understand today of M. Le Moal on “opposing processes” or on “Addiction and the Brain Antireward System,” and those of Madame Alberini on “The Consolidation and Reconsolidation of Traces,” are in the process of responding to the other works of pharmacodynamics on the derivates of glutamate. They will give birth to a new generation of medicine that promises to better fix memory or, on the contrary, to untie it, on the condition of accepting the synonymy between consolidation/reconsolidation of the trace and fixation/forgetting of memory.

Already in February, Alex Berenson took into account in the New York Times the works of Dr. Schoep who has been working glutamate for the past decade, after falling, as he says, in love with dopamine. He has worked for a longtime for Eli Lily, but went to Merck in 2007, since they offered him more means for experimenting prior to releasing the medication on the market. The moment when dopamine seems less seductive, glutamate is permitted to produce medicines. This hope announced itself after the display of the effects of fluoxetine or antidepressives of the same family in a study by Erik Turner of the University of Oregon, published in January 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The efficacy of medicine can be called into question by meta-analyses whose methodology is not impeccable. One’s hopes are crushed because there is nothing left other than psychotropes that, once produced, are loved, adopted, and used with passion beyond the indications that they were designed for. Everyone remembers the enthusiastic accents of Listening to Prozac by Peter Kramer (1994) or, more soberly, the dependence Elisabeth Wurtzel describes in her autobiography Prozac Nation (2001). The subjects take hold of substances and make them their objects of security, in addiction or measured usage. Whether for Prozac, or medicines for erectile dysfunction, or attention stimulants, off label usage testifies to the manner in which medicine can be an instrument for exploring the body and its jouissance in multiple types of use. It is for their derived capacities for which they are used, that they are inscribed in our lives, unbedded. The review Nature launched, in the first trimester of this year, an informal study on the usage of Ritalin among its readership; of 1400 readers who responded, 1 of 5 declared that they had used Ritalin, ProVigil or other beta-blocking substances for non-medical reasons. The Economist , with its liberal orientation, thinks that one must not over-regulate deviant usages. After all, claims the report, “the genetic variations between individuals are associated with different levels of memory of work.” Ritalin or Provigil users have perhaps found that they feel, in a fashion legitimate for them—but for reasons still unknown—a need for the substance. By epigenetic arguments, they too find the particularity in every subject, that is to say each subject’s uniqueness that Francois Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti situated in the plasticity of the nervous system. A mediated use of the neurosciences assures the highest degree of liberty for both the subject and psychoanalysis regarding what is always fleeting, sliding, and deviant in the experience of the subject’s jouissance. Psychoanalysis’s use of neuroscience is also what the analysand does with it. He too addresses it to the psychoanalyst in making a metaphorical usage of the theoretical contributions of the neurosciences. He inscribes them in his own language. Furthermore, he makes an experience of, rather than learning of, the new objects that the neurosciences produce with the theory that he is already bound to from the beginning. Analyst and analysand again find themselves together, preserving the contingent singularity of an existence.


Ansermet F., Magistretti P., Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience, and the Unconscious, New York, Other Press, 2007, p. 8-10.


Freud, S., “Projet de psychologie,”, (1895-1950), transl. by Francoise Kahn and Rancois Robert, Lettres à Wilhelm Fliess, Paris, PUF., Bibliothèque de psychanalyse, 2006, p. 595-693.

Freud, S., Civilization and Its Discontents, (1929), New York, W.W. Norton, 1989.

Miller J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne, III, 10, lesson of January 30th 2008, TLN n° 376.

Lacan J., “Presentation on Psychical Causality”, Écrits, 2006, W.W. Norton, 130/160, commentary by Miller J.-A., lesson of January 30th 2008, op. cit.

Lacan J., ibid., 135/166.

Dupuy, J.-P., The Mechanization of the Mind: On the Origins of Cognitive Science, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 109. Dupuy is referring to the lecture on January 19th 1955 of Seminar Book II, in which Lacan evokes the octopus in the context of a discussion of memory and the phenomenon of feed-back.

Dehaene S., Reading in the Brain, New York, Viking, 2009.

Antonio Damasio presented a very precise lecture on this topic during the colloquium.

These explorations are reminiscent of the salutations of German students Victor Hugo met in 1840, during his exploration of the Rhine: “Dic nobis domine, in qua parte corporis animam veteres locant philosophi [tell us, master, in which part of the body the ancients located the spirit]? I returned the salutation, and replied: In corde Plato, in sanguine Empedocles, inter duo supercilia Lucretius [Plato in the heart, Empedocles in the blood, and Lucretius between the eyebrows]. The three young men smiled, and the eldest cried: Vivat Gallia regina! [Long live the Gaule, our queen!] I replied: Vivat Germania mater! [Long live Germany, our mother]! We then saluted each other, and passed on.” (Hugo, The Rhine, Twentieth Letter, Victor Hugo Selected Works, vol. 27, 1900).

Dennett D., Kinds of Minds, Phoenix, Science Masters, 1996.

During the colloquium, Marc Jeannerot presented a lecture on this point. The original French reads as follows: “loin qu’il y ait une fonction de synthèse mentale totale, l’intégration mentale est toujours parcellaire, et ce qui s’appelle sujet est justement ce qui est parcellaire de cette intégration.”

Miller J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne III, 10, lesson of February 6th 2008, TLN n° 378.

Gallistel C.R., “Learning Organs,” in The Chomsky Notebook, New York, Columbia University Press, 2009.

Milner, J.-C., Introduction à une science du langage, Paris, Le Seuil, 1989.

Ibid. note 62 p. 252.

Jacob P., The Scope and Limits of Chomsky’s Naturalism, in The Chomsky Notebooks, op. cit., p. 227-228


Searle J.R., Minds, Brains, and Science (1984 Reith Lectures), Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986.

Fodor J., “Modules, frames, fridgeons, sleeping dogs, and the music of the spheres,” p. 27 in Garfield J. (Ed.), Modularity in Knowledge representation and natural-language understanding, Cambridge Mass., MIT Press, 1987.

Andler D., Fagot Largeault A., Saint-Sernin B., Philosophie des sciences II, Paris, Gallimard, Folio Essais, 2002.

Laugier S., “Quine, la science et le naturalisme,” Les philosophes et la science, under the direction of Peirre Wagner, Ed. Gallimard, Folio essai, 2002, p. 715.

Quine, W.V.O., “On empirically equivalent systems of the world,” Erkenntis, 9, 1975, p. 327, cited in Laugier, S., op cit., p. 735.

Laugier S., op. cit., p. 744.

Quine, W.V.O., The Roots of Reference, La sale, Open Court, 1973, p. 80.

“The Nature of Natural Knowledge,” in S. Guttenplan, ed. Mind and Language, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 68.

Laugier S., op. cit., p. 749.

Quine, W.V.O., “Les deux dogmes de l’empirisme,” 1953, translated by Jacob P., De Vienne à Cambridge, Paris, Gallimard, 1980, p. 110.

Miller, J.-A., “Pièces detaches,” Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, La Cause freudienne, N°61, Paris, Navarin/Le Seuil, 2005, p. 143-144.

Busch F., Joseph B., “A Missing Link in Psychoanalytic technique,” Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2004; 85:567-78 available on the website.

One will read the critique from this point of view: Laurent É., Lost in cognition, Nantes, Cécile Defaut, 2008.

Widlocher D., “Affect et empathie,” Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 1999, tome 1, p. 174.

In this colloquium.

Cf., “All on the mind,” The Economist, May 24th, 2008.

Cf., “Daring to Think Differently About Schizophrenia,” The New York Times, February 24th.

Cf., “Smart Drugs,” The Economist, May 24th, 2008.

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The Rio School Massacre
Mario Goldenberg

Wangechi Mutu

Author’s Bio

In January 2010 Jean-François Copé, the parliamentary leader of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the ruling French party, proposed the draft of a law which bans the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places. This announcement came after the anguished six-month debate on the burka and its Arab equivalent, the niqab, which cover the woman’s face, except for a small slit for the eyes. All main political parties expressed their rejection of burka: the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, said it is “totally opposed to the burka,” which amounted to a “prison for women”. The disagreements are of purely tactical nature: although President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes the outright ban on burka as counter-productive, he called for a “debate on national identity” in October 2009, claiming that burka is “against French culture.” The law fines up to 750 Euros on anyone appearing in public “with their face entirely masked”; exemptions would permit the wearing of masks on “traditional, festive occasions,” such as carnivals. Stiffer punishments would be laid down for men who “forced” their wives or daughters to wear full-body veils. The underlying idea is that the burka or niqab are contrary to French traditions of freedom and laws on women’s rights, or to quote Copé: “We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women.” The new legislation is thus intended to protect the dignity and security of women. Furthermore, as Sarkozy said, veils are “not welcome” because, in a secular country like France, they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims… one cannot but note how the allegedly universalist attack on burka on behalf of human rights and dignity ends up as a defense of the particular French way of life.

This law, of course, gave rise to many pragmatic criticisms – the fear is that, if implemented, it will increase the oppression of Muslim women: they will simply not be allowed to leave home and thus be cut even more from society, exposed to the harsh treatment of forced marriages, etc. Furthermore, the fine will exacerbate the issue of poverty and joblessness: it will punish the very women who are least likely to have control over their own money. The problem is, however, a more fundamental one – what makes this whole debate symptomatic is, first, the marginal status of the problem: the whole nation talks about it, while the total number of women wearing both types of full body veil in France is around 2,000, out of a total French population of adult Muslim women of about 1,500,000. (And, incidentally, most of those women who wear full-length veils are below 30 years of age, and a substantial proportion of them are French women who had converted.) The next curious feature is the ambiguity of the critique of burka: it moves at two levels. First, it is presented as the defense of the dignity and freedom of the oppressed Muslim women – one cannot accept that in a secular France, a group of women has to live a hidden life secluded from the public space, be subordinated to brutal patriarchal authority, etc. However, the argument then as a rule shifts towards the anxieties of the non-Muslim French people themselves: faces covered by burka do not fit the coordinates of the French culture and identity, they “intimidate and alienate non-Muslims”… Some French women even used the argument that they experience someone wearing a burka as their own humiliation, as being brutally excluded, rejected from a social link.

This brings us to the true enigma: why does the encounter with a face covered by burka trigger such anxiety? Is it then, that a face covered by burka is no longer the Levinasian face, the Otherness from which the unconditional ethical call emanates? But what if the case is the opposite one? From a Freudian perspective, face is the ultimate mask that conceals the horror of the Neighbor-Thing: face is what makes the Neighbor le semblable, a fellow-man with whom we can identify and empathize. (Not to mention the fact that today, many faces are surgically changed and thus deprived of the last vestiges of natural authenticity.) This then, is why a covered face causes such anxiety: because it confronts us directly with the abyss of the Other-Thing, with the Neighbor in its uncanny dimension. The very covering-up of the face obliterates a protective shield, so that the Other-Thing stares at us directly (recall that burka has a narrow slip for the eyes: we don’t see the eyes, but we know there is a gaze there). Alphonse Allais presented his own version of Salome’s dance of seven veils: when Salome is completely naked, Herod shouts “Go on! On!”, expecting her to take off also the veil of her skin. We should imagine something similar with burka: the opposite of a woman taking off her burka and revealing her natural face. What if we go a step further and imagine a woman “taking off” the skin of her face itself, so that what we see beneath her face is precisely an anonymous dark smooth burka-like surface with a narrow slit for the gaze? “Love thy neighbor!” means, at its most radical, precisely the impossible=real love for this de-subjectivized subject, for this monstrous dark blot cut with a slit/gaze… This is why, in the psychoanalytic treatment, the patient is not sitting face to face to the analyst: they both stare at a third point, since it is only this suspension of the face which opens up the space for the proper dimension of the Neighbor. And therein also resides the limit of the well-known critico-ideological topic of the society of total control where we are all the time tracked and recorded – what eludes the eye of the camera is not some intimate secret but the gaze itself, the object-gaze as the crack/stain in the Other.

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Kenneth White

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The concept of love in Buster Keaton’s films
Martin Egge

Wangechi Mutu

Author’s Bio

In January 2010 Jean-François Copé, the parliamentary leader of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the ruling French party, proposed the draft of a law which bans the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places. This announcement came after the anguished six-month debate on the burka and its Arab equivalent, the niqab, which cover the woman’s face, except for a small slit for the eyes. All main political parties expressed their rejection of burka: the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, said it is “totally opposed to the burka,” which amounted to a “prison for women”. The disagreements are of purely tactical nature: although President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes the outright ban on burka as counter-productive, he called for a “debate on national identity” in October 2009, claiming that burka is “against French culture.” The law fines up to 750 Euros on anyone appearing in public “with their face entirely masked”; exemptions would permit the wearing of masks on “traditional, festive occasions,” such as carnivals. Stiffer punishments would be laid down for men who “forced” their wives or daughters to wear full-body veils. The underlying idea is that the burka or niqab are contrary to French traditions of freedom and laws on women’s rights, or to quote Copé: “We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women.” The new legislation is thus intended to protect the dignity and security of women. Furthermore, as Sarkozy said, veils are “not welcome” because, in a secular country like France, they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims… one cannot but note how the allegedly universalist attack on burka on behalf of human rights and dignity ends up as a defense of the particular French way of life.

This law, of course, gave rise to many pragmatic criticisms – the fear is that, if implemented, it will increase the oppression of Muslim women: they will simply not be allowed to leave home and thus be cut even more from society, exposed to the harsh treatment of forced marriages, etc. Furthermore, the fine will exacerbate the issue of poverty and joblessness: it will punish the very women who are least likely to have control over their own money. The problem is, however, a more fundamental one – what makes this whole debate symptomatic is, first, the marginal status of the problem: the whole nation talks about it, while the total number of women wearing both types of full body veil in France is around 2,000, out of a total French population of adult Muslim women of about 1,500,000. (And, incidentally, most of those women who wear full-length veils are below 30 years of age, and a substantial proportion of them are French women who had converted.) The next curious feature is the ambiguity of the critique of burka: it moves at two levels. First, it is presented as the defense of the dignity and freedom of the oppressed Muslim women – one cannot accept that in a secular France, a group of women has to live a hidden life secluded from the public space, be subordinated to brutal patriarchal authority, etc. However, the argument then as a rule shifts towards the anxieties of the non-Muslim French people themselves: faces covered by burka do not fit the coordinates of the French culture and identity, they “intimidate and alienate non-Muslims”… Some French women even used the argument that they experience someone wearing a burka as their own humiliation, as being brutally excluded, rejected from a social link.

This brings us to the true enigma: why does the encounter with a face covered by burka trigger such anxiety? Is it then, that a face covered by burka is no longer the Levinasian face, the Otherness from which the unconditional ethical call emanates? But what if the case is the opposite one? From a Freudian perspective, face is the ultimate mask that conceals the horror of the Neighbor-Thing: face is what makes the Neighbor le semblable, a fellow-man with whom we can identify and empathize. (Not to mention the fact that today, many faces are surgically changed and thus deprived of the last vestiges of natural authenticity.) This then, is why a covered face causes such anxiety: because it confronts us directly with the abyss of the Other-Thing, with the Neighbor in its uncanny dimension. The very covering-up of the face obliterates a protective shield, so that the Other-Thing stares at us directly (recall that burka has a narrow slip for the eyes: we don’t see the eyes, but we know there is a gaze there). Alphonse Allais presented his own version of Salome’s dance of seven veils: when Salome is completely naked, Herod shouts “Go on! On!”, expecting her to take off also the veil of her skin. We should imagine something similar with burka: the opposite of a woman taking off her burka and revealing her natural face. What if we go a step further and imagine a woman “taking off” the skin of her face itself, so that what we see beneath her face is precisely an anonymous dark smooth burka-like surface with a narrow slit for the gaze? “Love thy neighbor!” means, at its most radical, precisely the impossible=real love for this de-subjectivized subject, for this monstrous dark blot cut with a slit/gaze… This is why, in the psychoanalytic treatment, the patient is not sitting face to face to the analyst: they both stare at a third point, since it is only this suspension of the face which opens up the space for the proper dimension of the Neighbor. And therein also resides the limit of the well-known critico-ideological topic of the society of total control where we are all the time tracked and recorded – what eludes the eye of the camera is not some intimate secret but the gaze itself, the object-gaze as the crack/stain in the Other.

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A Letter Which Did Arrive At Its Destination
Slavoj Zizek

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Lacan Quotidien
selected translations

Wangechi Mutu

Author’s Bio

In January 2010 Jean-François Copé, the parliamentary leader of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the ruling French party, proposed the draft of a law which bans the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places. This announcement came after the anguished six-month debate on the burka and its Arab equivalent, the niqab, which cover the woman’s face, except for a small slit for the eyes. All main political parties expressed their rejection of burka: the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, said it is “totally opposed to the burka,” which amounted to a “prison for women”. The disagreements are of purely tactical nature: although President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes the outright ban on burka as counter-productive, he called for a “debate on national identity” in October 2009, claiming that burka is “against French culture.” The law fines up to 750 Euros on anyone appearing in public “with their face entirely masked”; exemptions would permit the wearing of masks on “traditional, festive occasions,” such as carnivals. Stiffer punishments would be laid down for men who “forced” their wives or daughters to wear full-body veils. The underlying idea is that the burka or niqab are contrary to French traditions of freedom and laws on women’s rights, or to quote Copé: “We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women.” The new legislation is thus intended to protect the dignity and security of women. Furthermore, as Sarkozy said, veils are “not welcome” because, in a secular country like France, they intimidate and alienate non-Muslims… one cannot but note how the allegedly universalist attack on burka on behalf of human rights and dignity ends up as a defense of the particular French way of life.

This law, of course, gave rise to many pragmatic criticisms – the fear is that, if implemented, it will increase the oppression of Muslim women: they will simply not be allowed to leave home and thus be cut even more from society, exposed to the harsh treatment of forced marriages, etc. Furthermore, the fine will exacerbate the issue of poverty and joblessness: it will punish the very women who are least likely to have control over their own money. The problem is, however, a more fundamental one – what makes this whole debate symptomatic is, first, the marginal status of the problem: the whole nation talks about it, while the total number of women wearing both types of full body veil in France is around 2,000, out of a total French population of adult Muslim women of about 1,500,000. (And, incidentally, most of those women who wear full-length veils are below 30 years of age, and a substantial proportion of them are French women who had converted.) The next curious feature is the ambiguity of the critique of burka: it moves at two levels. First, it is presented as the defense of the dignity and freedom of the oppressed Muslim women – one cannot accept that in a secular France, a group of women has to live a hidden life secluded from the public space, be subordinated to brutal patriarchal authority, etc. However, the argument then as a rule shifts towards the anxieties of the non-Muslim French people themselves: faces covered by burka do not fit the coordinates of the French culture and identity, they “intimidate and alienate non-Muslims”… Some French women even used the argument that they experience someone wearing a burka as their own humiliation, as being brutally excluded, rejected from a social link.

This brings us to the true enigma: why does the encounter with a face covered by burka trigger such anxiety? Is it then, that a face covered by burka is no longer the Levinasian face, the Otherness from which the unconditional ethical call emanates? But what if the case is the opposite one? From a Freudian perspective, face is the ultimate mask that conceals the horror of the Neighbor-Thing: face is what makes the Neighbor le semblable, a fellow-man with whom we can identify and empathize. (Not to mention the fact that today, many faces are surgically changed and thus deprived of the last vestiges of natural authenticity.) This then, is why a covered face causes such anxiety: because it confronts us directly with the abyss of the Other-Thing, with the Neighbor in its uncanny dimension. The very covering-up of the face obliterates a protective shield, so that the Other-Thing stares at us directly (recall that burka has a narrow slip for the eyes: we don’t see the eyes, but we know there is a gaze there). Alphonse Allais presented his own version of Salome’s dance of seven veils: when Salome is completely naked, Herod shouts “Go on! On!”, expecting her to take off also the veil of her skin. We should imagine something similar with burka: the opposite of a woman taking off her burka and revealing her natural face. What if we go a step further and imagine a woman “taking off” the skin of her face itself, so that what we see beneath her face is precisely an anonymous dark smooth burka-like surface with a narrow slit for the gaze? “Love thy neighbor!” means, at its most radical, precisely the impossible=real love for this de-subjectivized subject, for this monstrous dark blot cut with a slit/gaze… This is why, in the psychoanalytic treatment, the patient is not sitting face to face to the analyst: they both stare at a third point, since it is only this suspension of the face which opens up the space for the proper dimension of the Neighbor. And therein also resides the limit of the well-known critico-ideological topic of the society of total control where we are all the time tracked and recorded – what eludes the eye of the camera is not some intimate secret but the gaze itself, the object-gaze as the crack/stain in the Other.

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Egan Frantz reads Barthes’s The Neutral
Egan Frantz

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