Reading Jacques Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety
Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio

Translation by Barbara P. Fulks.

I. Either Anxiety or the Concept

1. From One Book to the Other


We have dedicated some time to a work devoted to the evaluation of psychotherapies in order to review it, elucidate it, and dissect it, with perhaps what we might call a certain “Lacanian sadism.”1  Now I will present to you another book, even though you may be familiar with it in other forms.  The content of it has already been covered throughout this course and in numerous courses and articles.2  But something happens when this mass of notes takes the form of a book.  In any case, I can testify that it happens to me in the work itself of giving form to what I’ve gone through and meditated on, just like you.  I’m talking about the new tome, soon to appear, of Jacques Lacan’s Seminar, Anxiety, Book X.
I bring you the reflections of someone who is still, if not exactly in the middle of fording the stream, then between the first and second attempts at crossing.  He who speaks to you is inside, on the job, and not just for today, in a context you know to be very heated this year—a context which is perhaps not indifferent to the choices that I have made to bring this Seminar to publication.  In a context in which the regulation of psychotherapies was the talk of the town, a context which is largely marked by the passion of evaluation, the appearance of such a book could only be inopportune, at the wrong moment, out of tune, an appearance for which one can anticipate dissonance.

In a sense, one could dream of nothing better for this Seminar: that it come to light, that it arrive to the public, at a  moment when one can be assured that its strangeness will be a contrast.


Crossing Over

It would be quite comical—I restrain myself—to construct a parallel between one book and another, the rapport between INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de le recherche médicale) and the Seminar on Anxiety.  One must do it in the genre of deadpan.

What to say, then?  That one book is a product of teamwork which virtually embraces psychopathology, while the other is the work of an isolated researcher—self-proclaimed, moreover.  In the year which followed this Seminar, at the beginning of the subsequent one, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, it is true that this researcher questioned how he was authorized to express himself in such a way without being validated by collaboration, the surveillance of which seems today to be the indispensable instrument of such a work, that is, to be controlled by peers.

One perceives that, concerning psychoanalysis, some prejudices remain about solitary, genial intuition.  Where did he get it?  And why was it left up to him?  He dedicated himself, in a way which seems narrow, to a unique phenomenon drawn from the vast domain which today is called psychopathology.

While the first book that we dissected is supported by an enormous mass of other works, this one is content to refer to a very small number of authors and works, and is nourished by diverse contingencies, by voyages, by encounters, by pictorial expositions which are found along the route.  A very small number of works is mobilized here, contrary to what one can find in certain other seminars of Lacan.  And especially since the first “INSERM-ic” book never loses sight of the treatment of the illness and always tries to ameliorate it, while in the second, Lacan’s, one cannot say that anxiety is considered as an illness, a dysfunction.  He doesn’t appear to have found the indication, in this Seminar, of the anxiety with which he deals, let us call it Lacanian anxiety.  And in the attempt to find it, the author proceeds with an enormous excavation of multiple forms of anxiety and of the occasions of its appearance—not as a question of speaking of its cure, but rather at the most of crossing over it.  Thus when one considers this work in regard to the other, the author, the orator transformed into author, succeeds rather through his indifference to treatment, so occupied is he in showing what his passion is.  What is it?  It does not hide itself: following his discourse, articulating its terms, conjoining them, and giving to each its exact place.

This can serve as a thread to what characterizes this research, and one searches in vain for a clear answer as to what mobilized the works.  Everything on the order of psychotherapy, in a superb, arrogant fashion, is absent from the work.  In this respect, it is especially inopportune that we are required—and by whom?—to respond to the treatment and its efficacy at this moment.


A Conceptual Space

This Seminar should be read assuming that what concerns the direction of the cure, in regard to anxiety and what it brings with it, is left, entrusted, to those who listen.  Each one can take advantage of it, give it a practical translation.  And it is legitimate for a teaching to be deployed in its continuity, with a certain mystery whose elaborations have a context.  Summoning someone who speaks of curing anxiety is not the order of the day in this Seminar.  I have underlined its traits.  I will state here that the doctrine of the cure nevertheless figures in this Seminar, but in a secondary, lateral way, since one finds there careful but limited readings from a certain number of Anglo-American texts concerning counter-transference, of which Lacan announces that the question should be explored under the expertise of the desire of the analyst.  It is thus through this angle I call lateral, given the place it has in this Seminar and the fact that Lacan entrusts its presentation to others, that one finds there, whatever the cost of the remarks made, a preparatory enclave rather than central developments.

You see that, in beginning to compare the two books, which is a parallel farce, one easily slides into a privileging of the point of view of INSERM.  This point of view is not their privilege, it is what happens to us and we have been riveted for some time on this work.  Thus we have suffered the shock, the surprise, the event, and we have done well to emphasize it, to take hold of it.  Now we must, since there will soon be another book on treatments, peel ourselves away from these commandments: “You are there to cure.  You deal with illness, with dysfunctions.  How can you do good any other way?”

This is the evidence of today.  There it is.  But this book is also going to be there, demanding that one give up this demand, this desire for the Other, and that one enter into another dimension.  Is this difficult?  How can I lead you into this dimension?  How to retrieve what is perhaps our Lacanian bubble of discourse, since we have put all our efforts into speaking the language of the Other.  How do we construct the counter-argument?

Many among you here have a rapport with the practice of psychoanalysis: you are in analysis, you have been analyzed.  The dimension we must re-establish is that in which the question of evaluation, of therapy, is not instantaneous at each instant.  Perhaps it is occasionally there, in particular when anxiety resists, but there is always another dimension.

The vociferations of this desire for the Other, the “INSERM-ic” vociferations, are quiet, can no longer be heard.  Perhaps they can make themselves heard if they give themselves over to it, to this work of Lacan.  Will they do it?  I leave you the task of imagining how they will look at this work, how they will trace the trail of the meteorite, an incongruous object of this sort.  Doubtless they would experience a certain disquieting strangeness, that a book with the title of Anxietycould contain this type of purpose: a work in which anxiety, strictly speaking, is not an illness to be treated, but rather is given its conceptual place with reference to Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety.3

From their point of view, it seems to me that the Seminar on Anxietywould be best classified as being on the order of literary creation.  Should we reject this classification?  I’m not so sure.  There is, in the Seminar on Anxiety, an elegy of literary fiction which echoes what Freud expressed in his work, The Uncanny.4  Lacan, following in Freud’s footsteps, pays tribute to literary fiction, and he takes it as a guide for giving stability to fugitive experiences, a stability which offers a better articulation.  Literary fiction supplies, says Lacan, “a sort of ideal point.”5


Perhaps we could here invert the perspective and ask ourselves how the rapport of INSERM is inscribed in the perspective of the Seminar on Anxiety.  This work shows an effort of quantification, of accounting, of assessing which has its dignity and even its necessity in the way in which it translates what is put into place, what is constructed in the Seminar on Anxiety: the inscription of the subject in the field of the Other as the place of the signifier.  The subject can only inscribe itself there as marked by recurrence, the repetition of the number 1.  This is what expresses the writing of the barred subject.  This passion for quantification, for evaluation, affects what is isolated in the Seminar on Anxiety as the original mark of the trait of subjective identification.  We find there Lacan’s construction of a schema which was never published, an elementary schema of division, which I have, once and for all, had photographed for this Seminar.


It could not be more elementary: a vertical line on which is found inscribed some of the letters which we have learned long ago to work with, and which are there in order to present what Lacan indicated as a division, a division of the Other by the subject.

Why this word “division”?  One understands it retroactively because it is what was isolated by Lacan in order to qualify it.  Division, because Lacan gave a value to the function of the remainder, and it is this notion of remainder which the construction of a division requires.  A division in which one takes as the first result the ciphering of the subject, its grip in the repetition of One, and one isolates, inscribes, in a supplementary fashion, the remainder with the famous small letter a.  This remainder is isolated so that the Other is not simply the One.  If the field of the Other were only made of Ones, it would be reducible, it would only be the ensemble of these Ones.  What directs the reading of the Seminar is not forgetting that the Other is Other because there is a remainder.

Other ≠ One

This elementary construct is already enough to support many objections that we could make in relationship to INSERM.  These objections rest on what we have acquired from this Seminar and what follows it; they rest on the remainder, on the notion of an unquantifiable remainder, a remainder which is not One.  Which means there is something in the Other which is not the signifier.  Lacan inscribes here what might be the response: the barred A as that which constitutes me as unconscious, the Other as what I do not attain, let us say the Other as desire.  I only inscribe this schema as the objection that the function of the remainder makes to the passion for evaluation.  We find, in a moment in the Seminar, another prescription in which petit a is written before barred S,6 and this correlates to a theoretical reversal which is susceptible of passing unperceived, since we must say that it rests here on the head of a pin.

This is an excerpt. Please see lacanian ink 26 for full article.


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