The Desire of Lacan

Jacques-Alain Miller

Translated by Jorge Jauregui and Marguerite C Laporte

Theo Adams


“Lacan’s utterances never allow one to overlook its enunciation. Unlike Freud, the audience—not embodying an unbiased listener—is rather a part of the demonstration to which it is bespoken. The author of the Écrits was someone who spoke while addressing his words to them for whom he was the actual referent. And that is what substantiated the uniqueness of an enunciation in concern with the unconscious coalescing the dimension of sense to jouissance.

Thus Lacan is able to posit a critique of Freud’s Edipus by disassembling its manlike dream structure ruled by the master discourse. He then introduces division and the objet a to convey, from the feminine side, the key to the onset of the analyst social invention.

Utterance, no matter its contents, enjoys a secular perfection called desire. Pleasure is now, in the present tense. Jacques Lacan names this tense persistently.”

—(Germán García, “Prefacio,” El Deseo de Lacan)

I had the October 1991 Jacques Lacan Encounter in mind when I inaugurated the expression “The Desire of Lacan” in my Seminar in Paris, as well as the dilemmas inherent to all commemorations. The dead is exposed to a sort of contingent, compelling make-up which I deem unsuitable, apropos Lacan. He needs no make up.

And this is how I find appealing enough to bring before my fellow members the idea of thinking Lacan, on the occasion of the Xº Anniversary of his passing away, from a different angle. Which doesn’t mean that Lacan ten years after his death recedes. Just the opposite. I think Lacan is close, very close and perhaps too close to us, his disciples. If you would somehow push him away he could become Other to of hysterics as not being friendly is a bit of a slander. It is a slander to infer that they take offense when in truth they are trying to assert themselves in the fleeting juncture of the quest of knowledge. Instead of switching partners in order to become an unknown to the next man, my patient’s quest conveyed the perpetual struggle of being the Other woman for the same man. Something of Lacan exists here. I think his texts, his Écrits , his protean style, allow for him to be forever a stranger to the reader. So it is with me at least: he’s still a stranger to me.

I don’t know if I am stating that Lacan is my wife. As it is well known, it’s his daughter who is my wife. However, for you, devoted readers of Lacan, somehow he is the wife of each one of you, me excepted. To speak about the desire of Lacan is a way to let go of him a bit. I tend to think we endure the belief bearing on Lacan’s ideas that what he thought we think as well. I perused over the texts of the Encounter and over other texts…isn’t it amazing how everybody agrees with Lacan? To assume that what he thought we all think is perhaps an identification effect; the use we do of all of Lacan’s signifiers could be the result of a secret identification with him. Again, it could be an obstacle to brood upon. To further the topic, to introduce in our vocabulary the expression “the desire of Lacan,” bespeaks of my intention to bring about a certain effect of de-identification.

Jacques Lacan wasn’t just anyone. From this you can infer that he was either an uncommon human being or that he enjoyed, like everybody else, a desire of his own, which is not necessarily the desire of others. Somehow we act towards analysts as if they were all Lacanians. You can write this down by applying Lacan’s rational quantification: you, an unknown Other. I think that this suits significantly the desire of Lacan. And you could even state that he has hysteric attributes.

The representation of hysteria proper is impuissance vis-à-vis knowledge, the bid of hysteria in the like of “enjoy my riddle,” so it is with Lacan. With his work, with his Écrits, with his style, he is inducing scrutiny while prompting seminars, lectures and symposia to get the drift of what he meant to say. It is an almost world scale industry—the debates about the riddle of Lacan—of which all of us are a part. Let’s say that this already accounts for Lacan’s hysteria.

I will refer to a patient of mine, a young woman who sought analysis since she couldn’t bear the violence of her jealousy: She was jealous of an older man whom she was living with. Still fascinated with the very moment in which that man had gazed upon her for the first time, for that woman the charm was there—as yet when she was unknown to him. Right away this “being unknown” was gradually vanishing every next day she spent with him. Her jealousy occurred through thinking that another “unknown woman” would engage his gaze; this woman, a stranger, would be in possession of the quality she certainly lacked. She would have the agalma of the unknown, an agalma you lose soon after it arises.

My patient was coming to analysis because she was tired of pretending to be unknowable to the man whom she was living with. Updating her status of unknown woman entailed a daily effort, that is, to try and surprise him at all times. There was lassitude for the patient and probably lassitude for that man as well.

In this way she embodied what is not possible to know. And this is why I would say that the common belief

In his last Seminar Lacan acknowledged himself as a “non-Lacanian.” There is at least one that is not Lacanian; he called himself a Freudian.1

While introducing the expression the desire of Lacan, I did it not without precautions, for its inception brings about a malaise effect, an effect of sacrilege. It is impossible to analyze the real father and in regard to the imaginary father, you are better off cloaking him with the veil of Maya’s divinity.

The sole fact of speaking about the desire of Lacan is certainly to cause an effect of depreciation. Thereby Lacan invented the expression the desire of Freud which he surmises as a critique to Freud himself. In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis2 the desire of Freud is put into question together with the responsibility of this desire in the history of psychoanalysis.

Lacan introduces the question of the desire of Freud at the very moment of his excommunication—when his relationship with the International Psychoanalytic Association created by Freud is severed. He could have considered that eviction, of which we are the heirs, an accident. Precisely this is his legacy, to instate us likewise as dissidents.

Instead of dealing with the eviction as an accident he construed the incident as the corollary of a logic internal to psychoanalysis—almost inescapable because of the way in which Freud formed its organization and its transmission.

If Lacan does not back away from the notion of his excommunication stemming from the desire of Freud it’s because he deems it not an error nor a misunderstanding. He responds to it and questions the desire present in psychoanalysis since Freud, and somehow on account of Freud. Thereby Lacan raised his excommunication to the register of necessity. Suffice to say that you are still indefinitely scrutinizing the story.

Right after what befell him from the international establishment Lacan characterizes the analyst stand in the analytical cure as a position of waste. He will undertake the theoretical design of this status in his Seminar L’Angoisse 3 precisely when he’s been negotiated by his peers as an object. He addresses the subject in the first chapter of The Four Fundamental Concepts:4 Lacan turns himself into the witness of a certain failure for psychoanalysis.

When Lacan speaks about psychoanalysis the word failure recurs often. In 1967 he journeys to Rome to lecture on the Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis delivered in 1953 as a report to the Rome Congress; he called his paper La Psychanalyse. Raison d’un Echec.5 If he brackets a fifteen-year endeavor inside the word failure, it’s because he posits the disappearance of psychoanalysis through the agency of civilization and its discontents. The discontent in civilization shall overcome psychoanalysis.

Despite the success in the transmission and dissemination of psychoanalysis, there exists a rather somber Lacanian narrative which relates to desire. When Lacan reformulates The Four Fundamental Concepts he stresses that this Seminar supersedes another which will never take place, namely Les Noms du Père.6 What follows in the substitution of concepts—from Freud to Les Noms du Père—is the outline of a persistent inquiry: he won’t cease to question the desire of this question you answer only with another signifier. When a word has a blurred connotation or if a sentence is misconstrued you may ask: “What does that mean?” the answer is another signifier. When you ask about the mathematical symbol: “What does that mean?” the answer is prone to repeat the question’s signifier. It makes no sense to inquire about the meaning of the mathematical symbol, and it’s in this sense that Lacan stated that mathematics infringes upon the law of the signifier.


1 Lacan, Jacques, “Intervention de Lacan à Caracas”, (7/12-15/1980), L’Ane, Paris, 1981.

2 Lacan, J., Seminar XI: The Four Fondamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, NY: Norton, 1981. On p. 12: “So hysteria places us, I would say, on the track of some kind of original sin in analysis. There has to be one. The truth is perhaps simply one thing, namely, the desire of Freud himself, the fact that something, in Freud, was never analysed.”.

3Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre X, L’angoisse, 1962, unpublished.

4Lacan, J., chapter I “Excommunication” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, NY: Norton, 1981.






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