Two Clinical Dimensions: Symptom and Fantasm
Jacques-Alain Miller

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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