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

translated 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 Anxiety could 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 Anxiety would 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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The presumed
third sex
Pierre-Gilles Gueguen


by Pierre-Gilles Gueguen


The Desire of Norrie

The case of Norrie May-Welby (not her original name but one she changed through a legal procedure) has brought forth gender issues in their relationship not to the norm, but to the law.


Norrie is an unusual character who underwent MTF sex change surgery in 1989 at the age of 27 (she is today 52). This did not, as stated in the newspaper Liberation of April 2, 2014, “put  an end to the ambiguity she feels about her sexual identity.” She wanted to be recognized as gender neutral by the highest authorities of her country, a country of rights of Common Law, which finally ruled that the High Court recognizes that a person can be neither male nor female sex, and thus allowing the registration of a person as a “non-specific” gender. She is the first if not the only in the world to be recognized in this way. Note that this fact poses a slight legislative problem because in France, marriage is permitted only between a man and a woman.


Such legislation has spread in increasingly numerous countries, including Germany, Nepal, and  India as of last month, for various reasons and under pressure from various lobbies. In Germany, for example, as in Switzerland, it is the issue of intersex who are not transgender or queer but are biologically and anatomically neither male or female, which pushed forward legislation favorable to the inclusion in the registry office of a third reference, other than male or female. In India and Pakistan there are cultural traditions that provide a place for people who do not clearly meet the man / woman dichotomy. In the case of the Swiss, it is the question of medical intervention decisions that often operated with the doctor’s decision without the consent or opinion of the person or his parents, which pushed the country to acknowledge the possibility of a deferred choice, neither man nor woman.


Variety of Genders

Transgender—what we used to call transsexual—is now divided into two groups (post-op and pre-op), and yet another scenario that is based on a belief that the body is the opposite sex that one belongs to psychologically.


We distinguish again these variants from the “traditional” sexuality (a man who feels like a man and a woman who feels like a woman who are attracted exclusively to individuals of the opposite sex) from multiple forms of homosexuality, exclusive or not. It seems we are moving forward in the process of normalization.


It is all these palettes of sexual practices and possibilities of the meeting of bodies that the “Gender” movement came to interrogate and upset. It corresponded with a rise of feminist movements especially in the USA and also homosexual movements which began in the USA in the ‘60s.  These protests against the “Standard Male” in our Western societies were contemporaneous with the decline of the paternal function they crossed. At first  protesters attempted to theorize the avatars of desire in contemporary society. The French theory has often served as an intellectual support for these revolts experienced rightly as anti-segregationist but had often produced various communal groups that obviously had extreme difficulty in arriving at what they were trying to avoid to denounce, as it is impossible to achieve the utopia of a clear standard of any sexuality. Freedom is only limited by madness and a total socialization


Derrida and Foucault were French philosophers which scholars of gender have often referred–Lacan much less so. Judith Butler tried but despite her talent, did not address one philosopher. Let us say that Gender Studies have attempted to address the embarrassment of sex without wanting to know, according to the formula Lacan gave on Television, what fate was reserved for their unconscious without wanting to experience the real in and with analysis.



The back cover of a recent book that brings together texts by gender specialists of the University of Bordeaux, Judith Butler: Gender Troublesummarizes well the state of the question:


Challenging the stabilized order of genders is part of a renewed analysis of the influence of power relations on lives and forms of mental alienation that are related. The result is a disorder in the subject, marked both by the imminence of contentious rage and exposure to melancholy.


The analytical point of view


It is here that Gender Studies, which is at best a discourse of philosophers, separates from all that is original in psychoanalysis, and it should be recalled that psychoanalysis is first the singular experience of the unconscious, that is to say, the experience which is part of there being something at ill ease with human sexuality.

Recall also that, contrary to the discourse of gender studies, psychoanalysis is not interested only in individual cases. The Oedipal standard certainly could convey an entire period, but Lacan got out of this rut differently and before Deleuze and Guattari finally seem to do their work, Anti-Oedipus (1972), with which Lacan disagrees. Its trajectory is more resumable of the term “Beyond Oedipus” which means that in order to pass the father, one must, in analysis, not use a standard but a compass for an ethic that will turn each time to produce singular consequences for the subject.


In a sense, the hystericals were the first to point out that between the body and the signification given, there is in human beings a hiatus. The question had also been raised by Freud under the aegis of psychic bisexuality which he debated with his friend Fliess.


Lacan meanwhile renewed this perspective in his sexuation formulas, but in a very different way than gender studies, we will return to this. He even goes on to say that it is “an assumption, an assumption that there is a male or female subject, this is an assumption that makes the experience obviously untenable …” (les non dupes errent leçon du, 15 Jan 1974)


Now back to Norrie. To paraphrase Lacan, I would say Norrie “has a body and has only one.” She wanted to meet Tiresias and at least by some specular and biotechnological arrangements to arrange herself on the feminine side.


In Between

As for Norrie, she teaches us that she is still not more at ease with this arrangement nor changes made to her anatomy and her hormonal metabolism. She said she needed to see the words “non-specified” written on paper, because in the eyes of another, she thinks that her body has characteristics of both sexes. (Adam’s apple, but female voice etc …). She has managed to create more than just a standard or a law. She said on Youtube, specifically for the possible customs or police officer who saw her ID, she would visually correspond neither to a man nor a woman. And although she leans towards the identity of the female gender, she prefers to remain “in between.”


This already tells us that the Other is at stake in his narcissistic image and more precisely in the form of a critical view. The other sees this as having failed to form a satisfactory narcissistic image. [1] In addition, the solution she chose to somehow set the law in stone allows him to push to the extreme limit or to infinity having to declare oneself man or woman. This is to say, to have anything to do with the phallic meaning in the unconscious drives forced choice.


She realizes, taken to the extreme, because the speaking, the spoken does not find good sexual identification. She takes this literally in her case. Her being is neither male nor female, nonetheless it must be done using the common signifying pair male / female and the opposition it contains in order to deny its validity.


As Helen Bonnaud reported in her article in Lacan Quotidien 396: Norrie invents a solution. She also made a name, spokesman activist of a “movement” supported by lawyers and other activists could not bear to be stowed under the weight of a meaning to refuse to apply their body “this empty sack” (I am referring to the note leads to another JAM in Seminar XXIII P214). We can say that the language is based on the forced choice, as it would mark a reported lesser body (Lacan would have said the phallic significance in its classical period) is unbearable for Norrie (whether carrying the phallus or that it is private). This body outside body is not sustainable because it carries with it the castration. Hence the surprising solution: deny that there is a signifier of sexual difference that applies to her body. It takes a symbolic apparatus for her body, imagined without sex, to withstand a knot, which makes Sinthome. I refer to page 139 of the XXIII Seminar: Norrie makes the solution in an attempt to keep as a symptom rejection of the law of anatomy, and it is especially important that we as psychoanalysts, the law of articulation of language functioning in opposition. Something outside meaning, namely neither-nor, no law, no order. (See my paper ‘la part perdue” Freudian Cause 37) The real that belies anatomy and all the scientific reason as well as the nature and is based on a “choice” but she has no idea that it is a choice of jouissance. Her imaginary solution that excludes a symbolic term does keep the body.


It is a way to block the other, and this is not how the neurotic body with which the language brings with itself castration, i.e. lack. But it still makes use of the symbolic to put her castration “outside” with a device that makes the Other inconsistent instead of a registration of an absolute truth that could say: the lack in the Other does not exist but is designated still by a form of lacking.  See the “God of Schreber” which it is often said that he stops the Other but we must see that he is split. See also what Lacan called “The Woman does not exist.”


It is difficult to predict what the strength of the knot is, or if it will be as strong as that of Joyce. In this case we could say that with the Lacan of this page of Seminar 23 that the Unconscious of Norrie is real or even with older formulations of Lacan it is the open sky that house the truth of her certainty. By formally placing the body it is immune to gender differences. It is the origin of sexual ambiguity in the mind and thus may well call herself “intersex” (interview on You tube) then she was born male, but with an intersex mind!


She uses the theories of gender identity and a metonymic reference to neuroscience and biology to make a symbolic object out of words and yet is torn in different discourses.


Admire the feat. (Admirons le tour de force)



This quaint character highlights by contrast the weak point of gender theories that she uses in her own way by deconstructing and kneading them as Joyce does with literature (Ulysses).


She relies primarily on Queer discourse and seems in the YouTube interview, to makes her fate a voyage between the various subcultures of the LGBT world. “At first I was more at ease as gay then as a drag queen and then more feminine then after contacting transsexuals, I wanted to have surgery and I become even more feminine … but not entirely. ” She explains her journey as if it was a metonymic drift in the register of the appointment of a symptom rather than a choice of jouissance.


The solution that was eventually chosen, which is not to choose and invent an intersex mind should probably be fine in her case, especially since it makes use the terms used by Lacan in his Seminar on Joyce. This solution is elevated to the height of a sublimation, allowing it to support a cause in the media suddenly summoned to illustrate this “first”, with the added benefit of opening up the way for the rights of a “person.”


Certainly the idea of a third sex can register on identity papers will cause those backwards souls who linger to the idea that nature, as the divine law, prescribes the straight model, to complain. But also a good number of gay or trans who would like models of enjoyment for universal use (even if it is within a subculture) and say that like marriage between people of the same gender, it affects the revolutionary root of “sexual transgressions.” There was a time when the Chevalier d’Eon seemed to move in the world without raising many problems …


Norrie and Daniel Paul


Having said that, psychoanalysis has its great man who had invented an alternative for his own use: President Schreber. A man up to 50 years, non-operated, yet enjoying a fantasy of being a woman of God.


Maybe one day we’ll know more about the jouissance of Norrie.


How can this case, however, continue to teach us? Maybe by taking a few comparative clinical distinctions with the Schreber case.


Subject to other information, we do not know if Norrie knew such acute episodes as those in which Schreber describes the connection signifying chain as completely defeated and where the voice comes back in a terrifying form that Schreber called the miracle of howl. We do not know if she also had sufferings such as those Schreber spoke of and which are the current clinical extraordinary psychoses where exactly the body, its image and the language unravel. She however spoke on YouTube of a postoperative depression.


However, it is important to remember that psychoanalysis can comment, unlike gender theory, on the impact of the unconscious in humans and in particular warn of unconscious determinations of their own and which ones they should individually  “know and do .”


Helen Bonnaud rightly points out that for Lacan “to err on the male side or female side on the table of sexuation formulas is not about sex but about jouissance. The enjoyment of the body is a symptom for Norrie just as it is for everyone. For her there is no connection between her sexual jouissance and sexual identity. She does not find it because it can not exist outside these two signifiers that are somehow markers of sexual difference ….


Genevieve Morel said this in a different article in the Cause freudienne N°37:


Are identifications sufficient to establish the sexualization of a subject? This is what makes the proponents of gender theory advocate. Psychoanalysis objects clinically without disregarding their importance.


On the one hand, psychoanalysis of neurotics, when carried far enough, shows that options for jouissance are taken very early by the subject, indicating a sex selection. … Lacan’s teachings of the seventies propose a logic of gendering, for quantification of propositional functions of jouissance, which is not a logic of identification, which is the class and the attribute. The whole is the peak of this logic: it is in itself anti-identification par excellence. (It does not in effect include existence, the very least necessary for identification). This is what makes it inconvenient for the subject and growth, paradoxically, to take many identifications to deal with the discomfort of that choice. Hence the frequency of hysteria in women.


On the other hand, psychoanalysis of psychotics shows, in the study of certain triggers, a disruption of sexuation of the subject, with a collapse of identification which is then found to have effectively defined a hitherto sexuation, but labile. These identifications framed life, gave meaning to certain organs or body functions, and included sex. But when these identifications are let go, the subject must invent something else, sometimes relentlessly. Sometimes there has been a push to the feminine, but it may be the reverse. This shows the inadequacy of such identifications, prior to the outbreak, to firmly establish the sexuation of a subject, even though his “gender” was sometimes yet well defined by them.


However, there are identifications, which, by the classificatory logic they imply, have a real impact on the jouissance of the subject …”


I recall to strengthen this position but also to complete it on some points, what Jacques -Alain Miller stated in his course in January 1983 under the title, Du symptôme au fantasme et retour.

He warned us against misuse of the category of psychosis resulting from contamination of psychoanalysis by psychiatry. (Mainly by referencing Ecrits: Question préliminaire… Du trieb de Freud et Subversion)


About desire, for example, on p.852, Miller rectifies certain prejudices supporting the lecture of Lacan which tended to entrench the psychotic state in a segregated ghetto.


He first mentions that for Lacan desire is prior to the Act; even in cases of serious psychoses desire is there, it is the desire of the primordial other and it does not need to be standardized by the NDP. This is evident in the case of Norrie and her desire for her uniqueness to be recognized. Lacan goes so far as to say that the desire is autonomous in relation to the Act.


Not independent of the signifier but compared to the standard Act that the paternal metaphor imposes the desire of the mother in the most typical cases.



And as Miller points out if we stuck to the failure of the paternal metaphor that subordinates the desire of the act so then we could not speak of desire in the psychotic: if we can doubt whether there is desire in psychosiswe can not in any case doubt that there is the substance of desire he said, i.e. jouissance, specifically. And in the case of Schreber, Lacan called it jouissance transsexualiste. It is difficult to think when viewing images of Norrie there is no jouissance when we see a clip of her dressed for the cameras, as an attractive woman and not like a drag queen. Scopic jouissance that should probably take many forms without a doubt.


Echoing the same idea that was common at the time that there is no subject in psychosis due to the notation of the “death of the subject” that Lacan uses about Schreber, Miller takes the opposite of the traditional reading saying that the subject of psychosis is not the place of truth and there are no effects of truth that would be written S barred under minus-phi, but a knowledge and it is not for nothing that Lacan spoke of a successful paranoia about analysis itself. The knowledge of Norrie is a version of the Lacanian saying since Seminar 18: “There is no sexual relationship.” She translates as “neither male nor female,” is what we would call her psychotic certainty. The solution seems less complex than that of Scherber who must go through God and a complex anatomy of channels of jouissance but does not doubt whether he strengthens the jouissance  by wearing jewelry and woman’s undergarments. (note that like Norrie, Schreber manufactures an imaginary anatomy to ensure the enjoyment of his body).


Then, still commenting on the Schreber case, Miller indicates that this is an effect of identifying signification which replaces the effect of phallic sense when the operation of the NDP fails and it follows Lacan, who indicates that there is an identification whatever it may be by which the subject assumed the desire of his mother.


Here the whatever it may be is of fundamental importance. We identify, for example, who has  kept the desire of Schreber until his release.


Miller continues that the phrase whatever it may be does not mean it is just anything. We have an example for Schreber by the fact of his well-known fantasy: it would be nice to be a woman undergoing copulation. Norrie is more discreet to my knowledge but note that she is like Schreber and like Joyce in her own manner–they wanted to make known their special status publicly. Schreber in his memory, Norrie in her activism and media action, Joyce by his writing and his care for fame.


Lacan postulated that in the case of Schreber (but is it so generalized) that “Without a doubt the divination of the unconscious warned the subject early because they without being the phallus that misses the mother, there remains the solution to be the woman missing men.”


For Norrie we do not have the elements to decide, so we will refrain. However, her refusal to place herself under the signifier evokes Lacan’s phrase: “The woman who does not exist.” She would therefore be deeply Lacanian without knowing.


Besides Miller again gives an interesting idea by pointing out that what we call with Lacan the delirious metaphor of Schreber goes in the same direction, “Schreber is dedicated to creating the signifier of the woman, he wishes for inclusion in the field of the Other of the signifier of the woman. Whereas the common man in the Other Woman does not exist as Lacan would say later. Because the only signifier we have is the phallus against which the subject fits in different ways depending on whether he falls to the side of man or woman…


Norrie has not always devoted her life to this. Note her passage as Drag Queen exactly where the woman exists for the phallic show. It is possible that the crisis she calls Nervous Breakdown and has known as the result of the intervention has actually dropped the  low identification that allowed her to remain on the side of the men who are imitating the crazy woman of popular Australian style “Mad Priscilla of the desert.”


Here again the lesson of 1983 Miller raises the real issue: that concerning the libidinal investment of the body of a subject such as Schreber, how can the parlêtre fill the “empty bag” with a quantum of libido. How to resume the way Miller treated in cause freudienne N°44 extracted from his current “experience of the real” Biophore the object, bearing life can it animate those who are going through the experience itself called death subjective?


In other words we arrive there at the question of how Lacan invited us to consider the position of fantasy in psychoanalysis, particularly in psychosis. This is the most sensible point. Indeed, the fundamental fantasy, the one who organizes the jouissance of a subject contains both jouissance and its prohibition. (anna Freud: to be a boy and to be beaten for this at times). Miller recalls “The constant position of Lacan is that the fantasy contains minus-Phi and without the minus-Phi it impossible to give reason to the fantasy.”


So the fantasy vehicle therefore prohibited and impotence and Miller raises the question of psychotic fantasy in these words: The effect of phallic significance is also an effect of interdictive signification and this is what is raised in the psychotic fantasy: what is suddenly both denied this is the meaning of this phallic effect, indeed, what is denied is sexual non-connection since the fantasy is realized.


In the next lesson in the May 4, 1983 he explains that for Schreber it is by his fantasy of being the object of divine erotomania but of a god who, is himself instead divided instead of the subject. The subject in the fantasy has to satisfy his god, it’s the jouissance of his body, while in the case of the neurotic, the subject is caught between the temptation to fulfill the fantasy and the prohibition or rather the inability to be satisfied.


I will finish with these considerations we could identify with Seminar XX and XXIII.

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Hegel’s Logic as a Theory of Ideology
Slavoj Zizek

1. The principle of the insufficient ground

Love lets us view imperfections as tolerable, if not adorable. But it’s a choice. We can bristle at quirks, or we can cherish them. A friend who married a hot-shot lawyer remembers, “On the first date, I learned that he could ride out rough hours and stiff client demands. On the second, I learned that what he couldn’t ride was a bicycle. That’s when I decided to give him a chance.”

The lesson of the so-called “endearing foibles,” referred to in this quote from Reader’s Digest is that a choice is an act which “retroactively grounds its own reasons.” Between the causal chain of reasons provided by knowledge (S2 in Lacanian mathemes) and the act of choice, the decision which, by way of its unconditional character, concludes the chain (S1), there is always a gap, a leap which cannot be accounted for by the preceding chain.1 Recall what is perhaps the most sublime moment in a melodrama: a plotter or a well-meaning friend tries to convince the hero to leave (the sexual partner, leader) by way of enumerating the latter’s weak points. Yet, unknowingly, he thereby provides reasons for continued loyalty; his very counterarguments function as arguments: “for that very reason s/he needs me even more.”2 This gap between reasons and their effect is the foundation of transference, the transferential relation epitomized by love. Even our sense of common decency finds it repulsive to list the reasons for which one loves somebody. The moment one can say, “I love this individual for the following reasons…” it is clear that this is not love proper.3 In the case of true love, apropos of some feature which is in itself negative, which offers opposition, one may say “For this very reason I love this person even more!” Le trait unaire, which triggers love, is always such an index of an imperfection.

This circle which determines the subject but only through those reasons which one recognizes retroactively as such, is what Hegel has in mind with the “positing of presuppositions.” The same logic is at work in Kant’s philosophy. The Anglo-Saxon literature on Kant refers to the “Incorporation Thesis:”4 there is always an element of autonomous “spontaneity” pertaining to the subject, making it irreducible to a link in the causal chain. True, one can conceive of the subject as submitted to the chain of causes, which determine conduct in accordance with “pathological” interests; therein consists the wager of utilitarianism. Since the subject’s conduct is wholly determined by seeking the maximum of pleasure and the minimum of pain, it would be possible to govern one, and to predict the steps, by controlling the external conditions which influence decisions. What eludes utilitarianism is the very element of “spontaneity” in German Idealism’s sense—the very opposite of its everyday meaning: surrendering oneself to the immediacy of emotional impulses, for example. According to German Idealism, when one acts “spontaneously” one is not free, but a prisoner of one’s immediate nature, determined by the causal link which chains one to the external world. On the contrary, true spontaneity is characterized by the moment of reflexivity; reasons count only insofar as I “incorporate” them, “accept them as mine.” In other words determination of the subject by the other is always self-determination. Thus decision is simultaneously dependent on and independent from its conditions. In this sense the subject in German Idealism is always one of self-consciousness. Therefore any immediate reference to my nature “What can I do? I was made like this” is false. The relation to my impulses is always mediated; they determine me insofar as I recognize them, and that’s why I am fully responsible for them.5

Another instance of “positing the presuppositions” is the spontaneous ideological narration of experience and activity. Whatever one does, one always situates the action within a symbolic context, charged with conferring meaning. In the former Yugoslavia, a Serbian fighting the Albanian Muslims and the Bosnians conceives of the civil war as the last act in the century’s on-going defense of Christian Europe against Turkish infiltration. Bolsheviks conceived of the October Revolution as the continuation and successful conclusion of previous radical popular uprisings: from Spartacus in ancient Rome to Jacobins during the French Revolution. This narration is assumed tacitly even by some critics who, for example, speak of Stalinist Thermidor. Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or Sendero Luminoso in Peru understand their movement as a return to the glory of an ancient empire. The Hegelian point here is that this narration is a retroactive reconstruction for which one is responsible—never a given fact. One can never refer to it as a founding condition, the context or presupposition of activity. As presupposition it is always already “posited.” Tradition is tradition insofar as it gets constituted as such.
In his critical remarks on German Idealism, Lacan equates self-consciousness with self-transparency, dismissing it as the most blatant case of philosophical illusion, which consists in denying the subject’s constitutive decentrality. However, self-consciousness in German idealism not only has nothing to do with any kind of transparent self-identity of the subject, it is rather another name for what Lacan has in mind when he points out that every desire is the “desire of a desire.” The subject never finds a multitude of desires, only entertains towards them a reflected relationship. By way of actual desiring, one implicitly answers the question—which of your desires do you desire, have you chosen one? Concerning Kant, self-consciousness, thus conceived, is positively founded on the non-transparency of the subject to itself: the Kantian transcendental apperception (the self-consciousness of pure I) is possible insofar as I am unattainable to myself in my noumenal dimension, as “Thing which thinks.”6 There is, of course, a point at which this circular “positing of the presuppositions” reaches a deadlock; the key to this deadlock is provided by the Lacanian logic of non-all—pas-tout.7 Although “nothing is presupposed which was not previously posited,” every “particular” presupposition can be demonstrated to be posited, not natural but naturalized—it would be wrong to draw the seemingly obvious “universal” conclusion that “everything presupposed is posited.” The presupposed X, “nothing in particular,” totally substanceless, nevertheless resists being retroactively “posited.” Lacan calls this X the real, the unattainable, elusive je ne sais quoi.
In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler8 demonstrates how the difference of sex and gender is the difference between a biological fact and a cultural/symbolic formation which, a decade ago, was widely used by feminists in order to show that “anatomy is not destiny.” Woman as a cultural product, already posited, is not determined by her biological status, can never be unambiguously fixed, presupposed as a positive fact. The way one draws the line separating culture from nature is determined by a specific context. This cultural overdetermination of demarcation between gender/sex, however, should not precipitate one into accepting the Foucauldian notion of sex as the effect of “sexuality,” an heterogeneous texture of discursive practices. What gets lost thereby is the deadlock of the real. Thus arises the thin yet crucial line separating Lacan from the deconstructionists, from the opposition between nature/culture, which is culturally overdetermined—there is no particular element one can isolate as “pure nature.” One should not draw the conclusion that everything is culture. Nature as real remains the unfathomable X resisting cultural “gentrification.” Or, in another way: the Lacanian real is the gap separating the Particular from the Universal. It prevents one from accomplishing the gesture of universalization and jumps from the premise that every particular element is P, to the conclusion that all elements are P.
Consequently, there is no logic of prohibition involved in the notion of the real as impossible, non-symbolizable. In Lacan the real is not surreptitiously consecrated, organized as the domain of the inviolable. When Lacan defines the “rock of castration” as real, this in no way implies that castration is excepted from the discursive field as a kind of untouchable sacrifice. Every demarcation between the symbolic and the real, every exclusion of the real as prohibited/inviolable, is a symbolic act par excellence. Such an inversion of impossibility into prohibition/exclusion occults the inherent deadlock of the real. In other words, Lacan’s strategy is to prevent any tabooing of the real. One can “touch the real” only by applying oneself to its symbolization, up to the very failure of this endeavor. In Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the only proof that there are things beyond phenomena are paralogisms, inconsistencies in which reason gets entangled the moment it extends the application of categories beyond the limits of experience. In the same way in Lacan on touche le réel—one touches the real of jouissance by the impasses of formalization.9 In short the status of the real is thoroughly non-substantial; it is a product of failed attempts to integrate into the symbolic.
The impasse of “presupposing,” of listing the presuppositions, the chain of external causes/conditions of some posited entity, is the reverse of these “troubles with the non-all.” An entity can easily be reduced to the totality of its presuppositions. What is missing from the series of presuppositions, however, is the performative act of formal conversion which retroactively posits these presuppositions, and makes them into what they are: the presuppositions of… (like the above mentioned example of the act which retroactively posits its reasons). This “dotting of the i” is the tautological gesture of the Master Signifier constituting the entity as One. Thus looms asymmetry: the positing of presuppositions chances upon its limit in the “feminine” non-all. What it eludes is the real, whereas the enumeration of the presuppositions of the posited content made into a closed series through the “masculine” performative.
Hegel tries to resolve this impasse of “positing reflection” and “external reflection” in his Logic of Essence—the second part of his Science of Logic. The aim of the following examination is to discover in Hegel’s solution the same pattern of an elementary ideological operation.

2. Ground versus conditions

The fundamental antagonism of Hegel’s Logic of Essence is the antagonism between “ground” and “conditions,” between the inner essence, the “true nature” of a thing, and the external circumstances which render possible the realization of this essence, i.e., the impossibility to reach a common measure between these two dimensions, to coordinate them in a “higher-order synthesis.” Only in the third part of Logic, the “subjective logic” of Notion, this incommensurability appears surpassed. Therein consists the alternative between “positing” and “external” reflection: do people create the world they live in from within themselves, autonomously, or does their activity result from external circumstances? Philosophical common sense would impose here the compromise of a “proper measure.” True, one has the possibility of choice, or one can realize our freely conceived projects. But the framework of tradition, of inherited circumstances delineates our field of choices… or, as Marx put it in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Men make their own history; but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.

However, it is precisely such a “dialectical synthesis” that Hegel declines. There is no way to draw a line separating the two aspects: every inner potential can be translated—its form can be converted—into an external condition, and vice versa. In short what Hegel does here is very precise: undermining the usual notion of the relation between the inner potentials of a thing and the external conditions which render (im)possible the realization of these potentials, “he posits between these two sides the sign of equality.” The consequences of this are far more radical than they may seem; they concern above all the radically anti-evolutionary character of Hegel’s philosophy. To ascertain it, one has only to recall the notional couple “in itself/for itself.” This couple is usually taken as the supreme proof of Hegel’s trust in evolutionary progress—the development from “in-itself” into “for-itself,”—yet it suffices to look closely at it in order to dispel this phantom of Evolution. The “in-itself” in its opposition to “for-itself” means at one and the same time
—what exists only potentially, as an inner possibility, contrary to the actuality wherein a possibility has externalized and realized itself; and
—actuality itself in the sense of external, immediate, “raw” objectivity, which is still opposed to subjective mediation, which is not yet internalized, rendered conscious; in this sense, the “in-itself” is actuality in so far as it has not yet reached its concept.

The simultaneous reading of these two aspects undermines the usual idea of dialectical progress, a gradual realization of the object’s inner potentials as spontaneous self-development. Hegel is quite outspoken and explicit: the inner potentials of the self-development of an object and the pressure exerted on it by an external force “are strictly correlative.” They form two sides of the same conjunction. In other words, the potentiality of the object must in turn be present in its external actuality, under the form of heteronomous coercion. To use Hegel’s example, to say that a pupil at the beginning of his education potentially knows, that in the course of development he will realize creative potentials, equals saying that such inner potentials must be present from the very beginning in external actuality. Likewise, the authority of the Master exerts pressure upon his pupil. Nowadays one can add the sadly famous case of the working-class as revolutionary subject. To affirm that the working class is “in itself” a revolutionary subject, is to assert that this potentiality must already have been actualized in the Party which knows its mission in advance, and therefore exerts pressure upon the working class, guiding it towards realization. In this way, the “leading role” of the Party is legitimized—its right to “educate” the working class in accordance with its potentials, to “convey” it into its historical mission.

One can see, thus, why Hegel is as far as possible from the evolutionist’s notion of the progressive development of “In-itself” into “For-itself.” The category of “in itself” is strictly correlative to “for us”—for some consciousness external to the thing-in-itself. To say that a lump of clay is “in itself” a pot, equals saying that this pot is already present in the mind of the craftsman who will impose the form of pot onto the clay. The current way of saying “under the right conditions the pupil will realize his potentials,” is thus deceptive: when, in excuse of his “failure” to realize his potentials, one insists that “he would have realized them, if only the conditions had been right”—one approaches cynicism akin to Brecht’s famous statement from his Beggar’s Opera “We would be good instead of being so rude, if only the circumstances were not of this kind!”

For Hegel external circumstances are not an impediment to the realization of inner potentials, but on the contrary “the very arena in which the true nature of these inner potentials is to be tested.” Are they true potentials or just vain illusions about what might have happened? Or, to put it in Spinozian terms, “positing reflection,” observes things as they are in their eternal essence, sub specie aeternitatis, whereas “external reflection” observes them sub specie durationis, in their dependence on a series of contingent external circumstances. Here, everything hinges on “how” does Hegel overcome “external reflection.” If his aim were simply to reduce the externality of contingent conditions to the self-mediation of the inner essence-ground—the usual notion of Hegel’s idealism—then Hegel’s philosophy would truly be a mere “dynamized Spinozism.” What does Hegel actually do?

Recall the usual mode of explaining the outbursts of racism which makes use of the categorial couple of ground and conditions/circumstances: one conceives racism—the so-called outbursts of irrational mass sadism—as a latent psychic disposition, a kind of Jungian archetype, which comes forth under certain conditions like social instability and crisis. Within this lense the racist disposition is the “ground,” and current political struggles the “circumstances,” the conditions of its effectuation. However, what counts as ground and what counts as conditions is ultimately contingent and exchangeable. Therefore one can easily accomplish the Marxist reversal of the above mentioned psychologist’s perspective, and conceive the present political struggle as the only true determining ground.

In the present civil war in ex-Yugoslavia, the “ground” of the Serbian aggressivity is not to be sought in any primitive Balkan warrior archetype, but within the struggle for power in post-Communist Serbia (the survival of the old Communist state apparatus)—the status of eventual Serbian bellicose dispositions and other similar archetypes (the “Croatian genocidal character,” the “centennial tradition of ethnic hatreds in Balkan countries”) is precisely that of the conditions/circumstances in which the power struggle realizes itself. The “bellicose dispositions” are precisely latent conditions which are actualized, drawn from their shadowy half-existence, by the recent political struggle as their determining ground. One is thus fully justified in saying that “what is at stake in the Yugoslavian civil war are not archaic ethnic conflicts: these centennial hatreds are inflamed only on account of their function in the recent political struggle.”10

How, then, can one avoid this mess, this exchangeability of ground and circumstances? Consider another example: the renaissance is rediscovery (rebirth) of antiquity which exerted a crucial influence on the XVth century’s break with the mediaeval way of life. The first obvious explanation of that impact is that the newly discovered antique tradition brought about a dissolution of the mediaeval “paradigm”—here, however, a question pops up: why did antiquity begin to exert its influence at this very moment? A possible answer is: due to the dissolution of mediaeval social links, a new zeitgeist emerged which made for the response to antiquity.
Something must have changed so that people became able to perceive antiquity not as the pagan kingdom of sin but as the model to follow.

That is all very well, but one remains locked inside the vicious circle. This new zeitgeist took shape through the discovery of antique texts. In a way everything was already there, in the external circumstances; the new zeitgeist formed through the influence of antiquity enabling renaissance thought to shatter the mediaeval chains. Yet for this to take place, the new zeitgeist should already have been active. The only way out of this impasse is therefore the intervention at a certain point, of a tautological gesture; the new zeitgeist had to constitute itself by literally “presupposing itself in its exteriority.” In other words it was not sufficient for the new zeitgeist to posit retroactively these external conditions (the antique tradition) as “its own.” It had to (presup)pose itself as already present in them. The return to external conditions (to antiquity) had to coincide with the return to the foundation, to the “thing itself,” to the ground. The “renaissance” conceived of itself as the return to the Greek and Roman foundations of Western civilization. There is thus no inner ground where actualization depends on external circumstances. The external relation of presupposing (ground presupposes conditions and vice versa) is surpassed in a pure tautological gesture, by means of which the thing “presupposes itself.” This tautological gesture is “empty” in the sense that it does not contribute anything new; it only retroactively ascertains that
the thing in question “is already present in its conditions.” The totality of these conditions “is” the actuality of the thing. Such an empty gesture provides the most elementary definition of a “symbolic” act.

Thus one arrives at the fundamental paradox of “rediscovering tradition” at work in the constitution of national identity; a nation finds its sense of self-identity through such a tautological gesture, by way of discovering itself as already present in its tradition. Consequently, the mechanism of the “rediscovery of national tradition” cannot be reduced to the “positing of presuppositions,” in the sense of the retroactive positing of conditions as “ours.” Rather, the point is in the very act of returning to its external conditions, “the national thing returns to itself.” The return to conditions is experienced as the “return to one’s true roots.”

3. The tautological “return of the thing to itself”

Although “existing socialism” has already receded into a distance conferring upon it the nostalgic magic of a post-modern lost object, one may still recall a well-known joke on what socialism is. A social system dialectically synthesizes its entire previous history: from the prehistoric classless society it took primitivism, from antiquity slave labor, from medieval feudalism ruthless domination, from capitalism exploitation “and from socialism a name.” The Hegelian tautological gesture of the “return of the thing to itself” includes in the definition of the object its name. That is, after decomposing an object, one looks in vain for some specific feature holding together these parts and makes of them a unique, self-identical thing. As to its properties and ingredients, a thing is wholly “outside itself,” in its external conditions. Every positive feature is already present in the circumstances which are not yet this thing. The supplementary operation which makes from this bundle a unique, self-identical thing is the purely symbolic, tautological gesture of positing these external conditions as the conditions/components of the thing, while simultaneously presupposing the existence of ground which holds together the multitude of conditions.
To throw our Lacanian cards on the table, this tautological “return of the thing to itself” rendering the concrete structure of self-identity Lacan designates as the point de capiton, at which the signifier falls into the signified (as in the above joke on socialism, where the name functions as part of the designated thing). Recall an example from popular culture: the killer shark in Spielberg’s Jaws.11 It is wrong and misleading to search directly for its ideological meaning. Does it symbolize the threat of the Third World to America epitomized by the archetypal small town? Is it the symbol of the exploitative nature of capitalism itself (Fidel Castro’s interpretation)? Does it stand for the untamed nature which threatens to disrupt the routine of our daily lives? In order to avoid this lure, one should shift perspective: the daily life of common man is dominated by an inconsistent multitude of fears (he can become the victim of big business manipulations; Third World immigrants seem to intrude into his small orderly universe; unruly nature can destroy his home…), and the accomplishment of Jaws consists in an act of purely formal conversion, providing a common “container” for these free-floating, inconsistent fears by anchoring them, “reifying” them in the figure of the shark. Consequently, the function of the fascinating presence of the shark is precisely to block any further inquiry into the social meaning (social mediation) of the phenomena which arouse fear in common man. To say that the murderous shark symbolizes the above mentioned series of fears is to say too much and not enough at the same time. It does not symbolize them, since it literally annuls them by occupying the place of the object of fear. It is therefore more than a symbol: the feared “thing itself.” On the other hand, it is also less than a symbol, since it does not point towards the symbolized content, but rather blocks access to it, renders it invisible.
Moreover, the shark is homologous with the anti-Semitic figure of the Jew: “Jew” is the answer, the explanation offered by anti-Semitism, to the multitude of fears experienced by “common man” in an epoch of social dissolution (inflation, unemployment, corruption, moral degradation). Behind all these phenomena there is the invisible hand of the “Jewish plot.” Again, the crucial point, is that the designation “Jew” adds no new content: the entire content is already present in the external conditions (crisis, moral degeneration…). The name “Jew” is only the supplementary feature accomplishing a kind of transubstantiation and changing all these elements into many manifestations of the same “ground,” the “Jewish plot.” Paraphrasing the joke on socialism, one could say that anti-Semitism takes from the economy unemployment and inflation, from politics parliamentary corruption and intrigue, from morality degeneration, from art “incomprehensible” avant-gardism, “and from the Jew its name.” This name enables one to recognize behind the multitude of external conditions the activity of the same ground….
Therein consists another dialectic of contingency and necessity: as to their content, they fully coincide (in both cases, the only positive content is the series of conditions which form part of actual life-experience: economic crisis, political chaos, the dissolution of ethical links…). The passage of contingency into necessity is an act of purely formal conversion, the gesture of adding a “name” which confers upon the contingent series the mark of necessity, thereby transforming it into the expression of some hidden ground, the “Jewish plot.” So the “performativity” at work in this act of formal conversion in no way designates the power of freely “creating” the designated content—words mean what we want them to mean. “Quilting” only structures the found material, externally imposed. The act of naming is “performative” only and precisely insofar as “it is always-already part of the definition of the signified content.”12
Hegel resolves the deadlock of positing and external reflection (the vicious circle of positing the presuppositions and of enumerating the presuppositions of the posited content) by means of the tautological return-upon-itself of the thing, in its very external presuppositions. The same tautological gesture is already at work in Kant’s analytic of pure reason: the synthesis of the multitude of sensations in the representation of the object which belongs to “reality” implies an empty surplus. The positing of an X is the unknown substratum of the perceived phenomenal sensations. Suffice it to quote Findlay’s precise formulation:

…we always refer appearances to a Transcendental Object, an X, of which we, however, know nothing, but which is non-the-less the objective correlate of the synthetic acts inseparable from thinking self-consciousness. The Transcendental Object, thus conceived, can be called a Noumenon or thing of thought (Gedankending). But the reference to such a thing of thought does not, strictly speaking, use the categories, but is something like “an empty synthetic gesture” in which nothing objective is really put before us.13

The transcendental object is thus the very opposite of the Ding-an-sich: that is, empty insofar as it is devoid of any objective content. To obtain its notion, one has to abstract from the sensible object its entire sensible content, all sensations by means of which the subject is affected by Ding. The empty X which remains is “the pure objective correlate/effect of the subject’s autonomous/spontaneous synthetic activity.” To put it in a paradoxical way: the transcendental object is the “in-itself” insofar as it is for the subject, posited by it, pure “positedness” of an indeterminate X. This “empty synthetic gesture” adding nothing positive to the thing, and yet, in its very capacity of an empty gesture, constitutes it, makes it into an object, is the act of symbolization in its most elementary form. Findlay points out that the transcendental object:

is not for Kant different from the object or objects which appear to the senses and which we can judge about and know… but it is the “same” object or objects conceived in respect of certain intrinsically inapparent features, and which is in such respects incapable of being judged about or known.14

This X, this irrepresentable surplus which adds itself to the series of sensible features, is precisely the “thing-of-thought”/Gedankending: it bears witness to the fact that the object’s unity does not reside in it, but is the result of the subject’s synthetic activity—as with Hegel, where the act of formal conversion inverts the chain of conditions into the unconditional Thing, founded in itself.
Let’s briefly return to anti-Semitism, to the “synthetic act of apperception” which, out of the multitude of imagined features of Jews, constructs the anti-Semitic figure of “Jew.” To pass for a true anti-Semite, it is not enough to claim that one opposes Jews because they are exploitative, greedy intriguers, nor is it sufficient for the signifier “Jew” to designate this series of positive features. One must accomplish the crucial step further by saying “they are like that: exploitative, greedy…, because they are Jews.” The “transcendental object” of Jewishness is precisely that elusive X which makes a Jew into a “Jew” and for which one looks in vain among the positive properties. This act of pure formal conversion, the “synthetic act” of uniting the series of positive features in the signifier “Jew” and thereby transforming them into so many manifestations of the “Jewishness” as their hidden ground, “brings about the appearance of an objectal surplus,” of a mysterious X which is “in Jew more than Jew;” in other words: of the transcendental object.15

1. Of course there are good reasons to believe in Jesus Christ, “but these reasons are fully comprehensible only to those who already believe in Him.”
2. The same for Ronald Reagan: the more journalists enumerated his slips of tongue and other faux pas, the more they strengthened his popularity. As to Reagan’s “teflon presidency,” see Joan Copjec, “The unvermögender Other…” in New Formations 14, London: Routledge, 1991. On another level the gap separating S1 from S2, the act of decision from the chain of knowledge, is provided by the institution of jury in justice: the jury accomplishes the act of decision, a verdict of “guilt” or “innocence,” and it’s up to the judge to ground it in knowledge, translate it into punishment. Why can’t the judge himself pass the verdict? For Hegel, jury embodies the principle of free subjectivity: the crucial fact is that it’s composed of a group of peers of the accused selected by lottery—they stand for “anybody.” I can be judged only by my equals, not by a superior agency speaking in the name of some inaccessible Knowledge. Jury implies an aspect of contingency, suspending the principle of sufficient ground. By entrusting the jury with passing the verdict, the moment of uncertainty is preserved. Until the end one cannot be sure what will be; the judgement’s actual pronunciation is always a surprise.

3. The paradox is that there is “nothing” behind the series of positive, observable features: the status of that mysterious je ne sais quoi which makes me fall in love is ultimately that of a pure semblance. One can see how a “sincere” feeling is necessarily based upon illusion—I am “really,” “sincerely,” in love, only insofar as I believe in your secret agalma.
4. As for this “Incorporation Thesis,” cf., Henry E. Allison’s Kant’s Theory of Freedom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

5. The adverse procedure is also false: the attribution of personal responsibility and guilt which relieves one of probing into the concrete circumstances. The moral-majority practice of the ethical qualification of the higher crime rate among African Americans—criminal dispositions, moral insensitivity…—
precludes the analysis of their social, economic and political conditions.

6. The ultimate proof of how this reflectiveness of desire that constitutes “self-consciousness” has nothing to do with the subject’s self-transparency. The very opposite, it involves the subject’s radical splitting in the paradoxes of love-hate. Hollywood described Erich von Stroheim who, in the 30s and 40s, regularly played sadistic German officers, as “a man you’ll love to hate:” to “love to hate” means that this somebody fits perfectly the scapegoat-role of attracting hatred. At the opposite end, the femme fatale in the noir universe is clearly a woman one “hates to love:” we know she means evil, so it’s against our will that we are forced to love her, and we hate ourselves and her for it. Tautological cases of this reflectivity of love-hate are no less paradoxical. Saying I “hate to hate you,” points towards a splitting: I really love you, but for certain reasons I am forced to hate you, and I hate myself for it.

7. As to this logic of the “non-all,” cf. Jacques Lacan, Le seminaire, livre XX: Encore, Paris: Editions du Seuil 1975; two key chapters are translated in Feminine Sexuality, New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.

8. Cf. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, New York: Routledge, 1990.

9. Lacan’s statement that “there is no sexual relation” does not contain a hidden normativity. His point is “it is not possible to formulate any norm which should guide one with a legitimate claim to universal validity:” every attempt to formulate such a norm is a secondary endeavor to mend an “original” impasse. Lacan avoids the trap of the cruel superego: the subject cannot meet its demands, thereby branding its very being with a constitutive guilt. The relation of the subject to the symbolic law is not one that can never be fully satisfied. Like the God of the Old Testament or the Jansenist Dieu obscur, the Other “knows” what it wants from us; it is only we who cannot discern the Other’s inscrutable will. For Lacan however, “the Other of the law does not know what it wants.”

10. This exchangeability involves the ambiguity to the precise causal status of trauma. One is fully justified in isolating the “original trauma” as the ultimate ground triggering the chain-reaction, the final result being the symptom. Conversely, in order for event X to function as “traumatic” the subject’s symbolic universe should have already been structured in a certain way.
11. Cf. Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible, New York: Routledge, 1991.
12. Lacan’s Master Signifier is an “empty” signifier without signified rearranging the previously given content. The signifier “Jew” does not add any new signified. To answer the question “Why were Jews picked out to play the scapegoat in anti-Semitism?” one might succumb to the very trap of anti-Semitism, finding some mysterious feature in them. That Jews were chosen for the role of the “Jew” ultimately is contingent, as shown by the well-known anti-anti-Semitic joke “Jews and cyclists are responsible for all our troubles.”
Why cyclists?—WHY JEWS?

13. J.N. Findlay, Kant and the Transcendental Object, Oxford: OUP, 1968, p. 187.


14. J.N. Findlay, op.cit., p. 1.

15. A simple symmetrical inversion brings about an asymmetrical, irreversible, non-specular result. When the statement “the Jew is exploitative, intriguing, dirty, lascivious…” is reversed into “he is exploitative, intriguing, dirty, lascivious… because he is Jewish,” one doesn’t state the same content another way. Something new, the objet a is produced: “in the Jew more than the Jew himself,” on account of which the Jew is what he phenomenally is. This is what the Hegelian “return of the thing to itself in its conditions” amounts to: the thing returns to itself when one recognizes in its conditions
the effects of a transcendent Ground.

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The Age of Bartlebies: Lacanian Family Therapy and Refusing Adolescents
Janne Kurki


In my paper, I will introduce the basic concepts of Lacanian theory in regard to family therapy. I will show how Lacan’s theory on signification in 1950’s leads logically to his theory on four discourses in the end of 1960’s. From this perspective, I will claim that refusing children and adolescents have similar function and position in our contemporary Western culture as hysteric women had in Sigmund Freud’s Vienna. Contemporary adolescents who do not co-operate say no to master’s and university discourses in a similar way to hysteric women of Freud’s times.

The basic concepts introduced include signifier, signified, master’s discourse, university discourse, hysteric’s discourse, analyst’s discourse and subject supposed to know. With these basic concepts, I will show how Lacanian psychoanalytic tradition runs parallel directions with some classical family therapy schools some decades later. What is more, Lacanian basic concepts articulate well the contemporary everyday situations we encounter in our daily work with children and adolescents and their families.


In his short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville (1819–1891) presents a disturbing figure, Bartleby. This figure embodies an absolute refusal of social interaction, crystallized in Bartleby’s famous phrase: “I would prefer not to.”

Bartleby’s figure has puzzled new and new generations of readers and interpreters, including philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Slavoj Žižek. In this presentation, it is not this philosophical reception tradition of this piece of literature as such that I am interested in. What I am going to pay my attention to is the ethical and cultural dimension of this kind of absolute refusal in the clinic.

Namely, in our everyday work with today’s children and adolescents, we encounter these kinds of Bartlebies daily. Of course, the “I would prefer not to” of the end of the 19th century hears now “Fuck You!” or total absence of the child, but the phenomenon as such resembles in an amazing way Melville’s Bartleby. As if our adolescents had read Melville’s short story and then acted out the figure of Bartleby in their own context: I would prefer not to go to school, I would prefer not to go out away from my room, and, what is most disturbing to us professionals, I would prefer not to come to your clinic, I would prefer not to talk to you doctors, psychologists or therapists. I would prefer not to interact with the social world of adults around me at all.

What is at stage here, in this refusal to come together and to communicate? How should we understand these refusing children or their refusal to co-operate? It is these questions in my mind when I move to the obligatory theoretical part of my presentation. This theoretical part might sound boring and too foreign and abstract to our practical work, but the price stands in the end as the treasure in the end of a rainbow: by giving some time and effort to the conceptual framework we can gain some new insights to these often difficult and even irritating phenomena of our waiting for our Godots to arrive. Who would not have felt that there could be better things to do than wait the 15 years old Godot? Paradoxically maybe, I claim that this waiting has deeper importance, so far so, that I would call it the advent of the future.

In fact, facing a refusing adolescent is the ethical aporia of clinical child and adolescent psychiatry. It is through such aporias that clinical work develops into new dimensions and directions. I do not know what these dimensions and directions will look like, but it seems to me inevitable to articulate their openings in Lacanian theory.

Lacan’s theory on signification

Jacques Lacan’s theory on signification is built on Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory on signification. Thus, I will introduce de Saussure’s model of sign first and then juxtapose it with Lacan’s theory. This does not imply that they are models of the same thing, but this way of comparing the two models highlights the essentials in Lacan’s model.

In de Saussure’s model, we see a closed oval divided in two:


Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 7.58.26 AM

Picture 1: de Saussure’s model of a sign

In this model, we can see that a sign has two sides, signified and signifier, which are tightly connected. This tight connection is marked by the oval around these two sides and by two arrows on both sides of the sign. Signified and signifier are tied together, and there is no other without the other. They are like two sides of the same paper. What is more, the signified is on the upper position, marking the primary role of the signified, that is, of meaning. De Saussure’s model of sign presupposes the ruling position of meaning in communication: signs are used for transporting meanings.

We can juxtapose Lacan’s model of the relationship between signifier (S) and signified (s) with de Saussure’s model:

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 8.00.13 AM

Picture 2: Lacan’s model of the relationship between signifier (S) and signified (s

In Lacan’s model, there is a big S, for the signifier, on the top and small s, for the signified, under it:



Picture 3: Lacan’s model as written open

Here we see easily that the oval around the two dimensions of a sign has disappeared, as the arrows on the both sides of a sign have disappeared, too. This change is the kernel of my presentation and, on the practical level, it can be found in the radical refusal of Bartlebies at the clinic. This small change in the model of a sign has tremendous clinical meaning.

We can see also that the positions of signified and signifier have been exchanged: in de Saussure’s model the signified is on the top – meaning its primary position in de Saussure’s theory – whereas in Lacan’s model the primacy of signifier is central.

When the oval and the arrows disappear, as they do in Lacan’s model, what are left are the three elements of a sign: signifier, signified and the bar between them. For Lacan, it is this bar between signifier and signified that Freud has given us a lesson or two, namely, it, and nothing else, is the repression.

In its minimalistic way, Lacan’s model captures what is essential for speaking being: every act of signifying has its collective side (signifier) and its individual side (signified), and even if these sides affect on each other different ways, there is an abyss, impossibility, between them, and there is no straight bridge over this abyss. An individual will never be fused with the collective. In other words, the fusion between an individual and the collective is impossible. There have been societies which have tried this fusion with catastrophic consequences. The Bartlebies we encounter in our daily work should remind us about these catastrophes. What Hitler, Stalin and Kim Jong-un have not managed to do, we should not even try to do.

I elaborate this a bit. Namely, when the oval around signified and signifier has been taken away, a sign does not form anymore a solid whole. In Lacan’s model, signifier and signified are not the permanent same two sides of the same paper always tied together. On the contrary, signifier and signified can and will move in regard to each other. In the act of signification, they “touch” somehow on each other, but the bar between them keeps them separated all the time. No fusion of signifier and signified occurs for that is impossible.

This leads to the never-ending change within signification: the meaning of what is said and written is not and will never be fixed or secured. Fixing of meaning has been and will be tried again and again, but it is always a question of power and force. A fixed meaning is an illusion produced by power. In this way, Lacan’s theory on signification leads logically to his theory of discourses, for the discourse is exactly where the power of and on signification is realised.

Lacan’s theory on discourses

Lacan’s theory on discourses presents how the impossibility which separates signifiers from signifieds is dealt with within four different discourses. So, if we were stuck on a Saussurean theory on signification, Lacan’s theory on discourses would seem to us to be totally incomprehensible. This means that in order to grasp Lacan’s theory on discourses you have to have some basic idea on Lacan’s theory on signification. Logically, the theory on discourses is the further development of the theory on signification.

The basic discourse, a kind of starting point of human psyche, is formed by master’s discourse:

S1 → S2

$       a

Picture 4: Master’s discourse

Due to omnipresent lack of time and space, I can bring forth only the most important things in regard to our topic. In master’s discourse, the master signifier (S1) dictates all the other signifiers (S2). This is our psyches’ basic orientation in the world: it structures our world and makes it somehow liveable. Without this base, everyday life would be intolerable. In families without the basic structures of everyday life, children suffer – often, if not always – unexplainable anxiety. In these families, the master’s discourse has not been constructed well enough to support the children through their everyday life. “Well enough” implies here many dimensions and, thus, can be broken in many different ways.

As implied by its name, master’s discourse relies on power: behind or within the structured world, there is always power. We can easily see that master’s discourse and power are not, as such, good or bad. In fact, Lacan’s theory on discourses implies a different ethics than simple dichotomy between good and bad.

The result of master’s discourse can be found under the master signifier (S1): master’s discourse results in divided subject ($) and the lost object of desire (a). As such, this is how the “normal” neurotic subject is formed in Lacanian theory.

The information society of our times challenges every master’s discourse. This has been the case, at least, since the birth of written language: writing questions the discourses ruled by the present master. In our times of internet and individual media, master’s discourse is challenged more than ever. Thus, master’s discourse has been supported more and more by a kind of master’s servant discourse, namely, university discourse. The main task of university discourse is to support master’s discourse:


S1       $

Picture 5: University discourse

In university discourse, knowledge as a set of signifiers (S2) takes the ruling position (left upper level). Whereas in master’s discourse master’s word was enough, university discourse produces knowledge on knowledge basing is propositions on the knowledge it has about some knowledge. However, underneath knowledge there is always the master signifier (S1) whose only explanation and legalization is that and what it is. University discourse is built on master’s discourse which it is summoned to save and legalize it again and again. This is easy to see if you watch everyday news on TV: those who are interviewed and, especially, those whose words are taken as the factual interpretation of situations are rich people, politicians and university experts, masters and their academic servants.

Against this power constellation of masters and university, there stands the discourse of hysteric women:

$ → S1

a      S2

Picture 6: Hysteric’s discourse

Hysteric women brought out and into the open the divided subject ($) who challenges the master (→S1). It is this divided subject not reducible to anything which is the result of signifiers and which challenges the orders and knowledge of masters and academics: what does it got to do with me…?

In Lacan’s interpretation, it was this hysteric revolution that opened room for psychoanalysis: psychoanalysis was born as response to hysteric initiative. What is more, the task of psychoanalysis was not to silence this hysteric attack, but to maintain this hysteric movement within discourse. In psychoanalysis, the analyst takes the position of the obscure object of desire (a) supporting thus hysteric questioning to the very end (this is called, for example, “traversing the fantasy”):


S2  S1

Picture 7: Analyst’s discourse

In analyst’s discourse, the master and knowledge can be found underneath the bar, not in the ruling position. In analysis, the analyst as the not-defined object of desire addresses the divided subject (a$). This act keeps the hysteric movement going on long enough for the change to take place in the subject. The analyst does not take the place of the one who knows but the place of emptiness. It is in this way that the agency stays with the subject.

Thus, we can introduce one more Lacanian concept: the subject supposed to know. The subject supposed to know is, from the beginning to the end, in the client. In fact, this is what Freud’s concept of unconsciousness implied: there is somewhere within the patient the knowledge needed for the cure. When a client, no matter if the client is a family or an individual, walks into your consulting room, there is within the client a subject supposed to know. This supposition opens up the room for psychotherapeutic process.

Through this short view on Lacan’s theory on discourses, we can see that when signifier and signified do not form a solid unite but are separated from each other, the mode of discourse implies always the positions of power, knowledge and agency, and that these positions differ from one discourse to another. The uniqueness of psychoanalysis – and, from my point of view, of family therapy – is explained by the positions power, knowledge and agency take in it. Saying this makes it possible for us to formulate the challenge we have with Bartlebies: how can we – from our position as educated masters (doctors, psychologists, social workers etc.) – ensure Bartlebies that we offer them something totally different from master’s and university discourse. This is the challenge and, as you can see from my way of putting it, a contradiction: a master from a university discourse claims that she is not acting as a master or as an academic.

Discourse of Bartlebies

Now, it is time to draw some conclusions from the theoretical considerations above. The adolescent Bartlebies take a similar position in our society as hysteric women did in Freud’s Vienna: both the adolescent Bartlebies and hysteric women refused to be integrated into the society within which they did not find a place for themselves. In both cases, this refusal seems to be insane, if you estimate it from the point of view of society. However, from the point of view of the refusing subject, it seems to be the only way the subject can keep some kind of agency for itself.

There are some essential differences, however, between the adolescent Bartlebies and hysteric women. First of all, if hysteric women of Freud’s times brought forth the abyss between different genders, the refusing adolescents bring forth the abyss between different generations. Many thinkers have considered the gender difference to be the problem of all thinking, but, needless to say, I claim the generation difference to be the problem of our times.

Secondly, even if Freud’s hysteric patients had sometimes very intensive symptoms with some self-destructive phenomena, they can hardly be compared to the self-destructiveness we see in today’s adolescent Bartlebies. Theoretically, this may be only a small change in the emphasis of the symptoms, but what it comes to clinical practice it makes a big difference: with hysteric women, Freud had time for processing what is going on, but with adolescent Bartlebies every weekend can be the last weekend. Time for processing hardly exists. And for clinical work, time means everything. Thus, the challenge of adolescent Bartlebies requires us to work in totally different pace and ways as the challenge of hysteric women.

Thirdly, and partly because of these two differences mentioned above, it is often vain and totally impossible to approach an adolescent Bartleby alone: the refusal of an adolescent Bartleby is often so total that the only way to approach her is through her family and other people around her. This is the area of family therapy. And, to be frank, there are already some openings to this direction, but as such, these openings are certainly not enough.

In short, we need theory and practices which can articulate the age of Bartlebies and answer the problems of adolescent Bartlebies without neglecting the ethical and, even, political dimensions of Bartlebies’ challenge. Bartlebies challenge society, and often with good reasons. Even if the words they give to their challenge are often pretty childish, the actual message can be read between or beyond the words: the world you give to us is not for us; it is adults’ world for adults, not a world for the children to come. As such, the discourse of Bartlebies articulates new revolution for which Bartlebies do not have words. Revolution without words is always destructive.

This is where we therapist might be helpful: as Freud did with hysteric women, we might be able to help adolescent Bartlebies to find their words for their experiences. How to do it, that is the question of the future. However, some sketches of the future can be predicted by what we know now. Not so surprisingly, these sketches return us to the basics of family therapy.

Namely, the refusal of Bartlebies includes knowledge. For them, knowledge is synonymous to master’s and university discourses – and thus something to be refused. As such, Bartlebies function as mirrors of our times showing us how things stand today: today, knowledge is seen as the privilege of universities. If you want knowledge, you either go to university or interview somebody from a university.

This implies a radical difference in regard to many revolutionary movements in the history of human kind. Namely, natural sciences were born when the subject supposed to know was moved from the Bible to scientific discourses. Feminist movements, as well, are all based on the idea that there is the subject supposed to know within the female human beings. Queer movements imply a similar expectation of the subject supposed to know within sexual minorities. Again, Freud’s psychoanalysis supposes the subject supposed to know within the analysand. And before Freud, Marx articulated a theory in which the subject supposed to know lies in the proletariat – and it is this thought on which the so called Nordic welfare State was based. Again and again, the historically important changes imply the subject supposed to know, and in none of these cases knowledge belongs to universities. Even in the case of natural sciences, this was not the case, for universities were ruled by theology.

But the Bartlebies refuse knowledge and the subject supposed to know. Bartlebies do not act as subjects on the level of representations; they do not acknowledge knowledge nor representational agency. What is left to them is the acting out against master’s and university discourses. Thus, they have only a negative agency in regard to representations, but – because there is no representation for their negation of representation – they cannot represent this to themselves nor acknowledge their role in the “play”.

This leads to a situation where Bartlebies can see themselves only as victims – for they can only see agency outside of themselves. Somebody has to be blamed, but because Bartlebies cannot recognize themselves as agencies, somebody blamed has to be, always and categorically, outside themselves. And, from a certain point of view, they are right: they did not decide where and when to born, how to be treated and mistreated; they did decide hardly anything. But the representatives of society see it otherwise: Bartlebies drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, Bartlebies do not go to school nor to work, Bartlebies act violently and break the rules of society.

So, what is the position of family therapy in all this: does it stand as the representative of society or the representative of a Bartleby? Neither, of course. Here, again, the basic rule of classical family therapy schools shows its value: the position of family therapy is that of the uttermost neutrality. If a family therapy process loses its neutral position, it loses everything. Thus, the simple sounding “join and keep your neutrality” is, in the end, all you need. In practice, it names the direction, for nobody can be totally neutral in the situations in which we find ourselves.

However, what I have said above, gives as a third rule of thumb for family therapy, namely that we have to suppose that there is the subject supposed to know within the family we meet. It is only through acknowledging knowledge that Bartleby’s acting our can be turned into acts with representations. Bartlebies do not acknowledge your knowledge, for you are only a representative of master’s and university discourses, but they might recognize knowledge, not about, but within and from their family. Thus the simple, but always so difficult guide lines for Lacanian family therapist would be:

1) Join.

2) Keep your neutrality.

3) Suppose the subject supposed to know within the family.

In the end, what we are doing is not rocket science: in the complex situations in which we find ourselves, only simple principles work. The task is to recognize them in the chaos of everyday life.

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The Case of
Auntie Lady
Josefina Ayerza



Aunty Needle Heel 

Presented at Clinical Study Days, New York, March 2016


She complains

We will call this analysand by the name of Aunty – and this is not her real name. We’ll get into more about her multiple names as the story goes on.

Aunty came to me through a colleague. Very soon she tells me her boyfriend is undergoing analysis with this colleague… She wants to share the lacanian psychoanalytic experience with the boyfriend.

Tall, thin, pretty… she is 27 years old. The boyfriend works in a bookshop. They live together… they share the rent… One big problem is they have a roommate that consumes drugs – heavy drugs. So he’s eternally stoned — Aunty can’t take it anymore but cannot make up her mind with putting an end to the lease, because the boyfriend doesn’t make enough money to pay his part of the rent.

Then she tells me of her sister and nephews. Aunty doesn’t have babies, the sister does. Aunty loves babies. She enjoys her nephews so much, the only problem she has with them is that they are not her own. Therefore, Aunty.

Back to the money for the rent … She makes enough money, more than enough she tells me. The matter is how.


Perverse traits

She works in a dungeon—a bordello that specializes in sado-masochism. The work she does is sex work, but she wants to make it very clear that it is different from prostitution.

Because there are the certain rules…

—Men are not allowed to penetrate you…it is forbidden. Say they try something, all I need to do is yell and the madam will be there in no time, to stop them, throw them out.—

And there are the different games arising from the client’s sexual fantasms.

        Before saying more about them she acts out a scene mumbling, moaning and whimpering

—I want to die…

But soon she forgets about dying and full of enthusiasm, she proceeds

—I prefer to play the domineering one

At least in that outfit they don’t tie her up…

Aunty wears leather clothing, high thin stiletto shoes, a whip, and she excels at verbal abuse…

—She asks me, do you know where the needle heel goes, I mean what it is you do with it?

—You’ll tell me next time.


Sadistic traits

Aunty Lady takes pleasure in attempting to engage me over her acute information—things that you supposedly know, yet, you don’t know… why would you know of such a thing…?

But the problem is not whether I know it or not. Aunty Lady’s jouissance comes along with the verbal transmission of the different practices. Her jouissance is now in words, not in things, not in the bodily sexual activity itself, but in her verbal report to the boyfriend.

Last session cut, back up front, she’s again talking about her doings with her shoe

—Do you know where the needle heel goes, I mean what it is you do with it?


Slightly she raises her voice

—It’s not where you think it goes.

We’ll talk more about it next time






The Fetish

Men come in by the hour. They masturbate: scream “Mommy, mom,” while Aunty performs sadistic acts; they bring their own tutus to wear, their petticoats, now they pee in the bathtub… “Aunty I’ve been bad, I need to be raped with a dildo…”

And do you have a fetish…?

—My heel of course, and the practice you don’t care to hear about…

She’s leaving rather angry… I’ve yet to hear her story of the heel. Now she says —I don’t mind.

What is desired? Desire goes off to hook on wherever it can. The fetish causes desire. With Lacan it’s not the little item of footwear, nor any other little thing. She doesn’t need to be wearing the little shoe, it just has to be there, somewhere.


Aunty Needle Heel

Her ambivalence brought up the question of the detachment from herself, of the detachment from her body. Her shoe is the tool. And her words…

Like the exhibitionist Aunty Lady wants to make Woman exist; she wants to make the Dungeon Woman exist. Women—one by one—do not exist for the exhibitionist.

This and other pervert traits make for my early diagnosis. Aunty Needle Heel wantsto force in the Other the gaze…

She finally gets away with the description of the man organ tortured by the heel—and this is how she wants to make sure the erection is on this side, my side—which corresponds with the side of the female gaze. For the exhibitionist the true erection is on this side.

—So I have power over the beasts—she says

I count two for the game. Her and I—

From the place of the tamed beast,



Now she tells me again and again that the boyfriend likes her doing the work.

At home he asks—she tells.

She tells him, and tells him, what she dubs erotic stories, otherwise the erection, his erection may fail to appear…

Does Aunty play the domineering at home?

—Not with my boyfriend, with him it’s all about telling—

She’ll tell until she sees the erection

—dominance comes with the story I tell, since I am the one to know it. He is on the side of submission whether he likes it or not, he likes to listen, about me, about my practice, he loves details … And there is the problem that we need the money, and I am making a lot. He looks so happy when I walk into the room and lay the money on the table.

Too happy for Aunty Lady’s liking,

In the same way as the voyeur, the boyfriend brings in the gaze to obstruct the hole in the Other—he brings in the gaze to make the Other whole; the voyeur needs to make the Other exist to be an instrument of his jouissance.

Sublimation presupposes a non-existent object.

Lacan’s Woman as exception, in the guise of the Lady of courtly love-is a masculine fantasy, the masculine fantasy par excellence. As the exception that accounts for the phallic function we have the dark figure of the primordial father-jouisseur who was not encumbered by any prohibition and was as such able to fully enjoy all women.

Does the figure of the Lady of courtly love not fully fit these determinations of the primordial father? Is she not also a capricious Master who wants it all, meaning, she, herself is not bound by any Law…? Woman is one of the names-of-the-father.


samdmanThe dream

She tells me about a dream in which she was making her art, and this is how I get to know Aunty Lady is an artist—that draws, that paints… Again, if only she could sell her work—get hold of some money by means other than the dungeon.

—Can we conceive of the dungeon being artwork? I asked.

Extreme words spoken by the Other—the Other being me—Aunty Lady lies in silence, till she says—I wish.

She recognizes her desire in the Other, in the Other’s words about the dungeon art, and this is a change.







Washington, DC

Another facet of Aunty Lady’s work involves wealthy clients that ask her to travel to places, meet them at hotels This one she is telling me about wants her to travel to Washington, DC. She is excited with the proposition because of the extra money.

Aunty Lady is back from Washington. A mishap at the door of the hotel had turned her frantic with worry

—the doorman opened my bags, went through my leather clothes, my very high heel boots, my whip, my extreme underwear… What if he took me for a whore! Now screaming

—I am not a whore, you know…

—What are you?

—I am not…

I cut the session

We are dealing with the being, here. The actual lack-in-being which we bring to analysis… For the case of a fetishized one, becoming active with being the object it no longer knows what it is doing. Meaning is lost. The dimension where she is to be found lies in his taste for shoes…for shiny noses.

Again, in Washington had taken place the bondage issue that upsets her.

—I don’t like being tied-up, I am afraid of being so dependent, so fragile…what if the man becomes abusive? In Washington, DC there was no one outside the door to call for help—

Non-existent as Woman happens to be, Aunty Lady lies in tears, says that she wants to be rescued. Rescued from what?

—From the Dungeon, of course, from my life—she says.

I ask if she pleasures herself some way, in any way…

Aunty Lady goes on to tell how sometimes she would find the certain effect in her undergarments…only now and then.

A response of the real?

Her body as an Other to herself, it has a life of its own…

Because Aunty Lady is “very monogamous…” she’s particularly careful not to hurt the relationship with her boyfriend.

—I am not a whore — she insists

Again the lack of self representation, what, who is she?

The detachment from her body is plurality. We counted a third one:

* Aunty Lady the loving one

* Aunty Lady that lies on the analyst’s couch

*Aunty Needle Heel that works at the Dungeon

­—Aunty Needle Heel doesn’t count, she says.

*My supervisor tells me to find out about the father.






342b0831d0a34854c8f11cc77e727085gsThe family romance

She tells me of the family romance: at the age of 12 she was living with the mother, the husband of the mother and the sister, who was at this point 14. The cops came to the house, got the two girls into the police car, and took them to the station. She gets to know the mother’s boyfriend was forcing the sister into having sex. The police learned about it because the sister had told her teacher.

Aunty Lady comments on the weakness ofher own father, and now this one, a stepfather who gets her riding in a police car. And she speaks about the upset sister spilling her guts while they were stuck in traffic…

Now in school everybody knows what happened at home.

She begins questioning the ownership of her own body. I recognize the detachment mentioned when speaking of the misfortunes of the underwear…

Woman as Other…I quote JA Miller:She is central to perversion, not only the Other to the man, she is Other as such. And because she is Otherness … what is normal is always only non-male.”

—I want my boyfriend to ask me to stop working in a dungeon; I want to build a family—live together, have kids.

Like Psyche and Amor, she will hold the light over her boyfriend—he wants a dungeon girlfriend. The drop of oil that fell from the lamp burned Love—it flew away.


To conclude…the pervert makes himself be objet petit a… also de analyst. We want to distinguish the analyst as objet petit a from the pervert as objet petit a.

Would anybody like to guess what’s become of Aunty Lady’s love life?


Artworks by Christina Ramberg, 1970-73. 

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How much do you want to see?
Forrest Muelrath

Still from “My Nightmare” by Richard Kern

A couple of directors have found success in American box offices over the past two years with films that portray unsimulated, penetrative sex. Lars Von Trier (Antichirst, Nymphomanic), and Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Enter the Void) have transgressed any boundaries that previously existed for showing sex on the screen in mainstream American movie houses. These films led many film writers to ask questions like “What’s the difference between Nymphomaniac and Porn,” as Amy Nicholson did when she titled her January 2014 review of the film in the Village Voice.

Pornographic material is largely based on the subjective experience of the viewer, and therefore you’ll have to rely on experience to know whether or not the purpose of the film is to arouse the audience by the subject’s physiological reaction. When enough people are asking “is this pornography” we must assume that many viewers will at least see the potential to become sexually aroused during a screening of the film. Currently a simple search of any of the title of any of the von Trier or Noe films mentioned above + pornography in Google will return a video hosting site called X-Videos—which aggregates and host user generated pornographic movies—featuring sex clips from each of the four movies. So we can see that there are several internet porn consumers out there that are in fact watching these films as pornography.

The question in regards to judging a film’s quality should not be whether the film is pornographic, but whether or not the sexually stimulating material benefits the experience of viewing the film. Many filmmakers today will try to  elicit a physiological reaction from the viewer—be it fear, sexual arousal, laughter, etc.—and with filmmaking today the techniques used to such altering to a person’s body have become so readily available that it is rarely interesting to have it for anything more than the pure pleasure of a some sort of release of neurotransmitters like a shot of drugs, rather than access to the fantasm of individual viewers through narrative.

There is the issue of transgression—narrative requires a conflict and will therefore require a transgression of some kind to function. Sexual transgressions have been occurring on the screen since the silent era. By the Sun’s Rays (1914), depicted a thief  played by Lon Chaney, who attempted to rape a female character—the earliest surviving example of a precursor to the infamous scene in Noe’s Irreversible. These graphic scenes can potentially ameliorate a narrative, of course, much like they do in classic suspense films like The Birds or Psycho, sucking the viewer into the story by assaulting the senses with suspense in horror.

In 1934 the Hays Code was established in hollywood, restricting most depictions of sex on the screen, forcing filmmakers to come up with euphemisms when a love story would reach a climax. The well-known golden-era method for depicting sexual behavior in a way that would meet the approval of the censure board, was the lighting of a cigarette.


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“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”

Although no graphic sex is depicted in the famous scenes where Humphrey Bogart first acted with his future wife, Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, the implication through gestures related to the mouth was enough to send audiences imaginations reeling for the two decades following, as pop-culture tabloids obsessed over the actors’ relationship until the end of Bogart’s life.

Smoking and other euphemisms for sexual activity symbolized intercourse in American cinema until the demise of the Hays Code, and depicting nudity became more normalized. Independent films that bordered on pornography, such as the early sexploitation films—which had a clear intent of sexually arousing the audience—influenced the ability to depict sexual acts on the screen in films like A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Last Tango in Paris (1972). The Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA), which replaced the Hays Code in 1966, has progressively become more liberal with their R rating.

Aide from the MPAA, International and Independent film has been depicting sex as part of the narrative for several decades. In the Lower East Side Cinema of Transgression movement of the early the 1970s through early 1992, filmmakers like Richard Kern and and Tina L’Hotsky used on screen sex and nudity for the purpose of incensing the mainstream mores. Films like My Nightmare (Richard Kern, 1993), a short film that depicts an explicit sexual fantasy of the director cut in with his realistic masturbation that occurs while the fantasy transpires. It’s attempt to create a meta fantasy for the viewer may or may not be lost on the sexual arousal that occurs while watching the explicit scenes, but nevertheless the film is transgressive in that it depicts sexual acts in a way that is not meant as pornography. After the Cinema of Transgression, sex depicted on film cannot alone be transgressive because these boundaries have already been broken. An attempt to depict sex alone in a rebellious matter would merely function as the commodification of the original rebellion.

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So if there’s is nothing rebellious of sex left to show in movies, what else are we gaining from the depiction of nudity in cinema? A 1977 film titled Barbie by New York director Tina L’Hotsky, displays full frontal female nudity aggressively, but manages to clearly achieve another emotional reaction besides sexual arousal. Barbie—played by an anonymous young, busty blond woman—comes back to her apartment nude after grocery shopping. She unpacks her bags, which contain a Barbie doll and spices, and she begins cooking the doll incarnation of herself in a fry pan—an impossible task if we are to consider that the live action actress is meant to be the animated film incarnation of the doll. The actress performs no sexual acts but the imagery is expected to already be highly sexualized before watching due to the cultural heritage of Barbie. The non-sexual nudity, coupled with a soundtrack that consists of a loud surf rock song and sirens blaring, created an usual level of anxiety in my viewing. Although there is little room for the viewer to develop a fantasy based on their own desires enabling a narrative to more closely relate to the viewers individual experience—as there is when sex is depicted with the lighting of a cigarette—the film manages to create sensation with merely a bombarding of the viewer’s senses. This is something easily achieved with horror or pornographic films, but this film has the ability to achieve an emotional response that is unique.

Here the film functions like Lacan’s lamella:

This lamella, this organ, whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ – I can give you more details as to its zoological place  – is the libido.

It is the libido, qua pure life instinct, that is to say, immortal life, irrepressible life, life that has need of no organ, simplified, indestructible life.  it is precisely what is subtracted from the living being by virtue of the fact that it is subject to the cycle of sexed reproduction.  And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a that can be enumerated are the representatives, the equivalents.

It is easy to recognize Lacan’s omlette monster, as Zizek does in a horrific monster such as Ridley Scott’s Alien, but here we see the film affected our own body without narrative, merely a sensational attack on the body. In fact the film is itself the horror—it’s like walking into a room with a monster. There’s no narrative required to develop the fantasy of horror—the sensation is immediately present. If we take away the suspense leading up to to the horror in Aliens, there’s going be far less complicated emotions—more like pornography except less likely to elicit a response as easily graphic sexual imagery does.

Depictions of sex such as the infamous rape scene in Irreversible function in a similar way, in that it allows little room for the desire of the other, but instead imparts a physiological reaction on to the viewer whether they like it or not. This is the filmmakers fantasm being imparted on to the viewers, unlike Bogart and Bacall where viewers sympathize with the characters and develop a relationship to their own lives through the narrative. We can perhaps relate this to another recent graphic sex scene in Michael Hanake’s the piano teacher, where the female lead, Erika (Issabelle Hupert) becomes lifeless during a sex scene that she has been fantasizing about.  In conversation with Issabelle Huppert, Slavoj Zizek questioned if the lifelessness was due to an absence of fantasy:

Slavoj Zizek: There is a very  brutal scene that struck me. A scene—and it hurts me to tell you this—that made me impotent. It’s the scene where the piano teacher you incarnate lets herself be taken sexually like a cadaver—with terrible coldness, by her twenty year-old student. Is it that, at that instant, the fantasmatic dimension is totally absent?

The cold lifeless reaction of Erika is perhaps a symbol of fantasm realized, much like occurs when we watch a graphic scene. As opposed to an implied onscreen sexual act, a graphic depictions will leave the fantasy lifeless. But as Isabelle Hupert points out in her response to Zizek’s questioning, if the fantasy is ever present—as a naked Barbie surely is—then we are already immersed in a narrative that occurs with that fantasy.

Isabelle Hupert: No, I think that the fantasy is totally present all along the film, which comes to play immensely over the fantasm, the imaginary. At the start, the pianist makes of the romantic feeling an extremely high idea! high to a point that it emulates Bach’s music.

When the material is without an immersive narrative—as Barbie, Nymphomaniac, Enter the Void arguably are—the viewers are going to be forced to develop fantasies from their own life experience and desires that preexisted the film. Lars von Trier posits that his method is “digressive,” which we can perhaps recognize in American Post-Modern literature such as the work of Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace. That is a style that follows a central theme for the purpose of digressing into whatever the author feels like expounding upon, rather than offering a fantasy for the reader to fall into. Lars von Trier’s use of sex as the central theme in Nymphomaniac is obviously one that is going to keep the attention of most contemporary film viewers by bombarding their senses with stimulating material, but it doesn’t leave much room for an individual to relate that experience to their own personal life—just the information of the filmmakers choosing—so it is unlikely to have any lasting affect on the viewer.  “It is necessary for the other to lack something so that it could have something to desire.”  The viewer almost certainly don’t lack sexual fantasies in their life, and it’s doubtful lack trite ramblings about fly-fishing or religion—like the digressions by the characters of Nymphomaniac do. If the senses are to be bombarded for lasting effect filmmakers need to be aware that their sensationalism is merely causing a physiological reaction, that will need to accompany some narrative related to the viewer’s life, if not within the film, then one that already exists out in the world like Barbie.


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To Interpret the Cause: From Freud to Lacan
Jaques-Alain Miller

by Jacques-Alain Miller

(Originally published in Newsletter of the Freudian Field: Volume 3, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring/Fall 1989)

My first point is entitled: Aetiologia. But first let me dispel any conception that my title, “To Interpret the Cause,” is a Lacanian catch-phrase. When Freud introduces the wolf dream in Chapter IV of his History of an Infantile Neurosis, he stresses this very point; that he was convinced – and he mentions that his patient accepted his conviction – that the cause of the infantile neurosis of the Wolf Man was hidden behind the dream. The text says precisely: “das hinter ihm die Verursachung seiner infantilen Neurose verborgen sei.”1

So, this farfetched interpretation, Freud’s augury about the dream, going from its explicit content to its concealed content, is an interpretation aiming at the cause, the hidden cause. And the very notion of the hidden cause is central to psychoanalytic practice and to psychoanalytic theory. At this preliminary point, which I have made to accustom you to the very idea of the cause, let us not forget that from the outset Freud’s investigation began as a tentative aetiology of the psychoneuroses. Aetiology means a discourse of causes. From the start, Freud was going in search of causes. And you re- member that at the beginning he was looking for actual causes of the psychoneuroses. For instance, he considered the practice of masturbation as a cause for deficiency of sexual potency and for the neuralgias. Then, Freud had to concede that psychoneuroses were present effects of past causes, and not actual causes. Moreover, he conceded that the real past causes were hidden to the consciousness of the patients. And, it is in this past that Freud was obliged to invent the very concept of repression. That is to say, he rein- vented the concept of a hidden cause with deferred effects, Nachträglich, a triggered après-coup, a posteriori, and by a second event. In the famous case of the Wolf Man, this concept of the Nachträglich is present on every page. It is the major text by Freud which presents


precisely this; that those effects are as a posteriors. In the Wolf Man case, the second event which triggers the effects of the hidden cause is the famous dream itself.

So, I believe that I am on a very solid ground when I propose that psychoanalysis has always been a discourse about the cause. And psychoanalytic practice has always been looking for the cause. Let us take a shortcut now. What is a cause? If we refer to the case of the Wolf Man, there is no ambiguity in Freud’s answer. The cause, broadly spea- king, is the sexual act between the father and the mother as absorbed by the one-and-a- half-year old child. In psychoanalysis, interpretation not only aims at the cause, we may even say, interpretation stumbles on the cause. For instance, the use of the myth of Oedi- pus in psychoanalytic practice, the Freudian Oedipus that is the symbolic frame of inter- pretation insofar as interpretation aims at the cause, conceived here as the sexual rela- tionship, the erotic relationship, which binds together father, mother, child – the family. And, we may even say, that the Freudian cause taken as pre-Oedipal cause is the key to the transference insofar as transference may appear to be a repetition of the fundamental relations of the patient to the parents.
Newsletter of the Freudian Field: Volume 3, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring/Fall 1989
And you know the consequences of this point of view. It paved the way for inter- pretations of transference construed as “paternal” or “maternal” transference. You know that some modern analysts say that Freud analyzed from the position of the father, that he accepted the position of the father in the transference, and they prefer that the maternal position now be more operative in analysis. In any case with this reference to the Oedipal cause, you also have a key to the various theories of transference. Transference and inter- pretation are, as you know, the classical pair of interrelated notions. I am not going to give the would-be classical presentation of this pair of notions, however, because I gave it in some sense four years ago in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the colloquium on trans- ference.2 At that time, I was preoccupied with giving the classical presentation of this pair of notions.

Today I am going to try, if I may say so, to break new ground by following Lacan in understanding what psychoanalysis is about; new ground in understanding, in articulat- ing as they say, the desire of psychoanalysis. And this talk falls in the same sequence as my course in Paris, whose title this year is “Cause and Consent” [1988]. I see Bruce Fink here who attends my course and participates in my weekly seminar. Well, perhaps, he would tell you, in effect, that what I have been saying here is precisely the point I was trying to


present fifteen days ago in Paris, and which I continue to come back to. And this point is also an effort to give a unified theory of the Freudian field or to see how Lacan has given such a unified theory of the Freudian field. I do not know if I will have time to get that far, but that is my aim.

Causes Versus Law

Now, let us take a second point, which I shall call “Causes Versus Law.” This is still pre- liminary. The first two notions of cause and law are easily confused I would say, one with the other. As a matter of fact, thinking in a scientific framework, we consider that there is a fixed relationship between cause and effect, a stable and fixed relationship. And so we may try. Eventually scientific investigation aims to formulate laws of the relationships between a given cause and a given effect. That is elementary epistemology – which is not our central topic today – so I shall skip a lot of the various concentrations I cover in my course. What is central in the idea of a law, from the scientific point of view, is – I would select two words – first, regularity. When there is a law, we anticipate the regularity of the manifestation of the effect once a cause is present. So, a law allows anticipation of what is going to take place. It allows predictions. When we have laws and no capacity for prediction, we always wonder if we truly have a law, if it is truly a science.

I do not know if it is a bad memory for some of you [reference to a recent stock- market plummet], but there are various phenomena in the economic field which cast a certain doubt on a scientific rationale, for instance, of the economy. Nevertheless, there are always prices in economy; such novelties are not for psychoanalysis. When you can
Newsletter of the Freudian Field: Volume 3, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring/Fall 1989
not even predict, and you have a whole lot of laws, you wonder what field you are in. So, regularity.

And, second, I would say, continuity. As a matter of fact. When a cause is in- scribed in a law such that you may say the same cause produces the same effect, you are faced with a continuous chain because you may ask of the cause itself, what is the cause that causes this cause? That is to say, a cause is at the same time the effect of another cause. So, when you inscribe the cause in laws, you are, as a matter of fact, faced with a chain of necessity, determinism, where you have not – it is very difficult to do – pin- pointed a cause. You have a chain of causes and effects, and when you think about that in a theoretical way, you wonder where this chain of


cause and effect begins. And you know that those who introduced the scientific discourse in our culture in the seventeenth century were inclined to have, had to have, a theory of God which – we are accustomed to making a separation between science and religion made a link between science and religion. From the start, scientific discourse was grounded precisely on this continuity of causes and effects.

The cause I am talking about, the cause in psychoanalysis – the word cause is in the very title of the École de la cause freudienne – the cause we are speaking of, the Freudian cause, is a cause with another content. It is a cause – not as inscribed in a law of regularity and continuity, but rather a cause which so preoccupied David Hume in the 18th century when he showed that the very term the “cause”, as separate, as primary, was non-conceptual. And, you know that the reasoning of Hume triggered the philosophical effort of Kant himself. I cannot take up again the argument of Hume. And you know, perhaps, that Karl Popper, in our century, has built all his schemology on Hume’s argu- ments about causality I cannot give you a resume of these arguments, but you may un- derstand that, if you have a continuity in this way, you may never be able to pinpoint the cause as separate. So, as a matter of fact, if you think of the relationship between cause and chain, you may understand that cause, the very notion of cause, involves a breaking up of the chain. That is to say, the question of the cause can only appear when there is a breaking up of the chain. So, you may ask, where is the cause at the very moment where there is this lack? I would say, in the concept of causality as distinct from legality, one finds a concept of cause as distinct from law. And it always implies the notion of a missing link. You direct yourself to the idea of cause precisely when there is this missing link. That is to say that discontinuity, and not regularity, is essential to the notion of causality. And, if you think – let me take a shortcut – of the chain as a chain of signifiers, precisely the famous chain of signifiers, well, you may understand that with the concept of cause, the chain of signifiers …. Well, I would put it like that:

S – S’ – S”- S”’- S””
You may understand that cause necessitates the removal of one signifier, as being the

missing link. And this removal of one link is precisely what

S – S’ –

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Moments of Crisis
Gil Caroz

The Knottings Seminar of the NLS: “Moments of Crisis” Saturday, 10 January 2015 at 2pm – 5pm

The London Society of the NLS Seminar: “Moments of Crisis” Towards the NLS Congress, Geneva, 9/10 May 2015

Going Through a Crisis: Times Before, During and After a Crisis in Analysis with Natalie Wulfing and Gabriela van den Hoven

    • Saturday, 29 November 2014
    • 2.30 pm – 5 pm
    •  Room 2E, ULU, Malet Street
    •   £10


Gil Caroz: Moments of Crisis 

‘There can be no crisis of psychoanalysis’ Jacques Lacan interviewed in 1974

J.A.M.: The Financial Crisis

Carlo Vigano: Jacques Lacan and the Crises of Identity 

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Comme des Garçons
Josefina Ayerza

by Josefina Ayerza

They had just made love.  Kichi returns from the bathroom.  Sada takes him in her hand and says,

—As soon as you finish you are ready to start again—

Who is Sada talking to, her look certainly not directed toward Kichi but to “whom” she holds in her hand?  Kichi answers,

—It is as if he was yours—

Kichi’s part-body detaching, Sada finds the image of what she desires in the body of whom she loves.  Yet the part that gets detached is not just any part.  What gets detached, already an image, is the phallus—an image of the penis—still a signifier, a lack.  “The organ actually invested with this signifying function takes on the value of a fetish.”1  Says Sada,

—Yes, he’s mine… Tell me why that it always becomes so hard so quickly?—

She may want to deprive him of what he has, but what she really wants is that it be her own…again she wants it to be herself…she wants to be the phallus—a feminine one.  But that part also enjoys, much as the subjects resulting from the copulation of the signifiers enjoy.  “A kiss they call it,”2  Says Kichi,

—Because it is really you who desires it—

Who is you?  The desiring you, made out into a craving geisha, may well allude to Lacan’s supposed Other, Sada relating to the signifier of that Other when saying,

—I want it again—

The very dramatic issue in The Realm of the Senses3 is the fact that it is a true story.  Sada is a prostitute and now she works at an inn where Kichi is the owner, the headman and her boss.  They get involved in a love affair and have to run away from Kichi’s wife in order to live their passion.  A breathless passion, at the outmost point of infatuation Sada will strangle Kichi after his own instructions.  —If you start don’t stop in the middle, it hurts too much.  Once dead she will cut out his penis and testicles.  The movie ends with Sada wondering in a park, out of her mind, the parts still bleeding within her hands and fingers.

Lacan comments on the movie, this is 1977.  He walked out dumbfounded.  Pondering over the power of Japanese culture, he points to feminine eroticism pushed to such an extreme:  Woman in her fantasm wants to kill man.  And the case with Sada is that she didn’t get enough by doing so.  She kills Kichi and still wants more.  Now Lacan asks himself, why did she have to cut him up after killing him, how come she didn’t do it before?  Thus he will finally conclude about the incident in the movie that castration is not the fantasm.

What is castration in this context?  Contradictorily, what is the case with criminal fantasy when it comes to immolate woman?  Offense somehow assigned to the signifier, “…a woman can but be excluded by the nature of things, which is the nature of words;”4  let’s say that Willem de Kooning paints the ramble of her mutilation and Jacques Lacan will tell the story.

De Kooning’s series of paintings Woman 1, Woman 2… fairly depict the process by which Lacan’s woman is systematically dismembered as she gets deprived of yet another part.  So she reaches the point of annihilation.  Formerly the love object—obscure cause of the desire—a lost object, she’ll walk throughout seminar XX in a not-whole, nonexistent apparel.  Again she will at once be the symptom, and so will the analyst.

But what is it to be the symptom where it partakes of the cause of the desire?  If symptom is the single way each one happens to enjoy his/her unconscious framework, symptom is as well what you structure your life around.

Love and desire foregoing, the emergence of jouissance will spell.  Woman the symptom of man is a hole.  Let woman lend her body for the man to enjoy it, she will all along not be herself, only the very intrinsic attributes—mother, prostitute, wet-mother—she comes to embody.  A social bias to the symptom, the fact won’t prevent it from being distinguished throughout a particular lucubration—not in that it stands for an exception, but in that it comes from anyone.  Say the case is a boy inflamed by the baby sitter who happened to remove her hosiery while he pretended to be asleep; say that it is a president getting the intern to give him a blow job in the White House oval room; say that it is an anonymous King at the sado-masoquist Online Chateaux seducing women into becoming their slaves in writing. The far fetched memory in the fanciness of an outworn significance will return because it bears the mark.

When man enjoys, it’s the jouissance of his organ.  The phallus, an image of the sexual organ, moreover a representation of the certain image, is nevertheless a lack—of the organ itself.  The signifier will bring up the erotic, and in this sense it precedes ejaculation, male’s extrinsic jouissance, of the body… And phallic jouissance will also determine woman, her ex-sistence: the jouissance of the Other is off language, off the symbolic.  But the terms are not equal; man is not the given symptom of woman.  From this perspective the symptom of woman is also woman.  How so?

To answer with Lacan castration cannot be deduced from development alone, since it presupposes the subjectivity of the Other as the place of its law.  Still there are phallic women, and in this sense woman is prone to define herself in terms of man, in parity with the phallus, her place in the Other to remain ambiguous.  “Man here acts as the relay whereby the woman becomes this Other for herself as she is this Other for him.”5


…to play the part of the man (faire l’homme), as I have said, being thus hommosexuelle themselves…they love each other as the same (elles se mêment) in the Other.6


Woman conflates “man and homosexual: she loves men, she loves like a man, and her desire is structured in fantasy like his.”7

Should Greta Christina, Queen of Norway befit the personage, she may in turn evince the Spinozian rule in contemporary culture.  An this is Slavoj Zizek’s theory “You can get whatever you want but with the substance removed: coffee without caffeine, cigarettes without nicotine…” for the case, sex without penetration.


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The Mother-Daughter relationship after Lacan
Nancy Barton

Rose-Paul Vinciguerra—Daughter, Woman, Daughter 

Marie-Helene Brousse—A Difficulty in the Analysis of Women: The Ravage Effected by the Relation to the Mother

Dominique Holvoet—The Mother/Daughter Couple and its Destiny 

Dominique LaurentDeath Drive in the Feminine 

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The Nightmare of Plenitude
Nancy Barton

The sudden appearance of something familiar—what you wanted most—surfaces within the frame of what appeared to be a larger more uncertain world. You thought you had struck out on your own, moved away, arrived in the big city or small town, the university, or the commune, that was to provide a fresh start, but the spectre of the too-close-to-home rises up. You unravel, thinking and forgetting, opening and shutting the cupboards of your mind over and over. And now you are on the kitchen floor, listening for the scurrying feet of mice behind the doors. It’s a relief, something to focus on, a problem to solve – but can you can stay down there, stopped in your tracks, listening, dreaming obsessively of pest control? How did this happen? Everything went too well. You were offered a chance, maybe one too many. You wreck, how will you survive this success? Call it the uncanny, the too familiar in the impossible place, where it should not belong. Too pretty dolls & beloved corpses come to life; your hands are stained with the blood of those you wished to their deaths; the mother is yours. That bigger world, mediated by rules and orders, dissolves into the grandiosity of infancy you crave so much that you cannot bear the trace of it.


She is the (m)other of anxiety, the one you want. In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud tells us that we can lose someone without knowing what we have lost in them. Anxiety is what we gain without knowing what we have gained in our triumph. The mother, our phantasm, is gained and lost over and over, fort & da. Like a B-novie femme fatale, whenever she shows up there’s trouble. Maybe she holds our hand as we look in the mirror that first time, and when we turn to her, the discovery of our newfound – and separate – image reflected in our eyes, does she lose too much at that moment? Does she hate us then as well?





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Nortbert Buse

norb21151_seewhatimean norb18147_letters norb19149_female


norb12141_tabletalk norb9137_dick-blake norb8135_yoehoe norb3129_primapapier

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The Uncanny
John Friedland


Freud begins his essay The Uncanny (Freud 1919) by explaining how the psychoanalyst may be called upon to investigate the theory of aesthetics not in connection with the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He might have to interest himself in some province of aesthetics which might turn out to be a remote one such as “the uncanny.” It relates to what is frightening—to what arouses dread and horror. Also, the word is not always used in a clear definable sense. He embarks on a quest to the meaning of uncanny by an etymological study as well as by collecting sense impressions and experience which enables one to infer the unknown nature of the uncanny and determine what examples of the uncanny have in common.

He examines the meaning of “uncanny” in several languages. In Latin, it is used in the sense of an uncanny place or an uncanny time of night. In Greek it means strange or foreign. In English, uncomfortable, gloomy, ghastly or haunted. In French it equates to mal a l’aise or sinister. In Arabic or Hebrew it equates to daemonic or gruesome. In German it is the opposite of Heimlich which means not strange, familiar, members of the household, intimate, friendly comfortable. Another sense means concealed, kept from sight. The word Heimlich exhibits at least one quality which is identical with its opposite. Gutzkow writes: “We call it unheimlich. You call it Heimlich.” Heimlich also has the meaning “obscure, inaccessible to knowledge.” He quotes Schiller, “Do you not see?   They do not trust us; they fear the Heimlich face of the Duke of Friedland.”

Freud picks one sense of the use of uncanny, the situation in which an animate object is actually not alive or an inanimate object turns out to be alive. E.T.A Hoffman employs this device in the character of Olympia in the story “The Sandman” which also appears in the Tales of Hoffman. But Freud does not see this as the main theme of the story which, in fact, is the tale of the Sandman who tears childrens’ eyes out. On some evenings, the Nathaniel heard the Sandman was coming from his mother who explains that he tears children’s eyes out when they won’t go to sleep. The little eavesdropper hears Coppelius a.k.a the Sandman when he is at work with his father at the brazier. Coppelius seizes him and is the point of dropping little bits of red-hot-coal into his eyes when his father saves him. Years later Nathaniel buys eyeglasses from Coppola and espies Olympia who he learns is an automaton. He mixes up his betrothed Clara with the wooden doll Olympia, and it was the approach of Coppelius the lawyer which he seen through the spyglass which sends him into a trance which causes him to fling himself over the parapet.

For Freud, the fear of going blind is often a substitute for the fear of castration. The self blinding myth of Oedipus was simply a mitigated form of castration. Hoffmann brings the anxiety about the eyes into intimate connection with his father’s death. The role of the Sandman in separating him from Olympia (who the Sandman shows to be an automaton) and his betrothed becomes intelligible when the Sandman is seen as a father substitute. The death wish against the bad father finds expression of the death of the good father. This pair of fathers is later represented by Professor Spalanzani the optician and father of Olympia and Coppelius. One aids his eyes; the other destroys them.

The uncanny may be concerned with the phenomenon of the “double.” This category should be expanded to include the situation where one person has the thoughts of another so that mental processes leap from one to the other in what we call telepathy. It could be that the subject identifies himself with the other so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. The double has its roots in a very early mental stage when it wore a friendly aspect. This stage has long since been surmounted. Another form of the uncanny considered by Hoffman is the hearkening back to an early stage at which the ego had not been marked off from the external world and other people.

Freud adopts such a tone which is firmly against paranormal occurrences while in his later essay “Dreams and Occultism” (Freud 1933) he recounts the incidents in which the secret wishes of his patients are given vent by fortunetellers. More difficult to dismiss was his own patient Herr P. telling him that a virgin used to call Herr P Mr. Foresight when Freud was expecting a visit from Dr. Forsythe. The coincidence is somewhat minimized by the fact that Herr P. possessed a large English library and used to discuss English authors with Freud, one of which was Galsworthy who authored The Forsythe Saga.

But the second instance of coincidence was less readily explained away. Freud went to visit a Dr. Freund in Herr P.’s house. Freud told Herr P. that in a sense he had paid him a visit. Shortly after having mentioned Herr von Vorischt (Mr. Foresight) Herr P. asked Freud whether the Freud who was giving lectures in English was Freud’s daughter. But instead of saying Freud, he said “Freund”.

At the end of the same session, Herr P. mentioned a regular Alptraum and asked what the English translation was. At first, he thought it was ‘mare’s nest.”The translation is nightmare. A month earlier, Freud was visited by Ernest Jones whom Herr P. wanted to be introduced to. Jones was the author of a monograph entitled “The Nightmare”.

Freud looks at the manner in which the name Foresight emerged in the analytic session. Herr P. did not say “Forsythe” out of the English novel. He said in essence, “I’m a Forsyth too: that’s what the girl calls me.” Freud concludes that it’s hard to mistake the jealous demand and melancholy self depreciation which finds its expression in this remark. Thereafter, his thoughts passing along the associative thread “English” went back to two earlier events which were able to stir up the same elements of jealousy. Herr P. said in substance that Freud had paid a visit not to Herr P. but to Herr von Freund which caused him to mix up Freud and Freund. The Freud who was the teacher of English came up here because she as a teacher of English provided the manifest association. Finally came the mention of another visitor of whom he was equally jealous, Ernest Jones who was able to produce a book on nightmare’s whereas Herr P. could only produced a nightmare. His confusing the English with Mare’s nest was intended to mean, “I’m not a genuine Englishman any more than I’m a genuine Forstythe.”

Herr P. had been warned that his analysis would come to an end as soon as foreign pupils and patients returned to Vienna. Could have these associations been made without thought transference? Freud says that first association could have meant that Freud said to Herr P. that I had visited a Freund (friend) at your house and thus the occult interest vanishes. Herr P. could have also seen an advertisement for Jones’ monograph on the Nightmare.   In regard to the name Forsythe Freud says he may have mentioned his name, but he doubted that he did so. But Freud says, “It may be that I too have a secret inclination toward the miraculous which thus goes half way to meet the creation occult facts.” But even if Herr P. knew that a Dr. Forsythe was expected why was he so receptive to his presence on the day of his arrival. Freud believes that the scales weigh in favor of a thought transference.

Freud mocks himself supposing someone would say, “’Here’s another case of a man who has done honest work as a scientist all though his life and has grown feeble-minded , pious and credulous in his old age’.” Freud writes, “It seems to me that psychoanalysis, by inserting the unconscious between what is physical and what was previously called ‘psychical’, has paved the way for the assumption of such processes as telepathy.” Freud says that this is the original archaic method of communication between individuals and in the course of phylogenetic evolution it has been replaced by the better method of giving information with the help of signals which are picked up by the sense organs.

Freud ends his essay by telling a story of a mother who talked of a gold coin during an analytic session whose son immediately after gave her a gold coin which he had had for months. A few weeks later when the mother was writing about the gold coin the child wanted to take the coin with him to show in analysis. Analysis could discover no explanation of this wish to give the mother the coin or have it back again for the session. Freud then says this leads us back to psycho-analysis which is where were started out from.

“Dreams and Occultism” was written more than 14 years after “The Uncanny”. Reading the earlier work in light of the later work, Freud’s emphasis on rational explanations seems a bit forced. In light of this later work which represents Freud’s final position on telepathy, his earlier ideas on the uncanny need to be revisited. However, a serious distinction is to be made between telepathy and the uncanny. The uncanny relates to an event from childhood or phylogenetic inheritance that recurs in a later incarnation or the compulsion to repeat.

In “the Uncanny” Freud gives the example of wandering and finding himself back in the same street over and over again. This same situation could play out in a wood or in a dark room looking for a light switch and colliding with the same piece of furniture over and over again .If we take another set of circumstances, it is only this repetition which surrounds what would be innocent enough and forces on it something inescapable and fateful. Unless a man is hardened against superstition, he will ascribe a secret meaning to this recurrence of a number. In Freud’s case this is the number 62.  Or the reoccurrence of a name could create the same kind of superstition. Here Freud alludes to Beyond the Pleasure Principle and the compulsion to repeat. This compunction is powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle. But he does not seem to answer the question of why the compulsion to repeat gives rise to a feeling of uncanny in the repetition of a number. It may be that a number had an earlier significance which has since become unconscious.

Or we can begin to surmise that the compulsion to repeat can give rise to an unconscious fantasy of repetition in the real world. I have a compulsion to repeat; therefore, the compulsion to repeat can be found in the real world. This is uncanny. The uncanny generally is the playing out of an unconscious fantasy in a larger arena. The story of the Sandman alludes to the good and bad father and is a tale of castration. The compulsion to repeat is more frightening even though its genesis is not in childhood traumas but in the death drive itself.

Every obsessional neurotic is able to relate uncanny events such as getting a letter from someone to whom befalls a serious accident the next day, for instance. Many dread “the evil eye.” A feeling of envy by someone who projects his own envy on others fears that this degree of intensity for doing harm will convert itself into effective action. This form of the uncanny is the omnipotence of thought which begins with the subject overvaluation of one’s own mental process. This stage of development which we have all been through corresponds to the animism of primitive men. Freud’s later thinking in “Dreams and the Occult” does not really shed light on these coincidences. Telepathy is based on what occurs between two people in which mind reading occurs, not one in which events are mysteriously transmitted by means of a letter or the reoccurrence of a number.

Freud makes a complex assessment of the uncanny. If every affect belonging to an emotional impulse is transformed, if it repressed, into anxiety, there is one class in which the frightening element can be shown to be something repressed which recurs. First, Freud had not defined the frightening element being repressed but we can assume that it is an emotional instinct transformed into anxiety. This class of frightening thing would constitute the uncanny whether or not it was originally frightening or carried some other affect. Thus, we understand that it was the recurrence of an emotional impulse which carries an affect that is frightening. If this is the secret nature of the uncanny then we understand why Heimlich was transformed into unheimlich for this feeling is something which is not new but old and familiar. This aids us in understanding Schelling’s definition of the uncanny as something hidden which has come to light. Some languages can render an unheimlich house only as a “haunted” house. There are few issues around which our earliest thoughts have changed little and are preserved under a thin veneer as our relationship to death. Freud says in something of an overstatement, most of us still think as savages on this topic. Animism, omnipotence of thoughts, man’s attitude to death, involuntary repetition and the castration complex, Freud notes constitute all the factors which turn something frightening into something uncanny. Are these all the factors or only some of the most prominent? The fantasy of being buried alive is uncanny and is the transformation of intra-uterine existence. Uncanniness is often evoked when the line between reality and fiction appears to disappear.

Fairy tales frequently adopt the animistic perspective of omnipotent thought but are not uncanny. The resuscitation of the dead in the New Testament does not elicit feelings of the uncanny. Nearly all the instincts which contradict the hypothesis of what would be considered uncanny come from fiction (including the New Testament). What is actually experienced as uncanny provides far fewer instances than fiction. Fiction which may exist in the realm of omnipotent thought does not easily arouse the uncanny. So ghosts in Shakespeare or Dante appearing in their poetic reality do not give rise to any uncanny thought however gloomy they might be. This changes when the writer pretends to move in the realm of reality. The sense of the uncanny which proceeds from infantile complexes is as powerful in fiction as in reality. Silence, solitude and darkness are elements in infantile anxiety. These are perhaps the most puissant and telling examples of the uncanny which originally arise from infantile complexes.


The omnipotence of thoughts, the prompt fulfillment of wishes, secret injurious powers and the return of the dead were all once believed by our primitive forefathers to be actual possibilities. While these thoughts are outmoded, we do not feel quite sure of our new beliefs and these hold ones are ready to seize on any confirmation. Anyone who has completely rid himself of animistic beliefs will not be moved by the uncanny.

But the state is different when the uncanny proceeds from infantile fantasies, from the castration complex, womb fantasies etc. Where this type of uncanny feeling arises, it is not material reality but psychical reality which is at issue. So an uncanny feeling exists when infantile complexes which have been repressed are revived by some experience or when primitive beliefs that have been surmounted appear to be confirmed. The distinction between these two classes of the uncanny is hazy, according to Freud although he has said that anyone who has shed animistic beliefs will not be affected by the second kind of uncanny feelings. So we are led to ask which infantile complex led to Freud’s being dogged by the number 62 if it is not superstition. He does say that it is superstition, but we are dogged by the possibility that there is another kind of superstition which rational thought cannot undo.

Freud’s focus on the number 62 and his theory that the compulsion to repeat can give rise to the uncanny, makes one believe that not even telepathy, infantile fantasies or superstition can explain all uncanny happenings and that something exists outside the purview of psychoanalysis.

Generally, Freud’s theory of the uncanny fits well within the context of unconscious fantasy viewed more broadly.   Unconscious fantasy in psychoanalytic theory is generally seen as arising from intrauterine existence, primal scene, castration or seduction (Trosman 1990). I would add the Oedipus complex per and the primal killing of the father may be an unconscious fantasy which is phylogenic.

Unconscious fantasy has two components: the past unconscious and the present unconscious (Sandler 1986). This differentiation is based on Freud’s distinction between the unconscious and the preconscious and a second censorship between the preconscious and the conscious. The past unconscious is demarcated by the repression barrier and infantile amnesia. Sandler (1986) cites transference fantasies as the prime examples of adaptive fantasies associated with the present unconscious. The present unconscious is associated with the stabilizing function of unconscious fantasy. The idea of the present unconscious can also be seen as a compromise formation. So the present unconscious is a compromise formation in which a particular fantasy may be a politic revision of an earlier one. Freud’s idea of the uncanny has a present and a past component. But the uncanny occurs at a disjunction from the present and is distinctly not stabilizing but destabilizing, and not a compromise formation but a kind of ghostly apparition of the past, whether the animistic phylogenic past which has been thought surmounted or the infantile complex in its original strength. However, not all notions of the uncanny derive from infantile complexes. A sense of the uncanny might be generated by telepathic communication. Freud seems to suggest that the repetition of a number such as the number 62 only has a meaning to those who are superstitious about the internal compulsion to repeat being echoed in the real world. But the dread invoked by the internal compulsion to repeat- although not an infantile complex—may exist regardless of an individual’s susceptibility to superstition.



Freud, Sigmund (1919) The “Uncanny” , Collected Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 17, p. 217-252

Freud, Sigmund (1933)   Dreams and Occultism, Collected Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 22 p. 31-56

Sandler, A.( 1986) Reality and the Stablizing Function of Unconscious Fantasy Bulletin, A. Freud Center 9: 177-194 cited in Inderbitzin, L. and Levy, S. (1990) Unconscious Fantasy: A Reconsideration of the Concept. J. of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 38: 113-130

Trosman, H. (1990) Transformations of Unconscious Fantasy into Art,   J. of American Psychoanalytic Association, 38:47-59

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Scum Soufflé and Lacan's ISR Triad: A Theoretical Lesson for Subversives
Frank Smecker

Near the very end of Thomas Pynchon’s “derisive” novel, Gravity’s Rainbow—(arguably an unparalleled caricature of the subject’s oscillation between the phallic object and castration: a disruptive “repetition-automatism” that is set in motion by a constitutive tension between these two axes of subjectivity—better known as desire and anxiety—which, in turn, disturbs and ruins all orders of consistency)—there is a scene in which Beaver invites Roger Mexico and Pig Bodine to a fancy upper-class dinner party. Once there, they engage in a game of conjuring up outrageously disgusting food alliterations, speaking them out loud so that the other dinner guests can overhear them:


“Oh, I don’t know,” Roger elaborately casual, “I can’t seem to find any snot soup on the menu….”

“Yeah, I could’ve done with some of that pus pudding, myself. Think there’ll be any of that?”

“No, but there might be a scum soufflé!” cries Roger, “with a side of—menstrual marmalade!”

“Well I’ve got eyes for some of that rich, meaty smegma stew!” suggests Bodine. “Or howbout a clot casserole?”1


At this point, anonymous voices from down the table begin to murmur annoyances and disgust, which only provoke these roguish characters to continue with their obscenities, referring to made-up dishes, uttering things like: “discharge dumplings,” “vomit vichysoisse,” “cyst salad” with “little cheery-red [sic] squares of abortion aspic, tossed in a subtle dandruff dressing,” and so on ad nauseam. The guests around the table quickly become bilious; some start gagging; someone vomits even.

Aside from the burlesque Marxism of this scene—the parody of an austere upper-class dinner party getting sabotaged by a pair of outlandish “low-culture” subversives; the way in which, by simply uttering a few revolting words, these disruptive agitators manage to get a bunch of upscale patricians to purge themselves of their “inner substance”—the essential enigma at play here is nothing more than a reflection of those real-life circumstances in which, puzzling as they may sometimes seem, real effects can nevertheless be produced by something that is not real. Is this point not illustrated well by the segment of the Pynchonian universe provided above, in which words, in the form of vulgar obscenities, cause the dining patrons to get sick and vomit? Most of us are (unfortunately) familiar with this sort of episode; someone says something so repulsive and off-putting that, incidentally, such an utterance churns one’s stomach just enough to bring about a fit of gagging, or even vomiting. How are we to make sense of this peculiar occurrence, in which a real physical effect is brought on by something that, in the positive sense of things, is not there in reality, something that is there in thought and words only, that is, in language? To answer this question, we should take as our starting point the well-known Lacanian triad, Imaginary-Symbolic-Real (ISR). This triad constitutes the three realms that encompass the subject’s psychological activity, which, as such, functions to place both subjectivity and psychic phenomena within a specified framework of perception of, and dialogue with, the external world. We will start with the first two registers, Imaginary and Symbolic.

In terms of the Imaginary, one should notice that the most fundamental and immediate experience we have of eating food, for example, always involves a certain amount of abstraction, a subtraction of certain features about eating that are too embarrassing, unpleasant, even too disgusting, to be consciously accounted for. That is to say, rationally speaking, we all know that our consumption of food entails nothing more than the placing of dead, inert matter into a hole in one’s face, mashing it to a pulp with one’s teeth with the digestive aid of saliva, until one swallows what is in there, pushing it through a series of bloody tubes and organs, where it will eventually be broken down in the stomach by bile and enzymes, turned into excrement, to then be canalized through the gastrointestinal tract before being deposited into a toilet. However, while we are eating, this is, of course—quite literally—not included in the image we have of eating. In order to enjoy our food we must (unconsciously) disavow this crude and actual affair—that “unedited” raw reality lurking behind the very ordinary act of eating—precisely so that, in dealing with the consumption of food, we are not dealing with the real act of eating. Rather, we are dealing with an imaginary image that precipitates the normative, common act of eating with which we are all familiar. And this imaginary image, itself, nonetheless has a sort of effervescent reality all its own: this image allows for us to have a pleasurable experience of eating, or, to be more precise: it structures the way in which we deal with eating altogether.

Which brings us directly to the Symbolic aspect of all this, simply because these two orders (Imaginary/Symbolic) are hooked onto each other. Here, one is dealing with the way in which one’s individual experience of eating is, at the same time, a certain kind of shared experience, which comes into existence precisely by disavowing the more un-pleasant, immediate aspects of the reality inherent to the act itself. To wit, generally speaking, we all share in a sort of “common knowledge” of eating—e.g., we cook with recipes, we learn and internalize a certain amount of food etiquette, we all practice at least a middling degree of table manners, and so on—which is structured around a very specific kind of conventionalized image of eating, an image that, to reemphasize a point made earlier, structures for us the very act of eating we engage in precisely by masking the crude rawness of the act itself. What I am essentially getting at here is that, the Symbolic order intervenes and subverts the field of distinction between a ‘real object’ and an ‘object of knowledge’, whereby this distinction is then elevated into, and staged within, a larger epistemologico-ideological space; thereby structuring the way in which we experience reality in toto. This is precisely what Lacan, in Book XI, means by the claim that, “a concerted human action, whatever it may be, […] places man in a position to treat the real by the symbolic”: the Symbolic is the determining order of the subject, and, mutatis mutandis, the subject is, as such, an effect of the Symbolic. But in order for this to happen, some “original” piece of the Real must resist symbolization, that is, I must disavow and disqualify a certain facet of reality, a slice of reality that goes unaccounted for in order for me to experience the symbolic structure of my lived reality.

There is, of course, a heinous and diabolical side to this, which finds its apogee of expression in perhaps one of the more atrocious and execrable moments of modern history. In 1936 the Soviets invented a van, disguised as a bread van, equipped with a gas chamber in which prisoners were suffocated and killed by the van’s engine fumes. Thereafter, in September of 1941, following Himmler’s visits to Russia, a paramilitary death squad of Nazi Germany known as “deployment group B” (Einsatzgruppen B), led by the commanding officer Arthur Nebe, was given the task of liquidating patients of the asylums in the cities of Minsk and Mogilev. Nebe soon came up with his own idea of constructing a van with a hermetically sealed cabin into which carbon monoxide gas from the automobile’s exhaust could be used for killing operations. These vans were used at the Chelmno extermination camp up until the gas chambers were developed.

The real sense of horror behind all this is not simply that these vans existed and were used. Rather, the source of this hideous barbarism belongs to something much deeper and more radical: the way in which, in order for the drivers of Nebe’s gas-vans to do what they did, they had to dispense with a certain facet of reality—(the fact that they were committing outright murder)—thereby, in the very process, off-loading their ultimate responsibility for the lives they were taking onto some Absolute qua “sacred Cause”.2 Is this not, as Žizek puts it in the introduction to God in Pain, a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the “religious suspension of the ethical”: “on a mission from God, one is allowed to kill thousands of innocents”? Or, to put it in more secular terms, as psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote in The Nazi Doctors: Large groups of people can be easily moved to commit mass atrocity in so far as there is a “claim to virtue” placed behind the act. That is to say, before a large group of people can commit any mass atrocity, they must convince themselves, as a whole, that what they are doing is not wrong but instead beneficial to a larger-than-the-individual “sacred Cause” (e.g., The Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, Manifest Destiny and its pursuant removal of America’s indigenous, the Holocaust, the Indonesian killings of 1965-66, and so on…). We should consider, then, that the real sense of horror may derive from something that is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, “human, all too human” in us. It is too easy to dismiss the Nazis, or, for that matter, those responsible for the Indonesian killings of 1965-66, and so on, as inhuman and bestial—for what if the problem with such perpetrators is, as Žižek puts forward, that they are “human, all too human”? What Žižek is attempting to disclose here is precisely


what “Lacan tries to accomplish […] in all his great literary interpretations […] [A] point at which we enter the dimension of the “inhuman,” a point at which “humanity” disintegrates, so that all that remains is a pure subject.3


In other words, the “pure subject” is to be conceived, in a manner of speaking, as an empty “receptacle” into which its (Symbolic) substance is received. The recent film The World’s End (2013), written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and directed by Edgar Wright, does a spectacular job depicting this Lacanian concept of the pure subject (despite being, arguably, one of the more lackluster films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). Five friends reunite to visit their hometown, Newton Haven, where they attempt to finish their failed pub-crawl from twenty years earlier. In the midst of trying to reconcile the tension between their past and present lives, they soon discover that the town has long since been invaded and taken over by alien robots, its population having been replaced, one by one, by these otherworldly intruders. There are two things in and about this film that strike me as somewhat fascinating. One: its recurring turn to the etymology of the word ‘robot’, that it basically means “slave”; derived from the Czech word ‘robota’, which means: “forced labor.” And two: that it is none other than the alien-robot-Things which enslave their human subjects, disarming their human subjugates by infusing them with their own alien blood (which is blue, by the way), which thereby induces in their victims an acute complacency with the reality of what’s actually occurring. What I find so interesting here, specifically, is the pairing of these two aspects, it creates a sort of “short-circuit”; in other words, there is a dialectical reversal occurring here, which we should focus all our attention on: for is it not as if the real “robots”—which, of course, if we were to take this designation literally, we are talking about “slaves”—are the humans themselves, and not the alien-robot-Things that have enslaved the people of Newton Haven by means of invading their human bodies? Moreover, in the act of colonizing the human bodies, these alien-robot-Things render their human subjects hollow. Is this not an apt metaphor for the pure subject’s relation to the Symbolic? The Lacanian concept of the pure subject (in the case of The World’s End, the humans themselves) is none other than empty form itself, which receives its Symbolic substance (the alien-robot Thing) with which the subject comes to identify; that is to say: the Symbolic is the determining order of the subject, and, mutatis mutandis, the subject is, as such, an effect of the Symbolic.

This phenomenon renders perfectly the absurd logic behind the functioning of the Symbolic order, in which the “mask-mandate” matters more than the direct reality that assumes the mandate. Here, one does not believe their eyes, so to speak, in so far as one fully submits to the efficiency of the symbolic fiction: the way in which this fiction structures one’s experience of reality. As Žižek reminds us in his essay “With or Without Passion”: in one of the Marx brothers’ films, Groucho Marx, when caught in a lie, answers angrily: “Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?”


This functioning [of the Symbolic order] involves the structure of fetishist disavowal: “I know very well that things are the way I see them/that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him”. So, in a way, I effectively believe his words, not my eyes, i.e. I believe in Another Space (the domain of pure symbolic authority) which matters more than the reality of its spokesmen.4


Can we not arrive at the logical conclusion, then, that it is in this strict sense—that is, by turning to the paradoxical logic that is behind the efficiency of both the Imaginary and Symbolic orders, as it is explained above—that Roger and Bodine were able to induce vomiting in others simply by using their words!

Well now, the notion of the Real, the prize we have all been waiting for, can be discussed. There is an entire series of definitions for the Lacanian concept of the Real, but the basic starting point is that the Real is, paradoxically, both the foundation for the process of symbolization (for it precedes the Symbolic order), and, a piece of excess, a remainder, a leftover of symbolization that eludes any symbolization whatsoever. One should not overlook the crucial way in which this lends itself over to the political field:


The typical politics of the good aims at a future not inhibited by a limit that constrains the present. This future can take the form of a truly representative democracy, a socialist utopia, a society with a fair distribution of power and wealth, or even a fascist order that would expel those who embody the limit.5


In other words,


no amount of progress can ever heal the loss that founds subjectivity, even though this is precisely what the ideology of progress promises. And even instances of empirical progress—say, the civil rights struggle of the 1960s in the Unites States—are accomplished through a repression whose content inevitably returns (in the form of segregated housing, private schools for affluent whites, and so on) […] [T]he investment of progress always produces its opposite as an obscene supplement […]6


Thus what one should acknowledge in these times is the obscene obverse of today’s “global village” in which everyone celebrates their differences by partaking in the “free” markets of liberal capitalism, a world in which everyone involved supposedly has equal rights, an equal opportunity to prosper, and so on: the rise of new forms of immiseration, and the increase of slums around the world; new forms of slavery, and the recrudescence of labor camps (e.g., the Chinese ‘Laogai’); new forms of racism and apartheids; the construction of new walls to protect the first world from a flood of immigrants, resulting in new social exclusions; the seizure of communally-held land/public spaces by private industry and multinational corporations; the ecological dismemberment of an entire planet, and climate change by global warming—for this is the unconscious truth about globalization. The crucial point that one should take away from this is that: any symbolic structure always has included within it some “staining” element, a non-rational protuberance that embodies the symbolic structure’s “own point of impossibility around which it is articulated.”

No less important to note, the Real also accounts for the way in which, with regard to the ISR triad, each dimension of the triad is interwoven with one another, precisely in the sense that the entire triad is reflected into each of its three terms. In other words, the Real is that which is inscribed into the very core of what it means to be human. To return to our more mild example from earlier, that of eating food, notice that there exists a minimal difference between the natural, organic constitution of the food we eat (including the natural processes of digestion to which the act of eating is nonetheless a vital component), and, the way in which we “de-naturalize” the objects that become our food, as well as the act of eating itself. To help spell this out some, let us turn to another example here. Consider one of the crucial discoveries made by Freud—that of the human dimension of sexuality: the fact that there is an indissoluble difference between “natural” sexuality—as it is conceived of in the conservative-traditional terms of sexual reproduction, including the latter’s requisite sex organs—and, human sexuality: the various ways in which we partake in sex, how we conceive of sexuality—not in any “natural” sense, but in terms of sexual satisfaction in and of itself. It is not easy, Freud tells us, to decide what is covered by the concept ‘sexual’;


If […] you take the reproductive function as the nucleus of sexuality, you risk excluding a whole number of things which are not aimed at reproduction but which are certainly sexual […]7


It is this minimal difference, an antagonism between the two sexual positions as such, which reveals an irreducible gap between both positions. And it is none other than fantasy itself—which paradoxically emerges from, and situates itself within, this abyssal chasm—that strives to reconcile this innermost antagonism by means of an imaginary order that is symbolically regulated. This is precisely what is definitive of human nature (what constitutes the passage from human being to being human). In other words, sticking with the provided example of sexuality, Lacan’s famous claim, that “there is no sexual relationship” (“il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel”), must be taken literally: there is always a radical difference between the raw reality of copulation and its phantasmic supplement (which, in its “highest” extrapolation, merely bespeaks of the radical difference that is, as Hegel would put it, contained within sameness itself—for are we not discussing here the fact that it is none other than sexuality itself that differs from itself? In other words, the difference that holds between two terms, a veritable antagonism as such, is actually inherent to each of the two terms themselves; which is to say: the difference is included, the opposite is always-already accounted for, within the subject itself; the subject differs within its own “oneness” precisely because there is a difference between the subject itself, and its empty place of inscription). In any case, can we not posit the claim that, to say that there is a difference between the raw reality of copulation and its phantasmic supplement implies that

all variations and displacements of sexual practices […] are so many desperate attempts to restore the balance of the two [sexual poles, which account for difference per se].8

The main point here is that the structural imbalance of the “sexual relationship,” in all its figurative and literal senses, is precisely what gives dialectical motion to all development, to the very “progress” from one form to another. As Žižek puts it, “sexuality is the domain of ‘spurious infintity'”9: viz., the transcendent fantasy that is often held to be over and above—separated from—(in order to conceal) the raw reality of disjunction and imbalance, is nonetheless “false” since it is this structural imbalance that engenders the fantasy itself; that is to say, the fantasy, produced as such, is inviolably bounded by its Other. Or, to put it differently: the symbolic authority of our unconscious fantasies is, as singer-songwriter Scott Walker once crooned in the song “Montague Terrace (In Blue)”: “A fist filled with illusions [that] clutches all our cares.” It is this, which, in all its (metaphorical) complexity, accounts for the Real.

So, to couch all this once more in our original, clement terms of eating food and what not, one can say that all “variations and displacements” of preparing and eating food are just so many attempts to restore a lost balance between two positions! This “lost balance” is of course to be referred to as the inaccessible, hard kernel of the Real itself, the “Real-Real”. It is on account of this innermost Real antagonism, as such, that the subject vacillates between two differences that are contained within its own sameness: the difference between “human being” (the human that is animal), on the one hand; and, on other hand, the latter’s phantasmic supplement—being-human (the animal that is human): how we conduct ourselves in the world—how we relate to the world at large and, with one another—the way in which we believe we should. And we must not lose sight of the Symbolic-Real that is caught up in all of this: the fact that there is a real effect to the fantasy component that is embedded in belief itself, for it is this very fantasy component which structures how we believe we should relate to the world (for example, if one is taught to see mountains as dollar bills, instructed to believe that mountains are retainers of resources to be exploited, blown to bits and razed for access to strata of coal, then one will see and treat mountains this way; if one is taught to believe that mountains are a dynamic landbase, essential to the lives of many other beings, then one will see and treat mountains another way).

All that said, there is also the dormant threat of an explosive intrusion of the Imaginary-Real—another, more menacing way in which something that is not real can produce a real effect: how the mere mentioning of “meaty smegma stew” and “cyst salad” with “little red squares of abortion aspic, tossed in a subtle dandruff dressing,” can cause the complacent Other to vomit up their “inner substance.” So, the next time you find yourself at some bourgeoise dinner party—you know exactly what it is you should do!



  1. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 729-31.
  2. According to a Wikipedia entry for “Gas Van”, one “disadvantage” to using these vans was that “drivers could hear the victims’ screams, which they found distracting and disturbing.”
  3. Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 42.
  4. Slavoj Žižek, “With or Without Passion: What’s Wrong with Fundamentalism? Part I,” Lacanian Ink, http://www.lacan.com/zizpassion.htm
  5. Todd McGowan, Enjoying What We Don’t Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis, (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 20.
  6. Ibid., 291N32.
  7. Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989), 376.
  8. Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, 12.
  9. Ibid., 13.


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The Navel of the Dream: Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void
Jared Russell



The films of Argentinian-born, French director Gaspar Noé belong to what Artforum critic James Quandt (2004) called the “New French Extremity.” Citing a wave of aggressively challenging films by Bruno Dumont, Catherine Breillat, Virginie Despentes and others, Quandt encapsulated a generation of filmmakers who push the boundaries of the horror genre by confronting audiences with an uncontextualized violence that refuses to explain itself with reference to categories beyond the everyday ugliness of human nature. Noé is the most controversial of this controversial group. His films chart a territory that parallels Lacanian efforts to portray an unconscious that knows no time, no negation, and in a way that offers a relentless meditation on the powers of time and of negativity.

The running theme throughout Noé’s work is how meaning is itself traumatically meaningless at its essence – how the automaton of the signifier is “shot through, transfixed with the tychic” (Sem. XI, 70). This is particularly the focus of Enter the Void (2010). At almost three hours, the film exhausts its audience with repetitive depictions of sex, violence and death, within a framework organized around an anti-social Real that both disrupts and sustains the Symbolic order of family, community and friendship. Though it insistently evokes the meaningfulness of human co-existence – of what supports the substantial bonds of interpersonal relations – Void ultimately demonstrates that this meaningfulness is itself not meaningfully grounded. In this way it illustrates what Freud called the “navel of the dream”: that which cannot be analyzed because it both resists meaning and makes meaning possible in the first place.

The film’s plot concerns Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a 19-year-old American living in Tokyo with his newly arrived, sexually precocious sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta). The first 30 minutes show Oscar’s life of partying, wandering the streets, taking and dealing drugs, until he is abruptly shot to death by police in the bathroom of a bar (“The Void”). The remaining two hours of the film reconstruct the days leading up to Oscar’s murder, his childhood and the death of his parents, and the devastating repercussions his death has on those around him. Intercut with stunning visual effects and some of the boldest feats of cinematography in film history, Void draws its audience in multiple directions, up until its final, vulgar/metaphysical climax. Unlike the director’s earlier Irreversible (2002), the narrative structure of which, presented in reverse, is compact and divided into discrete units (not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000)), Void is decisively oneiric, with long, meandering shots that, at 163 minutes, can feel excruciating.

At the beginning of the film, a psychedelic drug trip (paying homage to the final sequence in Kubrick’s 2001) sets the stage for an exploration of Tokyo’s sprawling, Technicolor cityscape. The primitive depths of inner experience to which Void descends early on are reflected in the external environments that subsequently serve as the story’s backdrop. The club where Linda works as a stripper is an emporium of naked women bathed in flickering blue, green and red lights. Scenes inside frenetic nightclubs are filmed with no effort to conceal the sensory overload that prevents any authentic human interaction. The streets of Tokyo appear as some dazzling electronic maze over which the camera twirls from high above. This is not, however, a film that indulges in visual effects for their own sake. Rather, Noé works to erase any distinction between subjective hallucination and what appears objectively to a disembodied gaze. The result is a strikingly original blurring of the boundaries between mind and world.

A tagline flaunted by the film’s distributor advertises, “Here is an artist who’s trying to show us something we haven’t seen before.” More accurately,Noé attempts to show what precisely cannot be shown, in order to show what the effort at showing, representing – revealing meaning – consistently elides in order to begin to function. Turning on depictions of intoxication, memory, embodiment, and the inherence of the position of the Subject (treated in terms of reincarnation), Void is ambitiously cerebral yet rigorously visceral at the same time. Cinematically, the film is as traditional as it is innovative. Making use of unknown actors and hand-held camera work, it draws on Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave at the same moment that it deploys the most elaborate digital effects. Refusing a tradition in film theory that opposes realism and anti-realism, Noé presents the Real as something that both escapes and determines the facile opposition of real and unreal through an intensive confrontation with the irreducibility of loss.

Most jarring is Noé’s decision to shoot from his protagonist’s immediate, first person point-of-view (a technique inspired by Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947)). At the film’s beginning, we see the world literally through Oscar’s eyes, complete with blinking eyelids, the camera aping the movements of his head. After Oscar’s death, Void divides the cinematic gaze between two perspectives: one maintains the immediate point of view as the camera glides through city streets, clubs, morgues, to create an ethereal sense that we are witnessing events through the eyes of Oscar’s ghost; alternately, we witness the events of the near and remote past of Oscar’s life, with the camera hovering just above the back of his head and shoulders. At times, the same scene is repeated: a sentimental moment in which Oscar and Linda make a pact “never to leave each other” is presented first from the immediacy of Oscar’s conscious perception, and later from the perspective of a post-mortem gaze-in-deferral that contains the back of his head within the frame. After three hours of shifting between these perspectives, the effect is profoundly disorienting: leaving the theater, the viewer has the sensation of hovering just outside the head, witnessing the world from a dislocated position as the body operates on its own. Noé in this way uses film to decenter consciousness and to foreground the experience of the drive.

In Lacanian terms, Noé’s cinematic treatment of the Real involves a repetitive return of the breakdown of communal and familial ties that indicates the fragility of the category of the object as an organizer of unconscious psychic reality. What the Subject is confronted with in the figure of the Other is not the semblance or imago of a merely inverted position vis-a-vis some mutually shared, natural environment. As the receptacle of signifiers through which the being of the Subject is figured, the Other sustains desire through a hopeless interrogation of that lack around which the signifying chain is structured. With the downward spiraling descent of Void, Noé articulates this strategy of courtship and self-destruction by refusing to allow any good to come of the promises that his characters make to one another. In this way, the film depicts how, rather than being merely disrupted by betrayal, the Symbolic is constituted around the possibility of betrayal as what gives rise to the fiction of the social contract.

What Void confronts its audience with in this manner is Lacan’s claim that consciousness cannot function as the basis for any sharp distinction between classical notions of subjectivity and objectivity. Efforts at self-reflection (“seeing oneself being seen”) always contain irreparable elements of failure – one cannot achieve a completely reflective self-awareness, which would be required to make life transparently meaningful while it is being lived. This is the trauma at the heart of thefilm – the “essentially missed encounter” (Sem XI, 55) that constitutes the kernel of the Real at the heart of human experience. While he is alive, Oscar’s self-awareness unreflectively coincides with the immediacy of his sensory experience. As the film proceeds in the aftermath of Oscar’s death, efforts to make sense of his experience are thwarted by the fact that his life had never truly been lived. As Oscar’s ghost rehearses its brief existence, it is not only the traumas of his past that haunt him, but the trauma of the passage of time itself. What Noé demonstrates in this way is how trauma can occur not just “in” life, but as life.

Noé has made no secret of the equivalence he draws between cinema and drugs. Void announces this equivalence in no uncertain terms. When Oscar meets with the drug dealer Bruno (Ed Spear) for the first time, the stash of LSD he is after is presented in a DVD case. When another dealer asks who he was sent by, Oscar answers, “Gaspar.” Noé here echoes Chilean cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who in the 1970s declared (with characteristic self-aggrandizement), “I ask of cinema what most Americans ask of psychedelic drugs” (Hoberman and Rosenbaum 1983, 77). Is this equivalence to be taken seriously? Does Void offer more than an over-the-top spectacle for today’s unprecedentedly jaded audiences?

According to Benton and Tylim (1997),


One must be suspicious of hyperconscious images of violence and destruction. The explicit representation of violence appears as a fetishistic strategy that impedes access to new dimensions of meaning. Thus, one must pay attention to the dynamics between foreground and background of film representations when attempting to unveil the hidden meaning of films. An evenly hovering attention may serve as a buffer against the distractions offered by the hyperactivity, the impressive sets, the sharp colors, the overpowering sound and special effects, or the charisma of the stars. (659)


Noé often (though not always) works deliberately against this “hyperconscious,” “fetishistic strategy.” His depictions of violence are at times harrowingly undistracted, as when Oscar lies dying on the floor of a filthy toilet in Void, or in the infamous eleven-minute, single-shot rape sequence in Irreversible. McGowan (2011) writes, “Rather than showing violence through a series of rapid cuts designed to render it more spectacular, [Noé] uses exclusively long takes that make it impossible to find enjoyment in the violence” (208). There is neither enjoyment to be had, nor meaning to be unveiled. For this very reason, Void actively pursues a state of “evenly hovering attention” in which everything and nothing assumes significance, in order to disclose a dimension of radical failure that the film attempts to thematize.

According to Alex (Cyril Roy), death is “the ultimate trip.” Void presents a world in which death does not threaten from the future, but has always already come to pass; in which life is a downward trajectory towards an absence of meaning; and where no one is possessed of the capacity to be alone. Time is trauma as perpetual loss: not only is the film’s main character killed within the first thirty minutes, we witness the death of Oscar and Linda’s parents; the separation of Oscar and Linda as children; the breakdown of Oscar’s friend Victor’s family after Oscar seduces Victor’s mother; Linda’s being turned into a sex worker by a pimp; Alex’s descent into madness as he runs from the police. And these are only elements within the film’s narrative. Loss is also a prominent theme cinematographically. At one point, as Linda is wheeled out of the room following an abortion, the camera remains, drifting towards and then fixating on fetal remains in a kidney basin. Later, Linda protests that the ashes of her brother are meaningless to her, impulsively dumping them into a kitchen sink. As the remaining traces of Oscar’s body wash away, the camera descends into the darkness of the sink’s drain; when the camera pulls back, it emerges from the hole in the floor toilet where Oscar died, as a janitor mops away any record of his murder. The cumulative effects of these images are far more disturbing than the violent cinematic assaults associated with the New French Extremity. Void is divided into loosely organized sequences, each of which ends with the camera descending into a black hole (a toilet, a drain, an exit wound), or a strobe light, or an accelerated drift over streets that race by too quickly to be recognizable. Each sequence thus traces a dreamlike event back to its inscrutable “navel,” exploring how any effort to make sense of experience issues from, and is inevitably drawn back towards, a traumatic Real that means absolutely nothing. The film ends with the image of an umbilical cord being severed, before indicating that the “void” of the title is not death but life itself.

Critics have largely reviled the film for its superficial philosophical pretensions, but Noé clearly presents the limits of reflective, thoughtful speculation quite deliberately. The sexual and violent content of the film are ancillary to its meditation on traumatic aftermaths, disappointments, missed encounters that cannot be appropriated for the purpose of symbolic meaning-making. Oscar’s life is tragically cut short, and we subsequently learn that what little life he did lead was squandered. If, as critics contend, the film’s narrative appears underdeveloped, this is perhaps because Noé wants to indicate an absence of developmental narrative, or rather an absence at the heart of narrative and of development from which meaning emerges, but in a way that remains extremely precarious and that is never thoroughly realized. As Oscar’s ghost revisits the past, nothing provides the sense that a thread is constructed by means of which time might serve as a basis for narrative coherence. As the signature line of Irreversible asserts: “Le temps détruit tout” – time destroys all. Enter the Void explores the meaning of this “truth” as the insistent absence of any universal truth, or why “truth is structured like a fiction”: scenes from Oscar’s hopeful childhood are juxtaposed with scenes from his hopeless adolescence; the soundtrack blends tediously monotonous techno music with the heartbeat of a mother synced to that of her child; death puts an end to life but not to an endless repetition of the emptiness of death itself. Noé’s vision may be devastatingly bleak, but it is thoroughly relevant to psychoanalytic efforts at understanding the relationship between meaning and non-meaning that we are increasingly confronted with in a clinical context today.



Benton, R. and Tylim, I. (1997). Introduction to the special issue: film and violence.

Psychoanalytic Review, 84:657-665.

Hoberman, J. and Rosenbaum, J. (1983). Midnight Movies. New York: Da Capo Press,

McGowan, T. (2011). Out of Time: Desire in Atemporal Cinema. Minneapolis, MN:

University of Minnesota Press.

Quandt, J. (2004). Flesh & Blood: Sex and violence in recent French cinema. Artforum,


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A Feminine academic
Jared Russell

Alejandra Seeber



I will present material from an ongoing analysis of a “feminine” – not just a female – academic. My approach will not be theoretical. I want to show clinically what it means to occupy a feminine position in a culture (specifically, academia – but by extension, culture in general today) that claims a post-Oedipal turn, but that remains decisively committed to conservative, Oedipal values. Traditionally, and for reasons that are reflected in the material, clinical cases are introduced only after one has demonstrated a certain theoretical prowess. I want to proceed in a non-traditional (“feminine”) way by getting right to the story.


Clinical material

K is a 30-year-old graduate student in the humanities who is about to complete her degree and enter the academic job market. She initially sought treatment four years ago following the break up of a three-year relationship that, in retrospect, seemed to her very disturbing. She described a pervasive fear of conflict and a debilitating sense that, despite the considerable talent others tell her she possesses, she will never be successful in her field. She also said she suffered from a medical condition called “vulvadynia” – an excessive vaginal pain during penetration that makes intercourse unbearable. For the first two years I saw her, she was not sexually active.

Throughout this time, K brings in dreams that circle around two scenes: 1) she suddenly finds herself in a situation of romantic commitment (getting married, leaving on honeymoon) with men she does not recognize and with no idea as to why she’s doing what she’s doing; 2) she and a friend or family member are having a screaming fight, but neither can properly understand what the other is saying. She accepts the interpretations we arrive at, but the dreams never dissipate.

K’s father is a successful professor at an Ivy League university. Her parents met when her mother was a graduate student in the department where her father had just begun his career; they married and conceived K, causing her mother to abandon the program. After fifteen years as a homemaker, her mother found work as an archivist, specializing in medical texts. K says that her mother is far more intelligent than her father, but her depressive, self-defeating character has not allowed her to succeed in the way that everyone believes she could have. K’s mother never felt she belonged in academia; she viewed motherhood as “a way out.”

K describes her parents’ relationship as contentious. Her father takes care of all the household and parental duties. Her mother unleashes an unremitting barrage of apologies for her failures as a wife. This provokes her father to anger. K grew up trying to intervene in their arguments, defending her mother against her father. In the analysis, she encounters her parents as mortal human beings, rather than as placeholders in an eternal Oedipal economy. Forming more realistic images of her parents does nothing to temper the disappointment she feels in them, nor the anxieties she has about herself.

In the relationship from which she was recovering when she entered treatment, K had been involved with a man (M) to whom she was attracted neither sexually nor emotionally. M was a cocaine abuser who, when high, demanded she perform oral sex on him as they watched pornography together. K said she had accepted this arrangement because of her vulvadynia, which made her feel no man would want her. M was often psychologically cruel. He would beg for her forgiveness after his accusatory outbursts, and this would exacerbate the cruelty he masochistically visited upon himself. After their fights, M would stare at himself in the mirror, repetitively seething, “You look like a fucking worm!” No one understood why she remained in the relationship. K said she felt too guilty leaving someone so fragile, and she thought this was what she could expect in her romantic life.

K is among the most outstanding students in her program. She organizes conferences, attends all departmental functions, and translates work by her professors. She is considered a model candidate for academic success, but she is oblivious as to just how well she is doing. She contrasts herself with other students who, she imagines, spend all their time writing. K describes this fantasy in anal and urethral terms: these others (invariably male) sit in the basement of the library “cranking out” three or four publications a year; they are possessed of a “steady flow” with which she cannot compete; during one session, she spontaneously reports imagining a hole opening up above her from out of which a torrent of books fall. Her conflicts concern her relation to phallic modes of jouissance, expressed in typical obsessive fantasies of academic hyper-productivity.

In her research, K specializes in representations of childhood under fascism. She has not yet had the opportunity to teach this material, but she regularly teaches Romance languages. She struggles with the fact that she actually enjoys teaching languages, perhaps more than she would enjoy teaching theory. In the analysis, she increasingly finds that she enjoys teaching a great deal, but she conceals this enjoyment from her mentors, her colleagues, and her father: since everyone else seems to abhor teaching as an obstacle to “real” academic work, she worries that her enjoyment is a sign of her defectiveness. Whereas most academics covet prestigious university research positions, K says, she risks imagining that she might prefer a job at a small liberal arts college that values departmental service. Her professors groom her for a position at the top of her field – a position she initially feels she does not deserve, but over time that perhaps she does not want. She fears that if she were to disclose her feelings to her department, much less to her father, they might withdraw their support entirely. This is not simply a matter of disappointing paternal authority, but of revealing an intrinsic flaw in the nature of her desire that would make her an outcast.

About two years into the analysis, K recalled that, when she was a child, her mother had been an avid reader of true crime novels. She remembered these books being strewn about the house, and how she would sneak glances at their glossy, lurid crime scene photos. Over the course of several sessions she discovered the degree to which this had been traumatically overstimulating. The way she remembered this, it seemed as if these books were on display at the same time that, many years later, her mother was involved in archiving medieval medical texts containing graphic illustrations of primitive surgical procedures. The juxtaposition of these two scenes made no sense to her chronologically, but their intrinsic connection in her mind was irreducible. Following this strange reconstruction, K began to consider her mother quite differently. She no longer saw her mother as depressive and prone to victimization, but as frighteningly crazy and destructive. She also began to see her father as a tragic figure who had been baited into endless fights in the context of the family drama, to which she had contributed, and who could not positively enjoy the full extent of his professional achievements.

Not long after this, K met and fell in love with another man (L). Unlike M, L had no connection whatsoever to academia. From the beginning, K worried that she might frighten L away. She told me about their going out together, drinking too much, and finding herself crying that if he “really knew her,” he would hasten to leave. L demonstrated that he was genuinely in love, but this only made the problem worse. K could not believe that she was involved with someone who could care about her so much. No sooner did she begin to accept this than she started to worry that her career would ruin their relationship should she have to take a job in a provincial region where L could not find work. Still, she couldn’t deny that – for the first time in her life – the sex was great.

Last year, K made a foray into the academic job market. Much to her surprise, she got an interview for an assistant professorship at a highly prominent university. In the weeks leading up to the interview, her anxieties were barely manageable. She did not know how to prepare; she worried that she would be exposed as a fraud, that she would be asked questions for which she had no answers. Despite how unlikely it was given her field, she actually fretted, “What if they ask me about Žižek? Or Hegel? I don’t understand any of that stuff!” Anticipating the absolute worst, she pieced together a scene straight out of Dante: she would be “flayed,” “eviscerated,” “torn to pieces” by her interrogators. In the end, she did quite well and was one of two final candidates for the position. She was relieved when she was passed over – because, she was told, she was “not conservative enough” for that particular institution.

This year, as she prepares to return to the job market, K’s anxieties are more contained, but still powerful. Recently, however, she related the following dream: she had scratched her face and was bleeding into her eyes and mouth. She went to a mirror to see what she looked like. The mirror was turned around backwards and she stared at its dull, unreflective surface, terrified that she herself was not there. When she looked away from the mirror, she understood that it could not function properly and that she was fine, but when she looked directly at the mirror, she forgot her understanding and became convinced that she was confronting the fact that she did not exist. Each time she turned away before returning, the scratch healed just a little bit more.



Since time is limited, I will offer only a few reflections. K’s presenting problem is figured by the most traditional Oedipal demands: should she become a successful academic, exceeding the expectations of paternal authority while denigrating her mother in the process? This would mean becoming the ideal phallic woman her mother had failed at being, thereby confirming her father’s priority. Fascinated by phallic modes of enjoyment (as in her fantasies about her colleagues’ productivity, and in her connection to M – the “fucking worm” – who embodied the failure intrinsic to phallic enjoyment), K could not at first make sense of the enjoyment she found in the shared, communal experience provided by the classroom. Though she continues to conceal this, she is beginning to envision a successful teaching career, becoming a capable mother, and maybe publishing two or three admirable books. This is a clear instance of “feminine” enjoyment, which cannot be reduced to the pleasures of competition, production, or consumption, but that can be located in socially liminal experiences – like love, pedagogy, and analysis – where jouissance is made both accessible and inaccessible at the same time.

Outside a Lacanian orientation, it would be tempting to try and force K into the position occupied by her father, turning her into the person her familial dynamics insists her mother should have been. This was what supervisors with whom I consulted early on implicitly suggested; K has benefitted tremendously from my decision to ignore them. To encourage her to want academic “success” would be to ask her to give up not just on her desire in favor of a masculine ideal, but on the drive that propels her successfully to distinguish herself in a culture that operates within a phallicly overdetermined framework. In the analysis, K discovers a different way of being. What she considered the “failure” of her preference for teaching gradually emerges as a strength that sets her apart. This further facilitates a capacity to find enjoyment in her relationships (she and L recently married). Her mother continues to live out a classical hysterical protest in relation to her father’s ordinary paternalism. In our work together, K invents a new future for herself beyond any opposition of “success” and “failure” Oedipally conceived. This helps her come to terms with an enjoyment that the Symbolic order is still only beginning to recognize today.

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The Pére-version of the Political in the Case of Denis Lortie
Wolfram Bergande

 by Wolfram Bergande 

And I should not like to forget to give a thought to Denis Lortie; he knows the meaning of my commentary […]

Pierre Legendre: Le crime du caporal Lortie,

Faced with the hypostatized Meaning of the Other, analysts maintain their interpretation by negating the intriguing power wielded by this Other, Father, or Law. […] Psychoanalysis […] is “post-Catholic” […].

Julia Kristeva, ‘Reading the Bible’

Is not the king’s name twenty thousand names? Arm, arm, my name! a puny subject strikes. At thy great glory.
William Shakespeare, King Richard The Second

1. Knowing one’s enemy

Corporal Denis Lortie’s deadly attack on the government and the National Assembly of Quebec became known outside of Canada mainly because of a monograph by French legal historian and psychoanalyst Pierre Legendre (born 1930). On May 8, 1984 a heavily armed Lortie stormed Quebec’s Parliament Building (ill. 1) in a kind of misguided killing spree. There he killed three government employees and wounded at least eight others before making his way to the Assembly Chamber, the so-called Blue Chamber, which, to his great surprise, was almost completely empty. Slightly perplexed he sat down in the President’s chair, where he was engaged in a conversation by the National Assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms René Jalbert, a former soldier, who, after several anxious hours, and a joint visit to Jalbert’s office in the same building, persuaded him to give up.

Ill. 2: The Blue Chamber of the Parliament Building in the city of Quebec, Canada.

Ill. 2: The Blue Chamber of the Parliament Building in the city of Quebec, Canada.

1: Denis Lortie, armed with a submachine gun, sits in the President’s chair in the Blue Chamber at the Quebec National Assembly.

Ill. 3: Denis Lortie, armed with a submachine gun, sits in the President’s chair in the Blue Chamber at the Quebec National Assembly.

Legendre’s monographic account of Lortie’s case first appeared in 1989 (in French) under the title Le crime du caporal Lortie. Traité sur le Père. In 2000 an updated version was published, which, apart from a brief but highly significant foreword and a few minor additions, left the original text unaltered. This updated edition is the main reference for the following considerations. It seems that for his book Legendre had exclusive access to the non-public statement of appeal (“mémoire en appel“) from Lortie’s trial as well as to the statements of Lortie’s lawyer during the appeal hearing, Jacques Larochelle. His book therefore remains, at least until a potential publication of the case records, an important source for the facts in Lortie’s case, and not only regarding their interpretation.

Yet the following deconstructive critique of Legendre’s text will show that his analysis and explanation misinterpret and thus pervert the actual meaning of Lortie’s case. Legendre distorts the incestuous abuse, which, according to the evidence, Denis had been subjected to by his natural father as a child and which, along with the physical abuse that accompanied it, constitutes the key motive in Lortie’s case. To be sure, Legendre’s Traité sur le Père (treatise on the father) correctly identifies this motive, when he writes that Lortie’s “genealogical crime” actually “killed the one, who, in the real life of his family orchestrated the transgression of all taboos and non-differentiation”, namely his father. Of course Lortie did not attack him directly but rather what he identified with him, the provincial government and its Prime Minister at the time: “The government of Quebec had my father’s face.” Denis, as Legendre correctly argues, had been the victim of a “despotic”, extremely violent and incestuous father, who, in his family, occupied the position of the mythic father of Freud’s primal horde.

Yet, as the following will attempt to show, Legendre is wrong when he simultaneously claims that Lortie, “by wanting to kill the government of Quebec”, attempted “a reinstatement of the Father [la restauration du Père]”, i.e., of a metaphysically elevated father, who is at the origin of both subjectivity and society. With this assertion and its subsequent mythologizing explication, Legendre in fact repeats the perversion of the case on the level of interpretation. He thereby redoubles it, adding insult to injury, even if he ultimately attempts to distance himself from the perverse belief in a total paternal Other, an Other which the later Lacan, as is well known, abandons. Perversion, according to Lacan, is really a “père-version”, a twisting of the father, which implies a structurally imaginary turn toward the father. In the case of Denis Lortie and its interpretation one must therefore speak of a double père-version, a double distortion. It is thus only in a cruelly ironic sense that Legendre’s analysis vindicates his statement (used as an epigraph above) that Lortie would know “the meaning [sens] of my commentary”, as Legendre in fact once more inflicts or imposes this sens on him.

The actual reason for Legendre’s interpretive père-version is his pre-modern conception of political theology, which he also advocates on many other occasions. It leads him, in both editions of his ‘treatise on the Father’, to neglect crucial familial facts and thus the political dimension of the unconscious. In this respect, the omission of the (auto-)biographical report of Denis Lortie’s ex-wife in the new edition of Legendre’s commentary seems almost symptomatic. This oversight prevents his politico-theologically inspired ‘treatise’ from the necessary critical appraisal of the family (in-law)’s background, which, as the following will show, is deeply interwoven with the political background.

2. The flaw in Legendre’s treatise on the (murder of the) father

What sources actually exist in the case of Denis Lortie? Apart from Legendre’s ‘treatise on the Father’, there are contemporaneous newspaper articles (see ill. 4) and, above all, news reports, which, shortly after the deed and also later, covered the case in detail and which also showed original footage from the CCTV camera that had recorded Denis’ actions in the Assembly Hall of the Parliament Building (the Blue Chamber).

Extract from an article, which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Thursday 10 May 1994. Denis Lortie can be seen in the foreground on the left.

Ill 4: Extract from an article, which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Thursday 10 May 1994. Denis Lortie can be seen in the foreground on the left.

In 1996 there finally appeared the already mentioned (auto-)biographical account of Denis’ ex-wife, Lise Levesque, under the title: J’étais la femme du tueur. Le récit de Lise Levesque, épouse du caporal Denis Lortie, which may be translated as: ‘I was the Killer’s Wife. The Account of Lise Levesque, Wife of Corporal Denis Lortie’. The account describes Lortie’s attack from Lise’s perspective, against the background of her family life with Denis and their two young children, a son and a younger daughter (whose names most certainly have been changed in the account). This account, written by the Canadian journalist Dominique Fournier, is a particularly important source, even if one gets the impression that in certain passages Fournier mainly follows the testimony of Denis Lortie’s ex-wife while tacitly bolstering it with facts from the public reports in others. In any case, Levesque’s testimony, like all revised personal testimonials, has to be read from a historico-critical perspective. Many aspects of Denis Lortie’s case therefore remain vague and the obligatory reconstruction of its “critically reflected […] narrative dimension” remains an art of the probable. At least the basic chronology of external events in Levesque’s account is congruent with the evidence of Legendre’s ‘treatise’. In many instances, however, the account is more comprehensive and more detailed and thus demands a fundamental revaluation of Lortie’s case. The crucial flaw in Legendre’s text is the fact that he almost completely ignores this autobiographical account of the killer’s or rather of the ‘man slaughterer’s’ wife. The sole exception is the following fleeting remark in the preface to the new edition from March 2000:

“One word about this new edition. I have left the text in its original state, except for a few short bibliographical additions, which are indicated by square brackets. The work therefore does not extend beyond the scope of the trial and its outcome: neither the polemics in connection with Denis Lortie’s release on probation in 1995, nor the account of his ex-wife, published in 1996, would contribute anything to these developments.”

Despite this flaw, Legendre’s book on Lortie deserves credit for having recognized the (in the broadest sense) anthropological dimension of Lortie’s crime, and for having interpreted it as a symbolic patricide, as a “parricide of the republic” , as Legendre puts it. Or, more specifically, a patricide of the republic, because “the general term parricide refers to the killing of a parent and may be divided into matricide (killing of the mother) and patricide (killing of the father). Such crimes are rare and account for about 2-3% of all homicides (Baxter et al. 2001; Bumby 1994), in Canada possibly even up to 6% (Millaud et al 1996). Up to 60% of all parricides are committed by psychotic children and 20-34% of all homicides committed by psychotics are directed at a parent.” According to Legendre, this symbolic patricide was directed not only at Lortie’s violent father, but mainly at the a priori function of fatherhood which founds both subjectivity and society.
In his review of the first German translation of Legendre’s Lortie monograph Andreas Cremonini writes: “The killing of the father is not merely the killing of a person. Due to the place that the father occupies in the succession of generations, it is also a crime against a structure – against the genealogical structure of filiation, to be more precise, whose continued existence is guaranteed by the law. Thus, in the figure of the father two dimensions of the law overlap: the general politico-institutional dimension, the law in the sense of the juridical apparatus, and the particular Oedipal-subjective dimension, which interprets the law according to the father’s prohibition. Both dimensions exhibit structural similarities in that they embody a speaking-in-the-name-of, a speaking that invokes an unavailable entity (god, the law, justice etc.), which Legendre calls the ‘absolute reference’.” Before Legendre, and following the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan was instrumental in demonstrating that the special structural function of fatherhood is in fact a symbolic function. It is symbolic mainly because of its enforcement of the prohibition on incest, which is at the origin of subjectivity and society, through linguistic symbols. Lacan’s term for this symbolic function, as is well known, is Nom-du-Père (Name-of-the-Father), which, on the one hand, refers to the surname as a regular element in a patriarchal social structure and through which the subject is inscribed in the latter, and, on the other hand, to the homonymous French expression Non-du-Père (No-of-the-Father), namely the interdiction of incest by a patriarchal authority. In the final analysis, the agents of socialization (parents, teachers, educators, priests, psychologists, etc.) invoke the mere symbol, the mere signifier ‘father’ as the pillar of subjectivity and society. They speak in his name – this is the third aspect of Lacan’s term Name-of-the-Father. According to Lacan and Legendre, who capitalizes this father signifier (Père), all three aspects apply to patriarchal monotheistic societies, such as the predominantly Roman-Catholic and Francophone Canadian province of Quebec.

3. Legendre’s Political Theology

Up to this point there can be no significant objections to Legendre’s argument. However, instead of analyzing and deconstructing the institution of fatherhood itself, he elevates it by uncritically adopting concepts of fatherhood and filiation from the Romano-Christian jurisprudential tradition – complete with their Old Testament roots – and virtually employs them as anthropological absolutes, including the contingent and archaic manner in which fatherhood is enacted and celebrated in the Roman-Catholic variant of the clerical papacy. This is also evident in a film Legendre made in 1996, La fabrique de l’homme occidental, in which he also shows the original CCTV footage of Lortie’s attack. In Lortie’s case this politico-theological regrounding is disastrous, as it ultimately leads Legendre to defend and reinforce the religiously (fundamentalistically) perverted, that is to say, all-embracing (kata holon in ancient Greek) form of fatherhood against which Denis’ supposed, passage à l’acte“ was in fact directed. And, as will become clear, Legendre thereby reverses or ‘twists’ the Name-of-the-Father, Nom-du-père. Despite his initially illuminating approach to Lortie’s crime, Legendre thus misses its actual significance. In reality Lortie’s attack was not aimed at the patrifocal premise of Western subjectivity and intersubjectivity, but rather at Quebec’s political Catholicism and its perverted politico-theological conception of fatherhood, as Denis must have seen it embodied in the person of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. It seems that Denis thereby wanted to strike out at the totalitarian law of socialization which had made possible his own violent father.

Thus, in contrast to Legendre’s limited politico-theological conception of fatherhood, Lortie’s case needs to be linked to the familial and political context, glaringly absent from Legendre’s analysis. Here is an initial example from the account of Lortie’s ex-wife: shortly before the attack Lortie recorded three cassette tapes as a confession and as a legacy and sent them to the military chaplain of the Valcartier military base, the radio host André Arthur and to his wife respectively. In the first tape he insists that he is a member of the Catholic religion only for political reasons, unlike his wife, who is Catholic by baptism but who, according to her own account, is “Christian evangelical” and therefore precisely “not Catholic” . Denis Lortie: “I am married with two children. I would like you to help my wife, who is called Lise Levesque Lortie [sic]. She was baptized a Catholic, like myself and our two children. But I know, my wife, she is a Christian [chrétienne]. I myself am a Catholic for purely political reasons, the same as my children…” Now Legendre’s case study simply ignores this political, or religio-political dimension, which will become even clearer in the following. Regarding this first example, Legendre simply dissolves its political dimension by subsuming it within an enforced choice between barbarity and (Christian) religion. He in fact compares Lortie’s crime to the Sack of Rome, i.e. to the looting of Rome and the Papal States by mercenaries on 6 May 1527. At the same time he propagates judges (such as himself) as the new high priests of a “third element within communication” or as a “third social element”, in other words, as the aforementioned “founding or absolute reference”, which, as a “unifying principle”, should “hold together” “secularized nations” in their innermost core. According to Legendre, it is they who are also the experts to judge Lortie’s crime: “Lortie’s unreason and the looting of, from his point of view, the representatives of the Father (Père) constitute a litmus test for judges in their function as mediating interpreters of the discourse of Reference (Référence), which is of interest to all of us”.

Unfortunately Legendre does not think his comparison with the Sack of Rome through to the end and fails to reflect on the problematic nature of the power-political role of the Renaissance Papacy or, more generally, on the historical malevolence of a politicised religiosity which would certainly be warranted not only in this particular case. Consequently Legendre can portray someone like Marc Lépine (a killer of women, who invoked Lortie’s attack as a reference for his own acts in 1989) only as a misguided and barbaric copycat killer, who was supposedly encouraged by the media’s populist reporting on Lortie’s attack. The fact that both Lépine and Lortie were victims/perpetrators of a monotheistic-patriarchal religion of law, in Lépine’s case of the totalitarian ideology of Islam, is something that Legendre apparently does not want to acknowledge. In fact, Lépine’s crime is completely unrelated to Lortie’s on the level of mere imitation, as Legendre wants us to believe. A more compelling historical parallel to Lortie can be found in the case of the unknown 62-year-old assassin, who, in the night of 4 September 2012, shot a man and injured another at the election party of the Francophone and incidentally traditionalistic and separatist Parti Québecois. In the process the man was said to have been shouting (in French): ‘The Anglophones are waking up’, apparently aimed at the French-speaking members of the Parti Québecois. After nine years in the opposition, the party, whose members were also the target of Lortie’s attack, had returned to power under its leader Pauline Marois.

4. The family context in Denis Lortie’s case: ‘My name will be everywhere’

To be sure, in the new edition of his book Legendre does acknowledge a certain significance of the political, and in particular of the religious context, reflected in the family background of Lortie’s attack:
“In the case of Denis Lortie, which in Canada has become the Lortie affair, there certainly is a historico-sociological aspect: a tradition of latent incestuousness in family relationships, which in Canada has long been exploited/ depoliticised [expolitée [sic]] by a wild Catholicism, the repository of a successfully masked perversity that explains the libertarian radicalism of the post-sixties era, when the lid of the cooking pot, in which the old social hypocrisy had been simmering, exploded. But the essential is elsewhere, on the side of the genealogical status of the murder, immanent in the logic of representation.”
As with his cursory comparison with the Sack of Rome, Legendre again truncates Lortie’s attack, not only regarding its political dimension, but also in terms of its family context, which directly feeds into the political. He thereby distorts it. Forced into the triangular, patrifocal nuclear family, all those aspects that Deleuze and Guattari identified as the political and historical dimension of the schizophrenic psychotic’s delusion are lost. If, and to what extent, Lortie was schizophrenic, psychotic or paranoid at the time of the crime still remains to be established.

According to Fournier/Levesque, Denis Lortie’s father repeatedly abused his eight children sexually and physically, including – even if slightly less frequently – his youngest son, Joseph Laurent Paul Denis, born on May 10, 1959 in Quebec, but him already at the age of eight months. In his intention to develop “a new machine” designed specifically to “beat children”, he resembles the notorious father of presiding judge Daniel Paul Schreber. Lortie’s father sometimes “beat his children unconscious”. He also beat his wife and fathered a child with one of his daughters. According to Fournier/Levesque, his daughters even plotted to kill him. But things turned out differently. One of them finally went to the police and in 1969 he was sentenced to three years in prison. Upon his release he did not return to his family. After the divorce Denis’ mother re-adopted her maiden name, a name Lise Levesque’s report does not mention.

It is not entirely clear whether the young Denis had been sexually abused by his father, although there is much to support this claim. He himself may have claimed this to a psychiatrist – yet never in court . To his wife, however, he seems to have always denied it. Fournier/Levesque state that at the time of the birth of his second child, a daughter, on December 7, 1983, about half a year before the attack, Denis was afraid of himself becoming an “incestuous father”. According to Fournier’s or Levesque’s account, Denis Lortie, at least temporarily, passed on his father’s violence to his own children, in particular to his son, whom he occasionally looked after. Lise once confronted the imprisoned Denis about this, asking him: “Did you lay hands on him? – Yes, he answered, lowering his head, but don’t ask me what I did, I can’t remember. What I can tell you is that I did not spare him. I was no longer seeing clearly!” According to the statement of one of the court consultants, Dr. Tremblay, relayed in Fournier and Levesque’s account, Denis beat his son shortly before his attack, on 27 April 1983, because the latter had vomited in his bed. Although Legendre briefly acknowledges this disastrous family background and its political rootedness (quoted above), he is adamant that, in the final analysis, Lortie’s attack was aimed at the social representation of the paternal function and thereby at the genealogical logic of filiation, in other words, at the transference of the paternal function to the following generation.


Ill 5: René Lévesque (front, left) at an election campaign in Montreal in 1973.

In principle one would have to agree with Legendre here, because, as Freud shows in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, the topical structures of the individual psyche, the mass psyche and the group psyche are isomorphic. However, Legendre’s interpretation ignores precisely the Name-of-the-Father, Nom-du-Père, which is the linchpin of both structures in the case of Denis Lortie. This Name-of-the-Father, in Lortie’s case, is: Lévesque. Lortie’s trial reveals that the appearance of Quebec’s then Prime Minister, René Lévesque (ill. 5), on the Téléjournal of Canadian Television on May 4, a few days before the attack, was one of the main catalysts for his attack.

The other one – to complete the picture – took place a day before, on May 3. It was a quarrel about an only partially granted request for leave with a superior Sergent named Chénier – a name which was overdetermined because of the so-called Chénier cell, a notorious group of separatist terrorists in Quebec. According to Legendre, who quotes the protocol of Lortie’s interrogation from the statement of appeal, Lortie hallucinated during the incident and, instead of Chénier’s face, saw the “face of my father”. Fournier/Levesque, referring to one of the three expert reports from the first trial against Lortie in 1985, explain the incident thus: Lortie was surprised to suddenly hear Chénier speak French, as until that point he had always been under the impression that Chénier was “Anglophone” – and this against the background that “even the Francophones had always spoken English with him” . Lortie apparently saw in this a degradation of the “Francophones and the French language”. Yet this is not really convincing as an explanation for the fact that Denis was “terribly furious” and “outraged” . If all the colleagues spoke English with each other on a regular basis, then Lortie must have surely expected that some of them would at some point reveal themselves to be Francophone?

But let us return to René Lévesque. During this period he is not only the Prime Minister of Quebec but, as the charismatic leader of the separatist Parti Québecois, also a role model for many Catholic Francophones, most probably even a sort of father figure. Against this background it is more than astonishing that Legendre does not once mention Lévesque’s name in his book. The only time he refers to René Lévesque it is as the “Prime Minister” . For his readers the latter therefore remains anonymous. His name: ‘Lévesque’, is not listed in the index, nor is the (maiden) name of Lortie’s wife: ‘Levesque’. Legendre does not seem to attach any importance to these names, which are phonetically identical. Only towards the end of his preface for the new edition does he mention the autobiographical account of Lortie’s “ex-wife” at all, which allegedly would not contribute anything to the case, the trial or its outcome. And only in the last footnote, i.e. not in the main text, and apparently for the sole reason of having to provide the bibliographical reference for her account and thus the title of Fournier’s book, does he mention her full name: Lise Levesque. If one ignores the only difference between the two names, the missing acute or sharp accent, the accent aigu, in Lise’s maiden name, then Lortie’s attack was obviously directed at both the political father figure of his time as well as at his father-in-law and the latter’s family (including Lise). How could Legendre, whose interpretation is indeed based on the – symbolic – patricide and thus, according to Lacan, on the murder of the Name-of-the-Father, overlook the reference to the name of Lortie’s father-in-law, which is phonetically identical to the name of the Prime Minister, the main representative of the government of Quebec, so to speak its face? Was it – symptomatically – because, as Martin Stingelin has poignantly remarked, Legendre, as a result of his own name: le gendre (which literally means son-in-law) was himself in the symbolic position of the son-in-law? And maybe also because his personal logic of filiation failed as he was in vain asking for the hand of the daughter of his intellectual father Lacan? Did he want to keep quiet the political dimension of the case? Or does Legendre merely marginalise a later source, the account of Lortie’s ex-wife, which could have potentially interfered with his, at times, highly apodictic argumentation?

In any case, Legendre could have learned some significant aspects from Lise Levesque’s account: that the prime minister René Levesque was indeed her father’s “second cousin” and that “the two had met several times during their childhood” – and that Denis, for precisely this reason, once showed himself to be highly discontented towards Lise, both because “Quebec’s Prime Minister bore the name Lévesque” and because of the family ties between the Prime Minister and Lise’s family: “Although these ties with the Prime Minister were extremely loose, they seemed to bother my husband Lortie no less.” In contrast to his brother’s family, Lise’s father’s family had abandoned in an earlier generation the “accent aigu”, the acute or sharp accent also present in the Prime Minister’s surname. The explanation offered by Lise’s account sounds like a typical romance novel or a family myth which possibly conceals something. It invites speculation regarding a potential marital infidelity between two related couples of the Lévesque family. Lise says:

“I am thus a born Levesque. Levesque, not Lévesque. Without the accent, please. My father already told me that there was a time when Levesque and Lévesque were one and the same family. When everyone was still called Lévesque, two brothers, after they were married, had the brilliant idea to give their children the same first names. As the two families were large in numbers, they soon found themselves with many pairs of children, who had the same first and last names. There was evidently no question of changing all these first names. Thus one of the two fathers Lévesque found a solution for all this confusion they had created: to give up his accent aigu! It is from him that my father is descended… unfortunately, because not a single day goes by without us being confused with the Lévesques. We therefore have not really made that much progress with the double first names of the original brothers!”

Lise’s assessment may be correct. In any case, in this ‘single trait’ (Freud), represented by the (missing) accent aigu on the ‘e’, the political and familial contexts of Denis’ crime converge. They converge into an extended family [levεk], which Denis had married into, and in which everyone, in particular all the fathers, could potentially be confounded, at least as long as one adhered to the audible. It is therefore not implausible that Lortie, who had already taken offense at the smallest connection between his wife and the Prime Minister, René Lévesque, had somehow found himself in a negatively transferred filial (in-law) relation with the latter. This could furthermore account for Denis’ rage at the already discussed incident with Sergent Chénier. As Fournier/Levesque also mention in this context, the reason Denis had given Chénier in his request for leave was to “settle his divorce”. Did Denis, through his looming attack, intend to pull out of the extended family [levεk]? And did he get so enraged because he encountered resistance from someone who suddenly turned out to be Francophone? This remains pure speculation.


Ill 6: Lise and Denis on their wedding day December 27, 1980.

Lise also mentions how, about two years after their marriage on December 27, 1980, and about a year after the birth of their son, who was born on December 10, 1981, she and Denis, during a trip to Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, walked past a pyramidal memorial site for the victims of the so-called Halifax Explosion, which occurred on December 6, 1917. This is certainly a reference to the Halifax Memorial (Sailors Memorial) (ill. 7), on which the name Levesque in fact appears twice.

On this occasion Denis complained that, unlike “Levesque”, the name Lortie would not appear on the memorial. Lise recalls how he subsequently announced that he would make a name for himself: “‘You will see, one day there will be a memorial with the name Lortie on it’, he asserted, as if he could foresee that he himself would be the hero, whose name would be engraved on the site. My parents and I found this envy childish and unnecessary.” Now the name Levesque that Denis had seen on the memorial at Point Pleasant Park was not only overdetermined for him because of his wife and in-laws’ name and the phonetically identical name of the Prime Minister of Québec, as shown above, a distant relative of his wife, but also because of its French etymology which refers to l’évêque, the ‘bishop’, which in turn derives from the ancient Greek episkopos, the clerical overseer or presider, who ‘haunts’ or ‘visits’ (ancient Greek episkeptomai). It is certainly possible, if not likely, that the hidden etymology of the word l’évêque (deriving from the ancient Greek skopein or skeptomai, meaning ‘to examine’, ‘to inspect’, ‘to eye something’, ‘to glance around’, ‘to spy out’), along with the religious or clerical connotation of the name Levesque, facilitated Denis’ projection of a panoptical and persecuting authority onto the Prime Minister Lévesque.


Ill. 7: The Halifax Memorial in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Canada.

Denis’ escalating motive to make a name for himself (“One day I will do something. I won’t tell you what, but you will remember it. My name will be everywhere”, as Denis once told Lise’s parents, brother, brother-in-law and some guests) first appears in the episode at Point Pleasant Park and pervades Lise Levesque’s entire account. At first, for the duration of his attack, Denis Lortie divests himself of his own name: “For you I’m Mr. D.” he tells radio host André Arthur’s assistant at the reception of the radio station CJRP, whom he gives an envelope, containing one of his three audio tapes. According to Fournier/Levesque, the envelope did bear the name “D. Lortie”, next to the inscription “Do not open before 10 a.m.”, a social security number, the syntagma “The life of a man” and “a few indecipherable scribbles”. Yet on the tape itself one can hear Denis addressing André Arthur and, at one point, in a French-English hybrid language, demanding a kind of namelessness: “And tell the world not to give me a surname, a nickname: “the lunatic”, whatever it is!” And later on, sitting on the President’s chair in the Blue Chamber, René Jalbert next to him (ill. 8), he tells a sergeant who has just arrived at the scene and who asks him to identify himself: “My name is Mr. D.”


Ill 8: The armed Denis Lortie (right) next to the President’s chair at the National Assembly; on the left, René Jalbert.

When Jalbert later convinces Lortie to leave the Blue Chamber in order to continue the discussion in his office and Denis allows the secretary to have a cup of coffee, he adds: “Should you encounter any guards on your way, tell them that Denis permits you to pass.” Finally, after his detention, Lise mentions several calls from a “Denis without a surname”, who, judging by his voice, could have been Denis. In his third audiotape, addressed to Lise, he had nonetheless expressed his wish that their son keep the surname Lortie – however one might interpret this.

5. The political context: from Point Pleasant Park to a point très important

Denis’ wish to make a (new) name (of-the-father) for himself is closely connected to his personal language problem, which directly feeds into the language problems of Quebec and into the political background of Denis’ deed which in turn, as already indicated, is linked with the missing accent aigu of the name [levεk] and with Denis’ family-in-law. What is this problem? Although Denis is bilingual (he speaks his native language French as well as English), his English is poor and he sometimes struggles to make himself understood when speaking to Anglophones. Even in his mother tongue, according to Lise, he has “certain pronunciation difficulties”, his speech is often “intermittent and hesitant” and it requires “great […] effort” for him to speak French properly, as, for instance, in his three testamentary audio tapes. One could argue that Denis never, not even in his native language, lost his ‘sharp accent’, in contrast to his wife Lise, who, according to her own admission, initially does not speak any and then later “only very little English”. Furthermore, several months before the attack, Denis receives a new removable denture, which is uncomfortable to wear, so that he takes it out during meals, and which, as Lise says, “certainly didn’t help in making himself better understood”. Incidentally it can also be seen in the video footage from the Blue Chamber. At one point Denis removes it from his mouth and throws it away (and then seems to leave it there).

As it appears, Denis passes his own language problems on to his son. The latter stops speaking, probably as a result of his father’s violence towards him, which probably also accounts for the fact that Denis’ daughter begins to vomit after eating. A doctor is consulted and arranges for the son to see a “speech therapist”. This appointment takes place in April 1984 and produces a psychosomatic diagnosis: “This child is under too much pressure”, the speech therapist finds. It is certainly not without significance for the interpretation of Lortie’s case that the next appointment with the speech therapist is on “May 8”, the day on which Lortie carries out his attack. Denis’ pronunciation remains flawed even when he makes an effort to speak correctly, as in the recording from the first audiotape, addressed to the military chaplain at the army basis Valcartier, “Padre Arseneault”. This is most noticeable when he protests against the attempt to put any “speechologues [spéchologues]” on him and his case, as he expresses it in his idiosyncratic mix of English and French. “As always he stumbles over the words that are difficult to pronounce; he hesitates and stammers a little”, says Lise in retrospect about this recording.

Denis’ personal language problem is directly linked to the problematic bilingualism of Quebec or even Canada as a whole. This becomes particularly clear in Fournier/Levesque’s account, when Lise relates and comments on Denis’ opinion on Quebec’s situation and the local language problem. Denis expresses this opinion in the second audiotape he recorded, addressed to the radio host André Arthur.

“For about thirty minutes Denis speaks about the political situation in Quebec and about the party in power, the Parti Québécois, which tries to protect the French language and to isolate the Quebecois by promoting the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada. He says that he has discovered that in the rest of the country people think the Quebecois are stupid. He thinks the French language is in danger and it needs protecting, although one should not prevent the Quebecois from learning English. One therefore has to destroy the P.Q., because this party seriously harmed the people of Quebec. [Denis Lortie:] ‘I could have also… tackled something more powerful… like the liberal party in Ottawa… but for me that is not a point [ce n’est point un] … a very important point [un point très important] … because my language is in Quebec.’ For Denis the problems of the Francophones, who are, amongst other things, despised in the armed forces, are caused by the Parti Québécois and are unrelated to the politics of the federal government. In order to solve the problem one has to bring order to the parliament of Quebec, nowhere else.”

Now, is it a very important point, un point très important, or not at all a very important point, ce n’est point un…point très important, who or what Denis Lortie attacks? The separatist, Catholic-Francophone Parti Québecois along with its leader and Prime Minister René Lévesque or the moderate, federal Liberal Party of Canada? The ambiguity in his statement seems to indicate the importance of this question. Maybe it also demonstrates the fact that, for Denis, it cannot really be a question as ‘his language is in Quebec’: it concerns the French language and for Denis the closest target is the Parti Québécois. According to Fournier/Levesque’s plausible interpretation, Denis sees in the separatism of the Parti Québecois the danger of isolation, the shutting off of Quebec’s Catholic-Francophone minority from Canada’s Anglophone majority. Legendre cites a somewhat cryptic statement made by Lortie which could be used to support this interpretation: “I want to destroy something that wants to destroy the language. I want to put language on the side where one will have the French language.” If here one understands the word ‘language’ to mean symbolic order, in which the Name-of-the-Father asserts itself, and ‘French language’, in contrast, as one of many languages and as Denis’ mother tongue in which the Name-of-the-Father is unheard of (both outrageous and, like the accent aigu in [levεk], inaudible), then Denis, in this phrase, is saying nothing more than that Francophones like him lack language qua symbolic order, qua social law, and that it is this that constitutes the discrimination, promoted by the isolationist separatism of René Lévesque and precisely not by federal players such as the Liberal Party, even if the latter may have an Anglophone bias. As Denis himself is Francophone and at least formally a Catholic, his attack on the government of René Levesque only seems to make sense in the context of this (or a similar) interpretation. After all, at the time of the attack Levésque was possibly the most influential political representative of Quebecois’ separatism, which in the sixties and seventies had also acquired a terrorist dimension. A prime example for this terrorism is the already mentioned Chénier cell of the Front du libération du Québec (the Quebec Liberation Front). In 1970 they kidnapped and murdered Pierre Laporte, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour of the province of Quebec; incidentally one member of the Chénier cell was a certain Bertrand Lortie, from a family of seven.

Against this political backdrop, brushed aside by Legendre, it once more becomes clear that Legendre’s interpretation père-versely twists the case of Denis Lortie. This is because, contrary to Legendre’s suggestion, Denis does not simply mistake – to use Lacan’s diction – the imaginary for the symbolic father. He does not merely project “his father’s violence”, i.e., “the terroristic figure of the father” onto the “idea of the Father [Père] as such”, so that the only way to “escape” the “identification with the terrorist father” would be to “succumb” to it in a psychotic passage à l’acte. Instead Denis must have known quite clearly who he was attacking, namely a representative of the essentially totalitarian and terrorist idea of patriarchy as an ‘absolute reference’ à la Legendre, in which the political and the familial are intertwined and which had furthermore made possible his own violent father.

Legendre may affirm that no one could ever occupy this position of absolute reference. He nonetheless wants to institute a sort of crypto-Catholic caste of high priests, made up of judges, who would assure “ex officio” that the belief in the idea of an absolute reference and its laws is passed on and “not perverted”. According to Lacan, however, it is precisely the belief in an absolute reference, in a self-identical big Other that constitutes perversion, père-version. The later Lacan argues that a big Other does not exist, still less as someone one could, or even would have to believe in, be it privately or within a mental (or religious) institution. The Other (“A”), who is demonstratively crossed out by the later Lacan, is a name for the always already posited symbolic order, and only emerges as a performative effect within the speech acts of subjects. The pervert, in contrast, is characterized by Lacan as a “defender of the belief” that “the Other exists” , especially in the form of the “belief in the Father”, as propagated by Legendre. This is why Legendre’s belief turns him into, what Lacan calls, “a unique helper of God”. Legendre is certainly not wrong when he argues that a father owes his son “a limit”, i.e., the prohibition on incest and the concurrent inscription within the symbolic order; but only because, in principle, everyone owes this boundary to everyone else. In reality, however, it cannot be drawn. The Other is not another subject, which exists independently from the subject and would be able to vouch for it. This Other, however it might be construed, does not have an ontological consistency beyond the speech acts of subjects who, by dialectically speculating on its existence, performatively generate it. This important factor is precisely what disappears in the belief in an existing Other.

Neither is Legendre wrong when he claims that this principle generates an empirically verifiable, trans-generational nexus of patriarchal-filial guilt, extending well into modern societies. But today it seems far more appropriate to either challenge this frequently perverted nexus with Nietzsche or to dissolve it with Freud, instead of shrouding or fetishizing it within an anti-Enlightenment, pseudo-secular and completely apolitical ritualistic backdrop. Anyway, catholically subjectivized individuals are not really predestined for the preservation and implementation of the legal and philosophical “idea of a genealogical justice” or of an “art of what is good and just between the generations”, which is supposed to emerge from this context. This is evident in the many acts of child abuse, especially towards young boys, by officials of the Catholic Church, also in Canada. Taking up Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (§ 5) one would have to address the question as to why an inflicted pain for punitive measures may count as the equivalent of a guilt, be it between father and son or between anyone else; and, with Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and A Child is Being Beaten, to establish the economico-libidinal reward, which accompanies the regressive, père-verse identification with a punishing paternal entity.

6. Through the diving mask: the immense inflatedness of the political

Had Denis lost his subjectivizing identification with the socializing paternal authority when he attacked the National Assembly of Quebec? Was he, like a “maniac”, “no longer, or only to a very limited extent, capable of adopting an intersubjective perspective, which would have helped him relativize his position”? Was his action a psychotic passage-à-l’acte, as Legendre suggests? Did he suffer from paranoia? His culpability, in light of the fact that he killed three and wounded several others, depends on his mental state at the time of the crime. In this respect Fournier/Levesque mention three psychiatric reports, drawn up for the first trial against Lortie in January 1985:

“Three psychiatrists were called as witnesses for the defence: the doctors Pierre Mailloux, Louis Roy and Guy Tremblay. According to the first, Denis suffered from paranoid delusions, according to the second, from a psychotic delusion and according to the third, from schizophrenia. His delusion was directed at the government of Quebec. When they were cross-examined by the Crown, they nonetheless admitted that Denis, on May 8, and despite his mental state, had been able to orient himself with ease in space and time, that he performed numerous normal actions and that he knew that what he was doing was illegal.”

The reports therefore do not add up to a coherent picture. Amongst other things, it seems problematic to speak of paranoid symptoms, especially when the normal personality structure, as in Lacan, is understood to be structurally paranoid. Fournier/Levesque mention that Denis, like every “average Québécois” , liked to “rail against the MPs and ministers”. Yet this does not amount to a paranoid persecution complex. The fact that he once told his father-in-law, while watching a TV report about a shooting at a foreign military parade: “Do you see this? In Quebec the same could happen!”, seems to be within the bounds of reason. In the second of his two testimonial tapes, addressed to the radio host André Arthur, with the demand to play it back live at the beginning of his attack at 10 a.m., he explicitly complains about the inflated ‘buffoonery’ of the political establishment of Quebec and in particular of the Parti Québécois: “What offends me the most, […], is someone, who crushes us like the Parti Québécois… I will kill them all, kill everything on my way… in the parliament. Those are people, who have influence in politics… My personal opinion is that politics is a real buffoonery! … I think it is a complete group of buffoons.” But as Denis here explicitly speaks of his personal opinion, a logical doubt concerning his statement is not completely out of the question, which means that it probably does not qualify as a (paranoid) delusion, because in the latter, according to Ferenczi, every form of doubt has to be excluded. The Freudian term ‘Unglauben’ (disbelief) of the paranoiac, adopted by Lacan, also does not quite seem to fit Denis’ statements, nor the case as a whole. If Denis Lortie really was a paranoiac, then probably not in a traditional psychopathological sense, but rather in the sense of a structural paranoia of the normal personality (Lacan) or in the sense of Salvador Dalí’s ‘critical paranoia’.
Nor does his case history appear as a prime example for a specifically media-historiographic analysis. Although Lortie collapses when he sees himself for the first time in the recordings of the CCTV camera at the National Assembly, it remains doubtful whether it really is the visual medium which enables him to adopt a new perspective, and not rather, or as much, the juridical dispositif of the trial that he finds himself in. Denis’ wish that the radio host Arthur play the recorded tape at the exact moment of his attack (which Arthur did not do) is also significant; and with better source material one would also have to ask why Lortie did not write to his wife or the military chaplain instead of speaking. Maybe, just a few days before the attack, it was down to the rapidity of the audio medium? Or maybe it was due to the materiality of the signifier, which, in his case, is only discernible in the written accent aigu of the name [levεk] but not in spoken language? Yet beyond this, the idea that the specific mediality of, say, his audiotapes alone, in the sense of an emphatic media theory, would play a part in constructing their content, is not apparent.

As far as Denis’ mental state at the time of the crime is concerned, it emerges from both case reconstructions, Legendre’s and Fournier/Levesque’s, that Denis, at least immediately prior to and during the attack, was subject to psychotic episodes. Thus, as indicated above, he had hallucinated and seen his father’s face in his superior, Sergent Chénier, a week before his deed. And the third doctor, Tremblay, did in fact diagnose Denis with a schizophrenic “psychosis”. According to Legendre, Denis himself, looking back on 8 May, describes his sense of reality as something that could certainly have been a psychotic symptom, namely as a pure vision, precisely at that moment when he fired a few distracting shots in front of Quebec’s Citadel and then made his way to the Parliament Building: “It is like putting on a diver’s mask and it is nothing but vision [rien que la vision]; I can do nothing but see [rien que voir].” Denis’ description is reminiscent of the hallucinatory-wishful “it shows” from Lacan’s phenomenology of dreams in his Seminar XI as well as of Freud’s ‘Postscript’ to the Schreber case from the Third International Psychoanalytic Congress in Weimar and the “delusory prerogative of being able to look into the sun without being dazzled” (and thus to survive the “trial of origin” by the mythic father and escape his threat of castration).

Against this background, it appears as rather dubious that for Legendre in the case of Lortie a “murderous passage à l’acte in a delusional context” does not prove the “psychotic structure of its originator”, because “a psychotic episode […] is not a fully valid psychosis”. And in any case, as hastens to add Legendre, “Lortie’s psychotic episode and his murderous attack […] have not destroyed his ability to enter the symbolisation of his crime, on the condition, of course, that the person, as is right, is accompanied on his path to work out his guiltiness, and, based on this and thanks to therapeutic care, to represent to himself his own place in relation to his father and his children.” That is why Denis is a case for the “clinical function of the law” as postulated by Legendre, by means of whose sovereign application “the judge […] separates […] the assassin […] from his crime” and thereby opens up a perspective of life for him under the law of absolute reference: “From this perspective the office of judge can be based on the defence of the principle of fatherhood, which, in this case, is a principle of Reason. This is the ultimate horizon of jurisdiction.” Irritatingly Legendre elsewhere acknowledges Denis’ temporary psychotic episodes as a (however undefined) “state of derangement [démence]”. Thus, according to Legendre’s subsequent casuistry, “it is finally a question of knowing how […], on the basis of a murder charge, it is legally conceivable to arrive at a sentence- in conformity with the murderer’s state of mental derangement at the time of the crime.”

How on earth, one could ironically ask with Wolfgang Schild, is it possible to pronounce an innocent person guilty? Schild for one rejects both Legendre’s clinical function of the law and his condemnation of Lortie, simply because Denis’ crime was committed “in a state of unreason and non-accountability”. It is indeed not clear how Lortie’s later ability to symbolise his deed could account for his culpability at the time of the crime. Freudian ‘afterwardsness’ is as inapplicable here as the ‘unrealization’ of the crime by a psychoanalytically informed criminology, as it is sketched by the early Lacan following Hegel’s penal theory. Finally, if Lortie were guilty, the political dimension of his attack would have to be assessed. Yet it is precisely this dimension that Legendre ignores when he forces Lortie to choose between a re-subjectivizing submission under patriarchal law, understood as an absolute reference, on the one hand, and the radical expulsion from the symbolic order on the other. What else then is Legendre’s clinical function of the law but a coercive and punitive treatment, a form of moral-political terrorism or indeed a ‘perversion of the law’, which he himself indeed disavows towards the end of his Lortie monograph?

Still, it is not because of this subjectivity-constituting (or -dissolving) obligation to choose that Legendre’s judgement of Lortie’s case is perverted (even though he does not really give him a choice), but because this enforced choice posits, under threat of punishment and against his better judgement, that the existing order be transcendental, that is to say, that it be an order one cannot not believe in. As a result of this exclusive choice between two dichotomous extremes a third aspect is ignored: the irreducible and genuinely political dimension of the unconscious, the dimension in which the subject (of the unconscious: $) has to be able to relate to the dominant order and its representatives. Denis’ attack is aimed at their exposure. In other words, Denis, through his apparently non-psychotic or at least not entirely psychotic disbelief in the dominant order, proves that, in so far as the order is identified as transcendental, it is possible not to believe in it. Denis had to experience the impossibility of this belief first hand and thus arrived at the necessity of disbelief.

A judgement like Legendre’s, which demands a confession, would turn Denis (the revolutionary – despite himself – against an incestuous politico-theological social order and its violent, archaic paternal imago) back into a son-in-law, a law that takes itself to be absolute, back into Denis the son-in-law, Denis le gendre; in other words, precisely into that against which Denis the outlaw had set out when he wanted to make a new Name-of-the-Father for himself. Only by rendering anonymous the name [levεk], the Name-of-the-Father-in-Law, in which for Denis the unconscious political dimension is condensed and materialised, is Legendre able to institute himself and his peers as high priests of a therefore nameless absolute reference. No doubt, Denis will have understood this perfidious twist in Legendre’s commentary, too. In the “bouffée[s] délirante[s]”, the psychotic episodes which led Denis to take violent measures against the buffoonery, the immense inflatedness of the political establishment, the real violence of the archaic paternal imago, which is concealed therein, and which Legendre disavows, turns against itself. It is thus not “the Political as a whole [tout le Politique]” that “is revealed” in the case of Denis Lortie, as Legendre thinks, because the political, too, is not something that could be written in capital letters, something absolute, complete. What is revealed in this case is the père-verted, disavowed political dimension of the unconscious.

Picture Credits (Copyright):

Ill. 1: Christophe Finot
Ill. 2: GNU
Ill. 3: Caillat, Gérald/ Legendre, Pierre/ Bardet, Pierre-Olivier: La Fabrique de l’homme occidental, Arte, 1996, 80 min [DVD-Version: 2008]
Ill. 4: Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday May 10, 1984, p. 76.
Ill. 5: Library and Archives Canada
Ill. 6: Fournier, Dominique: J’étais la femme du tueur. Le récit de Lise Levesque, épouse du caporal Denis Lortie, Québec: Éditions des nations, 1996, p. 151.
Ill. 7: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Ill. 8: (see ill. 3)

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To Interpret the Cause: From Freud to Lacan
Jacques-Alain Miller

To Interpret the Cause: From Freud to Lacan

My first point is entitled: Aetiologia. But first let me dispel any conception that my title, “To Interpret the Cause,” is a Lacanian catch-phrase. When Freud introduces the wolf dream in Chapter IV of his History of an Infantile Neurosis, he stresses this very point; that he was convinced – and he mentions that his patient accepted his conviction – that the cause of the infantile neurosis of the Wolf Man was hidden behind the dream. The text says precisely: “das hinter ihm die Verursachung seiner infantilen Neurose verborgen sei.”1

So, this farfetched interpretation, Freud’s augury about the dream, going from its explicit content to its concealed content, is an interpretation aiming at the cause, the hidden cause. And the very notion of the hidden cause is central to psychoanalytic practice and to psychoanalytic theory. At this preliminary point, which I have made to accustom you to the very idea of the cause, let us not forget that from the outset Freud’s investigation began as a tentative aetiology of the psychoneuroses. Aetiology means a discourse of causes. From the start, Freud was going in search of causes. And you re­member that at the beginning he was looking for actual causes of the psychoneuroses. For instance, he considered the practice of masturbation as a cause for deficiency of sexual potency and for the neuralgias. Then, Freud had to concede that psychoneuroses were present effects of past causes, and not actual causes. Moreover, he conceded that the real past causes were hidden to the consciousness of the patients. And, it is in this past that Freud was obliged to invent the very concept of repression. That is to say, he rein­vented the concept of a hidden cause with deferred effects, Nachtrdglich, a triggered apres-coup, a posteriori, and by a second event. In the famous case of the Wolf Man, this concept of the Nachtrdglich is present on every page. It is the major text by Freud which presents precisely this; that those effects are as a posteriors. In the Wolf Man case, the second event which triggers the effects of the hidden cause is the famous dream itself.

So, I believe that I am on a very solid ground when I propose that psychoanalysis has always been a discourse about the cause. And psychoanalytic practice has always been looking for the cause. Let us take a shortcut now. What is a cause? If we refer to the case of the Wolf Man, there is no ambiguity in Freud’s answer. The cause, broadly spea­king, is the sexual act between the father and the mother as absorbed by the one-and-a-half-year old child. In psychoanalysis, interpretation not only aims at the cause, we may even say, interpretation stumbles on the cause. For instance, the use of the myth of Oedi­pus in psychoanalytic practice, the Freudian Oedipus that is the symbolic frame of inter­pretation insofar as interpretation aims at the cause, conceived here as the sexual rela­tionship, the erotic relationship, which binds together father, mother, child – the family. And, we may even say, that the Freudian cause taken as pre-Oedipal cause is the key to the transference insofar as transference may appear to be a repetition of the fundamental relations of the patient to the parents.


And you know the consequences of this point of view. It paved the way for inter­pretations of transference construed as “paternal” or “maternal” transference. You know that some modern analysts say that Freud analyzed from the position of the father, that he accepted the position of the father in the transference, and they prefer that the maternal position now be more operative in analysis. In any case with this reference to the Oedipal cause, you also have a key to the various theories of transference. Transference and inter­pretation are, as you know, the classical pair of interrelated notions. I am not going to give the would-be classical presentation of this pair of notions, however, because I gave it in some sense four years ago in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the colloquium on trans­ference.2 At that time, I was preoccupied with giving the classical presentation of this pair of notions.

Today I am going to try, if I may say so, to break new ground by following Lacan in understanding what psychoanalysis is about; new ground in understanding, in articulat­ing as they say, the desire of psychoanalysis. And this talk falls in the same sequence as my course in Paris, whose title this year is “Cause and Consent” [1988]. I see Bruce Fink here who attends my course and participates in my weekly seminar. Well, perhaps, he would tell you, in effect, that what I have been saying here is precisely the point I was trying to present fifteen days ago in Paris, and which I continue to come back to. And this point is also an effort to give a unified theory of the Freudian field or to see how Lacan has given such a unified theory of the Freudian field. I do not know if I will have time to get that far, but that is my aim.

Causes Versus Law

Now, let us take a second point, which I shall call “Causes Versus Law.” This is still pre­liminary. The first two notions of cause and law are easily confused I would say, one with the other. As a matter of fact, thinking in a scientific framework, we consider that there is a fixed relationship between cause and effect, a stable and fixed relationship. And so we may try. Eventually scientific investigation aims to formulate laws of the relationships between a given cause and a given effect. That is elementary epistemology – which is not our central topic today – so I shall skip a lot of the various concentrations I cover in my course. What is central in the idea of a law, from the scientific point of view, is -1 would select two words – first, regularity. When there is a law, we anticipate the regularity of the manifestation of the effect once a cause is present. So, a law allows anticipation of what is going to take place. It allows predictions. When we have laws and no capacity for prediction, we always wonder if we truly have a law, if it is truly a science.

I do not know if it is a bad memory for some of you [reference to a recent stock-market plummet], but there are various phenomena in the economic field which cast a certain doubt on a scientific rationale, for instance, of the economy. Nevertheless, there are always prices in economy; such novelties are not for psychoanalysis. When you can not even predict, and you have a whole lot of laws, you wonder what field you are in. So, regularity.

And, second, I would say, continuity. As a matter of fact. When a cause is in­scribed in a law such that you may say the same cause produces the same effect, you are faced with a continuous chain because you may ask of the cause itself, what is the cause that causes this cause? That is to say, a cause is at the same time the effect of another cause. So, when you inscribe the cause in laws, you are, as a matter of fact, faced with a chain of necessity, determinism, where you have not – it is very difficult to do – pin­pointed a cause. You have a chain of causes and effects, and when you think about that in a theoretical way, you wonder where this chain of cause and effect begins. And you know that those who introduced the scientific discourse in our culture in the seventeenth century were inclined to have, had to have, a theory of God which – we are accustomed to making a separation between science and religion made a link between science and religion. From the start, scientific discourse was grounded precisely on this continuity of causes and effects.

The cause I am talking about, the cause in psychoanalysis – the word cause is in the very title of the Ecole de la cause freudienne – the cause we are speaking of, the Freudian cause, is a cause with another content. It is a cause – not as inscribed in a law of regularity and continuity, but rather a cause which so preoccupied David Hume in the 18th century when he showed that the very term the “cause”, as separate, as primary, was non-conceptual. And, you know that the reasoning of Hume triggered the philosophical effort of Kant himself. I cannot take up again the argument of Hume. And you know, perhaps, that Karl Popper, in our century, has built all his schemology on Hume’s argu­ments about causality I cannot give you a resume of these arguments, but you may un­derstand that, if you have a continuity in this way, you may never be able to pinpoint the cause as separate. So, as a matter of fact, if you think of the relationship between cause and chain, you may understand that cause, the very notion of cause, involves a breaking up of the chain. That is to say, the question of the cause can only appear when there is a breaking up of the chain. So, you may ask, where is the cause at the very moment where there is this lack? I would say, in the concept of causality as distinct from legality, one finds a concept of cause as distinct from law. And it always implies the notion of a missing link. You direct yourself to the idea of cause precisely when there is this missing link. That is to say that discontinuity, and not regularity, is essential to the notion of causality. And, if you think – let me take a shortcut – of the chain as a chain of signifiers, precisely the famous chain of signifiers, well, you may understand that with the concept of cause, the chain of signifiers …. Well, I would put it like that:

S – S’ – S”- S'”- S””


You may understand that cause necessitates the removal of one signifier, as being the missing link. And this removal of one link is precisely what we could write like this:

S – S’ – $ – S'” – S””

with an S and a bar, which is Lacan’s signifier for the subject. And perhaps through this -it is only a beginning – you may understand in what sense Lacan says that the subject is involved in the very structure of causality. The subject as a lacking, as a missing link, is involved in the structure of causality versus legality.

Perhaps this may appear to be abstract, but let us take the Wolf Man, let us reread the Wolf Man, and we see clearly how Freud finds his way about in this clinical case, locating the various breakdowns of continuity. There are three great discontinuities in the Wolf Man’s origins. The first discontinuity is when he was a kind child, a loving child, a very quiet child. And then at a moment which can be precisely dated he grows into a naughty child. Freud asked why there is this change? You know that it was from those discontinuities in the origins of the patient’s life that Freud found the seduction by the sister and by the Nanny Then you have another discontinuity when the Wolf Man be­comes phobic. He had no phobia of animals. And then wolves appear in his dream, the famous dream, and a phobia develops. So, there are the seductions, the dream, and then a third discontinuity when he becomes obsessive. He presents an obsessive fear. The same commentary is written by Freud. Freud’s account marks these three essential discontinu­ities.

So, if it is a clinical investigation, I believe you understand the importance of dis­continuity – whereas in a law we are looking for regularity, and we find that regularity ne­cessary. On the side of causality as we understand it, there is no regularity, but surprise! It is true that in psychoanalysis, at a certain level, you have laws. In Lacan, for instance, you have the laws of language, the well-known famous laws of metaphor and metonomy. And you have the wellknown example by Lacan concerning all these apparatus of plus and minus which have been attracting so much attention for the last 25 years or 30 years. We see people, generation after generation, coming to verify the Lacanian schema, etce­tera.

But, let us not forget that the Freudian unconscious had no laws. We know as a practical matter that the unconscious does not allow anticipation. And you cannot predict when the phenomena analyzed by Freud in the psychopathology of everyday life, you can never predict, will appear. And, moreover, I would say that there is no effective interpre­tation when an interpretation is predictable. The patient knows that very well. Nowadays, the patient comes, already presenting himself with a predictable interpretation: “You’re going to say that I was in love with my mother Ha! Ha!” So, you understand, the element of surprise is not an advantage. It is a surface. It is something which is structurally im­plied by theinterpretation because the unconscious has no law. That this element of surprise is essen­tial to interpretation was pinpointed enough by Lacan in 1958. But it was first pinpointed and developed by [Theodore Reik] in his books that are here. We may say that the effect of interpretation is a surprise for the patient, and eventually – this was recalled by Hourik Zakarian this morning – it is also a surprise for the analyst himself. He may prepare inter­pretation; he may prepare the framework of interpretation, but, usually the effect of the interpretations come as a surprise for him himself. You have at the same time both calc


ulation and an uncalculated element, an element of pure encounter. For an entire year in Paris, we met for twelve clinical meetings in the Ecole de la cause freudienne on the topic of the calculus of interpretation. Each time two analysts gave an account of how he or she does interpretation. And it was very clear that the most recurrent interpretations are not so effective as what comes from surprise. So, let us say now, concerning the cause, that the cause is a signifying chain. The cause, I would say, shines in the lack, in the very lack in the signifying chain. And, it is not a poetical metaphor. The chain translates the link there is between cause and lack. And, perhaps, I can already write this sentence down in our algebra: “This cause shines in the very lack of the signifying chain,” writing here, small a as the name of the cause




This is an anticipation of things to come, the question being, when does the chain of signifiers break down? When is there necessarily a lack in the signifier?


And now let us take the third point which I call “Couples.” I believe it is the title of a novel by John Updike, Couples. Let us go back to the word of Freud. First, consider what he calls his knowledge as the cause of this knowing. He considered the observation of the sexual act between the parents as the cause of the neurosis of the Wolf Man later trig­gered by the dream of the wolf. And he considered this observation of the sexual act as traumatic, as a traumatism which determined the destiny of the Wolf Man’s life. But it is not pure observation at stake because even in Freud’s own terms it is a problem. It is not only observation. It is problematization that emerges with all the clarity which is not so clear from the observations that emerge. For the subject, for the patient, there is a problem, which Freud calls a problem of castration, which is something quite different from pure observation. The problem, castration as a problem, means, in this case, that the subject cannot accept for himself the castration of the mother. That is to say, she does not have the masculine member. And because of that he cannot accept what castration would be for him.

And, as a matter of fact, we know from analytic practice that the observations of the parents by the child pertain to the genitals, the use of the genitals, and more gener­ally, to all the signs of enjoyment which the subject lacks by not being in the married couple: the signifiers of enjoyment and the signifiers of desire. And, what then, is the traumatism pinpointed by Freud in this observation of the Wolf Man? Traumatism occurs because the subject cannot manage to translate what he observes concerning the sexual relationship of his parents in terms, I would say, of sexuality, in terms of what a man is and what a woman is. He tries to confirm what the cause of the problem is. This is not observation. It is, rather that observation of the parental copulation is an effort to under­stand what a man is and what a woman is. That is to say, to go from the father and mother relationship to the man/woman relationship. Let us write it down. It is: from F ♦M, goes


to the man and woman relationship, M ♦W And, here we may use the term of Lacan, which in French is: rapport sexuel. We may translate it as “sexual relation,” but by adding cause and effect, it is translated as a fixed formula, as a fixed signifier formula. And we may say that from the formula of the father/mother relationship, the subject tries to go to a man and woman fixed formula. And, precisely, on this point, in this case of going from father/mother to man/woman, there is no connection. And we may say that the only thing we would like to observe in our parents is precisely the formula of the sexual relationship, to understand through them, through their relationship, what it is to be a man to a woman or a woman to a man.

And the lesson of the Freudian field is that in no case do we learn that. That is what Freud called traumatism. The traumatism of sex-uality is essentially this lack of connection between those two relationships. What ap-pears in Freud as a traumatism appears in Lacan as an axiom. As part of an axiomatic which says: There is no rapport sexuel. There is no fixed formula of sexual relationship between human beings. Lacan translates as an axiom what he takes from the Freudian cases that always appears as a traumatism of sexuality But this traumatism of sexuality is not incidental. It is structural, if we consider that in every case it translates clearly in analytic experience and in spite of the enormous novel concerning the family which every patient, or nearly every patient, spells out. In spite of this novel, he cannot obtain a fixed formula from it, an established formula of what the relationship between man and woman is. And that is what Freud calls a problem of castration.

It is a problem of castration. And there is a primary scene. But the problem of the primary scene in Freud is that it has to be translated in terms of castration. It must be cod­ified through the phallus. We call it the phallus and you could call it, I don’t know, the “pee-wee,” the “dong,” or the “shaft.” I bought a book about the name of the male organ in English. A textbook. The only word lacking in this textbook is phallus. And we use this seemingly scientific term precisely to say that it is through this symbol that the sub­ject tries to encode the family scene, that is, the relationship between father and mother.

And, as a matter of fact, we see that a certain elaboration of the relationship be­tween father and mother is used by the Wolf Man to understand what kind of woman is his type. In the Wolf Man case, Freud analyzed very precisely how the subject’s conclu­sion regarding the primary scene has a privileged love object, which is a certain type of woman in a certain position. That is to say, when he encounters a woman by chance, generally a poor woman, on her hands and knees, working at a humble task, and sees her from behind, when all those very precise conditions are realized, he falls in love! That is to say, it is precisely like a formula. You now understand the value of the term “problem” in this case. We have for the Wolf Man a very precise formula for falling in love. And, Freud says that the Wolf Man falls in love conclusively, as a compulsion, when those conditions are realized. So we have, in our humanity, precise conditions for men and women to relate one with the other. But it is not a formula at the level of humanity as such, as it is with animals. With animals, we know through ecology, that very precise formulas exist for the relationship between sexes, where the appearance of some signs on the body of a member of the species signals that he is ready for sex. He or she is available. This is a formula, a fixed formula, a fixed sexual formula, which is true for all the species.

With humanity we also have fixed formulas but which have validity only at the individual level. A fixed formula which would indicate that the man is such or the woman is such … if we had that, we would not have psychoanalysis. That is, I would say, the fundamental breakdown of the symbolic order concerning humanity, the fundamental lack of a fixed formula for the sexual relationship between the sexes. And, in some way, the unique formula a sub­ject encounters in his life, which could be the fixed formula for sexual relationship, is the parental couple.

The compulsions of the Wolf Man, says Freud, are directly derived from the sex­ual act observed by the subject in the primary scene. The problem is it is not certain that the fixed relationship existing between father and mother is a sexual relationship, as we [Lacanians] read it. It would be simpler if you could directly translate a fixed relationship between father and mother into a relationship between man and woman. But, that is pre­cisely the problem. Frequently in analytic experience we see how suspicious the subject may be concerning the fact that the relationship between his parents is really sexual. And sometimes it takes a form of: “It’s really unbelievable.” Or the subject may recall that at one point in his life he thought it was really unbelievable that his mother could make love with his father; that really was a scandal. Sometimes you see how fresh this impression still is, the subject’s very discovery that this parental relationship was sexual. And, some­times, the subject recalls that as a traumatism – precisely, that is, to have understood that there was something of this order between his parents.

As a matter of fact, all analytic experience from the start demonstrates, rather, that the parental couple not only cannot ground the sexual relationship between man and wo­man but, on the contrary, the mother is an obstacle to the access to women. And that be­cause of this, THE woman or Woman with a capital W if woman has a meaning for hum­anity, is the mother. And that, the father, also, for a woman anyway, the father in hys­teria, is an obstacle to the access to men. That is to say, in analytic experience, the marital couple seem to have assumed a role that is more an obstacle to the sexual relationship than a facilitation.

Now, in Freud, we may say that we are looking for what would be the correct codification of the sexual relationship. And there is a usual combination which we en­counter in Freud himself, a combination of those two relationships at the same time. That is what Freud called by the terms “activity” and “passivity.” But we may translate it bluntly. One angle from which to clarify those relationships, the usual conclusion, is to clarify them in terms of power. And we must remember that the family, as an institution, exists in the social realm, in the social space, the social place as construed by the master, from the idea of mastery. So, a way to symbolize this man/woman relationship, and which Freud himself uses, is to view it from the signifier couple, that is to say, from the relationship of the master signifier, let us say, to the slave signifier.


Master   Slave

Activity and passivity translate themselves in terms of power like that. And through this, you may try to clarify the relationship between father and mother and between man and woman: F ♦ M to M ♦ W. As a matter of fact, it is usual in our culture that the father be head of the family, I would say. You know, for instance, that is also clear with the use of the name, the proper name, and it looks like a very long fight to try to separate the man and woman relationship, the father and mother relationship, from this codification. And all this is a topic, already well known, not only through psychoanalysis but through fem­inism. And I believe I do not need to expand on this point, on this codification in terms of power.

Let us say that this couple, master/slave, gives us a kind of analogum of the sex­ual relationship, of the formula of the sexual relationship, and is a way to explain the actual decline of the image of the father, a decline which is happening. Because the surprise is that a true father, a father that would be equal to the master signifier, would be a father who does not work. The work would be done by the slave. I must say that, con­trariwise to the idea of activity and passivity, Lacan had already noted that women usu­ally work much harder than men. But, at the same time, in our society, with our work ethic, the father works. And in some way this is linked with the decline of the image of the father, the true father. We call the true father the dead father to show really, that he does not work. The true father, I would say is the gigolo. Perhaps I shall not expand on that one, but obviously ….

It is an easy sociology, that is true, but you may understand in what sense the ana­lyst does not work. The analyst occupies the place of the master who makes the other, the patient, work. And, yet, we know that for the obsessive patient, immediately, the analyst works, and is going to continue working for quite a long time in this relationship. The hysterical subject has the objective of trying to make the analyst work, to present the analyst with some kind of difficulties, with some kind of exigencies, to let him work.

This is the same as going to look for the deficiency of the Other or, as somebody put it, to obtain the castration of the Other. And if the analyst does not work, you understand how he should, but if the analyst does not work, it is to let the unconscious work, not to work instead of the unconscious. And if an analyst does not work, the sense is to vary an anti­mony between the working of the analyst and the working of the unconscious. And that is why Lacan spoke of the analytic act for the analyst as distinct from analytical work. We speak of the act of the analyst who authorizes the process, who guarantees the process, and the work of the patient. Perhaps, on this point, I would stop “Couples” and take up the fourth point which I call “Formulas.”



I have said that the parental couple presents the subject with a fixed relationship, with a kind of fixed formula, which is not strictly sexual. I have said that the question would be: if this is true, what is this formula of the parental couple as distinct from the sexual for­mula, the formula of man and woman? This formula exists. I am going to write it down on this blackboard. The formula exists implicitly in Freud, and explicitly in Lacan. This formula exists in Freud in the form of a myth, and it exists in Lacan in the form of a for­mula which consists in what is usually called the paternal metaphor. What is the gist of the paternal metaphor given by Lacan? It inscribes a fixed formula of the relationship between the functionof the father and the function of the mother. And, it is enough to write it down like that:

Father          F

Mother       M

father, bar, mother. And this is the fixed formula of the parental couple. And when Lacan says there is no rapport sexuel, there is no sexual formula, you may understand it from the point of view that there exists a parental couple. It always appears as an enigmatic dictum of Lacan: There is no sexual relationship – as it is usually translated – and, every­one says, well, we know some. But the [culminate] is to make the difference understood between the fixed formula of the parental couple, which is called the Oedipus in Freud, and in Lacan is inscribed like that: M ♦W. The point is to understand the fact that for man and woman you do not have any equivalent formula. And it is enough to write down the fundamental relationship between father and mother. Usually, in Lacan, you find it another way, or you find it in a more complete way. The father enters this relationship as name, the Name-of-the-Father:

_F                                                                                   Name-of-the-Father

M                                                                                                 D

The mother enters this relationship as desire, with a Capital D. I shall not expand on those two letters by Lacan, but this desire is not the desire you usually hear about. This desire is a signifier, and, really, that is why I believe we can simplify this formula like that, the re­lationship between Father and Mother as signifier. And, that is why it is a true formula, a formula as a matheme, a true matheme. And, what is this relationship? It is a relationship of substitution, which translates the Freudian Oedipus in one single formula. And it is enough to write down the fundamental function of the father as the one who interdicts, the one who prohibits, and if you want to complete the schema, well you know how you do that. You have, let us suppose, a child, whose desire goes to the mother, and the father comes as third, who interdicts the relationship.


F (ather) (interdicts)

Child__________________ Mother                                                                 Schema R


Let us say, that the subject as such, the Freudian subject, is a point which can identify. You know that the child, the subject, can identify with the position of the father, he can identify with the mother, he can identify with the child. So, Lacan put as a fourth term, the subject itself. And, perhaps, those who have read Lacan understand immediately that they have here the very structure of the schema of Lacan which you find in his text on the preliminary question to psychosis, to any treatment of psychosis.3 As a matter of fact, you know that this schema is done from the male point of view.

And there is a problem in Freud, that is true, for the feminine Oedipus where the object would be the father, and not the mother, and whose position of interdiction is sup­posed to be the mother. And you know that, as a matter of fact, when it is a mother, the person of the mother who comes to occupy this place of interdiction for a subject, gener­ally, it is because you find in the family a certain complacency of the father in regard to occupying the place of the object, of the desired object. But, when the mother occupies this place, you have a dreadful relationship be­tween the mother and her daughter. But what does it mean to speak of father and mother as signifiers? It means that even for the daughter, the fundamental object – you find that in Freud also – is the mother. And, even for the daughter, the supreme interdiction is the father. And that is why we speak of signifier as distinct from person. The signifier is a fixed function which enables us to structure the family for interpretation. And when we say the father as signifier, it means that for both sexes, the father is prohibitor, and for both sexes, the mother is a signifier of the primary object.

So, in analysis, it is true, nowadays, like in Freud’s day, that there is a question about how the path of obstacles and objects have been distributed in the life of the sub­ject. We may look for what person has taken up the part of obstacle and what person the part of object. But what we have to explain in analysis is the mystery; that is why these terms concerning the family are of such intricacy for the subject. This comes as a sur­prise. When you read Plato, for instance, as Lacan did, which Ellie took up an hour ago, when you read Plato, you could think that when you let someone speak freely about what he wants, when you liberate him from all constraints of social obligation, even of de­cency, the subject would speak about questions of high existential theories, the five Platonic theories. You would think that people would speak about mathematics, about the one and the two, and the third, that people would speak about the beautiful, about beauty, about truth. From a Platonic point of view, that is what you would expect from humanity Or, that one would speak from the various interests we have in some distin­guished topics such as philosophy and the arts, psychoanalysis, etcetera. It comes as a surprise that people speak, instead, about their parents and their family. That is, it takes an inordinate amount of time in analysis, speaking about father and mother. Why?

There are some practices, some psychotherapeutic practices which try to direct the subject to speak of something other than father and mother. For instance, Jung himself


said he was sick and tired of hearing people speak about father and mother and telling stories of Jack and Jill. When he heard about the relationship of father/mother, man/woman, he tried to direct them to speak instead about very fundamental ideals of Western civilization. Why? What is said when father and mother, the family, are spoken about? And why does the analyst wonder what he is speaking about when the subject tries to speak of something other than father and mother and man and woman. Lacan once said, someone was trying to speak about the author Dostoevsky, and I made him tell me about his phantasy of giving birth. So, if the subject tries to be a bit too Platonic, we urge him to come back to what psychoanalysis is about.

And, the question is, what is said through the story of the family?’ Well, the story is about how the subject was separated from his primary object, about how, through whatever traumatism was suffered, the subject was affected by a loss, a sudden loss, of his capacity for life. And what are the meanings that have emerged from this separation, what phantasies have emerged, and what subjective position, what enjoyment also, has he recuperated from this catastrophe? This is precisely what is present in analysis.

The analyst could think that in analysis he has to play the role of interdictor and accentuate all the parts of interdiction. You know that at the beginning of psychoanalysis, analysts used to tell their patients not to take up any fundamentally new positions in life during the analysis. This put a great deal of stress on the analyst as obstacle. And now, a trial which has begun in the United States on the idea of saying something like that. There is no credibility. When the whole analysis was three weeks, six months, you could ask a patient to give up everything for the analyst, but, if it lasts five years, ten years, it is more difficult to make this work. Well, that is not the fundamental point. It is this: that the interdiction which is present in the analytic experience is not grounded on any explicit prohibition by the analyst. It comes from somewhere else; it comes from the very injunc­tion to speak, which is essential to analysis.

The paternal metaphor in analysis does not come from the paternal position of the analyst. It comes from free association itself. That is to say, it comes from the necessities or obligations made to the subject to symbolize his experience through language. And this in itself is the interdiction. Let me say this quickly before we get off again. As a matter of fact, what Lacan has seen in Freud and in analytic experience, what he has seen in the Oedipus, the myth of Oedipus, is that the father is speech itself. That is to say, it is speech that separates us from our fundamental objective. It is through speech that there is a lost object. That is why the father, including the dead father – the father essentially – is a signifier, contrariwise to the mother, who is a fact of life.

With the mother, it is always a sure thing. But the father is not a sure thing as Freud has pinpointed. You may think that a father is fundamentally linked to death as the mother is fundamentally linked to life, to take a few words that were at the end, I believe, of Professor Jaanus’s commentary When Freud says that the father is already the phenomenon of sublimation, he is saying nothing other than


what I am repeating there. And that is why we may accept that what we call the function of the father is language itself, as dead. It is an error to speak of the life of words. And Lacan says somewhere: “Don’t believe that there’s life of words, because they change. Every tongue is a dead tongue, even the tongue you are speaking yourself.” And this is not an incidental remark, it is a fundamental point. And, on the contrary, in analytic theory, we have some perception of this. On the contrary, the mother is always linked to jouissance, to enjoyment. And that is why, let us say this clearly, what appeared in Freud as the father prohibiting access to the mother appears in Lacan as speech interdicting jouissance. And that is why you find in Lacan the idea that enjoyment as such is for­bidden to the one who speaks.

The Bar

Let us now take the fifth point if there is some time left. The fifth point has the title, “The Bar,” the bar which we have already used here, F

M between father and mother. It is a symbol. This bar is a very simple but operative symbol, which Lacan uses. It is susceptible of being transcribed as the conceptual functioning of Freudian theory itself. And this symbol enables us to unify the narrative between two parts of Freudian theory which are completely separated. Which are those two parts of analytic theory which are separate? You have, on one side, the theory of the Oedipus complex and, on the other side, you have the theory of metapsychology. On one side we speak of Oedipus, the complex of Oedipus, the complex of castration. There we speak of the mother, the father and the child. We speak of the mother as primary object and the father as interdiction. There we speak of castration. On the other side, we speak of the psychic structure of function. We speak of thought, reality, pleasure. And those two parts remain fairly separate.

What I saw, in working on this theory for my course, is that what Lacan has done – and we must realize what he has done is based very precisely on Freud – is to realize a unification of analytic theory which as such is the basis of psychoanalytic thinking.

This bar is a signifier. We see it as that because, as such, it does not have much meaning, this bar. Perhaps I shall try to write it with my chalk. It is a bar. I can do it like that or like that. As such, the bar has no meaning. That is why we may say it is a signifier insofar as we may give it some meaning and, eventually, different meanings. I do not say that the bar always has in Lacan the same meaning. It has no thematic use. I will take this bar as the bar of substitution, the bar of pure substitution. That is to say, it enables us to write this down: where there was one, there comes another.

2 1


And it is enough to write it down like that. Where there was one, now there is another. With this bar we can write a temporal organization. There is an organization of time which means first the 1, secondly the 2; and, the second term is substituted for the first one, such that the first one, we may say, is suppressed. Or, we may also say, in another sense, that the first one supports the second one, is the basis of the second one. Well, that is enough now. That is really the structure of the bar in all its simplicity

The Generalized Formula

And now, let us take point six titled, “The Generalized Formula.” When I wrote down


M (father/bar/mother), I presented one aspect of this substitution; that is how the law of the father is substituted for the desire of the mother who is supposedly without law. And, this is the adequate sequence, this substitution of the law of the father for the desire of the mother. The consequence is that we suppose we know, after the installation of this meta­phor, after this substitution, why the mother does not always stay near her child. We know the answer, as Freud himself tells us, as the phallus. And we may say that in Lacan this formula itself unifies the Oedipus theory and the castration complex. It gives a uni­fied formula for Oedipus and castration. And in this sense, it is the Lacanian reference for saying that in the sexual relationship, which is what we have instead in Freud, we do not have a fixed relationship. We have a relationship of each sex with the phallus. If the essential partner(ship) of the subject is the phallus and not the other sex, then, let us consider this concrete statement: What is the value of this fact? What, preceding the subject, was shown of the law of the father for the desire of the mother? We may say that we did not know what the desire of the mother was. We have an X here: M, X that is to say, something we do not know. We do not know what the cause of her desire is. It is this construction: we do not know what she wants. And we do not know what and where she enjoys. The meaning of the phallus, in this sense is, precisely, to give an answer to, this X so that -1 am obliged to go a bit quicker that I would like – the meaning of the paternal metaphor, of the Freudian Oedipus as inscribed by Lacan, translates itself as from an unknown puissance to the phallusization of puissance, that is, to a significan-tization of puissance. And this is something a bit different from what we saw before:

E     _     i     _     A
-tff          x           J

What we saw before was the substitution of one signifier for another. Here, we are at a level where something which is not a signifier is substituted for by something which is a signifier. And this, I would way, is the secret of the paternal metaphor in Lacan, the secret to Oedipus. It is not only what had always been repeated as the father substituted for the mother, etcetera. The secret of Oedipus is that it enables jouissance to be inscribed in the symbolic order. And that is why at the moment Lacan found the phallus as the signifier of jouissance its substitution was the significantization of jouissance. We know, for instance, that we have a biological sex, but this biological sex undergoes a significan­tization process. That comes to be involved with different significations for different people. That was known from the beginning of psychoanalysis. And before that you have biological sex and psychical sex. That meant that everything which is at the level of nature, at the biological level, is present for someone who speaks. And in our world, the biological is significanticized or given meaning.

And that is why Lacan speaks of sexuation. This means that you have to go one step further than your biological sex. You have to get your subjective position out of your biological sex. There is not a determination according to law. You do not have a law saying that because have a bio­logical sex “such,” you are necessarily going to have a psychic sex “so.” We may not even say that women are hysterics and men are obsessionals. We have hysterical men, a most interesting subject, and obsessive women also. What appears as a freedom here is precisely the incidence of the cause. So, in some sense, Lacan speaks of the elections of the selection, on one’s own sex, which is a paradox, but a paradox at the level of the signifier, not at the level of nature. So, let us generalize this relationship. It says that what there is at this first level (pure enjoyment which is, let us say, primarily libido in Freudian terms) is Lacanian jouissance. It is not such a mystery. It is Freudian libido. We can write it with the signifier for jouissance in French: J.

What belongs to the order of libido has to be substituted for by an element of the symbolic order which we are going to write with A, the first letter of the word “Other” [Autre] in French. And this is a metaphor, I would say, a generalized linguistic metaphor which articulates the relation between A as language or as the place of the signifier, and capital J as primary jouissance, primary libido, what Lacan calls das Ding. Ellie men­tioned it this morning, some time ago. Why does Lacan use this German word for that? Precisely to designate something which has no name because this capital J, in some sense, comes before language. It is the fundamental basis for libido which has to be sub­stituted for by language. And it is in this sense of das Ding as before the signifier, that gives a sense of what would come before the capital A. As such, it is already lost be­cause, from the outset, we are into language. So, this jouissance is already a missing jouissance, a. jouissance of which we know nothing but that we have lost it because of language.

I am going to invent a little myth myself, just to make you understand that. It is a myth of Mephistopheles going across Creation by foot. There are always questions at the beginning of something. So, Mephistopheles comes across the fish and he asks the fish: “Do you want to exchange your enjoyment as fishes, (which is not so much) for lang­uage? Would it be more interesting for you, fish, instead of opening and closing your mouth without saying anything, to speak? What marvelous things you could do! You could even have a Plato fish.” And the fish answers: “I can’t.” That is why it’s a myth. The fish answered Mephistopheles: “I’d rather continue like I am, opening and closing my mouth without saying anything because I enjoy this.” Let us take a shortcut. There is no time to imagine Mephistopheles going across the species, and each one keeping his enjoyment. Mephistopheles would speak to the oyster, and asking, well “You also . . . you must speak; you have all that is necessary for that,” and the oyster would say, “But I could lose my pearl.” Perhaps this is the jouissance of the oyster. And in the end, Mephistopheles comes across a family of monkeys with a skin covered by hair. And he would propose the same exchange to a monkey. And this stupid monkey accepts that. And immediately he loses all his hair, or nearly all his hair. And he cannot relate to his companion of the other sex with immediacy Immediately, he is obliged to look at what his parents are doing to try to know what to do with his partner.

In this myth I will not expand, you may understand why it was already a matter of speculation outside psychoanalysis for Lacan to know what began first, a loss of jouis­sance or language? If we had to go for a relationship of cause and effect, how would that articulate this lack? You understand also why Lacan came to say that the capital Autre is structurally separated from jouissance. This is the generalized formula of the Freudian Oedipus, strictly homologous to this. And when Lacan speaks in Encore [Le Seminaire, livre XX] of knowledge and jouissance, where he speaks of the separation of knowledge and linguistics – fundamentally linguistics and jouissance – he is prescribing for us, and generalizing, the myth of Oedipus. And what classical psychoanalysis called the forbid­den mother translates in Lacan as jouissance forbidden to one who speaks. Or, you under­stand that in the Ethics of psychoanalysis [Le Seminaire, livre VII] Lacan may say the mother is das Ding as primary object of enjoyment, that is to say, that which is a prohi­bition of incest in our culture, which is fundamentally the prohibition of incest with the mother for both sexes. It is like a metaphor for the suppression of enjoyment, of the capital J.

This morning we heard about the body In some sense the body is a big A. That is to say, in our species, the species of the stupid monkey, we use the body for inscription. And you know that the body is a very important metalanguage. I have written a whole book on symbolic wounds to say, precisely, that in order to socialize, culturalize, the body of a speaking being, you have to extract his enjoyment, his bodily enjoyment. You have to separate flesh and body. It is on that condition that you have a human body.

Let us say that now we have to study the relationship of those two terms, and it is no longer a novel. I would say, it is a matter of accounts, accountancy, accountability, a matter of balance, a balanced budget. That is what we see in the Rat Man, that he tries to translate all enjoyment, all the sexual enjoyment he has, precisely in terms of something that may be none of it. He uses the rats, the signifier of the rats, as the signifier which could permit him to number enjoyment. So, he tries to repeat this operation of substi­tution, for each orgasm, one rat, one florin. And let us say that this process never ends.


United Metapsychology and Oedipus

E   —   i   —> A     =   (a)
M             x             J

And, here, we come to the next point. I do not believe I have time to expand. The next point which we shall come back to is that there is something of the libido which cannot be translated in signifiers, cannot enter the place of the Other, cannot be marked and transferred as a signifier. And that is precisely what Lacan called small a, that is the plus dejouir as the difference between the libido and language which produces this small a as a residue, J – A = a We remember that Marx’s friend’s worker gives his work in exchange for a salary. But there is something unpaid for, something which is surplus value. This small a is the part of libido which cannot be transferred to the place of the Other. You may think this is really only a convention made up by Lacan. But just take a look at Freud. I will not be able to expand on that, but just take a look, for instance, at his essay on “Repression in Metapsychology” when he speaks about Trieb, about the drives. He distinguishes two elements in the drives. He distinguishes the Triebrepräsentanz, the representative of the drive or the idea which you cannot understand without Lacan. Lacan treats the idea of the drive and the element, the representative of the drive and what Freud calls a quota of affect. And what he is speaking about is precisely the division between the Trieb representatives and this part of libido which cannot be suppressed. You may read all this effort of Freud in light of this construction by Lacan. What Freud calls a quota of affect that cannot be suppressed is included in the value of object small a be­tween the Freudian Repräsentanz which translates as A, and the quota, which translates as small a. And, first this line of equivalence gives us some principles for certain clinical considerations. Then it gives us a way to understand Freudian metapsychology. Perhaps, I could give you just this distinction. You have heard of the two principles, the Lustprinzip and the Realitastprinzip. You will find it easy to under­stand what these are about if you write it like this:

Repr          __ y       A           (a)       Reality Principle

Quota                      J                       Pleasure Principle

You will find in Freud himself the word, [Ersetzung], the substitution of one for the other. You will have no difficulty in inscribing the text of Freud in this schema. You will even find in this text of Freud’s -1 have no time to show you the text now – the small a in one sentence that says: inevitable. From this point on, we could even derive a funda­mental conclusion concerning interpretation and transference. I have spoken nearly two hours. I suppose you are a bit tired. I am myself. So, perhaps, you can offer some questions or commentaries that I shall try to answer.


Text of the remarks made by

Jacques-Alain Miller

at the 3rd Meeting of the

Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop

April 9-10, 1988 Transcribed by Ann Prendergast Edited by Ellie Ragland-Sullivan


  1. Aus der Geshichte einer infantilen Neurose. in Gesammelte Werke. vol XII. London: Imago Publishing Co., 1955, p. 59.
  2. “Structure of Transference” unpublished paper presented at University of Massachusetts – Amherst, “Lacan’s Legacy: Lessons of the Transference,” June 14, 1985.
  3. “D’une question preliminaire a tout traitement possible de la psychose.” Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1966, pages 531-83.
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Lacan Quotidien in English

English language selections from Lacan Quotidian.  



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In Memoriam Federico Gonzalez
Alchemical Texts

♦︎ Hoy ha llegado… ♦︎

xxscan3 xxscan4- xxscan5 xxscan6 xxscan7



Federico Gonzalez Frias and Josefina Ayerza—Rio de La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina

A poem by Federico Gonzalez. 

*En el Vientre de la Ballena. Textos alquímicos. XLIV

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