The Effect of the Subject in the Psychoses
From the Symptom to the Fantasy and Back, Chapter XXIV

Jacques-Alain Miller

translated and edited by
Ellie Ragland and Anne Pulis



- φ

The case of the Wolf child

Of the Subject as a Response of the Real

The "choice" of psychosis

The last time I stopped at a precise reference from one of Lacan's Écrits, the very last paragraphs of the Écrits on page 877. I invited you to refer to that passage before this course, because the volume's conclusion bears on the relationships we shall define of the subject and of the concept promised by the psychoanalytic discourse, that is the concept of the phallus.

It is promised in a way that implies a certain equivalence between the two. At the point where we can write the equivalence as a problem — this equivalence of the barred subject and the symbol — . — it permits us to take note of castration as that which has the value of impotence on the imaginary plane.

This question preoccupies us for a precise reason. It has a clinical consequence, notably, the incidence or degree of occurrence of the subject in the psychoses.

This is a point that always maintains its popularity in Lacan's teaching: the position of the subject in the analytic experience is linked to his or her rapport to the phallic signifier. You find the trace of this from the beginning to the end of Lacan's teaching; first in his écrit, "On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis" and in the schema R, where it is pinned under the imaginary signifier of the phallus and given as essential to the correct structuration of the subject. One can write it thus - φ. It is almost written that way in "On a question preliminary..."


except that at this date, Lacan does not yet bar the S of the subject, in the same way that he does not negativize the imaginary phallus - φ. Then you have set forth in his text of 1972, l'Étourdit, a kind of transformation of the value given in this initial rapport given in the last écrit whose scope was large. There are certainly other écrits by Lacan afterwards. But they do not have the same richness, whether it be Television or the texts of Scilicet. After that one, one no longer has the same marking-out of the ensemble of the Freudian Field. In l'Étourdit we have a transformation of the formula written thus, — -x — , where the same necessity reverberates. The subject in psychoanalysis only takes on his or her value — which means situatable — from his or her inscription as an argument. The argument lies in what is written there as a phallic function, in the sense of a propositional function.

There are many roads from one formula to the other, but the same constraint is always reflected, the obligation we are under to situate the subject in reference to the phallus.

Many have the completely erroneous idea that one can go directly to treat the Other. This is impossible, but this error cannot make us forget that the subject which surges forth at this point is a. miracle. I am using this term by borrowing, less from theology, than from Schreber, when he evokes his miracle of howling. It is the miracle that, by addressing oneself to the real from the symbolic, the real answers. It is,however, the question that this definition of Lacan's poses to us — in the mode of an answer — which has remained enigmatic up until now; that the subject is a response of the real. There are many other definitions of the subject, but it is to this one that we arrive now. This phrase is in its complete form: The subject as an effect of signification is a response of the real.

Before evoking it myself at Montpellier, I heard it from Eric Laurent's mouth, who is also creating material out of it, who mentioned it in the course of his intervention. Since I could articulate some things myself he said at Montpellier here, I proposed to him to sum up his intervention here. He has, indeed, been willing to accept, and one is going to hear him by the end of this course. Next week, I will take up this matter again for my part.

Thus, I pass the word to him, precisely in starting from this point.

This question becomes crucial when it is a matter of the psychoses. From that moment on — why not keep the symbol which is found in the Preliminary question — the phallus in question in psychosis can be indexed by a small zero — 0. Consequently, the position of the subject in the psychoses becomes problematic.

I approach this in a very abstract way, from these small symbols. Anyway, it is the root of what makes one question the subject in the psychoses. We must take care to assure that the psychoses be approached as an affair of the subject in particular. That is why, in particular, we shall continue to speak of the fantasy in the question of the psychoses.

In these few conclusive paragraphs of the Écrits, this rapport of the subject and the phallus is put into place in a way that must have been perceptible precisely for giving its value to the division of the subject. Lacan concretizes this by going from the position of the subject to the place of the phallus.

He takes it up again very classically — Let us remember where Freud rolls it out — at a place which he calls the knot-point of the division of the subject. It is on this lack of the mother's penis where the nature of the phallus is revealed. — I am not insisting on the difference between the organ and the signifier there: I am continuing to read this passage. — The subject is divided here, Freud tells us, at the place of reality. This division is presented to us from two clinical categories (apparently, in any case), phobia and perversion — seeing open up there, at the same time, the gulf against which a phobia will defend itself, and, on the other hand, recovering it from this surface where he will erect the fetish, that is to say, the existence of the penis as maintained, although displaced.

If we want to represent it to ourselves here, we must, indeed, start with the lack that differentiates phobia and perversion. The first, phobia, erects as a rampart, a signifier that can do anything. By this, the subject protects him or herself, guaranteeing a sense of being against what opens up as an abyss from maternal castration. This is presented to us in Little Hans's phobia by the signifier horse. He uses this signifier for doing everything, especially for defending himself as subject from the abyss which has opened up for him. While, from the other side — the perverse version of this defense — ,the object covers up this abyss.

This is a renewal of what we have seen from Alcibiades's perspective as desiring at the end of the Subversion of the subject. He is presented as desiring in such a way, there, that it is a question of the normal perversion of desire. What makes this perversion clinical, is when one identifies with the fetish erected, succeeds in recuperating the imaginary phallus, in other words, in such a way that this phallus — the partner's phallus — becomes the very condition of his desire for a man. I shall not insist, since it is not the point at which I want to arrive. On the one side — Lacan says — let us extract the (no) from the (no penis), to [be] put between parentheses, in order to transfer it to the not-knowledge, which is the hesitation step of neurosis. This side is the side that proceeds from the phobia, a reading which is confirmed for us from the conclusion of the Subversion of the subject which opposes neurosis and desiring./ From the other — that is to say, from this desiring position — , let us recognize the efficacy of the subject in this gnomon he erects for himself to designate the point of truth at any hour — that is where I would like to draw your attention — /Revealing from the phallus itself that it is nothing other than this point of lack that it indicates in the subject. It is almost the last truth that Lacan's Écrits deliver. If it is nothing more than a question, there, of what is revealed, thanks to this side, it is, nonetheless, given as the definition of the phallus. The phallus is nothing other than the point of lack that it indicates in the subject.

This formulation is, at first glance, paradoxical, for the reason that we differentiate the index and the reference. If I show something with my finger, there must be a distance from what I am designating. That is how we function — from the difference between the index and the reference.

What is implied by Lacan's definition here is that, when it is a question of the phallus in psychoanalysis, one is dealing with index and reference at the same time. This implies that the phallus is nothing other than the point of lack it indicates in the subject. That is redoubled from this complication: that the reference in question is, moreover, a reference which is lacking. Definitively speaking, in other words, the index is nothing other than this reference, and, moreover, it lacks. Lacan does not unfold this idea in this definition. He unfolds it in his last écrit of importance or of a certain fullness, by making of the phallic function the supplement of the sexual rapport that is not. He ends up naming the lack of a reference in the axiom: There is no sexual rapport.

But I must indicate at this point what the gnomon is.1 It is a Euclidian geometric concept which you can for yourselves very simply designate. We can, for example, construct the gnomon of the square.

We trace a square. The elementary construction which can be produced from this square consists of tracing a diagonal of the square and prolonging it by erecting the diagonal. It is this diagonal which counts, because it is in itself already an index. This diagonal is not the gnomon, but what permits one to construct the gnomon. It is the principle of the index of the sundial which, in order to function, can be found at a right angle on the horizon. The geometric gnomon is constructed on the basis of this index. To construct it, it suffices to prolong or elevate the sides of the square. Having extended them, you trace the parallels, first on the side of the square that is perpendicular to the sides you have extended. You lower it on the diagonal. That stands out if you also extend this side in three parts which are two rectangles and a square. It is a general principle of construction since, of course, if you select another point of the diagonal, you can construct that indefinitely on the support of this diagonal. Thus, what Euclid calls the gnomon is valid for any parallelogram, not only for a square. He designates as gnomon whichever one of the parallelograms is described around the diagonal with its two compliments. This means that the gnomon, in its proper sense, is this square, if you want, with the two complements, following this example, the two rectangles which go with it.

Lacan says efficacious in order not to say act nor action. What the subject attests to is that this phallic gnomon that he can construct at any time, indicates to him or herself what the point of truth is for him or her. It is an infinite construction, a principle of construction. This phallic function, as gnomon, is present each time what we call the effect of truth is produced for a subject. It is, precisely, if I can say it, normal in its functioning. This is the name of the effect of truth.

What is lacking, which one would expect at the point of passage, is what goes on in psychosis. It is designated negatively. The subject of psychosis does not dispose of this gnomon which could indicate the point of truth to him or her. For us, it is what accounts for what we can grasp of the disorientation of psychosis. That does not stop one from being able to grasp the effort of the subject to reconstitute this phallic gnomon.


We have an example of it which merits becoming canonical — I hope that it will become so — which is the one that Robert and Rosine Lefort are studying. It is a case whose future publication they have promised us, that of the wolf child.

I said a quick word about this case at the "Study Days" of the School of the Freudian Cause at Montpellier last Easter week-end. I was able to do so because Robert and Rosine Lefort generously gave me Rosine's notes, taken at the epoch that goes back to 1952, and which support their elaboration of the case. These are notes taken from day to day, and well before Lacan had given its amplitude to a certain number of the categories he was using. That means that these notes have a profound character of authenticity — that they were done without thinking about a publication, which will only intervene thirty years later. In these notes — the ensemble must make some 500 pages — we find the beginning of the treatment, of the therapy, and which attests to the subject's effort to erect the phallic gnomon.

You already know the volume which has been called The Birth of the Other, from the first two cases studied by the Leforts. The study about which I am now speaking to you is situated in the same vein and will truly form a second volume of their research.

The child in this case was three years and ten months of age when Rosine Lefort entered into contact with him. We already know from these notes that he has been burdened from heredity, since his mother was persecuted by the law and left him, more or less, in the lurch. In any case, she failed to nourish him regularly. That was a matter of indifference to her. It is clear that before two years of age something had already been played out for this subject, since he had been placed in day-care from this age, and they noticed that he was not like the others.

It is in this difficult situation — you are going to see in what state he is — that Rosine Lefort approaches him. He does not speak — he only has a few words at his disposition, essentially the word Madame, yes and no. Having said that, one cannot consider his behavior as completely erratic. This would be an abuse to view him as displacing himself in an undifferentiated world. On the contrary. I am giving you a certain number of conclusions at which I arrived in studying the beginning of his treatment. And I was pleased to perceive my conclusions received the approbation of Rosine and Robert Lefort. I had the occasion to become aware of their response since we have been doing some work — what one calls a cartel — in this regard, since the beginning of the year. Far from being an undifferentiated world, one perceives, on the contrary, an extremely precise differentiation of the world of this child. He attests — it is not always the case, but, there, it is the case — to the difference he makes between two modes of alterity. On the one hand, he has the strong sentiment of the presence of others, since it suffices that a child in his entourage scream for him to rush over there, scream more loudly than he or she, shout violent abuse with inarticulate screams, and push him or her. He makes this other child his business, in other words. It is what they noted in the institution, saying that he made himself the police. To make oneself the police is an essential rapport with others. He has a completely lively feeling about what his neighbor is, that begins, in effect, by smashing his face. On the other hand, there are adults, in relation to whom he has a completely different behavior. Moreover, it is for this that the signifier Madame serves him. One cannot say that it enables him to greet her. In any case, it is what he proffers in an undifferentiated way in his rapport with these adults. When the species of adults is concentrated on Rosine, he occasionally shows what is in his box. That suffices for us to consider that the Other is doubtlessly constituted for him, in a certain way. The Other as witness is differentiated from the semblable [of the mirror stage], and, indeed, has a certain mode of existence. The beginning of the therapy, which even makes it possible for one to talk of therapy, is this differentiation.

That is what one can draw out as closely as possible from these few notes of observation, the testimony that the Other is already born. It is not waiting to be born. There is already a point of hooking onto the Other.

Second, we have the therapy, properly speaking, and, on three sessions, an extraordinarily demonstrative sequence. Thus, the therapy consists of isolating oneself with this child, at the beginning, almost for the purpose of observing him, except that it is also to bend oneself to what he seems to indicate. There is a great virtue in acquiescing to what this child seems to ask. One must have good will, devotion and, beyond devotion, want to maintain — that is to assume — a certain position of objective passivity which relates Rosine Lefort's position to that of an analytic position from the beginning.

This passivity still has a limit, which is contained in the introduction of an element into the room where the therapy is executed, that element being a completely distinguished object, a bottle. These notes indicate that from the beginning, the subject's behavior, which is far from being undifferentiated, is perfectly differentiated at the site of this element, the bottle. What he does with it is completely gripping. He sets it apart, and even sets it up straight. He could have used this bottle to roll around on the ground somewhere else. He puts it straight and isolates it from the other objects. He makes a void around it. On the other hand — and that verifies the existence of the Other — he willingly piles objects in Rosine's lap as well, other objects. That is what we see being produced during these three sessions.

Now, from the second one, at the moment of descending from this therapy room which is upstairs at the top of the stairs, he makes everyone hear what Rosine, at this period, was already calling an appeal, a call [un appeal]. Apparently it is not a familiar mode for this child. It is a pathetic, wrenching call — Mama, mama. Up until the present we have not noted these two signifiers, the signifier repeated twice. I rejoin him, she says, and take him in my arms, and he makes us hear two more times the same heart-rending cry — which is completely exceptional for him since his habitual mode of expression is unarticulated sound and vociferation. Tomorrow, again — at the beginning of the following session, the third — he hurries towards me, only screaming once and holding out his arms to me. While he is climbing the steps, he squeezes against me and caresses my face with contented purring.


There, we are in a sort of idyll which begins, so it seems, with the fact that he has found what seems to have been lacking in the mother-child relationship. One could think, such as it is already, that things have started well for what is involved in reconstituting and obtaining, a rapid identification of the therapist to the mother. Now this sequence of three sessions finishes on an act of the little child, notably, that the very evening of the third session, and before a public of little girls who are in the institution with him, he tries to cut his penis with scissors that are fortunately made out of celluloid.

In this extremely simple and truly precise sequence, we have what we need to justify the usage of our categories. It is noticeable that the plots, the maneuvers, that he makes around this object — the bottle — well isolated as One in reference to all the others, this object in relation to which, it seems, that he structures space, making of it the point of reference for what can appear as erratic wanderings. His plotting around the isolated object first appears as a call. He solicits the bottle to proffer what we call, in our jargon, the maternal signifier. Most simply put, this is the name of the mother. It is the mother whom he invokes by her name — Mama. It is not excessive to say that the place which is symbolized by the absence of the mother is presented there. Now, on what does this sequence conclude? By an attempt at self-mutilation. We must measure our words there, and no one will find that we are exaggerating in saying that there is an attempt at castration in the real, an attempted castration of the male organ.

I am not trying to make you believe that one can deduce the structure from the practice. One cannot. In any case, that is Lacan's position. It is vain to try to elaborate the structure in continuity from a simple phenomenology. But one cannot stop oneself, in this case, armed as we are with the structure in question, from seeing it verify itself, and, moreover, I would say, even completing itself. There is, there, something like the exigency of accomplishing a subtraction which is only found realizing itself, putting itself onto stage, in the real. What one calls castration as symbolic is nothing else, if not that which does not carry itself out in the real, in return for what is evidently something other than cutting off one's penis. But if that is constructed, it is not from the invocation of the maternal signifier. That is constructed from something else, which is the counterpart of this maternal signifier, the Name-of-the Father.

Here we have, in some fashion, the counter-example of the Lacanian paternal metaphor. We have an appeal made in the subject, to phallic signification, with its essentially negative value, which finds itself completed here, not in the symbolic, but directly in the real. One sees why one can be tempted to say — very well, yes, for this subject, the whole symbolic is real — and it is why this requirement only finds itself realized in the real. Besides, it is thus that Lacan formulated the position of the schizophrenic in the first years of his teaching. For the schizophrenic, all the symbolic is real. You see there, even in this experience of Rosine Lefort's patient, what pushes him to say it. We have there, as a staging, the delivery of flesh which demands the inscription of the subject in the signifier — pound of flesh, which here is certainly a pound of flesh, since it concerns the organ in place of the signifier. The same thing does not happen to make sense with the semblant. Robert requires this delivery of flesh for real, while what qualifies the subject who is not psychotic, is that he succeed in doing the same thing, but with the semblant.

In this tiny sequence — three sessions only, which can be read, not as the first notes of the Fifth Symphony — , in three times one is there, everything is already said. Robert does not dispose of the operator that would be necessary to succeed in translating this castration into the semblant. The only operator which is in question, which would be present there, is Mama, repeated twice. For him, that does not make the Name-of-the-Father.

We locate this necessity on an already old graph of Lacan's — the schema R — of which one of the axes is constituted — to abridge it — by the relation between the mother and the child, and we know that, if this relation is concretized, it necessarily evokes the phallic third, and it is there that the subject in question must find his or her reference point.


It is precisely because the therapy is well engaged and because he accepts that at the beginning of the third session, after the call he made into the void — and because Rosine proposed herself to sustain him in his maternal call, proposed herself to occupy this empty place and because he consented to it by holding his arms towards her, by caressing her gently — that the immediate sanction of the position of the therapist in M evokes the phallic signifier he cannot sustain, except by an act which we will leave undecided as to whether it is a question of a passage to the act or an acting out. Acting out would imply, for example, the presence of a public, especially a public of little girls.

For him, it is clearly a matter of creating a lack-in-being while paying with his own person. This absence of the mother is yet something else, yet another thing, and which must refer itself to it on the subject of the lack-in-being. This little child is not mistaken about that from this point of view, insufficiently this little mentally handicapped child. Whatever may be the qualification that one will find in comparing him to a supposedly normal child, he knows very well what organ is destined for that. He knows perfectly that, in order to construct himself as a subject, he has to create a point of lack which is strictly identical to the phallus, and of which the organic support is the penis.

Thus, I consider this sequence as particularly demonstrative. Of what? Demonstrative of what one can call the efforts to produce the subject in psychosis. These are efforts of production which concern, essentially, the phallic function.

It is not anything other than what the fantasy demonstrates to us. The normal fantasy, the non-psychotic fantasy is supported, as well, by the Name-of-the-father and symbolic castration. It is because there are not these two supports, for the psychotic subject, that the fantasy finds itself realized, in place of being marginalized. There is the root of the push towards-the-Woman, this version of pushing towards the Woman in psychosis, that one finds either in the developed and florique forms of Schreber's delirium, or in a reduction in the behavior of Rosine Lefort's Little Robert. Each time, it is a realization of castration which is, for the subject, the only way of his subjective completion.

There we have what one must call a structure in the psychoses. The question of the subject vacillates, insofar as we must, simultaneously, put its production into question and at the same time, without the support of the production, one cannot give an organization to the sequence. One is, indeed, obliged to set out that this subject, even if mentally retarded, knows very well, somewhere, that it is there that its operation must be carried out. In the same way, we imply for Schreber, when he has the fantasy, How beautiful it would be to be a woman in the act of undergoing intercourse, that the premonition is put into function, that is to say, the knowledge to which he will only accede, in fact, in the stabilized form of his delirium.

Something is evoked there which obliges us to reconsider what castration is, in the fantasy, as well as in the symptom — let us say, outside the imagery. It is one and the same question as reconsidering what we call the subject. It is a question of this equivalence. In a certain way, the subject is equivalent to the point of lack that constitutes the phallus. This is what is in question in regarding to the psychoses.

- φ

There, what hampers us, is out structuralist position, which means that, in the signifying order, everything is already there at the beginning. It is especially what prohibits us from talking about the birth of the Other — and it is not the expression of the Leforts themselves that has been put on the book.


The Other — we start from there — is already there and, in what concern’s the subject, we depart from that. What is before the signifier is absolutely nothing. It is Lacan's term for qualifying the signifying engendering of the subject in what he writes about alienation. Thus, one is pushed to conclude — [besides, one is always right in ones own conclusions] — that the subject is born from nothing. He or she is only born from the call of the signifier. It is a point of view which is exact, but which does not remain any the less limited for being exact.

There is, in effect, a being of the subject from before his signifying production. Evidently, we have a hard time calling him or her a subject. That does not prevent the call of the signifier from bearing on something that we can reduce to only making a living being out of it, but precisely because it puts into question the existence of this living being. There is a being which arises from this unthinkable thing, and which has always fascinated and occupied Doctor Lacan; the reproduction of life. How is it that that reproduces itself? How does reproduction produce living beings which the signifier addresses, for sure, at the point where it is a question of making a subject emerge, in being born. There, there is a dimension of the real, from which place it is a question of making the subject emerge.

It is something which is completely present in the first mode of Lacan's teaching, as the first mode, the first status of the subject in the world. It is his status as the object a of the constellation which put him in the world. The subject begins by being that, and it is even what is most decisive for him. It is not the object a that he would have. It is not the object insofar as it will be there later to cause his desire — inasmuch as one can say his or her desire, since it is never anything except that of the Other. It is a question of the object a that he has been, him or herself, in the Other's desire.

The question that we call, here, this scene of castration, is the question of the production of the subject as subjective effect, on the basis which is his being as object a is constituted. It is a question which, as such, is completely limited for psychoanalysis because — I have stressed it repeatedly — the analytic experience operates with a subject that it puts to work, but a subject already there. But the question of the production of a subject starting with the object a is only posed in the university discourse, as Lacan baptized it.


How does one obtain, based on this first material, and "material" is, indeed, the appropriate word — that is the object a — the emergence of a subject? The university way — it is the psychiatric, clinical way as well — is to make itself do it from a knowledge (savoir).

One has tried to do this, for example, with hysterics — to educate them. One has stupidly tried by affronting them with the manifestation of knowledge — it is the way, for example, of Charcot. This is an error, because, in any case, the subject is already there in the discourse, and all one can obtain in trying to treat hysteria by — what came to me at Montpellier to call epistemophanie, the apparition of knowledge — is that the hysterical subject flushes it out very well. Behind this phanie is the master signifier which is its truth, that is, the truth of the signifier. And the hysteric immediately devotes him or herself to turning this mechanism upside down. We have tried as well on the subjects of other structures. We have made ourselves indoctrinate them because we take them as a concentrated jouissance, and it is possible — in any case, it's what the schema promises — to obtain a subjective effect. But, in any case, that will not make the signifying identification any more convenient for them.

The psychoanalysis of children — it is the case of Little Robert — is limited, since it is a question, based on the analytic position, not so much of putting the subject to work as of, first, obtaining the manifestation of this subjective effect. Why is it that a subject, who has installed him or herself in his position of object a, would consent to the lack-in-being which is constitutive of the subjective function? It is why, even if it is unthinkable, I went so far as to evoke the choice of psychosis.

The choice of psychosis — which is, for us, unthinkable — is the choice of a subject who objects to the lack-in-being which constitutes him in language. It is unthinkable — you have the means of grasping it — since that would include, in some way, the fact that separation anticipates alienation.

It is only approached as a formula, but it does not remain any the less so that it is, it seems, the question with which one is confronted in a case like the one of Little Robert. Our problematic — and it seems to me that, even if this step is not explicit, it is the one to which Lacan has brought us — is to reason on this part of the schema. How, starting with the status of the object a, does one produce the subjective effect, and what are the phenomena which accompany it? It is also the vector which goes from jouissance to castration. And, to say it summarily, it is also what can, on occasion, give merit to family therapy, at least what it signals to us, for it is the decisive function, for a subject, of what he or she has been for the Other, that one recognizes more or less in the family.


1. Gnomon: Geom. The figure that remains after a parallelogram has been removed from the corner of a similar but larger parallelogram [<at. gnomon indicator <gno — stem of gignoskein — to know]. A positer or similar device used to indicate time by the shadow it casts, as on a sundial.