Some writings from J.Lacan

« Some reflections on the ego » was read by Lacan at British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1951, published by International Journal of psychoanalysis, 1953, volume 34, pp. 11-17.


(11)The development of Freud’s views on the ego led him to two apparently contradictory formulations.
The ego takes sides against the object in the theory of narcissism : the concept of libidinal economy. The bestowal of the libidinal cathexis on one’s own body leads to the pain of hypochondriasis, while the loss of the object leads to a depressive tension which may even culminate in suicide.
On the other hand, the ego takes sides with the object in the topographic theory of the functioning of the perception-consciousness system and resists the id, i.e. the combination of drives governed solely by the pleasure-principle.
If there be a contradiction here, it disappears when we free ourselves from a naive conception of the reality-principle and take note of the fact – though Freud may have been clear on this point, his statements sometimes were not – that while reality precedes thought, it takes different forms according to the way the subject deals with it.
Analytic experience gives this truth a special force for us and shows it as being free from all trace of idealism, for we can specify concretely the oral, anal, and genital relationships which the subject establishes with the outer world at the libidinal level.
I refer here to a formulation in language by the subject, which has nothing to do with romantically intuitive or vitalistic moods of contact with reality, of his interactions with his environment as they are determined by each of the orifices of his body. The whole psycho-analytic theory of instinctual drives stands or falls by this.
What relation does the « libidinal subject » whose relationships to reality are in the form of an opposition between an Innenwelt and an Umwelt have to the ego ? To discover this, we must start from the fact – all too neglected – that verbal communication is the instrument of psycho-analysis. Freud did not forget this when he insisted that repressed material such as memories and ideas which, by definition, can return from repression, must, at the time when the events in question took place, have existed in a form in which there was at least the possibility of its being verbalized. By dint of recognizing a little more clearly the supra-individual function of language, we can distinguish in reality the new developments which are actualized by language. Language has, if you care to put it like that, a sort of retrospective effect in determining what is ultimately decided to be real. Once this is understood, some of the criticisms which have been brought against the legitimacy of Melanie Klein’s encroachments into the pre-verbal areas of the unconscious will be seen to fall to the ground.
Now the structure of language gives us a clue to the function of the ego. The ego can either be the subject of the verb or qualify it. There are two kinds of language : in one of them one says « I am beating the dog » and in another « There is a beating of the dog by me ». But, be it noted, the person who speaks, whether he appears in the sentence as the subject of the verb or as qualifying it, in either case asserts himself as an object involved in a relationship of some sort, whether one of feeling or of doing.
Does what is expressed in such statements of the ego give us a picture of the relationship of the subject to reality ?
Here, as in other examples, psycho-analytical experience substantiates in the most striking way the speculations of philosophers, in so far as they have defined the existential relationship expressed in language as being one of negation.
What we have been able to observe is the privileged way in which a person expresses himself as the ego ; it is precisely this – Verneinung, or denial.
We have learned to be quite sure that when someone says « It is not so » it is because it is so ; that when he says « I do not mean » he does (12)mean ; we know how to recognize the underlying hostility in most « altruistic » statements, the undercurrent of homosexual feeling in jealousy, the tension of desire hidden in the professed horror of incest ; we have noted that manifest indifference may mask intense latent interest. Although in treatment we do not meet head-on the furious hostility which such interpretations provoke, we are nevertheless convinced that our researches justify the epigram of the philosopher who said that speech was given to man to hide his thoughts ; our view is that the essential function of the ego is very nearly that systematic refusal to acknowledge reality (méconnaissance systématique de la réalité) which French analysts refer to in talking about the psychoses.
Undoubtedly every manifestation of the ego is compounded equally of good intentions and bad faith and the usual idealistic protest against the chaos of the world only betrays, inversely, the very way in which he who has a part to play in it manages to survive. This is just the illusion which Hegel denounced as the Law of the Heart, the truth of which no doubt clarifies the problem of the revolutionary of to-day who does not recognize his ideals in the results of his acts. This truth is also obvious to the man who, having reached his prime and seen so many professions of faith belied, begins to think that he has been present at a general rehearsal for the Last Judgement.
I have shown in my earlier works that paranoia can only be understood in some such terms ; I have demonstrated in a monograph that the persecutors were identical with the images of the ego-ideal in the case studied.
But, conversely, in studying « paranoiac knowledge », I was led to consider the mechanism of paranoiac alienation of the ego as one of the preconditions of human knowledge.
It is, in fact, the earliest jealousy that sets the stage on which the triangular relationship between the ego, the object and « someone else » comes into being. There is a contrast here between the object of the animal’s needs which is imprisoned in the field of force of its desire, and the object of man’s knowledge.
The object of man’s desire, and we are not the first to say this, is essentially an object desired by someone else. One object can become equivalent to another, owing to the effect produced by this intermediary, in making it possible for objects to be exchanged and compared. This process tends to diminish the special significance of any one particular object, but at the same time it brings into view the existence of objects without number.
It is by this process that we are led to see our objects as identifiable egos, having unity, permanence, and substantiality ; this implies an element of inertia, so that the recognition of objects and of the ego itself must be subjected to constant revision in an endless dialectical process.
Just such a process was involved in the Socratic Dialogue : whether it dealt with science, politics, or love, Socrates taught the masters of Athens to become what they must by developing their awareness of the world and themselves through « forms » which were constantly redefined. The only obstacle he encountered was the attraction of pleasure.
For us, whose concern is with present-day man, that is, man with a troubled conscience, it is in the ego that we meet this inertia : we know it as the resistance to the dialectic process of analysis. The patient is held spellbound by his ego, to the exact degree that it causes his distress, and reveals its nonsensical function. It is this very fact that has led us to evolve a technique which substitutes the strange detours of free association for the sequence of the Dialogue.
But what, then, is the function of this resistance which compels us to adopt so many technical precautions ?
What is the meaning of the aggressiveness which is always ready to be discharged the moment the stability of the paranoiac delusional system is threatened ?
Are we not really dealing here with one and the same question ?
In trying to reply by going into the theory a little more deeply, we were guided by the consideration that if we were to gain a clearer understanding of our therapeutic activity, we might also be able to carry it out more effectively – just as in placing our rôle as analyst in a definite context in the history of mankind, we might be able to delimit more precisely the scope of the laws we might discover.
The theory we have in mind is a genetic theory of the ego. Such a theory can be considered psycho-analytic in so far as it treats the relation of the subject to his own body in terms of his identification with an imago, which is the psychic relationship par excellence ; in fact, the concept we have formed of this relationship from our analytic work is the starting point for all genuine and scientific psychology.
(13)It is with the body-image that we propose to deal now. If the hysterical symptom is a symbolic way of expressing a conflict between different forces, what strikes us is the extraordinary effect that this « symbolic expression » has when it produces segmental anaesthesia or muscular paralysis unaccountable for by any known grouping of sensory nerves or muscles. To call these symptoms functional is but to confess our ignorance, for they follow the pattern of a certain imaginary Anatomy which has typical forms of its own. In other words, the astonishing somatic compliance which is the outward sign of this imaginary anatomy is only shown within certain definite limits. I would emphasize that the imaginary anatomy referred to here varies with the ideas (clear or confused) about bodily functions which are prevalent to a given culture. It all happens
as if the body-image had an autonomous existence of its own, and by autonomous I mean here independent of objective structure. All the phenomena we are discussing seem to exhibit the laws of gestalt ; the fact that the penis is dominant in the shaping of the body-image is evidence of this. Though this may shock the sworn champions of the autonomy of female sexuality, such dominance is a fact and one moreover which cannot be put down to cultural influences alone.
Furthermore, this image is selectively vulnerable along its lines of cleavage. The fantasies which reveal this cleavage to us seem to deserve to be grouped together under some such term as the « image of the body in bits and pieces » (imago du corps morcelé) which is in current use among French analysts. Such typical images appear in dreams, as well as in fantasies. They may show, for example, the body of the mother as having a mosaic structure like that of a stained-glass window. More often, the resemblance is to a jig-saw puzzle, with the separate parts of the body of a man or an animal in disorderly array. Even more significant for our purpose are the incongruous images in which disjointed limbs are rearranged as strange trophies ; trunks cut up in slices and stuffed with the most unlikely fillings, strange appendages in eccentric positions, reduplications of the penis, images of the cloaca represented as a surgical excision, often accompanied in male patients by fantasies of pregnancy. This kind of image seems to have a special affinity with congenital abnormalities of all sorts. An illustration of this was provided by the dream of one of my patients, whose ego development had been impaired by an obstetrical brachial plexus palsy of the left arm, in which the rectum appeared in the thorax, taking the place of the left sub-clavicular vessels. (His analysis had decided him to undertake the study of medicine).
What struck me in the first place was the phase of the analysis in which these images came to light : they were always bound up with the elucidation of the earliest problems of the patient’s ego and with the revelation of latent hypochondriacal preoccupations. These are often completely covered over by the neurotic formations which have compensated for them in the course of development. Their appearance heralds a particular and very archaic phase of the transference, and the value we attributed to them in identifying this phase has always been confirmed by the accompanying marked decrease in the patient’s deepest resistances.
We have laid some stress on this phenomenological detail, but we are not unaware of the importance of Schilder’s work on the function of the body-image, and the remarkable accounts he gives of the extent to which it determines the perception of space.
The meaning of the phenomenon called « phantom limb » is still far from being exhausted. The aspect which seems to me especially worthy of notice is that such experiences are essentially related to the continuation of a pain which can no longer be explained by local irritation ; it is as if one caught a glimpse here of the existential relation of a man with his body-image in this relationship with such a narcissistic object as the lack of a limb.
The effects of frontal leucotomy on the hitherto intractable pain of some forms of cancer, the strange fact of the persistence of the pain with the removal of the subjective element of distress in such conditions, leads us to suspect that the cerebral cortex functions like a mirror, and that it is the site where the images are integrated in the libidinal relationship which is hinted at in the theory of narcissism.
So far so good. We have, however, left untouched the question of the nature of the imago itself. The facts do, however, involve the positing of a certain formative power in the organism. We psycho-analysts are here reintroducing an idea discarded by experimental science, i.e. Aristotle’s idea of Morphe. In the sphere of relationships in so far as it concerns (14)the history of the individual we only apprehend the exteriorized images, and now it is the Platonic problem of recognizing their meaning that demands a solution.
In due course, biologists will have to follow us into this domain, and the concept of identification which we have worked out empirically is the only key to the meaning of the facts they have so far encountered.
It is amusing, in this connexion, to note their difficulty when asked to explain such data as those collected by Harrison in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1939. These data showed that the sexual maturation of the female pigeon depends entirely on its seeing a member of its own species, male or female, to such an extent that while the maturation of the bird can be indefinitely postponed by the lack of such perception, conversely the mere sight of its own reflection in a mirror is enough to cause it to mature almost as quickly as if it had seen a real pigeon.
We have likewise emphasized the significance of the facts described in 1941 by Chauvin in the Bulletin de la Société entomologique de France about the migratory locust, Schistocerca, commonly known as a grasshopper. Two types of development are open to the grasshopper, whose behaviour and subsequent history are entirely different. There are solitary and gregarious types, the latter tending to congregate in what is called the « cloud ». The question as to whether it will develop into one of these types or the other is left open until the second or third so-called larval periods (the intervals between sloughs). The one necessary and sufficient condition is that it perceives something whose shape and movements are sufficiently like one of its own species, since the mere sight of a member of the closely similar Locusta species (itself non-gregarious) is sufficient, whereas even association with a Gryllus (cricket) is of no avail. (This, of course, could not be established without a series of control experiments, both positive and negative, to exclude the influence of the insect’s auditory and olfactory apparatus, etc., including, of course, the mysterious organ discovered in the hind legs by Brunner von Wattenwyll).
The development of two types utterly different as regards size, colour and shape, in phenotype, that is to say, and differing even in such instinctual characteristics as voraciousness is thus completely determined by this phenomenon of Recognition. M. Chauvin, who is obliged to admit its authenticity, nevertheless does so with great reluctance and shows the sort of intellectual timidity which among experimentalists is regarded as a guarantee of objectivity.
This timidity is exemplified in medicine by the prevalence of the belief that a fact, a bare fact, is worth more than any theory, and is strengthened by the inferiority feelings doctors have when they compare their own methods with those of the more exact sciences.
In our view, however, it is novel theories which prepare the ground for new discoveries in science, since such theories not only enable one to understand the facts better, but even make it possible for them to be observed in the first place. The facts are then less likely to be made to fit, in a more or less arbitrary way, into accepted doctrine and there pigeon-holed.
Numerous facts of this kind have now come to the attention of biologists, but the intellectual revolution necessary for their full understanding is still to come. These biological data were still unknown when in 1936 at the Marienbad Congress I introduced the concept of the « Mirror Stage » as one of the stages in the development of the child.
I returned to the subject two years ago at the Zurich Congress. Only an abstract (in English translation) of my paper was published in the Proceedings of the Congress. The complete text appeared in the Revue française de Psychanalyse.
The theory I there advanced, which I submitted long ago to French psychologists for discussion, deals with a phenomenon to which I assign a twofold value. In the first place, it has historical value as it marks a decisive turning-point in the mental development of the child. In the second place, it typifies an essential libidinal relationship with the body-image. For these two reasons the phenomenon demonstrates clearly the passing of the individual to a stage where the earliest formation of the ego can be observed.
The observation consists simply in the jubilant interest shown by the infant over eight months at the sight of his own image in a mirror. This interest is shown in games in which the child seems to be in endless ecstasy when it sees that movements in the mirror correspond to its own movements. The game is rounded off by attempts to explore the things seen in the mirror and the nearby objects they reflect.
The purely imaginal play evidenced in such deliberate play with an illusion is fraught with significance for the philosopher, and all the (15)more so because the child’s attitude is just the reverse of that of animals. The chimpanzee, in particular, is certainly quite capable at the same age of detecting the illusion, for one finds him testing its reality by devious methods which shows an intelligence on the performance level at least equal to, if not better than, that of the child at the same age. But when he has been disappointed several times in trying to get hold of something that is not there, the animal loses all interest in it. It would, of course, be paradoxical to draw the conclusion that the animal is the better adjusted to reality of the two !
We note that the image in the mirror is reversed, and we may see in this at least a metaphorical representation of the structural reversal we have demonstrated in the ego as the individual’s psychical reality. But, metaphor apart, actual mirror reversals have often been pointed out in Phantom Doubles. (The importance of this phenomenon in suicide was shown by Otto Rank). Furthermore, we always find the same sort of reversal, if we are on the look-out for it, in those dream images which represent the patient’s ego in its characteristic rôle ; that is, as dominated by the narcissistic conflict. So much is this so that we may regard this mirror-reversal as a prerequisite for such an interpretation.
But other characteristics will give us a deeper understanding of the connexion between this image and the formation of the ego. To grasp them we must place the reversed image in the context of the evolution of the successive forms of the body image itself on the one hand, and on the other we must try to correlate with the development of the organism and the establishment of its relations with the Socius those images whose dialectical connexions are brought home to us in our experience in treatment.
The heart of the matter is this. The behaviour of the child before the mirror seems to us to be more immediately comprehensible than are his reactions in games in which he seems to wean himself from the object, whose meaning Freud, in a flash of intuitive genius, described for us in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Now the child’s behaviour before the mirror is so striking that it is quite unforgettable, even by the least enlightened observer, and one is all the more impressed when one realizes that this behaviour occurs either in a babe in arms or in a child who is holding himself upright by one of those contrivances to help one to learn to walk without serious falls. His joy is due to his imaginary triumph in anticipating a degree of muscular co-ordination which he has not yet actually achieved.
We cannot fail to appreciate the affective value which the gestalt of the vision of the whole body-image may assume when we consider the fact that it appears against a background of organic disturbance and discord, in which all the indications are that we should seek the origins of the image of the « body in bits and pieces » (corps morcelé).
Here physiology gives us a clue. The human animal can be regarded as one which is prematurely born. The fact that the pyramidal tracts are not myelinated at birth is proof enough of this for the histologist, while a number of postural reactions and reflexes satisfy the neurologist. The embryologist too sees in the « foetalization », to use Bolk’s term, of the human nervous system, the mechanism responsible for Man’s superiority to other animals – viz. the cephalic flexures and the expansion of the fore-brain.
His lack of sensory and motor co-ordination does not prevent the new-born baby from being fascinated by the human face, almost as soon as he opens his eyes to the light of day, nor from showing in the clearest possible way that from all the people around him he singles out his mother.
It is the stability of the standing posture, the prestige of stature, the impressiveness of statues, which set the style for the identification in which the ego finds its starting-point and leave their imprint in it for ever.
Miss Anna Freud has enumerated, analysed and defined once and for all the mechanisms in which the functions of the ego take form in the psyche. It is noteworthy that it is these same mechanisms which determine the economy of obsessional symptoms. They have in common an element of isolation and an emphasis on achievement ; in consequence of this one often comes across dreams in which the dreamer’s ego is represented as a stadium or other enclosed space given over to competition for prestige.
Here we see the ego, in its essential resistance to the elusive process of Becoming, to the variations of Desire. This illusion of unity, in which a human being is always looking forward to self-mastery, entails a constant danger of sliding back again into the chaos from which he started ; it hangs over the abyss of a dizzy Assent in which one can perhaps see the very essence of Anxiety.
(16)Nor is this all. It is the gap separating man from nature that determines his lack of relationship to nature, and begets his narcissistic shield, with its nacreous covering on which is painted the world from which he is for ever cut off, but this same structure is also the sight where his own milieu is grafted on to him, i.e. the society of his fellow men.
In the excellent accounts of children provided by the Chicago observers we can assess the rôle of the body-image in the various ways children identify with the Socius. We find them assuming attitudes, such as that of master and slave, or actor and audience. A development of this normal phenomenon merits being described by some such term as that used by French psychiatrists in the discussion of paranoia, viz. « transivitism ». This transivitism binds together in an absolute equivalent attack and counter-attack ; the subject here is in that state of ambiguity which precedes truth, in so far as his ego is actually alienated from itself in the other person.
It should be added that for such formative games to have their full effect, the interval between the ages of the children concerned should be below a certain threshold, and psychoanalysis alone can determine the optimum such age interval. The interval which seems to make identification easiest may, of course, in critical phases of instinctual integration, produce the worst possible results.
It has perhaps not been sufficiently emphasized that the genesis of homosexuality in a body can sometimes be referred to the imago of an older sister ; it is as if the boy were drawn into the wake of his sister’s superior development ; the effect will be proportionate to the length of time during which this interval strikes just the right balance.
Normally, these situations are resolved through a sort of paranoiac conflict, in the course of which, as I have already shown, the ego is built up by opposition.
The libido, however, entering into narcissistic identification, here reveals its meaning. Its characteristic dimension is aggressiveness.
We must certainly not allow ourselves to be misled by verbal similarities into thinking, as so often happens, that the word « aggressiveness » conveys no more than capacity for aggression.
When we go back to the concrete functions denoted by these words, we see that « aggressiveness » and « aggression » are much more complementary than mutually inclusive terms, and, like « adaptability » and « adaptation », they may represent two contraries.
The aggressiveness involved in the ego’s fundamental relationship to other people is certainly not based on the simple relationship implied to the formula « big fish eat little fish », but upon the intra-psychic tension we sense in the warning of the ascetic that « a blow at your enemy is a blow at yourself ».
This is true in all the forms of that process of negation whose hidden mechanism Freud analysed with such brilliance. In « he loves me. I hate him. He is not the one I love », the homosexual nature of the underlying « I love him » is revealed. The libidinal tension that shackles the subject to the constant pursuit of an illusory unity which is always luring him away from himself, is surely related to that agony of dereliction which is Man’s particular and tragic destiny. Here we see how Freud was led to his deviant concept of a death instinct.
The signs of the lasting damage this negative libido causes can be read in the face of a small child torn by the pangs of jealousy, where St. Augustine recognized original evil. « Myself have seen and known even a baby envious ; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother » (… nondum loquebatur, et intuebatur pallidus amaro aspectu conlactaneum suum).
Moreover, the whole development of consciousness leads only to the rediscovery of the antinomy by Hegel as the starting-point of the ego. As Hegel’s well-known doctrine puts it, the conflict arising from the co-existence of two consciousnesses can only be resolved by the destruction of one of them.
But, after all, it is by our experience of the suffering we relieve in analysis that we are led into the domain of metaphysics.
These reflections on the functions of the ego ought, above all else, to encourage us to reexamine certain notions that are sometimes accepted uncritically, such as the notion that it is psychologically advantageous to have a strong ego.
lit actual fact, the classical neuroses always seem to be by-products of a strong ego, and the great ordeals of the war showed us that, of all men, the real neurotics have the best defences. Neuroses involving failure, character difficulties, and self-punishment are obviously increasing in extent, and they take their place among the tremendous inroads the ego makes on the personality as a whole.
(17)Indeed, a natural process of self-adjustment will not alone decide the eventual outcome of this drama. The concept of self-sacrifice, which the French school has described as oblativité, as the normal outlet for the psyche liberated by analysis seems to us to be a childish oversimplification.
For every day in our practice we are confronted with the disastrous results of marriages based on such a self-sacrifice, of commitments undertaken in the spirit of narcissistic illusion which corrupts every attempt to assume responsibility for other people.
Here we must touch on the problem of our own historical evolution, which may be responsible both for the psychological impasse of the ego of contemporary man, and for the progressive deterioration in the relationships between men and women in our society.
We do not want to complicate the issues by straying too far from our main topic, and so shall confine ourselves to mentioning what comparative anthropology has taught us about the functions in other cultures of the so-called « bodily techniques » of which the sociologist Mauss has advocated a closer study. These bodily techniques are to be found everywhere ; we can see them maintaining the trance-states of the individual, as well as the ceremonies of the group, they are at work in ritual mummeries and ordeals of initiation. Such rites seem a mystery to us now ; we are astonished that manifestations which among us would be regarded as pathological, should in other cultures, have a social function in the promotion of mental stability. We deduce from this that these techniques help the individual to come through critical phases of development that prove a stumbling-block to our patients.
It may well be that the Oedipus complex, the corner-stone of analysis, which plays so essential a part in normal psycho-sexual development, represents in our culture the vestigial relics of the relationships by means of which earlier communities were able for centuries to ensure the psychological mutual interdependence essential to the happiness of their members.
The formative influence which we have learned to detect in the first attempts to subject the orifices of the body to any form of control allows us to apply this criterion to the study of primitive societies ; but the fact that in these societies we find almost none of the disorders that drew our attention to the importance of early training, should make us chary of accepting without question such concepts as that of the « basic personality structure » of Kardiner.
Both the illnesses we try to relieve and the functions that we are increasingly called upon, as therapists, to assume in society, seem to us to imply the emergence of a new type of man : Homo psychologicus, the product of our industrial age. The relations between this Homo psychologicus and the machines he uses are very striking, and this is especially so in the case of the motor-car. We get the impression that his relationship to this machine is so very intimate that it is almost as if the two were actually conjoined – its mechanical defects and breakdowns often parallel his neurotic symptoms. Its emotional significance for him comes from the fact that it exteriorizes the protective shell of his ego, as well as the failure of his virility.
This relationship between man and machine will come to he regulated by both psychological and psychotechnical means ; the necessity for this will become increasingly urgent in the organization of society.
If, in contrast to these psychotechnical procedures, the psycho-analytical dialogue enables us to re-establish a more human relationship, is not the form of this dialogue determined by an impasse, that is to say by the resistance of the ego ?
Indeed, is not this dialogue one in which the one who knows admits by his technique that he can free his patient from the shackles of his ignorance only by leaving all the talking to him ?
(Received 2 May, 1951)

Lacan’s lecture at International Symposium of the John Hopkins Humanities Centre(1970)

Following lecture held by Lacan in 1970 at International Symposium of the John Hopkins Humanities Centre (USA) and published in The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man : The structuralist Controversy, edited by R. Macksey et E. Donato, Baltimore et Londres, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1970, pp. 186-195).The french translation which follows the lecture is to avoid any misunderstanding of Lacan’s thought due to its transposion into English.


Somebody spent some time this afternoon trying to convince me that it would surely not be a pleasure for an English-speaking audience to listen to my bad accent and that for me to speak in English would constitute a risk for what one might call the transmission of my message. Truly, for me it is a great case of conscience, because to do otherwise would be absolutely contrary to my own conception of the message : of the message as I will explain it to you, of the linguistic message. Many people talk nowadays about messages everywhere, inside the organism a hormone is a message, a beam of light to obtain teleguidance to a plane or from a satellite is a message, and so on ; but the message in language is absolutely different. The message, our message, in all cases comes from the Other by which I understand « from the place of the Other. » It certainly is not the common other, the other with a lower-case o, and this is why I have given a capital O as the initial letter to the Other of whom I am now speaking. Since in this case, here in Baltimore, it would seem that the Other is naturally English-speaking, it would really be doing myself violence to speak French. But the question that this person raised, that it would perhaps be difficult and even a little ridiculous for me to speak English, is an important argument and I also know that there are many French speaking people present who do not understand English at all ; for these my choice (187)of English would be a security, but perhaps I would not wish them to be so secure and in this case I shall speak a little French as well.

First, let me put forth some advice about structure, which is the subject matter of our meeting. It may happen that there will be mistakes, confusion, more and more approximative uses of this notion, and I think that soon there will be some sort of fad about this word. For me it is different because I have used this term for a very long time – since the beginning of my teaching. The reason why something about my position is not better known is that I addressed myself only to a very special audience, namely one of psychoanalysts. Here there are some very peculiar difficulties, because psychoanalysts really know something of what I was talking to them about and that this thing is a particularly difficult thing to cope with for anybody who practises psychoanalysis. The subject is not a simple thing for the psychoanalysts who have something to do with the subject proper. In this case I wish to avoid misunderstandings, méconnaissances, of my position. Méconnaissances is a French word which I am obliged to use because there is no equivalent in English. Méconnaissances precisely implies the subject in its meaning – and I was also advised that it is not so easy to talk about the « subject » before an English speaking audience. Méconnaissances is not to méconnaître my subjectivity. What exactly is in question is the status of the problem of the structure.
When I began to teach something about psychoanalysis I lost some of my audience, because I had perceived long before then the simple fact that if you open a book of Freud, and particularly those books which are properly about the unconscious, you can be absolutely sure – it is not a probability but a certitude – to fall on a page where it is not only a question of words – naturally in a book there are always words, many printed words – but words which are the object through which one seeks for a way to handle the unconscious. Not even the meaning of the words, but words in their flesh, in their material aspect. A great part of the speculations of Freud is about punning in a dream, or lapsus, or what in French we call calembour, homonymie, or still the division of a word into many parts with each part taking on a new meaning after it is broken down. It is curious to note, even if in this case it is not absolutely proven, that words are the only material of the unconscious. It is not proven but it is probable (and in any case I have never said that the unconscious was an assemblage of words, but that the unconscious is precisely structured). I don’t think there is such an English word but it is necessary to have this(188) term, as, we are talking about structure and the unconscious is structured as a language. what does that mean ?
Properly speaking this is a redundancy because « structured » and « as a language » for me mean exactly the same thing. Structured means my speech, my lexicon, etc., which is exactly the same as a language. And that is not all. Which language ? Rather than myself it was my pupils that took a great deal of trouble to give that question a different meaning, and to search for the formula of a reduced language. What are the minimum conditions, they ask themselves, necessary to constitute a language ? Perhaps only four signantes, four signifying elements are enough. It is a curious exercise which is based on a complete error, as I hope to show you on the board in a moment. There were also some philosophers, not many really but some, of those present at my seminar in Paris who have found since then that it was not a question of an « under » language or of « another » language, not myth for instance or phonemes, but language. It is extraordinary the pains that all took to change the place of the question. Myths, for instance, do not take place in our consideration precisely because they are also structured as a language, and when I say « as a language » it is not as some special sort of language, for example, mathematical language, semiotical language, or cinematographical language. Language is language and there is only one sort of language : concrete language English or French for instance – that people talk. The first thing to state in this context is that there is no meta-language. For it is necessary that all so called meta-languages be presented to you with language. You cannot teach a course in mathematics using only letters on the board. It is always necessary to speak an ordinary language that is understood.
It is not only because the material of the unconscious is a linguistic material, or as we say in French langagier, that the unconscious is structured as a language. The question that the unconscious raises for you is a problem that touches the most sensitive point of the nature of language, that is the question of the subject. The subject cannot simply be identified with the speaker or the personal pronoun in a sentence. In French the enoncé is exactly the sentence, but there are many enoncés, where there is no index of him who utters the enoncé. When I say « it rains, » the subject of the enunciation is not part of the sentence. In any case here there is some sort of difficulty. The subject cannot always be identified with what the linguists call « the shifter ».
The question that the nature of the unconscious puts before us is,(189) in a few words, that something always thinks. Freud told us that the unconscious is above all thoughts, and that which thinks is barred from consciousness. This bar has many applications, many possibilities, with regard to meaning. The main one is that it is really a barrier, a barrier which it is necessary to jump over or to pass through. This is important because if I don’t emphasize this barrier all is well for you. As we say in French, ça vous arrange, because if something thinks in the floor below or underground things are simple ; thought is always there and all one needs is a little consciousness on the thought that the living being is naturally thinking and all is well. If such, were the case, thought would be prepared by life, naturally, such as instinct for instance. If thought is a natural process, then the unconscious is without difficulty. But the unconscious has nothing to do with instinct or primitive knowledge or preparation of thought in some underground. It is a thinking with words, with thoughts that escape your vigilance, your state of watchfulness. The question of vigilance is important. It is as if a demon plays a game with your watchfulness. The question is to find a precise status for this other subject which is exactly the sort of subject that we can determine taking our point of departure in language.
When I prepared this little talk for you, it was early in the morning. I could see Baltimore through the window and it was a very interesting moment because it was not quite daylight and a neon sign indicated to me every minute the change of time, and naturally there was heavy traffic, and I remarked to myself that exactly all that I could see, except for some trees in the distance, was the result of thought, actively thinking thoughts, where the function played by the subjects was not completely obvious. In any case the so-called Dasein, as a definition of the subject, was there in this rather intermittent or fading spectator. The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.
Where is the subject ? It is necessary to find the subject as a lost object. More precisely this lost object is the support of the subject and in many cases is a more abject thing than you may care to consider – in some cases it is something done, as all psychoanalysts and many people who have been psychoanalyzed know perfectly well. That is why many psychoanalysts prefer to return to a general psychology as the President of the New York Psychoanalytical Society tells us we ought to do. But I cannot change things, I am a psychoanalyst and if someone prefers to address himself to a professor of psychology that is his affair. The question of the structure, since we (190)are talking of psychology, is not a term that only I use. For a long time thinkers, searchers, and even inventors who were concerned with the question of the mind, have over the years put forward the idea of unity as the most important and characteristic trait of structure. Conceived as something which is already in the reality of the organism it is obvious. The organism when it is mature is a unit and functions as a unit. The question becomes more difficult when this idea of unity is applied to the function of the mind, because the mind is not a totality in itself, but these ideas in the form of the intentional unity were the basis, as you know, of all of the so-called phenomenological movement.
The same was also true in physics and psychology with the so-called Gestalt school and the notion of bonne forme whose function was to join, for instance, a drop of water and more complicated ideas, and great psychologists, and even the psychoanalysts, are full of the idea of « total personality. » At any rate, it is always the unifying unity which is in the foreground. I have never understood this, for if I am a psychoanalyst I am also a man, and as a man my experience has shown me that the principal characteristic of my own human life and, I am sure, that of the people who are here – and if anybody is not of this opinion I hope that he will raise his hand – is that life is something which goes, as we say in French, à la dérive. Life goes down the river, from time to time touching a bank, staying for a while here and there, without understanding anything – and it is the principle of analysis that nobody understands anything of what happens. The idea of the unifying unity of the human condition has always had on me the effect of a scandalous lie.
We may try to introduce another principle to understand these things. If we rarely try to understand things from the point of view of the unconscious, it is because the unconscious tells us something articulated in words and perhaps we could try to search for their principle.
I suggest you consider the unity in another light. Not a unifying unity but the countable unity one, two, three. After fifteen years I have taught my pupils to count at most up to five which is difficult (four is easier) and they have understood that much. But for tonight permit me to stay at two. Of course, what we are dealing with here is the question of the integer, and the question of integers is not a simple one as I think many people here know. To count, of course, is not difficult. It is only necessary to have, for instance, a certain number of sets and a one-to-one correspondence. It is true for example (191)that there are exactly as many people sitting in this room as there are seats. But it is necessary to have a collection composed of integers to constitute an integer, or what is called a natural number. It is, of course, in part natural but only in the sense that we do not understand why it exists. Counting is not an empirical fact and it is impossible to deduce the act of counting from empirical data alone. Hume tried but Frege demonstrated perfectly the ineptitude of the attempt. The real difficulty lies in the fact that every integer is in itself a unit. If I take two as a unit, things are very enjoyable, men and women for instance – love plus unity ! But after a while it is finished, after these two there is nobody, perhaps a child, but that is another level and to generate three is another affair. When you try to read the theories of mathematicians regarding numbers you find the formula « n plus 1 » (n + 1) as the basis of all the theories. It is this question of the « one more » that is the key to the genesis of numbers and instead of this unifying unity that constitutes two in the first case I propose that you consider the real numerical genesis of two.
It is necessary that this two constitute the first integer which is not yet born as a number before the two appears. You have made this possible because the two is here to grant existence to the first one : put two in the place of one and consequently in the place of the two you see three appear. What we have here is something which I can call the mark. You already have something which is marked or something which is not marked. It is with the first mark that we have the status of the thing. It is exactly in this fashion that Frege explains the genesis of the number ; the class which is characterized by no elements is the first class ; you have one at the place of zero and afterward it is easy to understand how the place of one becomes the second place which makes place for two, three, and so on. The question of the two is for us the question of the subject, and here we reach a fact of psychoanalytical experience in as much as the two does not complete the one to make two, but must repeat the one to permit the one to exist. This first repetition is the only one necessary to explain the genesis of the number, and only one repetition is necessary to constitute the status of the subject. The unconscious subject is something that tends to repeat itself, but only one such repetition is necessary to constitute it. However, let us look more precisely at what is necessary for the second to repeat the first in order that we may have a repetition. This question cannot be answered too quickly. If you answer too quickly, you will answer that it is necessary that they are the same. In this case the principle of the two would be that of twins – and why not triplets (192)or quintuplets ? In my day we used to teach children that they must not add, for instance, microphones with dictionaries ; but this is absolutely absurd, because we would not have addition if we were not able to add microphones with dictionaries or as Lewis Carroll says, cabbages with kings. The sameness is not in things but in the mark which makes it possible to add things with no consideration as to their differences. The mark has the effect of rubbing out the difference, and this is the key to what happens to the subject, the unconscious subject in the repetition ; because you know that this subject repeats something peculiarly significant, the subject is here, for instance, in this obscure thing that we call in some cases trauma, or exquisite pleasure. What happens ? If the « thing » exists in this symbolic structure, if this unitary trait is decisive, the trait of the sameness is here. In order that the « thing » which is sought be here in you, it is necessary that the first trait be rubbed out because the trait itself is a modification. It is the taking away of all difference, and in this case, without the trait, the first « thing » is simply lost. The key to this insistence in repetition is that in its essence repetition as repetition of the symbolical sameness is impossible. In any case, the subject is the effect of this repetition in as much as it necessitates the « fading », the obliteration, of the first foundation on the subject, which is why the subject, by status, is always presented as a divided essence. The trait, I insist, is identical, but it assures the difference only of identity – not by effect of sameness or difference but by the difference of identity. This is easy to understand : as, we say in French, je vous numérote, I give you each a number ; and this assures the fact that you are numerically different but nothing more than that.
What can we propose to intuition in order to show that the trait be found in something which is at the same time one or two ? Consider the following diagram which I call an inverted eight, after a well known figure :

You can see that the line in this instance may be considered either as one or as two lines. This diagram can be considered the basis of a sort of essential inscription at the origin, in the knot which constitutes the subject. This goes much further than you may think at first, because (193) you can search for the sort of the surface able to receive such inscriptions. You can perhaps see that the sphere, that old symbol for totality, is unsuitable. A torus, a Klein bottle, a cross-cut surface, are able to receive such a cut. And this diversity is very important as it explains many things about the structure of mental disease. If one can symbolize the subject by this fundamental cut, in the same way one can show that a cut on a torus corresponds to the neurotic subject, and on a crosscut surface to another sort of mental disease. I will not explain this to you tonight, but to end this difficult talk I must make the following precision.
I have only considered the beginning of the series of the integers, because it is an intermediary point between language and reality, language is constituted by the same sort of unitary traits that I have used to explain the one and the one more. But this trait in language is not identical with the unitory trait, since in language we have a collection of differential traits. In other words, we can say that language is constituted by a set of signifiers – for example, ba, ta, pa, etc, etc. – a set which is finite. Each signifier is able to support the same process with regard to the subject, and it is very probable that the process of the integers is only a special case of this relation between signifiers. The definition of this collection of signifiers is that they constitute what I call the Other. The difference afforded by the existence of language is that each signifier (contrary to the unitary trait of the integer number) is, in most cases, not identical with itself – precisely because, we have a collection of signifiers, and in this collection one signifier may or may not designate itself. This is well known and is the principle of Russell’s paradox. If you take the set of all elements which are not members of themselves,


the set that you constitute, with such elements leads you to a paradox which, as you know, leads to a contradiction, In simple terms, this only means that in a universe of discourse nothing contains everything, and here you find again the gap that constitutes the subject. The subject is the introduction of a loss in reality, yet nothing can introduce that, since by status reality is as full as possible. The notion of a loss is the effect afforded by the instance of the trait which is what, with the intervention of the letter you determine, places – say a1 a2 a3 – the places are spaces, for a lack. When the subject takes the place of the lack, a loss is introduced in the word, and this is the definition of the subject. But to inscribe it, it is necessary to define it in a circle,(194)what I call the otherness, of the sphere of language. All that is language is lent from this otherness and this is why the subject is always a fading thing that runs under the chain of signifiers. For the definition of a signifier is that it represents a subject not for another subject but for another signifier. This is the only definition possible of the signifier as different from the sign. The sign is something that represents something for somebody, but the signifier is something that represents a subject for another signifier. The consequence is that the subject disappears exactly as in the case of the two unitary traits, while under the second signifier appears what is called meaning or signification ; and then in sequence the other signifiers appear and other significations.
The question of desire is that the fading subject yearns to find itself again by means of some sort of encounter with this miraculous thing defined by the phantasm. In its endeavor it is sustained by that which I call the lost object that I evoked in the beginning – which is such a terrible thing for the imagination. That which is produced and maintained here, and which in my vocabulary I call the object, lower-case, a, is well known by all psychoanalysts as all psychoanalysis is founded on the existence of this peculiar object. But the relation between this barred subject with this object (a) is the structure which is always found in the phantasm which supports desire, in as much as desire is only that which I have called the metonymy of all signification.
In this brief presentation I have tried to show you what the question of the structure is inside the psychoanalytical reality. I have not, however, said anything about such dimensions as the imaginary and the symbolical. It is, of course, absolutely essential to understand how the symbolic order can enter inside the vécu, lived experienced, of mental life, but I cannot tonight put forth such an explanation. Consider, however, that which is at the same time the least known and the most certain fact about this mythical subject which is the sensible phase of the living being : this fathomless thing capable of experiencing something between birth and death, capable of covering the whole spectrum of pain and pleasure in a word, what in French we call the sujet de la jouissance. When I came here this evening I saw on the little neon sign the motto « Enjoy Coca-Cola. » It reminded me that in English, I think, there is no term to designate precisely this enormous weight of meaning which is in the French word jouissance – or in the Latin fruor. In the dictionary I looked up jouir and found « to possess, to use », but it is not that at all. If the living being is something at all thinkable, it will be above all as subject of the jouissance ; but this psychological law that we call the pleasure principle (and (195)which is only the principle of displeasure) is very soon to create a barrier to all jouissance. If I am enjoying myself a little too much, I begin to feel pain and I moderate my pleasures. The organism seems made to avoid too much jouissance. Probably we would all be as quiet as oysters if it were not for this curious organization which forces us to disrupt the barrier of pleasure or perhaps only makes us dream of forcing and disrupting this barrier. All that is elaborated by the subjective construction on the scale of the signifier in its relation to the Other and which has its root in language is only there to permit the full spectrum of desire to allow us to approach, to test, this sort of forbidden jouissance which is the only valuable meaning that is offered to our life.
ANGUS FLETCHER. – Freud was really a very simple man. But he found very diverse solutions to human problems. He sometimes used myths to explain human difficulties and problems ; for example, the myth of Narcissus : he saw that there are men who look in the mirror and love themselves. It was as simple as that. He didn’t try to float on the surface of words. What you’re doing is like a spider : you’re making a very delicate web without any human reality in it. For example, you were speaking of joy [joie, jouissance]. In French one of the meanings of jouir is the orgasm – I think that is most important here – why not say so ? All the talk I have heard here has been so abstract !… It’s not a question of psychoanalysis. The value of psychoanalysis is that it is a theory of psychological dynamism. The most important is what has come after Freud, with Wilhelm Reich especially, All this metaphysics is not necessary, The diagram was very interesting, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection with the reality of our actions, with eating, sexual intercourse, and so on.

HARRY WOOLF. – May I ask if this fundamental arithmetic and this topology are not in themselves a myth or merely at best an analogy for an explanation of the life of the mind ?

JACQUES LACAN.– Analogy to what ? « S » designates something which can be written exactly as this S. And I have said that the « S » which designates the subject is instrument, matter, to symbolize a loss. A loss that you experience as a subject (and myself also). In other words, this gap between one thing which has marked meanings and this other thing which is my actual discourse that I try to put in the place where (196)you are, you as not another subject but as people that are able to understand me. Where is the analogon ? Either this loss exists or it doesn’t exist. If it exists it is only possible to designate the loss by a system of symbols. In any case, the loss does not exist before this symbolization indicates its place. It is not an analogy. It is really in some part of the realities, this sort of torus. This torus really exists and it is exactly the structure of the neurotic. It is not an analogon ; it is not even an abstraction, because an abstraction is some sort of diminution of reality, and I think it is reality itself.

NORMAN HOLLAND – I would like to come to Mr. Lacan’s defense ; it seems to me that he is doing something very interesting. Reading his paper before the colloquium was the first time I had encountered his work and it seems to me that he has returned to the Project for a Scientific Psychology, which was the earliest of Freud’s psychological writings. It was very abstract and very like what you have written here, although you are doing it with algebra and he is doing it with neurons. The influence of this document is all through The Interpretation of Dreams, his letters to Fliess, and all the early writings, although often merely implicit.

ANTHONY WILDEN.– If I may add something, you spoke at the beginning of your talk of repudiation or nonrecognition [méconnaissance], and we have begun with such an extreme case of this that I don’t know how we’re going to work our way out of it. But you have started at the top (at the most difficult point of your work), and it is very difficult for us to recognize the beginnings of this thought, which is very rich and very deep. In my opinion, as your unhappy translator, you are absolutely faithful to Freud and it is absolutely necessary for us to read your works before talking a lot of nonsense – which we may very well do here tonight. And after they have read your work, I would urge these gentlemen to read Freud.

RICHARD SCHECHNER – What is the relationship between your thought about nothingness and the work that Husserl and Sartre have done ?

LACAN – « Nothingness, » the word that you have used, I think that I can say almost nothing about it, nor about Husserl, nor about Sartre. Really, I don’t believe that I have talked about nothingness. The sliding and the difficulty of seizing, the never-here (it is here when I search there ; it is there when I am here) is not nothing. This year I shall announce as a program of my seminar, this thing that I have entitled La Logique du phantasme. Most of my effort, I believe, will be to define the different sorts of lack, of loss, of void which are of (197)absolutely different natures. An absence, for instance. The absence of the queen, it is necessary to make an addition with this sort of element, but to find the absence of the queen… I think that the vagueness of the mere term nothing is not manageable in this context. I am late in everything I must develop, before I myself disappear. But it is also difficult enough to make the thing practicable to advance. It is necessary to proceed stage by stage. Now I will try this different sort of lack.
[M. Kott and Dr. Lacan discuss the properties of Möbius strips at the blackboard].

JAN KOTT.– There is a curious thing which is probably accidental. We find all these motifs in Surrealist painting. Is there any relationship here ?

LACAN.– At least I feel a great personal connection with Surrealist painting.

POULET.– This loss of object which introduces the subject, would you say that it has any connection with the void [Le néant] in Sartre’s thinking ? Would there be an analogy with the situation of the sleeper awakened that we find at the beginning of Proust’s work ? You remember, the dreamer awakens and discovers a feeling of loss, of an absence, which is moreover, an absence of himself. Is there any analogy ?

LACAN.– I think that Proust many times approached certain experiences of the unconscious. One often finds such a passage of a page or so in Proust which one can découper very clearly. I think you are right ; Proust pushes it very close, but instead of developing theories he always comes back to his business, which is literature. To take the example of Mlle Vinteuil, as seen by the narrator with her friend and her father’s picture, I don’t think that any other literary artist has ever brought out a thing like this. It may be because of the very project of his work, this fabulous enterprise of « time recovered » – this is what guided him, even beyond the limits of what is accessible to consciousness.

SIGMUND KOCH.– I find a pattern constantly eluding me in your presentation, which I can only attribute to the fact that you spoke in English. You placed a great deal of emphasis on the integer 2 and on the generation of the integer 2. Your analysis is, as I recall, that if one starts with a unitary mark, then there is the universe of the nonmarked, which brings you, PRESUMABLY, to the integer 2. What is the analogical correspondence between the marked and the unmarked ? Is the marked the system of consciousness and the nonmarked the unconscious (198)system ? Is the marked the conscious subject and the nonmarked the unconscious subject ?

LACAN.– From Frege I only recalled that it is the class with characteristic numbers 0, which is the foundation of the 1. If I have chosen 2 for psychoanalytical reference, it is because the 2 is an important scheme of the Eros in Freud. The Eros is that power which in life is unifying, and it is the basis on which too many psychoanalysts found the conception of the genital maturity as a possibility of the so-called perfect marriage, for instance, which is a sort of mystical ideal end, which is promoted so imprudently. This 2 that I have chosen is only for an audience which is, at first, not initiated to this question of Frege. The 1 in relation with the 2 can, in this first approach, play the same role as the 0 in relation to the 1.
For your second question, naturally, I was obliged to omit many technical things known by those who possess Freud perfectly. In the question of repression it is absolutely necessary to know that Freud put as the foundation of the possibility of repression something that in German is called the Urverdrängung. Naturally, I could not afford here the whole set of my formalization, but it is essential to know that a formalism of the metaphor is primary for me, to make understood what is, in Freudian terms, condensation.
[Dr. Lacan concluded his comment with a reprise of L’instance de la lettre at the blackboard.]
GOLDMANN.– Working in my method on literature and culture, what strikes me is that in dealing with important, historical, collective phenomena and with important works, I never need the unconscious for my analysis. I do need the nonconscious ; I made the distinction yesterday. Of course there are unconscious elements ; of course I can’t understand the means by which the individual is explaining himself and that, I have said, is the domain of psychoanalysis, in which I don’t want to mix. But there are two kinds of phenomena which, according to all the evidence, seem to be social and in which I must intervene with the nonconscious, but not the unconscious. I think you said that the unconscious is the ordinary language, English, French, that we all speak.

LACAN.– I said like language, French or English, etc.

GOLDMANN – But it’s independent from this language ? Then I’ll stop ; I no longer have a question. It’s linked to the language that one speaks in conscious life ?(199)

LACAN.– Yes.

GOLDMANN.– All right. The second thing that struck me, if I understood you. There were a certain number of analogies with processes that I find in consciousness, on the level where I get along without the unconscious. There is something that since Pascal, Hegel, Marx, and Sartre we know without recourse to the unconscious : man is defined by linking these invariants to difference. One doesn’t act immediately dépasse l’homme Pascal said. History and dynamism, even without reference to the unconscious, cannot be defined except by this lack. The second phenomenon I find on the level of consciousness ; it seems obvious that consciousness, inasmuch as it is linked to action, cannot be formulated except by constituting invariants, that is objects, and by linking these invariants to difference. One doesn’t act immediately on a multiplicity of givens. Action is closely linked to the constitution of invariants, which permit a certain order to be established in the difference. Language exists before this particular man exists is this language (French, English, etc.) linked simply to the problem of the phantasm ? There is no subject without symbol, language, and an object. My question is this : Is the formation of this symbolism and its modifications linked solely to the domain of the phantasm, the unconscious, and desire, or is it also linked to something called work, the transformation of the outside world, and social life ? And if you admit that it is linked to these also the problem comes up : Where is the logic, where is the comprehensibility ? I don’t think that man is simply aspiration to totality. We are still facing a mixture, as I said the other day, but it is very important to separate the mixture in order to understand it.

LACAN.– And do you think that work is one of the « mooring-points » that we can fasten to in this drift ?

GOLDMANN.– I think that, after all, mankind has done some very positive things.

LACAN.– I don’t have the impression that a history book is a very structured thing. This famous history, in which one sees things so well when they are past, doesn’t seem to be a muse in which I can put all my trust. There was a time when Clio was very important – when Bossuet was writing. Perhaps again with Marx. But what I always expect from history is surprises, and surprises which I still haven’t succeeded in explaining, although I have made great efforts to understand. I explain myself by different coordinates from yours. In particular, I wouldn’t put the question of work in the front rank here.(200)

CHARLES MORAZÉ.– I am happy to see in this discussion the use of the genesis of numbers. To reply to Mr. Goldmann, when I study history, I depend on this same genesis of numbers as the most solid reality. Apropos of this, I would like to ask this question to see if our postulates are really the same or different. It seems to me that you said at the beginning of your talk that for you the structure of consciousness is language, and then at the end you said the unconscious is structured like language. If your second formulation is the correct one, that is also mine.

LACAN.– It is the unconscious that is structured like language – I never varied from that.

RICHARD MACKSEY.– We have perhaps exhausted our quota of méconnaissances for this session, but I’m still a bit confused about the consequences which your invocation of Frege and Russell imply for your ontology (or at least your ontics). Thus, I’m concerned about the extreme realist position which your mathematical example would seem to imply. I’m not troubled by the argument that the incompletability theorem undermines realism, since Gödel himself has maintained his realist position, simply seeing the theorem as a basic limitation on the expressive power of symbolism. Rather, I think that the logistic thesis itself has been subjected to serious criticism. If the authors of the Principia attempt to define the natural numbers as certain particular sets of sets, apart from other metalinguistic difficulties in the theory of types one could counter that their derivation is arbitrary, since in a set theory, not based on a theory of types, « one » could be defined as, say, the set whose sole number is the empty set, and so on, so that the natural numbers could retain their conventional properties. Ergo, one might ask which set is the number one ? A few months ago Paul Benacerraf carried this line of argument further, asserting that the irreducible characteristic of the natural numbers is simply that they form a recursive progression. Thus, any system that forms such a progression will do as well as the next ; it’s not the mark which particular numbers possess, but the interrelated, abstract Structure (rather than the constituent objects) which gives the properties of the system. This attacks any realist position that equates numbers with entities or objects (and proposes a kind of conceptualist or nominalist structuralism).

LACAN.– Without enlarging on this comment, I should say that concepts and even sets are not objects. I have never denied the structural aspect of the number system.


(186)Quelqu’un consacra un peu de temps cette après-midi en essayant de me convaincre qu’il ne serait sûrement pas agréable à un public anglophone d’écouter mon mauvais accent et que, pour moi, parler en anglais constituerait un risque pour ce qu’on pourrait appeler la transmission de mon message. En vérité c’est pour moi un cas de conscience car faire autrement serait absolument contraire à ma conception du message : du message tel que je vais vous l’expliquer, du message linguistique. De nos jours nombreux sont ceux qui parlent de message à propos de tout, dans l’organisme une hormone est un message, un faisceau lumineux guidant un avion ou venant d’un satellite est un message et ainsi de suite ; mais le message dans le langage est absolument différent. Le message, notre message dans tous les cas vient de l’Autre par quoi j’entends « du lieu de l’Autre ». Assurément ce n’est pas l’autre ordinaire, l’autre avec un petit a, et c’est pour cela que j’ai mis un A majuscule comme initiale de cet Autre dont je parle maintenant. Puisque en l’occurrence, ici à Baltimore, il semble que l’Autre est naturellement anglophone, ce serait me faire violence que de parler français. Cependant la question que soulevait cette personne, à savoir qu’il serait peut-être difficile voire même un peu ridicule pour moi de parler anglais, est un argument important, et je sais aussi qu’il y a de nombreux francophones ici présents qui ne comprennent pas du tout l’anglais ; pour eux mon choix de l’anglais (187)les sécurisera mais peut-être ne désirais-je pas qu’ils se sentent trop en sécurité – c’est pourquoi je parlerais un petit peu en français aussi.
D’abord laissez-moi proposer quelques conseils à propos de la structure, sujet de notre rencontre. Il se pourrait qu’aient lieu des fautes, des confusions, des usages de plus en plus approximatifs de cette notion, et je pense que bientôt il y aura une sorte de snobisme pour ce mot. Pour moi c’est différent car cela fait longtemps que je me sers de ce terme – depuis le début de mon enseignement. La raison pour laquelle quelque chose de ma position n’est pas mieux connue est que je m’adressais seulement à un petit auditoire particulier, nommément des psychanalystes. Là se trouvent quelques difficultés particulières, parce que les psychanalystes savent réellement quelque chose de ce dont je leur parlais et que de cette chose il est particulièrement difficile de venir à bout pour quiconque pratique la psychanalyse. Le sujet n’est pas chose simple pour les psychanalystes qui ont quelque chose à faire avec le sujet proprement dit. Dans ce cas j’aimerais éviter les méprises, méconnaissances concernant ma position. Méconnaissance est un mot français dont je serais obligé de me servir car il n’a pas d’équivalent anglais. Méconnaissance justement implique le sujet dans sa signification – et j’étais aussi averti qu’il n’est pas facile de parler du « sujet » devant un public anglophone. Méconnaissance ce n’est pas méconnaître ma subjectivité. Ce qui est exactement en question c’est la position du problème de la structure.
Quand j’ai commencé à enseigner quelque chose de la psychanalyse j’ai perdu une partie de mon auditoire pour avoir compris depuis longtemps le fait simple qu’à ouvrir un livre de Freud, et particulièrement ces livres qui traitent de l’inconscient proprement dit, vous pouvez être absolument sûrs – ce n’est pas une probabilité mais une certitude – de tomber sur une page où ce n’est pas seulement une question de mots – bien sûr il y a toujours beaucoup de mots qui sont l’objet à travers lesquels on cherche une piste pour manier l’inconscient. Pas seulement le sens des mots, mais les mots dans leur chair, dans leur matérialité. Une grande part des spéculations de Freud concerne les jeux de mots dans le rêve, les lapsus, ou ce qu’on appelle en français calembour, homonymie ou encore la division d’un mot en parties dont chacune prend un sens nouveau après le découpage. Il est intéressant de noter, même si dans ce cas ce n’est pas absolument prouvé, que les mots sont le seul matériel de l’inconscient. Ce n’est pas prouvé mais c’est probable (et de toute façon je n’ai jamais dit que l’inconscient était un assemblage de mots, mais qu’il était structuré de façon précise). Je ne pense pas qu’il existe un tel mot en anglais mais il est nécessaire d’avoir ce (188)terme parce que nous parlons de structure et que l’inconscient est structuré comme un langage. Qu’est ce que cela veut dire ?
À proprement parler, c’est une redondance parce que « structuré » et « comme un langage » pour moi cela dit exactement la même chose. Structuré c’est mon discours, mon lexique etc. ce qui est tout à fait pareil qu’un langage. Et ce n’est pas tout. Quel langage ? Ce sont plutôt mes élèves que moi-même qui se sont donnés grand mal pour trouver à cette question une signification différente et pour chercher la formule d’un langage réduit. Ils se demandaient quelles étaient les conditions minimum nécessaires pour constituer un langage. Peut-être quatre signifiants, quatre éléments signifiants seulement sont suffisants. C’est un exercice singulier basé sur une erreur totale, comme j’espère pouvoir vous le montrer tout à l’heure au tableau. Il y avait aussi quelques philosophes, pas beaucoup en vérité, parmi ceux présents à mon séminaire à Paris qui ont trouvé depuis lors qu’il n’était pas question d’un « sous » langage ou d’un « autre » langage, ni mythe ni phonèmes par exemple, mais du langage. C’est extraordinaire la peine qu’ils ont prise pour déplacer la question. Les mythes par exemple n’entrent pas en considération pour nous, justement parce qu’ils sont aussi structurés comme un langage et quand je dis « comme un langage » il ne s’agit pas d’un langage particulier tel que le langage mathématique, sémiotique ou cinématographique. Le langage c’est le langage ; il n’y en a qu’une seule variété – c’est le langage concret. L’anglais ou le français par exemple – celui que parlent les gens. La première chose à établir dans ce contexte est qu’il n’y a pas de méta-langage. Car il est nécessaire que tous les soi-disant méta-langages soient présentés par un langage. Vous ne pouvez pas donner un cours de mathématiques en utilisant seulement des lettres au tableau. Il est toujours nécessaire de parler un langage ordinaire qui est compris.
Ce n’est pas seulement parce que le matériel de l’inconscient est d’ordre linguistique, langagier dit-on en français, que l’inconscient est structuré comme un langage. La question que pose l’inconscient touche au point le plus sensible de la nature du langage à savoir la question du sujet. Le sujet ne peut être simplement identifié avec celui qui parle ou avec le pronom personnel d’une phrase. En français l’énoncé c’est exactement la phrase mais il existe beaucoup d’énoncés sans aucun indice de qui tient l’énoncé. Quand je dis « il pleut », le sujet de l’énonciation ne fait plus partie de la phrase. Il y a là en tout cas quelques difficultés. Le sujet, ne peut pas toujours être identifié à ce que les linguistes nomment le « shifter ».
La question que nous pose la nature de l’inconscient c’est en peu de mots, (189) que quelque chose tout le temps pense. Freud nous dit que l’inconscient est au dessus de toute pensée et que ce qui pense est barré de la conscience. Cette barre a plusieurs applications, plusieurs possibilités quant au sens. La principale est qu’il s’agit réellement d’une barrière ; barrière qu’il est nécessaire de sauter ou de traverser. C’est important parce que si je n’insiste pas sur cette barrière tout va bien pour vous. Comme on dit en français : ça vous arrange, car si quelque chose pense à l’étage au dessous ou dans les sous-sol les choses sont simples ; la pensée est toujours là, et tout ce dont on a besoin c’est un peu de conscience de la pensée que tout être vivant pense naturelle, et tout va bien. Si c’était le cas, la pensée serait préparée par la vie, naturellement, comme l’instinct par exemple. Si la pensée est un processus naturel alors l’inconscient est sans difficulté. Mais l’inconscient n’a rien à faire avec l’instinct, un savoir primitif ou avec la préparation des pensées dans quelque souterrain. C’est le fait de penser avec des mots, avec des pensées qui échappent à votre vigilance, à votre état d’attention. La question de la vigilance est importante. C’est comme si un démon jouait avec votre attention. La question est de trouver un statut précis à cet autre sujet qui est exactement cette sorte de sujet que nous pouvons déterminer en prenant notre point de départ dans le langage.
Il était tôt ce matin quand je préparais ce petit discours pour vous. Je pouvais, par la fenêtre, voir Baltimore et c’était un instant très intéressant, pas encore le lever du jour. Une enseigne au néon m’indiquait à chaque minute le changement de l’heure ; il y avait naturellement une forte circulation et je me faisais la remarque que tout ce que je pouvais voir, hormis quelques arbres lointains, était le résultat de pensées, de pensées activement pensantes, d’où le rôle joué par les sujets n’était pas tout à fait clair. En tout cas, le dit Dasein comme définition du sujet, était là dans ce spectateur plutôt intermittent ou évanescent. La meilleure image pour résumer l’inconscient c’est Baltimore au petit matin.
Où est le sujet ? Il est nécessaire de poser le sujet comme objet perdu. Plus exactement cet objet perdu est le support du sujet et la plupart du temps c’est une chose plus abjecte que vous ne vous souciez de l’envisager – dans quelque cas c’est une chose faite comme le savent parfaitement bien tous les psychanalystes et beaucoup de ceux qui ont été analysés. C’est pourquoi nombreux sont les psychanalystes qui préfèrent en revenir à une psychologie générale comme le président de la Société Psychanalytique de New York nous enjoint de le faire. Mais je ne peux pas changer les choses, je suis un psychanalyste et si quelqu’un préfère s’adresser à un professeur de psychologie c’est son affaire. La question de la structure,(190) vu que nous parlons de psychologie, n’est pas un terme que j’utilise seulement. Pendant longtemps les penseurs, les chercheurs et même les inventeurs concernés par la question de l’esprit ont au fil des ans mis en avant l’idée d’unité comme le trait le plus important et caractéristique de la structure. Conçue comme une chose déjà là dans la réalité de l’organisme c’est évident. L’organisme quand il est mature est une unité et fonctionne comme une unité. La question devient plus difficile quand cette idée d’unité est appliquée à la fonction de l’esprit, parce que l’esprit n’est pas une totalité en soi, mais ces idées sous une forme d’unité intentionnelle étaient les bases comme vous le savez de tout le mouvement dit phénoménologique.
De même c’était aussi vrai pour la physique et la psychologie avec l’école dite Gestalt et la notion de bonne forme dont le rôle était de conjoindre, par exemple, une goutte d’eau avec des idées plus compliquées et de grands psychologues, et même des psychanalystes sont pleins de l’idée de « personnalité totale ». En tout cas, c’est toujours l’unité unifiante qui est au premier plan.
Je n’ai jamais compris cela, car si je suis psychanalyste je suis aussi un homme et en tant qu’homme mon expérience m’a montré que la caractéristique principale de ma vie et, j’en suis sûr, de celle des gens ici présents – si quelqu’un n’est pas d’accord j’espère qu’il lèvera la main – est que la vie est quelque chose, comme on dit en français qui va à la dérive. La vie suit le cours du fleuve, touchant de temps en temps la rive, s’arrêtant parfois ici ou là, sans rien comprendre – et c’est le principe de l’analyse que personne ne comprend rien de ce qui arrive. L’idée d’une unité unifiante de la condition humaine a toujours eu pour moi l’aspect d’un scandaleux mensonge.
Nous devons essayer d’introduire un autre principe pour comprendre ces choses. Si nous essayons rarement de comprendre les choses du point de vue de l’inconscient, c’est que l’inconscient nous dit les choses articulées en mots et peut-être pourrions-nous essayer d’en chercher leur principe.
Je vous suggère d’aborder l’unité avec un autre éclairage. Non pas une unité unifiante mais l’unité dénombrable, un, deux, trois. Après quinze ans d’efforts, j’ai appris à mes élèves à compter au plus jusqu’à cinq, ce qui est difficile (quatre est plus facile) et ils ont au moins compris cela. Mais pour ce soir permettez-moi d’en rester à deux. Bien sûr ce à quoi nous avons à faire est la question du nombre entier, et ce n’est pas une question simple comme je suppose que beaucoup ici le savent. Compter, en fait, ce n’est pas difficile. Cela nécessite seulement d’avoir par exemple, un certain nombre de séries et une correspondance terme à terme. Il est vrai par exemple (191)qu’il y a autant de gens assis dans cette salle que de sièges. Mais il est nécessaire d’avoir une collection de nombres entiers pour avoir un nombre entier ou ce que l’on appelle un entier naturel. C’est bien sûr naturel en partie mais seulement au sens où nous ne comprenons pas pourquoi ça existe. Compter ce n’est pas empirique et il est impossible de déduire cet acte de seules données empiriques. Hume a essayé, mais Frege a démontré l’ineptie de la tentative. La difficulté réelle réside dans le fait que chaque entier est en soi une unité. Si je prends 2 comme une unité, les choses sont très drôles, les hommes et les femmes par exemple – l’amour plus l’unité ! Mais ça s’arrête vite, après ces deux il n’y a personne ; un enfant peut-être, mais c’est d’un autre ordre et pour faire 3 c’est une autre affaire. Quand vous essayez de lire les théories mathématiques des nombres, vous trouvez la formule « n plus un » (n+ 1), à la base de toutes les théories. C’est la question du « un de plus » qui est la clé de la genèse des nombres et plutôt que cette unité unifiante que constitue déjà le 2, je propose d’envisager la genèse réelle numérique de 2.
Il est nécessaire que ce 2 constitue le premier entier non encore advenu comme nombre avant que le 2 n’apparaisse. Cela est possible parce que le 2 est là pour accorder existence au premier 1 : mettez 2 à la place de 1 et en conséquence vous verrez le 3 apparaître à la place de 2. Ce que nous avons là est ce que je pourrais appeler la marque. Vous avez donc quelque chose qui est marqué ou quelque chose qui ne l’est pas. C’est avec la première marque que nous avons la position de la chose. C’est exactement de cette façon que Frege explique la genèse du nombre ; la classe caractérisée par 0 élément est la 1ère classe ; vous avez 1 à la place de 0 et ensuite il est facile de comprendre comment la place de 1 devient la seconde place qui fait place pour 2, 3 etc. La question du 2 est pour nous la question du sujet et là nous rejoignons un fait d’expérience psychanalytique pour autant que le 2 ne complète pas le 1 pour faire 2, mais doit répéter le 1 pour permettre au 1 d’exister. Cette première répétition est la seule nécessaire pour expliquer la genèse du nombre et une seule répétition est nécessaire pour constituer la position du sujet. Le sujet inconscient est quelque chose qui tend à se répéter lui-même, mais une seule répétition est nécessaire pour le constituer. Quoiqu’il en soit, regardons plus précisément ce qui est nécessaire au second pour répéter le premier, de façon à avoir une répétition. On ne peut répondre trop vite à la question. Si l’on répond trop vite on dira qu’il est nécessaire qu’ils soient les mêmes. Dans ce cas le principe du 2 serait celui des jumeaux – et pourquoi pas des triplés (192)ou des quintuplés ? De mon temps on apprenait aux élèves qu’il ne fallait pas additionner des microphones et des dictionnaires ; ceci est totalement absurde parce que nous n’avions pas d’addition si nous n’étions pas capables d’ajouter des dictionnaires à des microphones ou, selon Lewis Carrol, des choux avec des rois. La mêmeté n’est pas dans les choses mais dans la marque qui rend possible de les additionner sans considération de leurs différences. La marque a pour effet de gommer la différence et c’est la clef de ce qui arrive au sujet, au sujet inconscient dans la répétition ; parce que vous savez que ce sujet répète quelque chose de particulièrement signifiant, le sujet est là, par exemple, au lieu de cette chose obscure que nous appelons tantôt trauma, tantôt plaisir exquis.
Qu’arrive-t-il ? Si la « chose » existe dans cette structure symbolique, si ce trait unaire est décisif, le trait de mêmeté est là. Afin que la « chose » recherchée soit là en vous, il est nécessaire que le premier trait soit effacé parce que le trait lui-même est une modification. C’est la suppression de toute différence et dans ce cas, sans le trait, la première « chose » est simplement perdue. La clé de cette insistance répétitive est que dans son essence la répétition comme répétition de la mêmeté symbolique est impossible. En tout cas, le sujet est l’effet de cette répétition en tant que cela nécessite le « fading », l’oblitération, de la première fondation du sujet, c’est pourquoi le sujet, statutairement, est toujours présenté comme essence divisée. Le trait, j’insiste, est identique mais il assure la différence seulement de l’identité – non par effet de mêmeté ou de différence mais par la différence d’identité. C’est facile à comprendre : comme l’on dit en français, je vous numérote, je vous donne à chacun un numéro ; et cela assure le fait que vous êtes numériquement différents mais pas plus que ça.
Que proposer à l’intuition dans le but de montrer que le trait peut être trouvé dans quelque chose qui est en même temps 1 ou 2 ? Regardez le dessin suivant que j’appelle un 8 à l’envers d’après un dessin bien connu.

Vous pouvez voir que la ligne dans ce cas peut être considérée comme une ou comme deux lignes. Ce diagramme peut être considéré comme la base d’une sorte d’inscription essentielle à l’origine, au nœud qui constitue le sujet. Cela va plus loin que vous ne pouvez le penser d’emblée, parce que (193)vous pouvez rechercher la surface capable de recevoir de telles inscriptions. Vous voyez peut-être que la sphère, ce vieux symbole de la totalité ne convient pas. Un tore, une bouteille de Klein, une surface en « cross-cut » sont à même de recevoir une telle coupure. Et cette diversité est très importante car elle explique beaucoup de choses concernant la structure des maladies mentales. Si l’on peut symboliser le sujet par cette coupure fondamentale de même on peut démontrer qu’une coupure sur un tore correspond au névrosé, et sur une surface en « cross-cut » un autre désordre mental. Je ne vous expliquerais pas cela ce soir mais pour terminer ce discours difficile je dois apporter la précision suivante.
J’ai seulement considéré le début de la série des entiers parce que c’est un point intermédiaire entre le langage et la réalité : le langage est constitué des mêmes sortes de traits unaires dont je me suis servi pour expliquer le 1 et l’1 en plus. Mais ce trait n’est pas, dans le langage, identique au trait unaire dans la mesure ou avec le langage nous avons une collection de traits différentiels. Autrement dit, le langage est constitué par un ensemble de signifiants – par exemple ba, ta, pa etc. – un ensemble fini. Chaque signifiant est à même de supporter le même processus quant au sujet et il est très probable que le traitement des entiers est seulement un cas particulier de cette relation entre signifiants. La définition de cette collection de signifiants est qu’ils constituent ce que j’appelle l’Autre. La différence fournie par l’existence du langage est que chaque signifiant (contrairement au trait unaire du nombre entier), dans la plupart des cas, n’est pas identique à lui-même – précisément parce qu’il s’agit d’une collection de signifiants et dans cette collection un signifiant peut ou non se désigner lui-même. C’est bien connu : c’est le principe du paradoxe de Russell. Si vous prenez l’ensemble des éléments qui ne s’appartiennent pas,


l’ensemble constitué de tels éléments, vous mène à un paradoxe qui, vous le savez, aboutit à une contradiction. En termes simples cela veut seulement dire que dans l’ordre d’un discours rien ne contient tout, et là vous retrouvez la faille qui constitue le sujet. Le sujet est l’introduction d’une perte dans le réel, bien que rien ne puisse introduire cela, alors que le réel est aussi plein que possible. La notion d’une perte est l’effet fourni par l’insistance du trait qui est que, par l’intervention de la lettre on détermine des places – dites a1 a2 a3 – que ces places sont des espaces pour un manque. Quand le sujet prend la place du manque, une perte est introduite dans le mot et c’est là la définition du sujet. Mais pour l’inscrire il est nécessaire de le définir dans un cercle (194)que j’appelle l’altérité, de l’ordre du langage. Tout ce qui est langage est assuré par cette altérité et c’est pourquoi le sujet est toujours cette chose évanescente qui court sous la chaîne des signifiants. Car la définition d’un signifiant est qu’il représente le sujet non pour un autre sujet mais pour un autre signifiant. C’est la seule définition possible du signifiant en tant qu’il diffère du signe. Le signe est ce qui représente quelque chose pour quelqu’un, alors que le signifiant représente le sujet pour un autre signifiant. La conséquence c’est que le sujet disparaît exactement comme dans le cas des deux traits unaires, tandis que sous le second signifiant apparaît ce que l’on appelle sens ou signification ; puis en série les autres signifiants et significations apparaissent.
La question du désir est que le sujet « évanescent » a bien envie de se retrouver à nouveau par le biais d’une espèce de rencontre avec cette chose miraculeuse que définit le fantasme. Dans ses efforts il est soutenu par ce que j’ai appelé l’objet perdu évoqué au début – qui est une chose si terrible pour l’imagination. Ce qui est produit et maintenu ici, et que dans mon jargon j’appelle l’objet a avec une minuscule, est bien connu de tous les psychanalystes dans la mesure où toute la psychanalyse est fondée sur l’existence de cet objet particulier. Mais la relation entre le sujet barré et cet objet a est la structure que l’on retrouve dans le fantasme qui soutient le désir en tant que le désir est uniquement ce que j’ai appelé métonymie de toute signification.
Par cette brève présentation, j’ai essayé de vous montrer que la question de la structure est interne au réel psychanalytique. Je n’ai pas, cependant, dit quoi que ce soit de ces dimensions que sont l’imaginaire et le symbolique. Il est, bien sûr, essentiel de comprendre comment l’ordre symbolique peut entrer dans le vécu, l’expérience vécue, de la vie mentale mais je ne peux aller plus loin ce soir dans l’explication. Considérez cependant ce qui est à la fois le moins connu et le plus assuré des faits à propos de ce sujet mythique qui est la phase perceptible de l’être humain : cette chose insondable à même d’éprouver quelque chose entre la naissance et la mort, capable de parcourir le spectre de la douleur au plaisir, en un mot ce que nous appelons en français le sujet de la jouissance. En venant ici ce soir j’ai lu le slogan de l’enseigne au néon « Aimez Coca Cola ». Cela m’a rappelé qu’en anglais, je pense, il n’y a pas de terme pour désigner précisément cette masse énorme de sens qu’il y a dans le mot français jouissance – ou en latin fruor. Dans le dictionnaire j’ai cherché jouir et trouvé « posséder, utiliser » mais ce n’est pas cela du tout. Si l’être humain est une chose en quoi que ce soit pensable, c’est par dessus tout comme sujet de la jouissance ; mais cette loi psychologique que l’on appelle principe de plaisir (et (195)qui n’est que le principe de déplaisir) est bien près de créer une barrière à toute jouissance. Si je jouis un peu trop, je commence à sentir la douleur et je modère mes plaisirs. L’organisme semble fait pour empêcher trop de jouissance. Nous serions probablement aussi tranquilles que des huîtres s’il n’y avait cette étrange organisation qui nous force à franchir cette barrière du plaisir, ou peut-être seulement à rêver que nous le faisons. Tout ce qui est élaboré par la construction subjective à l’échelle du signifiant dans sa relation à l’Autre et qui a ses racines dans le langage, est seulement là pour permettre au champ du désir de nous autoriser à approcher, à tester cette sorte de jouissance interdite, seul sens précieux offert à notre vie.

Discussion :

ANGUS FLETCHER – Freud était vraiment un homme très simple. Mais il trouva de très différentes solutions aux problèmes humains. Il se servait parfois des mythes pour expliquer les difficultés et problèmes humains ; par exemple le mythe de Narcisse : il s’aperçut que certains hommes se mirant, s’aimaient eux-mêmes. C’était aussi simple que cela. Il n’a pas essayé de glisser à la surface des mots. Vous agissez comme une araignée ; tissant une toile très délicate vide de toute réalité humaine. Par exemple vous parliez de joie, jouissance. En français un des sens de jouir c’est l’orgasme – je pense cela très important ici – pourquoi ne pas le dire ? Tout le discours que j’ai entendu ici était si abstrait !… cela ne ressort pas de la psychanalyse. La psychanalyse vaut parce qu’elle est une théorie de la dynamique psychologique. Le plus important est ce qui a succédé à Freud avec W. Reich en particulier. Toute cette métaphysique n’est pas nécessaire. Le diagramme était intéressant mais il ne semble avoir aucun lien avec la réalité de nos actions, le fait de manger, les relations sexuelles etc.

HARRY WOOLF – Puis-je demander si cette arithmétique fondamentale et cette topologie ne sont pas elles-mêmes un mythe, ou au mieux une analogie pour expliquer la vie de l’esprit ?

JACQUES LACAN – Analogie de quoi ? « S » désigne quelque chose qui peut s’écrire exactement comme ce S. Et j’ai dit que le « S » qui désigne le sujet est instrument, matière pour symboliser une perte. Une perte que vous éprouvez en tant que sujet (et moi aussi). En d’autres termes, ce vide entre cette chose qui a des significations définies et cette autre chose qui est mon discours actuel que j’essaye d’adresser là où vous êtes vous, non pas comme autre sujet, mais comme individus capables de me comprendre. Où est l’analogon ? Soit cette perte existe soit elle n’existe pas. Si elle existe, il est seulement possible de la désigner par un système de symboles. En tout cas cette perte n’existe pas avant que cette symbolisation n’indique sa place. Ce n’est pas une analogie. C’est réellement dans quelque partie de la réalité, cette sorte de tore. Ce tore existe réellement et c’est exactement la structure du névrosé. Ce n’est pas un analogon ; ce n’est même pas une abstraction parce qu’une abstraction est une espèce de diminution du réel et je pense que c’est le réel lui-même.

NORMAN HOLLAND – Je voudrais venir à la défense de M. Lacan ; il me semble qu’il fait quelque chose de très intéressant. Lisant son texte avant le colloque c’était ma première rencontre avec son œuvre et il me semble qu’il en était revenu au « Projet pour une psychologie scientifique » qui est le plus ancien des écrits psychologiques de Freud. C’était très abstrait et très proche de ce que vous avez écrit ici, bien que vous utilisiez l’algèbre et lui les neurones. L’influence de ce document se ressent dans toute « L’interprétation des rêves », ses lettres à Fliess, et les premiers écrits, bien que souvent de façon purement implicite.

ANTHONY WILDEN – Si je peux ajouter quelque chose, vous avez parlé au début de votre discours de répudiation ou non-reconnaissance « méconnaissance » et nous avons débuté avec un exemple si extrême de ce fait que je ne sais pas comment nous allons faire pour nous en sortir. Donc vous êtes parti de haut (du point le plus ardu de votre travail) et il est très difficile pour nous de reconnaître les prémices de cette pensée qui est très riche et très profonde. À mon avis, en tant que votre malheureux traducteur, vous êtes absolument fidèle à Freud et il est tout à fait nécessaire que nous lisions tous vos travaux avant de dire un tas de non sens – ce que nous pouvons très bien faire ici ce soir. Et après qu’ils auront lu votre travail je presserais ces gentlemen de lire Freud.

RICHARD SCHECHNER – Quelle est la relation entre votre pensée concernant le néant et les travaux de Husserl et Sartre ?

JACQUES LACAN – « Néant », le mot que vous avez utilisé, je pense que je ne peux presque rien en dire, pas plus qu’à propos de Husserl ou Sartre. En réalité, je ne pense pas avoir parlé du néant. Le glissement et la difficulté à saisir le jamais ici – (c’est ici quand je le cherche là ; c’est là quand je suis ici) n’est pas rien. Cette année j’annoncerai, comme programme de mon séminaire, cette chose que j’ai intitulé La logique du fantasme. La plus grande partie de mon effort, je crois, portera sur la définition des diverses sortes de manque, perte, néant qui sont de natures absolument différentes. Une absence par exemple. L’absence de la reine, c’est nécessaire pour faire une addition avec cette sorte d’élément, mais trouver l’absence de la reine… Je pense que le vague de ce simple mot rien n’est pas utilisable dans ce contexte. Je suis en retard pour tout ce que je dois développer avant de disparaître moi-même. Mais aussi c’est assez difficile de rendre les choses satisfaisantes pour pouvoir avancer. Il est nécessaire de procéder étape par étape. Je vais tester cette différente sorte du manque.

Monsieur Kott et le Dr Lacan discutent les propriétés de la bande de Moebius au tableau

JAN KOTT – Il y a une chose curieuse, probablement accidentelle. Nous trouvons tous ces motifs dans la peinture surréaliste. Y a-t-il quelque relation ?

LACAN – Je me sens pour le moins un lien personnel avec la peinture surréaliste.

POULET – Cette perte de l’objet qui introduit le sujet, diriez-vous qu’elle a quelque lien avec le néant dans la pensée de Sartre ? Y aurait-il une analogie avec la situation du dormeur éveillé que l’on trouve au début de l’œuvre de Proust ? Vous vous souvenez, le rêveur se réveille et découvre un sentiment de perte, d’absence, qui est de plus, absence de lui-même. Y a-t-il quelqu’analogie ?

LACAN – Je pense que Proust a approché plusieurs fois certaines expériences de l’inconscient. On trouve souvent un tel passage d’une page ou deux dans Proust, que l’on peut découper très clairement. Je pense que vous avez raison ; Proust en est très proche, mais au lieu de développer des théories il revient toujours à son affaire qui est la littérature. Prenant pour exemple Mlle Vinteuil vue par le narrateur, avec son amie et le portrait de son père. Je pense qu’aucun autre artiste littéraire ait fait ressortir une chose comme celle-là. C’est peut-être à cause du projet lui-même de l’œuvre, cette entreprise fabuleuse du temps retrouvé – c’est ce qui le guide au delà même de ce qui est accessible à la conscience.

SIGMUND KOCH – J’ai trouvé un modèle qui sans cesse m’échappe dans votre présentation, ce que je ne peux attribuer uniquement au fait que vous parliez en Anglais. Vous avez longuement insisté sur l’entier 2 et la production de l’entier 2. Votre analyse, telle que je m’en souviens, est que si l’on débute avec un trait unaire, alors il y a l’univers du non marqué qui mène probablement à l’entier 2. Quelle est la correspondance analogique entre le marqué et le non marqué ? Le marqué est-il le système de conscience et le non marqué celui de l’inconscient ? Le marqué est-il le sujet conscient et le non marqué le sujet inconscient.

LACAN – De Frege je me souviens seulement que c’est la classe au nombre caractéristique 0 qui est la fondation du 1. Si j’ai choisi 2 comme référence psychanalytique c’est parce que 2 est une combinaison essentielle de l’Éros dans Freud. L’Éros est ce pouvoir qui, dans la vie, unifie et c’est la base sur laquelle trop de psychanalystes appuient la conception d’une maturité génitale telle qu’une possibilité d’un soi-disant mariage parfait, par exemple, ce qui est une sorte de fin idéale mystique, promue trop imprudemment. Ce 2 que j’ai choisi c’est seulement pour un auditoire qui est, avant tout, non initié à cette question de Frege. Le un en relation avec 2 peut, au premier abord, jouer le même rôle que le 0 par rapport au 1. En ce qui concerne votre seconde question, j’ai été, naturellement obligé d’omettre beaucoup de choses techniques qui sont connues de ceux qui possèdent Freud parfaitement. Pour la question du refoulement il est absolument nécessaire de savoir que Freud a posé comme fondation d’une possibilité de refoulement cette chose qu’en allemand on appelle Urverdrängung. Je ne peux naturellement pas donner ici l’ensemble de ma formalisation mais il est essentiel de savoir qu’un formalisme de la métaphore est primordial pour moi, afin de faire comprendre ce qu’est en terme freudien, la condensation.

Le Dr Lacan conclut son commentaire au tableau, par une reprise de l’instance de la lettre.

GOLDMANN – Utilisant ma méthode sur la littérature et la culture, ce qui me frappe c’est que, travaillant sur des phénomènes importants, historiques et collectifs je n’ai jamais besoin de l’inconscient pour mes analyses. J’ai besoin du non-conscient ; je faisais hier la distinction. Bien sûr il y a des éléments inconscients ; bien sûr je ne peux comprendre les voies par lesquelles un individu s’explique lui-même – cela, disais-je, est le domaine de la psychanalyse dans lequel je ne veux pas m’ingérer. Mais il y a deux catégories de phénomènes qui de toute évidence, semble être d’ordre social et à propos desquels je dois intervenir avec le non-conscient et non l’inconscient. Vous avez dit, je pense, que l’inconscient est le langage ordinaire, anglais, français que nous parlons tous.

LACAN – J’ai dit comme un langage, français ou anglais.

GOLDMANN – Mais c’est indépendant de ce langage ? Donc je m’arrête ; je n’ai plus de question. C’est lié au langage que chacun parle dans la vie consciente ?

Lacan – Oui.

GOLDMANN – D’accord. La seconde chose qui m’a frappé si je vous ai compris. Il y a un certain nombre d’analogies avec les processus que j’ai trouvé dans la conscience, au niveau où je m’avance sans l’inconscient. Il y a quelque chose que depuis Pascal, Hegel, Marx et Sartre nous savons sans avoir recours à l’inconscient : l’homme est défini […]* « dépasse l’homme » dit Pascal. Histoire et dynamisme, même sans référence à l’inconscient, ne peuvent être définis sinon par ce manque. Le second phénomène que j’ai trouvé au niveau conscient ; il semble évident que la conscience, en tant qu’elle est liée à l’action, ne peut être formulée sauf à constituer des invariants à savoir des objets et en liant ces invariants à la différence. Nul n’agit sur une multiplicité de données. L’action est étroitement liée à la constitution d’invariants, ce qui permet d’établir un certain ordre dans la différence. Le langage existe avant cet homme particulier – est-ce que le langage (français, anglais etc.) est simplement lié au problème du phantasme ? Il n’y a pas de sujet sans symbole, sans langage, et sans objet. Ma question est celle-ci : la formation de ce symbolisme et ses modifications sont-elles uniquement liées au domaine du phantasme, de l’inconscient et du désir ou est-ce également lié à quelque chose appelé travail, transformation du monde extérieur et vie sociale ? Et si vous admettez que c’est aussi lié à cela aussi, le problème se pose : où est la logique, où est la compréhensibilité ? Je ne pense pas que l’homme soit simplement aspiration à la totalité ; nous sommes encore en face d’un mélange, comme je disais l’autre jour, et il est très important de séparer les composants du mélange dans le but de le comprendre.

LACAN – Et pensez-vous que le travail est l’un de ces points d’ancrage où nous amarrer dans cette dérive ?

GOLDMANN – Je pense qu’après tout, l’humanité a fait des choses très positives.

LACAN – Je n’ai pas l’impression qu’un livre d’histoire soit une chose très structurée. Cette fameuse histoire, où nous voyons si bien les choses quand elles sont passées, me paraît être une muse dans laquelle je ne puisse mettre toute ma confiance. À une époque, Clio était très importante – quand Bossuet écrivait. Peut-être de nouveau avec Marx. Mais ce que j’attends toujours de l’histoire ce sont des surprises, et des surprises que je n’ai pas encore réussi à expliquer, bien qu’ayant fait de grands efforts pour comprendre. Je m’explique avec différentes coordonnées que les vôtres. En particulier, je ne mettais pas la question du travail au premier rang ici.

CHARLES MORAZE – Je suis heureux de voir dans cette discussion l’usage de la genèse des nombres. Pour répondre à M. Goldmann, quand j’étudie l’histoire, je compte sur cette même genèse des nombres comme réalité la plus solide. À ce propos, je voulais poser cette question pour voir si nos postulats sont identiques ou différents. Il me semble que vous avez dit au début de votre discours que, pour vous, la structure de la conscience est langage et puis à la fin que l’inconscient est structuré comme un langage. Si votre seconde formulation est la bonne c’est aussi la mienne.

LACAN – C’est l’inconscient qui est structuré comme un langage – je n’ai jamais varié de cela.

RICHARD MACKSEY – Nous avons peut-être épuisé notre quota de méconnaissance pour cette session mais je suis encore un peu confus sur les conséquences que votre évocation de Frege et Russel implique pour votre ontologie (ou au moins votre ontique). Ainsi, je suis intéressé par l’extrême position réaliste que votre exemple mathématique semble impliquer. Je ne m’inquiète pas de l’argument que le théorème d’incomplétude sape le réalisme, dans la mesure ou Gödel lui-même a maintenu sa position réaliste, simplement en prenant le théorème comme limitation de base du pouvoir expressif du symbolisme. Je pense plutôt que la thèse logistique elle-même a été sujette à de sérieuses critiques. Si les auteurs des Principia essaient de définir les nombres naturels comme certains ensembles particuliers d’ensembles, outre d’autres difficultés métalinguistiques dans la théorie des types on peut contrecarrer l’idée que leur dérivation est arbitraire, dans la mesure ou dans une théorie d’ensemble, non basée sur la théorie des types, « un » peut être défini comme, disons, l’ensemble dont le seul nombre est l’ensemble vide, et ainsi de suite, de sorte que les nombres naturels puissent maintenir leur propriétés conventionnelles. Ergo on doit se demander quel ensemble est le premier ? Il y a quelques mois Paul Benacerraf a poussé plus loin cet argument, soutenant que la caractéristique irréductible des nombres naturels est simplement leur forme récursive de progression. Ainsi, n’importe quel système qui forme une telle progression sera aussi valable que les autres ; ce n’est pas la marque que chaque nombre particulier possède, mais la structure abstraite d’interrelation (plutôt que les objets constituants), qui donne ses propriétés au système. Cela détruit toute position réaliste qui assimilerait les nombres à des entités ou des objets (et propose une sorte de structuralisme conceptualiste ou nominaliste).

LACAN – Sans m’étendre sur ce commentaire, je dirais que les concepts et même les ensembles ne sont pas des objets. Je n’ai jamais dénié l’aspect structural du système numérique

Seminar on the Purloined Letter

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