“The Function and the Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis": A commentary on Lacan’s ‘Discours de Rome’
When I was asked to present a commentary on Lacan’s “The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis,” I was not only honored, but also quite happy, because this is one of the most beautifully written of Lacan’s texts. There are quotes that stick in your memory almost from the first time that you have read them – I cannot judge if this goes for the English translation as well, but the original French has a rare poetic and rhetorical quality, and it was a pleasure to reread it.
I have three aims with this talk. First of all, I think it is necessary to introduce you briefly to the historical circumstances of this paper. Secondly, I want to address what is fundamentally new in Lacan’s discourse, compared to the psychoanalytic theory and practice of that time. And thirdly, I want to explain how Lacan himself changed his ideas, some ten years later.
First of all the historical circumstances. These are so important that I assume that most of you will know about them and that I can be brief. At the beginning of 1953, Lacan is the president of the SPP, the Société Psychanalytique de Paris. In June, he is asked to resign, because of the unorthodoxy of his praxis. Basically, this had to do with the fact that he did not follow the standard rules with regard to the fixed duration of a session. In itself, this was not an isolated fact, it was well-known that he challenged the training program in many other respects as well and that he did not agree with the direction in which psychoanalysis was moving. As a reaction to this imposed resignation, Daniel Lagache, the vice-president of the same organization, refused to take the president’s seat and resigned as well. He started a new institute, the SFP, the Société française de psychanalyse and more than twenty members of the previous organization followed – Lacan is one of them. To my surprise, I have found an entry in Louise Bourgeois’ diary, where she noted “Today is the birthday of the French Psychoanalytical society” together with all the names and addresses. She must have had very close connections with the Parisian analytic scene to receive this information that early.
In September of the same year, the congress of psychoanalysts coming from romance speaking countries was already planned in Rome. The official French delegation was still the SPP; as a reaction, the new institute held a kind of shadow conference alongside the official one. It is during that conference that Lacan presented his ‘Discours de Rome.’ That is, he presented an abbreviated version of it, the much larger text itself was distributed in hard copy.
In this discourse, Lacan explains his views on psychoanalysis, at least on three important points: theoretically, clinically and the implications for the formation of analysts. Basically, he criticizes the turn towards ego psychology and object relation theory, and puts forward what will be coined afterwards as his ‘return to Freud.’ Two months later, he will give the opening lesson of his first public seminar at the Saint Anne hospital, where he will explain why and how Freud’s technique is superior compared to the post-freudian one.
Before entering that subject, it is worthwhile to remember that at that time, Lacan did not want to resign from the IPA. He hoped that it would be possible to move the international psychoanalytic movement into another direction compared to the neurobiological-medical one (let alone in the direction of ego psychology). This explains two of his initiatives at the time, both of which seem odd to us today. First of all, he presented the text of his discourse to one of the leaders of the French communist party. And secondly, he asked his brother, who was a catholic bishop, to arrange a meeting with the pope.
Both of these initiatives have to be understood within his intellectual adventure. The French Parisian communists of that time were Marxists, trained by Kojève in Hegelian dialectics. Kojève was one of the leading French intellectuals during the thirties. As a prominent Marxist, he taught Hegel at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes (from 1933 to 1939) to the intellectual elite of Paris. Via Kojève, Lacan understood the link between Hegel and his reading of Freud: the focus is on desire and on the dialectics between the master and the slave in the struggle for recognition. Of course, Lacan had seen more than enough of that in the psychoanalytic institutions. Besides that, it opened the possibility to think the psychoanalytic practice in dialectical terms, instead of focusing on instincts that had to be mastered by the Ego. In the same vein, Lacan considered Roman Catholic theology to be much more interesting than neurobiology, because the church fathers had been studying desire for centuries. With these initiatives, Lacan hoped to move psychoanalysis beyond its medical boundaries and to introduce it in the larger intellectual movement of Europe.
Both of the initiatives failed, and Lacan had to continue his path alone. The SPP and the SFP went their own way, and in 1959 the SFP asked the IPA for affiliation. It took them two years to answer, and in 1961, the SFP was granted the status of Study Group. Basically, this meant that their training procedures would be carefully watched. The next year, it became clear that the IPA would only consider a full affiliation on condition that both Lacan and Françoise Dolto were excluded. This became an official statement in 1963 and was accepted by a majority of the SFP in November. As a result, Lacan was expelled from the IPA and had to start his own school. The rest is history.
In the following year, 1964, Lacan will give his seminar for the first time free from any institutional restraints whatsoever. The program that he will put forward in seminar eleven starts with the question about the status of the unconscious; lesson after lesson, he will inaugurate a truly innovative theory, with many corrections on what he had presented in his Rome Discourse. Two years later, the Ecrits are published, with the famous discourse in it. As you may have noticed from the footnotes, a number or paragraphs have been rewritten, compared to the original version. On top of that, the text is preceded in the Ecrits by a newly written introduction, with the title “Du Sujet Enfin en Question”, “On the Subject Who is Finally in Question.” The ‘finally’ is very telling – it means that Lacan himself was convinced that the notion of the subject was not elaborated enough in his Rome Discourse. I will come back to that in the third part of my talk.
So much for the historical circumstances of the paper. Let us address now what is new in it. I will follow the partition that Lacan made himself, meaning that there is a preface and an introduction, followed by three chapters.
Ironically enough, the preface starts with a quote from Sacha Nacht, a leading French analyst of that time, who puts forward the idea of neurobiology as the pre-eminent discipline.
In particular, it should not be forgotten that the division into embryology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, sociology, and clinical work does not exist in nature and that there is only one discipline: a neurobiology to which observation obliges us to add the epithet human when it concerns us. (237)
(Quotation chosen as an inscription for a psychoanalytic institute in 1952. Sacha Nacht)
Lacan’s paper is one long argument against this kind of reasoning. The irony is that it is not too difficult to find contemporary quotes which express the very same idea – meaning that the main thesis of “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” is still very actual. The central theme in this preface is Lacan’s vigorous attack on the functioning of psychoanalytic institutions in general and the way they organize – or fail to organize – the formation of young analysts. He holds a plea for psychoanalyzing psychoanalysis itself (Ecrits, p.241), instead of turning away from it.
The first sentence of the introduction explains the reason for this turning away: it has to do with anxiety – this is one of those beautiful sentences which stick in the mind of the reader: “Tel est l’effroi qui s’empare de l’homme…. ” “Such is the fright that seizes man when he discovers the true face of his power that he turns away from it in the very act – which is his act – of laying it bare. This is the case of psychoanalysis” (Ecrits, p.242). The message is clear from the start: we should not turn away from psychoanalysis, in spite of our anxieties. And we need to address the function of speech and the field of language, instead of focusing on instinct theories and the like. Both of them have been forgotten, together with Freud’s original theory and original technique. In the following years, Lacan will study Freud’s work, in German, and inaugurate what is known as the lacanian return to Freud.
This brings us to the first section of the paper (247 – 265). The title by itself is already worthwhile to consider: “Empty Speech and Full Speech in the Psychoanalytic Realization of the Subject.” It puts forward an opposition between two forms of speech, empty speech versus full speech, and it situates this opposition in a process that is characterized by an imperative – something has to take place – namely, the psychoanalytic realization of the subject. This is totally new, both the idea of the subject and the idea that this subject has to be realized via the process of analysis. Don’t forget that Lacan started his career with a focus on paranoia and personality, and had moved from there to the theory on the mirror stage and the imaginary, where the I (le je) took the central stage (Vanheule, S., 2011). There was no question of a subject. At the end of this first section, Lacan puts himself in the position of the audience, by asking the obvious thing: “Mais qu-est-ce donc…” “But what, then, is this subject that you keep drumming into our ears?” (Ecrits, p. 264).
Obviously, this realization is the goal of analytic praxis and in Lacan’s later work, this becomes even an ethical imperative for the analyst. Remarkably enough, in his later work, the ideas of full and empty speech will disappear from the lacanian vocabulary. This asks for an explanation.
In his introduction, Lacan had already stressed the fact that psychoanalysis operates through speech. The subject is realized via the process of free association, with the analyst in the position of the listener. At first sight, you would expect a progressive and continuous realization of this subject, a kind of discovery journey in the “Who am I?” realm, with lots of memory lanes, etc. Apparently, this is not Lacan’s idea, quite the contrary. The more this realization takes place, the more certainties disappear. “Doesn’t the subject become involved here in an ever greater dispossession of himself as a being,…?” (“Le sujet ne s’y engage-t-il pas…,” (Ecrits, p. 249); notice that in the original, the text reads: “Le discours…”). Even more importantly, these certainties disappear in relation to the other. When Lacan describes what Freud already coined as the analytical work, he clearly accentuates the intersubjective nature of this process: “For in the work he does to reconstruct it for another, he encounters anew the fundamental alienation that made him construct it like another, and that has always destined it to be taken away from him by another” (‘Car dans ce travail qu’il fait…,’) (Ecrits, p.249).
Free association does not result in the discovery of who someone ‘really’ is, quite the contrary. This brings us to the difference between full speech, parole pleine, and empty speech, parole vide. The first one is sometimes rendered asparole vraie, true speech, which gives us the idea that empty speech might be false speech. As you may remember, about a decade later, in the sixties and early seventies, expressions like the true self and the false self, the authentic personality and the like will become very fashionable within the field of psychotherapy. Does this mean that Lacan was ahead of his time? Not at all, quite the contrary. Such a reading is totally wrong, because full speech has nothing to do with the notions of the true or the false self. True speech does not present the analysand as he truly is, just as empty speech does not necessarily present us with a false picture of the analysand, meaning of his ego. (I am tempted to delete the phrase ‘meaning if his ego.’ It does not make sense, maybe you could clarify). Empty speech corresponds to a certain reality about the self-image and the way it is perceived by other people. The emptiness has to do with an all too full imaginary, someone who has completely identified with a number of signifiers. This is the certainty that has to be undermined by the analytic work. Being fully identified with oneself leads to an empty speech and does not leave much opening; this opening is necessary, because otherwise, change is impossible.
If we turn now to the idea of full speech, we are a bit at a loss to what it means. Apparently, it does not mean that the analysand finds again the full recollection of his past as it is supposed to have determined him – that would imply, “I was this only in order to become what I can be” (“Je n’ai été ceci que pour devenir ce que je puis être” (Ecrits, p.251). If the process of analysis amounts to that conclusion, it endorses an already existing alienation, that is usually accompanied by a negative certainty in the patient: there is no alternative. The art of the analyst, says Lacan, aims at the suspension of such certainties (notice that he talks about the certainties of the subject – this should read: the certainties of the ego) (Ecrits, p. 251).
Nevertheless, when we look at the elaborations of this full speech, we have to conclude that these elaborations come down to the reconstruction of the patient’s history, especially the hidden and the censured part of his history. Lacan provides us with a beautiful enumeration of the places where the truth is inscribed: the monuments of the body, the archival memories, the family legends etcetera (259). This conclusion becomes all the stronger when we read that verbalization of these inscribed truths relates the past to the present as necessities to come. So, how does this differ from the idea that the subject is determined by his past?
In my reading, this is one of the major difficulties of this paper – Lacan is leaving a certain conception of the Unconscious, he is introducing something new, but he is still in between. In the very same quote, the difference between the old deterministic view and his new conception resides in one word: “Let’s be categorical: in psychoanalytic anamnesis, what is at stake is not reality, but truth, because the effect of full speech is to reorder past contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come, (…”) (Ecrits, p. 256). We do not have to recover the real facts, no, we are addressing the truth. If we want to define what this truth stands for, based on the Discourse de Rome, we are at a loss – it will take Lacan a number of years to grasp the implications of his own analytic experience. In the Rome Discourse, we can only feel the direction this will lead to.
True speech is characterized by a commitment with a perspective on the future, based on the past. And the core element in this commitment is desire in relation to the Other, meaning that the core of true speech might be characterized as empty. It is precisely this emptiness in true speech that opens the possibility for change.
There are at least two new ideas in this approach: emptiness and the Other. In this paper, the focus is on the second one, meaning the dialectics of desire in relation to the unconscious. Whilst Lacan refreshes our knowledge about the freudian unconscious, e.g. in the following quote: “The unconscious is the chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a lie (…)” (Ecrits, p. 259) – he introduces his audience to something new. The subject “goes far beyond what is experienced ‘subjectively’ by the individual” and “the unconscious of the subject is the discourse of the other” (Ecrits, p. 265). Even more, this discourse goes much further than a relation between two people, and if we don’t understand this, then neither our theory nor our technique will do.
This brings us to the second section, Symbol and language as structure and limit of the psychoanalytic field.
The previous section addressed speech and left us with the question about the subject. This second section addresses language, and will leave us with other questions. A better title would have been: “Signifier and Language as Structure…” etc. The way in which Lacan uses ‘symbol’ in this paper has created a number of misunderstandings, especially as the idea of symbol evokes a more or less stable relationship with a more or less traditional signification – e.g. the symbol ‘heart’ for love. For Lacan it is exactly the opposite, the relationship between a signifier and a signified is arbitrary, as was put forward in the structural linguistics by de Saussure. Because this relationship is arbitrary, we, the speaking beings, might make our own choice and name things as it suits us – but this is not allowed, because language has made the choice, long before our time – hence the field of language. Speech is our individual endeavor in this transindividual field, as is obvious in the following: “The unconscious is that part of concrete discourse qua transindividual” (Ecrits, p. 258). In view of the arbitrary relationship, signification is based on the convention of a group – the Other – whilst an actual signification is produced within the chain of signifiers via the laws inherent in language. Free association is not free at all, but demonstrates how the selection and combination of the signifiers follow the same rules, meaning that they are synonymous with the unconscious processes.
In this section Lacan illustrates these ideas on the basis of three major works of Freud. The first one is of course The Interpretation of Dreams, with the dream work and the unconscious thought processes interpreted as linguistic processes. This is a return to Freud via linguistics – interesting and important, but still: it is a return. In the same paragraph, we find something new as well: instead of following Freud about the dream being a wish fulfillment, Lacan uses the dream to demonstrate that man’s desire finds its meaning and sense in the desire of the other. (Ecrits, p. 268) And immediately he corrects the misunderstanding that this might provoke: this does not mean that man desires something or someone that belongs to the other, it has nothing to do with a primal jealousy or envy. No, man desires to be recognized by the other via the other’s desire for him. This is Lacan combining Hegel and Freud.
The next one is The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, where Lacan finds ample evidence that a symptom is structured as a language (Ecrits, p. 269). I will come back to this sentence in my final part, because we have to connect it to the well-known saying “The unconscious is structured as a language” – as we will see, at the time of seminar eleven, based on his new conception about the unconscious, he will consider symptoms as the always failing productions of the unconscious. Anyhow, in this section of the Rome Discourse, there is something remarkable. Instead of focusing on the many linguistic illustrations in Freud’s book which operate directly on the signifier, he stresses Freud’s example of the apparent chance combination of numbers and the determination that lies hidden in them. This has to do with Lacan’s hope of turning psychoanalysis into a science, albeit it a new kind of science. The same example returns in The Purloined Letter, especially in the appendix. It is by no means a coincidence that this paper is put in front of the Ecrits, against the chronological order of the other papers – it expresses the same hope. A number of pages in the Rome Discourse testify to it, especially in the last part of this section.
This is an important theme as well, in the Rome Discourse, but there is not enough time to go into it. One of the Ph.D. students in my department, David Schrans, is working on this part, and in his opinion the second chapter of the Rome Discourse can be read as a sort of pamphlet for Lacan’s own project for a scientific psychoanalysis. Not only does he demonstrate his adherence to a structuralist conception of language, he explicitly states his hope of placing psychoanalysis at the heart of the conjectural sciences. These sciences start from a basic assumption, an axiom if you will – in the case of psychoanalysis this would be: “the unconscious is structured as language” - and the project is to proceed by rigorously constructing the relations between the different elements they encounter in their field in the hope of finding the laws that operate between them. This results in a mode of comprehension that has repercussions on the way in which interventions are made. As such, Lacan’s agenda is not only of an epistemological nature, but also an ethical one. David Schrans is currently working on an English-language article that elaborates on these points (Schrans, D.).
Finally, the third of Freud’s works where Lacan demonstrates the function and the field of language and speech is the one about the Witz. Again, Lacan points us to something that is usually missed: the fact that a true Witz makes no sense. This foreshadows an essential shift in the analytic praxis: we do not have to recover hidden, censured meanings – as we may gather from certain passages in his discourse de Rome. At the end of the day, symptoms are meaningless, they make no sense, and we have to focus on the dialectical structure beyond these supposed meanings. Later, at the time of seminar XI, he will tell us that a psychoanalytic interpretation aims at non-sense, the absence of meaning; and in different places in his work, he will say that a psychoanalysis without laughter is a failed one. I will come back in the final part of my talk to this important idea when I address the question of the subject as a truly lacanian notion.
This application of linguistics to the praxis of psychoanalysis might be nothing more than that: an application that elucidates a number of hitherto mysterious processes. But Lacan goes a lot further, based on yet another important reference, namely Lévi-Strauss and, behind Lévi-Strauss, Marcel Mauss (Essai sur le don). Language means exchange, and exchange means law, in the most fundamental meaning of the word. What is given, is less important than the exchange itself, because the fact of giving and receiving determines a recognition. Again, this is new: it introduces psychoanalysis in the field of intersubjectivity, not because there are two people involved, but because every one of us functions within a symbolically determined system of exchanges that determines every possible relationship, and this even before someone opens his or her mouth. Many years later, this will be one of the core ideas in the theory of the four discourses. This determination operates via what Lacan in 1953 still calls symbols, but again, ‘signifier’ would have been much more appropriate. A decade later, at the time of seminar XI, he will abandon the idea of intersubjectivity and replace it by the structural relationship between the subject and the big Other as determinative for the becoming of the subject.
In hindsight, this is already present in the Rome Discourse. He instructs his audience that the symbol creates the thing – even the thing that man is: “Man thus speaks, but it is because the symbol has made him a man” (Ecrits, p. 276). Language imposes a symbolically determined system of exchange in a structure of kinship, in which every individual speaker is assigned his or her position. This never ending exchange has to do with a fundamental debt – later on in the Rome Discourse, we’ll learn that the symbol is the murder of the thing. The superseding law is identified with the symbolic father or the name of the father.
But the trouble is that human desire requires recognition and this introduces a number of interferences. From this point onwards, says Lacan, we can see that the problem resides in the relation between speech and language in the subject (279). He describes three paradoxes in this relation. The first one concerns psychosis, where the dialectical exchange is missing; the second one concerns neurosis, where the linguistic mechanisms coincide with the unconscious processes; and the third concerns the scientific objectifications of discourse that lead to a petrifying alienation.
More than half a century later, that is, in our contemporary time, the third paradox has become omnipresent. “For this is the most profound alienation of the subject (…) when the subject begins to talk to us about himself” (Ecrits, p. 281). Modern man identifies with what a supposedly scientific society bestows upon him, telling him who he is, how he has to eat, to drink, to sleep, to think, to make love etcetera. Even telling him from what kind of disorder he suffers. As you may have experienced yourselves, during the first clinical interview, most of our patients present us with their own diagnostic label found on the internet. To give you an idea of the magnitude this has taken today: a contemporary American receives 3000 ads per day, which is a continuous indoctrination. In Lacan’s words: “Here it is a wall of language that blocks speech,…” (Ecrits, p. 282). The consequence of this wall was immortalized even earlier by T.S. Eliot (The Hollow Men):
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Notice the fact that even Eliot starts from an original emptiness – I will come back to that immediately. The effect of these supposedly scientific objectifications is comparable to the first paradox in the relation between speech and language. Lacan recognizes this first paradox in psychosis, but there is one important exception compared to contemporary alienation: in psychosis, we are addressing something authentic. Here, this is no longer the case, the enormous objectification bestowed upon us makes it very hard to address the subject that is floating on top of it.
In the meantime, this has taken a dimension that goes way beyond the purely quantitative aspect – 3000 advertisments a day is a lot, but there is even a more fundamental problem. As Lacan explained earlier, with his reference to Rabelais, the symbolic order functions based on a debt, on something that is structurally lacking. Much later in his work, he will coin this as the symbolic castration – the original loss, at birth, of eternal life that is endorsed by the introduction of the subject in the symbolic order, where we lose the immediacy of the thing. This loss leads to a never ending exchange between the subject and the Other, (Ce qui ne cesse pas de ne pas s’écrire, That which never stops not being written) and to typically human creativity.
Today, this has disappeared, the message coming from contemporary discourse brings a massive denial of symbolic castration. The message is clear: there is no structural lack whatsoever, no symbolic debt either, there is a perfect answer to everything. Find the right product, have the cash ready, and your problem is solved. Enjoy! In matters of counseling and psychotherapy, this has created the illusion that there is a scientifically proven evidence-based answer for every problem, once the patient has been assessed correctly and thoroughly. If the treatment turns out badly, something must be wrong with the patient, because the system is correct as it is scientifically proven.
This illustrates a shift in the field of science that will allow Lacan many years later (In “Science and truth,” “La science et la vérité”) to compare contemporary science to paranoia. Just like paranoia, science ‘does not want to know’ and rejects or forecloses the truth in its status as basic cause – the truth meaning symbolic castration and the ensuing basic uncertainty.
This might sound a bit esoteric, but the consequences are huge and real, and in the meantime, they are becoming obvious. Today, everything has to be under control, everything has to be predictable, there is no room for contingencies and uncertainties. Whilst the patriarchy of the former times accepted mistakes based on original sin, our contemporary Big Brother is merciless: if something goes wrong, then someone has to be blamed, because the system itself is perfect. Last year we had a very alarming example of such a paranoid reading of science: six Italian scientists have been sentenced to six years in prison over statements they made prior to a 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people in the town of L’Aquila. Their predictions were not adequate, hence they have to be punished.
In 1953, Lacan warned against this kind of scientifically endorsed alienation, adding that we, as analysts, should surely not contribute to it. At the same time he was quite confident that we were heading for a new science, where the opposition between exact and conjectural sciences would be erased. In his own words: “This new order simply signifies a return to a notion of true science (“Ce nouvel ordre ne signifie rien d’autre qu’un …; ” (Ecrits, p. 284).
It is almost painful to read those pages today, because it has turned out exactly the opposite. The question about truth has disappeared under tons of supposedly scientific quantifications and the liberal arts are on the brink of disappearing from the scientific curriculum – what Lacan calls ‘le renversement positiviste’, the positivist reversal is more present than ever before.
The second section of the Rome Discourse ends with a strong argument in favor of reconsidering time – instead of measuring time in terms of clocks based on gravity, we should understand time as an intersubjective element that structures our thinking and our actions. If we succeed in formalizing those essential dimensions, Lacan says, this will provide us with a scientific foundation, both for the theory and the praxis of analysis.
This is clear from the title of the third section, ”The Resonances of Interpretation and the Time of the Subject in Psychoanalytic Technique.” One word sounds a bit strange: the resonances. As we will see, this is a key idea. In this last part of his discourse, Lacan returns to analytic praxis: how to arrange our work in such a way that the analysand achieves full speech? Copying Freud’s style is not a good idea, we have to follow the principles that governed his interventions. As is obvious from Freud’s case-studies, these have to do with the dialectics of self-consciousness (“la dialectique de la conscience de soi”), and even more particularly with the decentering of this consciousness of the self (Ecrits, p. 292). This echoes what Lacan had already said in the first part: “For in the work he does to reconstruct it for another, he encounters anew the fundamental alienation that made him construct it like another, and that has always destined it to be taken away from him by another” (Ecrits, p.249). The resulting paradigm has everything to do with the structurally determined division of the subject, there is no such a thing as a complete individual.
At that point, Lacan refers to what he calls “the primary language” of desire, deciphered by Freud and systemized by Ernest Jones. In the light of Lacan’s later theory, this part of the Rome Discourse has to be seriously amended. Symbols may have a more or less privileged relationship to certain signifieds, the fact remains that they are signifiers. Moreover, the enumeration by Ernest Jones of the primary significations comes down to what Lacan will summarize later under the heading of S de A barrée – life and death, sexuality and the body are precisely those parts of the real for which there is no apt representation. The myriads of ‘symbols’ referring to them testify to this structural lack in the symbolic order.
Further in the text of the Rome Discourse, Lacan anticipates his later theory. unlike Jones and the post-freudians, he does not interpret these symbols, he evokes their power by operating on their resonances, that is: on their ambiguity or equivocality. This is all the more important because speech may transform the subject via the relationship with the one who speaks (Ecrits, p. 296). This has nothing to do with sign language or with communication, as in the case of the honey bees, quite the contrary. The intervention of the analyst has to be invocative rather than informative. The reason why is found in something that is so obvious that it is often enough neglected: the analytic praxis is a dialectical enterprise, the analysand is looking for himself by sending a message to the analyst. The risk with informative and explanatory interpretations is that the analyst gives an answer, that is, that the analyst instead of recognizing the subject, objectifies the patient. A classic example in this respect is what happened between Freud and Dora. As an eighteen-year-old intelligent adolescent in Victorian Vienna, she was desperately looking for her female identity and her sexual desire via a newly formed oedipal triangle with the K-couple. Although Freud enters the dialectical exchange, he fails to recognize Dora’s desire by giving her all too soon what he considers to be the right answers (Ecrits, p. 305).
A hundred years later, in contemporary psychiatry and psychotherapy, this kind of mistake has become the rule. Today, patients are told why they are patients, what the denomination of their disorders is and how they should live with it. The expression “psycho-education” is used without any irony whatsoever. As I said earlier, this risk was already mentioned by Lacan in the second section of the Rome Discourse, where he criticized alienating scientific objectifications. The result of such interventions is that the subject identifies with such language and in the process loses itself because he or she is turned into an object (299-300).
At that point of the text, Lacan starts elaborating his view on time and temporality, with respect to the subject and to the analytic praxis. There is a really beautiful quote to give here: “What is realized in my history is neither the past definite as what was, since it is no more, nor even the perfect as what has been in what I am, but the future anterior as what I will have been, given what I am in the process of becoming” (“Ce qui se réalise dans mon histoire”) (Ecrits, p.300).
It is not an easy sentence, and the trouble in understanding it has everything to do with the gist of it, namely uncertainty. The subject constitutes itself in his speech to the Other; the realization of the subject is always a question of becoming. The role of the other is important, and it is here that Lacan talks about the responsibility of the analyst. The analyst may teach the patient to get hold of himself as an object, be it an imaginary one – see alienation – and hence operate in the service of resistance. Or the analyst may disalienate, unalienate the subject, which is the necessary condition for change (Ecrits, p. 304). This is the ‘advent’ of true speech and the realization by the subject of his history in its relation to the future (Ecrits, p. 302).
These two alternative possibilities are sharply delineated by Lacan. Either analytic practice is reduced to a fantasmatic relationship between the analyst and the patient analogous to a kind of dry lovemaking – he refers to the practice of ‘bundling’ – based on a shared illusion (Ecrits, p. 308). This illusion makes us believe that the analyst has to look beyond the wall of language for the reality of his patient — a patient who believes that the analyst knows the truth about him beforehand. Or, in contrast to this illusion, we find Lacan’s conception: analytic practice is a dialectical relation where the analyst refrains from intervening, and thus guides the associations of the subject in the direction of the realization of his truth.
This refraining from intervention brings Lacan to what is at first sight a paradox: one of the analyst’s refusals to respond has a huge impact on the reality of the analytic session, namely when the analyst intervenes with regard to the actual duration of a session. This introduces a tricky subject, the relationship between time and analysis – probably one of the most difficult things to think about.
By way of introduction, Lacan reminds us of what is obvious. It is impossible to predict the total duration of an analysis. Even more so: Freud’s intervention in this respect with the Wolf man proves that it is a very bad idea to put a fixed term on the duration, because this confirms the illusion of the analysand that the analyst knows everything about him beforehand. The same reasoning can be applied for the termination of each individual session, because suspending a session will always be experienced by the analysand as a punctuation of his discourse. Instead of deploring this, we should use it, says Lacan, because it gives us a possibility for intervention that is neglected when we are sticking to a standard time. For example, obsessional patients discover soon enough the advantages of a standard time limit, as it suits their typical defense system. Using a variable duration makes this impossible.
This makes sense, especially in view of the obsessional stance towards death. What is unclear from Lacan’s reasoning is why this variable duration became soon enough synonymous with short sessions. As is well-known, this was a bridge too far for the IPA and one of the main reasons for Lacan’s expulsion.
Anyhow, duration and termination are intimately linked to the final closure, meaning death, as was already announced by the introductory quote coming from the classic Satyricon. The last part of the Rome Discourse treats this subject, first of all in relation to the obsessional who awaits the death of the other, but soon enough on a much larger scale. At the beginning of his discourse, Lacan had criticized the reduction of psychoanalysis to an instinct theory, let alone to neurobiology. Instead of that, he promotes the function and field of language and speech. In the final pages, he criticizes the all too easy reading of the death instinct that combines it with a kind of primordial masochism. Instead of that, he will put forward an essential relationship between death and the symbolic order, meaning between death and the subject.
That there is an essential relationship between being human and death was already known from philosophy. Linking it to the symbolic order and the becoming of the subject as such is new. Together with the section on time, this is yet another difficult part of the Rome Discourse.
For his final theory, Lacan refers to Freud on the life and death drive, Eros and Thanatos, i.e. the pre-Socratic Philia and Neikos. The subject that is about to be longs for an original mythical union, as present in Eros – that is why the child in Freuds ‘Beyond the pleasure principle” repeats its Fort-Da game endlessly, in an effort to regain what is lost. This loss does not concern the mother, nor the mother’s breast, as every young mother experiences, when she tries to sooth her child – whatever she gives, it will never be enough. What the child wants to reinstall is the original union from before the separation, the union that stood for eternal life as well. The human child accompanies his repetition by symbols, in an effort to gain mastery. This is already clear in Freud’s example of the Fort and Da repetitive game.
For Lacan, the net result of this repetition and especially of the use of signifiers, is exactly the opposite. The use of signifiers endorses the original loss of the object. This is already present in the structural linguistics of de Saussure, although in a much more prosaic way. The signifier has only a loose, arbitrary relationship with the signified, and has nothing to do with the actual referent. In lacanian terms, the separation with the thing is irrevocably installed by the use of the signifier. More particularly, the separation between mother and child, between subject and Other, is irrevocably installed once they speak.
For Lacan, this separation from the Real – mind you, in the Rome Discourse, he does not yet use the Real in that sense – by the introduction of the symbol implies the death of the thing. At the same time, this means that the desire of the subject is eternalized: the subject will never be able to join the object, because the symbol has made that impossible. That is the irony: the means to reinstall the union of Eros, are at the same time the cause of the separation by Thanatos. At that point in the text, we find a well known quote: “Thus the symbol first manifests itself as the killing of the thing, and this death results in the endless perpetuation of the subject’s desire” (‘Ainsi le symbole se manifeste d’abord comme meurtre de la chose et cette mort constitue dans le sujet l’éternisation de son désir’) (Ecrits, p.319).
In the final pages of the Rome Discourse, Lacan hints at the effects of what he will later call the advent or the becoming of the subject. A naïve romantic reading might put the accent on the desire for the ever lost object, while lamenting the human condition. A freudian reading takes both basic drives into account, one driving us towards union, the other towards separation. A lacanian reading stresses the transmission – the transfer – of this conflict in the dialectical exchanges between subject and Other and its effects (Ecrits, p. 319). What seems to be the desire of the subject, comes down to an identification with the desire of the other. In an attempt to affirm oneself, the subject may react with the possibility of its own death: “He asserts himself with respect to others as a death wish” (“c’est comme désir de mort en effet qu’il s’affirme pour les autres”) (Ecrits, p.320). This idea will receive a central importance at the time of seminar XI when Lacan elaborates his theory on the becoming of the subject. The central question of the subject-to-be to the Other is: “Veut-t-il me perdre?,” can he afford to lose me?
“Can he lose me? The phantasy of one’s death, of one’s disappearance, is the first object that the subject has to bring into play in this dialectic, and he does indeed bring it into play (…).” (Seminar 11, p.214)
This brings me to the final part of my talk. What are the important changes in Lacan’s theory, with respect to the Rome Discourse? The focus of these changes are obvious from the title of the introductory paper that heads the Rome Discourse in the Ecrits: “On the subject who is finally in question.” The main part of these changes are elaborated some ten years later, in seminar XI.
My thesis runs as follows: the Rome Discourse, in combination with the early seminars, presents us with Lacan’s return to Freud. From seminar X onwards, we meet with a different Lacan, one who presents a new theory of psychoanalysis. Its innovative character resides in three typically lacanian concepts or notions. First of all, his theory on the Unconscious. Secondly, the concept of the subject. Thirdly, the notion that there is a structurally determined lack. Of course, the gist of these ideas can already be found in the early Lacan as well, but in my reading, seminar XI is a turning point.
I started my talk with a short note on the historical circumstances. The battle between Lacan and the IPA was concluded in the fall of 1963, when he was officially expelled from the International Association. As a result, in the fall of 63, he stopped his seminar after one session. It is certainly not a coincidence that the subject of the seminar that he intended to give, was announced as “The Names of the Fathers.” In January 1964, he starts a new seminar that afterwards will be known as “The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis.” At the same time, it is the start of a new psychoanalytic school that in the years to come will develop into an international movement alongside the IPA, obliging the latter to reconsider a number of things. In my opinion, without Lacan, psychoanalysis as such would not have survived.
To go back to this new psychoanalysis, I can argue that the lacanian Lacan will address Freud’s fundamental problems. Studying Freud ends with at least three major questions. For the early Freud, trauma is very important – but it is hard to understand how a trauma, coming from the Other, finds an inscription in the Unconscious. The same difficulty concerns desire: all the trouble concerning our desires is due to the prohibition by the Other – but lifting this prohibition does not present us with the expected result; quite the contrary, and hence the idea of an analysis being interminable. Finally, a psychoanalytic treatment amounts to the patient becoming conscious of a number of things – but it is the transferential relationship towards the analyst that makes this (im)possible. These three problems can be summarized in one question: whose unconscious are we talking about?
Lacan’s return to Freud, as highlighted in the Rome Discourse, makes explicit what is already present in Freud: the Unconscious is structured as a language. The unconscious thought processes come down to linguistic mechanisms that are governed by inherent rules, or even laws, as Lacan calls them. He stressed the fact that we should not be seduced by the meaning of words, quite the contrary. It is the material aspect of the signifier that appears prominently in this linguistic determination. It is precisely this aspect that explains why free association is not free at all, and how symptoms are determined. Let me give you an example, coming from a very brief clinical vignette, presented by Freud in a letter to Fliess, dated the 29th of December 1897.
The patient is a young man, whose main problem is what is called in German “Unschlüssigkeit” – in English translation: he is unable to make up his mind. The English expression is really beautiful if you think about it. This is the first thing in the morning that everyone of us has to do, we have to make up our mind, remembering who we are, where we are, what is expected from us, and sometimes this “making up our mind” is less self-evident. For this patient, it is a continuous problem. During a session, he tells about a scene going back to the age of ten. He was pursuing a beetle, trying to catch it, and at that moment, he experienced a panic attack. It is not the first time that this memory pops up during his analysis, but this particular session, he adds that it must have been a ladybird, and starts to laugh. It is the end of the session, and Freud reacts more or less dismissive – there must be more to it, he says. The next session brings a surprising analysis. Beetle in German is Käfer, a ladybird beetle is a Marienkäfer. The patient was raised in the Viennese bourgeoisie, meaning that he had a French nanny and that his parents from time to time spoke French. The memory about the beetle proves to be a screen memory, because it evokes the French “Que faire”, which sounds exactly the same as “Käfer.” “Que faire” means “What do I have to do?,” and was the expression used by his mother when she was dating the man who became later the father of the patient. The patient has learnt about this expression when he overheard a conversation between his grandmother, the mother of his mother, and his aunt. “Que faire?” – will I marry this man or not? The determination via the signifier becomes even more obvious, if we add “Marienkäfer” – se marier, in French, means to get married. “Käfer”, in German is also a slightly derogatory expression for a woman, and on top of all this, the first name of the patient’s mother was Marie.
This is one of the many examples that we can find in Freud, illustrating Lacan’s thesis about the unconscious being structured as a language. There is a determinative line running from the obviously oedipal symptom ‘Unschlüssigkeit’ to the mother’s doubts whether she would marry this particular man, the father of the patient, or not.
As beautiful as this analysis may be, it leaves us with the impression of a determination from which it is quite hard to escape. Indeed, if everything is determined, there is no possibility for change. Lacan confronted us with this problem in his Rome Discourse as well, together with an embryonic answer. The gist of it has to do with a completely new formula:the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.
I still find it strange that this particular formula has not raised more attention, because it is really shocking. Our unconscious, what we consider to be the most intimate part of our subjectivity, is not ours; on the contrary, it comes from the other. This is a revolutionary idea, but at the same time, it was there from the beginning. It is even obvious in Freud’s small vignette. If we focus too much on the linguistic wordplay, we run the risk of overseeing the most fundamental part in this symptom formation. That is: the “Käfer/Que faire” expression comes from the mother, just as the symptom is coming from her as well: will I be able to make up my mind to marry this particular person or not? Freud’s patient is troubled by the symptoms and the neurotic conflict of his mother, that is the problem. In the light of Lacan’s new theory, the therapeutic question is: how can we escape the Unconscious of the Other?
His answer brings a new elaboration on the Unconscious as such, in combination with his two other innovations, meaning the theory of the subject and of the structural lack.
Seminar eleven starts with his attempt to redefine the unconscious. In this respect, the title of the second chapter is very telling: “The Freudian Unconscious and Ours.” The way in which he defines the unconscious is indeed new: the unconscious is not a topos, a place; it is an always failing process that appears between cause and effect, precisely at the point of failure. Something opens but is almost immediately closed. What happens in the gap in between, is a failure, and that is precisely what Lacan calls the unconscious operating on a causal level. The strange thing about causality is that a cause in itself is not determined. Hence the status of the unconscious: for Lacan, it is something pre-ontological. Hence the negative expressions he uses: the un-born, the unrealized. In Lacan’s own words: “Because the Unconscious shows us the gap through which the neurosis adheres to a real – a real that may well not be determined” (Sém. XI, p. 25). In the same lesson, he stresses something that is very important for our analytic practice: “It is always about the subject as indeterminate” “c’est toujours du sujet en tant q’idéterminé qu’il s’agit” (Sém. XI, p.35). This is important because it opens a possibility for change, in contrast to the deterministic viewpoint.
We can only imagine how surprised his audience must have been, when they were listening to all this. The unconscious operating as a causal gap, that in itself is not determined? That is pre-ontological? And what about the unconscious being structured as a language, what about the unconscious as the discourse of the Other? The answer to these questions lies in the differentiation made by Lacan between the unconscious as such and the productions of the unconscious, meaning the symptoms. The productions are determined, and this determination explains why we can work on them in our praxis via the free association. In contrast, their cause is not determined, and that is why there is an opening for change.
In order to explain the difference between causality and determination, between the unconscious as such and the productions of the unconscious, Lacan refers to the Aristotelian theory about tuchè and automaton. Tuchè stands for the non-determined cause, automaton is the determined series that follows (Verhaeghe, P., 2002). The combination between the two of them is put forward in a strong statement: “Now, at this date and time, I am certainly in a position to introduce in the domain of causality [i.e. tuchè, the Unconscious], the law of the signifier [i.e. automaton, the productions of the Unconscious], in the place where this gap is produced” (Sém. XI, p.26).
In his further elaborations, Lacan will argue that the chain of signifiers contains an inner determination, leading us to the point where the determination as such stops and confronts us with a gap. In its turn, this gap causes a new start of the signifying chain; leading again to a renewed confrontation with the gap. Both automaton and tuchè have to do with what Lacan will coin as the subject, and this is the second innovation, after his redefining of the unconscious.
Within lacanian circles, even today, the idea of the subject is more often than not used in a way that goes against Lacan’s theory (Verhaeghe, P.,1998; Vanheule, S., & Verhaeghe, P., 2009). Often enough, it is used as a more sophisticated denomination for subjectivity, and in the worst of cases as a synonym for a person or even for the ego. So let us ask a simple question: what is Lacan’s definition? His answer is rather peculiar, because in his definition, he does not start from the subject, quite the contrary, the starting point is the signifier: “The signifier is what represents the subject for another signifier” (“Le signifiant, c’est ce qui représente le sujet auprès d’un autre signifiant”). This explains the structurally determined division of the subject, from one signifier to another to yet another, etcetera. A graphic representation of this process of subject formation might look like this:
As you can see I have already added the object (a) at the bottom. In the first lessons of seminar XI, Lacan explains to his audience how and why the chain of signifiers contains a determination; this is the automaton. The cause of this chain and its determination has to do with a structural lack, as expressed by the idea of the object (a).
If you think about it, this means that the lacanian subject is a production of the unconscious. That is: it is a symptom, we could even consider it as the symptom par excellence. At the same time, this means that the subject is always a failure, it is the half finished product of a process that never manages to get through, to get fully realized – so it will remain forever at this half finished stage. The signifying chain keeps running, and the subject is continuously but never fully produced, whilst being divided in and by this very movement.
This inner determination will make it possible to deconstruct this chain, and hence, to deconstruct the subject via free association. But this determination is never a total one, because the reason why the chain itself starts has to do with an original lack that can never be answered. This is the tuchè. Later in his theory, Lacan will coin this as the Real, and more particularly the Real at three important points: the Woman does not exist; the Other of the Other does not exist; there is no such thing as the sexual relationship. In my summary: all three of them come down to the drive, more particularly that traumatic part of the drive that can never be represented — it is literally unimaginable, unthinkable, undreamed-of. The last expression is truly psychoanalytical: we can’t even represent this part of the Real in our dreams — it is the point where the dream wakes the dreamer, usually in a state of anxiety.
So, the subject is the product of a dialectic process between cause and determination. A few times I have used the expression ‘inner determination,’ and this is correct as long as we stick to the chain as such. The clinical vignette with the Käfer/Que faire is an illustration of such an inner determination. The same example demonstrates that this determination comes from the Other, for the simple reason that language comes from the Other. At this point, we meet with the combination of two well-known lacanian theses: “the Unconscious is structured as a language” and “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.” This last formula might as well be understood as: “The subject is the discourse of the Other.” This explains why the subject is never fully realized, on the contrary, it joins the pre-ontological status of the unconscious.
The production process might be rendered graphically as follows:
You could say that this is a screen shot of a process that never stops. An attempt to represent the continuity of this process might give this:
Later on, in seminar 20, Lacan will refer to this process in a well known saying: “It is that which never stops not being written” (Lacan, 1975, p. 55, 87, 132).
Let us return now to an important part in this reasoning about the subject, and that is the relation to the Other and the possibility for change. As I said earlier on, based on Lacan, in this respect a new question might be formulated as follows: how can we ever escape the Unconscious of the Other and its determinative effect? In clinical terms: what are the possibilities for change, based on a psychoanalytic treatment?
Until now, I have focused on the first process in what Lacan coins as “the advent of the subject,” “L’avènement du sujet” (and not: “the development of the subject”), that is the alienation or identification with the signifiers of the Other, because we want to answer the desire of the Other. The result of this process is the empty speech of the ego, as the imaginary instance par excellence. By way of illustration, Lacan quoted T.S. Eliot in the Rome Discourse: “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”. These identifications are the building elements of the subject, and present us with the automaton.
But there is a second process as well: the separation, based on the confrontation with the lack in the Other and even beyond this Other. Separation is the opposite process, in as much as it redirects the subject towards its supposed being, thus opening a possibility of escape from all-determining alienation. It presents us even with a possibility of choice, albeit a precarious one. The two processes of alienation and separation are circular and dissymmetrical. The cause of this continuous movement is the existence of a twofold lack. The process of alienation conducts the subject through the signifying chain of the Other. Inevitably, it will stumble upon the lack of the Other, indicated by the slash: ‘He is saying this to me, but what does he truly desire?’. Thus confronted with the nameless desire of the Other, the subject will produce a very typical answer: ‘Am I the one who can fulfill his desire?’. This means that the subject answers the lack of the Other by presenting his or her own disappearance: ‘Can the Other afford to lose me’?’.
At that point, dissymmetry enters into the dialectics: the lack of the Other, within the signifying chain, is answered by a presentation of the lack at the anterior level, i.e. death as a real loss. Hence, the non-reciprocity and dissymmetry, by which the process topples over into the direction of alienation again.
Of course, this elaboration in seminar XI sounds rather tragic, and in a certain way, it echoes existentialistic philosophy with suicide as the preeminent example of freedom. In his later work, Lacan will accentuate a more positive side. We need the opening in the Other and the Symbolic, just as we need the certainty of death, because otherwise choice would be unthinkable or irrelevant. We can take our distance from the other and his desire and make a number of choices for ourselves. The necessary precondition is the recognition of a structural lack, and that brings us to the third fundamental lacanian innovation.
As you may know, one of the major critiques formulated by Lacan on object relations theory is that it focused too much on the object in all its different pregenital shapes and forms. As a result, the most important thing tends to be forgotten: the fact that there is no original object, even the mother is not good enough to answer the primordial lack that is installed from birth onwards. Lacan goes even further: it is at the very moment of conception that we lose the most fundamental thing there is, namely eternal life. There is nothing philosophical about that, because it is a biological fact caused by the meiosis, the particular cell division that takes place during sexual reproduction. Reproduction based on mitosis guarantees eternal live; based on meiosis, it guarantees death. Something flees away at birth, says Lacan, – he talks about a lamella – and that something is eternal life.
From that moment onwards, the organism – there is not yet a subject – strives to regain what is lost. Think about Freud and the life and death drives, in this case the Eros drive. Therefore the child turns to the (m)Other and both of them enter into a dialectical exchange aiming at reinstalling the original union. Especially the child tries to answer the lack of the mother, and that is the start of the formation of the subject. Because of the structural character of the original loss, the identification with the signifiers of her desire will never be enough. The only result is that the lack receives a kind of upgrade, to put it in computer terms. It is now turned into a lack on the level of demand and desire – what does the Other desire from me? As a result, the ego starts dreaming about a perfect answer. This is all the more the case once this dialectic exchange moves to the level of the sexual relationship. There must be someone, out there, who has the phallus, who has the perfect answer to my lack – and vice versa (This turns object a into a phallic version, a/-phi).
The net result of this conviction is a never ending process of alienation and separation, without ever finding the hoped for result. The accompanying anxieties correspond to the two processes: castration anxiety, as the oedipal version of separation anxiety: I am not enough, I do not have enough of the phallus to meet the desire of the other. On the other hand, there is intrusion anxiety: the Other wants too much of me, I have to run away. The common denominator in both anxieties is the idea that it is possible for the lack to be answered, only not by me. This is what Lacan coins as the imaginary castration, as a typically neurotic stance towards the lack of the Other.
Obviously, this is quite different from Freud’s ideas about castration. For Lacan, every subject is ‘castrated’ (between brackets) from the start, meaning that everyone of us is marked by an existential loss. The almost automatic answer is to translate this loss into guilt and into reparation. The two privileged relations where this happens, is the one between mother and child and later on, between romantic partners. The imaginary character of this ‘castration’ has to do with the idea of completeness – castration and loss are exceptions, completeness is normal. In contrast to that, Lacan posits the symbolic castration and the not-whole (‘le pas tout’): the lack as such is structural and functions as a basic causality for everything human.
In contrast to pessimistic existential philosophy, this idea is a reason for optimism. The symbolic castration leaves an opening in the symbolic, in the Other, meaning that every subject can escape from all-encompassing alienation and determination; this is the point where we can make something ourselves, independently of the Other. I’ll come back to this idea, but before that, I want to stay a bit longer with the idea of a structurally determined lack.
Today, the importance of this idea is becoming more and more obvious, because it has almost disappeared. In the West, we are living in a discourse that tells us that there should be no lack whatsoever, that everything is available, that everything is predictable and controllable. If something is lacking or if something goes wrong, this means that someone is to blame. This is also the case in psychotherapy and health care. The risk of such a discourse is total alienation, as was already mentioned by Lacan in Fonction et Champ de la Parole et du Language. I consider our era as dominated by a perverse Big Brother discourse, in contrast to the neurotic patriarchal discourse of yesterday. I call it a perverse discourse, because castration is denied as such – but that is another story.
By way of conclusion, I would like to look at the clinical implications of the Rome Discourse, albeit in combination with the theory of the advent of the subject. Let me remind you of the title of the first chapter: “Empty Speech and Full Speech in the Psychoanalytic Realization of the Subject”. The implication of this title is that the subject has to be realized by the psychoanalytic treatment. The question is how we can understand and even encourage this realization? Especially when confronted with a structural lack? And what about the analysis becoming interminable?
In my reasoning, our clinical work contains two different parts, and in a certain way, they echo the two processes in the formation of the subject. The first part of our job is all about analysis. By and large, via free association, we meet with the automaton, the determination in the signifiers that comes from the Other. This is the unconscious that Lacan described rather poetically in his Rome Discourse (Ecrits, p. 259). It is obvious that this is the neurotic part that we have to get rid of. The analytic work, as Freud calls it, is a work of deconstruction. The clinical vignette about the Käfer man illustrates the way this works. The analytic goal then is not the discovery of hidden unconscious meanings, no, the goal is to get rid of the determining effect of signifiers coming from the Other. This is what I consider the therapeutic part of our job and in case of neurosis, a psychoanalytic treatment is really helpful. If someone comes to see me and asks what analysis could do for him of her, my answer is that he might gain more freedom of choice, instead of the “Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety” (“Hemmung, Symptom und Angst”) he is living in.
The deconstruction part concerns the unconscious as the discourse of the Other. In this respect, the realization of the subject is by and large a negative one, getting rid of alienations. But what about the positive part of this realization? The part where the subject might be able to make choices on its own? This is the tricky side, because more often than not, it is the point where analysis becomes interminable. This interminability testifies to the still remaining believe in the Other, resulting in further identifications/alienations in the subject. The most imaginary alienation is, of course, the identification with the analyst in the function of the final master. It is quite clear that this is not Lacan’s idea of a happy ending.
I can refer here to a quote that I gave earlier: “For in the work he does to reconstruct it for another, he encounters anew the fundamental alienation that made him construct it like another, and that has always destined it to be taken away from him by another”(Ecrits, p. 249).
From this point in Lacan’s theory onwards, a whole new reasoning will be developed, with seminar XX as a kind of highlight. The recognition of the symbolic castration entails at the same time the impossibility of a final answer for the subject within this symbolic order. The only solution is that the subject creates a symptom of one’s own – written as “le sinthome” – in a world that recognizes the not-whole, “le pas tout”. At the end of the Seminar Encore, Lacan evokes this idea – the creation of a new signifier – in talking about poetry (Verhaeghe, P. & Declercq, F., 2003). This conclusion echoes the final paragraph of seminar XI, where he defines the desire of the analyst as a desire for pure difference. I cannot think of a better formulation to conclude my paper.
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