Beyond Full and Empty Speech

August 15, 2022

Jorge Santiago

Translators from Spanish: Paulina Rodriguez and Matea Kulic

Having my paper accepted by Vancouver’s Lacan Salon to speak about The Symbolic Order in the 21st century, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my perspectives on psychoanalysis and its practice in light of Jacques Lacan’s teachings.

The first point I would like to make — and I think we will all agree — is that there is a radical difference between psychoanalysis and other practices which share certain social similarities. This is the case with psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatry, pedagogy and others. Unlike these practices, psychoanalysis is not governed by rationality. It does not rely on Aristotelian, Cartesian, Comtian, or scientific truths about the suffering subject. In other words, it goes beyond established conventions of understanding and solutions of suffering. Analytic practice places the subject in a profound state of reflection so that certainties about one’s identity can be questioned. The intervention of the analyst does not clarify the condition of the subject. Psychoanalysis is a spontaneous and open practice; it is an unstable and therefore destabilizing force that functions outside of identity systems and control. Psychoanalysis is regulated within the session and it takes place at the margins of the state and the university.

In her article “Proximities: Leo Bersani and Psychoanalysis,” Bercovich argues that the work of the analyst functions effectively because it exists outside of the realm of power. The non-being of the analyst and the free-floating attention that is required of him are correlates of an emptiness of the self that is unthinkable from the point of view of psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry.

For analysis to take place a subject must feel impelled by his suffering so as to seek out the help and guidance of another who is supposed to know. By addressing an Other, who in turn translates the enigmatic experience of suffering, the subject creates a link for transference. For the analysand, the commitment to the practice takes shape in an agreement to speak under the fundamental rule of free association. From the analyst’s perspective, the request for guidance is responded to in the form of listening in an equally free-floating manner.

Once the decision has been made to undertake analysis (a decision must be made since it cannot be taken for granted), the treatment itself may be delivered in varying forms in accordance with Lacan’s teachings. Consequently, the analyst’s choice in regard to the theory will define the process of analysis. Ignoring the differences between Lacan’s first and second clinical elaborations will have a definite impact on the direction of the treatment.

For the purpose of this presentation, we will take as a point of departure Lacan’s “Rome Discourse,” a period in which distinct Freudian and Lacanian practices are situated.

By the time Jacques Lacan delivered his “Rome Discourse,” formally known as “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” the return to the essence of Freud’s teaching was centered on the effects of speech and language in the clinic. In other words, at that time, his proposal aimed to take into account speech and language as the fundamental concern of psychoanalysis. Therefore, the method of treatment stressed the symbolic order by articulating truth in terms of the subject’s signifiers. However, the evolution of Lacan’s work demonstrated a shift in the emphasis of his teaching towards the interconnectedness of the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real. As a consequence, Lacan's proposition of full and empty speech in relation to the method of treatment and the goal of analysis changed substantially.

In the “Guiding Principles for Any Psychoanalytic Act,” the first principle states

Psychoanalysis is a practice of speech. It involves two partners, the analyst and the analysand, brought together in a single psychoanalytic session. The analysand speaks about what brings him there, his suffering, his symptom. This symptom is hooked into the materiality of the unconscious, made out of things that have been said to the subject, that have hurt him, and things that are impossible to say and cause him suffering. An analyst will punctuate the words of the analysand and enable him to weave the thread of his unconscious. The powers of language and the truth effects that it enables, what is called interpretation, is the actual power of the unconscious. Interpretation is apparent on both sides, analysand and analyst. They do not both have the same relation to the unconscious, however, since one has already carried this experience through to the end whereas the other has not.

This principle illustrates the encounter between the analyst and analysand which was outlined at the beginning of the paper. Through this encounter, the subject exposes his suffering and directs the analyst’s attention toward a solution to the conflict. In this way the subject speaks to that which is occurring in his life, and through the line of the analyst’s interpretation the subject realizes connections, which the analysand’s symptoms imply. This in itself opens the door to unknown associations nevertheless inscribed in the form of suffering. If by the mere act of speaking, the subject feels relief, it is also true that his meaning-making machine is set in motion; that is to say, his phantasm is brought into action. In this way, the patient searches for a response to his symptoms, an explanation that appears logical and that comes to re-establish his tranquility. The elaboration of the symbolic proposed by Lacan during the Rome Discourse is an elaboration that is meant to pacify. In this period of his teachings, he encourages an articulation of the symbolic, which further prompts the subject to articulate the truth regarding his desire. The realization of full speech is privileged.

In the same vein, and already in both Seminar 2 and “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” Lacan promoted the articulation of signifiers (S1-S2) as an important means to dissolve the symptom and therefore create new meanings or significations. In Seminar 2 he writes, “If analysts are formed it is because there are subjects in whom the Ego is absent,” that is to say, subjects without an Ego. Lacan signals that such a thing would only be possible at the end of analysis: that is to say, when the analysand pushes the signifier’s articulation to the point of finding his phantasmatic axiom, his real word. At that point, the Ego is sort of empty, identificationless. This real word imposes a clearance of the imaginary, read as empty speech (lack of knowing about oneself, prejudice), to address the symbolic equivalent on the other side of the wall of language. Imaginary semblants (empty speech) achieve symbolic elaboration (full speech), which he considered more real. Thus, during Lacan’s first teaching period, the symptom is determined by its symbolic meaning. The symptom in Function and Field is all language (full vs. empty speech).

The truth of the symptom lies in its articulation as a signifier established in the signifying chain S1-S2. In other words, the first part of Lacan’s teaching implies that the process of analysis treats the symptom as a repressed message that requires deciphering and interpretation. Meaning and truth find themselves revealed in the history of the subject in the various transformations established through the subject’s development.

The return to Freud from the perspective of Freud’s first topology led Lacan to further his idea of the unconscious structured like a language, which considered the symptom from the point of view of repression. It enabled him to consider the symptom as a return of the repressed, while at the same time foregrounding truth as cause. Finally, this orientation signified a preference for repression over defense.

In this way, Lacan’s ideas in his first clinic are consistent with the manner in which Freud conceived the symptom. The symptom for Freud was, above all, an unconscious formation, a message to be interpreted with the value of a repressed truth. He found that the symptom became laden with meaning only when a subject began to speak of it. At the beginning when the symptom was considered “all message” and it disappeared through interpretation, it generated great optimism. Freud later found that it was not so simple to reduce the symptom because it does not always respond to interpretation. He found for instance, through the negative therapeutic reaction, the foundation of repetition, and the compulsion to repeat. Here, the symptom was not responding to the recognition of meaning, it showed that the nature of trauma was to forever return to the place where it was experienced and yet left without a response.

That which always returns to the same place is one defining aspect of the Real according to Lacan. It is also one of the ways we capture the real in the clinic. Later on in “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,” Freud defined the symptom as a substitute signifier for drive satisfaction and plainly showed the symptom’s inclination toward satisfaction, as a way to enjoy. The symptom, then, apart from being an impediment, is a substitute enjoyment. This is a crucial point of departure for psychoanalysis because it differentiates it from medical therapeutics and is something that the medical discourse finds very difficult to understand. It is inconceivable in medical discourse that a subject is not inclined towards its own self-preservation or that it might be satisfied by its symptom. Medical discourse refuses Freud’s idea of the death drive.

Freud soon found himself struggling with the problem that it was not easy to effect a cure. The negative therapeutic reaction showed that to separate a subject from its mode of enjoyment was not entirely possible and even less likely if the analyst did not have the consent of the subject. Freud then realized that behind the symptom was the phantoms assembled from experience seen and heard by the subject early in his childhood. He also realized that the phantom matrix was driven by a fixation of enjoyment, that is, the footprint of the first traumatic encounter with an enjoyment that could not be accounted for by the subject at the time.

The work of analysis is challenging and yields complicated results because we deal with what is most intimate to the subject. On this path, many difficulties emerge and only some are processed. In the end, the journey to the realm of the real is forever a detour. The bumps on the road are where the experience of analysis lays, the experience of transforming powerlessness into impossibility. (Not all, there is a lack in the Other)

The second “Principle for Any Psychoanalytic Act” states,

a psychoanalytic session is the place in which the most stable identifications by which a subject is attached can come undone. A psychoanalyst will authorize this distance from one’s customs, norms, and rules to which analysands constrains themselves outside of sessions. He will authorize a radical questioning of the foundations of each one’s identity. He is able to temper the radical nature of this questioning by taking into account the clinical specificity of each subject who addresses himself to him. He takes nothing else into account. This is what defines the specificity of a psychoanalyst’s place when he upholds this questioning, opening an enigma in any subject who has sought him out. He therefore does not identify with any of the roles that his interlocutor wants to make him take on, or with any place of mastery or ideal that already exists in civilization. In a sense, an analyst is one who cannot be assigned to any other place than the place where desire is in question.

In line with the second “Principle for any Psychoanalytic Act,” we observe that the analyst authorizes the analysand to embark on a radical questioning of the pillars of subjective identity, questions that cannot be addressed in full, only taken into consideration in the first phase of the clinic. Thus, we find that by the time of Seminar 11, the analytic treatment has moved in the direction from symbolic semblants to  the achievement of object a, which is most real.

These characteristics can be clearly identified in Seminar 20 as the object between semblants. The real of the symptom in Lacan’s teachings comes through the body. To consider the symptom as jouissance requires the presence of the body, because without the body jouissance is not possible. It was in the second part of his teachings (the second clinic) that Lacan placed all the emphasis on the symptom as real. He considered the symptom as that which resists speech articulation, and as that which, at its core, has nothing to do with full speech. In the end, it was possible to relate the symptom to an autistic jouissance, as it was not intended to say anything to anyone.

In order for a symptom to be analyzable one must believe that the symptom has meaning. Only by giving meaning to an experience of jouissance can a symptom become analytical. This has a strong impact in our clinic as we considerate it today, because without a constituted clinical symptom, an analysis could not be performed. Only then, a subject, in experiencing the symptom as an enigmatic dysfunction, is able to go in search of a knowledgeable Other in order to find a solution. As a result, the symptom will transform into a supposed manner of speech, in supposed words, in a subject supposed to know. Amidst so much supposition the algorithm of transference is put into action. The act of the analyst in each cure, and in each analysis, is that of enabling a belief in the symptom, and the supposition of knowing what it entails.

Thus, as indicated in the fifth “Principle for Any Psychoanalytic Act,”

There is no standard treatment, no general procedure by which psychoanalytic treatment is governed. (…) psychoanalysis cannot be presented in the form of an algorithm. (…) Far from being able to be reduced to a technical procedure, the experience of psychoanalysis only has one regularity: that of the originality of a scenario through which all subjective singularity emerges. Psychoanalysis is therefore not a technique but a discourse that encourages each person to produce their own singularity and exception.

This singularity, this exception, is consistent with the last teaching of Lacan, where the symptom becomes increasingly important and is oriented towards the real of the psychoanalytic experience. It is, as Miller suggests, a new understanding of the symptom that goes beyond the phantasm. If the phantasm, as shown by the formula ($<>a), is mediation between the signifier and jouissance, then the new concept of the symptom inscribes a more significant and direct relationship between the signifier and jouissance than the one afforded by the phantasm’s formula.

It is important to address the difference between the real and the symbolic that arises in Seminar 23, along with its implications for clinical practice. By that seminar, the symptom becomes the only exception to meaning. It will be necessary to verify, logically, if this direct relationship between signifier and jouissance is supported in each and every analysis. The pass, for instance, is a device designed to prove this link between signifier and jouissance. From Lacan’s last teaching we learn that this is fundamental because it stems from the supposition that with meaning, with the supposition of knowledge, in other words through the symbolic, it will be possible to access the real.

In the 1974 conference known as “The Third” Lacan states that access to the real cannot be reached through representation because there is only one possible way to access the real: through the symptom. Lacan demonstrates that the symptom is the most real thing that the speaking being possesses. In Seminar 24 he indicates that the symptom is the only truly real thing that preserves meaning in the real. It is not easy to locate the symptom in the real; it is something that requires force and risk-taking in each case. The meaning of the symptom cannot be understood in its totality through the signifier or repressed truth. If that is how psychoanalysis is to function, it becomes a therapeutic practice, it becomes a success and a forgotten symptom. The meaning of the symptom is the real; the symptom is a hindrance to the signifier for it plays the role of the agent in the discourse of the master. According to Lacan, what works has nothing to do with the real.

The fact that there is no meaning of meaning, as Mauricio Tarrab puts forth, implies that the signifier is not the end since its escape reveals its insufficiency. What determines the meaning? What is determined when the signifier, as point de capiton, is an insufficient anchor point as shown by the first Lacan?  If the meaning of the meaning of a practice is captured only when it escapes, our reference points, for analytic practice must change. The Name-of-the-Father fails to completely balance the structure.

If to go through analysis in the first lacanian clinic, consistent with Freud, was the evidence that through meaning the truth of desire could be revealed, in the second period, to go through analysis is in essence to experience the escape of meaning. This is only possible if analysis orients the experience beyond that which is revealed by meaning. This in turn opens another dimension in the analytic experience. The position of the analyst’s actions, interpretations and neutrality with regard to meaning, enables this other dimension to open. For Lacan in Seminar 24 analytic neutrality is precisely the subversion of meaning. Along these lines, the analyst must also be aware of the futility of waiting for the achievement of sense in order to create certainty. Thus, the analytic experience in a clinic that points to the real and to jouissance makes the subject become aware of the loss that the belief in meaning has led to. These are some of the paradoxes present in the practice; the articulation of the unconscious with the symptom is built through an analytic operation. In other words, the analysand runs into limits where meaning capsizes. This is an important practice feature in Lacan’s last teaching. It represents a rupture with the tradition of analytical practice of meaning, with the point de capiton. The escape of meaning proves that capturing meaning through unconscious deciphering is an endless task that disorients the analysand in relation to the real of the experience and the symptom. The analysand is disoriented at first only to become reoriented through the escape of meaning.

Finally, we have argued that the manner in which analysis is conducted is consistent with the analyst’s reading of the theory; therefore, the end of analysis will arrive at a different place in Lacan’s second period. In the first Lacan the end of analysis was related to the presence of the phantasm and its traversal. The aim was to put into action the subject of the unconscious as an effect of the signifier. Miquel Bassols indicates that the end of analysis for the first Lacan was the traversal of the phantasm, which placed the subject at the point of development of the constitutive sentence of the phantasm. As a result, the subject is released from the effects of that axiom that is his phantasm. For many years the end of analysis in the Freudian field was understood in this manner. To transverse the screen and the phrase of the phantasm, to then speak about it, and then return. By comparison, the end of an analysis guided by the second Lacan concludes with the subject’s identification with the sinthome (not symptom). The symptom is emptied of its suffering andjouissance; nonetheless, the subject isn’t completely freed from the symptom, but rather able to reuse the sinthome in a different manner. The symptom is no longer considered useless because it can be reused when emptied of suffering.

Hence, Marie-Hélène Brousse affirms that the analytic cure does not visualize the symptom in a classificatory way. It considers that a subject’s symptom is what is most real for the subject. The treatment it proposes aims to separate the subject from its traumatic Other, its virtual partner that, being included in the symptom, provides meaning to the world. This would open up the possibility of a variation or a new encounter in this link. Lacan went even further by setting a new trans-structural concept, the sinthome, as a fourth modality of link.

In this trend of thought, and to conclude this paper, the seventh “Principle for any Psychoanalytic Act” informs us that

Psychoanalysis cannot decide what its aims are in terms of an adaptation of a subject’s singularity to any norms, rules, determinations, or standards of reality. Psychoanalysis has above all discovered any subject’s inability to achieve full sexual satisfaction. This impotence is designated by the term “castration.” Further, psychoanalysis, with Lacan, has formulated that it is impossible for there to be any norm in the relation between the sexes. If there is no satisfaction and if there is no norm, it is up to each person to invent a particular solution, one that builds on the symptom.

This is how we understand an orientation that lacks standards, but never lacks principles. An orientation guided by Lacan’s second teaching, one that is oriented by the real, one that is beyond full and empty speech.


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Jorge Santiago
(Chiapas Science and Arts University / Metonymy Group) / 011+52+1+9616037766