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Jacques Lacan
Geneva lecture on the symptom

A transcript of this lecture was sent to me by Mario Cifali. After having verified the text, I happily agreed to his request to authorise its publication in his journal. Le Bloc-Notes de La psychanalyse.
According to the information he gave me, the lecture, advertised under the title 'The Symptom', was delivered 4th October 1975 at the Centre Raymond de Saussure, at a study week-end organised by the Swiss Society of Psychoamlysis, to an audience consisting of members and guests of the Society; it was introduced by Olivier Flournoy.
A note indicates where there is a passage missing.
Jacques-Alain Miller I shan't start without thanking Olivier Flournoy for having invited me here,
which gives me the privilege of addressing you.
It seemed to me that, from when I began my practice, I have owed you at least a word of explanation-a word of explanation about the fact that I practiced first and then one day started to teach.
I really had no need to teach. I started at the time that what has since been called the Psychoanalytic Institute of Paris was founded-founded in the name of a take-over by someone who had, indeed, no great claim to this role.
I did it solely because at the time, which was a time of crisis-it was, in short, the setting up of a kind of dictatorship-, a group of these people, psychoanalysts, who were emerging from the war-it had taken them eight years to emerge from it nevertheless, since this foundation was in 1953-a group asked me to start speaking.
At the time there was a professor of psychiatry at [the hospital] Sainte-Anne, since then a member of the Acadkmie Franpzise, who invited me there. He had been psychoanalyzed, supposedly, but really, his Jeunesse d'Andrk
Gide doesn't bear this out. and he wasn't very enthusiastic about playing a role in psychoanalysis. Thus he was only too happy, after ten years, not so much to give me notice, since it was rather I who gave him notice, as to see
me leave.
8 The symptom Then a new crisis broke out, due, my God, to a sort of aspiring, with a
kind of empty fuss, to the level of the International [Psychoanalytic Association]. There's something here that Joyce, who is on the list of my current preoccupations, symbolises with the English word suck-it is the noise that the lavatory makes when you pull the chain, when it sinks down the hole.
This is not a bad metaphor for the function of this International such as Freud wanted it. It must be remembered that he was led, by his belief that there was no guarantee that immediately after his death his thought would be safeguarded, to confide his thought in no other person than his own daughter.
It can't be said, can it, that this daughter is directly aligned with Freud himself? The so-called Mechanisms of Defense she produced doesn't seem to me to be any proof that she continues in the same line as Freud. Far from it.
I thus found myself in 1953 beginning a seminar, which a certain number of you, Olivier Flournoy tells me, have followed. This seminar is nothing but the collection I left in the hands of Jacques-Alain Miller, who is fairly close to me. I left it in his hands because this seminar was a bit distant from me, and if I had reread it, I would have rewritten it, or at the very least, I would have simply written it.
Writing is not at all the same as speaking, they're not similar at all. I will illustrate this a bit later. It so happens that during the time I was at Sainte Anne I wanted something of what I was saying to remain. At that time a review appeared in which I used to write, in the strict sense of the term.l I published a collection of the articles that had appeared in this review.
As I had also written quite a few things before then, half of this collection is made up of these previous writings--which are writings [kcrits] properly socalled, hence my title, simply Ecrits. Someone I know, a charming young woman, who is Japanese, was a bit shocked by this title. The resonance of the word kcrit probably isn't the same in Japanese and French. By kcrits I simply wanted to point out that it was in some sense the residue of my teaching.
Roughly once a year, I used to publish a writing in this review, La Psychanalyse, one that was intended to preserve something of the turmoil [remous] that my word had created, in order to retain an apparatus that one could refer to. I did this with the idea in mind that, after all, it could have served as a reference point for me with respect to the Internalional. To be sure they laugh at all these writings--and after all, they are right, since psycho-Seven issues of the review La psychanalyse appeared between 1956 and 1962.
Jacques Lacan 9 analysis is something quite different from writing. However, it would perhaps not be a bad thing that the analyst give some sort of proof that he knows what he is doing. If he does something, if he speaks, it would perhaps not be unreasonable to expect him, in a certain sense, to testify to what he does. Nor is it unreasonable to hope that he thinks about what he is doing. He thinks from time to time. He thinks sometimes. This is in no way obligatory. I don't give any connotation of value to the term 'thinking'. I
would go even further than this-if there is anything I have claimed, it is very much of a kind to reassure the analyst of what could be called his automatism. I think that ultimately one gets bogged down in thought. And psychoanalysts know this better than anyone. One gets bogged down in what I have described as the imaginary, and an entire philosophical tradition has observed this perfectly well. If man-it seems banal to say this-did not have what is called a body, I'm not going to say that he would not think, since that's obvious, but he would not be profoundly captivated by the image of this body.

Man is captivated by the image of his body. This point explains many things, the first of which is the privileged position that this body holds for him. His world, assuming that this word has a meaning, his Urnwell, what there is around him. he corpo-reifies it, he makes it a thing in the image of his body. He does not have the slightest idea, of course, of what happens inside this body. How does a body survive? I don't know whether you are struck by this in any way-when you get scratched, it heals. This is just as surprising as, no more or less than, the fact that the lizard that loses its tail grows a new one. It is of exactly the same order.
It is by means of the look, to which Olivier Flournoy was referring before, that this body carries weight. The majority-but not all-of what man thinks stems from there. It is really very difficult for an analyst, given
what he is dealing with, not to be sucked in-in the way I was refemng to
before-by the glug-glug of the escaping water, of this thing that captivates
him, ultimately. narcissistically, in the discourse of what Olivier Flournoy
was calling-unfortunately-the analysed [analysc!l. Why this is unfortunate
is that it is now some time that the term 'analysand' [analysanf], which I
proposed in my seminar one day, caught on. Not only in my School-I
would only attach relative importance to that, relative to me-but it came as
a son of thunderclap the very week I formulated it, this 'analysand'. The
Psychoanaly~icI nsfifufeo f Paris, which is very up to date with everything I
recount-I would go even further, what I say is the main thing that is taught
10 The symptom
there-this Institute relished this 'analysand' that fitted them like a glo"e,
even if it was only used to relieve the analyst of his responsibility for the
analysis when the occasion arises.
I must say that when I put this thing forward I was only parodying-if I
can put it like that, since an entire tradition is of the order of parody-the
term 'analysand', current in English. Of course, it isn't strictly equivalent to
the French term. [The English] 'analysand' evokes more the to-be-analysed,
and that is not what I meant at all. What I meant was that in analysis the
person who truly comes to formulate a request for an analysis [demande
d'analyse] is the one who does the workdn condition that you haven't put
him on the couch straightaway, in which case you've ruined it. It is essential
that this request has really taken shape before you get him to lie down. When
you tell him to start-and this must be neither the frrst nor the second time,
at least if you want to conduct yourself with dignity-the person, then, who
makes this request for an analysis, when he starts to work, is the one who
does the work. You are not to consider him at all as someone that you have
to mould. It is the exact opposite of this. What is it that you are doing? This
question is the reason for everything I have enquired about ever since I began.
I began, my God, I would say, in all innocence. I mean that I didn't know
what I was doing, as what followed proved-proved to my mind. Would I
have had second thoughts if I had known what it was I was undertaking? I
feel certain I would have. This is why at the final point, that is, at the latest
stage I had got to at the beginning of the academic year in 1967, in October,
I instituted that thing that consists in asserting that when someone sets
himself up as analyst, no one else can do it for him. This seems to me to be
a self-evident truth.
When someone sets himself up as analyst, he is free in that kind of
inauguration, which I introduced and which I called the Proposal. He is free,
he can also refrain from doing it, and keep things to himself, but he is also
free to volunteer for this trial of coming and confiding things-onfiding
them to people that I chose on purpose because they are at the same point as
he is.
It is obvious that if he addresses himself to an older person, to one who is
registered [titularis6J, or even to someone called a training analyst, you can
be sure that his testimony will miss the point entirely. Because, frrst, he
knows perfectly well that the poor idiot he is addressing has matured such
that he, just like me, has absolutely no idea why he entered this profession of
being an analyst. I myself can remember why a little, and I regret it. But on
the whole they have completely forgotten. All they see is their position of
Jacques Lacan 11
authority, and in these conditions one tries to place oneself on the same
footing as the authority--that is to say, one lies, quite simply. So I tried to
ensure that they always address themselves to beginners like themselves.
Despite everything. I retained--one always has to beware of innovating.
it's not like me, I've never innovated in anything-a son of panel established
out of the consent of all. There is nothing more striking than this-if you
elect any panel whatsoever, if you get people to vote, by secret ballot, the
result is the names of people who are already perfectly well identified. The
group wants leaders. It is already a piece of good fortune if the group wants
more than one. So, the group that wants leaders elects those who are already
there through the way things function. The people who have received the
testimony of those who want to be analysts testify to this panel.
In the spirit of my Proposal, this exercise is carried out so as to cast light
upon what happens at this point [of deciding to become an analyst]. It's
exactly as Freud said-when we have a case [casl, what is called a case, in
analysis, he recommends that one not place it in a pigeon-hole [casier] in
advance. He would like us to listen, if I may say so, entirely independently of
any knowledge [connaissances] we have acquired, to be aware of what we are
dealing with. namely the particularity of the case. This is very difficult
because obviously the nature of experience is to prepare a pigeon-hole. It is
very difficult for us analysts, men, or women, of experience, not to make
judgements about a case in the process of functioning and to develop the
analysis, of not calling other cases to mind concerning it. Whatever our
supposed freedom-since it is impossible to believe in this freedom-it is
clear that we are unable to obliterate our experience. Freud insists upon this a
great deal, and if it were better understood we would have the path to a
completely different type of intervention-but this cannot be.
It was, then, in this spirit that I wanted a person who was at the same
level as the one crossing this threshold to be a witness. In short, it was
designed to enlighten us. It happens from time to time that a person's testimony
has the character-nd it is possible to recognize it--of authenticity.
So I made it possible for this person to be accepted at a level at which there
are supposed to be people who think about what they are doing, in such a
way as to son them out. What immediately became of this? Of course, it
became another mode of selection. That is, people who testified in all
honesty to what they had done in their analysis, retroactively called a training
analysis, felt a bit miffed if, following their testimony. they didn't belong to
that by means of which I tried to enlarge the group of those able to reflect a
bit on what they are doing. They feel devalued, whatever I do to prevent this
12 The symptom
occurring. I try to explain to them that their testimony has contributed
something about a certain way of becoming an analyst by having been
trained in whatever it is that is required of them. What can be demanded of
them is obviously to have passed through that experience. How can it be
transmitted if you haven't been subjected to it yourself? Well, anyway . . .
I would like to mention Freud's remark, Sol1 Ich Werden, which I have
stressed more than once? Werden, what does that mean? It is very difficult to
translate. It goes towards something. Is this something the den? Is Werden a
becoming green, a verdification? What is there in the German becoming?
Each language has its own genius and translating Wer&n by devenir really
carries weight only in so far as den is already in devenir. It is something of
the order of destitution, if it can be put like that. Destitution [dtnuement] is
not the same thing as outcome [dtnouement]. But let's leave that up in the
What is at issue is to evaluate what Freud-a very surprising thing on the
part of a man so thoroughly a practitioner-nly emphasised in the first part
of his work, in this first stage that ends around 1914, before the First World
War-in his Traumdeutung, in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, and in
his Jokes in particular. He emphasised this, and it is surprising that he didn't
put his finger on it, it is that his hypothesis of the Unbewusstsein, of the
unconscious, if one can say so, is poorly named.
The unconscious is not only being un-known. Freud himself had already
formulated it in saying Bewusst. I am exploiting the German language here,
in which a relationship can be established between Bewusst and Wissen. In
the German language the conscious of consciousness is formulated as what it
really is, namely the enjoyment ~ouissanceo] f knowledge [savoir].F reud's
contribution is this, that there is no need to know what one knows to enjoy
Let's turn to our everyday experience. If what we say is me, if it is indeed
at an early stage that what we must call by their name, that is, symptoms,
crystallise, if the period of infancy is indeed decisive for that, how can this
fact fail to be linked to the manner in which we analyse dreams and bungled
actions? I won't mention jokes, completely outside the range of analysts who
naturally do not have the slightest humour. That's Freud, but it proves all the
same that here Freud, nevertheless, must have observed that the statement in
a bungled action gets value only from the explanations given by the subject.
How does one interpret a bungled action? We would be completely in the
The transcript of part of the lecture is missing at this point.
Jacques Lacan 13
dark if the subject didn't say one or two things about it, which make it
possible to say, 'But then, when you took your own key out of your pocket
to enter my, the analyst's, place, it has meaning all the same', and according
to his state of progress, the meaning will be explained to him in one of
several ways-either by the fact that he thinks he is entering his own home,
or that he wants to enter his own home, or even a bit further on, that the fact
of inserting the key into the lock proves something symbolic that has to do
with keys and locks. The symbolism of the Traumdeutung is cut from
exactly the same cloth. What are these dreams if they're not recounted
dreams? It is in the unfolding of the report that what Freud calls their
meaning is read. How can one sustain a hypothesis such as that of the
unconscious, unless one sees that it is the manner in which the subject, if
indeed there is such a thing as a subject that is not divided, is impregnated, as
it were, by language?
We well know in analysis the importance the way a subject was desired
has for him or her, I mean who at that moment was still nothing at all.
There are people who live under the threat, and this will last their whole life,
under the threat that one of the two parents-I won't say which--did not
desire them. That's what our everyday text is.
Parents mould the subject in this function that I call symbolism. Strictly
speaking this means, not that the child is in any way the basis of a symbol,
but that the way in which a mode of speaking has been instilled in him can
only bear the mark of the mode in which his parents have accepted him. I
well know that this can have all sorts of variations, and fortunes. Even an
undesired child may, in the name of whatever it is that may arise from his
first wriggles, be more welcome later on. This won't prevent from being
retained some mark of the fact that the desire didn't exist before a certain date.
How could people fail to appreciate before Freud that these people called
men, or women on occasion, inhabit talking? It is very odd for people who
believe they think not to realise that they think with words. There are things
there that have to come to an end, don't you agree? The thesis of the
Wiirzburg School, on the so-called apperception of I know not what synthetic
thought that isn't articulated, is really the most delusional that a school of
supposed psychologists has ever produced. It is always with the help of
words that man thinks. And it is in the encounter between these words and
his body that something takes shape. Moreover, I would even use the term
'innate' in this respect-if there were no words, what could man bear witness
to? This is where he places meaning.
14 The symptom
I tried, as much as I could, to bring alive again something that didn't
come from me, but that had already been perceived by the old Stoics. There is
no reason to think that philosophy has always been the same thing as it is
for us. In those times philosophy was a way of life-a way of life
concerning which it could be perceived. well before Freud, that language, this
language that has absolutely no theoretical existence, always intervenes in
the form of what I call--using a word that I have wanted to make as close as
possible to the word 'lallation'. 'babblingq-'lalangue', 'llanguage'?
Llanguage. The Greeks, from the time of Aesop on, were well aware that
it was of absolutely capital importance. There is a well-known fable on this
topic, but nobody notices it. It is no coincidence at all that, whatever
llanguage it is that one receives the first imprint of, words are equivocal. It is
certainly no coincidence that in French the word 'ne'. 'not', is pronounced the
same as the word 'noeud, 'knot'. It is no coincidence at all that the word 'pas',
'not', which in French, contrary to many other languages, doubles the
negation, also designates un pas, a step. If I am so interested in 'pas',
'notTstep', it is not by chance. This doesn't mean that llanguage in any way
constitutes a heritage. It is absolutely certain that it is in the way in which
llanguage has been spoken and also heard as such, in its particularity, that
something will subsequently emerge in dreams, in all sorts of mistakes, in
all manners of speaking. It is in this materialism, if you will allow me to
use this word for the first time, that the unconscious takes hold.4 What I
mean is that here there resides what it is that prevents anyone from finding
another way of nourishing what just before I called the symptom.
Read a bit of the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud's
VorlesungeeI'm sure this doesn't happen to you very often. There are two
chapters on the symptom. One's called Wege zur Symptom Bildung [Paths to
Symptom Formation], it's the chapter 23, then you will see that there is a
chapter 17 called Der Sinn, the meaning, of symptoms. If there is any
contribution Freud has made, this is it. It's that symptoms have a meaning,
and a meaning that can only be interpreted correctly-'correctly' meaning that
the subject lets some of it go-as a function of his early experiences, namely
in so far as he encounters what today I am going to call, through lack of
being able to say anything more or anything better, sexual reality.
Freud placed a lot of emphasis on this. And he thought, notably, that the
term 'autoeroticism' needed to be accentuated, in the sense that the child
Zalangue' joins article and noun.
'Motbialisme'. Mot means word.
Jacques Lacan l5
initially discovers this .sexual reality on his own body. I pennit myself-this
doesn't happen every clay-to disagree-and in the name of Freud's work
If you study the case of little Hans closely, you will see that what appears
there is that what he calls his Wiwimacher, because he doesn't know how to
call it anything else, is introduced into his circuit. In other words, to call
things quietly by their name, he has his first erections. This first enjoyment
[jouir] manifests itself, it could be said, in everyone. Is this, if not true of
everyone, then verified in everyone? But this is precisely the point of Freud's
contribution-its being verified in certain people is enough for us to be in a
position to construct something upon it that has the closest of connections
with the unconscious. For it's a fact, after all, that the unconscious is Freud's
invention. The unconscious is an invention in the sense of a discovery.
which is linked to the encounter that certain beings have with their own
Being, this is what we call it, because we don't know how to say it any
differently. It would be better to do without the word 'being'. Some people
have in the past been sensitive to this. A certain Saint Thomas Aquinas-he
is a holy man [saint homme] and even a symptom [symptdmel-wrote
something called De ente et essentia [On Being and Essence]. I can't say I
recommend that you read it, because you won't, but it's very astute. If there
is something called the unconscious, it means that one doesn't have to know
what one is doing in order to do it, and in order to do it while knowing it full
well. Perhaps there is someone here who will read De ente et essentia and
who will see what this holy man, this symptom, works out very wellbeing
is not grasped so easily. nor is essence.
There's no need to know all that. One only needs to know that with
certain beings, whatever they are called, the encounter with their own erection
is not at all autoerotic. It is the most hetero thing there is. They ask
themselves, 'But what is this?' And they wonder about it so much that this
poor little Hans thinks of nothing else and incarnates it in the most external
of all objects, namely in this horse that paws the ground, that kicks, rolls
over and falls to the ground. This horse that comes and goes, that has a
certain way of drawing a cart along the quay, is for him the most exemplary
thing of everything he is caught up in, but that he understands absolutely
nothing of, owing to the fact, to be sure, that he has a certain type of mother
and a certain type of father. His symptom is the expression, the meaning of
this rejection.
16 The symptom
This rejection does not deserve to be labelled 'autoeroticism', under the
sole pretext that after all this Wiwimacher is somewhere stuck onto him,
below his belly. The enjoyment that has resulted from this Wiwimacher is
alien to him-so much so that it is at the root of his phobia. 'Phobia' means
he has got the wind up. The intervention of Professor Freud mediated by the
father is entirely faked, and has one single benefit-that it worked. He will
end up having his little prick borne by someone else, namely his little sister.
I abbreviate the case of little Hans. I only introduce it because, since you
are in total ignorance, I don't see why I shouldn't have improvised totally
today. I won't get round to reading out all the things I've cooked up for you
today. I simply want to try to convey something of what happened, towards
the end of the last century with someone who was not a genius, as people
say, but an honest imbecile, like me.
Freud observed that there were things of which no one could say that the
speaking subject knew them without knowing them. There you have things
highlighted. That's why I spoke of the signifier and of its signified effect
[effet de signifid. Naturally, with the signifier I have not completely
exhausted the question. The signifier is something embodied in language. It
just so happens that there exists a species that has learnt how to bark in such
a way that one sound, qua signifier, is different from another. Olivier
Flournoy told me he has published an article by Spitz. Read his On the Birth
of Speech to try to see how the relationship with barking arises. There is an
abyss between this relation to barking and the fact that in the end, the
humiliated being, the humus being, the human being, or whatever you want
to call it-I'm talking about you and me-that the human being manages to
be able to say something. Not only is he able to say it, but moreover this
ulcer, as I define language because I don't know what else to call it, this
ulcerous language implies a kind of sensitivity right from the start.
I have observed a number of small children closely, even if they were
only my own. The fact that a child says, perhaps, not yet, before he is able
to construct a sentence properly, proves that there is something in him
through which everything is sieved, whereby the water of language happens
to leave something behind as it passes, some detritus which he will play
with, indeed which he will be forced to cope with. This is what all this nonreflected
activity leaves him with-debris. to which, later on, because he is
premature, there will be added problems that will frighten him. Owing to this
he will, as it were, coalesce this sexual reality and language.
Jacques Lacan 17
Allow me to advance some humble equations, concerning what I put
forward in my Ecrits as the meaning of the phallus, which is a very bad
translation of Die Bedeutung des Phallus.
It is surprising that psychoanalysis hasn't in any way provided any
stimulation to psychology. Freud did everything in his power, but of course
psychologists are deaf. This thing exists only in the vocabulary of
psychologists-a psyche as such glued on to a body. Why in the devil
[diable], if you will excuse the pun, why in the devil would man be double
[double]? The fact that he has a body disguises enough mysteries, and Freud,
guided by the path opened up by biology, differentiated between soma and
germ fairly well. Why in the devil don't we get this feeble psychology out of
our mind and try to spell out what there is in the Bedeutung of the phallus? I
had to translate it as meaning [signification], through lack of any equivalent.
Bedeutung is different from Sinn, from the sense effect, and designates the
relation to the real. Why, ever since psychoanalysis has existed, have the
questions not been addressed at this level? Why did this so-called being, why
did this 'enjoys itself ['se jouitl, appear on what is called the earth? We
imagine that this is a privileged heavenly body on the pretext that man exists
there, and in a certain way it is hue-on the one condition there are no other
inhabited worlds.
Does it not occur to you that what is specific to man in 'sexual reality',
as I put it just before, is that between male and female man there is no
instinctual rapport? That nothing makes it the case that all men-to
designate man by what suits him reasonably well, given that he imagines the
idea of the all naturally--that not all men are suited to satisfy every woman?
This does indeed seem to be the rule for how things are with other animals.
Obviously, not every male satisfies every female, but it is just a question of
whether they are suited to do so or not. Man has to make do with dreaming
about it. He has to make do with dreaming about it because it is quite certain
that not only does he not satisfy every woman, but that Woman-I ask any
members of the Women's Liberation Movement who may be present to
excuse me--Woman does not exist. There are women, but Woman is a dream
of men.
It is not for nothing that man is happy with one, or even several, only. It
is because he doesn't desire the others. Why does he have no desire for the
others? Because they are not consonant, if 1 can put it like this, with his
It is not only that there is no Woman, Woman defined as being what
some time ago I pinned down, and now repeat for you, as not-All [pm-toutel.
18 The symptom
This goes further, and it doesn't come from man, contrary to what members
of the Women's Liberation Movement believe, it comes from themselves. It
is within themselves that they are not-All-namely, that they do not lend
themselves to generalization. Not even, I say this parenthetically, to
phallocentric generalization.
I didn't say that woman is an object for man. On the contrary, I said that
here is something he never knows how to cope with. In other words, he
never fails to burn his fingers whenever he approaches any whatever-ither
because he has made a mistake, or because she is precisely the one for him.
But he only ever realises this after the event.
This is one of the meanings of 'aprds coup', 'after the event', which I have
spoken about on occasion, and which was so poorly conveyed in the famous
and eternal Language of Psychoanalysis by which Lagache has ruined [a Id
gdchk] psychoanalysis in its entirety. Well, all right, it isn't as bad as all
that, let's not exaggerate. Probably the only thing that was of interest to him
was to lagache what I said. After all, why wouldn't one lagache it?5
I am not absolutely sure I am right about everything. Not only am I not
sure, but I really do have the Freudian attitude. The next thing that causes me
to revise my system, on the appropriate occasion, I would ask for nothing
more than to gather it up. All I can say is that, thanks no doubt to my
stupidity, this hasn't yet happened.
There you are. NOW it is over to you.
I would be happy, after all this chatter, to know what you've got out of
Questions and replles
J.L.: To encourage whoever may have a question to raise, I would like to
say that someone who had a train to catch, I don't know where for. . .
-: For Lausanne.
-: You know who it is?
-: Dr Bovet.
-: That name is not unknown to me. Dr Bovet asked me a question
that I think is a good one, manner of speaking. Up to what point, he said to
me, do you take yourself seriously? That's not bad, and I hope it will
encourage you. It is the type of question that I couldn't care less about. To
continue for so long as to be at the twenty-second year of my teaching
Although The Language of Psychoanalysis is by Jean Laplanche and J.-B.
Pontalis, the work was conceived and begun by Daniel Lagache.
Jacques Lacan 19
implies that I take myself seriously. If I didn't answer, it was because he had
a train to catch. But I've already answered the question, implicitly, by
identifying the serious with the series. A mathematical series, whether
convergent or divergent, means something. What I announce is of the same
order. utterly. I am trying to get closer and closer, to construct a convergent
series. Am I succeeding? Naturally, when one is captivated. . . . But even a
divergent series is interesting, in its own way. it converges too-this is for
the people who have some idea of mathematics. Since this concerns Dr
Bovet, would someone please convey my reply to him?
Dr Cramer: You said, if1 understood you correctly, that it is the mother
that speaks to the child, though the child still has to hear her. It is about this
'though the child still has to hear her' that I would like to ask you a question.
-: Yes!
-: What makes a child able to hear? What makes a child receptive to a
symbolic order that his mother teaches him? Is there something immanent
there in the human child?
-: In what I said it seems to me that I implied it. The being that I
called human is essentially a speaking being.
-: And a being that must be able to hear as well.
-: But hearing is a part of speech. What I mentioned concerning the
perhaps, the not yet, other examples could be cited, proves that the resonance
of speech is something constitutional. It is obvious that this is linked to the
specificity of my experience. From the moment at which someone is in
analysis he always shows that he has heard. To be sure, the question that you
raise whether there might be people who hear nothing is suggestive, but it is
difficult to imagine. Perhaps you will tell me that there are people who hear
only a hub-hub, that is, all around them there is chatter.
-: I was thinking of autism, for instance. This would be a case in
which the receiver is not in place, and in which hearing doesn't work.
-: As the name indicates, autistics hear themselves. They hear lots of
things. Normally this even leads to hallucination, and hallucinations have
always a more or less vocal character. Not all autistics hear voices, but they
articulate lots of things, and what they articulate, it is a matter of discovering
where they heard it. Do you see autistics?
-: Yes.
-: Well, what do you make of autistics, then?
-: That precisely they don't manage to hear us, that they remain
20 The symptom
-: But that's quite different. They don't manage to hear what you have
to say to them, in so far as you are caring for them.
-: But also that we have trouble hearing them. Their language
remains something closed off.
-: That's precisely what prevents us from hearing them. It's that they
do not hear you. But, in the end, surely there is something to say to them.
-: My question goes a bit further. Is the symbolic4 am going to
take a short-circuiclearnable? Is there something in us from birth which
makes us ready for the symbolic, to receive precisely the symbolic message,
to integrate it?
: Everything I said implies this. It is a matter of knowing why there
is something in the autistic or in the schizophrenic which freezes, if I can put
it like that. But you can't say that he doesn't speak. That you have trouble
hearing, grasping the point of what they say, doesn't prevent these people
from being rather verbose.
-: Do you conceive of language as being not only verbal but also
non-verbal? The language of gestures, for instance?
-: That question was raised a very long time ago by someone called
Jousse, namely that gestures precede speech. I think that speech has
something specific. Verbal structure is altogether specific, and we have
evidence for this in the fact that those known as deaf mutes are capable of a
type of gesture that is in no way the expressive gesture as such. The case of
deaf mutes is illustrative of the fact that there is a predisposition to language,
even in those affected by that infirmity-to me the word 'infirmity' seems
altogether specific here. There is a perception that there can be something
significant as such. Sign language is not conceivable without a
predisposition to acquire the signifier, whatever the bodily infirmity. I
haven't mentioned the difference between signifier and sign.
0. Flournoy: I think M. Auber would be happy for you perhaps to
elaborate a bit on the difference that you have just mentioned.
: That's a big question, on what is specific to the signifier. The sign
is typically found in a cycle of manifestation that one may, more or less
justifiably, call external. It is the no smoke without fire. That the sign is
immediately grasped like this-if there is a fire, it's because there is someone
who lit it. Even if it's remarked after the event that the forest is burning
without anyone being responsible for it. The sign always drifts, immediately,
towards the subject and towards the signifier. The sign is immediately
grasped as intentional. It is not the signifier. The signifier is from the start
perceived as a signifier.
Jacques Lacan 21
-: In the course of what was said, you made some remarks about
woman that I found very fine. Such as, Woman does not exist, there are
women. Woman is a dream of man.'
-: This is a dream because he can't do any better.
-: Or again, Woman is what man never knows how to cope with'. It
seems to me that in the title of your lecture one was talking of the symptom,
and Ifinally got the impression that woman is man's symptom.
-: I've spelt this out in my seminar.
-: Could one say reciprocally that man is the symptom of woman?
Does this signify that in the little girl and little boy the message that the
mother transmits, the symbolic message, signifer, will be received from the
same thing, because it's the mother who transmits it, whether to the girl or
to the boy? Is there a reciprocity, or a dfference from which one can't escape?
-: There's surely a difference, which stems from the fact that women
understand very well that man is a strange bird. You've got to evaluate this at
the level of women analysts. Women analysts are better. They're better than
men analysts.
-: What ultimately is this relationship with the signifier that has the
appearance of being something nuns-sexual, bisexual?
M. X.: Women are better analysts. Better in what way? Better how?
-: It's clear that they are much more active. There aren't many
analysts who give evidence of understanding something. Women make
progress. You only have to look at Melanie Klein. Women get on with it,
and they get on with it with an altogether direct feeling of what the baby in
man is. Men require a rude shattering.
M. X.: Men also want to have children.
-: Sometimes, they want to give birth, it's true. From time to time
there are men who, for reasons that are always quite specific, identify with
the mother. They wanf not only to have a baby, but to carry a child, that's
fairly common. In my analytic experience I've got five or six quite clear
cases, who were able to formulate it.
M. Vauthier: As an analyst, have you had the opportunity for close
contact with psychosomatic patients? What's the position of the signifer in
relation to them? What's their position in relation to their accession to the
symbolic? One gets the impression that they haven't touched the symbolic
register, or it's not known how to hook on to it. I would like to know if in
your way of raising the problem, you have a formula that can be applied to
this type of patient?
22 The symptom
-: Certainly this is one of the most unexplored areas. Still, it's within
the order of the written nevertheless. In many cases we don't know how to
read it. Something would have to be said here to introduce the notion of the
written. Everything happens as if something were written in the body,
something that's given as an enigma. It's not at all astonishing that as
analysts we have this feeling.
-: But how does one get them to speak what is written? There, it
seems to me, there is a rupntre.
-: That's quite true. There's what the mystics call the signature of
things, what there is in things that can be read. Signatura doesn't mean
signum, does it? There's something to be read faced with which, often, we are
at sea
M. Nicolaidis: Could one say that the psychosomatic expresses himself
in a hieroglyphic language, whereas the neurotic does it in an alphabetic
-: But that's Vico.
-: One's never the first.
-: Sure, one's never the first, there is always someone who has said
-: Still, he didn't speak'about psychosomatics.
-: Vico? Definitely not. But then, come at the thing from this angle.
Yes, the body considered as a camidge, as delivering the proper noun. There
would have to be an idea of the hieroglyph that was a bit more developed
than Vico's. When he says hieroglyphics he doesn't seem to have-I've read
the Scienza nuova-very developed ideas for his time.
0. Flournoy: I would like our women friends to say a word. Mme.
Rossier. Let there be intersexual dialogue.
Mme. Rossier: I wanted to say that while you were speaking, discussing
psychosomatics, of something written [d'Ccrit], I understood cries [des cris],
the cry. And I wondered whether the inscription in the body of
psychosomatics does not resemble a cry more than something spoken, and
whether that's why we have trouble understanding it. It's a repetitive but
under-developed cry. I would not at all think of a hieroglyph, which already
seems much more complicated to me.
-: It's rather complicated, a psychosomatic illness. and it resembles a
hieroglyph more than a cry.
0. Flournoy: And yet, a cry is devilishly diflcult to translate.
-: That's true.
Jacques Lacan 23
M. Vauthier: One always attributes a signifier to a cry. Whereas the
psychosomatic, one would dearly love to be able to attribute a signifier to
-: Freud speaks of the cry at a certain moment. I would have to find it
again for you. He speaks of the cry, but nothing comes of it.
Mme. Y: The difference between the written word and the spoken word?
You gave the impression of having had some thoughts on this matter.
-: It's certain that here there is, in effect, an altogether striking gap.
How is it that orthography exists? It is the most stupefying thing in the
world, and that moreover it is manifestly through writing that speech makes
its opening, through writing and uniquely through writing, the writing of
what are called figures [les chiffres], because no one wants to speak of
numbers. There's something there that's of the same order as what was raised
as a question a while ag-f the order of something immanent. The body
in the signifier leaves a trait, and a trait that is a One. I translated the eintiger
Zug that Freud wrote in his paper on identification as unary trait6. It's this
unary trait that the whole question of the written revolves around. Whether
the hieroglyph is Egyptian or Chinese is in this respect the same. It's always
a question of a configuration of the trait. It is not for nothing that the binary
numeration is written only with ones and zeros. The question should be
assessed at this level-what is the son of enjoyment [jouissancel that's found
in psychosomatics? If I used a metaphor likefioten, it's indeed because there
certainly is that species of fixation. It is not for nothing, either, that Freud
uses the term Fixierung-it's because the body lets itself go to write
something of the order of the number.
M. Vauthier: There is something paradoxical. When one gets the
impression that the word enjoyment takes up meaning again with a
psychosomatic, he is no longer psychosomatic.
-: I quite agree. It's from this angle, its through the revelation of the
specific enjoyment that he has in his fixation that one must first of all
approach the psychosomatic. This is where one holds out hope that the
unconscious, the invention of the unconscious, can be of some use. It is in
so far as we hope that we can provide him with the meaning of what it's
about. The psychosomatic is something which is nevertheless,
fundamentally, profoundly rooted in the imaginaq.
Lacan is referring to Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, S E
18. In the SE 'einziger Zug' is translated as single trait.
24 The symptom
M. Z.: SOU ich werden, you have more or less transcribed with the work
of 'It is thought'. I think of the discourse of the obsessional, who thinks,
who rethinks, who cogitates, who in any case also gets to the 'It is thought'.
The 'It is thought', can it be understood also as 'disthought' [dkpensk = spent],
in the sense in which the 'dis' means from high to low, dismount,
disarticulate, andfinally topple the statue? Can 'disthought' be joined to the
'It is thought'?
-: That is closely related to obsession. The obsessional is most
essentially someone who is thought. He is thought greedily. He is thought
in a closed circuit. He is thought for himself alone. It's the obsessionals who
inspired that formula in me. You have very well recognized the affinity with
the obsessional, since I didn't say it myself.
Mme Vergopoulo: There is something that struck me in your seminar, in
relation to time. The concept is the time of the thing. Within the framework
of transference, you say, speech has value only as speech, there is neither
emotion, nor projection, nor displacement. I must say that I did not fully
understand what the sense of speech is in the tranrference?
-: What are you seeking an answer to? On the relationship between
the concept and time?
-: On the relationship between former speech and current speech. In
the transference, if the interpretation is properly directed, it's because there is
a coincidence between former speech and current speech.
-: Occasionally I have to try my hand at something tentative. That
the concept is the time is a Hegelian idea But it so happens that, in a thing
that is in my Ecrits, on the Temps logique et l'assertion de certitude
anticipke, I underlined the function of haste in logic, namely that one cannot
stay in a state of uncertainty since at some point one has to conclude. There I
try to knot time to logic itself. I distinguished three times, but it's a bit old,
I wrote that a long time ago, straight after the war. Up to a point, one always
concludes too soon. But this too soon is simply the avoidance of a too lute.
This is definitely linked to the nether regions of logic. The idea of the whole,
of the universal, is already prefigured in some way in language. The refusal
of the universal is sketched out by Aristotle. and he rejects it, because
universality is essential to his thought. I can progress with a certain
likelihood that the fact that Aristotle rejects it is a clue to the ultimately nonnecessity
character of logic. The fact is that only in a living human is there
M. Melo: In your first reply you started from the word serious, and you
were lead to the notion of a series. I am struck by our reaction to this word
Jacques Lacan 25
series, which was to line up a series of patients one 4fter the other. There was
the autistic, the obsessional, the psychosomatic and there war Woman. That
made me think of the fact that you came here to speak to us, and that we
came here to listen to you. Here is my question. Don't you think that
between transference and countertransference there is really a difference
situated at the level of power?
-: It is easy to show that power never rests entirely upon force, pure
and simple. Power is always a power tied to speech. It so happens that after
having drummed things into people over a long period, people are attracted to
me by my chattering which, obviously, would not have this power were it
not in a series, if it weren't converging on something. It's a power of a very
unusual kind, nevertheless. It's not an imperative power. I give orders to no
one. But all politics rests on the fact that the entire world is only too happy
to have someone who says, Quick march-towards no matter what,
moreover. The very principle of the idea of progress is that one believe in the
imperative. It's the most original thing in speech, which I have tried to
schematise--you will find this in a text called Radiophonie, and which I can
no longer recall where I gave. It is a question of the structure of the master's
discourse. The master's discourse is characterised by the fact that at a certain
point there is someone who will make a pretence of commanding. This
character of pretence'of a discourse that would not be a pretence' served as
the title of one of my seminars-is altogether essential. That there is
someone who is happy to take on the function of pretence, ultimately
delights everybody. If no one pretended to command, where would we go?
And by virtue of a real consent founded on the knowledge that there has to be
someone who pretends, those who know march like the rest. What you have
just grasped there, while distancing yourself in certain manner, is something
of a shadow of power you evoke.
0. Flournoy: Another question in the series that Dr Me10 mentioned.
Concerning psychosis you introduced the term yoreclosure' which is
employed without people knowing very well what it covers. I asked myself
while listening to you whether in the psychotic what is foreclosed is
enjoyment. But is it a matter of a real foreclosure, or is it a pretence of a
foreclosure? In other words, can psychoanalysis reach a psychotic, or not?
: That's a very nice question. Foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father.
That leads us to another stage, the stage where it is not only the Name-ofthe-
Father, where it's also the Father-of-the-Name. I mean that the father is
the one who names. It is very nicely evoked in Genesis, where there is all
that mimicking of God who tells Adam to name the animals. Everything
26 The symptom
occurs as if there were two stages. God is supposed to know what names they
are, since it's he who created them, supposedly. and then everything happens
as if God wanted to put man to the test and see whether he knows how to
There are some stories on this in Joyce-Jacques Auber knows what I am
alluding to very well, doesn't he? He who is the first to say gou to the gouse
will say oua to the oua. It is obvious that, in the text, it all implies that man
is put in a grotesque position. As for me, I would be inclined to believe that,
contrary to what shocks a lot of people, it's rather women who invented
language. Moreover, this is what Genesis gives to understand. Women speak
with the serpent-that is, with the phallus. They speak all the more with the
phallus, given that it is hetero for them at that time.
While this is one of my dreams, one can still ask the question: how did a
woman invent this? It can be said that she has an interest in it Contrary to
what is believed, phallocentrism is Woman's best guarantee. It's never a
question of anything else. The Virgin Mary with her foot on the head of the
serpent means that she supports herself upon it. That has all been imagined,
but in an uninspired manner. This can be said without the slightest bit of
seriousness, since someone as crazy as Joyce is necessary in order to put all
that back again.
He knew very well that his relations with women were his own unique
song. He tried to situate the human being in a way that has the sole merit of
differing from what has been asserted about it previously. But in the end, all
that, it's the same old story, it's the symptom.
What I'm drawn to the most, is that this is the human dimension properly
so-called. That's why I spoke of holy Joyce-the-symptom [Joyce-lesinthBme],
l'le that, in a single stretch.
Translated by Russell Grigg

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