Barry O’Donnell – A Foreign Tongue

The Letter Issue 66-67 (Autumn 2017/Spring 2018) Pages 93-106

A Foreign Tongue

Barry O’Donnell

This paper is a response to the question: Why was psychoanalysis founded by an emigrant? The paper proposes that speech being strange to the speaker is fundamental to psychoanalytic practice. This has consequences for the transmission of psychoanalysis.

Keywords: subjectivity; speech; strange; lalangue; Gaeilge.

Psychoanalysis occupies itself with what is experienced as strange in the most intimate aspect of ourselves, our speaking. 1 Whether a dream, a slip, a symptom or a joke there is a quality of it being a foreign production, albeit one of my own subjectivity, a product alien to my conscious sense of myself. It is in this direction that I am drawn in response to the question: Why was psychoanalysis founded by an emigrant? This fundamental experience of what is strange presents some problems: how do each of us in the field sustain the ability to tolerate the strange? How do we work together without making the language of the group over-familiar and the basis of group membership? How do we ensure that the discourse of psychoanalysis remains alive to the strangeness? Why would anyone engage in the work of psychoanalysis in this age, which is arguably more and more intolerant of subjective effects, of anxiety, of questioning?

In 1971 Lacan introduced, through a slip, a term he then adopted – lalangue. Without fully grasping what he found to be usefully indicated by this product of a stumble [Versprechen], I propose that its appreciation may assist us in staying with the strangeness inherent in subjectivity. Attending to this term may prevent us straying too far into more calming waters.

Dubhglas de hÍde(2) writes in his 1894 polemic ‘The necessity for de- Anglicising Ireland’…

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