Issue 11 (Autumn 1997)


This issue of the journal sees the light of day on the same morning as the guests assemble in the hall of the Education and Research Centre of St. Vincent’s Hospital for the fourth annual November congress of the association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland. Returning to the great hall and the many guests of the opening lines of the inaugural dream :psychoanalysis serves as a reminder that, whatever happens on the day, its essence is rooted in something which was inaugurated and transmitted by Freud and which was carried forward by Lacan’s return to what the essence of Freud’s work implicitly inaugurates: The Unconscious structured as a language; the primacy of the signifier.

This issue of THE LETTER, beginning with William J. Richardson’s article* on a subject who ceases to write in the encounter with what never ceases being written and ending with Cormac Gallagher’s Spare ‘Despair’, continues that tradition.

Richardson’s paper, via consideration of the subjective destitution of Thomas Aquinas, looks at the question of whether it is possible for religious faith to confront the real without repressing it, putting forth for our consideration the possibility that the confrontation of the real in certain religious experiences might bear directly on the profound desolation which marks the end of analysis. …Continue reading

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THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 1-15


In describing the end of psychoanalysis as the arrival of the analysand at the point of ‘subjective destitution’, Lacan cites as an analogy the experience of Thomas Aquinas at the end of his life when he suddenly stopped writing, explaining to his secretary that he could no longer continue because everything that he had written up to then seemed to be ‘like straw’. In the following essay, the writer attempts to discern the meaning of Thomas’s remark and evaluate the import of Lacan’s analogy. For Thomas, the remark suggests nothing of what Lacan calls the ‘destitution of the subject’ but rather a ‘destitution’ that follows upon the failure of the metaphysical structures of his rational synthesis to account in any adequate way for his own concrete (perhaps mystical) experience of the sacred. What appeared ‘like straw’, then, was the scaffolding that another language would call (properly or not) ‘onto- theo-logy’, which in turn is structured, psychoanalytically speaking, by the Lacanian categories of the symbolic and imaginary. Accordingly, what characterised Thomas’s experience would be the disillusionment with this symbolic/imaginary synthesis by reason of his encounter with what he called God in the real. Thus, religious ‘meaning’, for example, the interpretation of human suffering in terms of union with the suffering Christ) need not be considered, as Lacan suggests, a repression of the real (of ‘what does not work’) but rather a way of confronting it.


Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Lacan make strange bedfellows. One would hardly presume to associate them together in…

THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 16-42


There is an inherent potential for psychical trauma involved in the everyday encounter between the human subject and the culture into which he is born. Trauma emerges from a combination of internal and external factors, as can be seen in the differential responses of individuals to the experience of infantile seduction on the one hand, an external phenomenon, and the emergence of sexuality in the subject on the other, as an internal experience. For example, some subjects experience sexual seduction as children, resulting in psychic trauma. Others experience such a seduction but do not appear to experience traumatisation, and yet another group do not experience sexual seduction as children, yet are traumatised by the experience of their own emerging sexuality. What contribution does psychoanalysis offer to help make sense of this contradiction?

Seduction is the central axis around which the following discussion is organised. Theoretical considerations follow the early Freud between 1896 and 1906, encompassing the founding years of psychoanalysis and the transformations in Freud’s thinking on the subjects of sexuality and sexual trauma. The elaborations of Freud’s original theory on infantile seduction, pursued by Ferenczi (1933) and Laplanche (1989), are considered, to demonstrate the continuing usefulness of this concept in contributing to a psychoanalytic understanding of sexual trauma.

The evidence which Freud’s early work on seduction reveals is paralleled outside psychoanalysis in more recent researches. The influence of a cultural imperative, following Freud and Lacan, is demonstrated to show that beyond the adult and the child, there is a wider culture which psychoanalysis takes into account which has a fun…


THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 43-59

You do not intend to kill, you judges and sacrificers, before the beast has bowed its neck? Behold, the pale criminal has bowed his neck: from his eyes speaks the great contempt. ‘My ego is something that should be overcome: my Ego is to me the great contempt of man’ … But the thought is one thing, the deed is another … An image made this pale man pale. He was equal to his deed when he did it: but he could not endure its image after it was done … the blow he struck charmed his simple mind … Thus says the scarlet judge: ‘Why did this criminal murder? He wanted to steal’. But I tell you: his soul wanted blood and not booty: he thirsted for the joy of the knife! … And now again the lead of his guilt lies upon him, and again his simple mind is so numb, so paralysed, so heavy.If only he could shake his head his burden would roll off: but who can shake his head? … This poor soul interpreted to itself what this body suffered and desired – it interpreted it as lust for murder and greed for the joy of the knife … Much about your good people moves me to disgust, and it is not their evil I mean. How I wish they possessed a madness through which they could perish, like the pale criminal …Thus spake Zarathustra.

Nietzsche, Of The Pale Criminal’, Zarathustra’s Discourses.

In this article, I wish to set out Freud’s psychoanalytic interpretations of pale criminality which are scattered throughout the corpus of his works. ‘Pale criminality’, a term taken from Nietzsche by Freud, is understood to mean criminals suffering from a sense of unconscious guilt. We shall see…

THE LETTER 11 Autumn 1997, pages 60-75

Family albums can read like biographies cataloguing a person’s life narrative diacronically in a series of images. Similarly, one photograph and the brief moment which is captured, can, if we ask questions, contain all one’s history synchronically. Who is standing next to whom? Who from the family is present or absent? A look, a smile or a frown, – these elements of a photograph can take us beyond the two dimensional image and draw us into the unconscious life of the family.

Children’s drawings of their family can be viewed in a similar spirit, a snapshot of a child’s life and at the same time a window into their unconscious place in the structures in which they find themselves. Kate and Adam are a brother and sister who are adopted. In analysing their pictures I will present an impression of their lives and in so doing place their family back in the picture.

It is not novel to approach the play of children as a means of expression. From the moment in 1920 when Freud observed his grandson playing with a reel and formulated that through play the child was both representing and mastering the anxiety that he felt about separation from his mother, we have looked at the non-verbal, symbolic expressions that children offer us as a valuable source of interpretation. Freud’s insight into the anxieties that childhood presents us with, centres on the premise that the functions of the family go far beyond the biological, and so the particular struggles of adoptive children, immediately subverting any notion of ‘biological family’ or ‘instinctual family’ interests me.

Indeed, if we do not move beyond the instinctual basis for family life how can we understand not only the components in the structure of the family but also the huge impact that these elements have on us as individuals.

… we have only to reflect on what the notion of fatherhood owes to the spiritual assumptions that have marked its development to understand that in this field cultural agencies so dominate 

THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 76-82

In a virtual dictionary of umheimlich, we read the following:

An exciety:                       Anxiety between vinegar and acid.

An egg-sighty:                  See ‘Histoire de VoeiV, by Georges Bataille;

Anex-eyety:                      Clairvoyance; Organs donatini.

An ex-eyety:                     See ‘Sandman’; See ‘The Merchant and the Genie’.

An ex-sighty:                    Oedipus; King Lear; Last session of a Lacanian analysis.

An x eye-eaty:                  See ‘The devouring eye’, by Roger Caillois.

An Xeyety:                       Because artists in general and painters in particular, make it possible                                          to see what is not to be seen.

Un ex-eyety:                     The ethics in ‘The Merchant and the Genie’, in ‘The Thousand and                                               One Nights’.

’Selon Lacan, ce n ’est pas I’homo homini lupus mais la jouissance qui constitute le lien le plus primitif entre le sujet et VAutre… ’ M. Safouan.’

The eye is not satisfied with seeing. Ecclesiastes 1:8.

In his commentary on Freud’s umheimlich, Lacan notes the importance given by Freud to the linguistic analysis of the concept ‘Uncanny’. This is a fact which, from his point of view, justifies the importance which he conferred on the function of the signifier. Here, Lacan seems to be asking, was Freud a Lacanian, avant la lettre? …


THE LETTER 11 Autumn 1997, pages 83-97

Anyone who teaches psychoanalysis will have had to attempt to answer the commonplace criticism of Lacan that he neglects the question of affect. Lacan’s apparent intellectualism further compounds his crime. His emphasis on the signifier is often seen as somehow distancing analysis from some real beyond of the subject – that real that is the affective life of the subject, as though affect were a ‘tip of the iceberg’ hinting at some pure raw state underneath. For many critics of Lacan one gets the impression that affect is, like Coca Cola, ‘the real thing’; if direct access to the source of affect could be gained, one could get in touch with some ectoplasmic material rather like the aura seen in Kirlian photography which bears testament to what Lacan ironically calls the magic of psychoanalysis. Certainly in many forms of psychotherapy it is affect rather than speech which is seen as the royal road to the unconscious and the aims of such therapies may be formulated as attempting a type of affective reallocation. The assumption is that if the patient were aligned with his true feelings his actions would have some kind of guarantee. It is as though if affects could only be reallocated to their original ideas a subject of knowledge could be established. Analysis does not approach the problem in this way however, although it may involve connections between ideas and affects. It seems to me that we cannot think about affect without a notion of the subjectivity as structured by the signifier. The unconscious within this framework is a very specific one, which does not presume an ontologically consistent ‘real thing’ beyond the subject, taking us away from the concept of affect as a primaeval feeling state that somehow predates the subject. …


THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 98-107

According to Michel Henry in his book The Genealogy of Psychoanalysis, affects and affectivity should be the central preoccupation of psychoanalysis. Controversially, he will argue that the unconscious is destructured like an affect, and that psychoanalysis has been side-tracked into an over emphasis on linguistics. This paper attempts to follow Henry in this respect. I will set-out part of his argument.

Firstly, consciousness, in its ontological conception is pure appearance itself in contradistinction to the ontic conception of consciousness which relates to the contents, dreams, symptoms, parapraxes etc. Similarly, the unconscious can be understood ontically as contents: drives and their representatives, unconscious mechanisms, repressed or phylogenetic contents, childhood experience, and so on. Ontologically, the unconscious is simply, what does not appear! Rather than deal in these formal and ’empty’ categories consciousness and unconsciousness, Freud opts for the contents of the unconscious, the system Ucs. It is contents that are crucial, not so much whether or not they are conscious or unconscious. The notion of the unconscious has two different meanings: (1) barred consciousness seen only in relation to representational consciousness, as the latter’s double, with the two contents being interchangeable and dialectical. In principle, as Henry says: ‘Every unconscious content can take on the opposite quality of consciousness and enter the light; every conscious content is destined to leave it and return to the unconscious’. But, there is a totally different conception of the unconscious, (2) that ‘secretly refers to life’s essence’ that can never…

THE LETTER 11 (Autumn 1997) pages 108-129


On my first visit to Canterbury I came uninvited as one of Henry II’s Barons in Jean Anouilh’s Beckett, to murder the saintly archbishop of that name. I am very happy to be here again, this time at your invitation, and I want to assure you that my mission on this occasion is not to do a hatchet job on affect in the name of some intellectualist overlord who might wish to treat it as a troublesome priest that the analytic kingdom would be well rid of. What I do hope to be able to do is to say something about what the teaching and practice of Jacques Lacan has to contribute to the subject of our discussions at this conference.

I am going to present to you a sort of preliminary collage of view­points drawn from a thirty-year period of his work because to the best of my knowledge no-one has yet mapped out the different positions taken by Lacan on affect at different stages of his life and it would be premature for me to pretend that an overall synthesis could be presented at this time. But first to my title.

I chose it, or rather accepted it when it came to me, because it seemed to echo the notions that immediately occurred to me when I was asked to speak to you about affect and in particular about what the work of Jacques Lacan can contribute to our theoretical formulation and to our practical handling of something so central in our personal experience and our analytic work. …

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