Issue 17 (Autumn 1999)


This issue of THE LETTER opens with Cormac Gallagher’s article on sexual difference in The Logic of Phantasy, Lacan’s Seminar XIV held during the academic year 1966-67, which remains unpublished in French, the only English translation of which is that available for private circulation through the working group at St Vincent’s hospital. Regular readers will know that the seminar was the focus of last year’s November congress of APPI, the proceedings of which were published in Issue 15, Cormac Gallagher’s contribution to that publication being a translation of Lacan’s summary of his own seminar. We are delighted to be able to continue an engagement with that particular seminar here. Gallagher’s paper re-introduces us to Lacan’s programme ‘to refine Freud’s use of logic by introducing logical symbolism in a much more explicit way’, culminating in the Phantasy as axiom.

Jason Glynos’s paper continues this exploration of Lacan’s formalisation of psychoanalysis. Beginning by looking at the significance of Lacan’s assertion that ‘there is no metalanguage’ when viewed against the backdrop of his other, seemingly paradoxical, claims that ‘the Unconscious is structured like a language’ and that ‘all language implies a metalanguage’, he arrives at a point already underscored for us by Gallagher, – ‘The Unconscious writes’. … Continue reading

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THE LETTER 17 (Autumn 1999) pages 1-20

Making sense of the Lacanian clinic

I   hope    that   the   title   of   this   paper    will   have    lowered  any expectations  that   it   will   be   a   wide-ranging, comprehensive and contemporary  consideration of  the  burning questions surrounding  the multiple aspects of the debate on sexual difference.

The very  circumscribed nature  of what  I have  to say comes  from a style  of  working on Jacques  Lacan  that  we  have  been  engaged in  at  St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin for the past twelve  years.

Our  main  interest  is a clinical one.   There  is good  reason for  this because in many  ways  we are still at the stage  that  Freud found Charcot when he observed his presentations at the Salpetriere.  Last Wednesday for  example a man  was presented at our  weekly  case conference who  had developed  a  severe   shake   of  the  head   after   a  relatively  minor   work accident some  years  ago.   He  had  consulted neurologists in  the  United States, England and Scotland  as well as in several  Irish  hospitals and  had defeated their   best  endeavours. The  only  relief  he  obtained from  this distressing condition was  when  his wife  found and  massaged a  certain spot on his back but the success of even this procedure was, he admitted ‘a little erratic’!

The only thing that threw light on his condition was Lacan’s remark that  a hysteric is one who devotes his/her life to looking for a master that they can master.  The  essential  first  step  in  dealing with  this  particular case  was above all for  the  therapist to renounce from  the  outset any  pretension to expertise and  invite the patient to undertake an analysis. …


THE LETTER 17 (Autumn 1999) pages 21-37


This essay attempts precise the meaning  and significance of Lacan’s claim  that   ‘there  is  no  metalanguage’,  and   to  link  this  to  issues  of mathematical formalisation and the end of analysis.  My investigation will be  conducted   against  the  implicit  background  of  another   of  his  well­ known  claims:    ‘the  unconscious is structured like  a  language.’     I will approach this task, however,  from  the opposite direction.    The question then becomes:  In what sense can we say that Lacan thinks that there  is a metalanguage? In answering this question I will present some evidence in support of the  (hypo)thesis that  Lacan  does hold  onto  a conception of metalanguage – a quasi-transcendental conception – but that  this is, paradigmatically,  mathematics  qua non-glottic   writing.      This  line  of inquiry  generates  at least two  insights  which  I will highlight  in the final part  of the  essay.    First,  I argue  that  it  suggests a  productive way  of reading  the upper left hand side of the graph of desire, as found  in his text The  Subversion  of the Subject and the Dialectic  of Desire  in  the Freudian Unconscious.1 More specifically, I argue  that  we can conceive the relation signifier<?>jouissance in terms of a notion that can be called formalised delimitation, a process of formalisation-to-the-limits.  Secondly, and  finally, I…

THE LETTER 17 (Autumn 1999) pages 38-62

One of the most striking features of The Butcher Boy is that it is a novel  sustained almost  entirely  by one  voice.     True,  this is a voice which exists in a kind of antiphonal relationship  to the other voices in the world  where  the antagonist finds himself.   But in contrast  to the nineteenth century  novel, there  is no perceived  need  to establish  the novelistic character   in   a   densely   created   representational world. Everything is carried  by the voice.  Perhaps for this reason it is a voice which  is  very  distinctively   textured.  Like other  twentieth  century novels, it is a voice which is inserted  into regional rhythms  and a novel which  is  almost   impossible   to  read  without   the  reader   somehow entering these rhythms.   One thinks of other recent twentieth  century novels,  for  example,  the  award   winning  recent                  novel  by  Kathleen Fergusson,  Maids Tale or the celebrated  or notorious  Trainspotting or indeed any of Roddy Doyle’s novels.  This luring of the reader  right inside  the rhythms of speech  creates a seductive  effect  which is very different, for example, to the seductive  effect of Dickensian  description. At one level, of course, the fictional world is always a world sustained by a voice.  If the voice were to stop, the world would cease to be.  So the fictional enterprise presentifies,  in a way, a different version of the psychotic  dilemma  as described  so vividly  by Schreber.   For Schreber too it was  absolutely  necessary for the voices to continue.   Except for Schreber  it  was  not  simply  his  own  speaking  voice which  held  the world  in existence but equally   the persecutory  voices emanating  from the rays, emanating in tum from God. …

THE LETTER 17 autumn 1999, pages 63-69

In three letters written  by Freud  in 1908 and  addressed to Jung, references  were  made  to the  addiction of their  colleague,  the  rebellious and  burlesque, Otto  Gross.  It is most  peculiar  that  these  references  are not mentioned in any of the surveys, reviews or texts dealing  with Freud’s ideas  and  theories  on addiction.  Freud’s  remarks  on  addiction in these letters, and indeed  on the case of Otto Gross itself, are interesting enough to  warrant (at  least)  a  brief  discussion.    Gross  was  an  assistant  to  the famous  psychiatrist Kraepelin  and  a patient  of Jung.   Freud  knew  Otto’s father, Hans, who was professor in criminology  in Graz and Prague.  Otto was a psychoanalyst and philosopher and he was also hopelessly  addicted to cocaine and  opium.   Otto’s  addictive  behaviour  became at some  point so  problematic   for  his  entourage that  his  father  decided   to  have  him locked away in a psychiatric institute. Needless to say that the relationship between  father  and  son  wasn’t  the  best  and  it certainly  didn’t  improve after the incarceration. Otto was, and  remained, a troubled and rebellious character.  He was freed after a while and then disappeared from the scene until his death, due to drug addiction, was announced in 1920. In relation to Otto Gross’s addiction Freud writes to Jung the following: …

THE LETTER 17 autumn 1999, pages 71-78

The work of the Bulgarian  psychoanalyst,  Julia Kristeva, provides an interesting parallel  with   the theories  of both Freud  and  Lacan  with regard  to women. Her ideas on the formation  of the subject; her theory  of the semiotic  and the chora; her views on the origin of poetic language  and its relationship to psychotic babble; the maternal  role and the abject; all of these seem very relevant to any attempt  to understand the development of the female subject.

Kristeva,  a Bulgarian living in France, contends  in an interview in 1989 that psychoanalysis offers a way to approach  foreignness and alterity because  ‘the Freudian  message, to simplify things, consists in saying  that the other  is in me. It is my unconscious ‘.1     She claims to be ‘very attached to  the  idea   of  the  woman   as  irrecuperable  foreigner   …   (having)   a permanent marginality, which is the notion of change’.

Following  Lacan, Kristeva  maintains  that subjectivity  is formed  in conjunction   with  language  acquisition  and  use  and  she  challenges  the unity  and  claim to mastery  of a sovereign  subject.  However, she focuses her analysis  upon  the transgressions of the law of the symbolic in the form of the semiotic, which she argues  is an integral  and  revolutionary part  of symbolic language.

Kristeva  bases language  on  the  pre-Oedipal  relationship  between the  child  and   the  mother, thus  shifting  the  emphasis   away  from  the Freudian  and   Lacanian  concern   with  the  Oedipal   father.  In  this  she resembles  Melanie  Klein, from  whose  work she draws.  Kristeva uses the term ‘semiotic  chora’ for the pre-Oedipal  stage of life, suggesting that it is…

THE LETTER 17 (Autumn 1999) pages 79-119

It is not to his conscience that the subject is condemned, it is to his body


Study of Lacan’s  work  may start  from  two different points of view. Either   one  considers that  everything is there,  right  from the  start, thus considering the  rest  of his work  as one  long  elaboration.  The  standard example of  this  approach lies  with  the  Freud  scholars who  include the whole of his  theory in his early  Project for a Scientific  Psychology. Or  one considers his  theory and  teaching as a ‘work  in  progress’ marked by  an evolution  which  contains drastic   changes.      Both   approaches  can   be defended.  I have  opted for the second  one, which  does  not  mean  that  we will not be confronted with the first option …

From  this point  of view, Lacan’s  theory  concerning the relationship between body   and   subject  can  be  divided in  three   periods, each   one demonstrating a certain evolution in his work as such. …

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