Issue 18 (Spring 2000)


Oliver Hardy sits at the piano singing:

I love you! I love you! I love you!

You are the ideal of my dreams.

I always knew It would be someone like you.

I’ve loved you forever it seems.

Turning to Stanley Laurel, he confides that the moment has come. He is about to marry his ‘Sweetheart’. He shows his friend a picture of the lucky ladv and sings her praises. She’s an angel, – ‘loved by everyone, but mine all mine’. A knock on the door. A letter arrives. Oliver can’t find his glasses so he asks Stanley to read the letter aloud to him …, which he does! It’s bad news:

‘My darling, gracious Oliver,

I  have decided that all is over between us.

Your one-time Sweetheart’.

Oliver crumbles, his world shattered.

Stanley (looking up from the letter and amazed at his friend’s miserable demeanour):

‘Why Ollie! What’s the matter?’

Oliver (flabbergasted by his friend’s incomprehension of his state):

‘Didn’t you read it?’

Stanley: ‘Why yes! But I wasn’t listening!’

This opening scene of Hal Roach’s 1931 comedy film Beau Hunks has so much to offer those interested in the field of psychoanalysis, invoking indeed evoking the unconscious, that one is spoilt for choice as regards a place to start. This would be reason enough to use it as the opening scene for this issue of THE LETTER, which is given over to the bulk of the contributions to the 1999 November Congress of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland, which took Lacan’s 1967-68 Seminar on The Psychoanalytic Act as its pivot. …Continue reading

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THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 1-21


Our chronological working-through of Jacques Lacan1 s seminars brought us this year to his ‘meditation’ on the psychoanalytic act – a meditation which was interrupted by the strikes and street violence in Paris in May 1968. Interrupted to such an extent that Lacan tells us that we have heard less than half of what he had planned to say. The seminar then came to a premature end and with only fifteen recorded sessions is the shortest to date in the Lacanian canon. However it does not stand alone and has to be read against the background of other documents – also relating to the position and action of the psychoanalyst – produced by Lacan around this time.

Five of these are of particular note:

– Proposition of 9th October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School

– Lecture on Psychoanalysis and the formation of the psychiatrist (10th November 1967)

– Speech at the Ecole Freudienne de Paris (6th December 1967)

– Talks during the strikes and street demonstrations of May 1968

– Summary of The Psychoanalytic Act (10th June 1969)

The Provosition with which Lacan opened the year exploded like a bomb, says Roudinesco, among the members of the Ecole Freudienne. The ‘unreadibility’ of which Lacan is so proud and which he ‘maintains…


THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 22-34


In the course of Seminar XIV The Logic of Phantasy and Seminar XV The Psychoanalytic Act Lacan takes his project for a science that includes psychoanalysis to new heights. Using a deMorgan-like transformation he establishes a truth equivalence between Descartes ‘I think therefore I am and his own axiom for the subject of lack ‘Either I do not think or I am not.

Beginning with negation and contradiction, this paper looks to underscore the inadequacy of classical logic to account for the subject of the unconscious. This sortie into logic continues with an examination of the ‘innards’ of the deMorgan law ~(C&D) =11= (~Cv~D) as employed by Lacan. The paper concludes by referring to the pivotal function of the disjunction ‘Either I do not think or I am not’ for Lacan’s conception of the psychoanalytic act as a logical operation that can only be decided by a logically realised end to analysis itself.

* * *

Lacan’s teachings are shot through with logical argument as are Freud’s texts. Both were highly fluent in the argument-forms of classical or propositional logic. However, in the case of Lacan, it wasnt until 1964 with Seminar XI – The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis – that he systematically began to formulate a logic, specific for psychoanalysis, which would account for the subject of the unconscious. With this logic of psychoanalysis, his aim was, not to establish whether or not psychoanalysis is a science, but to establish the nature of a science that…

THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 35-46

There are two possible emphases in the title of this congress. Firstly it provides an opportunity to examine the aspects of the psychoanalytic act which are essential to it as a specifically psychoanalytic phenomenon. Lacan’s focus in this Seminar is certainly on the ways and the extent to which we may describe the practice of psychoanalysis and on its essence. The psychoanalytic act, he tells us, defines those who practise it. The other possibility suggested by the title is an examination of what might be meant by act in this context. This is also Lacan’s concern in the Seminar, as he seeks to delineate the operational field of the concept. What is it that Lacan establishes about an act, and how do acts relate to behaviour? It is this second concern that I have tried to open up here.

The starting point is some remarks made by Lacan in this Seminar concerning the two volume work by Roland Dalbiez, Psychoanalytical Method and the Doctrine of Freud, published in France in 1936. He undertakes this critical survey in the name of science, a necessary task, he informs us, because Freud has made no clear distinction between his method and his doctrine, is incapable of presenting his thought in a convincing form, and completely lacks the philosophical mind. It is as a result of these shortcomings that psychoanalysis has fallen foul of the scientific establishment. Dalbiez looks to Pavlov to provide the vehicle for Freud’s rehabilitation.

All of this is of interest to Lacan, who deliberated continuously throughout the Seminars on the status of psychoanalysis and its relation…

THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 47-54

I doubted my own existence, and even today, I have no faith in it, none, so that I have to say, when I speak, Who speaks, and seek and so on, and similarly for all the things that happen to me and for which someone has to be found, for things that happen must have someone to happen to, someone must stop them.

The speaker here is the voice in Beckett’s Unnamable. It is not just that things that happen must have someone to happen to , someone to lock on to, but also, as the voice says, someone must stop them. How? Earlier the voice spoke of his vice-existors, Murphy, Mahood, Worm etc. as those old buffers who carried a mere tittle of his own pain, the tittle as he says, that he thought he could put from him in order to witness it. It is this gesture of putting from one, this installation of the lying old buffer of our fictional identity, which is absent in the passage à l’acte.

In the Seminar on The Psychoanalytic Act, Lacan refers to a particular type of absence as constitutive not just of the passage à l’acte but of any act: ‘It is a common dimension of the act not to include in its agency the presence of the subject’, he says. This statement is repeated at a number of points throughout the seminar. In fact Lacan specifically says that this is what the psychoanalytic act and the passage a Vacte have in common; this fact of knowing ‘that in every act there is something which escapes him as subject’.

Lacan’s fascination with the act has a long history. Indeed his very first incursion into psychoanalytic theory, the doctoral thesis of 1932, had been motivated by his desire to come to grips with the passage a Vacte. His patient Aimee had committed a crime of passion which bore all the hallmarks of a passage à l’acte and Lacan’s thesis suggested that the root cause of this crime was to found in Aimee’s relationship with her elder…

THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 55-69


The opening words of Lacan’s Seminar on The Psychoanalytic Act presuppose a link with the Seminar he gave the previous year on The Logic of Phantasy. He says “… those who heard me speaking … may feel themselves in some way already introduced to this dimension that the psychoanalytic act represents’1 which is why I have entitled this paper Phantasy and the Psychoanalytic Act – Freud, Klein and Lacan. I subtitled the paper What is involved in the psychoanalytic act … because of the movement between the two registers it plays upon: the che vuoi question redolent of phantasy: ‘What is involved in the psychoanalytic act?’ and then, the response of what is meant, the state-meant of ‘what is involved in the psychoanalytic act …’. The question is in the minor key of reluctantly having to accept your fate as a human being, while the statement is in the major one of choosing to subjectify that fate, and make it your own. These two are inseparable: the one implies the other through its presence, through its absence …

Truth and phantasy

The cornerstone of the psychoanalytic act is the truth of phantasy. In the theatre of the Freud/Fliess letters, reality collapsed on the…

THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 70-86

Man is a heap of contradictions. (F. W. Nietzsche)

According to Pavlov’s experiments, behaviourally conditioned dogs salivate when stimulated by the ring of a bell – previously associated with meal-times and the simultaneous co-presence of food – even in the absence of food. An artificial stimulus triggers an established and reinforced nervous reflex. The ringing bell causes the dogs salivation, directly or without any mediation. There is an old joke that tells the story of two dogs meeting in Moscow. One of them – a former patient at Pavlov’s laboratories – is well-nourished and healthy, the other pitifully emaciated and weak. The skinny and sickly dog asks the other: ‘How do you manage to be so healthy? How and where do you find food?’. The reply is, of course, quite obvious – especially if you happen to be a behaviourist. ‘Well – the other dog answers – it is really very easy … Every day, at meal-time, I go to the Pavlov Institute, I am let in by the porter, and I start to dribble with great enthusiasm. Suddenly a conditioned psychologist arrives, promptly gives me lashings and lashings of food, and then rings a bell’.

In this story, as Umberto Eco comments …

… the scientist reacts to a stimulus, while the dog establishes a sort of reversible relationship between salivation and food: it knows that to a given stimulus a given reaction must correspond and therefore the dog possesses a code. Salivation is for it the sign of the possible reaction on the part of the scientist. Unfortunately for dogs, this is not the way things are – at least within the framework of classical  …


THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 87-92

Shortly after I started work as a psychiatrist in London some years ago, an Irish patient named END A, who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, was booked in to see me at an outpatient clinic. When I saw him waiting outside my office I introduced myself to him and asked him was he Enda. He replied that he was but that, as I was obviously Irish and probably Catholic, I must know who he was already. After some questioning by me he went on to explain that I must know because everyone knew who he was. As evidence he mentioned that the prayers after the rosary were about him, for example his mother’s favourite prayer had as its last line:

‘and world without end amen ‘ ‘and world without END Amen’.

So, what are Enda Men I wondered and what is a world without Enda Men. As he was just about to become a father for the first time I also wondered to myself about N Ad Men. This is the sort of stuff that made me, and would make any self respecting Lacanian analyst lick their lips or at the very least say ‘I believe … in Lacuna and Language’.

As I later consulted his hospital chart I noted that he had a long history of schizophrenia, had been admitted on nine occasions to hospital, seven times by force under the Mental Health act, had a history of considerable violence to others and to himself, had been banned from open wards because of this violence to others and could now only be admitted to locked high security wards, had a drug and alcohol problem, and had only one leg because the other was amputated after he jumped through a window in one of his acute psychotic phases. This is the sort of stuff that made me, and would make any self respecting psychiatrist say ‘I…


THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 93-103

If the structure we work in is a knot, as proposed by Lacan, then what does it knot? To answer this, the first reference is Freud’s early work on the primary symptom. In The Neuroses of Defence, Freud proposes a primary level of symptom corresponding only to defence, and not to the compromise structure of the neurotic symptom proper. This symptom is not a return of the repressed, but the ‘normal trend towards defence’ which brings about the first repression. It is in response to ‘premature sexual stimulation, experienced as an overwhelming of the ego by an excessive tension: what Lacan will call an encounter with desire in the Other as something real and unnamed. The sequence Freud proposes is: (1) a premature and traumatic sexual experience, (2) its repression on some later occasion which arouses a memory of it and at the same time the formation of a primary symptom, (3) a stage of successful defence, (4) the return of the repressed ideas in the compromise form of the neurotic symptom proper.

That the symptom is originally defence alone tells us the experience of the drive is an alien one for the subject. In hysteria the primary symptom is fright, giving rise to aversion. Jouissance has a negative value …

THE LETTER 18 (Spring 2000) pages 104-114

This, Lacan’s own, summary of the seminar on The Psychoanalytic Act, written for the yearbook of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, must prove a vital element in the correct interpretation of his years teaching for 1967-68. The only English version of that teaching is the unpublished translation which has been the focus of the working group at St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1998-1999 and which provided the theme for the November congress of APPI. The translation of his Summary attempts to follow Lacan’s text as closely as possible.

* * *

The psychoanalytic act, neither seen nor heard of before me, namely, never mapped out, much less put in question, we suppose here to be something belonging to the elective moment when psychoanalysand passes to psychoanalyst. This is the most commonly admitted recourse as regards what is necessary for this passage, all other conditions remaining contingent as compared to it. Thus isolated from this moment of installation, the act is within the reach of everyone who enters into a psychoanalysis.

Let us say first of all: the act (simply) takes the place of an assertion, whose subject it changes. It is not an act to walk if all one says is ‘it walks, ca marche’, or even ‘let us walk, marchons’, but only if it ensures that ‘I am getting there, j’y arrive’ is verified in it. The psychoanalytic act seems suited to throw greater light on the act, because it is an act that reproduces itself from the very doing that it commands. Through this it remits to the…

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