Lacan, at a certain moment in his teaching, seized upon the story of a letter to illustrate how it is that, circulating before the mutism of some and the blindness of others, this letter is the original, radical subject of the unconscious. All of the characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter are carried along in an intersubjective game in which each is defined in relation to the most potent character in the plot, – a letter, a signifier, determining and dominating each in turn, subverting the illusion that possession of it entails mastery over it.
This is the scenario which Lacan constantly re-presents us with in his work, – a drama in which language is not an instrument which an autonomous subject grasps, as it were, from outside. Here language is, rather, that through which, and in which, subjectivity comes to manifest itself. It is we who are grasped by it.
It is in the spirit of that teaching that we now launch our letter, as the servants of language and not its masters. We, therefore, take as our subject the subject of the unconscious and language(s). As such, this letter too is purloined, – taken from the proceedings of the first congress of the European Foundation for Psychoanalysis.
That inaugural meeting of the Foundation, held in Dublin in acknowledgement of the place given to it by James Joyce as a city of language and languages, aimed to provide analysts and others influenced by Freud and Lacan with an opportunity to make…Continue reading
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 1-16
This morning I am going to try to approach a topic which has been in the back of my mind for many years and which the theme of this congress and the presence of colleagues from varied linguistic backgrounds has obliged me to consider more explicitly: the position of Irish people with regard to their native tongue and in particular the effect of the position on our patients’ sense of identity and on a practice of psychoanalysis that lays such emphasis on speech and language.
It is not a theme that I feel I could approach with any degree of serenity before a purely Irish audience because of the negative reactions that it would almost certainly give rise to. From infant classes up to university entrance, and later in application for state jobs, the national policy of making Irish the spoken language of the country meant that compulsory Irish was a near universal experience for citizens of the Irish republic since the 1920’s and the confusion of tongues resulting from this schooling in a language which had virtually no place outside the classroom came to be seen as a root cause of learning disabilities and other manifestations of psychological distress.
From an ideological point of view the Irish language became the badge of a very unpleasant type of Catholic nationalism which, in the words of Flann O’Brien, assumed a “mystical relationship between the jig, the Irish language, abstinence from alcohol, morality and salvation” and erected a further unnecessary barrier between the different racial stocks inhabiting this island. Not surprisingly, lack of proficiency in a language that had been studied for ten years at school, became a mark of…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 17-27
There are many ways of approaching this question: until now, it has mainly been presented as being a legal issue, especially when what is in question is primarily the making of new laws in Brussels today. Is it true that a sort of European status of the psychoanalyst is going to be landed on us soon? Are we going to be paying taxes as psychoanalysts (and if so, on what basis)? Don’t we need to be protected against all that? It is not that these questions are either worthless or out of place, but I want to stress that a lot more light needs to be shed on them so that we might arrive at answers which would be of any value.
In my opinion, all of these questions arise from the same single mistake: they identify purely and simply the analyst as a citizen, without paying any attention to the fact that such an identification is without foundation and that it is incorrect to pass from one of these qualities, that of being a citizen, to the other, that of being an analyst without noting and underlining the gap separating them. There is an obvious symptom of such a gap, at least for French analysts: no matter which school, group or association they belong to, there is no diploma which qualifies them as psychoanalysts, which clearly means that the state authority doesn’t recognise them as such. I am not trying to assert that all of them are happy with this situation: but as a point of departure we must take note of the fact that numerous generations of psychoanalysts have taken special care not to obtain such diplomas. Why?
At this point, I could assemble a lot of facts, or alleged facts, to describe historically the relations between analysts and the state authority in France, or I could try once more to give a commentary on Freud’s Lay Analysis. But I will limit myself solely to noting the apparent basis of this very special relationship between analysts and state authority. On the one…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 28-67
‘Zukunft’ -ich habe das Wort in den Titel meines Vortrages aufgenommen, einfach, weil der Begriff der Zukunft derjenige ist, den ich am liebsten und unwillkurlichsten mit dem Namen Freuds verbinde.
Thomas Mann, ‘Freud und die Zukunft’ (1936)
‘Future’ -I have used this word in the title of my address simply because it is this idea, the idea of the future, that I involuntarily like best to connect with the name of Freud.
‘Freud and the Future’
The temporality of the human subject as studied by Freud suffers from an internal disproportion that has often been noted but seldom discussed: whereas he describes past time fondly and in detail, his account of future time is foreshortened and schematic. The present in which the analytic subject speaks is poised uneasily for Freud between discontinuous time-worlds. The problem lies not in the fact that past and future are logically asymmetrical, but in the seeming flatness that afflicts one of them: the past has character, but the future has none. Romancing the matter only a little, we could say that for Freud the past is ‘a character’, while the future is a cipher and something of a bore.
My own discussion of this state of affairs falls into two unequal parts. The first and main task that I have set myself is that of describing ‘the future’ -the concept rather than the tense -as it has been manipulated by psychoanalysis. Here I shall be paying particular attention to the later writings of Lacan, suggesting some of the ways in which his discussion of temporality completes and complexifies Freud’s, and pointing to one or…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 68-81
The very first patient described at some length in Freud’s writings, Frau Cacilie M. or Baroness Anna von Lieben, suffered from an “‘hysterical psychosis for the payment of old debts”‘1. All these old debts had been accumulated, he indicated, by her making false connections in the past: her neurotic symptoms were masks, excessive stories, covering over the true and hidden connections, which her cathartic cure would reveal. Getting the true words out, expressing them adequately, in the proper place, to the proper person: this is another way of describing her paying off or perhaps writing off these old debts. The speech emitted can almost be counted off, on one side of the balance sheet, against the debt, the past obligations, represented, as if they were old IOUs, by symptoms.
The German word Freud used to describe his patient is a wonderfully rich and ambiguous term: “hysterische Tilgungspsychose”. Tilgung means the deletion sign in typography; tilgen means ‘to extinguish’, ‘to strike out’, ‘to wipe out, to efface’, ‘to delete’ (in typography); Schuld tilgen, means ‘to pay, compound, discharge, cancel’; Anleihe tilgen means ‘to redeem’, so that Tilgungschein means ‘certificate’ of redemption’. Anna von Lieben spent much labour redeeming all her old debts, issuing certificates of redemption through the hard work of catharsis she accomplished with Freud. It took her three years, Freud writes, of the talking cure to redeem the old debts of thirty-three years.
There is little doubt that in these very early writings, Freud on occasions plays with the three registers of confession, moral sin and…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 82-94
To cede the initiative to words is the task of the artist according to Mallarme. In a more sinister context this dictum could also be said to describe the obscure directive which immobilizes the psychotic. In the last part of his great trilogy ‘Molloy’, ‘Malone Dies’, ‘The Unnamable’, Samuel Beckett has managed to subsume this second terrible imperative within the first, artistic one, and in doing so has created a novel which is one of the most extraordinary achievements of our time.
It is always an act of temerity for psychoanalysis to engage with a work of art, and it was Lacan’s opinion that even Freud himself did not do so without mishap. Nonetheless, following Freud who was quick to point out that the artist invariably precedes the analyst onto his chosen terrain, I would like to suggest that Beckett’s unsettling masterpiece throws into relief the extremities of a subjective position which ordinarily is either veiled by the screens of normality or sealed in the slabs of psychotic delusion. Indeed it is precisely because it is a work of art that it offers us privileged access to this position, which is neither mad nor sane but impossibly and precariously precedes such differentiation. By uncompromisingly eschewing the lures of both reason and madness, the speaker in Beckett’s Unnamable lays bare the latent discourse which subtends all human existence, and which erupts startlingly and incomprehensibly to tyrannise the psychotic. This discourse in The Unnamable however, although striated and infiltrated by madness, is not mad. The mocking echo which madness offers to reason, audible in the speculative systems of great paranoiacs, makes itself heard here in the domain of language itself, and in the extraordinarily sophisticated and self-reflexive gesture by which a fictional work, in paralysing all fictional…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 95-102
The Discourse of Analysis
According to Oscar Wilde, “education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught”. What is worth knowing has a special place in the discourse of analysis and it is something that is difficult to transmit. In psychoanalysis, knowledge, S2, is related to truth; it occupies the place of truth in its discourse and it is the only knowledge with which it is concerned.
This is knowledge that speaks the truth, but only manages to do this partially. Truth here is not-all; it is constituted as an effect of language and it ex-ists within it. This truth always more or less escapes us when we try to grasp it. It will only allow itself to be encircled by myth and fiction. These myths and fictions are what constitute knowledge in psychoanalysis, namely, the Oedipus complex, Totem and Taboo, Narcissus, and so on; by means of which the Real of the impossible sexual relationship and questions of what man, woman, death and birth are for the human subject, can be approached. These myths and fictions are at the place of truth and are kept there. They are what the subject supposes the analyst to know, but they are also what the analyst presupposes as knowledge in the subject. …
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 103-110
Mindful of the theme for this Congress “The Subject of the Unconscious and Language”, I wish to confine this communication to a clinical demonstration -yes, in the way physicians demonstrate clinical signs -a demonstration of the action of the signifier on the subject. The signifier, as we know, is any inert element of language which unconscious meaning borrows to communicate itself.
When a neurologist, let’s say, wants to demonstrate a palsy or a paralysis of the seventh cranial nerve, which journeys from the base of the brain through the skull to serve the muscles of the face, he asks the patient to smile and there will be a drooping of the mouth on the side of the paralysed nerve, confirming the palsy. In psychoanalysis, paralysis of the action of the signifier has equally devastating results. But unlike a nerve which can be irreversibly damaged, the signifier which cannot be destroyed, can be specifically activated in analysis, to undo a certain spancelling of the subject. If you have seen Arnold Schwartzneggar in the movies about “The Terminator”, the indestructibility of this machine which masquerades as a man, will give you some idea of the durability of the signifier.
So, if I introduce this talk as a clinical demonstration, it is borrowed from the analysis of a young woman suffering from an anxiety hysteria. One of her symptoms of phobic intensity was a fear of the devil. She was afraid that at night the devil would enter her room while she was asleep. This fear was at its height when she spent time in her parents’ house, and could only be coped with if her mother slept with her to keep her safe. In her own apartment, however, she could manage to sleep alone if she kept…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 111-116
If, as Lacan says in his Seminar of 1972, Encore, to understand any discourse whatsoever we have to begin with the enunciation that there is no sexual rapport and that from this all other discourses will follow, then this enunciation has profound implications for the jouissance of the mystic. In fact the mystic completely subverts the notion of a discourse because the mystic introduces us into a new kind of knowledge of the Truth about the Reality of Being and so, in a certain way there is no more to be said -but me -myself -not being a mystic I will continue to speak!
The mystic is on the side of being-and he knows that where there is Being there is a desire for Infinity. The mystic knows that in Truth there is a price to be paid for Being. St. Teresa of Avila knew this. She knew that she had to be saved and that it was only God who could do this “I do not think that you left anything undone to make me Yours, entirely even from my youth”.
The mystic knows that there is no sexual rapport because he knows that the jouissance in so far as it is sexual is phallic, -is in fact the jouissance of the idiot, as Lacan calls it, from the Greek Idios -meaning inward looking or narcissistic in more Freudian terms, whereas the mystic, is implicated in another form of jouissance which seeks Infinity. Teresa is very clear on this “I do not love the world or the things of the world and nothing seems to give me pleasure unless it comes from You; everything else is to me like a heavy cross”. Phallic jouissance on the other hand is…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 117-135
Claudel! Why Paul Claudel? In a seminar entitled Transference, where Lacan introduces his long extrapolation on ClaudEl, the issue ought to be, after all, transference. I am referring, of course, to his Seminar VIII (1960-61) that goes by that single-word title. The long meditation on Plato’s Symposium with which the Seminar begins already seems far-fetched enough until one realizes that Lacan is using Plato’s famous dialogue on love as a means of discussing love in psychoanalysis, i.e., transference love. In these terms, the analysis of Alcibiade’s relationship to Socrates as a transferential one that Socrates handles in model fashion is both pertinent and illuminating. But Claudel? What can he tell us about psychoanalytic transference?
Yet Lacan devotes four sessions of the’ seminar to a discussion of not one but three of Paul Claudel’s plays, the famous Trilogy that includes L’Otage (The Hostage ), Le Pain dur (Stale Bread ) and Le Pere humilie (The Humiliated Father ). What relevance all this may have for the problem of transference and what gain there might be for us in struggling with it – these are the questions I wish to address here. The business is complex, and to keep matters manageable, I propose to trace in…
THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 136-148
Paranoia is above all linked to our representation of space, because spontaneously our representation of space is Euclidean, which has been the natural geometry for centuries. We continue to think according to the rules of this geometry, and there has been an effort made by rationalism to assimilate the rules of thinking to the rules of this geometry. But this Euclidean geometry is based on the existence of closed figures, that is, an isolation of what is inside from what is outside. Here is an absolute boundary between the inside and outside (the circle) which is the basis for paranoia.
People have questioned themselves for a long time about the materiality of the line, and that is why geometricians say that it is a line without thickness. But in so far as it separates the inside from the outside, we can say that it is a cut or a cutting. What gives meaning to the Euclidean surface is this cutting. Lacan has this very surprising formula: he says that the surface is the cut.
This is very different to the representation of space that is to be found, for example, in the Book of Kells, because space is represented there as a weaving, a fabric. Why is it so different from the Euclidean way of thinking? If the surface is represented by a weaving then what, at a certain moment, disappears and goes outside, returns again. In a weaving or texture there is no cutting, and what has been repressed returns. But in the case of the circle, what has been put outside must remain outside, and we will have to be very vigilant so that what has been put out does not come back in. …