Issue 27 (Spring 2003)


As is usual, this third and final issue of the current volume brings the reader a selection of papers from those presented in the course of the 9th Annual Congress of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland, held in November 2002. The congress, entitled Psychoanalytic Discourse: Truth or Make-believe?, addressed a broader range of topics than in previous years, reflecting the growth in ambit of the interests and work of the APPI membership, the graduates of the School of Psychotherapy, St Vincent’s Hospital and of the School of Arts at DBS. We, therefore, can bring you papers on subjects as diverse as racism, institutional/social abuse and the sexual life of children, the mythical, art, impotence and the desire to know. In addition a number of contributors concentrated on some aspect of Lacan’s 1970-71 Seminar XVIII D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant (On a discourse that might not be a semblance).

We’re delighted to be able to open this issue with Cormac Gallagher’s commentary on that year’s seminar, which he terms ‘a collage’. His declared aim is a modest one, ‘to stitch together with minimal commentary a selection of the sometimes clear, sometimes obscure, but always provocative passages that risk being lost in the labyrinthine argumentation of this seminar’. …Continue Reading

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THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 1-31


The aim of this paper is modest. It is to stitch together with minimal commentary a selection of the sometimes clear, sometimes obscure, but always provocative passages that risk being lost in the labyrinthine argumentation of this seminar. This may spare potential readers of the seminar some of the confusion and bafflement experienced by our reading group as we struggled to make some sense of it in the academic year of 2001-2002.

Perplexity and bewilderment were also the lot of Lacan’s original audience. He chides them on more than one occasion for wanting to know too quickly what he is getting at and how they are to situate themselves in it:’… in no domain of science does one have this mapping, this map, to tell us where we are … once you begin to speak of a map, you are no longer doing science but philosophy’.

Despite this admonition I am going to try, in this introduction, first of all to put the seminar in its context and then choose a certain number of themes that run through it that may help readers to find their way through the maze.

This is a little different to Lacan’s unapologetic approach:

… what I contributed the last time left some people a littlebit perplexed. Everyone knows that I always finish what I…

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 32-42

The scientific-political dimension of the case of the Wolf-man

Right from the start, the Wolf-man’s analysis has a political dimension. In Freud’s eyes, the primary significance of this analysis, is that it proves the importance of infantile sexuality in the aetiology of neurosis, – something which is denied by Jung and Adler.

It [The case study of the Wolf-man] shows the predominant part that is played in the formation of neuroses by those libidinal motive forces which are so eagerly disavowed [by Jung], and reveals the absence of any aspirations towards remote cultural aims [Adler], of which the child still knows nothing, and which cannot therefore be of any significance for him.

According to Adler, neurosis has nothing to do with infantile sexuality but with the failure of one’s subjective project due to cultural factors.

So the clinical aspect is not the only one at play in the analysis of the Wolf-man. There’s a scientific issue too. And indeed Freud appears to be driven by a scientific passion to know. He wants to know with certainty whether the Wolf-man did or did not dream the wolf dream when he was a child (for Jung’s opinion was that it was dreamt in adulthood and projected back into infancy). Related to that, he also wants…

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 43-50

Lebar na h-Uidre 

Book of the Dun Cow

La n-aen ro batar mathi Ulad im Chonchobur i n-Emain Macha,

One day the nobles of Ulster were around Concobur in Emain Macha.

no thathigtís énlaith mág ar Emuin.

A birdflock used visit the plain in front of Emain.

Na gelltís, conna facabtais cid mecnu nafér ná lossa hi talam.Ba tochomracht la hUltu anaicsiu oc collud a n-hírend.Imlaat nói cairptiu dia tojund laa n-and,

They used graze it until they left not even roots nor grass nor herbs in the ground.The Ulstermen were troubled to see them destroying their land.One day, they prepare nine chariots to pursue them,

ar bá bés léu-somforim én.Conchobar daña hi sudiu inna charput ocus afiur Deictire ossi maccdacht.Issi ba hara dia brathair.

for it was a custom with them to hunt birds. Concobar was there in his chariot and his sister Deictire, and she was of marriagable age.She was chariot-driver to her brother.

Errid Ulad ar chenae inna carptib, i.

The warriors of Ulster (were) also in their chariots, ie.

Conall ocus Loegaire, ocus cach olchena. Bricriu daña leu.

Conall and Laegaire, and every-one else. Briccriu was with them as well.

Fus rumat an éin remib díandaim

Then the birds go ahead of them homewards, (andam;wilderness) …


THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 51-71

Compert Conculainn, the tale of Cuchulainn’s conception and birth, has been handed down in two recensions, generally referred to as version 1 and version 2. Version 1 belonging to the first half of the eighth century was preserved in the lost Book of Druim Snechta (Cin Dromma Snechta). It now remains in seven manuscripts, the oldest of which is Lebor na h-Uidre, preserved in the Royal Irish Academy. It is from this manuscript that the tale under consideration is taken.

The legend concerning Dubthach maccu Lugair’s meeting with Patrick is recounted in Côrus Béscnai, a text of the Senchas Mar, the most important collection of Old Irish law-texts, dated to the early eighth century. The poet is said to have supplied details of pagan law to Patrick, who eliminated from it all those elements which were contrary to Christian doctrine. The Irish people consequently acknowledged two systems of law, the pagan law of nature and scriptural law. The main purpose of this legend, which ‘explains the origins of the law in terms of mixed native and Christian inspiration’ was to defend the traditional law that was under attack, chiefly on the grounds that there was such a ‘wide gulf’ between traditional marriage laws as expressed in Cain Ldnamna, and Christian doctrine. …

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 72-82

Like the beautiful game of soccer, writing this paper has been an effort of two halves. The little blurb you have there in your Congress programme, refers to the first half, which, earlier this week, I decided I would have to completely abandon! Relying on the oracular function of interpretation, ‘interpretation … is only true by its consequences, like every oracle. Interpretation is not put to the test of a truth that can be settled by a yes or no, it unleashes the truth as such’ – and by means of a simple clinical example – I had intended to talk about a truth-effect or subject-effect as it was unleashed in the context of a dream. Essentially, I had intended to confine my comments to the action of the signifier, to the pas-de-sens, the step of sense/nonsense produced by the signifier for another signifier. This is in keeping with Lacan’s 1957 paper The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious in which he elaborates on the status of the letter as indistinguishable from the signifier.

But I’ve backed off at the last minute from playing this first half. In the course of the past year in the Monday Night Reading Group, we had a first run at Lacan’s Seminar for 1971 D’un discours qui ne serait pas d’u semblant (On a Discourse that might not be a Semblance). Reading it a couple of times since and finishing it up again a few weeks ago, it took me until very recently to glimpse that the conception of the letter that Lacan is developing in this seminar – twenty plus years after The Agency of the Letter- differs substantially from the letter as grounded in the signifier. The…

THE LETTER 27 Spring 2003, pages 83-89

The Joy of Life – Henri Matisse -1906

What we see here on this canvas is not a scene from the world we see ordinarily. This painting – The Joy of Life – is not conceived in terms of verisimilitude. The aesthetics of realism is being replaced by the Oriental aesthetics of decoration. No waves crash on this yellow beach to disturb the dancers, musicians or lovers. This is a dream world of Arcadian patterns, paradisal design and pre-lapsarian colours.

A dream world inspired by reality, the theme of The Golden Age is an ancient myth. Matisse was here trying to bring the theme to life, because myths had lost their flavour, lost their traditional role and function of accessing a background that made sense of the foreground of peoples’ lives. Once upon a time, myths were marvellous mediations of meaning. But the aesthetics of realism had grown old, had become a stylisation rather than a style, and a new means of expression was required. In this painting all the action and inaction takes place on the ground, the ground of background.

This is an imaginary world, not tied to anatomical accuracy, naturalistic colour or mathematical perspective. We see green trees, blue grass and a loving couple with only one head!

This is not anecdotal art. The principles of decorative art free Matisse from the naturalism of realism and the superficiality of ornamental art, to enclose the grammar of the myth through abstract signs, albeit rooted in reality, the reality of the human figure more than…

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 90-112


According to a new report one in four men under the age of forty have lost their libido and low testosterone levels are to blame.1 The ‘classic’ symptoms of this debilitating condition are loss of energy, drive and potency, which have the knock-on effect of ruining sexual relationships and can even affect jobs if men lose their competitive edge. The blame for this testosterone crisis is levelled at modem-living in the guise of excessive stress, binge drinking and even pollution. The proposed solutions? TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) or Viagra. Despite indicating that the main sign of ‘low testosterone’ is depression, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence the aetiology and treatment of this ‘condition’ forecloses upon any psychical component or involvement whatsoever but would sooner blame ‘tight underpants.’

Whether modern-living is now more stressful or libidinal levels now lower than they were in the past is a question that is open to debate. What seems certainly to have changed, however, is the manner of response taken to such issues nowadays. The inherent assumption of the above study and its subsequent reporting in a daily newspaper is that this ‘new problem’ should surprise and perhaps even shock us. For living in such a liberated and permissive society we should be amazed to find so many not enjoying. We are inclined to think that in having unburdened ourselves of the excessive prohibitions and taboos against sexual enjoyment that characterised Freud’s era, that we now have it easy, that…

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 113-121

On the 3rd December 1969 Lacan was questioned by a member of a rather rowdy audience of over 800 people at the University of Vincennes, where he gave his first impromptu lecture.The question ran as follows ‘People talk about a New Society. Will psychoanalysis have a function in that New Society and what will it be like’?

The 60’s in general and in particular the late 60’s had witnessed an increasing call for new freedoms. For example the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had been founded in 1967. By 1968, the activists among them, most notably Bernadette Devlin, were identifying with the confrontational political tactics made popular in France, Germany and America. Student revolt was the order of the day and the human cry of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity echoed throughout the troubled spots of our globe.

This passion for these ideals are still raging the world over and the question posed by that student in 1969 is perhaps even more relevant today, where these ideals once again lead to sacrifice and to death. The question then becomes does our particular discipline, psychoanalysis, have anything new to say to such calls for a newer, freer Society? As Charles Melman has remarked:

Psychoanalysts in a more or less intuitive way, consider that the field of their responsibility comes to a halt at the boundary of the family organisation and that they do not…

THE LETTER 27 (Spring 2003) pages 122-134

In contemporary Irish society, perhaps more that ever before, the myths of the ‘truths’ we hold about our society and of our past history are being exposed and challenged.

Following the public apology by An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern T.D., in May 1999 to those adults who had experienced abuse as children, while in care in Irish institutions, the National Counselling Service was established.

One would imagine that this action would have led to a greater openness and understanding in our society as to the cause and nature of childhood abuse and trauma, both for the victims and the perpetrators. However, one of the most striking findings of the SAVI Report is the extent to which sexual violence is still a completely private and hidden matter for almost half of those affected. With increasing media and professional attention and increasing numbers reporting, it has been easy to consider that there had been a thorough airing of the subject in the public domain with ‘no surprises’ remaining. This is not the case.

Heightened media attention given to the issue of sexual abuse has led to what has been called a ‘moral panic’ about the violent nature of the…

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