Issue 36 (Spring 2006)


We welcome the reader to the thirty-sixth issue of The Letter with the proceedings of the A.P.P.I. annual congress held on 26th November 20051. The principle theme of the congress was the examination and exegesis of Jacques Lacan’s twenty-first seminar: Les non-dupes errent. The consonance of les non-dupes errent with les noms du père is anything but haphazard as Lacan will tell us very early on in the seminar:

In these two terms put into words, les noms du pere and les non­dupes qui errent, it is the same knowledge…. It is the same knowledge in the sense that the unconscious is a knowledge from which the subject can decipher himself.2

It is precisely to this knowledge that contributors to the symposium based on Lacan’s seminar at the congress dedicated themselves. This issue of the journal features all of the contributions made at this symposium. According to the tradition that we continue greatly to appreciate, Cormac Gallagher began the day’s proceedings with his own experience of the seminar: both as an attendee in Paris in 1973-1974, and through his reading of the unedited French manuscripts over the past year whilst working on its translation into English. In his paper, Cormac reflects at a certain moment on the probability that of the seven or eight hundred attendees at the seminar, barely ten people present actually understood what Lacan was talking about. Cormac tells us why: Continue reading

Click here to order hard copy


THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 1-19


When I was asked two months ago for a title for this paper I was still reading what is called an international best-seller that I had begun earlier in the summer. The Time Traveller’s Wife is not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or a Mann Booker award but it does chime in uncannily with Lacan’s discussion of the fundamental phantasy that ‘supports all of those who want to be non-dupes in structure: namely, that their life is only a journey. Life is that of the viator (the pilgrim, the traveller). ‘That they live in this lower world as strangers in a foreign land’.

In psychological terms this journey means that life begins with birth and passes through various stages until death – think of Erik Erikson’s ‘Eight Ages of Man’. This notion of life as a journey that is determined by something called development is, Lacan argues, a radical error and ends up by negating everything that Freud’s discovery of the unconscious has revealed to us.

This is his opening salvo and already one to make us all query our own presuppositions about the stage of life we – and those who come to talk to us – are at!

Clare and Henry

I am not going to spend too much time on the novel but since it is in my title let me say that it illustrates in a charming way Lacan’s contention that time is not linear, and echoes some of his essential themes…

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 20-27

Lacan was always concerned with what was distinctive about psychoanalysis, with what is new with psychoanalysis, and why it is justifiable to speak of the Freudian discovery. This concern occupied him no less in Les non-dupes errent. During his seminar of 11th December 1973 he speaks of the effect of Freud’s discovery. He says that the possibility of analytic discourse tells us that ‘what you do, far from being a matter of ignorance, is always determined. Determined already by something which is knowledge, and that we call the unconscious.’1 This is what is new with Freud. This founds a new discourse.

In the first seminar of that year Lacan had directed attention to the final paragraph of The Interpretation of Dreams. He reads Freud as finishing this inaugural text with a question not about the ‘divinatory value of dreams’2 but about the effect of this new way of responding to dreams. In short Freud is asking what will happen to the new discourse inaugurated by The Interpretation of Dreams. We know that one consequence of that text is our meeting and speaking here today.

Whether in the Rome discourse where he identifies the function and field of speech and language as the domain of this practice originated by Freud or in his Seminars where time and again he distinguishes psychoanalysis from other forms of psychological intervention, Lacan remained acutely aware of the particularity of the Freudian legacy. …

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 28-34

Lacan’s Twenty-First Seminar is not easy to follow. Not only because of Lacan’s style in the transmission of psychoanalysis, but also because – it seems to me – it is placed, as a hinge, at the very heart of a decisive turning-point of the clinic in which this transmission is based.

What kind of subject do we operate with? The Lacanian subject can be defined as ‘the effect that permanently displaces the individual from the species, the effect that separates the particular from the universal, the case from the rule’. It is not then the universal subject of language that the analytic action is addressed to, but the singular product of the encounter between language and a certain body.

I will consider one paragraph that caught my attention while reading Seminar XXI, aimed at teasing out what sort of clinical problem Lacan is trying to posit, and the consequences this may have in relation to the position of the analyst within the psychoanalytic treatment.

Lacan states there:

But knowledge is not the same thing. Knowledge is the consequence of the fact that there is another. And so in appearance that gives two. For this second holds its status precisely from the fact that it has no relationship with the first, that they do not form a chain even if I said, somewhere, in my scribblings, the very first ones (…) in Function and Field, I perhaps slipped in that they formed a chain. This is an error (…) When one deciphers, one confuses things (…) to decipher. It is to substitute the signifier I (One) for…


THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 35-51


Good, so then I am entering into the core of the subject1. This is how Lacan opens the Ninth session of Seminar XXI – Les non-dupes errent. Going on to introduce three differently shaped Borromean knots to his audience – an African one, a plaited one, and one with a complicated symmetrical core – he then announces that he is ‘in the process of questioning love’2. Because ‘we imagine that love is two’ and also ‘the Imaginary is not what is to be most recommended for finding the rule of the game of love’3 he exhorts us to do better than to simply rely on the Imaginary to find out about love, now that the analytic discourse is a fact of our lives for over a hundred years.

So then let us question ourselves about what might happen if one made serious ground from the angle that…love is thrilling but that this implies that one follows the rule of the game (of love) in it. Naturally for that, it must be known. That is perhaps what is lacking: it is that people have always been here in the most profound ignorance, namely that they play a game whose rules they

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 52-61

This paper is based on the seminar Les non-dupes errent. It is a very interesting seminar because during it, Lacan visibly grapples with the concepts of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Although he goes on to further revise some of his concepts in subsequent seminars this paper is largely based on his position at that particular time. I am going to try to convey a sense of why Lacan was preoccupied with the Borromean knot, why he kept returning to it and why he insisted on it. Although at this time Lacan is developing a theoretical concept, his work is always and ever based on the work in the clinic as he says himself in Seminar XL Psychoanalysis is the theorisation of a praxis, not the practice of a theory.

I remember learning when I was first introduced to computers that the operating system could never diagnose its own problems, because it had to use the same mechanism requiring a diagnosis in order to diagnose, and this is not considered possible. This bears an anology to our situation as humans: we are determined by language and we try to explain ourselves using language. But language fails, because in choosing to enter the world of language, there is a lot we have to leave behind. This leads to us being split subjects, with language never quite functioning the way we want. Indeed as subjects we believe language has meaning, and that it is a form of communication from one to another. Lacan says:

…The signifier is a sign, that is only addressed to another sign; [that] the signifier, is what makes a sign to a sign, and that is why it is the signifier. That has nothing to do with communication to someone other, it determines a subject, it has as an effect a subject. …


THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 62-68

Excuse me for speaking in French, but I think it will be easier on your ears!

When I arrived at Dublin airport, in the taxi the driver asked me ‘Did you know that George Best died?7 As it happened I did, and during the journey I said to myself: here is a remarkable man who throughout his life tried to be the best. It can be said that for him – as I said to myself in the taxi – it was the name of the father that had determined his whole existence, that he had to go too quickly to the end of the journey to reach his home. I know that during his life he deviated from that path a little but finally it caught up with him. So we have every reason to think that our life is only a journeying towards that place where we are going to finally be at rest.

Life is simply a semblance, a preface, while we are waiting to finally rejoin the dwelling place of the father. From this point of view time is linear as Cormac was saying this morning, but we know from psychoanalytic experience that our journey is marked by a different rhythm, the rhythm of repetition.

What are we repeating? We regularly repeat the unique failure of our desire every time we are dupes of our desire – since repetition is going to show the failure of that desire. So we already see that time is not linear and that what is really guiding us is an object that is unnamed, that has no name and that we cannot connect up with. Namely, if I am engaged along…

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 69-79


One of the characteristics of post-modern culture is the emphasis given to surface over depth, image over substance, the indeterminate and fleeting over the fixed and immobile, the Real over the Symbolic. There are no absolutes, no grounding coordinates, no reference points within which the beleaguered subject can situate him/ herself. One could call this a crisis of representation. To be human is to live at the level of representation. Essentially this is what language does. It involves the movement from a situation of pure being to a symbolic representational existence. In other words, the symbolic order allows us to transform sense impressions, primitive sensations, and anxieties into thoughts and phantasies. As Rik Loose points out in his book:

We need the distance of representation…. If this is not the case one will experience the uncanny deep familiarity of the psychotic-like moment of depersonalization, an experience that occurs to people close to death or in utter trauma. When people say after such experiences that they have always kind of known this, they are already beginning to take a distance by trying to symbolize the utterly familiar, yet most alien, part of themselves.

In the field of addiction and problem drug use this is played out in a number of ways. Addiction can be characterized as a kind of absence of speech or non-speech, a/diction. In other words, the movement of addiction runs counter to speech. Addiction generally revolves around an…

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 80-86

Alcoholics’ stories are narratives. They rise and fall with drama, humour and pathos. They’re descriptive and emotional, they’re sagas and parables. We tell them to each other a lot; they get polished and improved, and if you’re hearing one that isn’t slurred and burped or told with self-pity and anger you’re probably listening to a happy ending. The point is that they have a plot, but the plot is always retrospective. It’s a trail that becomes obvious after you’ve travelled it. While you were living it there was no plot, no plan, no goal, no grand design.

I’m not too in love, I’m not too high, lover I’ll get by, faking my recovery.

Whose signifier is this anyway? Recovery… Re-Co very… Re-Cover… Cover… Like the plot of the alcoholic sketched by A.A. Gill above, the meaning locked into the signifier ‘recovery’ is retrospectively located in the word – cover. My question today concerns the challenge posed to those of us who work psychoanalytically with clients who present as recovered addicts: how do we circumnavigate the ‘discourse of recovery’ within which former addicts locate themselves in order to mobilize a discourse of analysis which doesn’t reinforce a re-covering. …

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 87-93


This article gives an outline of a thesis presented for a M.Litt degree. The philosophical framework of the thesis was structured within ; psychoanalytic paradigm. The aim of the study was to explore which structural type will be most satisfied with the A.A. program and thus presumably benefit most from it.

The hypothesis stated that subjects with an obsessional structure will be more satisfied with A.A. than subjects with a perverse structure. The results suggested that this was indeed the case.


The methodology involved using a pool of twenty-five members of A.A. to test the hypothesis.

Interviews were recorded and then transcribed into scripts. In practice this meant recording individual accounts of their life story by self- confessed alcoholics. There was no interruption by the interviewer and the interviewee could speak for as long as he wished and about whatever he wished although he was aware of the nature of the research. (All the interviewees were male).

Working from guidelines supplied by the author, three panels of judges were organized to analyse the scripts. On reading the interviewees’ scripts the judges’ first task was to separate the script authors into two groups; that is, each interviewee was designated as having either a perverse or obsessional psychical structure.

The judges’ second task was to decide levels of satisfaction in A.A. for each group. …


THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 94-102

This paper is based upon a case study presented to the Child Analysis Group. The work with this child proceeded through a series of dreams, some of which were quite evocative and disturbing at times. I believe that the paper may be interesting in light of the group’s work and because of the quality of her dreams. Children often present the most wonderful dreams, which they recount with an innocence that reflects their total engagement with the work. They do not seek to challenge a perceived Master’s position as the adult weekend-supplement-reader may do. Instead, the child’s dream speaks the true language of the unconscious. The child’s dreams culminated in a repeating nightmare whose horror made her fear going to sleep. These final sessions were extremely difficult, until the nightmare could be interpreted and its unconscious symbolism unlocked. The anxiety of this one-way imperative transmission required to be tolerated, its urgency respected as the fuel that impelled the work of the session, until the messenger could hear, at last, her own message.

Maria was thirteen years old when referred to me by a teacher who felt her problems owed more to emotional instability than an intellectual disability. She is the third of four siblings: two older brothers and a younger sister. Maria’s father deserted his family four years ago, moving in with a neighbouring widow and her daughters. Mother’s family had frowned on the marriage from the outset and so were not there to support her initially when Father deserted her. However, when Mother abandoned the children also and developed a serious drink problem the maternal grandmother and aunt intervened to help her recover. She has…

THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 103-112

This paper proposes to speak about a film narrative, Bicentennial Man. In the author’s view, the film narrative lends itself to an analytic deconstruction that follows Oedipal and familial lines. Given that the film is ostensibly a ‘children’s film’ and can be found only in the children’s section of the video shop, there is a question of locating its symbolic place, an idea echoed by the android in the story who seeks to map out his own symbolic place. None of the children the author spoke to who viewed the film said they enjoyed it. And adults often don’t find the film unless they happen upon it at the video shop in the children’s section next to The Jungle Book or Finding Nemo. The film narrative, a sentimental tale of human exploration directed by none other than a man named Chris Columbus, seems provocative in its determination to engage with the Real by means of a confusing and lacking Symbolic. Birth, sex, love and death are prominent, driving the narrative onward towards as we shall see, the only ‘real’ human conclusion possible.

By way of introduction, the film’s box jacket enthusiastically informs us that this is a film ‘about a robot that is no ordinary household appliance. Andrew is a machine with real emotions and a burning capacity to discover what it means to be human. Will Andrew ever achieve his goal to become human?’ That is broadly-speaking the narrative sweep of the tale before us. Indeed, this is a story of an android, a man-like robot named Andrew who similar to Oedipus embodies as Lacan says, the passage from myth to existence.1 He undertakes a passage from machine to human, determined to realise his destiny, a destiny implied in his naming, to become ‘a man’ …


THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 113-125

The words induced me to turn towards myself. And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; if they had, my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. I had never yet seen a being resembling me or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I? The question again recurred, to be answered only with groans.

The questions Frankenstein’s creature in Mary Shelley’s novel asks of its own being, its raison d’etre, are questions all humans must address or confront. Why am I? How am I? What am I? Who am I? Questions of existence and being lie not only at the heart of every philosophy, theology, religion, and psychology, but indeed all science, scientific quest, and reason; “Of what a strange nature is knowledge!” From Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”; to Lacan’s contra-indication: “Where I think, there I am not”; to Gubar and Gilberts’ feminist “The creative I am cannot be said if the “I” knows not what it is”-philosophers have proffered answers. But Frankenstein’s creature’s realisation ‘Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money,’ that coinage is the first location of identity, being, or lack thereof is identified by Baudrillard in his own postmodern, hyperreal existentialism: “I consume, therefore I am.” …

Comments are closed.