Patricia McCarthy – Looking back at On a Discourse that Might not be a Semblance with L’Étourdit in Mind

THE LETTER 63 Autumn 2016 pages 69 – 82

Looking back at On a Discourse that Might not Be a Semblance with L’Éto urdit in Mind

Patricia McCarthy


For the past year, our cartel has continued to work on Lacan’s L’Étourdit accompanied by Christian Fierens’ two Readings. To capture some of the questions that these texts provoke,1 I’ve chosen to re-read Lacan’s seminar from 1971 On a Discourse that Might not be a Semblance. This seminar appealed at this time because of its enigmatic title, a title that contains the words discourse and semblance and that seems to take the form of a question – is it possible to have a discourse that might not be a semblance? Lacan himself fashions it more as a negative hypothesis that he answers quite early on. A discourse that might not be a semblance posits that there is no escaping the fact that discourse – master, university or hysterical – is a semblance. In 1971, did Lacan wish that things could be otherwise? I would suggest that the fact that you cannot have a discourse that is not a semblance culminated in Lacan’s clarifying in L’Étourdit – completed a little over a year later on July 16th 1972 – how, by a strange unsettling of the stable habitatstabitat of the semblance, the analytic discourse works. As Fierens puts it, the analytic discourse is ‘then a matter of a discourse already there’ – master……..


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