Language, Behaviour and Dynamic Psychiatry : 24th March 1944 (Chicago) : Jules Masserman,

by Julia Evans on March 24, 1944

Read before the Chicago Psycho-analytic Society, 24th March 1944. 

Published in International Journal of Psychoanalysis (IJPA) 25:1-8 (1944)

Available at  /authors by date or authors a-z (M)

Cited by Jacques Lacan

The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan  

Notes & Information  here  

p62-64 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : It can be seen that I do not shrink from seeking the origins of symbolic behaviour outside the human sphere. But this is certainly not to be done by way of an elaboration of the sign. It is on this path that Mr Jules H. Masserman after so many others, has set off, and I shall stop here for an instant, not only because of the knowing tone with which he makes his approach, but also because of the welcome that his work has found among the editors of our official journal. Following a tradition borrowed from employment agencies, they never neglect anything that might provide our discipline with ‘good references’.

Think of it – here we have a man who has reproduced neurosis ex-pe-ri-men-tal-ly in a dog tied down to a table, and by what ingenious methods: a bell, the plate of meat that it announces, and the plate of potatoes that arrives instead; you can imagine the rest. He will certainly not be one, at least so he assures us to let himself be taken in by the ‘ample ruminations’, as he puts it, that philosophers have devoted to the problem of language. Not him, he’s going to grab it from your throat.  

We are told that a raccoon can be taught by a judicious conditioning of his reflexes to go to his feeding trough when he is presented with a card on which his menu is listed. We are not told whether it shows the various prices, but the convincing detail is added that if the service disappoints him, he comes back and tears up the card that promised too much, just as an irritated woman might do with the letters of an unfaithful lover (sic).
This is one of the supporting arches of the bridge over which the author carries the road that leads from the signal to the symbol. It is a two-way road, and the return journey from the symbol to the signal is illustrated by no less imposing works of art.

For if you associate the projection of a bright light into the eyes of a human subject with the ringing of a bell, and then the ringing alone to the command ‘Contract’, [English in the original] you will succeed in getting the subject to make his pupils contract just by giving the order himself, then by muttering it, and eventually just by thinking it – in other words you will obtain a reaction of the nervous system that is called autonomous because it is usually inaccessible to intentional effects. Thus, if we are to believe this writer, Mr Hudgins ‘has created in a group of subjects a highly individualized configuration of related and visceral reactions from the “idea-symbol” [English in the original], “Contract”, a response that could be referred back through their individual experiences to an apparently distant source, but in reality basically physiological – in this example, simply the protection of the retina against an excessively bright light’. And the author concludes : ‘The significance of such experiments for psychosomatic and linguistic research does not even need further elaboration.’

For my part, I would have been curious to learn whether subjects trained in this way also react to the enunciation of the same syllables in the expressions: ‘marriage contract’, ‘contract bridge’, ‘breach of contract’, [English in the original] or even to the word ‘contract’ progressively reduced to the articulation of its first syllable: contract, contrac, contra, contr … The control experiment required by strict scientific method would then be offered all by itself as the French reader murmured this syllable between his teeth, even though he would have been subjected to no conditioning other than that of the bright light projected on the problem by Mr Jules H. Masserman. I would then ask this author whether the effects observed in this way among conditioned subjects still appeared to dispose so easily of further elaboration. For either the effects would no longer be produced, thus revealing that they do not depend even conditionally on the semanteme, or they would continue to be produced, posing the question of its limits.

In other words, they would cause the distinction of signifier and signified, so blithely confused by the author in the English term ‘idea-symbol’, to appear in the very instrument of the word. And without needing to examine the reactions of subjects conditioned by the command ‘Don’t contract’, or even by the entire conjugation of the verb ‘to contract’, I could draw the author’s attention to the fact that what defines any element whatever of a language (langue) as belonging to language, is that, for all the users of this language (langue), this element is distinguished as such in the ensemble supposedly constituted of homologous elements.

The result is that the particular effects of this element of language are bound up with the existence of this ensemble, anterior to any possible link with any particular experience of the subject. And to consider this last link independently of any reference to the first is simply to deny in this element the function proper to language.

This reminder of first principles might perhaps have saved our author, in his unequalled naïveté, from discovering the textual correspondence of the grammatical categories of his childhood in the relations of reality.

This monument of naïveté, in any case of a kind common enough in these matters, would not be worth so much attention if it were not the achievement of a psychoanalyst, or rather of someone who, as chance will have it, represents everything produced by a certain tendency in psychoanalysis – in the name of the theory of the ego or of the technique of the analysis of defences – everything, that is, most contrary to the Freudian experience. In this way the coherence of a sound conception of language along with the maintenance of this conception is revealed a contrario. For Freud’s discovery was that of the field of the effects in the nature of man of his relations to the symbolic order and the tracing of their meaning right back to the most radical agencies of symbolization in being. To ignore this symbolic order is to condemn the discovery to oblivion, and the experience to ruin. 

 And I affirm – an affirmation that cannot be divorced from the serious intent of my present remarks – that it would seem to me preferable to have the raccoon I mentioned sitting in the armchair where, according to our author, Freud’s timidity confined the analyst by putting him behind the couch, rather than a ‘scientist’ who discourses on language and speech as he does. 


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