The Position of the Unconscious (Bonneval Hospital): 31st October 1960: Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on October 31, 1960

This paper summarizes the remarks Jacques Lacan made at the Colloquium held October 30th to November 2nd, 1960, at Bonneval Hospital. They were condensed in March 1964 at Henri Ey’s request for his collection of the talks given at the colloquium, published as L’inconscient (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1966).

Published in English:

1) Position of the Unconscious: 1960: Translated by Bruce Fink: in Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink and Maire Jaanus (eds), ‘Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, 1995, p259-282

Available at  /lacan

2) Écrits, Jacques Lacan, The first complete edition in English : translated by Bruce Fink : W.W. Norton & Co : 2002 : Information here  

Published in French

1) L’inconscient (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1966)

2) Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan: Information here

3) École Lacanienne de la Psychanalyse, Pas Tout Lacan:  and available: 1960-10-31, Position de l’inconscient au Congrès de Bonneval (15p) or here

Warning! This site has been redesigned : NOW 5 – Pas-tout Lacan – here


Serge Leclaire’s case study of the unicorn or Poordejeli available : The Dream with the Unicorn – Pôor(d)j’e-li : 30th October 1960 (Bonneval Hospital) [published 1966/68] : Serge Leclaire or here

Alienation and Separation in Seminar XI (Paris) : 1st July 1990 : Éric Laurent : or here

In p28 of Lacanian Biology and the Event of the Body : 12th & 19th May 1999 (Paris VIII) : Jacques-Alain Miller or here, Miller states ‘He is even clearer in the contemporary écrit … “position de l’inconscient” where he argues that “every drive is virtually drive of death.”’


From Bruce Fink’s Preface to ‘Reading Seminar XI : Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’ (eds) Bruce Fink, Richard Feldstein & Maire Jaanus: 1995: Albany, State Uni of NY Press : Quote

The reader will note that we have included at the end of this volume the first English translation ever to appear in print of Lacan’s article from the Écrits, “Position of the Unconscious.” It is a perfect companion piece to Seminar XI, as it takes up a considerable number of the subjects covered therein-the unconscious, the drives, alienation and separation, transference, the “lamella,” and so on – at a still higher level of abstraction. And it is quoted and/or alluded to in many of the papers presented in this volume.

Originally written in 1960, “Position of the Unconscious” was considerably reworked for its 1964 publication in VI’ Colloque de Bonneval : l’Inconscient (Paris : Desclée de Brouwer,1966),and further reworked for
its 1966 publication in the Écrits. Thus it presents a slice of Lacan’s more “mature” work in which the real has truly come into its own, object a is viewed as a part of the subject’s libido located outside of his or her own body, and sexual difference is articulated in terms suggestive of Lacan’s 1970s formulas of sexuation.

The article is, strictly speaking, unreadable, once again confirming Lacan’s appraisal of his Écrits in Seminar XX : they were not meant to be read (“ils n’étaient pas à lire” [29]). Indeed, they were not written in such a way as to facilitate the reader’s task. Rather they were written to be worked over –unabridged dictionaries and an immense library in hand(including all of Lacan’s seminars and his other Écrits) – mulled over, diagrammed, pieced together ,dreamt about, and reformulated in non-Lacanian French. Their translation into other languages is obviously impossible, at one level, when not altogether ridiculous.

Some will, no doubt, feel that what is to be gleaned from this particular Écrit does not justify the effort of working it over and over and over. Others will, I hope find the text an inexhaustible source of provocative formulations that stick with them even if they aren’t the least bit sure what they mean:

[T]he signifier as such, whose first purpose is to bar the subject, has brought into him the meaning of death. (The letter kills, but we learn this from the letter itself.) That is why every drive is virtually a death drive.

[P]sychoanalysts are part and parcel of the concept of the unconscious.

[The subject] was first produced at the other’s summoning.

The subject, the Cartesian subject, is the presupposition of the unconscious…. The Other is the dimension required in order for speech to affirm itself as truth. The unconscious is, between the two of them, their cut in act.

The effect of language is to introduce the cause into the subject. Through this effect, he is not the cause of himself; he bears within himself the worm of the cause that splits him. For his cause is the signifier, without which there would be no subject in the real.

Reference to René Descartes

p261 of Position of the Unconscious: 1960: Translated by Bruce Fink: in Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink and Maire Jaanus (eds), ‘Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, 1995, p259-282 :

(None of them can be grouped together, except confusedly, because of what psychoanalysts have added by way of obscurantism in failing to distinguish the unconscious from instinct, or, as they say, from the instinctual – the archaic or primordial, succumbing thereby to an illusion decisively dispelled by Claude Lévi-Strauss – and even from the genetics of a supposed “development.”)

My claim is that they have nothing in common if one grounds oneself in psychological objectivity, even if the later is derived by extension from the schemas of psychopathology, and that this chaos merely reflects psychology’s central error. This error consists in taking the very phenomenon of consciousness to be unitary, speaking of the same consciousness – believed to be a synthetic faculty – in the illuminated area of a sensory field, in the attention which transforms it, in the dialectic of judgment, and in ordinary daydreaming.

This error is based on the undue transfer to these phenomena of the value of a thought experiment which uses them as examples.

The Cartesian cognito is the major, and perhaps terminal, feat of this experiment in that it attains knowledge certainty. But it all the better exposes that which privileges the moment upon which it is based, and proves how fraudulent it is to extend its privilege to phenomena endowed with consciousness, in order to grant them a status.

And the much sought-after [recherchée] latency of this founding moment, as Selbstbewusstsein [self-consciounsness], in the dialectical sequence of Hegel’s phenomenology of mind, is based upon the presupposition of absolute knowledge.

Everything, on the contrary, points to the distribution of consciousness in psychical reality – however the latter’s texture is ordered – consciousness being heterotypic in terms of levels and erratic at each level.

The only homogeneous function of consciousness is the imaginary capture of the ego by its specular reflection, and the function of misrecognition [méconnaissance] which remains linked to it.


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Julia Evans 

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further posts:

Lacanian Transmission  here

On Lacanian History here

Of the clinic here

Use of power here

Translation Working Group here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

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