Lacan’s Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” : Notes to the Text : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1988

P83-98 of John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (eds) The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988: Baltimore MD and London : The John Hopkins University Press

Availability of Notes to Text, 1988, at  /authors a-z or authors by date

Further information : The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Editors & Authors) or here

Key texts from Muller & Richardson : 1988:

Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Text of “The Purloined Letter,” with Notes   [p3-27] : Available at  /authors a-z or authors by date

Jacques Lacan, Seminar on “The Purloined Letter,” translated by Jeffrey Mehlman             [p28-54] (Note : this is a reprint of its publication in Yale French Studies – YFS)

Note : This translation does not include Lacan’s three appendices to the text ‘Le séminaire sur “La Lettre volée”’: as published in Écrits : Paris, du Seuil: 1966 : p11-61 : See Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here for availability

References – updated

Page references for the Jeffrey Mehlman translation of the Jacques Lacan text.

The references in Muller & Richardson are given firstly to the Mehlman translation printed as Chapter two of their book & secondly to the French edition of the Écrits. At the top of each page, the page number in the YFS text and the page number in Bruce Fink’s transaltion will be given.

28/11 = 39 YFS/6 BF

P83 : (Lacan 1972b) : Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here. Page numbers as reprinted in Muller & Richardson : See here

Second page number is to the French edition, also given Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : See here

P83 (Lacan 1977) (1966a) : First refers to Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan : See here  for page numbers.

Second refers to page number in the French edition, : also given Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : See here

28a/11a = 39 YFS/6BF

P84 Richardson (1983a) : Richardson William J. 1983a. Lacan and the subject of psychoanalysis. In Interpreting Lacan, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 51-74. Psychiatry and the Humanities, vol. 6. New Haven: Yale University Press.

p84 These “psychoanalytic effects” are defined and clarified in Laplanche and Pontalis (1973). Laplanche, Jean and J.-B. Pontalis. 1973. The language of psychoanalysis. Trans. D. Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton. Originally published 1967 : quotes:

p42 : a. The way associations function is pictured as a circulation of energy within 
a ‘neuronal apparatus’ with a complex structure consisting of layers of successive bifurcations. At each intersection, each excitation takes one particular path in preference to another, according to the ‘facilitations’ left by preceding excitations. The notion of facilitation* (Bahmmg) should not be understood primarily as referring to ease of passage from one image to the next, but rather as a process of differential opposition: a given pathway is only facilitated in proportion as the alternative one is not.

b. In Freud’s initial hypotheses there is no question of images in the sense of mental or neuronal impressions bearing a resemblance to the actual object: to begin with, everything is seen in terms of ‘neurones’ and ‘quantity’ (2 Cf. FREUD, S., Anf., 379-86; S.E., I, 295-302.).

This conception, with its mechanistic character and neurophysiological language, might seem very far removed from real experience, but it must clearly be compared with that antagonism between ideas and quota of affect* which is a constant of Freudian psychology. Like neurones, ideas are discrete, discontinuous elements in a chain. The significance of ideas, like that of neurones, depends upon the complex which, along with other elements, they help constitute. From this point of view, the operation of the ‘neuronal apparatus’ might be compared to the operation of language as analysed by structural linguistics: in both cases discontinuous units are organized into binary oppositions.

P156: The concept of the experience of satisfaction has no wide currency in psychoanalysis, but it seemed to us that defining it would cast light on some Freudian views which are, for their part, classical and essential. Freud describes and analyses the experience of satisfaction in the ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’ (1950a [1895]), and he also refers to it several times in Chapter VII of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). [The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud : See here & The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud or here]

The experience of satisfaction is connected with ‘the initial helplessness* (Hilflosigkeit) of human beings’ (la). The organism is incapable of bringing about the specific action* needed to get rid of the tension that has arisen as a result of 
the release of endogenous stimuli; this action has therefore to be carried out with the help of an outside person (who, for example, brings food), and only then can 
the tension be removed.

Over and above this immediate result, the experience has several consequences:

a) Satisfaction is henceforward associated with the image of the object which
 has procured it, and also with the motor image of the reflex movement which has permitted the discharge. When the state of tension recurs, the image of the object is recathected:’. . . in the first instance this wishful activation will produce
the same thing as a perception-namely a hallucination. If reflex action is thereupon introduced, disappointment cannot fail to occur’ (16).

At such an early stage, of course, the subject is not equipped to determine that the object is not really there. A cathexis of the image which is too intense produces the same ‘indication of reality’ as a perception.

b. This experience as a whole-the real satisfaction and the hallucinatory one -constitutes the basis of desire. In fact the wish, though it originates with a search for actual satisfaction, is constituted on the model of the primitive hallucination.

c. The formation of the ego offsets the subject’s initial failure to distinguish between hallucination and perception. Thanks to the ego’s inhibitory function, the recathexis of the image of the satisfying object is prevented from being too intense.

P84 Entstellung more properly means “distortion” : Chapter IV Distortion in dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud : See here

P84 Le séminaire: Livre II (Lacan 1978b1954-1955) : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here

– Analysis of “The Purloined Letter” (225-240) : P193-194 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955: You see the possibilities of demonstration and theorematisation which can be derived from the simple use of these symbolic series. From the start, and independently of any attachment to some supposedly causal bond, the symbol already plays, and produces by itself, its necessities, its structures, its organisations. That is indeed what occurs in our discipline, in so far as it consists in getting to the bottom of the significance of the symbolic order for the world of the human subject.

Within this perspective, what is immediately clear is what I have called the inmixing of subjects. I will illustrate it for you, since chance has offered it to us, with the story of The Purloined Letter, from which we took the example of the game of even and odd.

This example is introduced by the spokesman of the tale’s meaning, and it supposed to give an elementary image of the intersubjective relation, founded upon the following – as a function of the other’s supposed capacities for trickery, for dissimulation, for strategy, capacities to be found in a dual reflective relation, the subject assumes the thought of this other. This depends upon the idea that there is a way of distinguishing the understanding of the idiot from that of the intelligent man.

I have stressed how fragile this point of view is, even how completely alien it is to what is at issue, for the simple reason that the intelligent thing to do, in this case, is to play the idiot. However, Poe is a prodigiously alert man, and all you have to do is read the whole of the text to see the extent to which the symbolic structure of the story far surpasses the scope of this reasoning, so attractive for a moment, but excessively weak, and whose sole function here is as a booby trap.

– P195-196 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955 : So that is how the tale unfolds.

There are two great scenes – not in the sense in which we say primal scene ­- the scene of the letter purloined and the scene of the letter recovered, and then some accessory scenes. The scene in which the letter is recovered is duplicated, since, having discovered where it is, Dupin doesn’t take it straightaway – he has to set the trap, prepare his little cabal. and also the substitute-letter. There is also the imaginary scene at the end, in which we see the enigmatic character of the story meeting his end, this ambitious character, so singularly etched out, of whom one wonders what his ambition actually is. Is he simply a gambler? He gambles with a challenge, his aim – and that is what would make him an ambitious man – seems to be to show how far he can go. Where he goes is of no importance to him. The aim of his ambition is dissipated by the essential fact of its exercise.

Who are the characters? We could count them on our fingers. There are the real characters – the King, the Queen, the minister, Dupin, the prefect of police and the agent provocateur who shoots in the street. There are also those who do not appear on stage and make back-stage noises. These are the dramatis personae, in general one has a list of them at the beginning of a play.

Isn’t there another way of doing it?

The characters in question can be defined differently. They can be defined beginning with the subject, more precisely beginning with the relation determined by the aspiration of the real subject through the necessity of the symbolic linking process.


The letter is here synonymous with the original, radical, subject. What we find here is the symbol being displaced in its pure state, which one cannot come into contact with without being immediately caught in its play. Thus, the tale of The Purloined Letter signifies that there’s nothing in destiny, or causality, which can be defined as a function of existence. One can say that, when the characters get a hold of this letter, something gets a hold of them and carries them along and this something clearly has dominion over their individual idiosyncracies . Whoever they might be, at this stage of the symbolic transformation of the letter, they will be defined solely by their position in relation to this radical subject, by their position in one of the CH3s. This position isn’t fixed. In so far as they have entered into the necessity, into the movement peculiar to the letter, they each become, in the course of successive scenes, functionally different in relation to the essential reality which it constitutes. In other words, to take this story up again in its exemplary form, for each of them the letter is his unconscious. It is his unconscious with all of its consequences, that is to say that at each point in the symbolic circuit, each of them becomes someone else.

That is what l am going to try to show you.

– P201 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955 ; In the end, the intolerable nature of the pressure constituted by the letter is due to the fact that the minister has the same attitude as the Queen in relation to the letter – he doesn’t speak of it. And he doesn’t speak of it because he can no more speak of it than she can. And simply from the fact that he cannot speak of it, he finds himself in the course of the second scene in the same position as the Queen, and he won’t be able to do anything other than let himself be dispossessed of it. This is not due to the ingenuity of Dupin, but to the structure of things.

The purloined letter has become a hidden letter. Why don’t the policemen find it? They don’t find it because they do not know what a letter is. They don’t know that because they are the police. Every legitimate power always rests, as does any kind of power, on the symbol. And the police, like all powers, also rest on the symbol.

– P202 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955 : You do see, then, that only in the dimension of truth can something be hidden. In the real, the very idea of a hidden place is insane – however deep into the bowels of the earth someone may go bearing something, it isn’t hidden there, since if he went there, so can you. Only what belongs to the order of truth can be hidden. It is truth which is hidden, not the letter. For the policemen, the truth doesn’t matter, for them there is only reality, and that is why they do not find anything.

In contrast, besides his remarks about the game of even and odd, Dupin makes linguistic, mathematical, religious observations, he constantly speculates about the symbol, even going so far as to speak of the nonsense of mathematics – for which I apologise to the mathematicians present here.

– P205 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955: The minister would really have had to push the paradox of the gambler to its limit of madness for him to take out the letter. He really would have to be a man without any principles whatsoever, without even this, the last principle, the one which for the most part remains to us, which is simply the shadow of stupidity. If he falls prey to passion, he will find the Queen generous, worthy of respect and love – it’s completely ridiculous, but it will save him. If he falls prey to pure and simple hatred, he will try to strike his blow in an efficient manner. It really only if his Dasein has become completely detached from any inscription in any kind of order, including that of intimacy, that of his desk, his table, it is really only if that is the case that he will have to drink the bitter cup to the dregs.

We could write all of this with small alphas, betas, gammas. Everything which could serve to define the characters as real – qualities, temperament, heredity, nobility – has nothing to do with the story. At every moment each of them, even their sexual attitude, is defined by the fact that a letter always reaches its destination.

P84 he devoted several sessions to “the even and the odd” : Quote p180-181 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 23rd March 1955 : At first glance, it is a matter of simple psychological penetration, a kind of ego-miming. The subject adopts a mirror position, enabling him guess the behaviour of his adversary. Nonetheless, even this method already presupposes the dimension of intersubjectivity, in that the subject has know that he is faced with another subject, in principle homogeneous with him. The variations to which he may be subject have far less importance than the possible scansions of the position of the other. There is no other ground for psychological reasoning.

What are these scansions? There is a first period [temps] in which I suppose the other subject to be in exactly the same position as me, thinking what I am thinking at the very moment I am thinking it. Let us suppose that it seems me, for my part, that it would be more natural for the other to change theme, for him to switch from even to odd, for instance. In the first period [temps], I believe that this is what he will do. The important thing is that there may be a second period [temps], in which a less partial subjectivity is manifested. The subject is in fact capable of making himself other, and end up thinking that the other, being himself an other, thinks like him, and that he has to place himself in the position of a third party, get out of being this other who is his pure reflection. As third party, I realise that if that other doesn’t play the game, he fools his opponent. And from then on I’m ahead of him, by opting for the position opposite to the one which seemed to me, in the first period [temps], to be the most natural.

But after this second period [temps], you can suppose a third, which makes it extremely difficult to pursue the same analogical reasoning. After all, someone of superior intelligence can in fact understand that the trick is, notwithstanding the fact that one seems to be very intelligent, to play like an idiot, that is to return to the first formula. What does that mean? This – if the game of even and odd is played on the level of the dual relation, of the equivalence of one and the other, of the alter ego and the ego, you will very quickly realise that you haven’t reached any kind of second order, since as soon as you think of the third, an oscillation returns you to the first. This doesn’t preclude something in the technique of the game from partaking as a matter of fact in the mythical identification with the opponent. But that’s a fundamental bifurcation.

It may be that something like a divination, which, however, is problematic, is put into effect, a divination by the subject who has a certain sympathetic rapport with the opponent. It’s not out of the question that there may have been such a young child who won more frequently than his turn should allow – which is the only definition one can give in this instance of the word win. But the heart of the matter lies in a completely different register from that of imaginary intersubjectivity.

That the subject should think the other to be similar [semblable] himself, and that he, reasons as he thinks the other must reason – the first period [temps] like this, in the second period like that – is a fundamental point of departure failing which nothing can be thought, yet is nonetheless totally inadequate in helping us penetrate in any degree to where the key to success might be found. I don’t consider the interpsychological experience to be included in this case, but it insinuates itself within the agile framework of the imaginary relation to the other, and it hangs on that very uncertainty. Within this framework, the experience is one which fades away. It cannot be made logical. Take another look at the dialectic of the game of black and white discs placed on the backs of the three characters who have to work out what their own sign is on the basis of what they see on the two others. You will be in a position to discover something of the same order.

We will take the other path, the one which can be made logical, the one which can be upheld in discourse. Obviously it imposes itself as soon as your partner is the machine.

It is clear that you don’t have to ask yourself whether the machine is stupid or intelligent, whether it will play in accordance with its first or its second go. Inversely, the machine has no means of placing itself in a reflexive position in relation to its human partner.

– Or from p186 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 23rd March 1955 :

Earlier on we referred to The Purloined Letter. Everything in this tale revolves around the problems of signification, of meaning, of received opinion, and precisely because received opinion is held in common, the truth is at stake in it.

You know the theme of the story. The prefect of police is charged with the recovery of a letter which was stolen by someone of considerable distinction, who is perfectly amoral. The character in question lifted this letter from the table in the Queen’s boudoir. The letter came from another person of distinction whose relations with her she had reason to hide. She doesn’t succeed in hiding the letter as quickly as she wanted to but the gesture she makes is enough for the libertine minister, culprit and hero, to see the importance of the piece of paper. She acts as if nothing had happened, and places the letter in plain view. As for the King, who is also there, by definition he is destined not to notice anything, on condition that one doesn’t attract his attention. This is what allows the minister, with a manoeuvre consisting in producing a vaguely analogous letter, which he places on the table, to get his hands on it under the nose and in full view – and that’s the snag – of those present, this letter which will for him be a source of considerable power over the royal persons, without anyone being able to say anything about it. The Queen realises full well what is happening, but she is bound by the exact conditions of the three-sided game.

The point is to find the letter. All kinds of speculations, including an echo regarding the game of even and odd, lead one to understand that the play of intersubjectivity is so essential that all that’s needed is for someone to have the technique, the knowledge and the rigour, for someone to be fascinated by the real, as very intelligent people are, which makes them strict imbeciles. The house of the minister is searched inch by inch, numbering each cubic foot. Everything is looked at through the microscope, long needles passed through cushions, all the scientific methods are employed. And the letter isn’t found. However, the letter has to be in the house, for the minister must have constant access to it so as to be able to shove it under the King’s nose. He doesn’t carry it on himself, since they had him pick-pocketed.

– P187 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 23rd March 1955 :   : In the same way, one thinks that when one has reached a certain point of comprehension in psychoanalysis, one can grab it and say – Here it is, we’ve got it. On the contrary, signification as such is never where one thinks it must be.

The merit of the apologue is of this order. It is on the basis of the analysis of the symbolic value of the different moments in the drama that its coherence, and even its psychological motivation, can be discovered.

It isn’t a game for the subtlest, it isn’t a psychological game, it is a dialectical game.

– P191, 192 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : Seminar II : 27th April 1955: My comments last time were aimed at giving you a clear sense of the relation of the subject to the symbolic function. We will take further steps in that direction today.

The symbol’s emergence into the real begins with a wager. The very notion of cause, when viewed as being capable of bringing with it a mediation between the chain of symbols and the real, is established on the basis of an original wager – will it be this or not? It’s not for nothing that the notion of probability takes up a place at the very heart of the development of the physical science, as the most recent discussions in epistemology show us; nor is it for nothing that probability theory is reviving a set of problems which, throughout the history of thought, for centuries, have alternately been highlighted and occulted.

The wager lies at the heart of any radical question bearing on symbolic thought. Everything comes back to ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’ [JE notes: think Hamlet], to the choice between what will or won’t come out, to the primordial couple of plus or minus. But presence as absence connotes possible absence or presence. As soon as the subject himself comes to be, he owes it to a certain non-being on which he raises his being. And if he isn’t, if he isn’t something, he obviously bears witness to some kind of absence, but he will always remain purveyor of this absence, I mean that he will bear the burden of its proof for lack of being capable of proving the presence.

That’s what’s important about this chain of pluses and minuses, aligned here on a bit of paper, drawn from diverse experimental set-ups. The examination of the results we’ve gathered has concrete value, in showing certain deviations in the curve of gains and losses.

As we saw last time, playing amounts to pursuing in a subject an alleged regularity which escapes observation, but which must be translated into the results by something of a deviation in the probability curve. That is in fact what the facts tend to show, indicating that just by the simple fact of dialogue, even the most blind, no pure game of chance exists, instead there is already the articulation of one word with another. This word is included in the fact that even when the subject plays by himself, his play only has any meaning if he says in advance what he thinks will come out. You can play heads or tails by yourself. But from the point of view of speech, you aren’t playing by yourself­ there is already the articulation of three signs, comprising a win or a loss, and this articulation prefigures the very meaning of the result. In other words, there is no question, there is no game, if there is no structure there is no question. The question is constituted, organised, by the structure.

By itself, the play of the symbol represents and organises, independently of the peculiarities of its human support, this something which is called a subject. The human subject doesn’t foment this game, he takes his place in it, and plays the role of the little pluses and minuses in it.

29h/12f = 41 YFS /BF 7 last but two paras

P85 (Most and Stowe 1983, 13) : p13 of Most, Glenn W., and William W. Stowe, eds. 1983. The poetics of murder: Detective fiction and literary theory. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (This also reproduces Jacques Lacan;s Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’)

P85 “The Purloined Letter” : 1844 : in 1978 : The Purloined Letter : in Collected works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 3, Tales and sketches, 1843-1849, ed. Thomas O. Mabbott, p972-97. Cambridge: Belnap Press of Harvard University Press. Originally published 1844. Republished in The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Editors & Authors) : See here for availability.

30d/13c = 42 YFS / 8BF

P86 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, p43) : Seminar on ‘Purloined Letter.” Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. In ‘French Freud : Structural studies in psychoanalysis’. Yale French Studies 48: p48-72 : See here for availability

P86 Truth can emerge only from structural laws of transformation (see Piaget’s Structuralism [1970]) : Piaget, Jean. 1970. Structuralism. Translated C, Maschler. New York: Basic Books. Originally published in 1968.

P86 For a useful summary of Lacan’s earlier essay on time, see Wilden (1981, 105, n. 47) : ‘The Language of the Self – The function of language in Psychoanalysis by Jacques Lacan’ : 1968 : Anthony Wilden or here :

“Le temps logique et I’assertionde certitude anticipie” (1945) : Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty: A New Sophism : March 1945 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote note 47 :

Lacan’s analysis of this sophism is concerned with the psychological and temporal process involved between three hypothetical prisoners of which the first to discover whether he is wearing a black or a white patch on his back has been offered his freedom by the prison governor. The prisoners are not allowed to communicate directly. The governor has shown them three white and two black patches and has then fixed a white patch on each man’s back.

Lacan analyzes the intersubjective process in which each man has to put himself in the place o[ the others and to gauge the
correctness of his deductions through their actions in time, from the instant du regard to the moment de conclure. The first moment of the temps pour comprendre is a wait (which tells each man that no one can see two black patches), followed by a decision by each that he is white (“If I were black, one of the others would have already concluded that he is white, because nobody has as yet started for the door”). Then they all set off towards the door and all hesitate in a retrospective moment of doubt. The fact that they all stop sets them going again’. This hesitation will only be repeated twice (in this hypothetically ideal case), before all three leave the prison cell together.

P86 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, 44) : Available Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

32h/16a = 45 YFS / 10BF

P87 “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other,” see Muller and Richardson (1982, 110-11, 116, 209, 368) : Muller, John P., and William J. Richardson. 1982. Lacan and Language: A reader’s guide to Écrits. New York: International Universities Press. : See for availability A Reader’s Guide to Écrits: 1982: John P. Muller and William J. Richardson or here : Examples from Lacan follow :

– P110-111 of Chapter 3 : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis …. p67-122 : 55c/265 The now-classic phrase, “the unconscious of the subject is the discourse of the other,” refers to the trans-individual, universal structure of language as the domain in which gaps in conscious discourse are experienced as foreign by the individual subject; in addition, but not secondarily, it refers to the way desire (for the other and for recognition by the other) is signified through the operations of metaphor and metonymy, i.e., through unconscious condensation and displacement or linguistic substitution and combination.

– P116 of Chapter 3 : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis …. p67-122 : 80c-d/292 The unconscious as discourse of the other provides the locus for the identity of the particular (in terms of the subject’s desire as expressed in his own signifying chains of metaphor and metonymy) with the universal (in terms of the transindividual structure of language). Such an unconscious, defined earlier as “that part of the concrete discourse. . . not at the disposal of the subject in re-establishing the continuity of his conscious discourse.”(1977, p. 49/258) is disjunctive of the subject, prohibiting any description of him as individuum. [See Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan or here & The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here]

– P208-209 of Chapter 6: On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis … p196 – 262 : “It is because these phenomena [of the conscious discourse] are ordered in the figures of this discourse [of the Other] that they have the fixity of symptoms, are legible and can be resolved when deciphered” ( 1977, p. 194/549. [Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan or here & On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis : 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here] We take this to mean that symptoms experienced on the level of the conscious subject are to be relieved by discerning their place as signifiers within the structures of the discourse of the Other.

The question as it emerges from the Other is a genuine putting of the subject into question. It arises from the discrete arrangement of unconscious signifiers in a way that is most unlikely – yet at the same time most likely, too: “most unlikely, since their chain is found to survive in an alterity in relation to the subject as radical as that of as yet undecipherable hieroglyphics in the solitude of the desert”; yet “most likely, because there alone their function of inducing the signification into the signified by imposing their structure on it may appear quite unambiguously” (1977, p. 194/550). [ibid]

Freud’s experience of this unconscious Other is altogether different from that of Jung. For Jung, the Other finds expression in “protomorphic proliferations of the image,” i.e., a series of images that remain on the level of fantasy (hence in the order of the imaginary), to be interpreted by a kind of divination (i.e., “mantic”) on the part of the analyst. What Freud found wanting in this kind of divination was “the directing function of a signifying articulation” (1977, p. 195/550) [ibid] following the spare pattern of its own internal law. In their words, Jung’s conception of the Other, according to Lacan, remained too much bound to the order of the imaginary; it took too little account of the symbolic order as such. But it is this, the symbolic order, that specifically characterizes man as man.

Let us come, now, to a closer examination of the “questioning of the subject in his existence” by the Other, which follows the basic pattern of schema L.

– P368 of Chapter 9 : The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious …. p355-414 :

Quote : The fundamental issue that now comes more and more in- to focus (however circuitously) is the relationship between desire and the Other (i.e., the Law, the Name-of-the-Father). The difficulty of this issue will be compounded by the fact that the desiring subject is also related to the one who occupies the place of the Other in terms of need and demand. These are the parameters within which the play of the dialectic will be contained.

Let us begin with what is already familiar. Just as we have been told that the unconscious is “the discourse of the Other,” where “of” is to be understood in the sense of the Latin de (i.e., discourse “from” the Other), so, too, we have heard before (1977, p. 264/628) [Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan or here & The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire (Royaumont): 19th to 23rd September 1960: Jacques Lacan or here] that “man’s desire is the desire of the Other,” i.e., “it is qua Other that he desires (which is what provides the true compass of human passion)” (1977, p312/814) [ibid]. The subject’s desire, then, is in fact the Other’s desire. That is why the question coming from the Other to the subject in the form of “What do you want?” leads him more surely “to the path of his own desire,” provided he is able to respond to it – and for this the help of a psychoanalyst may be necessary – not in terms of “What do I want?” but rather “What does he [i.e., the analyst] want of me?” (1977, p312/8l5). It is through collaboration with the analyst that he comes to recognize the otherness of desire and is able to invert the original question so as to ask of the Other, “What do you want of me?” (1977, p. 335/908).

If the subject is able to appreciate the sense of such a question, he may become aware of the alienation of which he has been the victim by reason of his own ego. Thus, quite possibly, “what he [as subject] desires presents itself to him as what he [as ego] does not want” (1977, p.312/815).

P87 (1972a) : Of Structure as an inmixing of an Otherness prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever: 21st October 1966: Jacques Lacan : Available here

P87 Seminar II (1978b, 192) : Seminar II : 9th March 1955 : p160 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : That is why I would prefer to introduce another term, which I will leave to your reflection with all the double meanings it contains – the inmixing [immixtion] of subjects.

The subject enters and mixes in with things – that may be the first meaning. The other one is this – an unconscious phenomenon which takes place on the symbolic level, as such decentred in relation to the ego, always takes place between two subjects. As soon as true speech emerges, mediating, it turns them into two very different subjects from what they were prior to speech.

This means that they only start being constituted as subjects of speech once speech exists and there is no before.

P87 Richardson (1983a) : 1983a. Lacan and the subject of psychoanalysis. In ‘Interpreting Lacan’, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 51-74. Psychiatry and the Humanities, Vol 6. New Haven: Yale University Press

P87 (Most 1983, 344) : Most, Glenn W. 1983. The Hippocratic smile : John Le Carré and the traditions of the detective novel. In ‘The poetics of murder : Detective fiction and literary theory’, ed. Glen W. Most and William stowe, 341-65. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

P87 (Lacan 1977, 166/551) : p166 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Now it is on these very points, where evidence will be subverted by the empirical, that the trick of the Freudian conversion lies.

This signifying game between metonymy and metaphor, up to and including the active edge that splits my desire between a refusal of the signifier and a lack of
 being, and links my fate to the question of my destiny, this game, in all its inexorable subtlety, is played until the match is called, there where I am not, because I cannot situate myself there.

That is to say, what is needed is more than these words with which, for a brief moment I disconcerted my audience: I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think. Words that render sensible to an ear properly attuned with what elusive ambiguity the ring of meaning flees from our grasp along the verbal thread.

What one ought to say is: I am not wherever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am where I do not think to think.

This two-sided mystery is linked to the fact that the truth can be evoked only in that dimension of alibi in which all ‘realism’ in creative works takes its virtue from metonymy; it is likewise linked to this other fact that we accede to meaning only through the double twist of metaphor when we have the one and only key: the S and the s of the Saussurian algorithm are not on the same level, and man only deludes himself when he believes his true place is at their axis, which is nowhere.

Was nowhere, that is, until Freud discovered it; for if what Freud discovered isn’t that, it isn’t anything. [Possible reference to Wo es War, Ich soll werden – Where it was I must come to be : This quote is from the last paragraph of Lecture XXXI: Dissection of the personality: 1932 : published in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis : Sigmund Freud : 1932 (Published 1933) & is commented elsewhere by Lacan]

P87 (1973, 24) : Seminar XI in the original French tradition : See Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here : p24 (probably) of Alan Sheridan’s translation : Seminar XI – 22nd January 1964 : The Freudian unconscious has nothing to do with the so-called forms of the unconscious that preceded it, not to say accompanied it, and which still surround it today. … Freud’s unconscious is not at all the romantic unconscious of imaginative creation. It is not the locus of the divinities of night. …Similarly, we can say that the hold-all, heteroclite, unconscious that Edward von Hartmann spent his life elaborating is not Freud’s unconscious, but we should not be over-hasty, for Freud, in the seventh chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, himself referred to it in a footnote – that is to say, we must look more closely at it if we are to discover in what way Freud’s unconscious is to be distinguished from it.

To all these forms of unconscious, ever more or less linked to some obscure will regarded as primordial, to something preconscious, what Freud opposes is the revelation that at the level of the unconscious there is something at all points homologous with what occurs at the level of the subject – this thing speaks and functions in a way quite as elaborate as at the level of the conscious, which thus loses what seemed to be its privilege. I am well aware of the resistances that this simple remark can still provoke, though it is evident in everything that Freud wrote. Read, for example, the paragraph of that seventh chapter of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, called ‘Forgetting in Dreams’, concerning which Freud merely refers to the play of signifiers.

P87 (1966a, 18) : See Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here : It is not known why the French edition is referenced here! : p46-47 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation in YFS : Entering into its strategy, we indeed perceive a new drama we may call complementary to the first, so far as the latter was what is termed a play without words whereas the interest of the second plays on the properties of speech.


The first dialogue-between the Prefect of Police and Dupin is played as be seen a deaf man and one who hears. That is, it presents the real complexity of what is ordinarily simplified, with the most confused results, in the notion of communication.

P87 Benveniste (1971, 54) : Benveniste, Emile. 1971. Problems in general linguistics. Trans. M. Meek. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. Originally published 1966.

35e-f/19e-f = 48 YFS / 13 BF

P88 (1978a, 86) : Seminar XI : 26th February 1964 : See Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here : p86 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors [National Gallery, London]. It will serve to refresh the memories of those who know the picture well. Those who do not should examine it attentively. I shall come back to it shortly.

Vision is ordered according to a mode that may generally be called the function of images. This function is defined by a point-by-point correspondence of two unities in space. Whatever optical intermediaries may be used to establish their relation, whether their image is virtual, or real, the point-by-point correspondence is essential. That which is of the mode of the image in the field of vision is therefore reducible to the simple schema that enables us to establish anamorphosis, that is to say, to the relation of an image, in so far as it is linked to a surface, with a certain point that we shall call the ‘geometral’ point. Anything that is determined by this method, in which the straight line plays its role of being the path of light, can be called an image.

Art is mingled with science here. Leonardo da Vinci is both a scientist, on account of his dioptric constructions, and an artist. Vitruvius’s treatise on architecture is not far away. It is in Vignola and in Alberti that we find the progressive interrogation of the geometral laws of perspective, and it is around research on perspective that is centred a privileged interest for the domain of vision – whose relation with the institution of the Cartesian subject, which is itself a sort of geometral point, a point of perspective, we cannot fail to see. And, around the geometral perspective, the picture – this is a very important function to which we shall return – is organized in a way that is quite new in the history of painting.

P88 (1977, 84/297) : p84 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : See The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here : I shall show the inadequacy of the conception of ‘language as a sign’ by the very manifestation that best illustrates it in the animal kingdom, a manifestation which, if it had not recently been the object of an authentic discovery, it seems it would have been necessary to invent for this purpose.

It is now generally admitted that when the bee returns to the hive from its honey-gathering it indicates to its companions by two sorts of dance the existence of nectar and its relative distance, near or far, from the hive. The second type of dance is the most remarkable, for the plane in which the bee traces the figure-of-eight curve – which is why it has been called the ‘wagging dance’ – and the frequency of the figures executed within a given time, designate, on the one hand, exactly the direction to be followed, determined in relation to the inclination of the sun (on which bees are able to orientate themselves in all weathers, thanks to their sensitivity to polarized light), and, on the other hand, the distance, up to several miles, at which the nectar is to be found. And the other bees respond to this message by setting off immediately for the place thus designated.

It took some ten years of patient observation for Karl von Frisch to decode this kind of message, for it is certainly a code, or system of signalling, whose generic character alone forbids us to qualify it as conventional.

But is it necessarily a language? We can say that it is distinguished from language precisely by the fixed correlation of its signs to the reality that they signify. For in a language signs take on their value from their relations to each other in the lexical distribution of semantemes as much as in the positional, or even flectional, use of morphemes, in sharp contrast to the fixity of the coding used by bees. And the diversity of human languages (langues) takes on its full value from this enlightening discovery.

P88 Gustave Le Bon, who wrote in 1895 (1960, 41) : Le Bon, Gustave. 1960. The crowd: A study of the popular mind. New York : Viking Press. Originally published 1895.

P88 (1955b, 143) : Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego : 1921 : Sigmund Freud : SEXVIII p69-143 : Therefore p143 of the quote is at the end!

35j/20b = 49 YFS / 13BF

P89 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, 49) : : p49 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation published in YFS :See Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here  :

….notes : Freud comments on this joke in … (1960a, 115[1905]) : See Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious : 1905 : Sigmund Freud : SEVIII p115

p89 Lacan’s discrediting of the witness (who presumably possesses a kind of one-to-one fidelity and exactitude that blinds us to the register of truth) whose testimony cannot be criticized may be a reference to Marie Bonaparte, who appears to be the subject of a derisory footnote (see below) later in the text. For a brief historical survey of her role in Lacan’s excommunication” from the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1953, see Turkle (1978). [Turkle, Sherry. 1978. Psychoanalytical politics : Freud’s French revolution. New York : Basic Books] Also see notes below.

– (36b/20c) p49 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation published in YFS : Such is the unmistakable magic of legacies: the witness’s fidelity is the cowl which blinds and lays to rest all criticism of his testimony.

What could be more convincing, moreover, than the gesture of laying one’s cards face up on the table?

– (48/36) p66 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation published in YFS to …p67 may be abandoned without harm to the inferences of those whose profession is grilling. Footnote 38 : 38 And even to the cook herself.-J. L.

The paragraph might be read as follows: analysis, in its violation of the imaginary integrity of the ego, finds its fantasmatic equivalent in rape (or castration, as in the passage analyzed in the previous essay). But whether that “rape” takes place from in front or from behind (above or below the mantelpiece) is, in fact, a question of interest for policemen and not analysts. Implicit in the statement is an attack on those who have become wed to the ideology of “maturational development” (libidinal stages et al) in Freud (i. e., the ego psychologists). Jeffrey Mehlman

See Minutes of the meeting of the International Psychoanalytical Association : 30th July 1953 : Dr Heinz Hartmann (IPA President & Chairman of the Meeting) : See here : There is an analysis of how Miss Anna Freud & Dr Sacha Nacht, supported by Dr Ernest Jones & Princess Marie Bonaparte, attack Jacques Lacan at this meeting : here

See also the notes to Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan : available here

36e/20f = 50 YFS / 14BF

P90 François duc de La Roachefoucauld (1613-80) is the author of moral maxims and witty epigrams. Lacan refers to him with favour in earlier texts. (1977, 54, 119/264, 407). : Page numbers refer to Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan : See here : p54 is in The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here : p119 is in The Freudian Thing or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis : (Vienna) 7th November 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

P90 Lewis and Short (1955) : Lewis C. T. and C. Short. 1955. A Latin dictionary. Oxford : Clarendon.

P90 The French text (1966a, at least in later printings) has the following note … : p46 of Bruce Fink’s translation : Note 3 : See here for the text. : The removal note is dated 1968 and refers to the translation of the 3 Latin words.

P90 M. Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth” (1977, 113-41). :   1977. Basic Writings, ed. David F. Krell. New York: Harper and Row Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. 1966. Originally published in 1879

38c/24a = 53 YFS / 16BF

P91 Lacan following Hegel (see Kojève 1969, 140ff.) : Kojève, Alexandre. 1969. Introduction to the reading of Hegel : Lectures on the phenomenology of spirit. Assembled by Raymond Queneau. Ed. A. Bloom, trans. J. Nichols Jr. New York : Basic Books. Originally published 1947.

P91 “the murder of the thing” (Lacan 1977, 104/319) : p104 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote :

Fort! Da! It is precisely in his solitude that the desire of the child has already become the desire of another, of an alter ego who dominates him and whose object of desire is henceforth his own affliction.

If the child now addresses himself to an imaginary or real partner, he will also see this partner obey the negativity of his discourse, and since his appeal has the effect of making the partner disappear, he will seek a banishing summons the provocation of the return that brings the partner back to his desire.

Thus the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing and this death constitutes in the subject the eternalization of his desire.

The first symbol in which we recognize humanity in its vestigial traces is the sepulture, and the intermediary of death can be recognized in relation in which man comes to the life of his history.

This is the only life that endures and is true, since it is transmitted without being lost in the perpetuated tradition of subject to subject.

P91 see Paz (1981) : Paz, Octavio. 1981. The monkey grammarian. Trans. H. R. Lane. New York: Seaver Books. Originally published 1974.

P91 Muller and Richardson (1982, 120) : See A Reader’s Guide to Écrits: 1982: John P. Muller and William J. Richardson or here for availability : p120 is towards the end of Chapter 3 : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis

P91 The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious (1977, 158/509) : See The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan or here : p158 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : ….it is at this frontier that we realize that man defies his very destiny when he derides the signifier.

But to come back to our subject, what does man find in metonymy if not the power to circumvent the obstacles of social censure? Does not this form, which gives its field to truth in its very oppression, manifest a certain servitude inherent in its presentation?

One may read with profit a book by Leo Strauss, from the land that traditionally offers asylum to those who choose freedom, in which the author reflects on the relation between the art of writing and persecution. By pushing to its limits, the sort of connaturality that links this art to that condition, he lets us glimpse a certain something which in this matter imposes its form, in the effect of truth on desire.

But haven’t we felt for sometime now that, having followed the ways of the letter in search of Freudian truth, we are getting very warm indeed, that it is burning all about us?

Of course, as it is said, ‘the letter killeth while the spirit giveth life’. We can’t help but agree, having had to pay homage elsewhere to a noble victim of the error of seeking the spirit in the letter; but we should also like to know how the spirit could live without the letter. Even so, the pretentions of the spirit would remain unassailable if the letter had not shown us that it produces all the effects of truth in man without involving the spirit at all.

P91 : For an elaboration of the role of “the whole” in Gestalt theory, see Kanizsa (1979) : Kanizsa, Gaetano. 1979. Organization in vision: Essays on gestalt perception. New York: Praeger

P91 Lacan refers to philosophical arguments of “the one and the many”, beginning with Parmenides (see Kirk and Raven 1983) : Kirk, G. and J. Raven. 1983. The Presocratic philosophers. London: Cambridge University. Originally published 1957

P91 and crystallized in Plato’s Parmenides (see Cornford 1957) : Cornford, Francis MacDonald. 1957. Plato and Parmenides. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

38c n7/23n.1 = 53 YFS Note 20? / 16 n8BF

p92 Borges’s interest in detective fiction is noted by Holquist (1983, 171-172) : Holquist , Michael. 1983. Whodunit and other questions : Metaphysical detective stories in postwar fiction. P171-172 of ‘The poetics of murder: Detective fiction and literary theory’, ed. Glenn W. Most and William W. Stowe, 149-74. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

P92 Borges : Death and the Compass (1967,1) : p1 of Borges, Jorge Luis. 1967. A personal anthology. Ed. Anthony Kerrigan. New York : Grove Press. Originally published 1961.

P92 Lacan, Discourse at Rome, (1977, 65/276) : p65 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : This something completes the symbol, thus making language of it. In order for the symbolic object freed from its usuage, to become the word freed from the hic et nunc, the difference resides not in its material quality as sound, but in its evanescent being in which the symbol finds the permanence of the concept.

Through the word – already a presence made of absence- absence itself gives itself a name in that moment of origin whose perpetual recreation Freud’s genius detected in the play of the child. And from this pair of sounds modulated on presence and absence – a coupling that the tracing in the sand of the single and the broken line of the mantic kwa of China would also serve to constitute – there is born the world of meaning of a particular language in which the world of things will come to be arranged.

P92 For some notion of the real see Richardson 1985 : Richardson, William J. 1985. Lacanian theory. In ‘Models of the mind: Their relationships to clinical work, ed. A. Rothstein, 101-117. Monograph 1, Workshop Series of the American Psychoanalytic Association. New York: International Universities Press.

P92 Richardson 1987 : Richardson, William J. 1987. Lacan and Psychosis. In Psychosis and sexual identity: Towards a post-analytic view of the Schreber case. Stony Brook, N.Y.: Suny Press

P92 Muller 1987 : Muller, John P. 1987. Language, psychosis and spirit. In ‘The evolution of attachment : Essays in honor of Otto Allen Will, Jr., M.D.,’ ed. Yoshiharu Akabane, James L. Sacksteder, and Daniel P. Schwartz. New York : International Universities Press

P92 Lacan devoted attention to Joyce in his 1975-1976 seminar titled “Le sinthome”. : See Seminar XXIII: The Sinthome or Joyce and the Sinthome: 1975-1976: beginning on November 18th 1975 : Jacques Lacan or here for availability

41a/26e = 56 YFS / 18BF

p93 (1977, 86/299) : p86 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : It can be asserted that a substantial portion of the phonetic material is superfluous to the realization of the communication actually sought.

This is highly instructive for us, for what is redundant as far as information is concerned is precisely that which does duty as resonance in speech.

For the function of language is not to inform but to evoke.

What I seek in speech is the response of the other. What constitutes me as subject is my question. In order to be recognized by the other, I utter what was only in view of what will be. In order to find him, I call him by a name that he must assume or refuse in order to reply to me.

I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming. [JE : Probably a further reference to Freud’s ‘Wo es war, Ich soll werden. See last paragraph of  Lecture XXXI: Dissection of the personality: 1932 : Sigmund Freud]

P93 The character grew out of a student’s spoof (Lycée de Rennes, 1888) : This is probably the school where Jarry was in 1888. From Wikipedia : En 1888, Alfred Jarry, âgé de 15 ans, arrive au lycée, dans la classe d’Henri Morin. Ensemble, ils remanient la pièce. De 1888 à 1890, chez eux, pour leurs camarades, ils donnent à diverses reprises Les Polonais en théâtre de marionnettes, puis en théâtre d’ombres. En 1891, à Paris, Jarry remanie encore la pièce. Le père Ébé devient le Père Ubu, et Les Polonais devient Ubu roi.

P93 (LaBelle 1980) : LaBelle, Maurice Marc. 1980. Alfred Jarry : Nihilism and the theater of the absurd. New York: New York University Press.

P93 (Mencken 1942, 1328) : Mencken, H. L., ed. 1942. A new dictionary of quotations. New York : Knopf.

P93 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b), p56-57 notes : See the Yale French Studies publication Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here for availability

42c/28b = 58 YFS / 20BF

p94 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, 61) : See p61 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation of ‘Seminar on Purloined Letter’, published in Yale French Studies : available Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

45c/31g = 62 YFS / 22BF

p95 Mitchell and Rose (1982), : See Commentaries & Information from ‘Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality’ : 1982 : Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose or here

Gallop (1982), : The daughter’s seduction: Feminism and psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press : Chapter 9 : Keys to Dora : Available here

Irigaray (1985), : Irigaray, Luce. 1985. Speculum of the other woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca : Cornell University Press : Originally published 1974.

Marks and Courtivron (1981) : Marks, Elaine and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. 1981, New french feminisms : An anthology. New York: Schocken Books

and de Lauretis (1984) : de Lauretis, teresa. 1984. Alice doesn’t: Feminism, semiotics, cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

P95 Lévi-Strauss’s thesis (e.g., 1969, 496) : p496 of Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The elementary structures of kinship. Trans. J. Bell, J. von Sturmer, and R. Needham. Boston : Beacon Press. Originally published in 1949.

P95 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, 62) : See p62 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation published in Yale French Studies : See Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

P95 (Plato 1963, 363) : Plato. 1963. The collected dialogues, including the letters. Ed. E. Hamilton and H. Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

46d-e/36a = 67 YFS / 26BF

p96 American annual The Gift (Mabbott 1978, 3:972) : Mabbott, Thomas O., ed 1951, The selected poetry and prose of Edgar Allan Poe : Selected criticism since 1829, ed E. W. Carlson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Originally published 1845.

P96 Princess Marie Bonaparte : Muller & Richardson argue that Lacan’s dramatization presents a parody of Bonaparte’s approach. His footnote seems to represent her as the cook. Lacan and Bonaparte go back a long way. See Minutes of the meeting of the International Psychoanalytical Association : 30th July 1953 : Dr Heinz Hartmann (IPA President & Chairman of the Meeting) or here for details of how Bonaparte attacks – an attack which results in his exclusion from the IPA and the inaugural meeting of the Société Française de Psychanalyse.

P96 Bonaparte (1933, 600) : Bonaparte, Marie. 1933. Edgar Poe : Étude psychoanalytique : Vol 2. Paris : Denoël et Steele

P96 Bonaparte’s earliest reported dream (Bertink 1982, 28, 160) : Bertin, Celia. 1982. Marie Bonaparte : A life. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

P96 (1977, 3/95) : p3 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : See Mirror Stage: 1936, 1938, 1949, 1966: Jacques Lacan or here : Quote: Indeed, for the imagos – whose veiled faces it is our privilege to see in outline in our daily experiences and in the penumbra of symbolic efficacy [Note 2 : See Claude Lévi_Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Chapter X] the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world, …

P96 Symbolic debt (1977, 67/278) : p67-68 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Thus, it is the virtue of the Word that perpetuates the movement of the Great debt whose economy Rabelais, in a famous metaphor extended to the stars themselves. And we shall not be surprised that the chapter in which, with the macaronic inversion of kinship names, he presents us with an anticipation of the discoveries of the anthropologists, should reveal in him the substantific divination of the Human mystery that I am trying to elucidate here. [Note 49. Tiers Livre, iii, iv; Quart Livre, ix. Debts, says Panurge, are ‘the connecting link between Earth and Heaven, the unique mainstay of the human race; one, I believe, without which all mankind would speedily perish’; they are ‘the great soul of the universe’ (Tr.).

P96 Mehlman (Lacan 1972b, 68) : See p68 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation, published Yale French Studies : see Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

50i/38f = 69 YFS / 28 BF

P97 (1977, 61-62/272) : p61-62 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : Is it with these gifts or with the passwords that give them their salutary non-sense that language, with the law, begins? For these gifts are already symbols, in the sense that symbol means pact and that they are first and foremost
signifiers of the pact that they constitute as signified, as is plainly seen in the fact that the objects of symbolic exchange – pots made to remain empty, shields too heavy to be carried, sheaves of wheat that wither, lance stuck into the ground – all are destined to be useless, if not simply superfluous by their very abundance.

P97 Lacan (1973, 51-54) : Seminar XI : 12th February 1964 : from p53 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : See Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here : p53 – No praxis is more orientated towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psycho-analysis.

Where do we meet this real? For what we have in the discovery of psychoanalysis is an encounter, an essential encounter – an appointment to which we are always called with a real that eludes us. That is why I have put on the blackboard a few words that are for us, today, a reference-point of what we wish to propose.

First, the tuché, which we have borrowed, as I told you last time, from Aristotle, who uses it in his search for cause. We have translated it as the encounter with the real. The real is beyond the automaton, the return, the coming-back, the insistence of the signs, by which we see ourselves governed by the pleasure principle. The real is that which always lies behind the automaton, and it is quite obvious, throughout Freud’s research, that it is this that is the object of his concern. …

P54 – What is repeated, in fact, is always something that occurs – the expression tells us quite a lot about its relation to the tuchéas if by chance. This is something that we analysts never allow ourselves to be taken in by, on principle. At least, we always point out that we must not be taken in when the subject tells us that something happened to him that day that prevented him from realizing his wish to come to the session. Things must not be taken at the level at which the subject puts them – in as much as what we are dealing with is precisely this obstacle, this hitch, that we find at every moment. It is this mode of apprehension above all that governs the new deciphering that we have given of the subject’s relation to that which makes his condition.

P55 – The function of the tuché, of the real as encounter – the encounter in so far as it may be missed, in so far as it is essentially the missed encounter – first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma.

Is it not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassimilable in it – in the form of the trauma, determining all that follows, and imposing on it an apparently accidental origin? We are now at the heart of what may enable us to understand the radical character of the conflictual notion introduced by the opposition of the pleasure principle and the reality principle – which is why we cannot conceive the reality principle as having, by virtue of its ascendancy, the last word.

In effect, the trauma is conceived as having necessarily been marked by the subjectifying homeostasis that orientates the whole functioning defined by the pleasure principle, …..

Let us conclude that the reality system, however far it is developed, leaves an essential part of what belongs to the real a prisoner in the toils of the pleasure principle.

… a formula like the one I used earlier, namely, life is a dream.

To this requirement corresponds those radical points in the real that I call encounters, and which enable us to conceive reality as unterlegt, untertragen, which, with the superb ambiguity of the French language, appear to be translated by the same word

P56 – souffrance. [Tr. Note: In French, the phrase, ‘en souffrance’ means ‘in suspense’, ‘in abeyance’, ‘awaiting attention’, ‘pending’. It is this sense that translates the German word. ‘Souffrance’ also means ‘pain’, of course. Hence, the ambiguity referred to by Lacan.] Reality is in abeyance thee, awaiting attention. And Zwang, constraint, which Freud defines by Wiederholung, governs the very diversions of the primary process.

The primary process – which is simply what I have tried to define for you in my last few lectures in the form of the unconscious – must, once again, be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness, in the non-temporal locus, I said, which forces us to posit what Freud calls, in homage to Fechner, die Idee einer anderer Lokalität, the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between perception and consciousness.

P97 Otto Rank devotes a chapter to the motif of the Stone Guest (1975, 61-77) : Rank, Otto. 1975. The Don Juan legend. Trans. David G. Winter. Princeton : Princeton University Press. Originally published 1924

(Rank 1932) : Rank, Otto. 1932. Don Juan : Une étude sur le double. Trans. S. Lautman. Paris: Denoël and Steele.

P97 according to the very formula of intersubjective communication (1977, 85/298, 131/420, 305/807) :

1977, 85/298 : p85 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Probably, ‘This is in fact the essential form from which all human speech derives rather than the form at which it arrives.’ … Human language (according to you) constitutes a communication in which the sender receives his own message back from the receiver in an inverted form.

1977, 131/420 : p 130-131 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Freudian Thing or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis : (Vienna) 7th November 1955 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : That is to say, it is not about him that you have to speak to him, for he can do this himself, and therefore, it is not even to you that he speaks. If it is to him that you have to speak, it is literally of something else, that is of something other than that which is in question when he speaks of himself, and which is the thing that speaks to you, a thing which, whatever he says, would remain forever inaccessible to him, if in being speech addressed to you it could not elicit its response in you and if, from having heard its message in this inverted form, you could not, by returning it to him, give him the double satisfaction of having recognized it and of making him recognize its truth.

Can we therefore know this truth that we know in this way?

1977, 305/807 : p305 of Alan Sheridan’s translation :   The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire (Royaumont): 19th to 23rd September 1960: Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : (Probably) But it is clear that Speech begins only with the passage from ‘pretense’ to the order of the signifier, and that the signifier requires another locus – the locus of the Other, the Other witness, the witness Other than any of the partners – for the Speech that it supports to be capable of lying, that is to say, of presenting itself as Truth.

P98 (Muller and Richardson 1982, 83) : See A Reader’s Guide to Écrits: 1982: John P. Muller and William J. Richardson or here

Page 83 of Chapter 3: The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis : It is this “identity” of the particular and universal (of consciousness and the unconscious) in both the subject and the analyst that enters into the psychoanalytic dialogue. And in its essence, this interchange is “a communication in which the sender [the subject] receives his own message back from the receiver [i.e., the analyst] in an inverted form” (1977, p. B5/29B).We take this to mean that the speech of the subject always “includes its own reply” in the sense that the lacunae among the spoken words (consciousness)are already filled in by the subject’s unconscious dimension, and the analyst’s response (quite “”particular” to the subject [1977, p79/291]) is such as to bring the unconscious dimension of the subject’s speech into his awareness. The effectiveness of the analyst’s response will be in proportion, of course, to his own attunement to the unconscious within himself, but it is the subject’s own message (not the analyst’s) that is received back from him now in “inverted” form.


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further Texts

By John P. Muller here

By William J. Richardson here

By Jacques Lacan here

Topology and the Lacanian clinic here

Case studies : characters from fiction here

Case studies : characters from plays (and the plays) here

Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here

Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here

Some Lacanian history here

Lacanian Transmission here 

Of the clinic here 

Translation Working Group here

 From LW working groups here

Use of power here 

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

By Jacques Lacan here    

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Julia Evans here