Fragments: The Thing (Das Ding) & …

by Jo Rostron on February 18, 2012

Contribution to LW Group 18 February 2012 

Pre-amble to Fragments:


Lacan, J.1959-60 The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Book VII, Translated Dennis Porter, Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller.  Tavistock/Routledge, London 1992.  Availability given here Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here

Lacan on ‘das Ding’ Parts I and II  (pp 43-70 ) [see note [i] for further details] 

The Thing and A

With the first apprehension of reality, and with the most intimate relation to the subject, ‘that reality of the Nebenmensch’ or the Thing (das Ding) intervenes.  It appears in the symbolic realm as Other (A), prior to any representation and is characterized primarily by affect (p 54). The Thing introduces an original division in the experience of reality due to its persistence, in its initial state, as a gravitational force and primordial function within the margins of the reality principle.

The Thing and le mot

The stranger, or hostile figure, of the Nebenmensch or the Thing appears according to Freud in ‘the cry’ during our first experience of reality.  For Lacan the Thing is ‘le mot’ a term chosen specifically to convey the idea of ‘that which has no response’ (p55). Describing the dumbness of Harpo Marx that sustains an atmosphere of doubt and radical annihilation, Lacan observes ‘Mot is what remains silent, and dumb things are not the same as things that have no relationship to words’.  Its etymology is from the Latin mutus, meaning mute, speechless or dumb.  Larousse defines le mot as ‘élément de la langue composé d’un ou plusieurs phonèmes susceptible d’un transcription écrite individualisé, et participant au fonctionnement syntacticosémantique d’un énoncé.[ii]  Groupe de caractères ou d’éléments binaires considéré comme une entité.’  Thus Lacan situates the kernel of the Real and the Symbolic registers so that language is primary, and not a secondary process as Freud suggests.

In this part of his text Lacan attempts to convey the push towards separation and identity:  ‘At a moment of utter helplessness the interpellation You! may appear on the lips in an attempt to tame the Other …that prehistoric and unforgettable Other, that threatens to cast us down.’ ‘This You! is a form of defence.  From its beginning the moi (ego) is thrust forward in an antagonistic movement of refusal, apology, a me that’s not for me, refusing, denouncing, rather than announcing.’(p 56)

the thing (note lower case)and the word

Lacan makes an important distinction between le mot and the word. Unlike le mot, the word is in a reciprocal position to the thing (die Sache) and form a couple: “Die Sache is clearly the thing that is the product of industry and human action as governed by language….  The word comes to explain itself beside the thing to the extent also that an action – which itself is dominated by language, indeed by a command – will have separated out this object and given it birth.’  Here Lacan is talking about the usage of language, the operation of language as a function that organizes the Ucs structure.

the Thing and obj (a)

‘The Thing only presents itself to the extent that it becomes word’ (55) and is therefore only hallucinated in the Imaginary and the Symbolic in the form of a system of references.  It can be found again but, at most, as a thing missed. Thus the search for this lost object, obj (a), is the desire for nothing.  This ‘object’ is the goal of specific actions that aim for the experience of satisfaction, as it regulates and organises the Pleasure Principle ‘from the same place as its opposite, the reverse and the same combined’ (55).  The Pleasure Principle in the end substitutes itself for ‘that dumb reality which is the Thing’(55), while the Reality Principle manages to affirm itself only at the margins, always the pressure of the emergence and conservation of Life (die Not des Lebens) (46) .

The Thing and the first orientation

It is the function of the pleasure principle to make us desire what we will never attain again.  If this desire is satisfied ‘it is the end, the terminal point, the abolition of the whole world of demand’ (68).  Here Lacan reaches the essential part of his text: ‘that sphere or relationship which is known as the law of the prohibition of incest’.  Prohibition is the command, and action, that keeps the subject at a distance from the area of fusion in which affective and cognitive processes merge.  The subject is then able to separate out the object (a) so that language can begin to function as an operation to organise the Ucs.  It is the Thing that gives the first subjective orientation to the subject as the beyond-of-the-signified, both inside and outside.

The Raw Material of the Body and Memory

Lacan notes (p50) there is a coupling, a union, a fusion between Freud’s Wahrnehmung (perception) and Bewusstsein (consiousness).   In his letter 52 to Fliess (??) [see note  [iii] for availability], Freud explains his conception of memory that is based on a sequence of inscriptions, that present as something which makes a sign and which is of the order of writing (Niederschriften).  This, Freud says, corresponds to notable experience, whereas impressions of the external world as raw, original and primitive (perception) are outside this field.   Freud suggests that the fundamental demand of the Ucs system is to order the different fields of what is functioning in these memory traces.  Everything in Freud’s discussion, says Lacan, which ‘takes us forward from a meaning of the world to speech that can be articulated’, that is to say from the archaic unconscious to the enunciating subject, takes place between perception and consciousness and is put in terms of structure (Aufbau) rather than function .  ‘….it is to the extent that the signifying structure interposes itself between perception and consciousness that the Unconscious intervenes, that the Pleasure Principle intervenes.’ (p 51)

Structure according to Freud/Lacan  


Recalcati, M. 1999. The Empty Subject: Untriggered Psychoses in the New Forms of the Symptom.  Trans Jorge Jauregui, Lacanian Ink 26. Fall 2005 [For availability see note  [iv] ]

Constructing a Drive

Neurosis, Thanatos and Eros

The process of signification empties the body of excitation (jouissance), mortifying the body.  This signifying treatment compensates through a condensing of eroticization in the border areas of the body, around the erogenous zones.  Here, the lost jouissance leaves an active memory (empty dot, cavity or pond) around which the drives revolve (p13) ensuring a vital dialectic between Eros and Thanatos.

Eroticization is Freud’s theory of the drive union between Thanatos and Eros.  For Lacan, Thanatos is the lethal action of the signifier upon the subject on entering the zone of temporality.  Eros is the function of the fantasy $ <> a that converts the subtraction of jouissance into the recovery of the lost object (a).  The signifier is incorporated to create a drive body made up of the signifiers of the Other (A), thus moving away from the biological body.

If there is a rejection of the signifying mortification, an inadequacy of body eroticization follows, creating a disunion of the drives so that mortification and eroticization are split apart.



[i] [JE adds]: Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: op.cit.

Seminar VII: Session of December 9th 1959: Das Ding: sub-headings: Sache Und Wort; Niederschriften; Nebenmensch; Fremde: Chapter IV of op. cit.

Seminar VII: Session of December 16th 1959: Das Ding (II): sub-headings: The Combinatoire of the vorstellungen; The limit of pain; Between perception and consciousness; The intersaid of verneinung; Mother as Das Ding

[ii] Note to self [JR]

énoncé:  action, fait d’énoncer quelque chose; l’énoncé d’un jugement

énoncer: verbe transitif

(autist/enunciating nothing ? intransitive verb without object ?)

Details of reference availability

[iii] [JE adds] Letter 52 is available in: Masson, J.M. (1985) (Ed.) The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Excerpts from these letters, are available here.

[iv] [JE adds]: For details of web-access to this text, either click here The Empty Subject: Un-Triggered Psychoses in the New Forms of the Symptom: 1999: Massimo Recalcati   or here