Seminar VII : 9th March 1960 : p164 : Missing intervention by Mme Hubert : Reading Group of 19th October 2013

by Julia Evans on October 19, 2013

Mme Hubert’s intervention is omitted from Seminar VII : 9th March 1960 : p164 of Dennis Porter’s translation, Routledge edition : Supplementary note (A curious case of sublimation) to Chapter XII (A critique of Bernfelt). Availability is given Intervention, during Seminar VII, on Hans Sperber’s “On the Influence of Sexual Factors on the Origin and Development of Language” (as commented on by Ernest Jones) and sublimation : 9th March 1960 (p164) : Mme Hubert or here

I would be very pleased to receive information about Mme Hubert as currently only her name is available.

Please note: There is a quote from ‘In memory of Ernest Jones’ : Jan to Mar 1959 : Jacques Lacan in endnote vi.

p136 & p110 to 111, from The Theory of Symbolism : 1916 : Ernest Jones : Published 1) British Journal of Psychology : Vol 9 : no 2 : Oct 1916 : p182-229 & 2) Ernest Jones : Papers on Psycho-Analysis : Fifth edition : 1948 : p87-144 : Available here  , are quoted in endnote v.

Quote from Seminar VII : 9th March 1960 : p163 : I am now going to ask Madame Hubert to speak. She will be talking to you abut a text that is frequently referred to in analytic literature, namely, Sperber’s article [see [i] ] entitled “On the Influence of Sexual Factors on the Origin and Development of Language,” but it also touches on all kinds of problems relative to what we have to say about sublimation. In his article on the theory of symbolism [ See [ii] ] – an article on which I wrote a commentary (See [iii] ) in our journal (See [iv] ) but which, I have heard, is not particularly accessible to a reader – Jones expressly singles out the Sperber article. If, he says, (p164 [See  [v]]) Sperber’s theory is true, if we must consider certain forms of primitive work, agricultural work, in particular, the relations between man and the earth, as the equivalent of the sexual act, features whose traces are, as it were, retained in the meaning we give that primitive relation, then can this be explained by the process of symbolization? Jones says no. In other words, given the conception he has of the function of the symbol, he considers that what is involved is by no means a symbolic transposition, neither can it be registered as a sublimation effect. The sublimation effect is to be taken in its liberality, in its authenticity. The copulation between the ploughman and the earth is not a symbolization but the equivalent of a symbolic copulation.

It is worth taking the time to reflect on that, and in my article I draw certain consequences to which I will return[vi]. Sperber’s text appeared in the first issue of Imago, and it is perhaps even more difficult to find than the others. But so that it may receive its due, Mme Hubert has been good enough to concentrate on it, and she will tell us today what it contains.


There may be some confusion of date as Jacques Lacan was in Brussels at this time. See below. He refers to this visit

Seminar VII : 16th March 1960 : Chapter XIII – The Death of God : p169 of Denis Porter’s translation and Seminar VII : 23rd  March 1960.

Lecture I, Regarding Morality, Freud Has What it Takes : Faculté Universitaire Saint-Louis, Brussels : 9th March 1960 : Jacques Lacan

Lecture II, Can Psychoanalysis Constitute the Kind of Ethics Necessitated by our Times?: Faculté Universitaire Saint-Louis, Brussels : 1010h March 1960 : Jacques Lacan  :

Available, in translation, here

Further information

Posts for the “A. Reading Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” category  or here

A number of the references commented on by Jacques Lacan are available at Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here

Posts for the “Lacan Jacques” category : Available here

Posts for the “Freud Sigmund” category : Available here


[i] Hans Sperber’s article appears not to be translated into English. A copy in German has also not been found. The article : Ueber den Einfluss Sexueller Momente auf Entstehung und Entwicklung de Sprache : 1914 : Hans Sperber : Imago I

[ii] The Theory of Symbolism : 1916 : Ernest Jones : Published 1) British Journal of Psychology : Vol 9 : no 2 : Oct 1916 : p182-229 & 2) Ernest Jones : Papers on Psycho-Analysis : Fifth edition : 1948 : p87-144 : Available here . For extracts see below.

[iii] In memory of Ernest Jones : Jan to Mar 1959 : Jacques Lacan : For availability see Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here. For extracts see below.

[iv] This essay was written in Guitrancourt, January to March 1959, and was published in ‘La Psychanalyse’ : Vol V : 1960 : p1-20

[v] p146 is an error. From footnote 21, p597 of Bruce Fink’s translation published in the Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Availability given here : This should read p136 of Jones’s book.

From Jones’s article published in his book (See endnote above for availability): p135 :

Similar remarks hold good in the case of more complex stages in the advance of knowledge, such as scientific generalisations, as also with other conscious tendencies and interests. From one point of view these may be regarded as sublimations from unconscious complexes, developments which are, of course, greatly modified by contact with external reality and by conscious elaboration. They, like symbols, come about as the result of the confict beween unconscious impulses and the inhibiting forces of repression, but they differ from symbol sin that, whereas with the latter the full significance of the original complex is retained unaltered and merely transferred on to a secondary idea (that of the symbol), with the former the psychical energy alone, not the significance, is derived from the unconscious complexes and is transferred on to another set of ideas that have their own independent significance. It is true that here also regression may lead to true symbolism, where the ideas resulting from sublimation may temporarily lose their own intrinsic meaning and sink back to become mere symbols of the complexes from which their energy was largely derived. But
in this case they are symbols in the strict sense and do not symbolise the sublimations, in spite of their indirect association with these. A typical example of the whole process would be the one discussed above in connection with Sperber’s views, the case of agricultural work. At first these performances were identified with sexual acts and later achieved an independence of their own, but in neither of these stages could they be called sexual symbols, for they were not being used as pure substitutes; they become symbols only when, as in dreams, myths, etc., they for a time lose their actual meaning (wholly or in part), and arc then used as substitutes for the ideas with which they were originally identified.

See also p110 to 111:

The two last factors mentioned, the importance of the pleasure-pain principle and of adaptation to reality in respect to primitive lack of discrimination, throw some light on one of the puzzling phenomena of symbolism – namely, the extraordinary predominance of sexual symbols. A Swedish philogist, Sperber, [see i] has in a remarkable essay elaborated the theory, which has been several times suggested on other grounds by biologists, that sexual impulses have played the most important part in both the origin and later development of speech. According to this theory, which is supported by very weighty considerations, the earliest speech sounds were those that served the purpose of calling the mate (hence the sexual importance of the voice to this day), while the further development of speech roots accompanied the performance of work. Such work was done in common, and, as is still customary enough, to the accomppaniment of rhymically repeated speech utterances. During this, sexual interest was attached to the work, as though, so to speak, primitive man reconciled himself to the disagreeable but necessary task by treating it as an equivalent of, and substitute for, sexual functioning. Words used during these common tasks thus had two meaning, denoting the sexual act and the equivalent work done respectively. In time the former meaning becme dtached and the word, now applying only to the work, thus ‘desexualised.’ The same would happen with other tasks, and so a store of speech roots gradually accumulated, the original sexual significance of which had been lost. Sperber – see i – then illustrates, with an extensive material, the fact that words having a sexual connotation possess a perfectly astounding capacity for development and extension into non-sexual fields. Partly owing to the careful expugation of our etymological dictionaries, it is not generally known that an enormous number of common words in present-day use have been derived in historical times from this source, attaining their present meaning through a primary sexual association that has now been forgotten. In the light of work like Sperber’s we begin to understand why there is such an amazing number of symbols for sexual objects and functions, and, for instance, why weapons and tools are always male symbols, while the material that is worked on is always female. The symbolic association is the relic of the old verbal identity; things that once had the same name as a genital organ can now appear in dreams, etc., as a symbol for it. Freud [Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis : English translation, 1922 : p140] aptly likens symbolism to an ancient speech that has almost vanished, but of which relics still remain here and there.

According, then, to the view here developed, the identification that underlies symbolism is mainly determined by the two factors discussed above, which may be summarised as the tendencies to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and to learn to deal with reality in the easiest and most sparing way. It was just the way in which primitive man must have met the world, the desire for ease and pleasure struggling with the demands of necessity. He succeeded by making a compromise in which he sexualised his tasks. A few examples may be given from the vast subject of the associations between ploughing in particular, or agriculture in general, and sexual activities. Most of the tools used are phallic symbols (the word itself is the commonest vulgar designation), a statement that can easily be proved from folk-lore and mythology, while the conception of the earth as woman, and especially as mother, is universal and fundamental [See Dieterich, ‘Mutter Erde’, 2e Aufl., 1913]

[vi] From ‘In memory of Ernest Jones’ : Jan to Mar 1959 : Jacques Lacan : p597 of Bruce Fink’s translation of Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Availability given here  : But there is no reason to object to the fact that the Cabalistic notion of a God who had consciously withdrawn from matter to leave it to its own movement may have enhanced our confidence in natural experience as necessarily rediscovering the traces of logical creation. For this is the usual detour of all sublimation and one can sy that, with the exception of physics, this detour has not been completed. The question for us is whether the completion of this detour can occur in any other way than by being eliminated.

Here again, despite this error we must admire how in his (Ernest Jones’) labour – if I allow myself to use this word with the same metaphorical effect as that found in the terms “working through” and Durcharbeiten in use in psychoanalysis – our (p597) author tills his field with a plowshare that is truly worthy of what analytic work in effect owes to the signifier.

For, to take a final step in his discussion of symbols, he envisions what results from the hypothesis, wupposedly accepted by certain authors regarding linguistic and mythological reference points, that agriculture was originally the transposition of a fecondatory coitus into the realm of technics. (From Sperber  see i above – & p136 of Jones see v above) Can one legitimately say of agriculture at that ideal era that it symbolized copulation?

It is clear that the question is not a de facto one, no-one here having to take sides regarding the real existence in the past of such a stage – which is, in any case, worth adding to the file of pastoral fiction from which the psychoanalyst (not to mention the Marxist) has much to learn about his mental horizons.

The question is merely that of the suitability of applying the notion of symbolism here, and Jones answers, without seeming to worry whether or not anyone might agree with him, in the negative, [Jones : Papers on analysis : p136 : Available here] meaning that agriculture thus represents an adequate thought (or a concrete idea), nay a satisfying mode, of coitus!

But if we are truly to follow our author’s intentions, we realize that the result is that it is only inasmuch as a certain operation in the realm of technics turns out to be prohibited – because it is incompatible with a certain effect of the laws of marriage and kinship, insofar as that effect concerns, for example, the use [jouissance] of the earth – that the operation substituted for the former operation becomes truly symbolic of a sexual satisfaction (except that, from this point on, it is repressed), at the same time as it offers itself up as a prop for naturalist conceptions of a kind that obviates scientific recognition of the gametes as the crux of sexual reproduction.

This is strictly correct insofar as symbolism is considered to be intimately related to repression. We see that, given this degree of rigor in paradoxical precision, we can legitimately wonder if Jones’ work did not accomplish the essential part of what he could do at that time, although he did not go as far as he could have in the direction he found indicated in Freud’s work, quoting it from the Traumdeutung: What today is symbolically connected was probably in primaeval times united in conceptual and linguistic identity. The symbolic relationship seems to be the remains and sign of an identity that once existed.” [Jones : Papers on Psycho-Analysis : p105 : see note ii for availability. The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud  : Availability given here]

And yet he would have gained much in his quest to grasp the true place of symbolism had he remembered that it was granted no room at all in the first edition of the Traumdeutung, which means that analysis, in the case of dreams but of sumptoms too, need highlight symbolism only as subordinate to the major mainsprings of the processes [élaboration] that structure the unconscious – namely, (p598) condensation and displacement first and foremost. I am confining myself to these two mechanisms insofar as they would have sufficed to make up for Jones’ inadequate information regarding metaphor and metonymy as primary effects of the signifier.

Perhaps he would thus have avoided formulating something that contradicts his own perspective, whose major lines I believe I have traced our here (and that contradicts Freud’s own explicit warning): that what is repressed in symbolism’s metaphorical retreat is affect. [Footnote 23 : Jones, were he to apply analytic suspicion to himself, would have to be tipped off by the feeling of strangeness with which he himself is affected (“a curious statement,” he says on pages 123-24 of his Papers on Psycho-Analysis see not ii for availability)in reading Silberer’s nevertheless grounded remark “that the universality, or the general validity and intelligibility of a symbol, varies inversely with respect to the part played in its determination by affective factors.” In short, the points of misrecognition Jones cannot let go of instructively prove to be related to the metaphor of the weight[poids] he intends to give to true symbolism. He thereby winds up arguing against his own meaning, as, for example, resorting to the subject’s effect – that a common figure of speech can have on him (page 128).] This is a formulation that we might like to consider to be but a slip, if it hadn’t later been developed into an extraordinarily ambiguous exploration of the whole panoply of affects, insofar as they supposedly substitute for each other as such. [Footnote 24 : See Jones, “Fear, Guilt and Hate,” a paper delivered at the Second International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Oxford in July 1929, published in Papers on Psycho-Aanlysis, p304-19]

For Freud’s conception – developed and published in 1915 in the Internationale Zeitschrift, in the three artices on drives and their avators, repression, and the unconscious – leaves no room for ambiguity on this point: it is the signifier that is repressed, there being no other meaning that can be given in these texts to the word Vorstellungsrepräsentanz. As for affects, Freud expressly formulates that they are not repressed; they can only be said to be repressed by indulgence. As simple Ansätze or appendices of the repressed, signals equivalent to hysterical fits [accès] established in the species, Freu articulates that affects are simply displaced, as is evidenced by the fundamental fact – and it can be seen that someone is an analyst if he realizes all the more the less they are really justified.