Notes on Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : p212 to 214 : the barrier of desire

by Julia Evans on March 10, 2014

Discussed at the Reading Group of 8th March 2014

A note from Bruno de Florence:

Related to what we last read (a) in Sem 7 (b) on the barrier of desire (see attached PDF (c)) [& notes below (d) on barrier of desire]. Might possibly be about installing a rival of choice or a pacified rival, rather than having to deal with the one imposed by the contingent.

(a) Reading Group of 8th March 2014

(b) Read from ‘This is to schematize what you heard last time in Mr Kaufmann’s very full and helpful summary of the work of Bernfeld and Feitelberg[See [i]] : Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : p211 to Seminar VII : 11th May 1960 : p223. Availability of Seminar VII given Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here

(c) PDF contained : The Awe Delusion : What does the magnificence of the universe have to do with God? by Michael Shermer : Scientific American : 1st March 2014 : Available here . Quote is available [ii] below.

(d) Some quotes from Seminar VII which may clarify Bruno de Florence’s speculation:

Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : p212 : The drive as such, insofar, as it is then a destruction drive, has to be beyond the instinct to return to the state of equilibrium of the inanimate sphere. …

If everything that is immanent or implicit in the chain of natural events may be considered as subject to the so-called death drive, it is only because there is a signifying chain. Freud’s thought in this matter requires that what is involved be articulated as a destruction drive, given that it challenges everything that exists. But it is also a will to create from zero, a will to begin again. …

As in Sade, the notion of the death drive is a creationist sublimation, and it is linked to that structural element which implies that, as soon as we have to deal with anything in the world appearing in the form of the signifying chain, there is somewhere – though certainly outside of the natural world, which is the beyond of that chain, the ex nihilo on which it is founded and is articulated as such.

Op. cit. : p213 : It is even doubly suspect, since it amounts in the end to substituting a subject for Nature – and that is how we[iii] read ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle (: Sigmund Freud)’. However we construct this subject, it turns out to have as its support a subject who knows, or Freud, in effect, since he is the one who discovered the beyond of the pleasure principle. Nevertheless, Freud is consistent with himself in also pointing, at the limit of our experience, to a field in which the subject, if he exists, is incontestably a subject who doesn’t know in a point of extreme, is not absolute, ignorance. One finds there the core of Freudian exploration. …

But it suffices for Freud that it was necessary, that it leads him to an unfathomable spot that is problematic, since it reveals the structure of the field. It points to the site that I designate alternatively as impassable or as the site of the Thing. Freud evokes there his sublimation concerning the death drive (JE: probably and not instinct) insofar as that sublimation is fundamentally creationist.

One also finds there the essential point of the warning whose tone and note I have given you on more than one occasion: beware of that register of thought known as evolutionism. Beware of it for two reasons. What I have to tell you now may seem dogmatic, but that’s more apparent than real.

The first reason is that, however much the evolutionist movement and Freud’s thought may share in terms of contemporaneity and historical affinities, there is a fundamental contradiction between the hypotheses of the one and the thought of the other. I have already indicated the necessity of the moment of creation ex nihilo as that which gives birth to the historical dimension of the drive. In the beginning was the Word[iv], which is to say, the signifier. Without the signifier at the beginning, it is impossible for the drive to be articulated as historical. And this is all it takes to introduce the dimension of the ex nihilo into the structure of the analytical field.

The second reason may seem paradoxical to you; it is nevertheless essential: the creationist perspective is the only one that allows one to glimpse the possibility of the radical elimination of God.

It is paradoxically only from a creationist point of view that one can envisage the elimination of the always recurring notion of creative intention as supported by a person. In evolutionist thought, although God goes unnamed throughout, he is literally omnipresent. An evolution that insists on deducing from continuous process the ascending movement which reaches the summit of consciousness and thought necessarily implies that consciousness and thought were there at the beginning. It is only from the point of view of (p214) an absolute beginning, which marks the origin of the signifying chain as a distinct order and which isolates in their own specific dimension the memorable and the remembered, that we do not find Being [l’être] always implied in being [l’étant][v], the implication that is at the core of evolutionist thought.

It isn’t difficult to make what is called thought emerge from the evolution of matter, when one identifies thought with consciousness. What is difficult to make emerge from the evolution of matter is quite simply homo faber, production and the producer.

Production is an original domain, a domain of creation ex nihilo, insofar as it introduces into the natural world the organization of the signifier. It is for this reason that we only, in effect, find thought – and not in an idealist sense, but thought in its actualization in the world – in the intervals of the signifier. (Translation corrected by Bruno de Florence during the 8th March reading group from ‘in the intervals introduced by the signifier’.)

This field that I call the field of the Thing, this field onto which is projected something beyond, something at the point of origin of the signifying chain, this place in which doubt is cast on all that is the place of being, on the chosen place in which sublimation occurs, of which Freud gives us the most massive example – where do the view and notion of it emerge from?

Further information:

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

Posts for the “Dreams” category : Available here

Posts for the “Topology and the Lacanian clinic” category : Available here


[i] See also Presentation:

Commentary on Siegfried Bernfeld’s & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960 : Pierre Kaufmann  or here


The Principle of Entropy and the Death Instinct (Der Entropiesatz und der Todestrieb) : 1931 : Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg or here


Pierre Kaufmann’s Commentary on Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive & Entropy : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960, p204-205 : Notes towards Reading Group of 22nd February 2014  or here

A further note is in preparation, please watch Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here for its arrival.

[ii] Quote from Michael Shermer, op. cit. : A partial answer may be found in a 2013 study by psychologists Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California, published in the journal Psychological Science. Research had shown that “awe” is associated with “perceived vastness” (like the night sky or an open ocean) and that “awe-prone” individuals tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty and are less likely to need cognitive closure in some kind of explanation. They “are more comfortable revising existing mental schemas to assimilate novel information,” the authors said in their paper. For those who are not awe-prone, Valdesolo wrote in an e-mail, “we hypothesized that the uncertainty experienced by the immediate feeling of the emotion would be aversive (since they are probably not the kinds of people who feel it all the time). This was rooted in theoretical work which argued that awe is elicited when we have trouble making sense of the event we are witnessing, and this failure to assimilate information into existing mental structures should lead to negative states like confusion and disorientation.” To reduce the anxiety of awe-inspiring experiences, people who are not prone to awe engage in a process I call “agenticity,” or the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents.

[iii] In Dennis Porter’s translation, this reads ‘I’. Jacques Lacan conceived of his seminars as a process of exploration for all. Hence his use of ‘we’. See Transmission according to Jacques Lacan or here for further examples.

[iv] This is a quote from the beginning of St John’s Gospel. Word is a translation of logos. During lunch, on 8th March, Dimitrios Poulikakos remarked that the meaning of logos is ambiguous. As well as word, it can be translated as a logic as in Aristotle. For further references by Jacques Lacan to ‘logos’ Tracking Jacques Lacan’s use of ‘logos’ in Seminar VI & VII & in Rome : 29th October 1974 or here.

[v] During the March 8th Reading Group, Bruno de Florence remarked that this is a reference to Heidegger. See Martin Heidegger (1949) Existence and Being  : Existence and Being from Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre edited by Walter Kaufman published in full here  This is Martin Heidegger’s introduction to his collection of essays ‘Being and Time’ published in 1949.