A preliminary engagement with ‘Psychoanalytic Violence: An Essay in Indifference in Ethical Matters’ by Dany Nobus

by Julia Evans on July 30, 2017

Owen Hewitson commented on Professor Dany Nobus’s paper ‘Psychoanalytic Violence: An Essay on Indifference in Ethical Matters’ to the Earl’s Court Clinical Group, in Earl’s Court, London on Thursday 27th July 2017. These are my post-hoc notes, having now quickly scanned the paper.

Julia Evans 


Psychoanalytic Violence: An Essay on Indifference in Ethical Matters

Dany Nobus : Published, Psychoanalytic Discourse, May 2016, Issue 2 : See here

Guiding Principles for Any Psychoanalytic Act: 16th July 2006 : Rome : Éric Laurent : available here

The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Note :

The text Amuse-Bouches I – The Yerodia Case : 27th July 2017 : Owen Hewitson : is available here.  This article was first presented as a paper to the Earl’s Court Clinical Group in London on 27th July, 2017.

The discussion on Thursday 27th July 2017

The discussion ranged over four adjacent areas:

1) Is there such a thing as an ethic for Psychoanalysis/Psychoanalysts?

2) What are the pre-conditions for a subject to engage with psychoanalysis? Are there any debarring factors?

3) Is the psychoanalyst responsible for a subject’s actions outside the practice rooms, both during an analysis and after it has ceased?

4) If a member of a psychoanalytic organisation, for example, World Association of Psychoanalysts or École de la Cause Freudienne, even an Honorary Member rather than a practicing one, commits a criminal act such as involvement in genocide, what is the appropriate action for the organisation?

It is not my intention to answer these questions here but to show that Professor Nobus’s arguments are based in his lack of knowledge of Jacques Lacan’s texts and Lacanian practice. His conclusion, which he gives in his title, that psychoanalytic violence has been committed and that WAP is indifferent to ethical matters, is unsafe as his arguments are false.

Three extracts from Professor Nobus’s argument

1) ‘principles of psychoanalysis’

Nobus p3 : In Yerodia’s outlook, however, Lacanian psychoanalysis epitomizes exactly the kind of discourse from which his ideological stance can derive theoretical legitimacy and moral strength. …

… In the case of Yerodia, one is thus faced with a respected Lacanian psychoanalyst who has been accused of (incitement to) genocide or, if one so wishes, with an ostensibly ruthless political animal whose professional itinerary is indelibly marked by the principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

So what are the principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis, to which Professor Nobus refers?

As Professor Nobus gives no reference for these principles he alleges exist, may I draw your attention to :

Guiding Principles for Any Psychoanalytic Act: 16th July 2006 : Rome : Éric Laurent : available here

These principles were elaborated through a process involving all of WAP’s schools and were adopted by the General Assembly of the AMP (WAP), Rome, 16th July 2006 when Éric Laurent was Delegate General of the World Association of Psychoanalysis (WAP)

So WAP’s actual guiding principles are very different to the ones of Professor Nobus’s imagination.

Further, what seems to be marked about Yeroda, according to Professor Nobus, is the illusion that he is in control of power. This is a perverse position and is argued against by Lacan consistently see, for example, The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

So may be Professor Nobus does not reference ‘principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis’ because that which is in use does not contribute to his inflammatory argument.

2) Professor Nobus seems to have missed the relevant part of Seminar VII

Second quote from Professor Nobus’s paper:

p14-15 : In Seminar VII Lacan largely espoused Freud’s pessimism when discarding the ideals of love, authenticity, independence and the Sovereign Good as beacons for an ethics of psychoanalysis (Lacan, 1992[1986], pp. 1-15). Yet because of Freud’s general scepticism towards ethics, he could not rely on a simple return to Freud in order to define an ethics of psychoanalysis. It is also interesting to observe here that the only Freudian formula which could possibly merit the status of ethical maxim, the famous ‘Wo Es war soll Ich werden’, does not feature at all in Lacan’s Seminar VII.


1) Professor Nobus references p1-15 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of Seminar VII.

2) From p7 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan : See here :

Seminar VII : 18th November 1959 : Reference to ‘Wo es war, soll Ich werden’ :

The moral experience involved in psychoanalysis is the one that is summed up in the original imperative proposed in what might be called the Freudian ascetic experience, namely, that Wo es war, soll Ich werden with which Freud concludes the second part of his Vorlesungen (Introductory Lectures) on psychoanalysis. The root of this given in an experience that deserves the term “moral experience,” and is found at the very beginning of the entry of the patient into analysis.

That “I” which is supposed to come to be where “it” was, and which analysis has taught us to evaluate, is nothing more than that whose root we already found in the “I” which asks itself what it wants. It is not only questioned, but as it progresses in its experience, it asks itself that question and asks it precisely in the place where strange, paradoxical, and cruel commands are suggested to it by its morbid experience.

Will it or will it not submit itself to the duty that it feels within like a stranger, beyond, at another level? Should it or should it not submit itself to the half-unconscious, paradoxical, and morbid command of the superego, whose jurisdiction is moreover revealed increasingly as the analytical exploration goes forward and patient sees that he is committed to its path?

If I may put it thus, isn’t its true duty to oppose that command? One finds here something which belongs to the givens of our pregivens of preanalysis. It is enough to see how the experience of an obsessional is structured at the beginning to know that the enigma concerning the term “duty” as such is always already formulated even before he formulates the demand for help, which is what he goes into analysis for.

In truth, although the response to the problem that we are proposing here is obviously illustrated in the conflict of an obsessional, it nevertheless has a universal validity; that is why there are different ethics and there is ethical thought. It is not simply the philosopher’s thought alone that seeks to justify duty, that duty on which we have shed a variety of light – genetical and originary, for example. The justification of that which presents itself with an immediate feeling of obligation, the justification of duty as such – not simply in one or other of its commands, but in the form imposed – is at the heart of an inquiry that is universal.

Are we analysts simply something that welcomes the suppliant then, something that gives him a place of refuge? Are we simply, but it is already a lot, something that must respond to a demand, to the demand not to suffer, at least without understanding why? – in the hope that through understanding the subject will be freed not only from his ignorance, but also from suffering itself. End quote.

I suggest that this long passage, which Professor Nobus clearly has never read, shows that he is arguing to justify his opinions rather than from understanding Lacanian ethics or I suspect Lacanian practice.

3) See Notes from p1 – 7 of Seminar VII from the 21-09-12 Reading Group Meeting by Julia Evans or here for further reference to ‘Wo Es war, soll Ich werden’

4) Further references to Jacques Lacan’s comments on ‘Wo Es war, …’

P135 – 137 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 or here

Seminar IV : 5th December 1956 : See Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan or here

P171 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Section III The letter, being and the other

Seminar XI : 29th January 1964 : p33 of Alan Sheridan’s translation & Seminar XI : 5th February 1964 : p44 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here both refer to ‘Wo Es war, soll Ich werden’ in the last paragraph.

Professor Nobus is only aware of Jacques Lacan’s comments in Science and Truth: 1st December 1965 session of Seminar XIII: The Object of Psychoanalysis : Jacques Lacan or here : p13-14 of Bruce Fink’s first translation.

Jacques Lacan may reference this phrase in later texts. If you know of such references please contact Julia Evans.

3) Third quote from Professor Nobus where he admits to being mystified by Jacques Lacan’s text. This is probably because he has not read the complete session, let alone the whole Seminar.

p15 : ‘When Lacan referred to the axiom [Wo es war, ….] some five years later, in ‘Science and Truth’, he did not interpret it as an ethical postulate, but as a paradoxical theoretical principle representing the peculiar process of the causation of the subject. Zooming in on the grammatical structure of Freud’s motto, Lacan pointed out that “in approaching it backwards” (à le prendre à revers), and “by reversing its direction”, i.e. in reading it as Ich soll werden wo Es war, this imperative mysteriously “presses me to assume my own causality” (Lacan, 2006b[1965], p. 734, translation modified)’

There follows a fuller quote, though I would urge you to read the whole of Jacques Lacan’s initial session of Seminar XIII : The object of psychoanalysis or you may catch Professor Nobus’s mystification. Jacques Lacan first comments on Sigmund Freud’s phrase in 1955. I have yet to trace any comments after 1965 and I submit that Professor Nobus in this quote, takes Lacan’s argument out of this total context of 10 years worth of exploration and in reducing it to three phrases, renders it a nonsense.

Science and Truth: 1st December 1965 session of Seminar XIII: The Object of Psychoanalysis : Jacques Lacan or here : p12-14 of Bruce Fink’s initial translation. : What you’ll be so kind as to permit me to conjure up, with an image like that of the opening up of the subject in psychoanalysis, must be reduced to this great an extent if we are to grasp what the subject receives therein by way of truth.

One senses that this is a tortuously circuitous process akin to taming. Object a is not peaceful, or rather one should say, could it be that it doesn’t leave you in peace? [Note 18 : The French, “se pourrait-il qu’il ne poses laisse pas tranquilles?” could also be translated : “could it be that it doesn’t leave you alone?”] least of all those of you who have the most to do with it: [Note 19 : or “who deal with it most:”] psychoanalysts, who are thus those I electively try to target with my discourse. It’s true. The scheduled starting point of our meeting today, being the one at which I left you last year – that of the subject’s division between truth and knowledge – is a familiar point to them. It’s the one to which Freud urges them with his call “Wo es war, soll Ich werden”, which I retranslated, once again, to accentuate it here, as: “where it was, there must I, as subject, come to be”. [Note 20 : The French here reads : “là où c’était, là comme sujet dois-je advenir “, which could also be rendered as “where it was, there, as subject, must I come to be”, or “where it was, there must I come to be as subject”. ]

Now I demonstrate to analysts the strangeness of this point in taking it from behind, which consists here rather in bringing them [p13] back to its front. How could what was, forever awaiting me in the guise of an obscure being, come to be totalized by a line which can only be drawn by dividing that being still more clearly from what I can know of it?

It is not only in theory that the question of double inscription arises, having given rise to a perplexity whereupon my students Laplanche and Leclaire could have read its solution in their split over how to approach the problem. [Note 21 : See Jean Laplanche’s contribution to the joint article with Serge Leclaire, “L’inconscient : une étude psychoanalytique”, in L’inconscient, Vle Colloque de Bonneval, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1966, p95-130 and 170-177. Cf. Lacan’s discussion in Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1978 and in “Radiophonie” in Scilicet IV III, Seuil, 1970, p68-69. See Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here & Radiophonie: 9th April & 5th June 1970: Jacques Lacan or here] The solution is not, in any case, of the Gestaltist type, nor is it to be sought on a plate where one finds Napoleon’s head inscribed in a tree. It is quite simply to be found in the fact that an inscription does not etch into the same side of the parchment when it comes from the printing-plate of truth and when it comes from that of knowledge.

The fact that these inscriptions commingle [se mćíent??] could have been simply accounted for by topology, there being at hand’s reach a surface in which front and back are situated so as to join up at all points.

This goes much further than an intuitive schema, for it is in so to speak wrapping around the analyst in his being that this topology can grasp him.

That is why, though the analyst shifts topology to another plane, it can only be in a breaking up of a puzzle which must, in any case, be reduced to this basis.

Which is why it is not vain to restate that in the test of writing ‘I am thinking: “therefore I am”, [Translator’s note : The unfamiliar ring to this phrase is due to the most recent English translation of Descartes’ Philosophical Writings by J. Cottingham (Cambridge, 1986)], with quotes around the second clause, the notion is legible that thought only grounds being by knotting itself in speech where every operation goes right to the essence of language.

While Heidegger gives us the expression “cogito sum” somewhere [Note 23 : In ‘Being and Time’, for example, paragraphs 24, 46 and 211.], serving his own purposes, it must be remarked that he algebrizes the phrase, and we can justifiably highlight its remainder: “cogito ergo”; it is evident therein that nothing gets said [rien ne se parle] without leaning on the cause.

Now this cause is what is covered by the “soll Ich”, the “must I” of Freud’s expression, which, in reversing [renverser] its meaning, brings forth the paradox of an imperative that presses me to assume my own causality.

Yet I am not the cause of myself, though not for being the creature. The case is precisely the same for the creator. I refer you on this point to Augustine and the prologue of his ‘De Trinitate’.

The Spinozian self-cause can take on the name of God. Still it is some-Thing Else [Autre Chose]. But let’s leave that to the two words [p14] [“Autre” and “Chose”] I will only play on by stipulating that the Spinozian self-cause is also some-Thing other [Chose autre] than the Whole, and that this God, being other in this way, is nevertheless not the God of pantheism. End quote.

So Professor Nobus’s attempt to comment on Lacanian ethics shows that he needs to read his references, especially p1-15 of Seminar VII, before constructing his argument on what he imagines they state.

I find Professor Nobus’s superficial opinion piece on Lacanian ethics to be fanciful, even on a very quick visit. They do not warrant, indeed cannot stand, a closer examination, though the questions at the beginning are very important and deserve better.

Julia Evans July 2017

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London

Further texts

Of the clinic : here

Lacanian Transmission : here

Some Lacanian History : here

Topology : here

From LW working groups : here

By Éric Laurent here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Translation Working Group here

Texts written by other members of the Earl’s Court Clinical Group

Bruno de Florence (See here or http://www.deflorence.com )

Owen Hewitson (See here or http://www.lacanonline.com)

Greg Hynds here

Julia Evans (See here or www.LacanianWorks.net )

Texts presented to Clinical Group meetings

Greg Hynds : Reading the Recommendations : London, 1st April 2017 (Open Meeting) : Information here

Julia Evans  : What makes the initial interventions by an analyst work? : 1st April 2017 (Open Meeting) : Information here

Commentary on Maurice Bouvet’s case of Obsessional Neurosis (Seminar IV) : a reconstruction of the case by Julia Evans  on 15th June 2017 or here

Commentary on Maurice Bouvet’s description of Object Relations Theory (Seminar IV) by Julia Evans  on 27th July 2017 or here