The Urgency of Mourning : 28th March 2019 : Michèle Laboureur

by Julia Evans on March 28, 2019

Text towards the New Lacanian School  Congress, ‘Urgent!’, in June 2019, available at  : circulated on the New Lacanian School messager, here, on 28th March 2019.

This has an interesting but challenging set of reference on mourning.

Notes on references:

– 1)  Quote : The hole that has opened in the real as a result of the disappearance cannot be filled [1] by signifiers so long as there is a lack in the signifier minus phi.

1 Lacan, J., Le séminaire Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, Paris: Ed de la Martinière, 2013, pp. 398–9.

For notes & references , see Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VI : 22nd April 1959 : Ch 18 p234 to 235 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : available from : Quote –

The subject is plunged into the vertigo of suffering, and finds himself in a certain relationship, here in some way illustrated in the most manifest fashion by what we see happening in the graveyard scene, Laertes leaps into the grave, and the fact that he embraces, beside himself, the object whose disappearance is the cause of this suffering, which makes of it in time, at the point of this branching off, in the most obvious fashion, a sort of existence which is all the more absolute in that it no longer corresponds to anything at all.

In other words, the hole in the real provoked by a loss, a real loss, this sort of unbearable loss for the human being, which provokes mourning in him, is found in the real, is found by that very function in this relationship which is the inverse of the one that I put forward before you under the name of Verwerfunq.

Just as what is rejected in the symbolic reappears in the real, that these formulae should be taken in the literal sense, likewise the Verwerfunq, the hole of the loss in the real of something which is properly speaking the intolerable dimension presented to human experience which is, not the experience of one‟s own death, which nobody has, but that of the death of someone else, who is for us an essential being.

This is a hole in the real, it is found in the real, and because of this fact is found, and because of the same correspondence which in the one that I articulated in the Verwerfunq, to offer the place where there is projected precisely this missing signifier, this essential signifier, o, as such, in the structure of the Other, this signifier whose accent makes the Other powerless to give you your response. This signifier which you cannot pay for except with your flesh and your blood, this signifier which is essentially the phallus under the veil.

It is because this signifier finds its place there, and at the same time cannot find it, because this signifier cannot be articulated at the level of the Other, that there come, as in psychosis – and this is the way in which mourning is like psychosis – to proliferate instead of it all the images that the phenomena of mourning give rise to, the phenomena in the foreground being those through which there is manifested not one or other particular madness, but one of the most essential collective madnesses of the human community as such, namely that which is put here in the forefront, given pride of place in the tragedy of Hamlet, namely the ghost, the fantome, this image which can surprise the soul of each and every one of us.

– 2) Quote: In his Seminar on The Sinthome, Lacan speaks of the ex-sistence of the real, but of the hole of the symbolic.[2]

2 Lacan, J., The Seminar Book XXIII, The Sinthome, tr. A.R. Price, Cambridge: Polity, 2016, p. 25.

Notes & References : Seminar XXIII: The Sinthome or Joyce and the Sinthome: 1975-1976: beginning on November 18th 1975 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar XXIII : 9th December 1975 : pII IX of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Available

The fundamental character of this utilisation of the knot is to allow there to be illustrated the triplicity that results from a consistency which is only affected from the Imaginary, from a hole as fundamental which emerges in the Symbolic. And on the other hand, of an ex-sistence, written as I write it ex-sistence, which for its part belongs to the Real which is its fundamental character.

This method, since what is at stake is a method, is a method which presents itself as hopeless. Without hope of in any way breaking the constitutive know of the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real. In this reard, it rejects there being constituted, it must be said, and in an altogether lucid way, a virtue, a virtue even described as theological, and that is why our apprehension, our analytic apprehension of what is involved in the knot is the negative of religion.

– 3) Quote : Thus, this process seems to me to encounter a parallel with the identification that comes about by means of the trait, the identification with the unary trait.[3]

3 Cf, Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, tr. A. Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press, 1973.

Information and references : Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here

As no page reference is given, I suggest this is the passage she is referring to:  Seminar XI : 17th June 1964 : Quote from p256 of Alan Sheridan’s translation :

But I would not like to leave you today without introducing, for next time, two remarks, two remarks that are grounded in the mapping that Freud made of the function of identification.

There are enigmas in identification, even for Freud himself. He seems to be surprised that the regression of love should take place so easily in terms of identification – even when, in texts written about the same time, he demonstrates that love and identification have an equivalence in a certain register and the narcissism and over-estimation of the object, Verliebtheit, is exactly the same thing in love.

At this point, Freud pauses – I would ask you to find for yourselves in the text the various clues, as the English say, the traces, the marks left on the trail. I think this is because he had not sufficiently distinguished something.

In the chapter of Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse [JE notes : Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego : 1921 : Sigmund Freud : SE XVIII p69-143 : Published by : available here] devoted to identification, I stressed the second form of identification, in order to map in it, and to detach from it, the einziger Zug, (JE notes : the unary trait], the single stroke, the foundation, the kernel of the ego ideal. What is this single stroke [unary trait]? Is it a privileged object in the field of Lust? No.

The single stroke [unary trait] is not in the first field of narcissistic identification, to which Freud relates the first form of identification – which, very curiously indeed, he embodies in a sort of function, a sort of primal model which the father assumes, anterior even to the libidinous investment on the mother – a mythical stage, certainly. The single stroke [unary trait], in so far as the subject clings to it, is in the field of desire, which cannot in any sense be constituted other than in the reign of the signifier, other than at the level in which there is a relation o the subject to the Other. It is the field of the Other that determines the function of the single stroke [unary trait], in so far as it is from it that a major stage of identification is established in the topography then developed by Freud – namely, idealisation, the ego ideal. I showed you the traces of this first signifier on the primitive bone on which the hunter makes a notch and counts the number of times he gets his target.

It is in the intersection by which the single [unary] signifier functions here in the field of lust, that is to say, in the field of primary [p257] narcissistic identification, that is to be found the essential mainspring of the effects of the ego ideal. I have described elsewhere the sight in the mirror of the ego ideal, of that being that he first saw appearing in the form of the parent holding him up before the mirror. By cloning to the reference-point of him who looks at him in a mirror, the subject sees appearing, not his ego ideal, but his ideal ego, that point at which he desires to gratify himself in himself.

This is the function, the mainspring, the effective instrument constituted by the ego ideal.
– 4) Quote :  Lacan comments on Freud, saying: “Mourning consists in authenticating the real loss little by little, piece by piece, sign by sign, element capital I by element capital I, until they are exhausted.”[4]

4  Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book VIII, Transference, tr. B. Fink, Cambridge: Polity, 2015, p. 396.

Notes & references : Seminar VIII : Transference : 1960-1961 : Begins 16th November 1960 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VIII : 28th June 1961 : chapter 27 & p336 – 337 Cormac Gallagher’s translation, available from, quote :

In this example, as in all the others, to be a dog has only one meaning, that means that one goes “bow-wow”, and nothing else. I would bark, people would say – those who are not there – “it’s a dog”, the value of the einziger Zug.

And moreover, when you take up the schema through which Freud gives us the origin of the identification which is properly that of the ego-ideal, from what angle does he take it? From the angle of Group Psychology. [1921 : Sigmund Freud, Link given above] What happens, he tells us, anticipating the great Hitlerian explosion, to make everyone enter into this sort of fascination which allows the massing, the solidification of what is called a crowd to take place?

(see the schema [not reproduced]). [By the side of the schema are the following definitions :  I : Ego-ideal, E : The egos, O, O’, O’’ : Opposite them, their objects, x: When the objects produce for the ego this collective, directive ideal, element. ]

In order that collectively all the subjects, at least for an instant, should have this same ideal which permits anything and everything for a rather short time, what is necessary, he says to us? It is that all these exterior objects, äusseres Objekt should be taken as having a common [unary] trait, the einziger Zug.

Why does this interest us? It is because what is true at the collective level is also true at the individual level. The function of the ideal, in so far as it is around it that there is accommodated the relationship of a subject to his objects, it is very precisely in so far as, in the world of a subject who speaks, it is a pure and simple matter of a metaphorical attempt to confer on all of them a common [unary] trait. The world of the subject who speaks, which is called the human world, corresponds to the following: it is that for all objects, to take them in this animal world that analytic tradition has made the exemplary operation of defensive identifications, it is a pure matter of decree to fix this trait common to the diversity of objects, whether they are dogs, cats, badgers or deer. To decree that in order to subsist in a world where the i(o) [i(a)] of the subject is respected they all, whatever they are, go “bow-wow”, this is the function of the einziger Zug.

It is essential to keep it structured in this way. Because, outside this register, it is impossible to conceive of what Freud means in the psychology of mourning and melancholia. What is it that differentiates mourning from melancholia? With my guidelines you will clarify it.

For mourning, it is quite certain that it is around the metaphorical function of traits conferred on the love object in so far as they then-have narcissistic privileges, that there is going to unfold all the length and difficulty of mourning. In other words and in a fashion all the more significant that he says it as if he were surprised at it, Freud insists clearly on what is in question: the real loss, the mourning (14) consists in authenticating piece by piece, bit by bit, sign by sign, big I element by big I element to the point of exhaustion, when that has been done, finished. But what does that mean, if this object was an o [a], an object of desire, if not that the object is always masked behind its attributes, almost made banal.

But the business begins, as one might expect, only if we start from pathology, namely from melancholia where we see two things: the fact is that the object is – a serious thing – much less graspable because it was certainly more present and because it unleashed infinitely more catastrophic effects, because they go so far as the drying up of this Trieb which Freud describes as the most fundamental one, that which attaches you to life. You have to read, to follow this text, understand what Freud indicates about some disappointment or other that he does not know how to define. And there, what are we going to see for such a masked, such an obscure object? It is none of the traits of an object which are not seen that the subject can attack, but in so far as we follow him, we analysts, we can identify some of them through those that he aims at, namely the characteristics that he himself has: “I am nothing, I am only a ……….. ” Note that it is never a question of the specular image. The melancholic does not tell you that he looks bad or that he has a bad taste in his mouth or that he is twisted in some way. He is the lowest of the low, he draws catastrophies down on all his kin: he is entirely, in his self-accusations, in the domain of the symbolic. And to it you can add having: he is ruined.

Is this not designed to put you on the path of something? I am only indicating it to you today by marking out for you a point which, with respect to these two terms of mourning melancholia, marks to my eyes at least for the moment, a converging point: it is the one I would call, not of the mourning, nor of the depression of the subject about the an object, but of a certain type of remorse, in so far as it is unleashed by a certain type of event which we will signal as being of the order of the suicide of the object. Remorse, therefore, in connection with an object who has entered, under some heading, into the field of desire and who, because of that fact or of some risk that he ran in the adventure, has died.

– 5) Quote : In the twenty-fourth Seminar[5], takes up the modes of identification [see 6] once more and articulates them with the topological models he had put forward, which are obtained by making different types of cut.

5  Lacan, J., Lessons from L’insu que sait de l’une bévue s’aile à mourre, in Ornicar ? 12/13.

Notes & References : Seminar XXIV : ‘L’insu que sait de l’une-bévue s’aile à mourre’ : 1976-1977 : begins 16th November 1976 : Jacques Lacan  or here

There are many quotes from seminar XXIV at The Seminar of Barcelona on ‘Die Wege der Symptombildung
’ : probably Autumn 1996 : Jacques-Alain Miller or here

Cormac Gallagher’s translation available at  It is probable that only the first 3 or 4 sessions were published in Ornicar? 12/13, though Gallagher translates all the sessions.

Seminar XXIV : 16th November 1976 : p11 (at the end of the chapter) of Cormac Gallagher’s translation :

Supposing that we have a torus in another torus, the same operation is conceivable for the 2 tori, namely, that from a cut made in this one and from a different distinct cut, since it is not the same torus, made in that one. It is in this case quite clear – I will leave you to conceive it – at the folding back of these two tori will give us the same rod, except for the fact that in the rod there will be an analogous content, except for the fact that for the two cases, this time, the inside will be outside and the same for this one; I mean for the torus which is inside.

How, I will ask you the question, how identify – because it is distinct – how identify hysterical identification, the so-called loving identification to the father and the identification that I would call neutral, the one which is neither one nor the other, which is the identification to a particular trait, to a trait that I called – that is how I translated the einziger Zug – that I called any trait whatsoever?

How divide up these three inversions of homogenous tori therefore in their practice, and what is more which maintain the symmetry, as I might say, between one torus and another, how divide them up, how designate in a homologous fashion paternal identification, hysterical identification, identification to a trait which is simply the same? There is the question on which I would like, that you would be good enough to engage with the next time.

– 7) Quote : It is a particular object, whose mourning was impossible for Hamlet: the mourning of the phallus, this being a term that Lacan also uses to designate what Freud called the Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex.[7]

7  Lacan, J., The Seminar Book VIII, Transference, op. cit.

There are two references to Hamlet in Seminar VIII and neither seems to correspond to this point.  1) Seminar VIII : 10th May 1961 & 2) Seminar VIII : 24th May 1961.

– 8) Quote : Lacan tells us that once Hamlet was mortally wounded, he renounced any narcissistic investment,[8]

8 Lacan, J., Le séminaire Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, op. cit., p. 416.

Notes & References : Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VI : 18th March 1959 : (Chapter 15) p199 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation, available

I suggested it to you the last time with my little imaginary painting.

It is by way of mourning in other words, and of a mourning assumed in the same narcissistic relationship as there is between the ego and the image of the other, it is in function of what there is represented all of a sudden for him in this passionate relationship of a subject to an object which is at the bottom of the painting, the presence of $ which it puts before him all of a sudden as support in which this object which for him is rejected because of a confusion of objects, of an inmixing of objects, it is in the measure that something here all of a sudden grabs him that this level can all of a sudden be reestablished which for a short instant is going to make a man of him. Namely something which is going to make of him someone capable, for a short moment no doubt, but a moment which is enough to end the play, capable of fighting, and capable of killing.


Seminar VI : 15th April 1959 : Ch 17 p223 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : quote

That is what characterises this attitude in which we find the trace of what I was indicating above as the disequilibrium of the phantastical relations in so far as it tilts towards the perverse aspect of the object. It is one of the traits of this relationship. Another of the traits, is that the object in question, is no longer treated as she should be, as a woman. She becomes for him the bearer of children and of every sin, the one who is designated to engender sinners, and the one who is designated afterwards as having to succumb to all sorts of calumnies. She becomes the pure and simple support of a life which in its essence becomes condemned for Hamlet. In short, what is produced at that moment, is this destruction or loss of the object which is reintegrated into its narcissistic framework. For the subject it appears as I might say outside; what it is equivalent to according to the formula that I used above, what it takes the place of, and what cannot be given to the subject except at the moment when literally he sacrifices himself when he is no longer it himself, when he rejects it with all his being, is indeed and uniquely the phallus.

If Ophelia is at that moment the phallus, it is because of this, and in so far as here the subject exteriorizes the phallus qua signifying symbol of life and as such rejects it. This is the second phase of the relation to the object.

Since time is passing I feel a bit scrupulous about giving you all the coordinates, and I will come back to it.


Seminar VI : 29th April 1959 : p243 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation :

We are here on completely new ground; let us try then to advance because finally it is in this way that our analysis of Hamlet will serve us; it is to remind us of this question that I am working out before you in a series of concentric sketches, that I accentuate, that I make you understand with different resonances, and which I hope to make more and more precise, namely what I call the place of the object in desire.

What does Freud tell us about this mourning for the phallus? He tells us that what is linked to it, what is one of its fundamental principles, what gives it its value – because this is what we are seeking – is a narcissistic exigency of the subject. There is established here the relation of this critical moment at which the subject sees himself in any case castrated, or deprived of the thing, of the phallus. Here Freud brings into play, and as always without the slightest precaution – I mean that he upsets us as usual, and thank God he did it all his life, because he would never have got to the end of the field that remained for him to be traced out – he tells us that it is a narcissistic exigency.

In the presence of the final outcome of these oedipal exigencies, the subject prefers as one might say, to abandon the whole part of himself, as subject, which will henceforth be always prohibited to him, namely in the punctuated signifying chain, which constitutes the upper part of our graph.

– 9) Quote :  ….. and then, “he identifies with the fatal signifier,” “with the mortal phallus.” [9]

9  Ibid., p. 392.

Notes & References : Notes & References : Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VI : 22nd April 1959 (Ch 18) p231 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : available

Here one cannot fail to be struck by something which is literally in the text. It is clear that what I am in the process of telling you, is that beyond this parade of the tournament of the rivalry with the one who is his most beautiful counterpart, the myself that he can love, beyond this there is played out the drama of the accomplishment of Hamlet’s desire, beyond this there is the phallus.

And when all is said and done, it is in this encounter with the other that Hamlet is going to identify himself with the fatal signifier. Well then, it is a very curious thing, it is in the text. There is talk of foils at the moment of distributing them: “Give them the foils young Osric. Cousin Hamlet, you know the wager?‟ And earlier Hamlet says “Give us the foils‟. Between these two terms where there is question of foils, Hamlet makes a play on words: “I’ll be your foil, Laertes. In mine ignorance your skill shall, like a star in the darkest night, stick firey off indeed‟ (V ii 266). Foil means fleuret in the context. Here foil cannot have this meaning, and it has a meaning that is perfectly locatable, it is a meaning that is well attested at the epoch, even rather frequently used. It is the sense in which foil, which is the same word as the French word feuille in old French, is used in a precious form to designate the leaf in which something precious is carried, namely a jewel case. Here it is used to say: Here I am only going to be something to highlight your star like brilliance in the blackness of the sky by fighting with you.

Moreover these are the very conditions in which the duel is engaged; namely that Hamlet has no chance of winning, that he will have done well enough if the other takes only three points in twelve against him. The wager is engaged at nine against twelve, namely that Hamlet is given a handicap.

I would say that in this play on the word foil we legitimately find something which is included in the underpinnings of the pun…. I mean that it is one of Hamlet’s functions to be all the time playing on words, punning, making double entendres, playing on the equivocal. This play on words is not there by chance. When he tells him, I will be your écrin [jewel-case], he is using the same word, he makes a play on words with what is at stake at that moment, namely the distribution of foils. And very precisely in Hamlet’s pun there is when all is said and done this identification of the subject to the fatal phallus in so far as it is present here.

– 10) Quote :  Before referring identification to the three registers of I, S and R, Lacan specifies two types of identification: one signifying, the other related to the object a and which introduces a process of separation. This object a, discerned in the drive, is what introduces “the meaning of sex”, and “its significations are always capable of making present the presence of death.”[10]

10  Lacan, J., The Seminar Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, op. cit., p. 257.

Information and references : Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar XI : 17th June 1964 : Quote from p257 of Alan Sheridan’s translation :

But there is another function, which institutes an identification of a strangely different kind, and which is introduced by the process of separation.

It is a question of this privileged object, discovered by analysis, of that object whose very reality is purely topological, of that object around which the drive moves, of that object that rises in a bump, like the wooden darning egg in the material which, in analysis, you are darning—the objet a.

This object supports that which, in the drive, is defined and specified by the fact that the coming into play of the signifier in the life of man enables him to bring out the meaning of sex. Namely, that for man, because he knows the signifiers, sex and its significations are always capable of making present the presence of death.

The distinction between the life drive and the death drive is true in as much as it manifests two aspects of the drive. But this is so only on condition that one sees all the sexual drives as articulated at the level of significations in the unconscious, in as much as what they bring out is death—death as signifier and nothing but signifier, for can it be said that there is a being-for- death? In what conditions, in what determinism, can death, the signifier, spring fully armed into treatment? This can be understood only by our way of articulating the relations.

– 11) Quote : Hence at the end of analysis, there is “the mourning of the object,” the fall of the object, where formerly stood the analyst, and separation from the object.[11]

11 Lacan, J., « L’étourdit » in Autres écrits, Paris: Seuil, 2001, p. 486.

Notes & references : L’Étourdit: 14th July 1972 : Jacques Lacan or here

p26 of Jack W. Stone’s translation : Let us say however the end of the analysis of the neurotic torus.

The object (a) in falling from the hole of the strip projects itself after the fact into what we will call, from an abuse of the imaginary, the central hole of the torus, that is, around what the odd (impair) transfinite of demand resolves itself by the double turn of interpretation.

That, it is this from which the psychoanalyst has taken a function in situating it with his semblant.

The analysand only finishes in making of the object (a) the representative of the representation of his analyst. It is therefore only as long as his mourning lasts for the object (a) to which he has finally reduced him, that the psychoanalyst persists in causing his desire: rather manic-depressively.

This is the state of exultation that Balint, to take him from the side, describes no less well : more of a “therapeutic success,” finds its reason there, and a substantial one on occasion. Then the mourning is achieved.

There remains the stability of the putting flat of the phallus, that is, of the strip, where the analysis finds its end, that which ensures its subject supposed from the knowledge:


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London



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