Tracking Jacques Lacan’s development in using ‘logos’

by Julia Evans on August 1, 2022

Originally published on 30th October 2013. Updated on 31st July 2018.

Julia Evans 

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst 


 To request a copy of any text whose weblink does not work, please contact  Julia Evans




A General Summary of Aristotle’s Appeals . . .

St John’s Gospel : Chapter 1 : 1611 : King James’ Version of the Bible

Seminar II : 15th June 1955 : Jacques Lacan

Winter of 1956 : Jacques Lacan’s translation of Heidegger’s ‘Logos’

Seminar V : 9th April 1958 : Jacques Lacan

The meaning (signification) of the phallus : Munich : 9th May 1958 : Jacques Lacan

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

Footnote to Direction of the Treatment : From The Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence : 2nd January 1938 [1941] : Sigmund Freud

Seminar VI[i] : 13th May 1959 : Jacques Lacan

Seminar VI : 8th April 1959

Seminar VI : 22nd April 1959

Seminar VI : 29th April 1959

Seminar VI : 13th May 1959

Seminar VI : 21st May 1959

Seminar VI : 1st July 1959

Seminar VII : 18th November 1959

Seminar VII : 25th November 1959

Seminar VII: 20th March 1960

Seminar VII : 4th May 1960

Seminar X : 21stNovember 1962

Press Conference in Rome : 29th October 1974

[i]  Details given Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here of the translation by Cormac Gallagher is given.

Details of Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan available here

See Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan or here

Details of  Press Conference at the French Cultural Center, Rome (The Triumph of Religion) : 29th October 1974 : Jacques Lacan available here

Originally published on 30th October 2013

Julia Evans 


At the Reading Seminar VII Group meeting on Saturday 30th November 2013, Julia Evans commented on the sentence ‘So I will try to reanimate the meaning of Freud’s lines today. And since that will lead me toward some pretty potent notions, all I can do is ask language, what Freud would call ‘logos’[i], to lend me a measured tone.’ : Seminar VII[ii]: 20th March 1960 : p179 (See below for fuller quote) She linked this use of ‘logos’ to the beginning of St John’s Gospel, in the Authorised Version: ‘1 In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (See below for fuller quote) Her understanding is that ‘word’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘logos’. Another translation of ‘logos’, she bravely asserted is ‘conversation’. Dimitrios Poulikakis came to her rescue and stated logos is also a logic.

Julia Evans was intrigued and tried to find as many references to logos as possible. They are published below and more examples of Jacques Lacan’s use of ‘logos’ are welcomed. Please send them in.

During the search, further references to logos was found in the discussion of Jacques Lacan’s examination of Aristotle’s work.  [See See Notes on p19-27 of Seminar VII: 25th November 1959: Reading Group of 27th October or here.  In these notes the definition of logos is given when commenting on Seminar VII : 25th November 1959 : p22. There is also a summary of Aristotle three categories of appeal in argument : Ethos, Pathos & Logos. See below for the short summary.] 

In Seminar VII[iii] : 18th November 1959 : p6 Jacques Lacan refers to ‘the relation of man to the logos.’ [See Notes from p1 – 7 of Seminar VII from the 21-09-12 Reading Group Meeting or here]

What seems to be at stake is not just how Jacques Lacan develops the meaning of ‘logos’ but also what he means by ‘the relation to man’.

Final link:

JE find that this quotation links a number of aspects of the use of logos, together:

From : Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch – review. Clerical abuse, the Holocaust … the church has often stayed silent. Stuart Kelly is impressed by a rich, robust study of Christian quietness : published The Guardian : [Friday 29 March 2013 Available here] :

In the wider metaphysics, Christianity has pondered God as language – the speaking of creation into being, John’s identification of Jesus with the Logos, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful image of the Trinity as “Utterer, Utterèd, Uttering” in “Margaret Clitheroe” – and God as silence: St John of the Cross wrote “Silence is God’s first language”; Meister Eckhart thought “nothing is so like God as silence”. Søren Kierkegaard, the greatest Christian thinker of the 19th century, published his meditation on the Sacrifice of Isaac, Fear and Trembling, under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio.

Jacques Lacan’s development of the use of ‘logos’ was also discussed in a cartel meeting (based in Seminar VI): Alison Fish, Bruno de Florence, Dimitrios Poulikakos, Eddie Dorfman, Julia Evans on 16th January 2014.

Quotations are in date order

  • A General Summary of Aristotle’s Appeals . . .

Published by Durham Technical College, here

Or The Shorthand Version:

Ethos: the source’s credibility, the speaker’s/author’s authority

Logos: the logic used to support a claim (induction and deduction); can also be the facts and statistics used to help support the argument.

Pathos: the emotional or motivational appeals; vivid language, emotional language and numerous sensory details.

  • St John’s Gospel : Chapter 1 : 1611 : King James’ Version of the Bible

Published by  : Available here

1 In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darknesse, and the darknesse comprehended it not.

Seminar II : 15th June 1955

Lacan makes it apparent that the symbolic meets its foundation in the cut :

Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan : Availability given here : Seminar II : 15th June 1955 : p283-285 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation :

LACAN: In any case, what concerns us is to know the difference.

M. RIGUET : May I put two or three things on the blackboard? I would simply like to try in a few minutes to explain first, what mathematicians understand by language. Consider the set of all the words which can be formed by using these letters – ab, ac, ca, ad. and abdd. bb. etc. I place the letters one after another in any kind of order, repetitions being permitted. I can form all these words indefinitely. Amongst these words, take a sub-set WF – well-formed (English in the original.) – words formed with the help of these symbols. And a mathematical theory consists in the data of a certain sub-set, these are called axioms, and a set of rules of deduction, which will for instance be of a syntactic kind. If, inside one word, I find the symbol abo I will have for instance the option of replacing it by p. Thus, starting off with the word, abcd, I will be able to form the word (p284) pcd. These are theorems, that is, the set of all the words which I can form on the basis of the axioms with the aid of the productions of syntax. This, WF, is called a language.

The choice of symbols, a, b, c, d, is of course arbitrary. I could have chosen others,

u, v, x, y, and thus have generated a theory isomorphic with the first. In actual fact, for mathematicians, the notion of language is pretty nearly defined by an isomorphism. What’s more – it is pretty nearly defined by a coding, for if one considers the set of symbols constituted by 0 and 1, I can let a = 00, b = 01, c = 10, d = 11, and translate all the syntactic products and the axioms as functions of the symbols 0 and 1 . But I will have to be careful when I want to retrieve the old theory by decoding the new one, for if I code a certain word 00010111001, the decoding will sometimes yield an ambiguity. If e = 000, I won’t know if this word begins with a or with e, etc.

It seems to me that your definition of symbols is not the same as this. For you, symbols are tied to another language. You have a kind of basic language of communication, a kind of universal language, and the symbols you speak of are always coded in function of this basic language.

LACAN: What strikes me in what you have just said, if I’ve properly understood it – I think I’ve understood it – is this – when one illustrates the phenomenon of language with something as formally purified as mathematical symbols – and that is one of the reasons for putting cybernetics on the agenda – when one gives a mathematical notation of the verbum, one demonstrates in the simplest possible way that language exists completely independently of us. Numbers have properties which are absolute. They are, whether we’re here or not. 1729 will always be the sum of two cubes, the smallest number which is the sum of two different pairs of cubes.

All this can circulate in all manner of ways in the universal machine, which is more universal than anything you could imagine. One can imagine an indefinite number of levels, where all this turns around and circulates. The world of signs functions, and it has no signification whatsoever.

What gives it its signification is the moment when we stop the machine. These are the temporal breaks which we make in it. If they are faulty, we will see ambiguities emerge, which are sometimes difficult to resolve, but which one will always end up giving a signification to.

M. RIGUET: I don’t think so, for these cuts may be made by another machine, and there’s nothing to say that a man will be able to decipher what will come out of this new machine.

LACAN: That is perfectly true. Nonetheless, it is the temporal element, the intervention of a scansion permitting the insertion of something which can take on meaning for a subject.

M. RIGUET: Yes, but it seems to me that in addition there’s this universe of symbols, belonging to mankind in common. (p285)

LACAN: What we have just said is that it doesn’t in any way belong specifically to it.

M. RIGUET: Precisely, machines don’t have a common universe of symbols.

LACAN: That’s very delicate, because we build these machines. In fact, that doesn’t matter. It is enough to note that by means of your 0 and your 1, that is, the connotation of presence-absence, we are capable of representing everything which presents itself, everything which has been brought about by a determinate historical process, everything which has been developed in mathematics. We are in perfect agreement. All the properties of numbers are there, in these numbers written with binary numbers. Of course, that isn’t how one discovers them. It took the invention of symbols, for instance, which made us take a giant step forward the day it was simply inscribed on a bit of paper. We were left for centuries with our mouths open when faced with equations of the second degree without being able to get it out, and it is through writing it down that an advance was made.

We thus find ourselves confronted with the problematic situation, that there is in fact a reality of signs within which there exists a world of truth entirely deprived of subjectivity, and that, on the other hand, there has been a historical development of subjectivity manifestly directed towards the rediscovery of truth, which lies in the order of symbols.

Who doesn’t understand a word of this? ,

M. MARCHANT: I don’t agree. You defined language, and I think that it is the best definition, as a world of signs to which we are strangers.

LACAN: This language here.

M. MARCHANT: I think that it is true of language in general.

LACAN: Not so. For language is completely burdened with our history, it is as contingent as this sign, and what is more it is ambiguous.

M. MARCHANT: I think the notion of error cannot be applied to language when it is conceived like that.

LACAN: There is no error in the world of zeros.

Seminar II : 15th June 1955 : p290 to 291 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : I am not giving you this as a model of logical reasoning, but as a sophism, (p291) designed to draw out the distinction between language applied to the imaginary – for the two other subjects are perfectly imaginary for the third, he imagines them, they are quite simply the reciprocal structure as such – and the symbolic moment of language, that is to say the moment of the affirmation. Here, you see, there’s something which isn’t completely identifiable with the temporal break you were talking about earlier on.

M . RIGUET: I agree entirely.

LACAN: That is where the power revealed by the originality of the machines we have at our disposal falls short. There is a third dimension of time which they undeniably are not party to, which I’m trying to get you to picture via this element which is neither belatedness, nor being in advance, but haste, the relation ·to time peculiar to the human being, this relation to the chariot of time, which is there, close on our heels. That is where speech is to be found, and where language, which has all the time in the world, is not. That is why, furthermore, one gets nowhere with language.

DR LECLAIRE: There is something which troubles me in all this. Earlier on you translated in the beginning was language, and that is the first time I’ve heard that. What are you referring to? Is this your translation?

LACAN: ‘In principio erat verbum’, that is undeniably language, it isn’t speech.

DR LECLAIRE: So there is no beginning.

LACAN: I didn’t write the Gospel according to St John.

DR LECLAIRE: That’s the first time I’ve ever seen this. One always writes speech, or the word [verbe], and never language.

LACAN: I have already written the distich up twice on the blackboard and nobody has asked me. for the explanation.

Indem er alles schaft, was schaftet der Höchste? – Sich.

Was schaft er aber vor er alles schaftet? – Mich.

What was the Almighty doing when he made the creation? – Sich, himself. And what was he before he made anything at all? Mich, myself. It is obviously a risky affirmation.

DR LECLAIRE: I don’t understand why you translate in the beginning, and not before the beginning.

LACAN: I’m not at all engaged in telling you that St John wrote things correctly. I am saying that, in St John, there’s in ‘principio erat verbum’, in Latin. Now, as you saw when we translated the De significatione, verbum means word, the signifier, and not speech. (p292)

MISS X : Verbum is the translation for the Hebrew word dabar which does mean speech, and not language.

LACAN: We will have to take another look at this bit of Hebrew. As long as the faculty of sciences hasn’t been landed with a chair of theology, this will never get sorted out, neither for theology, nor for the sciences. But the question isn’t at this point to know whether we should put the word or speech in the beginning. In the perspective we have taken on today and which I just illustrated by Daniel von Chepko’s distich; there’s a mirage whereby language, namely all your little Os and Is. is there from all eternity, independently of us. You may well ask me ­ Where? I would be really hard pressed finding an answer. But what is certain, as Mannoni was saying earlier on, is that within a certain perspective, we can only see them as being there since the beginning of time.

Winter of 1956 : Jacques Lacan’s translation of Heidegger’s ‘Logos’

In the Winter of 1956, in the first issue of the journal LaPsychanalyse, Jacques Lacan’s ‘Rome Discourse, 23 September 1953’ and his translation of Heidegger’s ‘Logos’ 1951 was published. [From ‘Chronology’: p209 to 211 of Dany Nobus: ‘Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis’: Routledge: 2000]

See Translation of Heidegger’s essay on ‘Heraclitus Logos’ : Winter 1956 : Jacques Lacan  or  here    

Seminar V : 9th April 1958 : Jacques Lacan

Chapter 18 : p233 Of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : See Seminar V : The Formations of the Unconscious : 1957-1958 : begins 6th November 1957 : Jacques Lacan or here

If the human affairs that we in principle concern ourselves with, are marked by man’s relationship to the signifier, we cannot use the signifier to speak about these things as if we were speaking about things in which the signifier is less involved.

In other words, there must be a difference in the fashion that we speak about human affairs, and the fashion in which we speak about other things.

We know of course that things are not indifferent to the approach of the signifier; that their relationship to the order of the logos should be studied, and that we, more than our predecessors, are in a position to be aware that the fashion in which, when all is said and done, language penetrates things, criss-crosses them, raises them up, upsets them however little, gives rise to many questions.

The meaning (signification) of the phallus : Munich : 9th May 1958 : Jacques Lacan.

Quote from towards the end (p84 of Jacqueline Rose’s translation):

One might add here that masculine homosexuality, in accordance with the phallic mark which constitutes desire, is constituted on its axis, whereas the orientation of feminine homo-sexuality, as observation shows, follows from a disappointment which reinforces the side of the demand for love. These remarks should be qualified by going back to the function of the mask inasmuch as this function dominates the identifications through which refusals of love are resolved.

The fact that femininity takes refuge in this mask, because of the Verdrängung inherent to the phallic mark of desire, has the strange consequence that, in the human being, virile display itself appears as feminine.

Correlatively, one can glimpse the reason for a feature which has never been elucidated and which again gives a measure of the depth of Freud’s intuition: namely, why he advances the view that there is only one libido, his text clearly indicating that he conceives of it as masculine in nature. The function of the signifier here touches on its most profound relation: by way of which the Ancients embodied in it both Νοũζ [Nous, sense] and the Λογòζ [Logos, reason].

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

: p277 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : A man of desire, of a desire that he followed against his will into ways in which he saw himself reflected in feeling, domination and knowledge, but of which he, unaided, succeeded in unveiling, like an initiate at the defunct mysteries, the unparalleled signifier: that phallus of which the receiving and the giving are equally impossible for the neurotic, whether he knows that the Other does not have it, or knows that he does have it, because in either case his desire is elsewhere; it belongs to being, and man, whether male or female, must accept having it and not having it, on the basis of the discovery that he isn’t it.

It is here that is inscribed that final Spaltung by which the subject articulates himself in the Logos, and on which Freud was beginning to write [12], giving us, at the ultimate point of an oeuvre that has the dimensions of being, the solution of the ‘infinite’ analysis, when his death applied to it the word Nothing.

[12} Freud (Sigmund), ‘Die Ich-spaltung im Abwehrvorgang’, G.W. XVII, ‘Schriften aus dem Nachlass’: p58-62. Manuscript dated 2nd January 1938 (unfinished); ‘Splitting of the Ego in the Defensive Process’, Collected Papers, V, 32: p372-5

The Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence : 2nd January 1938 [1941] : Sigmund Freud

P461 – 462 of pfl [p3869] : Vol 11 – On Metapsychology : I find myself for a moment in the interesting position of not knowing whether what I have to say should be regarded as something long familiar and obvious or as something entirely new and puzzling. But I am inclined to think the latter.

I have at last been struck by the fact that the ego of a person whom we know as a patient in analysis must, dozens of years earlier, when it was young, have behaved in a remarkable manner in certain particular situations of pressure. We can assign in general and somewhat vague terms the conditions under which this comes about, by saying that it occurs under the influence of a psychical trauma. I prefer to select a single sharply defined special case, though it certainly does not cover all the possible modes of causation.

Let us suppose, then, that a child’s ego is under the sway of a powerful instinctual demand which it is accustomed to satisfy and that it is suddenly frightened by an experience which teaches it that the continuance of this satisfaction will result in an almost intolerable real danger. It must now decide either to recognize the real danger, give way to it and renounce the instinctual satisfaction, or to disavow reality and make itself believe that there is no reason for fear, so that it may be able to retain the satisfaction. Thus there is a conflict between the demand by the instinct and the prohibition by reality. But in fact the child takes neither course, or rather he takes both simultaneously, which comes to the same thing. He replies to the conflict with two contrary reactions, both of which are valid and effective. On the one hand, with the help of certain mechanisms he rejects reality and refuses to accept any prohibition; on the other hand, in the same breath he recognizes the danger of reality, takes over the fear of that danger as a pathological symptom and tries subsequently to divest himself of the fear. It must be confessed that this is a very ingenious solution of the difficulty. Both of the parties to the dispute obtain their share: the instinct is allowed to retain its satisfaction and proper respect is shown to reality. But everything has to be paid for in one way or another, and this success is achieved at the price of a rift in the ego which never heals but which increases as time goes on. The two contrary reactions to the conflict persist as the centre-point of a splitting of the ego. The whole process seems so strange to us because we take for granted the synthetic nature of the processes of the ego. [See footnote below] But we are clearly at fault in this. The synthetic function of the ego, though it is of such extraordinary importance, is subject to particular conditions and is liable to a whole number of disturbances.

It will assist if I introduce an individual case history into this schematic disquisition. …

(James Strachey’s footnote : See, for instance, a passage in Lecture 31 of the New Introductory Lectures (1933a), pfl, Vol 2, p108-109. JE: Availability given Sigmund Freud’s texts available electronically  or here OR References to Sigmund Freud within LacanianWorks or here. Though Freud had stressed the synthetic tendency of the ego in his later writings, particularly in Chapter III of Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926d), (availability as before), pfl, Vol 10, p249- 252, and in The Question of Lay Analysis (1926e), the concept was implicit in his picture of the ego from the earliest times. During the Breuer period the term he almost invariably used for ideas that had to be repressed was ‘incompatible’ – i.e. that could not be synthesized by the ego.)

: Availability given The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacanor here

Seminar VI[iv] : 13th May 1959 : Chapter 20 : p251

Where is desire situated in this relationship which ensures that this x thing which in future we call man in the measure that he is the subject of the logos, that he is constituted in the signifier as subject …

  • Seminar VI : 8th April 1959 : p207

If we talk about this signifier, that the Other does not have at its disposition, it is all the same because it is – of course – somewhere.

I set up this little gramme for you so that you would not lose your bearings. I made it as carefully as I could, but certainly not to increase your confusion. You can recognise, everywhere the bar is, the hidden signifier, the one that the Other does not have at its disposition, and which is precisely the one which concerns you; it is the same one which makes you enter the game in so far as you, poor simpletons, since you were born, were caught up in this sacred logos business. Namely the part of you which in this is sacrificed, and sacrificed not purely and simply, physically as they say, really, but symbolically. And this is not nothing, this part of you which took on a signifying function. And this is why there is only one; and there are not ninety nine of them. It is very exactly this enigmatic function that we call the phallus which is here, this something of the organism of life, of this sprouting, or vital surge which you know I do not think should be used on all sorts of occasions, but which once it is well circumscribed, symbolised, put where it is, and especially where it is of use, there where effectively it is caught up in the unconscious, takes on its meaning. The phallus, the vital tumescence, this enigmatic, universal something more male than female and nevertheless of which the female herself may become the symbol, this is what is in question, and that which, because it is not at the disposition of the Other, that which, even though it is this very life which the subject makes signifying, nowhere comes in to guarantee the signification of the discourse of the Other.

In other words, though it may be sacrificed, this life is not given back to him by the Other.

It is because Hamlet starts from there, namely from the response of the given, that the whole path can be cleared, that this radical revelation is going to lead him to the final rendezvous. To reach it we are now going to take up what happens in the play Hamlet.

  • Seminar VI : 22nd April 1959 : p235:

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.

If with respect to the dead person, the one who had just died, something has not been performed which are called rites: rites destined when all is said and done for what? What are funeral rites? The rites through which we satisfy what is called the memory of the dead person, what are they if not the total, massive intervention from earth to heaven of the whole symbolic operation. I would like to have the time to do some seminars with you on this subject of funeral rites by way of ethnological investigation. I remember, it is many years ago, spending some time on a book which is a really admirable illustration of this, and which takes on all its exemplary value for us, because it comes from a civilisation distant enough from our own for the features of this function to appear really in a striking way.

It is the Li Ki, one of the sacred Chinese books. The macrocosmic character of funeral rites, namely the fact that in effect there is nothing which can fill with signifier this hole in the real, except the totality of the signifier, the work accomplished at a level of the logos – I say this in order not to say at the level of the group or of the community (naturally it is the group and the community qua culturally signified that are its supports) – the work of mourning presents itself in the first place as a satisfaction made to what is produced in terms of disorder because of the insufficiency of all the signifying elements to face up to the hole created in existence by the total bringing into play of the whole signifying system for the least bereavement (deuil).

  • Seminar VI : 29th April 1959 : Ch 19 : p245

We call this minus phi ( Φ), namely what Freud pointed to as being the essential of the mark on man of his relationship to the logos, namely castration, here effectively assumed on the imaginary plane. You will subsequently see the use that this notation ( Φ) will be to us. It will serve to define for us what is in question, namely the object, o, of desire, as it appears in our formulation of phantasy, which we are going to have to situate with respect to the categories, to the chapter headings, to the registers which are our habitual registers in analysis.

  • Seminar VI : 13th May 1959 : Ch 20 : p251

This is why it seems to me that we can legitimately formulate the hope that the reference to structure, a linguistic reference as such, in so far as it reminds us that there cannot be a symbolic formation if alongside, and fundamentally, primordially in every exercise of the word which is called discourse there is not necessarily a synchrony, a structure of language as a synchronic system. This is where we are trying to detect what the function of desire is.

Where is desire situated in this relationship which ensures that this x thing which in future we call man in the measure that he is the subject of the logos, that he is constituted in the signifier as subject … Where in this relationship as synchronic is desire situated? What I think will make you sense the primordial necessity of this renewal, is something we see analytic research becoming engaged in, in so far as it overlooks this structural organisation.

In effect at the very moment I articulated earlier the contrary function established fundamentally at the origin by the Freudian experience between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, could you not at the same time perceive that we are precisely at the point at which the theory tries to articulate precisely in the very terms in which I said that we could say desire is not composed. It is nevertheless composed in the appetite that the authors have to think and feel about it, in a certain fashion in a certain harmony with the song of the world.

  • Seminar VI : 21st May 1959 : Ch 21 : p265

This is what we are going to dwell on today. We are going to see what this formula of the phantasy involves in its general application. So we are going to take it, because we said the last time that it was in its synchronic function, namely because of the place it occupies in this reference of the subject to himself, of the subject to what he is at the level of the unconscious when – I will not say he questions himself about what he is – when he is in short carried by the question about what he is. Which is the definition of neurosis.

Let us pause first of all at the formal properties, as analytic experience allows us to recognise them, of this object o in so far as it intervenes in the structure of the phantasy.

The subject, we say, is on the brink of this failing nomination which is the structural role of what is aimed at, at the moment of desire. And he is at the point where he undergoes, as I might say, to the maximum, to the highest point, what can be called the virulence of the logos in so far as he encounters himself at the high point of the alienating effect of his implication in the logos.

This grip on man within the fundamental combinatory, which gives its essential characteristic to the logos is a question which people other than myself have to resolve in terms of what it means. I mean, what does it mean that man is necessary for this action of the logos in the world. But here what we have to see, is what the result is for man, and how man faces up to it, how he sustains it.

The first formula which may come to us, is that he must sustain it really, that he must sustain it in his reality, of himself as real; namely indeed with what always remains most mysterious in him.

  • Seminar VI : 1st July 1959 : Ch 27 : p344

If in this experience of ours of the logical subject we discover this dimension which is always latent, but also always present, which is sustained beneath every intersubjective relationship, and which is found therefore in the relationship of interaction, of exchange with everything which because of that is crystallized in the social structure, we must arrive more or less at the following conception.

It is that we will call something culture – I do not like that word, in fact I do not like it at all; what I mean by it are certain stories of the subject in his relationship to the logos whose agency no doubt was able to remain masked for a long time in the course of history, and it is difficult not to see in our own day – this is why Freudianism exists in it – the gap, the distance it represents compared to a certain social inertia.

The relationship of what happens between culture and society we can provisionally define as something which would be well enough expressed in a relationship of entropy. In so far as something of what is happening in culture is produced in society which always includes some function of disaggregation, which is presented in society as culture, in other words in so far as it has entered under different headings into a certain number of stable conditions, themselves also latent, which are what one cancel conditions of exchange within the flock – and something which sets up a movement, a dialectic, leaving open the same gap within which we try to situate the function of desire; it is in this sense that we can qualify what is produced as perversion as being the reflection, the protest at the level of the logical subject of what the subject undergoes at the level of identification, in so far as identification is the relationship which organises, which establishes the norms of the social stabilisation of different functions.

  • Seminar VI : 1st July 1959 : Ch 27 : p345

Sublimation as such, namely at the level of the logical subject, is where there is unfolded, established, instituted all this work which is properly speaking creative work in the order of the logos. And it is here that there comes more or less to be inserted, more of less to find its place at the social level, what is called cultural activity, and all the incidence and the risks that it involves, up to and including the remodelling, even the explosion of previously established conformisms.

  • Seminar VI : 1st July 1959 : Ch 27 : p345-346

And it is in the closed circuit which these four terms constitute that we can at least provisionally indicate something which should for us leave on its proper plane, on its animating plane what is involved concerning desire. Here we come to the problem which is the same, on which I left you last year in connection with the congress at Royaumont. [Details  Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan (here)  or The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan (here)]

This desire of the subject, qua desire of desire, opens onto the cut, onto pure being, here manifested in the form of lack. This desire of the desire of the other, is when all is said and done what desire is he going to confront in analysis, if not the desire of the analyst? It is precisely the reason why it is so necessary for us to maintain ourselves in front of this dimension on the function of desire. Analysis is not a simple reconstitution of the past, nor is analysis a reduction to preformed norms, analysis is not an epos, analysis is not an ethos, if I were to compare it to something, it is a narrative which would be such that the narrative itself is the locus of the encounter that is in question in the narrative.

  • Seminar VII : 18th November 1959 : p6

See Notes from p1 – 7 of Seminar VII from the 21-09-12 Reading Group Meeting

or here

P6: But I believe it to be important enough for me to point it out to you right away, and already sufficiently illuminated in my teaching, where I show the originality of the Freudian conversion in the relation of man to the logos.

  • Seminar VII : 25th November 1959 : p22.

See Notes on p19-27 of Seminar VII: 25th November 1959: Reading Group of 27th October or here

In these notes the definition of logos is given when commenting on p22. There is also a summary of Aristotle three categories of appeal in argument : Ethos, Pathos & Logos.

  • Seminar VII: 20th March 1960 : p179

What I laid out last time concerning the death of God the Father will lead us to another question today, one that will show you Freud situating himself directly at the centre of our true experience. For he doesn’t attempt to evade the issue by making generalizations about the religious function in man. He is concerned with the way in which it manifests itself to us, that is to say, in the commandment which is expressed in our civilization in the form of the love of one’s neighbour.

Freud confronts this commandment directly. And if you take the time to read ‘Civilisation and its discontents’, you will see that that is where he begins, where he remains throughout, and where he ends up. He talks of nothing but that. What he has to say on the subject should under normal circumstances make our ears ring and set our teeth on edge. But that doesn’t happen. It’s a funny thing, but once a text has been in print for a certain period of time, it allows the transitory vertigo that is the vital source of its meaning to evaporate.

So I will try to reanimate the meaning of Freud’s lines today. And since that will lead me toward some pretty potent notions, all I can do is ask language, what Freud would call ‘logos’[v], to lend me a measured tone.

God, then, is dead. Since he is dead, he always has been. I explained to you Freud’s theory on the topic, namely, the myth expressed in ‘Totem and Taboo’. It is precisely because God is dead, has always been dead, that it was possible to transmit a message via all those beliefs which made him appear to be still alive, resurrected from the emptiness left by his death in those non-contradictory gods whom Freud indicates proliferated above all in Egypt.

The message in question is that of a single God who is both the Lord of the universe and the dispenser of the light that warms life and spreads the brightness of consciousness. His attributes are those of a thought which regulates the order of the real. It is Akhenaton’s God, the God of the secret message that the Jewish people bears by reason of the fact that, by assassinating Moses, it reenacted the archaic murder of the father. That, according to Freud, is the God to whom the sentiment, of which only a few are capable, is addressed, namely, ‘amor intellectualis Dei’.

  • Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : p213

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[i], 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.

For a more detailed examination, please see Notes on Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : p212 to 214 : the barrier of desire : Reading Group of 8th March 2014 or here

[i]  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.

  • Seminar X : 21stNovember 1962

(This reference was found by Ilya Merlin)

pII 15 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : See Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan or here

Why, why ever since people have done science – because these reflections are concerned with something quite different and with much vaster fields that that of our experience – has one required the greatest possible simplicity? Why should the real be simple? What could permit us for a single instant to suppose it to be so?

Nothing indeed, nothing other than this subjective initium on which I put the accent here throughout the whole of the first part of my teaching last year, namely that there is no conceivable appearance of a subject as such except from the primary introduction of a signifier, and from the simplest signifier which is called the unary trait. The unary trait comes before the subject. “In the beginning was the word”, means: in the beginning is the unary trait. Everything that is teachable ought to preserve the stigmata of this ultra-simple initium which is the only thing which can justify to our eyes the ideal of simplicity. Simplicity, singularity of the trait, this is what we bring into the real, whether the real wants it or does not want it. But one thing is certain, it is that it enters, that it has already entered before us because already it is along this path that all the subjects who, for some centuries all the same, have been engaged in a dialogue and have to come to terms as best they can with this condition precisely that there is between them and the real this field of the signifier; it is already by this apparatus of the unary trait that they have constituted themselves as subjects. How could we for our part be astonished at finding its mark in our own field, if our field is that of the subject?

Press Conference in Rome : 29th October 1974

The Gospel according to St John: Chapter 1 : Verse 1:  as quoted in : Press Conference at the French Cultural Center, Rome (The Triumph of Religion) : 29th October 1974 : Jacques Lacan or here

M. Y. – (in Italian) translation: As far as I can tell, according to Lacanian theory the root of humanity is not biology or physiology, but language. However Saint John already said this: “In the beginning was the Word.” You have not added anything to this.

J. Lacan – I have added one small something. In the beginning of his Gospel, Saint John says “In the beginning was the Word” – I completely agree. But where was it before the beginning? This is the truly impenetrable mystery. Because he says “In the beginning was the Word” in the beginning of the Gospel According to Saint John, however there is this other item known as Genesis that is also vaguely connected with this thing, the Word. Of course this is countered by saying that the Word is something that belongs to God the Father and that we can recognize Genesis as being just as true as the Gospel According to Saint John by noting that God used the Word to create the world – a strange thing indeed, this Word!

In the Jewish Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures, it is perfectly clear why the Word was something that was more “before” the beginning than “in” it, because thanks to this, since it was before the beginning, God felt entitled to dispense all sorts of little seeds to the people whom he had given his little stocking stuffer to, like doling out seeds to chickens bit by bit – sure he taught Adam to name things, but he did not give him the Word because that would have been too much – he taught him to name things. Naming things is not such a big thing, especially because all these names are…(end of first reel)…

…meaning something that is truly on a human scale. That is all human beings ask for, that the lights be kept dim. We cannot tolerate Light (or Enlightenment, La Lumière) in ourselves. By the way during the Enlightenment nobody referred to light as such – they referred to Aufklärung. “Bring me a small lamp please.” That was already a lot, more even than we can tolerate.

So I for one am all for Saint John and his “In the beginning was the Word,” but this beginning was completely enigmatic. What this means is: Things only begin for this repugnant creature of the flesh that we still call the everyday man, things only begin for him, I mean the drama only begins when the Word gets into the swim, when the Word becomes, as religion (the true religion) says, Incarnate. It’s only after the Word is made flesh that things start to really take a turn for the worse. Man no longer looks like a dog wagging its tail or a courageous masturbating monkey. He doesn’t resemble anything anymore. The Word devastates him.

So of course I too believe this was the beginning. You’ll tell me I haven’t discovered anything new and it’s true, I never claimed to have done so. All the things I have worked on were pieced together from things I found here and there. And then above all, go figure, I have acquired a certain amount of experience of that sordid profession that is called psychoanalysis, which has really taught me a thing or two. And so I would say it would be better to say “In the beginning was the Cock” (“Au commencement était le Verge”), because one thing I can tell you – without the Word, which it must be admitted is what gets them off (les fait jouir), why would all these people who come to see me keep coming back? If not, that is, to buy another piece, of the Word? This is the angle I see myself from. It pleases them, they become jubilant. I’m telling you, without it why else would I have so many clients, why would they come so frequently, for years on end, can you imagine! It’s more or less like that. In the beginning of analysis at least, that’s definitely how it is. For analysis, it is true, in the beginning is the Word. If it weren’t, I don’t get what the hell we’d be doing there together in the same room!

Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst


[i] At the Reading Seminar VII group, on Saturday 30th November 2013, Julia Evans linked this use of logos to the beginning of the Gospel of St John, ‘In the beginning was the Word …’. Word was originally logos in the Greek, and may be translated as conversation. Dimitrios Poulikakis further commented that it is also reason. See Aristotle’s three appeals, given at the beginning. This is further commented on in the notes on Seminar VII given above.

[ii] Details of availability Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here.  The translation by Dennis Porter is given.

[iii] Details of availability Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here.  The translation by Dennis Porter is given.

[iv]  Details given Seminar VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here. Translation by Cormac Gallagher is given.

[v] At the Reading Seminar VII group, on Saturday 30th November 2013, Julia Evans linked this use of logos to the beginning of the Gospel of St John, ‘In the beginning was the Word …’. Word was originally logos in the Greek, and may be translated as conversation. Dimitrios Poulikakis further commented that it is also reason. See Aristotle’s three appeals, given at the beginning. This is further commented on in the notes on Seminar VII given above.

Further Information:

Got to categories in the right hand margin, click on categories & scroll down

Posts for the “B. Seminar VI : towards NLS in Ghent, 2014” category : Available here

‘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 VI: Desire and its interpretation: 1958-1959 : from 12th November 1958 : Jacques Lacan 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

Press Conference at the French Cultural Center, Rome (The Triumph of Religion) : 29th October 1974 : Jacques Lacan: Available here

Further texts

Of the clinic : here

From LW working groups : here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Jacques Lacan in English or here

Posts for the “Dreams” category : Available here

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

Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here

Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here