Fragments of an Analysis:
Lacan in Context
At risk of caricature, the received Anglo-Saxon image of
Lacan might be formalized as Freud + Saussure = Lacan
(2). The received formula owes much to one of the first
texts to introduce Lacan’s work to an English-speaking
audience, namely the translation of Althusser’s ‘Freud and
Lacan’: ‘Lacan would be the first to admit that his
attempted theorization would have been impossible were it
not for the emergence of a new science: linguistics’ (3);
Althusser’s presentation of Lacan is not, of course, as
crude as my caricatural formula; for this most subtle of
doctors the mystery of the incarnation is rather more
complex. The unspoken model operating in ‘Freud and
Lacan’ is that of the process of theoretical practice outlined in ‘On The Materialist Dialectic’ (4) the model of
Generalities. Saussure ‘works upon’ Freud to produce
Lacan. To risk caricature once more: the mystical marriage of Freud and Saussure gives birth to the monster
known as ‘Lacan’. The simplicity of the formula and the
theoretical obviousness of Althusser’s model mask certain
fundamental difficulties. Leaving aside the vexed question
of its supposed novelty, what precisely is the linguistics
that is being invoked here? Saussure, of course. Saussure
on general linguistics. But a curiously incomplete Saussure.
Lacan reduces the sign to the algorithm S/s and represses
the concept of the referent (though it might be argued
that, like most repressed material, it returns ••• in the
concept of the Real (5), forever excluded from discourse,
forever resistant to symbolization). Linguistics, if not language itself, is reduced to the binary phonemic opposition
mapped out in the Fort-Da game (6). A linguistics devoid
or innocent of semantics, syntax, morphology, etymology
••• a curiously abstract parent, even for this most immaculate of conceptions.
Althusser would be the first to admit that generalities, be they ever so correct or scientific, are not innate
in the mind and do not drop from the skies, that every
birth, even that of a monster, has its inscription. What,
then, is the inscription of Lacan’s work? To pose such a
question is not to look for a single point of origin or to
attempt to reduce Lacan to constituent elements via a
search for the sources and influences dear to literary criticism. It is to attempt to provide anchoring points for a
discourse that seems to hover in the rarified atmosphere
of pure theory, that appears to be as abstract as it is difficult of access. Above all, to attempt to contextualize.
The immediate context for Lacan’s earliest work is
the entrenched resistance to psychoanalysis in France and
the distortions of Freud perpetrated by the very individuals who claim to be pioneering French psychoanalysis.
The famous ‘return to Freud’ begins, that is, with an
attempt to turn to Freud in the first place. The Freud to
whom the Young Lacan turns is not, however, the ‘linguistic’ Freud of The Interpretation of Dreams: references
to that supposedly canonical text do not appear in the
Ecrits until the fifties (in ‘The Function and Field of
Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis’). It is the Freud
of On Narcissism: An Introduction and related texts who
provides Lacan with his first theoretical tools and helps
him erect the scaffolding of his concept of the Imaginary
(7). A major part of the Lacanian edifice is in situ long
before any encounter with theoretical linguistics. And
when that encounter comes, it is not with Saussure but
with a phenomenological theory of the sign. But perhaps a
more crucial encounter for the Young Lacan is that with
his contemporaries the surrealists, virtually the only group
in France to welcome psychoanalysis with open arms.
Their conception of language provides a parallel with
Lacan’s own and their linguistic practice may provide a
key to the mysteries of his famous ‘style’. Finally, the
surrealist cult of ‘convulsive beauty’ and the associated
pantheon of women killers parallels a major theme in
Lacan’s discourse from his very first writings to Encore
Ecrits (9) – almost a thousand pages in” the original
French, the product of thirty years of exploration and
theorization – born, so it would seem, intact from the
presses of Editions du Seuil in 1966 and swept into the
best-seller lists by the flood tide of structuralism. Born
but not created: a monolith. The volume opens with the
singularly opaque ‘Ouverture de ce receuil’ (1966) and the
text of the 1955 Seminar on Poe’s Purloined Letter (10).
After a brief survey ‘De nos antecedents’, a flashback
takes us back to ‘Au dela du principe de realite’ (1936). The
effect of this textual architecture is to mask the chronology of the collection as a whole. The monolith is completed by the Index raisonee des concepts majeurs lovingly
compiled by Jacques-Alain Miller, an index which transforms the hestitations of thirty years into the smooth body
of timeless theory, ironing out evolution and contradictions and producing a text to be studied in terms of its
presumed architectonic, never in terms of its history:
‘according to our concept of these Ecrits, it is best to
study them as forming a system’ (10. Miller’s index is
raisonne, as in catalogue raisonne: ‘the collection of the
complete oeuvre of the artist whose coherence as an indi…;
vidual creator by assembling all his or (rarely) her work
into an expressive totality’ (12). A curious fate for the
theorist of the split or decentred subject.
Ecrits, then, a source of authoritative, authorized
truths to be applied, the fountainhead of a new orthodoxy
applicable to everything from literary theory to feminism,
from film studies to the theory of ideology. A conceptual
apparatus to be applied, never to be dismantled, never to
be contextualized. True, a partial attempt at contextualization is made by Sherry Turkle in her Psychoanalytic politics (13), but it is constantly frustrated by the author’s
nostalgia for the heady days of May ’68 and by her curious belief that Lacan is in some senses an anti-authoritarian figure. So no doubt was Andre Breton, high priest of
surrealism and subversion, Breton who presided over at
least as many expulsions from the divinely anti-authoritarian presence as the ‘phallocentric prick’ – to use Jane
Gallop’s inimitable phrase – who summarily dismissed Luce
Irigary from the Departement de Psychanalyse at Vincennes
University when she dared to publish her Ce sexe qui n’en
est pas un (14).
Ecrits: A Selection (15), less than half the original
text, a selection made by Lacan himself. No explanation as
to the criteria for inclusion/exclusion is given: we are
simply assured that the selection is ‘Lacan’s own’. The
monolith is still flanked by that formidable index, but a
curious sea-change has taken place in mid-Channel:
raisonne is translated as classified. We no longer have a
catalogue. raisonne but a classified directory of concepts.
The armature is completed by a short glossary supplied by
the translator. Despite its evident utility, and even though
‘it is not intended to provide adequate definitions of concepts’ (16), the glossary cannot but heighten the sense of
closure, the feeling of theoretical claustrophobia: everything is indexed to Lacan himself or at best to Freud read
through Lacanian glosses (17).
Ecrits: a fortress hewn from the solid rock, all of a
piece. Only later are we permitted to explore the outworks of the multi-volume Seminar and then the primitive
stockade of a thesis first published in 1932 and which
remained invisible to all but specialists in Lacanian
archaeology until it was republished in 1975 – and even
then ‘not without reference’ (18). The publication of the
Lacanian oeuvre has taken a curiously inverted course
which does little to facilitate any reading of it.
Lacan insists again and again that the supposed unity
of the individual subject is illusory, imaginary. Is the
seeming unity of this fortress-text any less imaginary than
that of the child in front of the mirror? Are there no contradictions at all in this seamless text, no anchoring points
at all? Must it float in the pure empyrean of theory for
To return briefly to Althusser. There is no Young
Lacan in ‘Freud and Lacan’, merely the eternal, fetishized
author of the Ecrits. For an adept of symptomatic reading,
Althusser shows little sign of having looked at the shifting
meaning of certain terms – notably ‘sign’. Certainly, Lacan
refers constantly to language, signs and symbolization, but
it is not until the fifties that the reference to Saussure
becomes dominant (in ‘Function and Field’ and ‘The Freudian Thing’). Certainly, the word ‘sign’ appears in the earliest sections of the Ecrits, but a word is not a concept
(even though it may masquerade as such in Miller’s index).
After all, the word ‘alienation’ does appear in Capital, but
we all know the theoretical blood that has been spilt to
prove that it no longer has the connotations that cling to
it in the 1844 Manuscripts. Coupure epistemologique oblige.
Signs and Meanings
(1) ‘Au-deht “Principe de realite'” (1936)
‘Language, that is, a sign…. Before signifying something,
language signifies for someone’ (19). Given Ecrits’s marked
tendency to abolish or disavow its own chronology, it is
tempting to read Saussure into this, to project the entire
apparatus of ‘The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious
or Reason since Freud’ (1957) back across the years. But
one would search in vain for any sign of the ‘floating signifier’ in ‘Au-dela’, one would seek in vain for the famous
algorithm. Indeed, to attempt to do so would be to sin by
anachronisIl. The Saussure of the Course on General Linguistics is far from being a major reference in the France
of 1936. The ‘structuralist’ Saussure is not in the ascendant until after the Second World War and his rise to stardom owes much to the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty,
‘probably one of the first philosophers to take an interest
in Saussure’ (20). In the thirties, Saussure’s reputation
rests upon his work on philology – the very discipline that
will be discredited by the synchronic studies of structuralism (21).
The primary reference of ‘Au-dela’ is phenomenology
and the ‘sign’ invoked here owes much more to that tradition than to any· structuralism. By 1936, phenomenology is
finally beginning to infiltrate the Maginot line erected by
the protectionist neo-Kantians of the Third Republic to
defend French philosophy from barbarian incursions across
the Rhine, the major breach of the fortifications being the
course of lectures on Hegel given by Alexandre Kojeve at
the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes between 1933 and
1939 (22). Lacan was an assiduous attender and his dialectic of desire bears the mark of Kojeve’s reading of the
master-slave dialectic to the end. As no less an authority
than Julia Kristeva notes, what will come to be known as
structuralism owes a considerable if usually unacknowledged debt to phenomenology (23).
In ‘Au-dela’, language is defined as the ‘given’ of the
analytic situation, which is described in phenomenological
terms. Its central moment is the analyst’s recognition of
the intentionality of the analysand (a desire to speak
which s/he represses). Language is seen here as a structure governed by the intentionality of a subject, as a system of motivated signs which speak ‘for someone’ before
they signify something. These are not, then, the signs of
Lacan’s later work. ‘Au-dela’ contains themes that will
become more familiar in ‘The Mirror Stage’ and ‘Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis’, still perhaps the best-known and
the most accessible of the Ecrits, namely a theory of
images and of alienating identifications as constitutive of
the ego, but (1) those themes do not emerge ex nihilo,
being at least half-visible in the very earliest of Lacan’s
writings (as well as displaying a kinship with Kojeve’s
HegeI) and (2) they do not depend upon any reference to
(2) ‘Propos sur la causalite psychique’ (1946).
‘The word is not a sign, but a knot of signification’ (24).
Again, a deceptive reference. Lacan glosses his use of
‘sign’ not with a nod towards Geneva linguistics, but with
a bow to ‘my friend Leiris’, who excelled at ‘glossalogical
games’. Michel Leiris: poet, ethnographer and sometime
member of the surrealist group. Author of a curious text
entitled Glossaire: j’y serre mes gloses (which might be
rendered, if not exactly translated, as Glossary – where I
air my glosses), parts of which appeared in La Revolution
Surrealiste (the review published by Breton and associates
from 1924 to 1929), a longer version of which was published in 1939. Glossaire consists of a series of ‘definitions’ of words arrived at by a process of punning which is
at least as preposterous as Lacan’s verbal games.
‘PSYCHOANALYSIS: lapsus channelled by means of a
couch’; ‘PSYCHOSIS: hypostasis in question’ (25).
Compared with Glossaire, some of Lacan’s word play, such
as je pere severe (26) (‘I persevere/I, strict father’), seems
innocent indeed. Leiris in Biffures, the first volume of his
autobiographical La RegIe de jeu: ‘Articulated language,
the arachnid tissue of my relations with others, transcends
me, spreading its mysterious antennae in all directions’
(27). Or again, ‘But what is an “I” – a unique, isolated “I”
– without a “thou”, without a “we”, without a “hefit” gravitating around it?’ (28). Leiris is not being posited as a
source or even as an influence, but as a parallel. Parallels
may not meet, but they can be far-reaching and suggestive. The suggestion here being that there is no need to
look to Saussure to explain Lacan’s interest in language
and his ‘linguistic’ treatment of the formations of the unconscious. The example of Leiris and his exploration of
the pronoun “I” as being defined solely in relation to other
pronoun-functions suggest that the parallel reaches back
to a very different scene. And that at least some of the
tenets of what will become structural linguistics are already present in a very different discourse: that of surrealism. But before that parallel is pursued, mention
should be made of a negative determinant of Lacan’s discourse – the French Resistance.
The French Resistance (29)
In 1964, Lacan describes himself as always having been
alone in relation to the psychoanalytic cause (30). Nine
years later, still isolated, still alone, he coins the acronym
SAMCDA: Societe d’Aide Mutuelle Contre le Discours Analytigue (Society for Mutual Aid Against Analytic Discourse) (31). SAMCDA refers primarily to the International
Psychoanalytic Association, seen by Lacan as ‘revisionist’
in an almost classically Maoist sense, but its membership
is not restricted either in terms of history or of ideological space. indeed, its original membership includes the
self-styled pioneers of psychoanalysis, the founder members of the Societe Psychanalytigue de Paris (SPP, born
1926). In this context, the slogan of the ‘return to Freud’
can be seen as something other than a rallying cry in the
battle against made-in-USA ego psychology. Lacan’s polemic begins at home. Just as reading classical political
economy can provide some useful insights into Marx, the
negative example of SAMCDA’s early pronouncements on
Freud is a helpful backdrop to any reading of Lacan, not
least in that its pronouncements form a curious prelude to
the largely hostile reception given to Lacan by the British
In the beginning was the French resistance: ‘not
always understanding’ (Freud). ‘Among European countries,
FraAce has hitherto shown itself least disposed to welcome
psychoanalysis’ (33). The first line of resistance is the
defence and illustration of French culture, with the
damning accusation of ‘Germanism’ as a rallying cry. It
matters little that Freud is Austrian and that Vienna is
scarcely in the heartlands of Prussia: if the unconscious
can ignore time, repression can easily ignore geography.
From the Franco-Prussian war onwards it is taken for
granted that Germanism is the arch enemy of French or
‘Latin’ culture. For philosopher Emile Boutroux, prominent
on the theoretical Maginot line and no doubt an honorary
member of SAMCDA, ‘German culture really is a scientific
barbarism’, whereas ‘France represents a marriage
between a generous heart and a lucid reason’ (34). And
Freud? ‘Freud’s doctrine, which derives from Germanic
philosophy and not, as has sometimes been said, from the
French genius of Charcot, will find that moderation, the
inspiration behind the Latin genius, is a very useful adversary … ‘ (35)
The classic ‘llechanism of Verleugnung (disavowal) is pressed into service to deny that this is crude
nationalism: ‘Impartial independence from foreign influences must not be confused with xenophobia’ (36). The
last two quotations are not, as might be supposed, from
immortal members of the Academie Franc;;aise but from the
preface to the second edition of Regis and Hesnard, La
Psychanalyse des nevroses et des psychoses (1914), the
first full-length account of psychoanalysis to be published
in France and described by Freud himself as ‘an exhaustive presentation which, however, is not always understand-
ing’ (37). For the French medical establishment, Freud’s
doctrine is Germanic. The use of germanigue rather than
the more usual allemand is in itself symptomatic, connoting as it does a Germany of misty forests and barbarian
hordes, a suitable lair for the nightmare creatures of the
If psychoanalysis is to be allowed into the country, it
must first be Gallicized, castrated on the procrustean bed
of French rationalism. ‘Psychoanalysis has many merits,
but it is too obviously marked by Germanic philosophy and
system-building: if it is to make its mark in France it will
have to be considerably modified ••• it must abandon such
outrageous terms as “pansexualism” and “libido”, whoch are
offensive to a French ear” (38). Psychoanalysis must be
naturalized – such is the stated ambition of L’Evolution
psychiatrigue, the journal established in 1925 to ‘translate’
psychoanalytic theory and technique and ‘to adapt them to
the spirit of our race’ (39).
The accusations of Germanism are not restricted to
Freud himself. In 1938, Edmond Pichon, who combines the
improbable attributes of being a linguist, a psychoanalyst
and a member of the monarchist Action Franc;;aise, comments on Lacan’s article on the family in the Encyclopedie
Franc;;aise: ‘it seems to ‘TIe that M. Lacan has chosen to
dress up in a finery that is ill-suited to an intellect which,
in terms of hereditary and family and social background, is
French’ and objects to ‘an armature that combines sectarian jargon and personal pedantry’ (40). Lacan has caught
the Germanic plague. In retrospect, the irony Is irresistible: Lacan, now regarded as the epitome of all that is
Parisian in his pedantry, accused of Germanism!
The compulsion to revise is there from the beginning.
SAMCDA objects to the theory of the libido, ‘a concept as
obscure as it is untranslateable’ (41) and reduces it to a
variant on Bergson’s elan vital or to a genital instinct. The
very mention of infantile sexuality provokes howls of
moral outrage. Analysis is little more than a revamped
hypnosis; the interpretation of dreams is no more than the
ancient notion of a universal key to dream symbolism; unconscious forces are merely a tropism. With a prudery
worthy of Moliere’s precieuses ridicules, SAMCDA proposes
a wholesale bowdleriza tion of Freudian technical vocabulary. ‘Libido’ is too close to ‘libidinous’ for comfort and
must therefore be banished from French psychoanalytic
nomenclature (42): Pichon proposes that it be replaced by
aimance, a word as obscure as it is untranslatable, but
which might be rendered as ‘amativeness’. Psychoanalysis
itself must be renamed if it is to be adopted into the
national tradition: Hesnard suggests psychogonomie but at
least has the grace to apologize for ‘a neologism which we
are substituting for “psychoanalysis”, which Freud and his
school use arbitrarily and illegitimately to mean the psychological analysis of sexuality’ (43). In a final attempt to
ward off the plague, the name of Charcot is invoked like
some all-powerful mantra. SAMCDA blissfully ignores (or
represses) Freud’s radical break with Charcot after his
abandoning of the trauma theory of neurosis and argues
that ‘we might say that Freud’s studies take as their
starting point the research of Charcot and Janet, which is
based upon a search for the neurotic’s traumatic memories
and which leads to a sort of mental disinfection’ (44).
Thus Claude, professor at the Hopital Sainte-Anne and
Lacan’s mentor in 1928-1929. Claude, who allows Rene
Laforgue to give ‘analytic’ consultations at Sainte-Anne,
but whose considered opinion is that ‘Psychoanalysis has
not yet been adapted to the exploration of the French
mentality. Certain of its investigative methods shock the
delicacy of our innermost feelings and some of its outrageous symbolic generalizations which may be applicable
to subjects from other races do not seem to me to be
acceptable in Latin critical practice’ (45). Thus Claude,
who applies the vocabulary of pharmacology to psychoanalysis, fencing it in with contra-indications and incompatibilities as though it were some new chemotherapy.
What, then, will psychoanalysis be when it is finally
granted French citizenship? Quite simply an additional
tool in the hands of the medical profession, an adjuvant to
traditional therapeutic methods. A medical specialization
to be kept safely in quarantine, obtainable only on prescription. This at the very moment when Freud is coming
to the conclusion that ‘Doctors have no historical claim to
the sole possession of analysis’ (46). Jean-Pierre Mordier
summarises the main defence mechanisms marshalled to
protect the healthy French ego, one and indivisible, forged
in the image of the Republic:
(1) Psychoanalysis is a stage in the history of
(2) Medical doctors must regain a monopoly on psychoanalysis.
(3) The psychoanalytic concept of libido and of sexual
life in general is outrageous.
(4) The unconscious is not the ‘centre’ of the human
phenomenon. It is the conscious mind that constitutes
the human personality. (47)
The self-styled pioneers of French psychoanalysis
make no attempt to discover the specificity or even the
originality of Freud’s work. Psychoanalysis is allowed into
France on condition that it remains under house arrest in
the Faculty of Medicine, that it accepts its status as a
poor relation of classical psychiatry. Such is the theoretical background to the founding of the SPP in November
1926 (with a total membership of eleven). Such is the
backdrop to the publication of Lacan’s doctoral thesis, not
in itself a psychoanalytic text but one which is struggling
to find a theoretical basis that cannot be provided by
SAMCDA or the SPP.
The strength of the French resistance explains some
features of what will become Lacanian discourse: an insistence that analysts must (re)turn to Freud, to the letter
of Freud’s text; the foregrounding of the unconscious and
the libido; a theory of drives and desire; a sustained
assault on the healthy ego of Cartesianism, the very heart
of French rationalism. And above all a refusal to be kept
in quarantine in the Faculty of Medicine: one of the most
persistent features of Lacan’s work is its appeal to and
cooption of other disciplines, its rejection of medicalbiological essentialism.
‘Beauty will be CONVULSIVE'(48)
For the French medical establishment, Freud is a persona
non grata, an extremely undesirable alien. Translations of
his work are slow to appear: The Psychopathology of
Everyday Life in 1922, Totem and Taboo in 1924, The
Interpretation of Dreams in 1927, Jokes and Their Relation
to the Unconscious in 1930 ••• even today there is no
French equivalent of the Standard Edition or the
Gesammelte Werke. For a long time the SPP remains a
small, isolated group practising what is virtually fringe
medicine. As Freud himself is ruefully aware, the only
milieu in which psychoanalysis finds a warm welcome is
the literary salon. French literature has, of course, a long
tradition of psychological analysis and no doubt it seems
in some circles that psychoanalysis is directly descended
from La Rochefoucauld or from the Cartesian analysis of
the passions of the soul. For one group, however, it is
rather more than that: the surrealists (49).
The surrealists’ interest in psychoanalysis is far from
orthodox. To a large extent, they see it as simply another
weapon in their arsenal, another means to epater le bourgeois. Its therapeutic aims are the least of their concerns:
if anything, psychoanalysis is seen as a contribution to
what can at times be described as a positive celebration
of madness. Freud’s exploration of the unconscious is
greeted as a parallel to their own investigations of dreams
and hallucinatory states (50) rather than as a scientific
breakthrough. Thus, for Breton, Freud’s discoveries have
brought to light ‘by far the most important part of the
intellectual world’ (51). Despite the unorthodox approach,
despite Breton’s disappointment at discovering that Freud
was ‘a Viennese bourgeois of regular habits’ who showed
no ‘trace of the Bacchanalian’ (52) and despite Freud’s
total, if predictable, lack of interest in their work, it
would be difficult to deny that the surrealists play a role
in the popularization of psychoanalysis. Not least by stressing that it should not remain in medical quarantine: significantly, it is La Revolution Surreealiste that first publishes Marie Bonaparte’s translation of On The Question of
Lay Analysis in its October 1927 issue. And, as will be
argued here, surrealism has a major part to play in the
creation of ‘Lacan’.
Whilst the surrealists’ interest in sexuality (53) and
psychoanalysis is well-chronicled, their linguistic concerns
usually attract less attention. They are of course fascinated with word association, and that fascination sometimes
takes a surprisingly theoretical direction, as in Leiris’s
explorations of ‘the most hidden virtues of words, the secret ramifications which spread throughout language, which
are channelled by associations of sounds, forms and ideas’
(54). Or as in Rene Magritte’s early paintings, in part an
application of the proposition that ‘Everything suggests
that there is very little relation between an object and
what represents it’ (55). Whilst much of his work at this
time can be seen simply as an attempt to ‘make strange’
by juxtaposing incongruous objects and images, could it
not also be seen as a meditation on the arbitrary nature
of the linguistic or visual sign, as suggesting that there is
no necessary link between signifier, signified and referent?
This convergent interest in dreams, the unconscious
and language comes as no surprise, given that in 1924,
Andre Breton, the charismatic prophet of the movement,
defines surrealism ‘once and for all’ as ‘pure psychical
automatism which we propose to use in order to express,
verbally, in writing or in any other way the real workings
of the mind in the absence of any control exercised by
reason and in the absence of any aesthetic or moral preoccupations’ (56). It is in the context of this programmatic
declaration that Breton and Aragon celebrate hysteria as
‘the greatest poetic discovery of the late nineteenth century’ and as a ‘supreme means of expression’ (57). The hysteria in question is in many ways closer to Charcot than
to Freud: the celebratory text is illustrated with photographs of Charcot’s female patients in the Salpetriere and
strays into prurient speculation as to the nocturnal pastimes of patients and interns. More important is the insistence that hysteria – or any other form of ‘madness’ – is
not simply the obverse of sanity and reason. On the contrary, pathological phenomena and discourse are signi ficant and marked by the intentionality of the subject. For
the surrealists, they are productive of poetry: Eluard and
Breton attempt to simulate psychopathological discourse in
L’Imaculee conception (1930), one of the classic texts of
the heroic period of surrealism. And for the Young Lacan,
‘the lived experience of paranoia and the world view it
generates may be considered an original syntax’ (58), a
view which is much closer to Breton than to SA MCDA and
its ‘mental disinfection’. Over thirty years later, he will
still attribute a positive value to hysteria, defining the
analyst as a ‘perfect hysteric, that is without symptoms’
and maintaining that ‘the hysteric produces knowledge •••
forces the “signifying matter” to confess, and thereby
consti tutes a discourse’ (59).
Although virtually every history of the surrealist
movement records the fact that the Young Lacan did move
in the circle gravitating around Breton, the details remain
regrettably obscure. A reading of Ecrits, however, suggests that his discourse remains marked by his encounter
with the surrealist revolutionaries, both thematically and
stylistically. Symptomatically, of the forty or so French
(literary) authors cited in the same Index, almost half
belonged to the surrealist group at some point or were
claimed by the surrealists as their ancestors. The majority
of the other literary allusions are to classic authors –
Proust, Moliere, Madame de La Fayette – standard cultural
references of any literate Frenchman. Moreover, the
standard allusions and references are not to any identifiable group: those to surrealism most definitely are. And as
such they are highly significant. Lacan in 1966: ‘I feel a
great personal connection with surrealist painting’ (60).
And well he might.
According to one recent account (61) Lacan was introduced to Breton himself in the mid-twenties, but the
details are uncertain. Other evidence is more definite. In
1933, Lacan publishes two articles (one of major importance) in Minotaure, a luxurious avant-garde review published by Albert Skira between 1933 and 1939. Minotaure
provides a platform for many of the writers and artists
associated with the surrealist group: a somewhat unlikely
place, one would think, for a young psychiatrist to publish
material which draws heavily on his clinical research. his
doctoral thesis, not, apparently, too well received in medical circles, becomes something of a cause celebre for the
surrealists, a very favourable account of it being given by
Rene Crevel in Le Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution
(62), the more politicized successor to La Revolution
Surrealiste. But of all the surrealists it is Dali who is
closest to Lacan. Or is it Lacan who is closest to Dali?
Dali and Lacan, apparently introduced to one another
by Breton, are known to have been close associates in the
early thirties. A tenacious legend persists that Lacan’s
doctoral thesis is the primary ‘source’ for Dali’s
paranoiac-critical method, but whilst Lacan may provide
him with a certain a posteriori theorization, Dali appears
to have first used the term ‘critical paranoia: in 1929 (63).
The usage would therefore seem to pre-date both the
thesis and the research on which it is based. Equally tenacious is the story that Lacan’s early work on paranoia
owes much to insights gained during long conversations
with Dali (64). The latter version derives primarily from
Dali’s various writings and, given the author’s marked tendency towards mythomania, is unlikely to be totally objective. Ultimately, however, there seems little point in
speculating as to the vectors of possible mutual influences. What is more important is that in the early thirties
both the surrealist and the future psychoanalyst are working in similar areas and drawing similar conclusions. In
1935 Dali defines paranoiac critical activity as follows:
‘Paranoia: delirium of interpretative association permitting
a systematic structure. Paranoiac-critical activity: spontaneous method of irrational understanding based upon the
interpretative critical association of delirious phenomena
(65). Probably the best-known painting produced by paranoiac-critical activity is The Metamorphosis of Narcissus
(1937, Tate Gallery). The similarities between Dali’s visual
images and the Young Lacan’s interpretation of paranoia
are undeniable. The painting is characterized primarily by
its haunting reduplication of images: in the thesis, it is
the reduplication and repetition of images and identifications that provides Lacan with his first notion of structure
(66) (Dali’s ‘systematic structure’). For Dali, the images
produced by critical paranoia are characterized by their
immediacy; for Lacan the ‘fertile moments’ of paranoia
are exceptionally rich and acute delusional experiences
relating less to a loss of reality than to the sudden breakthrough to an original syntax. Yet again, Lacan displays
his surrealist birthmark.
The Metamorphosis of Narcissus is accompanied by a
poem of the same title. Without wishing to stray into the
mysteries of ‘sources and influences’, it does provide an
admirable commentary on Lacan’s mirror stage:
Narcissus annihilates himself in the cosmic vertigo
In whose depths
The cold, dionysiac siren of his own image
Narcissus, you are losing your body,
Carried a way and confused with the millenary
reflection of your disappearance (67)
For Breton, ‘the most basic surrealist act consists of
going into the street with a revolver in your han~ and firing at random into the crowd for as long as pOSSible’ (68).
Needless to say, no surrealist ever puts the maxim into
effect, but their admiration for those who appear to do so
is no less sincere for that. The cult of convulsive beauty
and the theory of the most basic surrealist act merge in
the adoration of a pantheon of female killers. Germaine
Berton, the assassin of Plateau (an Action Fran(;aise
leader), ‘an admirable woman in every respect’ (69) whose
photograph appears in the first issue of La Revolution
Surrealiste. Lea and Christine, the Papin sisters, who ‘inexplicably’ butchered their employers in Le Mans. The
patricidal Violette Noziere, ‘mythological to her finger
tips’ (70), the heroine of Breton’s 1933 poem and, much
later, of Charbol’s film. And one would-be killer, ‘Aimee’,
beatified by Lacan’s doctoral thesis and finally canonized
when extracts from her unpublished writings appear in
Paul Eluard’s anthology, Poesie involontaire et poesie
‘A real ladies’ man … (72)
Paris, April 10, 193*, eight in the evening
one of the best-known actresses in France, is about to
enter the stage door of a theatre when she is attacked by
an unknown woman assailant. The woman, later to become
known as ‘Aimee’, is a thirty-eight-year old railway clerk
with no previous criminal record. Madame Z. wards off
Aimee’s knife thrust with her hand, severing her tendons
as she does so. Aimee is overpowered by bystanders. In
police custody, she accuses Madame Z. and P .B., novelist
and academician, of spreading slander about her. She also
claims that threats have been made against the life of her
son. No charges are brought by the actress, but Aimee is
admitted to Sainte-Anne for psychiatric reports. Dr.
Truelle diagnoses paranoia characterized by delusions of
grandeur, megalomaniac tendencies and.a substratum of
erotomania, the latter revealed by Aimee’s curious attachment to the Prince of Wales. Aimee is observed by the
Young Lacan, who will later state that he was attracted
to the case by the ‘burning significance of his patient’s
unpublished writings’ (73). Lacan has found the Anna O.
who will take him to ‘the threshold of psychoanalysis’ (74).
Lacan’s doctoral thesis, based largely upon his observations of Aimee, is not a case history in any classical text
and is singularly devoid of the novelistic charm of, say,
Freud’s Analysis of a Phobia in A Five-Year-Old Boy
(‘Little Hans’). Indeed, no analysis as such takes place:
after her largely symbolic attack on Madame Z., Aimee
seems to have recovered ‘spontaneously’ and the prognosis
is good. The thesis is a cacophanous text which marks
Lacan’s move away from the classical psychiatry in which
he was trained to psychoanalysis, a text swarming with
references to everything from Aristotle to German criminological theory, from Plato to Freud. But three voices
gradually make themselves heard above the background
noise: the voices of Aimee, Freud and Lacan.
Aimee has literary ambitions. In her unpublished novels
and poems she dreams of a utopia: ‘fraternity between
peoples and races ••• the reign of women and children •••
dressed in white ••• the end of the reign of evil upon
earth…. All people will be united’ (75). Such are the
themes she tries to express in her fiction. Such is the
world which she hopes the Prince of Wales will help her
to bring into existence. But Buckingham Palace returns
her manuscripts with a polite note of dismissal. Aimee’s
writings have been rejected by one publisher after another
– and she knows that they have been plagiarized by other
writers. Dreaming of a utopia of universal peace, Aimee
lives in a dystopia of persecution. Her persecutors represent ‘the personification of an ideal of evil…. Her
self-representation, in contrast, represents an ideal of
purity and this makes her vulnerable to the actions of the
hated one’ (76). Aimee’s utopia and her dystophia are pro5
foundly symmetrical: they mirror one another. Mirrors,
recogni tion and misrecogni tion.
Prior to the incident on April 10, Aimee had never met
Madame Z., although she does claim to have seen her perform on two occasions. The actress is important only in so
far as she is representative of ‘Aimee’s image of a woman
who, to some extent, enjoys social freedom and power’
(77). In striking Madame A., Aimee is simply striking her
own ideal, the image of what she herself would like to be.
In a word, her ego-ideal (78). Hence Lacan’s diagnosis of
‘self-punishment paranoia’. And hence no doubt the spontaneous cure: once the ideal has been adequately punished,
the subject no longer needs her delusions. After her release from Sainte-Anne, Aimee is not heard of again. Nor
does she write novels and poems again.
Madame Z. is not the first incarnation of Aimee’s ideal
persecutor. The role was first played by an elder sister
who came to live with her and her husband, a sister whom
Aimee adored but who gradually became the dominant personality in the household, effectively becoming the mother
of Aimee’s child. A sister who, according to Aimee, turned
her husband against her. The role was then taken over by
MIle. C. de la N., a distressed gentlewoman with whom
Aimee enjoyed a close friendship for some time, the confidante to whom she confessed that she felt herself to be
masculine. The friend who first mentioned Madame Z. to
her. A sister, her closest friend, ‘the dominating woman
she envies’ (79), Madame Z.: ‘Each of the persecutors is
simply a new image, still trapped by narcissism, of the
sister our patient turned into an ideal’ (80). A systematic
structure organized around the representatives of a monstrous regiment of social superiors, actresses and writers
who ‘provoke murders, wars and moral corruption with
their boasting ••• all to procure a little glory and pleasure’
(81). And who, in doing so, provoke thirty-eight-year old
railway clerks to attack them with knives bought especially for the purpose.
Aimee’s choice of victim is significant, but Lacan’s
interpretation of it seems oddly close to a banal sociologism. Madame Z. is a star and her appeal is enhanced by
the ‘particularly abstract and inhuman nature of urban and
industrial work’ (82). In a different world, Aimee would
have chosen a different victim. In an atmosphere of moralistic fanaticism, she could, for instance, have become a
second Charlotte Corday (83). Could she also have been a
second Saint Theresa? And what if she had lived in the
small provincial town of Le Mans?
Le Mans, 1933. A thunderstorm causes a power failure
in the house of a respectable lawyer. When they return to
the darkened house, the lawyer’s wife and daughter begin
to berate the servants, Christine and Lea Papin, blaming
them for the blackout. The sisters have in fact been si tting quietly in the dark, not knowing what to do, waiting
for someone to come home. Suddenly, something happens,
something snape. ‘They each grab an adversary and tear
her eyes from the socket while she is still alive – something which is, they say, unheard of in all the annals of
crime. Then, using whatever comes to hand – a hammer, a
pewter jug, a kitchen knive – they fling themselves on the
bodies of their victims, smashing in their faces, exposing
their genitals, lacerating their thighs and buttocks and
daubing them with each other’s blood. Then they wash the
instruments they used for their atrocious rites, clean
themselves up and go to sleep in the same bed. “What a
mess!” That is the very formula they use. It seems to capture the tone of the totally unemotional sobering up that
comes after their bloody orgy’ (84).
The crime committed by the Papin sisters seems quite
inexplicable. Educated at a local convent school, they
have been in the lawyer’s service for six years. They have
always been good servants, if somewhat uncommunicative,
spending all their free time alone together in their room.
Without ever hearing of Breton, they seem to have carried
out the ‘most basic surrealist act’ to the letter. For
Eluard and Breton, writing in Le Surrealisme au Service de
la Revolution, they seem ‘sprung fully armed from one of
Maldoror’s songs’ (85). High praise indeed, Lautreamont’s
hero (86) being one of the major saints in the surrealist
calendar, his glory eclipsed only by that of the Divine
Marquis himself. If a motive has to be supplied, it lies in
the humiliations that the sisters allegedly suffered at the
hands of their employers. Le Surrealisme au Service de la
Revolution also publishes photographs (87) of the sisters
before and after the murders: the similarity with some of
the photographs taken by Charcot is striking. Fifteen
years after the event, Jean Genet will adapt the legend of
the Papin sisters to provide the central theme of The
Maids. A convulsive beauty is born.
—I-n prison, the sisters are separated, seemingly for the
first time in their lives. Christine begins to suffer from
delusions, tries to mutilate and blind herself and makes
the curious statement that ‘I really do think that in a different life I should have been my sister’s husband’ (88).
Neither sister even attempts to deny the murders and their
statements to the police are identical. According to the
?octor who examined them, they are ‘Siamese souls’ living
in ‘a world unto themselves: when you read their statements, you’d think you were reading double’.
Lacan’s analysis of the motives for this paranoiac
crime is brief and relies primarily upon Freud’s Some
Neurotic Symptoms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homose”Xl:la]:’
.!.!y. and the argument that paranoia is in part a defence
against repressed homosexuality: ‘This homosexual tendency can only find expression by disavowing itself completely. That disavowal provides the basis for the conviction that one is being persecuted and designates the loved
one as the persecutor’ (89). But he is clearly fascinated
by the case: the loving detail of his description of the
‘atrocious rites’ suggests rather more than a purely theoretical-diagnostic interest, as does the conclusion of the
article: ‘They tear out their victims’ eyes just as the
Bacchantes castrated their victims. The sacrilegious curiosity that has caused man anxiety since time immemorial
is the motivation behind their desire for their victims.
That is what motivates them to search the gaping wounds
for what Christine in her innocence will call the “mysteries of life” when she appears before the judge’ (90).
Siamese sisters living in a closed world, repressing
their homosexual love for one another (at least until
Christine’s surprising admission) ••• you’d think you were
reading double. A reduplication of the self and the other
(until the revelation that Christine and Lea are not the
same: they should be husband and wife, different). Their
victims? Mother and daughter, their employers, their
social superiors, doubtless something of an ideal for the
two poor servant girls. The women they see as their persecutors as they sit in the dark, waiting for someone to
restore the electricity. The whole atrocious rite takes
place in front of a mirror: it is just a phase (or stage)
they are going through.
Much of the cacophany of the thesis is taken up with
a very academic discussion of theories that might provide
an explanation for Aimee’s actions. But the references to
Freud gradually drown out the other voices. Which Freud?
The Freud of The Economic Problem of Masochism, Beyond
the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id, Mourning and
Melancholia, On Narcissism: An Introduction •.• the Freud
of the second topography of super-ego, ego and id. Not,
perhaps, the Freud we most readily associate with Lacan:
Beyond the Pleasure Principle, for instance, is cited, not
for the fort-da game which will later become such a locus
classicus of Lacanian discourse, but for its comments on
the super-ego and narcissism. This is the Freud whose
texts will be discussed at such length in the ‘Topic of the
Imaginary’ section of the 1953-54- Seminar and during the
1954–55 seminar on the ego. In applying these texts to the
cases of Aimee and the Papin sisters, Lacan begins to
elaborate his thesis that the ego is founded upon an alienating and originally narcissistic identification (91) with the
other, that it is an illusory identity founded upon a dual
relation with the other (Siamese sisters, no less). Nothing
is certain in the closed world of these convulsively beautiful criminals: Aimee is masculine, Christine should be her
sister’s husband. They strike others in order to strike
themselves. Aimee, Christine and Lea have brought Lacan
to the mirror stage, to the very threshold of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Sadly, there appear to be no extant photographs of
Aimee. It is tempting to imagine her as a reincarnation of
one of Charcot’s photogenic hysterics and to look for a
family likeness in the ‘before and after’ photographs of
Christine and Lea. Even to look for her reflection in the
haunted, haggard eyes of Germaine Berton. But it might
be possible to find her likeness elsewhere. In December
1933 Minotaure publishes a collage by Dali entitled Le
Phenomene de l’ecstase (92). The collage is made upof
photographs of women in a variety of ‘ecstatic’ poses, lips
parted, eyes half-glazed, limbs sprawling. Most of them
appear to be contemporary, although some are strikingly
reminisce”,t of the photographs used to illustrate the celebratory article on hysteria in La Revolution Surrealiste.
Aimee, Christine and Lea would not be out of place here.
Four of the photographs are of unidentified statues of
women, distant relations, perhaps, of Bernini’s St Theresa.
And, to parody Lacan in Encore, ‘they’re coming, no doubt
about it’. The question being why. Perhaps because they
are being watched over by Dali himself, who appears at
the top and bottom left of the collage. A male eye contemplating the phenomenon of female ecstasy.
Encore, the text of the 1972-73 Seminar, is, it is generally
accepted, Lacan’s most sustained attempt to come to
terms with Freud’s unanswered question, Was will das
Weib? (What does woman want?) (93). It is ‘Lacan’s most
direct attempt to take up the question of feminine sexuality, not just as part of a return to the earlier debate, but
in a way which goes beyond Freud’ (94-). To go beyond
Freud in the exploration of the ‘dark continent’ – an
imperialist metaphor if ever there was one.
Central to Encore is Lacan’s concept of jouissance, a
difficult concept, not least because of the translation
problems posed by its polysemy. A brief exploration of its
ambiguities and a digression may clarify it somewhat. In
legal terms, jouissance means enjoyment or possession of
property, rights or privileges. In a totally different register it can mean ‘bliss’ and its opposite, exquisite pain. Its
common slang meaning is ‘orgasm’, the verbal form jouir
being the equivalent of ‘to come’. In its Lacanian acceptation, the sexual connotations are somewhat different: as
Jane Gallop remarks, ‘You can have one or multiple orgasms; they are quantifiable, delimitable. You cannot have
one jouissance and there is no plural’ (95). The concept
functions as an absolute, always in the singular, always
accompanied by the definite article. It always retains its
ambigui ty: much of the first section of Encore is taken up
with a complex play of its sexual/legal connotations (96).
Indeed, the polysemy of jouissance seems infinite, its
ambigui ties endless. La jouissance de la femme could, for
example, mean ‘woman’s orgasm’ or ‘enjoyment of the
woman’, ‘having her’. Arguably it could mean both at
In ‘Subversion of the’ Subject and the Dialectic of
Desire’, Lacan himself points to a further ambiguity: the
imperative form jouis! (‘come!’) is phonetically indistinguishable from j’ouis, an archaic form meaning ‘I hear’ (97).
We have then a condensation of two verbal modes, an indicative and an imperative. And of two positions, coming
and listening. Phonetically, the two are one and the same.
You come, I listen. Your jouissance is my pleasure. You
come when I call out that I hear: you come at my
command. Encore transposes this ambiguous structure to
the visual register, the register in which, perhaps more
than any other, the image of woman signifies male desire
(98). Woman’s orgasm, enjoying a woman.
The cover of Encore is illustrated with a photograph
of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. The statue portrays
the saint at the moment of her ‘transverberation’, when
the arrow of divine love pierces her heart. As Lacan has
it, ‘she’s coming, there is no doubt about it’ (99). Throughout Encore, Lacan complains that women – not even
women analysts – will tell him what they want. And to
illustrate his text he chooses a photograph of a statue, by
defini tion silent, by definition unable to tell him anything. The historical Saint Theresa in fact had quite a lot
to say about her experience, but Lacan will not let her
speak for herself. She is doubly silenced, first by Bernini
and then, perhaps more decisively, by Lacan. We might,
then, legitimately ask Was will Lacan? You have only to
go and look at the cover of Encore to understand immediately that he wants to reduce the discourse of mysticism
to an iconography of the phenomenon of ecstasy. He wants
to watch and the image of the saint is the signifier of his
desire. He wants to see her come and silences her at the
moment of orgasm, petrifying her ecstatic moans. Is Saint
Theresa anything more than another icon of convulsive
beauty? In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of ‘the satisfaction of a woman who
knows that she is being looked at, on condition that one
does not show her that one knows she knows’ (100). That
is the role that is being thrust upon Saint Theresa: she is
called upon to act the part of a woman in the throes of
an orgasm provoked by his gaze. In the meantime, Lacan
himself remains silent, as silent as only a Lacanian analyst
can be, not speaking his desire. Encore does not provide
any way out of a scopic field dominated by male desire.
Nor does it break the silence as to the desire of the
Jouissance is always defined by Lacan in terms of a
beyond: beyond the pleasure principle (governed by the
economic principle of a return to equilibrium: the pleasure
principle is the brake on jouissance); beyond the phallus
(the signifier of difference and sexual identity); the beyond of the mystics. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the
text in which Freud first posits the existence of death
drives and argues that sexuality is bound up with death.
Beyond, to go beyond, to go too far, so far as to experience ‘that small death’, ‘the collapse that follows the
final paroxysm’ (101). Transgredior, to go across, to pass
over. The etymology of transgression. Of all French authors, it is Georges Bataille whose name is :nost readily
associated with transgression.
Towards the end of ‘On the Possible Treatment of
Psychosis’, Lacan makes a fleeting allusion to Bataille’s
novella Madame Edwarda. Bataille (1897-1962): librarian,
sociologist of religion, founder of the influential review
Critique, disciple of Kojeve, author and amateur of erotica
(or gentleman pornographer, as you prefer). Dissident surrealist, playing Trotsky to Breton’s Stalin. And, more
important, the author of a major essay on eroticism.
Bataille’s thought is fragmentary and complex in the
extreme and there can be no question of beginning to analyse it here. His theory of transgression will, however, be
outlined briefly as it has much in common with Lacan’s
jouissance: a further link with the surrealist past.
Bataille’s work on eroticism derives largely from Mauss on
taboo and transgression. The erotic is defined as being
totally distinct from the realm of reproductive sexuality,
going into the silence of that small death. Eroticism does
not abolish taboos: it transcends them in the sense of the
Hegelian Aufhebung (the influence of Kojeve is again
apparent). It is further specified as that which has no purpose: from the reproductive point of view it is dysfunctional, as is Lacan’s jouissance (103).
Eroticism is the
domain of violence, violation and transgression that lies
beyond the pleasure principle. The approach of the erotic
is signalled not by the thrill of pleasure but by the tremor
of nausea and disgust, indicators of its proximity to death.
A realm of convulsive beauty. It also has much in common
with the beyond of the mystics. In Madame Edwarda,
transgression, mysticism and eroticism come explosively
‘She was sitting with her legs apart, one leg raised.
She pulled at the skin with both hands to open the
slit still wider. Edwarda’s hairy pink “rags” stared
at me. Full of life, like some repulsive octopus.
I stammered softly,
“Why are you doing that?”
“Look”, she said, “I am GOD”.
“I must be mad”.
“No, look, you have to look”.
Her husky voice softened. She became almost childlike
as she said with the infinite smile of total abandon,
“I came, I came”.’ (104)
Encore (again) a man watches a woman coming.
Encore a woman comes as a man watches. Encore a
woman’s orgasm and enjoyment of a woman. No doubt
The narrator of Madame Edwarda remarks that it is
madness to say that an insane prostitute in a brothel is
God. But the text gives away his true meaning: it is not
Edwarda herself who is God, but her jouissance. As Lacan
asks, ‘And why not interpret one face of the Other, the
God face, as supported by feminine jouissance?’ (105). Why
not indeed? But why pretend that such an interpretation-
I am indebted to Margaret Atack for her comments and criticisms. Unless otherwise
stated, all translations from French are mine.
For example: ‘Lacan’s basic project is to provide a linguistic version of Freud••••
Clearly, Lacan’s work is a linguistic reading of Freud, especially drawn from “The
Interpretation of Dreams”,’ John Bird, ‘Jacques Lacan – The French Freud?’,
Radical Philosophy 32, Spring 1982, pp.7, 11. My emphasis.
Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (tr. Ben Brewster), London
1971, p.191. The translation first appeared in New Left Review 55, 1969.
Louis Althusser, For Marx (tr. Ben Brewster), Harmondsworth, 1969, pp.182-193.
Perhaps the most cogent discussion of the elusive concept of the Real is Stephen
Heath’s ‘Anato Mo’, Screen, Vol. XVII, No.4, Winter 1976, pp.49-66.
Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Standard Edition Vol. XVIII.
The order of images, visual or otherwise, and of identification therewith, typified
by the child’s identification with an image in the mirror. In terms of Freud’s topography, the Imaginary corresponds roughly to the instance of the ego, always defined by Lacan as being founded upon an illusion of identity and reality. The Symbolic, in contrast, refers to the order of language and culture and is analogous to
Levi-Strauss’s theory of culture as opposed to nature. In many ways it corresponds
to the instance of the super-ego.
Jacques Lacan, Encore, Paris 1975. Two sections have been translated by Juliet
Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (eds.), ‘Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne’,
Feminine Sexuality, London 1982.
Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, Paris 1966.
Translation by Geoffrey Mehlmann, Yale French Studies 48, 1973, pp.39-72.
Griselda Pollock, ‘Artists, Mythology and Media – Genius, Madness and Art History’, Screen Vol. XII, No.3, 1980, p.58.
Sherry Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics, London 1979.
Irigaray is quite clear as to the meaning of her expulsion: ‘Only men may say what
women’s pleasure consists of. Women are not allowed to speak.’ ‘Women’s Exile’
(tr. Couze Venn), Ideology and Consciousness No.l, May 1977, p.71. Jane Gallop,
Feminism and Psychoanalysis: The Daughter’S Seduction, London 1982, gives a good
account of Irigaray. Her ‘inimitable phrase’ is from p.36.
Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection (tr. Alan Sheridan), London 1977. References
will be given as Sheridan.
Sheridan, p. vii.
Similar comments could no doubt be applied to Ben Brewster’s glossary to For
Marx. Obviously, glossaries have their uses: the point is not that they are somehow
morally reprehensible but that they inevitably close the text in upon itself, giving
identification takes us anywhere but back to the cult of
convulsive beauty and the phenomenon/phenomenology of
ecstasy, to the enjoyment/orgasm of the infinite smile of
‘Lacan’ is not the product of pure theory and his work
does not exist in theory alone. It is, rather, the product of
a reaction against SAMCDA and of a crucial encounter
with surrealism, to which many of its themes and much of
its style can be traced. Nor is this work as systematic as
it may sometimes appear: the appearance of systematicity
is an illusion fostered in part by the architecture of the
Ecrits themselves, in part by presentations of Lacan. To
take the example of the sign. Lacan’s sign is, so to speak,
a shifter, referring now to phenomenology, now to Leiris,
and only latterly to Saussure. The increasingly sophisticated linguistic references of the later Lacan cluster
around a core that was established long before any
encounter with structural linguistics. The equation Freud +
Saussure = Lacan is premised upon inaccurate and anachronistic assumptions: it is invalid.
It is frequently argued (and increasingly assumed) that
Lacanian psychoanalysis has a contribution to make to an
analysis of the production of gendered subjectivity in so
far as it provides a theory of the insertion of the individual subject into culture (the Symbolic). As such, it is held
to offer the means of going beyond the notion of always-already given sexual identity. But that theoretical kernel,
always assuming that it does exist, is set in an irreducibly
phallocentric iconography of women. From his earliest
writings to Encore, Lacan’s discourse is populated by a
series of silent, ecstatic women who have at least as much
to do with a surrealist fascination with convulsive beauty
and female ecestasy as with any theory of gendered subjectivity. If the women are not already silent, they are
reduced to silence by the desire and gaze of. the analyst.
Until such time as the theoretical kernel is extracted from
the iconographical shell, its supposed value must remain
It should be obvious that such reservations do not
amount to the suggestion that Lacan is to be rejected out
of hand. They merely point to the need to go beyond these
fragments of an analysis.
it a unity that is sometimas more apparent than real.
18 The Seminar: Vol. XI, Les Quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Paris
1973, tr. Alan Sheridan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, London
1977; Vol. I, Les Ecrits techniques de Freud, Paris 1975; Vol. XX, Encore, Paris
1975; Vol.II, Le moi dans la tMorie de Freud et dans la technique psychanalytique,
Paris 1978; Vol.III, Les Psychoses, Paris 1982. The publication of a further sixteen
volumes is threatened. The Thesis: De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports
avec la psychanalyse, Paris 1932, 1975. References are to the 1980 reprint in the
‘Points’ collection and are given as De la psychose. ‘Not without reticence’: cover
note signed ‘J.L.’ to the 1980 reprint.
19 Ecrits p.82.
20 Roland Barthes, Le Degre zero de l’ecriture, Pais 1970, p.96. The reference would
appear to be to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eloge de la philosophie, Paris 1947.
21 Lacan’s reference to the etymological work of Bloch and Wartburg – ‘which I
delight in’ (Encore, tr. Jacqueline Rose in Rose and Mitchell, p.145) – suggests a
lingering interest in philology that is somewhat heretical for one of the stars of
22 The text of the lecture course was published as Introduction a la lecture de Hegel
(ed. Raymond Quneau), Paris 1947. tr. Alan Bloom (ed.), Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Lectures of the Phenomenology of Spirit, New York 1969. On the
importance of Kojeve see Vincent Descombes (tr. L. Scott-Fox and J.M. Harding),
Modern French Philosophy, Cambridge 1980.
23 Julia Kristeva, Le langage, cet inconnu. Initiation a la Iinguistique, Paris 1981,
24 Ecrits, p.166.
25 Michel Leiris, Glossaire in Mots sans memoire, Paris 1969, p.l05.
26 Lacan, letter on the dissolution of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris, Le Monde,
11 January 1980.
27 Michel Leiris, Biffures, Paris 1948, p.12.
28 ibid., p.74.
29 This section relies heavily on Jean-Pierre Mordier, Les Debuts de la psychanalyse
en France 1895-1926, Paris 1981.
30 ‘Actes de Fondation de l’Ecole Freudienne de Paris’, Annuaire de l’EFP, p.38.
31 Lacan, Television, Paris 1973, p.27.
32 Typified by Roger Scruton’s comments on Lacan’s ‘choked, bombastic and arcane’
style and his ‘tone of evangelical fervour and morbid self-involvement’ in his review of Sheridan and related texts, ‘Incantations of the Self’, Times Literary
Supplement, 11 August 1978, p.909.
33 Freud, On The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, Standard Editioin XIV,
34 Emile Boutroux, Pages choisies, Paris 1915, pp.48, 59.
Hesnard, cited, Mordier, p.l07.
Freud, ‘On The History … ‘, p.32.
Hesnard, cited, Mordier, p.159.
Cited, Mordier, p.220.
Cited, Catherine Ch~ment, Vies et h~gendes de Jacques Lacan, Paris 1981, pp.43,
Hesnard, cited, Mordier, p.241.
Hesnard, cited, Edith-Hesnard-Felix, ‘Le Dr. Hesnard et les debuts de la psychanalyse en France’, Europe 539, Mars 1974, p.80.
Claude, cited, Mordier, p.249.
Claude, cited, Georges Politzer, Ecrits 11, Les Fondements de la psychologie, Paris
Freud, On The Question of Lay Analysis, SE XX, p.229.
Andre Breton, Nadja, Paris 1963 (revised edition), p.155.
Perhaps the most useful overall survey of surrealism is Dawn Ades, Dada and
Surrealism Revisited, London 1978 (Catalogue to the Hayward Gallery exhibition).
Patrick Waldberg, Surrealism, London 1966 gives a useful selection of texts in
Breton’s Les Vases communicants, Paris 1932, for instance, chronicles his attempts
at dream interpretation. This volume also contains his brief correspondence with
Freud. Accounts of dreams are a regular feature in surrealist journals.
Andre Breton, Manifestes du surrealisme, Paris 1972, p.19.
Sheridan, p.276. In a letter to Breton, Freud admits that’ Although I receive so
much evidence of the interest you and your friends take in my research, I am not
in a position to understand clearly what Surrealism is and what it wants’, cited,
An interest typified by ‘Recherches sur la sexualite’, La Revolution Surrealiste 11,
March 1928, an open discussion of the sexual preferences of leading members of
the group. No women were present. For a discussion of the sexist parameters of
~~~~a:~~I~esearch into sexuality, see Xaviere Gauthier, Surrealisme et sexualite,
54 Michel Leiris, ‘Glossaire’, La Revolution Surrealiste, 3, April 1925, p.7.
55 Rene Magritte, ‘Les Mots et les images’, La Revolution Surrealiste, 12, March 1929.
Reproduced, Ades, p.201.
56 Breton, Manifestes, p.37.
57 Andre Breton and Louis Aragon, ‘Le Cinquantenaire de I’Hysterie’, La Revolution
Surrealiste, 11 March 1928. (Translation in Waldberg, pp.61-62).
58 Jacques Lacan, ‘Le Probleme du style et la conception psychiatrique des formes
paranoiaques de l’experience’, Minotaure, 1, February 1933, p.69.
59 Jacques Lacan, ‘Conference, Yale University 1975’, Cited, Stephen Heath, ‘Difference’, Screen, Vol. XIX, No.3, Autumn 1978, pp.55, 56.
60 Jacques Lacan, ‘Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any
Subject Whatever’, R. Macksey and E. Donato (eds.), The Structuralist Controversy,
London and Baltimore 1972, p.I72. This was Lacan’s contribution to the 1966 Johns
Hopkins symposium on ‘The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man’.
According to the editors, it was delivered alternately in English and in French and
at times in a composite of the two. This must rank as one of Lacan’s more classically surrealist performances.
61 Nicolo Geblesco, article on Lacan in A. Biro, R. Passeron (eds.), Dictionnaire
general du surrealisme et de ses environs, Paris 1982.
62 Rene Crevel, ‘Notes en vue d’une psychodialectique’, Le Surrealisme au Service de
la Revolution, 5 May 1933, pp.48-52.
63 Jose Pierre, ‘Breton et Dali’ in .Q!!!., catalogue to the retrospective held at the
Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1979-80, second revised edition, p.138.
64 Cf. paptrice Schmidt, ‘De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rap ports aved Salvador
Dali’, .Q!!!., pp.262-266. Dali does claim that the thesis provided him with a theoretical basis for his intuitions, allowing him to formulate the method more rigorously.
Jose Pierre suggests that the proclaimed debt to Lacan is perhaps a screen and
NOTES ON THE ANIMAL KINGDOM OF THE SPIRIT
Here is a puzzle for students of the animal kingdom of the
spirit: to what animal should Hegel be compared? As we
know, he himself liked to think of himself as the owl, or
sometimes identified with the mole (0. In Marx1s most famous reference to him, in Capital, he says that German
philistines treated Hegel as a ‘dead dog’ (2). This was not
the first occasion on which Marx had made such a comparison. My curiosity was aroused when I read in a book of
McLellan’s that in a latter of January 1868 Marx said
Germany treated Hegel as a ‘dead duck’ (3), while in a
paper of Meszaros the very same letter is quoted (from
Dona Torr’s translation seemingly) to the effect that Hegel
was a ‘dead horse’ (4)! What is this poor ghost: ‘dead
duck’; ‘dead horse’; ‘dead dog’? I turned to the German of
the 1868 letter in Werke and read ‘ein toter Hund’ (5) mysteriously metamorphosed by McLellan into a duck, and
by Torr into a horse! Nor is this all: another letter, of
June 1870, says that Lange and company are surprised
that he (Marx) takes seriously ‘the dead dog Hegel’, given
that – ‘poor deer’ (in English) – they buried him long ago
(6). I have not seen the holograph but I am prepared to
believe Marx’s spelling was shaky; as expected, the
English edition silently corrects to ‘poor dear’ (7); but the
solemn Berlin editor reaches down his dictionary and goes
on to inform us in his footnote that Marx had called Hegel
‘armes Tier’. Given that he has been such a difficult one
to bury perhaps ‘dead elephant’ would be the best choice.
that Dali’s debt is in fact to Freud’s Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical
Account of a Case of paranoia (Dementia paranoides) (SE Ill), a French translation
of which appeared in 1932.
Salvador Dali, ‘Conquest of the irrational’, tr. Waldberg, p.91. The Metamorphosis
of Narcissus is reproduced in the catalogue to the Tate Gallery exhibition of Dali
(1980), plate 156.
‘The function of the ideal revealed itself to me in a series of reduplications which
led me to a notion of structure’, Ecrits, p.66.
Reprinted in.Q!!!., p.287.
Breton, Manifestes, p.78.
Aragon, La Revolution Surrealiste, 1, December 1924. Photograph reproduced Ades,
Breton, ‘Violette Noziere’, 1933.
De la psychose, p.166.
De la psychose, p.253.
‘An agency of the personality resulting from the coming together of narcissism
(idealisation of the ego) and identification with the parents, with their substitutes
or with collective ideas. As a distinct agency, the ego-ideal constitutes a model to
which the subject attempts to conform’, J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis (tr. D.
Nicholson-Smith), The Language of Psychoanalysis, London 1973.
De la psychose, p.166.
‘Motifs du crime paranoiaque’, Minotaure 3-4, December 1933, p.25.
De la psychose, p.166.
—De la psychose, p.318.
‘Motifs du crime ••• ‘, p.25.
Le Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution, 5 May 1933, p.28.
Lautreamont: 1846-1870, pseudonym of Isadore Dicasse, best known for his Chants
de Maldoror (1868), a collection of prose poems ranging in tone from the blackest
of humour to gothic horror and expressing a total revolt against God and society.
Virtually nothing is known about Lautreamont himself.
Reproduced in R. Cardinal and R.S. Short, Surrealism. Permanent Revelation,
London 1970, p.48.
‘Motifs du crime ••• ‘, p.27.
Elsewhere, identification is described as ‘perhaps the most fundamental phenomenon to have been discovered by psychoanalysis’, Ecrits, p.141.
Reproduced, Ades, p.283.
The phrase comes from a letter to Marie Bonaparte, cited Ernest Jones, Sigmund
Freud: Life and Work, London 1955, Vol.2, p.468.
Jacqueline Rose in Mitchell and Rose, p.137.
Encore, pp.9 ff.
Cf. Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen Vol. XVI, No.3,
Autumn 1975, pp. 6-18.
Mitchell and Rose, p.147.
The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p.75.
Georges Bataille, L’Erotisme, Paris 1965, p.ll0.
‘What is jouissance? … a negative instance. Jouissance ts that which has no purpose’, Encore, p.l0.
Georges Bataille, Madame Edwarda, Oeuvres Completes, Ill, Paris 1971, pp.20-21;
Mitchell and Rose, p.147.
Philosophy of Right; Preface. History of Philosophy, Vol.3, p.553.
Marx’s ‘Afterword’ of 1875 to the second edition.
D. McLennan, The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx, p.112.
‘Marx “Philosopher”‘, in The History of Marxism, Vol.l, ed. E.J. Hobsbawm, following
Selected Correspondence, trans. Dona Torr, London, 1934, p.233.
Marx to Engels, January 1868, Marx-Engels Werke 32, p.18.
‘das sie – poor deer – ihn langst begraben haben.’, Marx to Kugelmann, Werke 32,
‘.t. that he – poor deer – had long been buried by them’, p.240, Marx and Engels
Selected Corresondence (1965 edition).
1 S sue
(see page 19)