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Historicism and Lacanian theory

In 1977 Luce Irigaray published a passionately
written article in the journal Critique, entitled ‘The
Poverty of Psychoanalysis’. The text is a richly
woven tapestry of diverse references and poetic
resonances, and merits a close reading. However,
rather than using Irigaray’s essay as an exercise in
textual analysis, I will use it here as a springboard for
discussing certain aspects of the relationship between
historicism and psychoanalytic theory. *
This relationship is evoked by the very title of
Irigaray’s text. This title, which Irigaray declared
would be incomprehensible to most of the analysts at
whom the article was directed, I alludes to the title of
a book by Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy
(1847). Marx’s work is an attack on the economic
doctrines of Proudhon, whom he accuses of ignoring
the historical relativity of economic categories. Marx
argues that Proudhon is guilty of one of the characteristic fallacies of bourgeois ideology: in dehistoricizing the ideas of his society, Proudhon
presents capitalism, not as a transient mode of
production, but as a universal feature of the human
condition. Refuting Proudhon with typical aplomb,
Marx states that ‘these ideas, these categories, are as
little eternal as the relations they express. They are
historical and transitory products.’2
In alluding to this work by Marx, lrigaray makes
it clear that her article will proceed along the same
lines. Indeed, the parallel is perfect. Just as Marx
criticizes Proudhon for his failure to realize that his
economic concepts were products of a specific
historical epoch, so Irigaray accuses Lacan and his
followers of ignoring the historical relativity of their
own theoretical constructs. According to Irigaray,
Lacanian analysts foreclose all questions relating to
the history in which psychoanalytic theory is
inscribed, as if this theory were ‘whole, absolute and
without any historical foundations’. In this way, like
Proudhon, Lacanians had conferred universal validity

on the social relations that characterized a specific
moment in history, thus becoming ‘the defenders of
an existing order, the agents or servants of repression
and censorship ensuring that this order subsists as
though it were the only possible order’. 3
In her references to Marx, .and specifically in her
attack on the ahistoricism of Lacanian psychoanalysis,
Irigaray must herself be inscribed in a historical
tradition within psychoanalytic theory. This tradition
goes back to the 1920s, when dialectical materialism
first locked horns with psychoanalysis. Before this
time, psychoanalysts seem to have given no consideration to the question of the historical relativity
of their models of psychic structure. In most of
Freud’s writings, for example, it is as if the'” dimension
of history had been suspended, so that it is easy to
see the model of the ego, the id and the superego as
an eternal Platonic form, a shining jewel invulnerable
to the vagaries of time. In so far as history is discussed, it is always in terms of a myth of origins
which anchors the unchangeability of the psyche in a
primal crime of biblical proportions.

In the first decades of this century, then, Freudian
theory seemed positively to invite a critique of the
kind Marx levelled at Proudhon. The Communist
Party was not long in accepting this invitation and by
1930 it had declared Pavlovian psychology to be the
only one compatible with dialectical materialism,
while psychoanalysis was accused of being a
bourgeois ideology.

It was not long before analysts themselves began
to respond to this accusation. In his pathbreaking
essay of 1932, Erich Fromm conceded that most
analysts had ‘almost completely overlooked the fact
that the family itself … is the product of a specific
social and … class structure’ and that in doing so
‘they had turned bourgeois capitalist society into an
absolute’. However, Fromm argued that the blame for
this ideological distortion ‘did not rest with psycho-analysis as such’ but with the bourgeois psychoanalysts who ‘did not utilize this method in a correct
way when they transferred it from the individual to
social groups and social phenomena’. When the
classical psychoanalytic method is applied ‘in a
logical way’ to social phenomena, said Fromm,
psychoanalysis and historical materialism are seen to
dovetail harmoniously. Historical materialism could
enrich psychoanalysis by bringing to light the economic conditions which influenced psychic structures,
and psychoanalysis could enrich historical materialism by providing ‘a more comprehensive knowledge
of … the nature of man himself’.4
Fromm’s great interlocutor, Herbert Marcuse, was
another writer to confront the problem of the historical
relativity of psychoanalytic categories. Like Fromm,
Marcuse regarded psychic structure as a relatively
mutable entity, changing in accordance with the
structure of society, but differed from Fromm in his
analysis of these changes. In his 1963 essay ‘The
Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man’ he argued that the structure of the human psyche had been
so affected by industrialization that Freud’s models of
psychic structure were no longer applicable. Primary
among the changes wrought by industrialization was
the ‘decline in the role of the father’, which led to a
‘shrinkage of the ego’, by which Marcuse meant a loss
of private autonomy and rationality.5
The questions raised in Irigaray’s paper are thus
hardly new to psychoanalysis. What is original about
her paper is the specific targeting of Lacanian psychoanalysis as the object of the critique. Whereas Fromm
and Marcuse address themselves to Freud, Irigaray
addresses herself to Lacan, explicitly denouncing
what she dubs ‘the Lacanian code’.

Irigaray is certainly not alone in representing
Lacan as an ahistorical thinker. As both David Macey
and Theresa Brennan point out, commentators have
tended to assimilate Lacan into the structuralist movement, thus neglecting the thoroughly historical dimension of his thought. Both Macey and Brennan have
attempted to remedy this misrepresentation, although
in different ways: Macey by setting Lacan in the
context of his own historical and theoretical background, Brennan by elaborating what she calls
‘Lacan’s theory of the ego’s era’.6
Brennan construes Lacan as providing the basis of
a new general theory of history to fill the void left by
the death of Marxism. She elaborates a notion of what
she calls ‘Lacan’s spatial dialectic’ to explain a
variety of phenomena ranging from urbanization and
the ecological crisis through to imperialism and war.

The crux of her argument, however, turns on what
she calls Lacan’ s concept of ‘the psychical fantasy of
woman’. Brennan links this concept to what she
describes as ‘Lacan’s theory of the ego’s era’ and
concludes that Lacan provides us with a way of
understanding modernity and its discontents, which
she terms a ‘social psychosis’. This, she argues, is
sufficient to rebut claims that Lacan is an ahistorical
thinker.7
Brennan’s reading of Lacan is not only highly idiosyncratic; it also gets a number of things wrong. It
was not Lacan, as Brennan seems to suggest, who
first proposed that men tend to split women into two
types, mother and whore, who are idealized and
denigrated accordingly, but Freud. 8 She also ignores
the most important texts in which Lacan discusses
questions of history, as I hope to demonstrate. Finally,
the phrases on which Brennan places so much importance, and which she attributes to Lacan – ‘the ego’s
era’ and the ‘psychical fantasy of woman’ – are in
fact nowhere to be found in any of Lacan’s works.

In the rest of this paper, I will attempt to defend
Lacan against the accusations of ahistoricism levelled
against him by Irigaray and others. In line with
Theresa Brennan I will argue that Lacan does in fact
engage in a profound and complex way with problems of history. However, whereas Brennan attempts
to develop a historical metanarrative on the basis ·of
Lacan’s works, I am more concerned to show how
Lacan stresses the historical relativity of psychoanalytical concepts. I will focus particularly on
Lacan’s discussion of the historical emergence of the
Oedipus complex and of the modern ego, before
presenting Lacan’s concept of the ‘lure of the alreadythere’ as a way of exploring the problems which beset
attempts by psychoanalysis to theorize its historical
bases. I will conclude with an attempt to situate
Irigaray’s paper in its own historical context.

The relativity of the
Oedipus complex
In his first work to address the Oedipus complex in
any detail, an article on the family published in 1938,
Lacan insists that the complex must not be understood outside its sociological relativity, which he
takes to be the context of the ‘paternalist family’.

Only a decade after the famous dispute between
Malinowski and Jones over the cultural relativity of
the Oedipus complex, Lacan clearly aligns himself
with Malinowski in arguing that the complex is
relative to a particular (patriarchal) social structure.

Referring to Malinowski’s research on the family

structure of the Trobriand Islanders, which is based
on a matrilineal system of inheritance, Lacan concurs
that it is impossible to speak of an Oedipus complex
here. Instead, he posits a different kind of psychic
structure, in which the embodiment of the authority
figure and the protective function in separate people
(the uncle and the father, respectively) leads not only
to the absence of neurosis but also to the smothering
of sublimatory potential and the consequent uniformity of cultural artefacts.9
According to Lacan’s argument, then, the Oedipus
complex is not an eternal aspect of ‘human nature’,
but only appears at a specific moment in human history. This moment is the moment of the passage from
matriarchy to patriarchy, and Lacan argues that this
is illustrated in the Oedipus story itself by the figure
of the Sphinx, a lion with a female face, whose defeat, he states, represents ’emancipation from the
matriarchal tyrannies’. The passage from matriarchy
to patriarchy is also the origin of written history. The
fact that these two events occurred simultaneously is
not, Lacan argues, merely fortuitous, but testifies to a
structural link. He takes up the same point again in
1946, when he writes:

I think that the Oedipus complex did not
appear with the origin of man (insofar as it is not
meaningless to attempt to write the history of this
origin), but alongside history, ‘historical’ history, at
the limit of ‘ethnographic’ cultures. It can clearly
only appear in the patriarchal form of the family
institution … IQ
Whatever one might think of this argument, it is at
least sufficient evidence that, from very early on in
his work, Lacan addresses the question of the
historical relativity of psychoanalytic theory. He does
not assume that the psychoanalytic emphasis on the
Oedipus complex is due to the essential importance
of this complex in the human psyche per se, but
argues that its importance is due to the fact that ‘the
Oedipus complex occupies a privileged position in
the present state of Western civilisation’ .11
Lacan takes a similarly historical approach to the
concept of the ego, in the opening lecture of his
1954-55 seminar. In this lecture Lacan argues that
the ego is a specifically modern form of conceiving
of self-identity which only emerged at a point in history ‘which we can locate towards the middle of the
sixteenth, beginning of the seventeenth centuries’.

Hence, while this concept may seem self-evident today, while ‘the man of today … may think that [this
conception of himself] is the result of a natural
inclination’, it is in fact an entirely cultural construct

that ‘comes to him from all sides’ .12 Similar notions
are put forward by Lacan in his 1938 article on the
family, where he mentions in passing that the ‘psychology of modern man’ arose simultaneously with
bourgeois society out of the economic revolution of
the fifteenth century. 13
This historical moment – the end of the fifteenth
century and the beginning of the sixteenth century is also linked with the origin of the modern ego in
another way. When Lacan discusses the history of art
in the ethics seminar, he lays great emphasis on ‘the
establishment of geometrical laws of perspective formulated at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning
of the sixteenth centuries’ .14 If this is linked up with
Lacan’s proposal that the ego is an illusion of synthesis based on an imaginary ‘point of convergence’, 15
this lends strength to his argument for positing the
origin of the ego at this particular historical moment.

It is clear from the preceding comments that Lacan
is attentive to the historical relativity of the psychic
structures identified by psychoanalytic theory. However, Lacan is not content to remain at the level of
this historical enquiry. What is even more interesting
to him is the problem of why it is so difficult for
psychoanalysis to theorize the historical bases of its
own concepts. When Lacan remarks that ‘[i]t is very
difficult for us to imagine that the whole of this
psychology isn’t eternal’, 16 he is immediately faced
with the problem of explaining this difficulty.

The lure of the already-there
The explanation that Lacan elaborates might be
designated, to borrow his own terminology, ‘the lure
of the already-there’. While this phrase is not exactly
Lacan’s, it is based on a similar phrase that he uses.17
Although the phrase is not used until 1966, it nicely
summarizes the ideas Lacan puts forward in the first
lecture of his 1954-55 seminar. It is here that, in connection with his thesis on the emergence of the ego
around the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lacan
argues that this makes the psychology of classical
antiquity impossible to imagine today. This impossibility is due to the fact that whenever we try to
understand historical figures (Lacan’ s example is
Socrates) we inevitably project our own psychic
structure onto them, even when this is unjustifiable.

We automatically assume that Socrates had an ego,
when in fact his sense of self-identity ‘was probably
not made like the ego’ . 18 In other words, once the ego
has appeared in history, and psychic structure comes
to be articulated around this particular category, it
becomes impossible to think outside it.

· .. we can no longer do our thinking without this
register of the ego which we have acquired over the
course of history, even when we are concerned with
traces of man’s speculation about himself at times
when this register was not pursued as such. 19
Whereas Brennan attributes this difficulty of thinking
outside the register of the ego to the historical blindness of the ego itself, Lacan’s argument is that the
tendency to eternalize present-day psychology is not
limited to the ego but also ‘applies to anything whatsoever, including the origin of the world’. For example, it also applies to language, since once language
has appeared ‘we find it absolutely impossible to
speculate on what preceded it other than by symbols’

which are themselves linguistic. 2o Lacan’s point here
anticipates by over a decade Derrida’s argument about
the impossibility of writing (like Rousseau) about the
origin of language. 21
Lacan thus seems to be proposing that it is a
general law of human experience that
When something comes to light, something which
we are forced to consider as new ‘” it creates its
own perspective within the past, and we say – This
can never not have been there, this has existed
from the beginning …. What appears to be new thus
always seems to extend itself indefinitely into
perpetuity, prior to itself.22
In other words, the tendency to transform ‘the
psychology of modern man’ into an absolute, which
Marx identified as one of the typical fallacies of
ideological thought, is seen by Lacan as a basic feature of all thought. However, this does not excuse the
psychoanalyst from constantly being aware of this
tendency. The analyst, Lacan seems to be saying,
must both be aware of the historical limitations of his
concepts and renounce any pretension to go beyond
those limitations. Lacan engages in what could be
called an ‘anti-critique’, in the sense that whereas the
Kantian critique is an attempt to theorize the conditions
of the possibility of thought, Lacan does the opposite:

he attempts to theorize the conditions of impossibility
of thought, to explain the impossibility of transcending
the historical limitations of thought, to account for fact
that ‘[w]e cannot, through thought, abolish a new order’ .23
However, as has already been observed, to
acknowledge the historical limitations to thought does
not excuse the analyst from being aware of precisely
what those limitations are. Lacan repeatedly criticizes
those analysts who are not aware of the historical
relativity of their theoretical constructs, and who claim
to have ‘access to a reality transcending aspects of history’ .24 The analysts at whom Lacan directs these criti-

38

cisms are, not surprisingly, the Americans, and Lacan
goes so far as to say that the whole of American culture is dominated by ‘ahistoricism’. Thus, for example, he slams Heinz Hartmann for producing a reading
of Freud which abstracts away the historical development of his thought. 25
In addition to these consequences for psychoanalytic theory, Lacan’s approach to history also has
consequences for political theory. While it is beyond
the scope of this article to explore these consequences, it is worth noting that the concept of ‘the
lure of the already there’ suggests a correlate, which
could perhaps be phrased as ‘the lure of the not-hereyet’. That is, Lacan’s admonitions about the dangers
of seeing the present in the past can equally serve to
warn us of the difficulties involved in imagining the
future. If every political project involves some
attempt to imagine the future differently, then Lacan’s
warning might seem merely to inhibit political action. However, this need not be the case. Rather, the
political implications of Lacan’ s approach to history
might turn out to have a surprisingly Foucauldian
flavour. That is, the impossibility of mapping out the
future according to some grand metahistorical narrative might lead, not to political inaction, but to a
series of intelligently fought tactical battles.

In the light of all this, it is clear that Irigaray’ s
criticisms of Lacan are not borne out by the evidence.

When she labels his work an ‘eternal discourse’, or
accuses him of existing ‘outside any historical
period’ ,26 she is ignoring whole portions of Lacan’ s
work. When she states that the concept of the symbolic
order is proposed (or imposed) as ‘a universal,
innocent of any empirical or historical contingency’ ,27
she neglects Lacan’ s profound questioning of the
historical relativity of the Oedipus complex and the
ego.

A pop-psychological response?

Are we to conclude, then, that Irigaray was unaware
of these aspects of Lacan’s work when she wrote her
paper? This seems highly unlikely, given the intimate
knowledge of Lacan displayed in the paper, not to
mention her long association with the Ecole
Freudienne de Paris. It seems more likely that she
was confusing the views of Lacan himself with the
reductionist interpretation of his ideas that had
become current among many of his followers in the
Ecole Freudienne by the late 1970s. In these years,
which were to prove the last years of Lacan’s innovative school, it seemed to some that the original
dynamism of the organization was being suffocated
by a growing dogmatism which reified Lacan’ s subtle
discourse, turning his teaching into a fixed and

immutable doctrine. Irigaray’s objections to this
dogmatism are understandable. What is not quite so
understandable, however, is why she should include
Lacan himself among those at whom she levelled her
charges of ahistoricism. Did she hold him responsible
for the errors of his followers? Did she think he could
have done more to correct their misunderstandings?

Was she unaware that Lacan had criticized on
repeated occasions the tendency of his students to
take his teaching as a timeless truth?

Perhaps we should be content to note these
questions without seeking any answers, falling back
onto the uncontestable notion that there will always
be lacunae in anyone’s knowledge. To adopt such an
approach would certainly have the merit of avoiding
the kind of pop-psychological response which explains
textual inadequacies by reference to the author’s
‘feelings’. However, one of the most interesting
features of Irigaray’ s article is that it seems positively
to invite this kind of response. The cryptic epigraph
which heads the article – ‘On Certain All Too Topical
Considerations. Juliette L.: In Memoriam’ – is an
invitation to look for an emotive subtext linking the
text to recent events. These recent events are explained
by Irigaray in a footnote where she states that she
wrote the paper in a moment of bitter sadness the day
after a friend and fellow member of the Ecole
Freudienne committed suicide. 28 Juliette Labin committed suicide on 4 March 1977, little more than a
month after being informed by the Ecole Freudienne
that she had failed in her bid to achieve the title of
Analyste de l’Ecole, the most prestigious category of
membership. The suicide triggered a wave of protest
among the members of Ecole Freudienne, and served
as a focus for the resentment that had grown up around
many other issues, including the problem of the perceived dogmatism of some of Lacan’s followers. 29
Irigaray herself spearheaded this wave of protest: in
the footnote to her text she lays the blame for Juliette
Labin’s suicide entirely on ‘the workings of the
analytic world’ .30 Thus the kind of pop-psychological
response which might explain Irigaray’s failure to do
justice to Lacan’ s historicism by reference to her own
‘deep sense of anger’ is actually invited by the text
itself.

However, at the same time as inviting such a
response in the epigraph and the final footnote, in the
main body of the text Irigaray anticipates this
response and refuses it:

No doubt your all too mechanical mode of listening
will already have found some interpretative palliative
to what I am trying to say to you. You will see it as a
‘desire for vengeance’, for ‘revenge’ against ‘my
father’ … Or perhaps you will read it as my inability
to accomplish the work of mourningY

Her response to the pop-psychological interpretation
of her text is to ‘laugh out loud for awhile’: not to
engage in any detailed argument, but to mock her
interlocutors, and to accuse them of understanding
things only according to pre-given schemas ‘which
really are far too partial’ and which support ‘the
phallo-capitalist-fetishist market economy’ .32 It is
almost as if, having accused Lacanian psychoanalysts
of refusing to recognize the historical context of their
concepts, Irigaray wishes to deny them the possibility
of inscribing her critique within a historical context
of its own.

Notes
* This is a slightly modified version of a paper originally given at the Second Annual Conference of the
Universities Association of Psychoanalytic Studies,
Sheffield, 20 May 1995.

Luce Irigaray, ‘The Poverty of Psychoanalysis’ (1977),
trans. David Macey with Margaret Whitford, in The
Irigaray Reader, edited by Margaret Whitford, Blackwell,
Oxford, 1991, p. 79.

Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), in Karl
Marx: Selected Writings, edited by David McLellan,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 202.

‘The Poverty of Psychoanalysis’, pp. 80, 82.

Erich Fromm, ‘The Method and Function of an Analytic
Social Psychology: Notes on Psychoanalysis and
Historical Materialism’ (1932), in The Essential
Frankfurt School Reader, edited by Andrew Arato and
Eike Gebhardt, Blackwell, Oxford, 1978, pp. 483-4,485,
490.

Herbert Marcuse, ‘The Obsolescence of the Freudian
Concept of Man’ (1963), in Critical Theory and Society:

A Reader, edited by Step hen Eric Bronner and Douglas
MacKay Kellner, Routledge, London and New York,
1989, pp. 235, 245. According to Jeremy Shapiro and
Shierry Weber, this essay was originally delivered as a
lecture entitled ‘The Obsolescence of Psychoanalysis’ at
the annual meeting of the American Political Science
Association in 1963. It was first published in Herbert
Marcuse, Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, Utopia,
trans. Jeremy 1. Shapiro and Sherry M. Weber, Penguin,
London, 1970. It is interesting to note the parallel between
Marcuse’s comments on the decline in the role of the
father, and Lacan’s comments, twenty-five years
previously, about the decline of the paternal imago,
leading to images of humiliated, divided and absent
fathers (Jacques Lacan, Les Complexes familiaux dans la
formation de l’individu. Essai d’analyse d’une fonction
en psychologie (1938), Navarin, Paris, 1984, p. 73).

Theresa Brennan also notes certain ‘parallels between
Lacan and the early Frankfurt school’ (Theresa Brennan,
History After Lacan, Routledge, London, 1993, p. 8), but
focuses on Benjamin and Adorno rather than on Fromm
and Marcuse. Peter Dews has also pointed out links
between the early Lacan and the early Frankfurt School,
but he opts to focus on Horkheimer (Peter Dews, ‘The
Crisis of Oedipal Identity: The Early Lacan and the
Frankfurt School’ , in Anthony Elliott and Stephen Frosh,
eds, Psychoanalysis in Contexts: Paths between Theory
and Modern Culture, Routledge, London and New York,
1995). Foucault makes a similar point to Marcuse, in The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, arguing that
psychoanalytic theories of sexuality and family structure
are out of date. However, whereas Marcuse argues that
Freud’s theories were accurate descriptions of latenineteenth-century psychic structure which only became
obsolete because of the massive social changes of the
twentieth century, Foucault argues that these theories
were already obsolete at the time Freud conceived them.

According to Foucault, by the nineteenth century power
was no longer organized around the concept of alliance,
as it had been before the sixteenth century, but around
the concept of sexuality. By reasserting the importance
of primal family ties, psychoanalysis harks back to the
pre-bourgeois organization of power, and thus reveals
itself to be, in the last analysis, a historical ‘retro-version’

(Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1:

An Introduction (1976), trans. Robert Hurley, Penguin,
Harmondsworth, 1990, p. 150).

6. David Macey, Lacan in Contexts, Verso, London, 1988;
Brennan, History After Lacan, p. 7.

7. Ibid., pp. 26-7.

8. Ibid., p. 9; cf. Sigmund Freud, ‘On the Universal
Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love’ (1912),
The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological
Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XI, Hogarth Press,
London, 1953-74.

9. Lacan, Les Complexes familiaux dans la formation de
l’individu, p. 66.

10. Jacques Lacan, ‘Propos sur la causalite psychique’

(1946), in Ecrits, Seuil, Paris, 1966, p. 184.

11. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book I: Freud’s Papers on
Technique, 1953-54, trans. John Forrester, with notes by
John Forrester, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
1987, p. 198.

12. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s
Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 195455, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli, notes by John Forrester,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988, pp. 7, 5.

13. Jacques Lacan, Les Complexes familiaux dans la
formation de l’individu, p. 69.

14. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book VII: The Ethics of
Psychoanalysis, 1959-60, trans. Dennis Porter, with notes
by Dennis Porter, Routledge, London, 1992, p. 140.

15. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book Ill: The Psychoses,
1955-56, trans. Russell Grigg, with notes by Russell

Grigg, Routledge, London, 1993, p. 36.

16. Lacan, The Seminar, Book II, p. 6.

17. The actual phrase used by Lacan is as follows: ’11 arrive
que nos eleves se leurrent dans nos ecrits de trouver “deja
la” ce a quoi notre enseignement nous a porte depuis’

(Jacques Lacan, ‘De nos antecedents’, in Ecrits). Lacan
is criticizing the tendency of some of his followers to
read his own writings ahistorically.

18. The Seminar, Book II, p. 7.

19.1bid.,p.5.

20. Ibid.

21. Cf. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1967), trans.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Johns Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore MD, 1974.

22. The Seminar, Book II (emphasis in original).

23. Ibid.

24. Jacques Lacan, ‘The Freudian Thing’ (1955), in Ecrits:

A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan, Routledge, London,
1977, pp. 119-20, my translation. I have used my own
translation here since, as Muller and Richardson note
(John Muller and William Richardson, Lacan and
Language: A Reader’s Guide to ‘Ecrits’, International
Universities Press, New York, 1982, p. 151), Sheridan’s
translation of this phrase actually inverts the meaning.

Rather than saying ‘these forms provide access to a
transcendent reality possessing the characteristics of
history’, as Sheridan translates, Lacan actually says ‘elles
detiennent l’acces a une realite transcendante aux aspects
de l’histoire’ (Jacques Lacan, ‘La Chose freudienne’

(1955), in Ecrits). This must surely be a classic example
of verschreiben, symbolizing not the historical
meconnaissance of Lacan but rather the desire of so many
of his commentators and translators to foreclose the
historical dimension of his work.

25. Lacan, The Seminar, Book I, p. 37; Lacan, The Sem./nar,
Book II, p. 147.

26. Irigaray, ‘The Poverty of Psychoanalysis’, pp. 92, 93.

27. Ibid., p. 94.

28. Ibid., p. 104.

29. Cf. Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co.: A
History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985, trans.

Jeffrey Mehlman, Free Association Books, London, 1990.

30. Irigaray, ‘The Poverty of Psychoanalysis’, p. 104.

31. Ibid., p. 102.

32. Ibid.

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