Saprographs: parasitical writings

‘ere the hour of the twattering of bards in the twitterlitter between Druidia and the Deepsleep Sea’ – James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Jouissance and the Constraints of Signifiance: Colette Soler on Sexuation and Sexual Difference




‘Freud did not hesitate to repeat Napoleon’s saying, “anatomy is destiny.” Lacan challenges this idea and advances a formula that seems to mark the end of any norm coming from nature: as far as being a man or a woman goes, “they”—subjects—“have a choice.” [. . .] Subjects identify so little with their anatomy that they are inclined to worry about their sexed being. The extreme cases of transexualist delirium or the luring games of transvestism are at one here with more common cases, in which someone wonders whether he is really a man, sometimes to the point of being obliged to show that he is. Meanwhile, another person is preoccupied with knowing whether she is a true woman and finds no better way to assure herself of this than the famous masquerade.

For a century, analytic theory itself has been confronting the problem of defining what makes a person belong to one sex or the other, for if anatomy decides one’s legal status, it commands neither desire nor the drive; the existence of perversions could already have made us suspect this a long time ago. At the beginning of the child’s life, anatomy is reduced to the presence and absence of the penis, which decides whether the baby is to be called a boy or a girl and how, in consequence, s/he is going to be indoctrinated. There must, obviously, however, be more than this simple opposition if a child is to be made a man or a woman. Now there is little chance that the gene for sexual normality is going to be discovered. Freud’s saying itself, contrary to what it may seem to suggest, does not advocate any naturalism. It refers, rather, to this fact of “denaturing” by language, according to which the natural difference between the sexes has consequences only by being submitted to the signifier; it has repercussions at the level of the “speakingbeing” only by passing through the twists and turns of discourse.’[1]

[. . .]

‘The term “sexuation,” which Lacan suggests, and the logical formulas that he gives for it in “L’étourdit,” identify man and woman, in the final analysis, by their modes of jouissance. The formulas of sexuation note and explain what we observe every day: the reign of the Other’s norms stops, it could be said, at the foot of the bed. As soon as what is in question is sexed bodies, the order inaugurated by discourse is unable to correct the denaturing of the speakingbeing; it has nothing to make up for this denaturing other than the phallic semblance. These formulas write the distribution of subjects between two ways of being inscribed in the phallic function; what is in question is nothing other than the function of jouissance inasmuch as, by the fact of language, it comes within the grip of castration.

A man is the subject who has submitted completely to the phallic function. Consequently, castration is his lot, as well as phallic jouissance, to which he accedes by the mediation of the fantasy. A woman, on the contrary, is anyone who has not submitted completely to the regime of phallic jouissance; she has access to an other, supplementary jouissance, without the support of any object or semblance.

This distribution, as we see, is as binary as that of the sex ratio, which, for reasons that we do not know, and until the situation changes, divides the species more or less equally, into male and female. According to Lacan, however, the binary quality of sex, far from being a simple effect of this natural division, depends on a completely different necessity; this other necessity is appended to the constraints of signifiance, and, curiously, reduces the artificiality of sex to the single choice between the phallic whole and not-whole.

The thesis therefore makes a strange homology emerge between two heterogeneous alternatives—male/female and man/woman—both of which can, however, be said to be real: one—that of the living sexed being—depends on nature and its recognized regularities; the other—that of the speakingbeing—is a matter of the logical constraints of language. Such constraints, which do not cease not to be written, are equivalent to the real in the symbolic.

[. . .]

The claim that we can choose between being a man or a woman does not depend, therefore, on any reference to free will; it means first of all that the two alternatives are not isomorphic and that what slides in the gap between them is all the discords, attested to by the clinic, between our “official” sex and erogenous sex. We can verify, indeed, that anatomy is not the destiny of Eros, although for each “speakingbeing,” it is a priori an injury. in other words, there are “men” and “women,” in our usual understanding of these terms, who are not men and women in the sense of sexed being—and thus there is a choice.

The term “choice,” however, remains paradoxical, in regard to the most common experience, which would attest, instead, to the rigors of constraint; subjects either recognize themselves so fully in their sexed aspirations that they suppose that the latter come from nature, or on the contrary, they feel so much that these positions have been forced on them that they live them out only as a symptom and in a state of pain. In both cases, if there is a choice, it is very much a forced choice: the choice between the phallic whole and the not-whole. In reality, the one who is designated as the subject, far from being the agent of this choice, bears its brunt.

In authorizing themselves as sexed beings, according to an expression from the seminar Les non dupes errent, subjects are constrained by the fault of the speaking unconscious. This is a curse! It is a misfortune, for the unconscious speaks the Sex badly, without our always noticing it, since we know that it is structured like a language, “by speaking so much, this heavy step (pas) that is said of it.” [Jacques Lacan, “L’étourdit,” p. 24.] The unconscious does not (pas) speak the Sex any better than does the phallic One, with its narcissistic adherence, which can say nothing of “what takes refuge from it,” [Ibid.]—nothing of the Other—who ex-sists all the more from it. Thus it is concluded that the unconscious is homosexual [This expression is Jacques-Alain Miller’s.]; this is another way of saying, as Freud did, that there is only one libido. Such is the curse that leaves the Other of sex foreclosed. The statement that “there is no sexual relation (rapport),” by which Lacan formulates Freud’s implicit saying (dire), means that in the physical sexual relation (relation) itself—despite love and desire—jouissance, as phallic, gives no access whatsoever to the jouissance of the Other.’[2]




‘Men and women, Lacan remarks, are real. No idealism has gone to the point of arguing that the division between the sexes is only a representation. Nothing, however, can be said of this real—the real of the sexed living body. Nothing can be said of it because of the “wall” of language; the real is outside the symbolic, but we deal with it, nevertheless, in the very precise form of jouissance.’[3]

[. . .]

‘We speak as a man or a woman, and we speak about difference because there are signifiers. We do not, however, know what difference is. Freud had already insisted on the fact that there was no representation of the masculine/feminine distinction in the unconscious. What we certainly see functioning is either the refusal to be a man or a woman or, more frequently, the aspiration to be a real man or a woman. There is no doubt, however, that what is aimed at in these cases, beyond what is imagined about men and women, is always only the phallus, in terms of having or being it. Thus we speak about men and women without being able to make any judgment of attribution about them.’
[. . .]

‘[. . .] when we say that they are different, we are not only designating a difference in the form of the body, we are also implying that they are different as subjects. We can imply this because the phallus is already a signifier that differentiates them. To grasp this, one only has to compare it with other anatomical differences: for example, having blue or brown eyes. A difference in being cannot be concluded from this difference in having. It is true that this is what racism, particularly Aryan racism, tries to do: to reproduce, on the basis of an anatomical trait, a difference as radical as that between the sexes. Such racists raise another anatomical trait—the Aryan or Mediterranean type—to the function of a signifier, a signifier in relation to which symbolic places could be apportioned.

It is thus because there is already the phallic signifier that we say men and women are different because we call them different, they are going to relate differently to the question of difference.

I am insisting on this in order to make you perceive Lacan’s effort at formulating a difference that is not a matter of the judgment of attribution, that is, does not operate according to the following form: men are this and women are that. This is the form in which all the ideologies on the question are deployed, and it always supposes, behind the attribution, the reference to a substance.

How then, on the basis of this single term, the phallus, do we obtain the apportionment of individuals into two superimposable halves— the “sex ration”—an apportionment that “does not become mixed up in their ‘coïteration’”?

The distinction between being and having he phallus, which, in “The Signification of the Phallus,” Lacan used to approach the division of the sexes, can be clarified by the use of propositional functions.

[. . .]

When one writes 2017-03-27 (3) (for every x, phi of x), the argument , before being related to the function, is, as Lacan says, totally undetermined. What allows it to be determined, and thus to be differentiated, is the modality inscribed in the quantifier 2017-03-27. Therefore, when one says, as Lacan does, that there is a universal for man, one can write “all men.” Man is completely in the phallic function and what must be noted is that it is not because he is man that he is in the phallic function; on the contrary, it is because such-and-such an undetermined x is placed completely in the phallic function that he can be called man. It is thus a conditional imputation. The signifier “man” will be imputed to every x that is completely situated in the phallic function; this leaves entirely open the question of knowing whether even one of them really exists.


Likewise, when one writes 2017-03-27 (2), there is no universal of woman, woman does not exist, women are not wholly in the phallic function, it is not because they are women that they are “not whole,” but if they are lined up on the side of the “not whole,” then they can be called women.

There is no essence of masculine and feminine and consequently there is no obligation, since anatomy is not destiny. Each of us is free, Lacan says, to line him/herself up on one side or the other; there is a choice for both sexes. If such is the case, it is meaningless to ask why discourse imputes to women the choice of lining themselves up on the side of the “not at all” (pas du tout), a choice that make them radically Other. We could indeed object that it is not because they are women that they have to situate themselves there, but only because they situate themselves there that they are called women.

It must, however, be remarked that we are not free to be indifferent to anatomy, for the signifier is linked to anatomy. An organ of the body makes manifest what the phallic signifier will represent, and because of this, individuals are called boys or girls before they take any position as subject. If there is a choice, it is one about which, at the very least, we have been given some strong advice. We could not understand in any other way the fact that the two halves of humanity can roughly be superimposed on each other as a sex ratio so that the reproduction of the species is continuing. This, indeed, was what had already astonished Freud, in a note to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he remarks that if there are only, as he has established, partial drives, it must then be explained how heterosexuality remains so general. It is certain, in any case, that since the signifiers “man” and “woman” are not unrelated to anatomy, the subject is going to be represented a priori by one or the other of these signifiers, and that s/he cannot choose not to confront them. The question therefore remains with us.


The “all” and this “not at all” represent two possibilities for the speaking subject, two sides of structure. In “L’étourdit,” Lacan asks what 2017-03-27 (3) means. It means that every subject as such is inscribed in the phallic function, and this is why he can also say that is women are not wholly (pas toutes) in the phallic function, they are “not not there at all.” [Lacan, Encore, p. 72.]

To define this Φx. and the phallic jouissance that it supports, I will use, among all possible expressions, the following one: the phallic function is the castration function that is due to lalangue. Because the jouissance of the body is organized by lalangue, it becomes something that is “outside the body,” anomalous and identical with the jouissance operating in the symptom. The signifier is the cause of jouissance, but it is also what makes it partial and irremediably exterior. The phallic function therefore designates the way in which the body and the subject are caught in lalangue.

What can be said about the not whole? If the phallic function is as we have just stated and if the subject is as Lacan has described it—that which is supposed in relation to the signifier, in the space between two signifiers—it immediately seems paradoxical to speak of a subject who would not be completely in the phallic function. Lacan relates it explicitly to the 2017-03-27 (5)[. . . .] This is because there is a gap in the Other as place of speech and this place always remains other, which can be formulated by saying that there is no Other of the Other, or no absolute knowledge is possible. Discourse cannot embrace something that would be a totality of knowledge. In other words, in the Other, there is a hole. What is designated here is an internal limit to the symbolic order.

[. . .]

There are [. . .] two aspects of the absolute Other: the Other which, as the place of the signifier, is barred, is always Other, and the real, inasmuch as it is absolutely other than the symbolic, which ex-sists to it. This double aspect seems implicitly to be present when Lacan speaks in “La troisième” of the jouissance of the Other, the jouissance that he calls impossible, and that is as much “outside language, outside the symbolic” as phallic jouissance is “outside the body.” The Other designates, first of all, the substance of the other body, and as body, it can only be hugged or destroyed, or a piece of it can be caught (ou en attraper un morceau). On the other hand, the partner’s real body symbolizes the Other as the impregnable place of the signifier.

To say that women are “not whole” is therefore to say that the signifier “woman” connotes what escapes discourse and makes present to us whatever is beyond what can be reached by speech. This beyond is certainly due to the symbolic structure and the lack that is inherent in it, but it would remain totally indeterminate if there were no real—here, that of the body—outside the symbolic. For this reason, the disputes about the sex of angels deserved to be called Byzantine. To claim to be a woman is thus to give body to an aspect of structure: to be, “by relation with what can be said (se dire) of the unconscious, radically Other.” The opacity of the real of the body (of the real by which a body enjoys itself [se jouit] and which is the most foreign to the symbolic as such) comes here at the place of the gap in the symbolic.

Why is it the feminine body that is called, by preference, to take this place and what does this imply for subjects?


Perhaps we should go back to the thing—the aspect of the real that remains foreign, outside the symbolic—the thing encountered, first of all, by every subject as the maternal thing. This is a bad encounter if it is an encounter at all, since it is that of the wall that cuts the speakingbeing from the real. Yet the mother, here, has a double aspect: she is both body and speech, the mystery of the speaking body, to repeat an expression that Lacan applies to the unconscious. The relation with the mother, indeed, is a double one.

On the one hand, it must be said that there is no jouissance of the body of the mother. There is certainly sonorous, olfactory, and tactile contact, but this body remains other, foreign, withdrawn into its internal opacity, which the specular image envelops. The child’s sadism seems to me to have no other meaning that that of designating the encounter with this first limit: one can try to cut, to gobble up, to smash the other body, but it remains other. This is what the child’s real and imaginary aggressions stumble up against, before the interdiction carried by discourse comes and puts an end to them. The inability to catch the maternal thing, the impossibility of incest with the thing, means that the subject can do no better than obtain pieces of it, bits of objects—breast, voice, gaze, and so on. The child sets up the partial drives, if, however, the Other allows him/her to do so.

Yet the mother also speaks [. . .] and in speaking, she provides the signifiers that organize the drives in the body. She sets up, with the dimension of the demand, those of desire and the phallic signifier: the dimensions of the very enigma of the Other. What must be emphasized, however, is that this enigma of her desire as articulated, at the horizon of which the 2017-03-27 (5) emerges, intensifies the enigma of the real of her body. Here again, we find the same superimposition as the one that concerns the “not whole.” It is essential to note that I am not saying that the real in itself is enigmatic. It is simply there, devoid of interest, beyond reality, which itself is constructed. The enigma comes from the symbolic. The real constitutes an enigma for the speakingbeing because the symbolic separates him/her from it. It remains therefore only as a limit, which can be imaginarized in the form of the container.’[4]


‘[. . .] the relation that a mother has with her child according to its sex: she gets jouissance differently from a daughter than from a son.

That the child plays the part of an “erotic thing” for a mother is what Freud located precisely from the beginning. Yet the child is evoked here as a signifier, caught in the “equation” of the little separable objects. This is the most obvious and the most general aspect of the mother’s feeling, but it does nothing other than emphasize how much the child is placed in a woman’s relation to the phallic function. I think that there is more, however, and that it is not emphasized often enough. Here, again, the signifier is incarnated, takes on a body, is knotted to the real, and because of this, the child—who is certainly the most integrated into the economy of the signifier—also makes present what most escapes this economy: the incommensurable real. S/he represents it all the more since s/he is a being who is still marked only to a minimal degree by the signifier and is quite close to “the organic night” [The expression is Michèle Montrelay’s.]; the child is still reduced to the mystery of the life of the body, between cry and sleep. In this, s/he can be [S/he can be, but is not necessarily this. What conditions this possibility should be examined.], for a mother, for a period of time, the persisting encounter with what concerns her most particularly as a woman: beyond the symbolic and the limits of all knowledge (tout savoir). In this case, the child, as a bit of the real, comes to symbolize for her mother the 2017-03-27 (5) itself. Precisely in this sense, s/he participates in her/his own division; for the mother, s/he is the Other that woman is for every subject. Perhaps it is also from the child’s status as Other that the mother gets jouissance.

In this respect, the situation is not equivalent for the boy and the girl. For the latter, there is an effect of intensification. To the extent that anatomy and the signifier, which is grafted onto it, place her on the feminine side, she becomes the external place, for the mother, of her own otherness (autreté) as a woman. Recent texts insist, once again and quite correctly, on what is interminable in the narcissistic struggle with the mother, on how one gets bogged down in an imaginary—or real—duel whose maddening effects (effets d’égarement) are obvious. Yet the identity of specular images would not be enough to account for this duel, which, indeed, also occurs in the father/son relation; it could not account for it if the feminine did not represent the Other, perhaps for reasons that I have tried to say. Here again, therefore, the imaginary is sustained by the symbolic, and, indeed, is sustained very precisely by the fact that the Other is always other and that thus, nothing can be said about it. Nothing can be said, except what Hadewijch of Antwerp says about God: everything that he is not, for he is beyond everything that can pass into language.

For women, to whom discourse imputes the task of representing this limit, there remains then, in the relation to the other, what I will call the fundamental “we” of the communication between women: the “we” of effusions and affinities, of the confided maternal secret that always calls for losing some phallic hope, which is what would distance the daughter from the intimacy of their silent jouissance and which would leave the mother to her solitude. Yet this is also the reverse side of the situation of being trapped and stuck in relation to the maternal figure; it is the enthusiastic “we,” the “we” of the confidence of being carried by what, for lack of another word, we call life. In other words, it is what carries the discourses along.’[5]



[1] Colette Soler, What Lacan Said about Women: A Psychoanalytic Study, trans. John Holland (Other Press: New York, 2006), pp. 175–6.

[2] Ibid., pp. 177–9.

[3] Ibid., p. 296.

[4] Ibid., pp. 300–5.

[5] Ibid., pp. 306–8.




‘Subterfuges and Juggling Tricks’: Marx on the Truth of Economic Theory


‘We assumed, on the occasion of its sale, that the value of a day’s labour-power is three shillings, and that six hours’ labour is incorporated in that sum; and consequently that this amount of labour is requisite to produce the necessaries of life daily required on an average by the labourer. If now our spinner by working for one hour, can convert 123 lbs. of cotton into 10 lbs. of yarn. Hence, during the spinning process, the cotton absorbs six hours’ labour. The same quantity of labour is also embodied in a piece of gold of the value of three shillings. Consequently by the mere labour of spinning, a value of three shillings is added to the cotton.

Let us now consider the total value of the product, the 10 lbs. of yarn. Two and a half days’ labour has been embodied in it, of which two days were contained in the cotton and in the substance of the spindle worn away, and half a day was absorbed during the process of spinning. This two and a half days’ labour is also represented by a piece of gold of the value of fifteen shillings. Hence, fifteen shillings is an adequate price for the 10 lbs. of yarn, or the price of one pound is eighteenpence.

Our capitalist stares in astonishment. The value of the product is exactly equal to the value of the capital advanced. The value so advanced has not expanded, no surplus-value has been created, and consequently money has not been converted into capital. The price of the yarn is fifteen shillings, and fifteen shillings were spent in the open market upon the constituent elements of the product, or, what amounts to the same thing, upon the factors of the labour-process; ten shillings were paid for the cotton, two shillings for the substance of the spindle worn away, and three shillings for the labour-power. The swollen value of the yarn is of no avail, for it is merely the sum of the values formerly existing in the cotton, the spindle, and the labour-power: out of such a simple addition of existing values, no surplus-value can possibly arise. These separate values are now all concentrated in one thing; but so they were also in the sum of fifteen shillings, before it was split up into three parts, by the purchase of the commodities.

There is in reality nothing very strange in this result. The value of one pound of yarn being eighteenpence, if our capitalist buys 10 lbs. of yarn in the market, he must pay fifteen shillings for them. It is clear that, whether a man buys his house ready built, or gets it built for him, in neither case will the mode of acquisition increase the amount of money laid out on the house.

Our capitalist, who is at home in his vulgar economy, exclaims: “Oh! but I advanced my money for the express purpose of making more money.” They way to Hell is paved with good intentions, and he might just as easily have intended to make money, without producing at all. He threatens all sorts of things. He won’t be caught napping again. In future he will buy the commodities in the market, instead of manufacturing them himself. But if all his brother capitalists were to do the same, where would he find his commodities in the market? And his money he cannot eat. He tries persuasion. “Consider my abstinence; I might have played ducks and drakes with the 15 shillings; but instead of that I consumed it productively, and made yarn with it.” Very well, and by way of reward he is now in possession of good yarn instead of a bad conscience; and as for playing the part of a miser, it would never do for him to relapse into such bad ways as that; we have seen before to what results such asceticism leads. Besides, where nothing is, the king has lost his rights; whatever may be the merit of his abstinence, there is nothing wherewith specially to remunerate it, because the value of the product is merely the sum of the values of the commodities that were thrown into the process of production. Let him therefore console himself with the reflection that virtue is its own reward. But no, he becomes importunate. He says: “The yarn is of no use to me: I produced it for sale.” In that case let him sell it, or, still better, let him for the future produce only things for satisfying his personal wants, a remedy that his physician MacCulloch has already prescribed as infallible against an epidemic of over-production. He now gets obstinate. “Can the labourer”, he asks, “merely with his arms and legs, produce commodities out of nothing? Did I not supply him with the materials, by means of which, and in which alone, his labour could be embodied? And as the greater part of society consists of such ne’er-do-wells, have I not rendered society incalculable service by my instruments of production, my cotton and my spindle, and not only society, but the labourer also, whom in addition I have provided with the necessities of life? And am I to be allowed nothing in return for all this service?” Well, but has not the labourer rendered him the equivalent service of changing his cotton and spindle into yarn? Moreover, there is here no question of service. A service is nothing more than the useful effect of a use-value, be it of a commodity, or be it of labour. But here we are dealing with exchange-value. The capitalist paid to the labourer a value of 3 shillings, and the labourer gave him back an exact equivalent in the value of 3 shillings, added by him to the cotton: he gave him value for value. Our friend, up to this time so purse-proud, suddenly assumes the modest demeanour of his own workman, and exclaims: “Have I myself not worked? Have I not performed the labour of superintendence and of overlooking the spinner? And does not this labour, too, create value?” His overlooker and his manager try to hide their smiles. Meanwhile, after a hearty laugh, he re-assumes his usual mien. Though he chanted to us the whole creed of the economists, in reality, he says, he would not give a brass farthing for it. He leaves this and all such like subterfuges and juggling tricks to the professors of Political Economy, who are paid for it. He himself is a practical man; and though he does not always consider what he says outside his business, yet in his business he knows what he is about.’




(Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, trans. Samuel Moore & Edward Aveling [Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2008], pp. 124–27)

Lacan’s Reading of the Case of ‘Little Hans’ and the Failure of the ‘Paternal Metaphor’






I am uneasy with some of the emphasis placed on the so-called ‘later Lacan,’[1] not for any reason to do with the relevance or substance of the work, not because I think that the later Lacan has nothing to offer or lacks significance – far from it. My unease arises from a certain emphasis and a fear that a hastiness in interpretation and indexation may do us more harm than good. Let me try to express what I refer to by this term emphasis.

To state it in rather broad brush strokes, there is an emphasis placed on the later Lacan that is to do with the following: more and more we live in a society where the failure of the symbolic, and, with this a greater reliance on the imaginary, is producing subjects which require analytic approaches which are not available in the ‘classical’ clinic; more and more the analyst is faced with subjects who have found no bearing in the Name-of-the-Father and thus are faced with a symptom which cannot be easily indexed by their relation to the aforementioned metaphorisation, or subjects who, where the paternal metaphor is not to be found as a function, their recourse to, say, the imaginary has served some constructive purpose. Thus, we can orient ourselves with terms and formulations presented in the later Lacan, e.g., the pluralisation of the Name(s)-of-the-Father, the sinthome, in order to comprehend how certain knottings of the RSI take place. With such a perspective we are able to comprehend the phenomena of our times where the symbolic seems to be failing – at least in its universalising function – and  a greater contingency dominates and problematises the paradigmatic differential clinic of neurosis (repression)-psychosis (foreclosure).[2]

This account of what we are faced with in terms of subjectivisation in a post-Lacan epoch is expressed eloquently by David Ferraro in a recent piece. In elaborating on Lacan’s move toward the topology of the Borromean knot, he writes that one of the factors determining this move was ‘the decline of the myth of Oedipus’ and ‘the attendent pluralisation of the Names of the Father.’ Expanding on this, he writes:


As many analysts have noted, the period since Lacan’s passing has been marked by a precipitous decline in paternal authority, and in the efficacy of the symbolic register more generally. Thus, even when one is dealing clinically with a neurosis, the Name of the Father at stake may not be that of the symptom, which is coextensive with repression, but with other names, such as anxiety, inhibition, ‘depression’, addiction, all of which appear to be on the increase, from the polyphobics to the polyaddicts, from the pan- and asexuals to the hikikomori of Japan. In these conditions, the neurotic subject can be struggling to even reach a point of desire, repressed or otherwise, and certainly may be in need of stabilisation.[3]


Now, turning to the develops in the later Lacan which proffer the material that will enable analysts to approach and respond to an analysand in their particularity is obviously not something that deserves criticism. It is notions pertaining to the later Lacan which go well beyond considerations like the above, notions which do not seem to comprehend the last period of Lacan’s teaching as a (further) development of his teaching as such and which seem to take the material and focus in the later Lacan as unprecedented. With this, too, there is often a perspective which takes the later Lacan as a break with his earlier teaching, if not invalidating it then bracketing it as entirely relative to an earlier epoch. From such a perspective, the clinic of neurosis is shattered and, with the break and radical reconsideration of the psychoanalytic field the later Lacan presents us, we are left with radical particularity and relativity and, perhaps, the child of the later Lacan born by the son-in-law: the clinic of ordinary psychosis. And with this, the last period of Lacan’s teaching is where absolute particularity and relativism is found – nothing can be reduced to a general structure per se (and structuralism no longer has such a firm grasp on our understanding of things) – and all the joys that such particularity and relativism brings.

It is not my intention to argue contra particularity, relativism, or singularity. My point is to say that this emphasis on the later Lacan is partially misplaced. What is being taken as general developments in Lacan in the last period of his teaching are in fact overriding principles and elements throughout his entire oeuvre. As unexciting as it may seem, I believe our consideration should be directed not by notions of a radical break but by progressive developments within a more or less coherent body of work. Indeed, a lot of the generalities, arrived at through certain developments in the later Lacan, often highlighted are in fact elements with a long history extending back to the earliest period of Lacan’s engagement with psychoanalysis (and psychiatry). Let me give some specific examples so that what this means becomes clear.

Observe what are, according to Véroinque Vorus and Bogdan Wolf, the fundamental points of emphasis in the evaluation of the clinical importance of the last period of Lacan’s teaching. We are told that this last period of Lacan’s teaching ‘casts a new light on the differential clinic […] indexed on the Name-of-the-Father (repressed in neurosis, foreclosed in psychosis)’ and Lacan’s teaching ‘begins to orient itself on the ground common to both structures,’ i.e., on jouissance, ‘on jouissance as it is ciphered in the subject’s discourse’; this has the benefit of foregrounding ‘singularity and so dignity’ where subjects are ‘neither deficient nor helpless victims of their family circumstances’ and where ‘the symptom is thus neither to be removed nor to be cured, for the symptom is a real invention of the subject that anchors him or her in language.’[4] Now, I am sceptical about the generalisability of the failure of the paternal function for neurosis in our post-Lacan age, but this aside, does it really take more than twenty years of teaching for Lacan to, via reformulation, provide the subject with singularity and dignity, or for Lacan to consider the subject as something other than either deficient or a victim? These are notions operating in Lacan’s earliest work and throughout, at least in my reading. Likewise with the non-curability of the symptom and the ciphering of jouissance – there are various ways in which the subject’s relation to the symptom can be transformed which, depending on the particularity of the analysand, will be necessary as per their suffering, or taken into consideration as per the question of that which serves as an anchor for the subject, so we have a further development in the later Lacan, but the notion of the cure as normativisation was expunged from day one. And the way in which jouissance is a problem for the subject or the way in which jouissance is ciphered as important in the analytic situation is not a new element introduced in the later Lacan, it is further developed in the later Lacan. Further:


Lacan’s later teaching also foregrounds the dignity of the psychotic subject. For where the Oedipal clinic as good as excluded psychosis from the realm of psychoanalysis (Freud thought that analysis was not suitable for psychotic subjects), Lacan’s work in the last period of his teaching shows that, on the contrary, psychotic subjects have much to expect from the analytic treatment once it is understood that psychosis is not an irredeemable deficiency but rather another form of subjective organization.[5]


Again, is it really the case that this notion is only introduced by Lacan after the twentieth seminar? Or is it the case that such a position in regards to psychosis was highlighted in the earliest of Lacan’s work (even prior to Lacan’s ‘conversion’ to psychoanalysis as such he had tasked himself with granting dignity to psychotic subjects) and he was, not just in Seminar III and ‘On a Question…’ but throughout his teaching, providing analysts with the means to never turn away from psychosis? (Let me parenthetically indicate here that I am not convinced of the clinical necessity of ‘ordinary psychosis’ – is not the conception of psychosis in Lacan adequate to account for this on its own terms?)

I am not disagreeing with the thought that the later Lacan has something to offer. My point is that the emphasis is partially misplaced and, moreover, we should be comfortable with saying that the later Lacan offers further develops in his teaching, further develops that are in line with rather than a departure from all that has preceded it, even if this doesn’t grab one as exciting compared to the idea of a radical break.

In order to further highlight why I think it is better to conceive of  things in line with progressive developments, I want to now turn to the notion of, in neurosis, the function of support the imaginary can play when some kind failure in the symbolic is present. Far from being unique to the last period of Lacan’s teaching, this is central to the way in which Lacan approaches the particularity of subjective formation as early as Seminar IV. So let us now turn to Seminar IV in order to illustrate this point.


The latter half of Lacan’s Seminar IV: La relation d’objet et les structures freudienne (1956–57)[6] is devoted to a reading of the Little Hans case in Freud.[7] There are two points of interpretation on Lacan’s part which diverge from Freud’s that I want to highlight as significant here: the function of the phobic object as a signifier qua that which makes up for a deficiency on the part of the paternal metaphor; and, where Freud sees little Hans as reaching the point of resolution of the Oedipus complex, Lacan sees little Hans, though neurotic, as not having passed through the castration complex (symbolic castration) – rather, there is a deficiency on the side of the father which little Hans’ phobia, in a sense, makes up for, and the ‘overcoming’ of this phobia is undertaken via another means – a means which brings mythical organisation to bear on the question Hans occupies.[8] Where the ‘paternal authority,’ so to speak, fails, Hans must make do with a ‘père-version’. Within a dialectical movement, the fundamental metaphorisation of the mother’s desire, for little Hans, is secured by phobia.

What exactly is meant here by ‘failure of paternal authority’ and how is it that phobia functions to secure the ‘fundamental metaphorisation’ in the place of a deficiency? Let us summarise the major points of the little Hans case in order to comprehend this and in order to see what is at stake here.

The ‘phobic symptom’ – or ‘transitory “symptom”’ as perhaps it is better termed – of little Hans concerns the fear of being bitten by a horse. This construction arises and has its significance, essentially, in relation to the way in which two events in the child’s life serve to bring into question his relationship with his mother and thus inspire the enigma of the mother’s desire for little Hans. First, there is Hans’ discovery of what he calls his wiwimacher and the discovery of masturbatory pleasure during his third year. Hans’ arrival at the phallic stage and the conflict it triggers is summarised by Vicente Palomera:


Hans uses his [wiwimacher] as an organising and classifying element for the world and the objects around him. Who has got one? Who hasn’t got one? Who has got a big one? Who has got a little one? Animals are of particular interest to Hans as a place to observe this presence/absence or this comparison of size. The child classifies: animate beings have one, inanimate beings don’t. Thus Hans states the universal premise of the phallus, postulated by Freud from his analytical experience. His [wiwimacher] is also the suport of an imaginary function of the phallus; it is at the centre of a game of hide-and-seek. But, finally and most critically, it becomes the place of a very real jouissance. The great interest he shows in his penis can no longer be reduced to a theoretical interest and to the production of a system of classification. It emerges as the site of sensations of sexual pleasure. Briefly, Hans discovers the pleasure of masturbation.[9]


And Palomera goes on to write: ‘these pleasures change the relation (no doubt a privileged one) that he maintained up till then with his mother. These pleasures, this masturbatory jouissance, trigger a sort of conflict between him and his mother.’[10] This conflict is initiated by the threat of castration – what Lacan terms ‘maternal castration’ in contrast, as distinct from, ‘paternal castration.’[11] This is documented by Freud, who writes: ‘When [little Hans] was three and a half his mother found him with his hand on his penis. She threatened him in these words: “If you do that, I shall send for Dr. A. to cut off your widdler. And then what’ll you widdle with?”’[12] This threat, though not having the same operational function as paternal castration, is not redundant even if little Hans himself doesn’t seem to respond to it with any signs of terror at the time of dialogue itself.[13] Again, as Palomera states:


Hans still lives in the best of worlds, free from any guilt which would indicate that the masturbatory pleasure had been connected to a forbidden jouissance. Moreover, his theoretical questioning around the widdler becomes the object of a great interest on the part of Hans’ father who reports everything to Professor Freud.

The maternal threat, formulated as one of castration [. . .] is by no means redundant; it produces an effect. It constitutes the sign of something for Hans indicating that his masturbatory pleasures are not approved of by his mother. Yet this did not satisfy him and hence the emergence for the child of the question: but what does she want? What does she want from me? What does she want to do with me?[14]


Masturbatory jouissance and the mother’s response is then, for little Hans, the first element in the fomentation of the conflict which contributes to the problematic he finds himself faced with that the phobia will address. The second element is the birth of his little sister, Anna, at around the same time (three and a half years of age) which results ‘in six months of intense jealousy and rejection concerning Anna.’[15]  At this stage, however, the phobia has not yet appeared. After the age of four years and five months, Hans will wake up and cry to his mother that, while he was asleep, he imagined (in an anxiety dream) that she was gone and ‘had no Mummy to coax [Hans’ expression for ‘to caress’] with’;[16] a number of days later, on January 7th, Hans, whilst walking with his nurse, will be overcome with anxiety, cry and ask to return home quickly so that he can ‘coax’ with his Mummy;[17] the following day, he will again be struck by anxiety this time whilst walking with his mother – upon returning home, Hans will say, ‘I was afraid a horse would bite me’ and in the evening he will say that he is afraid that a ‘horse’ll come into the room.’[18] Freud’s analysis of the construction of the phobic object, in sum, is that the emergence of anxiety results from repression, indexed by the prohibition coming from the threat of castration by the mother and instituting the prohibition of incest, and that repression then leads to the separation of the libido and the cathected maternal object; thus, as Palomera states, ‘[t]he libido invested up till now in the maternal object is freed and transformed into anxiety, a free-floating anxiety which will become fixed to the horse object.’[19] Thus in Freud’s analysis, there is an equivocation of maternal castration and paternal castration and repression is rendered a precondition of phobia. The movement from anxiety and its transformation into fear by means of a phobic object explained by Freud in the following manner: the anxiety, which was not satisfied with the presence of the object – the mother, the erotic longing for the mother – that was under the sway of a psychical demand to not be admitted, persisted until it was, after finding an object, transformed into fear. The phobia then served to grant an object that would be in accord with repression.[20]

For Lacan, however, something else entirely is going on here. Up until the occurrence of the phobic construction, or more specifically the two elements that raise the enigmatic character of the mother’s desire, little Hans is able to occupy the place of that which the mother qua Other lacks, he occupies the place of the ‘phallophore’ – representative of the phallus – in relation to his mother.[21] Little Hans, in this position, is ‘“entirely” taken up by the mother, in the totality of his being, his body’ and is able to play at being the mother’s phallus by way of games (the hide-and-seek)[22] and by way of the dimension of the as if[23] so as to put up with this situation and so as to allow little Hans to play ‘at being the one who occupies the place of the lack opened up by the desire of the Other,’ by replying ‘with a “semblant” of the phallus,’[24] at least until this more or less stable position is disturbed by the two elements outlined above. From this disturbance, little Hans is confronted with an apparent contradiction: on the one hand, his mother loves him in a complete manner; on the other, in the relation to his mother, there is no place for his wiwimacher qua ‘the place of his own jouissance’[25] and this is sanctioned as inappropriate to satisfy her. At this juncture, with the question of the mother’s desire raised, the mediation of the Name-of-the-Father is called upon so as the child is not left suspended in this question, in the gap which this site of contradiction opens up. For little Hans, however, the Name-of-the-Father does not arrive; instead Hans is left suspended. The problem at this juncture is stated by Lacan:


Le problème n’est-il pas justement à ce détour, à ce moment de décompensation, que l’enfant fasse ce pas – littéralement infranchissable pour lui tout seul – fasse ce pas que cet élément imaginaire avec lequel il joue, du phallus désiré par la mère, devienne pour lui, plus encore que ce qu’il est devenu pour elle, un élément du désir de la mère, donc ce quelque chose par quoi il faut qu’il en passe pour captiver la mère ? Il s’agit maintenant qu’il réalise ce quelque chose en soi-même d’insurmontable,  à savoir qu’il s’aperçoive que cet élément imaginaire a valeur symbolique.[26]


At this ‘moment of decompensation’ then, the element that little Hans was able to play, the phallus desired by the mother, becomes more an element of the mother’s desire: here, the child must take a step which requires outside assistance, a step which realizes the symbolic value of the imaginary element. For little Hans, the triadic relation of mother-child-(imaginary) phallus he is locked in is no longer more or less a comfortable site but, with the threat of maternal castration, it has become marked by anxiety, an anxiety which serves to index the mother’s jouissance as a question without reply.[27] The mediation of the Name-of-the-Father would be, by way of a fourth term in this triad, a symbolization of this imaginary phallus via the paternal metaphor. This would be undertaken by a third party (in Hans’ case, the real father)[28] ‘who is appealed to as the one who must state the law, that of the prohibition of incest’ and thus ‘permits the separation, the demarcation line between the mother and the child.’[29] The requirement of the phobic object qua signifier arises for little Hans due to the lack of this paternal metaphor which would address this situation.

To be clear, before going on to examine what Lacan formulates as the function of phobia in little Hans in relation to the above, let us define the function of Name-of-the-Father in a cursory manner so as to make clear what the phobia qua signifier substitutes and serves. Éric Laurent summarises the paternal metaphor and the Name-of-the-Father as follows:


[T]he Name-of-the-Father occupies or has to occupy the place where the desire of the mother was, and the desire of the mother is what the subject looks for; ‘What does she want from me?,’ the child asks himself. When the Oedipus complex functions, the mother is prohibited, as Freud pointed out. Lacan puts it as follows: The mother has to be substituted for; there is no direct answer. Nobody can really enjoy his or her mother who is only real pleasure, and she is prohibited at that place—thus the father is a name. [. . .] after the functioning of the paternal metaphor, the subject knows that the only thing he can name of that forbidden jouissance of the mother is the phallic signification of everything he says, of every one of his demands throughout his life. Everything we say has phallic signification.[30]


Or as Palomera puts it: the paternal function is a metaphor that ‘guarantees the metaphorical substitution of one signifier for another signifier. The signifier of the mother’s desire, enigmatic for the child, is replaced by the signifier of the name of the father which responds, so to speak, to this enigma with the mediation of the phallic signification.’[31] This function corresponds to neither the imaginary father as ideal object nor the real father, the actual person; rather, this function corresponds to the symbolic father, who is ‘the agent of castration,’ qua signifying function.[32] Hence, the (symbolic) father is a signifier, a signifier nominalised as the Name-of-the-Father.[33]

With this in mind, the problem at the heart of the case of little Hans is that, according to Lacan, he must find a substitute for the father who is obstinately unwilling to castrate him; indeed, little Hans burns with a desire for an encounter with the jealous father, calls upon the symbolic father to castrate him,[34] but finds a father who enlightens him instead. Highlighting this, Lacan directs us to the dialogue between little Hans and his father, culminating on April 21st, where Hans literally calls upon his father to play his role as father and says to him, you have to be jealous.[35] But the father only fosters enlightenment and Hans must get the function of the Name-of-the-Father by other means.


So, the horse, for little Hans, is elevated to the status of a signifier in the phobia, a signifier with a certain status – the status of being a substitute for the paternal metaphor. In this capacity, it organises the phantasmatic production (the mythical circuit) which addresses the contradiction Hans confronts. Lacan defines this status of the signifier, that is, the function of the horse introduced as a central point in the phobia, as having the property of being ‘un signifiant obscur,’[36] a ‘hollow’ which functions to recast the real anew.[37] That is, it is not, as per Freud’s understanding, a symbol of the father – in fact, Lacan emphasises that its value is representative of the signifier as such in as much as it can stand for anything whatsoever[38] – but a signifier which can refer equally to ‘the father and the mother, the sister Anna, or Hans himself’ depending on the context in which it features.[39] It is a signifier with an exceptional status in that it ‘regulates and orders’ all other signifiers; in this way it has the function of the Name-of-the-Father.[40]

Where does this signifier come from? Why ‘horse’? In brief, there are two sources which furnish little Hans with this signifier which I would like to isolate, though they are by no means the only ones. I isolate them for the way in which they exhibit themselves as signifiers. There is the contingent, material element Hans is able to draw upon, the phrase ‘‘cos of the horse’ [‘Wegen dem Pferd’] which he had heard – emerging on a holiday when companions of Hans had repeatedly said this phrase: ‘“And that was how you got the nonsense?”’ Little Hans’ father asks. ‘“Because they kept saying ‘’cos the horse,’ ‘’cos the horse’ (he put a stress on the ‘’cos’); “so perhaps I got the nonsense because they talked like that; ‘’cos of the horse.”’[41] There is too the pre-existing, ready-made, so to speak, symbol of the horse Hans is able to discern and draw upon – Hans finds it in a picture book. Lacan elaborates on this: this is a signifier that is not without predisposition in as much as it is already vehicled by the whole carriage of culture drawn behind the subject; and in that Hans only had to turn to a book of pictures, the heraldic element of the horse came to Hans with all the significance of history, myth, folklore has imposes on this image – all the better to serve its function, that is, to fill the function of a stopping point, a pivot to which what wavers can be attached. This is the role of the horse. And Lacan adds, although it may appear to those around him that this hinders the child’s development, that it is a parasitic and pathological element, it is nonetheless a point around which the subject can continue to rotate what otherwise would be an unbearable anxiety.[42]

This ‘horse’ allows for the organisation of little Hans’ world (when he can go outside, take journeys, etc.) and, in that it allows him to cross the threshold of the Oedipus complex, it allows Hans to construct myths as the means to address the contradiction. For Lacan, the phobia as such pertains to the conjunction of the imaginary and anxiety; with the emergence of phobia and the elevation of the ‘horse’ qua (hollow) signifier, or un signifiant obscur, the contradiction or problematic will find a resolution in being symbolised ‘via the successive articulation of all the forms of impossibility present at the start.’[43]

As in Freud where phobia corresponds to the objectification of anxiety, the phobia does allow for the transformation of anxiety, qua index of the mother’s jouissance, into fear, but it is via the elevation of an object into a signifier, a signifier which will serve as the organising principle around which the circuit of mythical construction takes place, and it is via this route that a certain resolution can be achieved by little Hans.[44] As far as the interpretation of phobia is concerned, Lacan states that, in a young subject at least, it is the case that the object of the phobia is always to be understood as a signifier.[45] As far as the resolution for little Hans is concerned, the problem is not strictly speaking resolved due to the father’s function being replaced by a term serving an equivalent function: though Hans can reach a certain resolution, the Oedipus complex is not resolved.

Why is it the case that the Oedipus complex is, properly speaking, not resolved, and what does this amount to for little Hans? Without elaborating on it in detail, briefly put we can say that at the end of the mythical circuit, Hans has reinscribed himself into an imaginary relation which sustains an identification with the maternal phallus and assumes the paternal role not according to the sexuated position of ‘not without having’ but in the position of imaginary paternity. Here Lacan’s analysis is again in disagreement with Freud’s. Whereas the final two fantasies of the marriage of the father to the grandmother and the ‘plumber’ fantasy signal to Freud a resolution to the Oedipus complex, for Lacan they are a sign that a resolution has not occurred.

By reduplication of the maternal lineage, Hans stays inscribed within it; Hans’ identification with the maternal phallus is reinstated via the intermediary of his ‘imaginary children’ which he would have of conceived with his mother; ‘he will have access to heterosexuality, but women will always be women-children for him (girl-phalluses)’; his sister, Anna, will be ‘a sort of ego ideal’; and he will further situate himself in identification with the phallus in that his conception will be: ‘[t]he masculine subject gives himself to the woman as being that something she herself lacks and brings her the phallus as that which she lacks in an imaginary sense. He thus devotes himself to the completeness of the Woman.’[46] There is no fantasy of losing the penis and it being replaced, which would accord with (paternal) castration and place Hans at a point of resolution of the Oedipus complex – the notion of the plumber supplying Hans with a bigger penis after removing his is a construction by the father not an articulation by Hans. Rather, for Lacan, ‘Hans does not have to lose his penis since he has never acquired it. He accedes to masculinity via identification with the maternal phallus.’[47] This will afford Hans the status of being able to have ‘imaginary children’ (Herbert Graf, the little Hans of the case, ‘became an artist, an opera director and never had any children’[48]) – as Lacan states, he will become someone who is essentially a poet, a creator in the imaginary order, and women will always be only the fantasy of the little sister, daughters around whom his entire childhood crisis turned.[49]


What can be emphasised here apropos the above discussion with which we began is that little Hans makes use of contingent material elements as well as culturally invested apparatuses of signification in order to structure and coordinate his world and thus gain footing in the symbolic, but the achievement of resolving the enigma of the Other’s desire – or at least finding a way in which to address it – comes about, in little Hans’ case in the election of a term that will substitute for the paternal metaphor, that will substitute for the failure of the real father to authorise the symbolic father’s castrating function. For little Hans, this amounts to the fact that although he is able to install himself in paternity, to arrive at the paternal position in his subjective (and sexed) position, this does not correspond to a resolution of the Oedipus complex, for it is an imaginary paternity – the paternal function which little Hans assumes is imaginary.[50] But in as much as little Hans is able to raise an object to the level of a privileged signifier so as to substitute for the deficiency in paternal authority – so as to serve as an equivalent to the Name-of-the-Father where this was unable to be instituted – we can see that, for little Hans, the subject position of neurosis[51] has been achieved via a père-version.


In all this, then, I hope it is clear that the question of a failure in paternal authority is not something which only comes to fore late in Lacan’s teaching. Indeed, as early as 1956–57 this was being raised and it was being raised as significant to a case Freud examined in 1909. Of course, this does not mean that the later Lacan is somehow reducible to a constant that is found in Lacan’s earliest work or that there are not significant advances made in Lacan’s last period of teaching. What this serves to indicate is that none of Lacan’s works should be seen as merely superseded and that Lacan’s later period is to be understood as a further development of concerns which are to be found even in his earliest work. Also of significance is the way in which Lacan reads the construction of phobia in relation to the contingent manner in which a subject is able to address an impasse situated at the level of the symbolic transposition and the way in which a ‘falling back on the imaginary’ can take place at this level in a neurotic subject’s ontogeny. And, when this occurs, Lacan reminds us, there is the fundamental possibility, for a subject, of oblivion in the imaginary ego.[52]



[1] The last period of Lacan is the period of Borromean knots, topology, and the sinthome, where the Real is given greater focus, and can be said to begin with Seminar XX.

[2] Perversion being the inverse of neurosis.

[3] David Ferraro, ‘The Ties that Unbind: Knotting in the Age of Austerity’ in Psychoanalysis Lacan Issue 2: Crisis (Lacan Circle of Melbourne, 2016), <;, p. 1. To be clear, it is not that I disagree with Ferraro’s account here, I merely disagree with the view that this account is limited to the last period of Lacan. I don’t provide reference to Ferraro’s statement as something to argue against, rather, it eloquently expresses one of the ways in which the later Lacan has been situated. What I would add, though, is that it appears to me that Lacan was concerned with the decline of paternal authority and the effects of such a decline on subjects in his lifetime and even earlier; as such, the consideration of how one addresses a subject who is conditioned by some kind of failure in the paternal metaphor, for example, is by no means exclusive to the last period of Lacan’s teaching.

[4] Véronique Voruz & Bogdan Wolf, The Later Lacan: An Introduction (State University Press of New York: Albany, 2007) pp. xiii–xiv.

[5] Ibid, p. xiv.

[6] Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre IV: La relation d’objet et les structures freudiennes (Paris: Seuil, 1994).

[7] See: Sigmund Freud, ‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy (1909),’ pp. 1–149 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume X (1909): Two Case Histories: ‘Little Hans’ and the ‘Rat Man,’ trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1955).

[8] Mythematic structural organisation is key to the way in which the neurotic subject mediates primary or fundamental problematics or contradictions – the key text on this topic being Jacques Lacan, ‘Le mythe individuel du névrosé ou “Poésie et vérité”,’ pp. 289–307 in Ornicar? 17–18 (1979). In relation to the case of little Hans, we can see the shuffling around of the fundamental elements in his phantasmatic constructions in a certain circuit of permutations as the mythical organisation serving to address the problematic or apparent contradiction little Hans faces in the course of the period of his life accounted for (I will address this further in the proceedings). The relation of this to the subject at hand is highlighted by Lacan in ‘L’instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la rasion depuis Freud’ (pp. 493–528 in Écrits [Seuil: Paris, 1966]): ‘Aussi bien est-ce aux mêmes nécessités que le myth, que répond cette impérieuse prolifération de créations symboliques particulières, où se motivent jusque dans leurs détails les compulsions du névrosé, come ce qu’on appelle les théories sexuelles de l’enfant.

‘C’est ainsi que pour vous placer au point précis où se déroule actuellement dans mon séminaire mon commentaire de Freud, le petit Hans, à cinq ans laissé en plan par les carences de son entourage symbolique, devant l’enigme soudain actualisée pour lui de son sexe et de son existence, développe, sous la direction de Freud et de son père son disciple, autour du cristal signifiant de sa phobie, sous une forme mythique, toutes les permutations possible d’un nombre limité de signifiants.’ (p. 519) [‘…the imperious proliferation of particular symbolic creations—such as what are called the secual theories of children—which account for even the smallest details of the neurotic’s compulsions, answer to the same necessities as do myths.

‘This is why, to bring you to the precise point of the commentary on Freud’s work I am developing in my seminar, little Hans, left in the lurch at the age of five by the failings of his symbolic entourage, and faced with the suddenly actualized enigma to him of his sex and his existence, develops—under the direction of Freud and his father, who is Freud’s disciple—all the possible permutations of a limited number of signifiers in the form of a myth, around the signifying crystal of his phobia.’ (‘The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious; or, Reason Since Freud,’ pp. 412–41 in Ecrits, trans. Bruce Fink [W. W. Norton & Company: New York & London, 2006], p. 432)

[9] Vincente Palomera, ‘Lacan and “little Hans”,’ pp. 51–8 in Analysis, No. 4 (Australian Centre for Psychoanalysis: 1993), p. 53.

[10] Ibid.

[11] In Seminar IV, the seminar of 5 June 1957 (Session XXI), Lacan puts ‘maternal castration’ in relation to a more ‘primitive situation’ and gives it a ‘devouring,’ ‘biting’ and ‘engulfing’ quality, whereas, though no less terrible, ‘paternal castration’ is a favourable substitute for the ‘anteriority’ of ‘maternal castration’ for its capability or admittance of development: ‘Vous observerez qu’en somme s’il y a castration, dans la mesure où le complexe d’OEdipe est castration, que la castration, ça n’est pas pour rien qu’on s’est aperçu – d’une façon ténébreuse – mais qu’on s’est aperçu qu’elle avait tout autant de rapport avec la mère qu’avec le père. La castration maternelle, nous le voyons dans la description de la situation primitive en tant qu’elle implique pour l’enfant la possibilité de la dévoration et de la morsure.

‘Par rapport à cette antériorité de la castration maternelle, la castration paternelle en est un substitut qui n’est pas moins terrible peut-être, mais qui est certainement plus favorable parce que lui est susceptible de développement, au lieu que dans l’autre cas pour ce qui est de l’engloutissement et de la dévoration par la mère, c’est sans issue de développement.’ (Lacan 1994)

[12] Freud 1955, pp. 7–8.

[13] Hans’ immediate response to his mother is: ‘With my bottom.’ (Ibid.)

[14] Palomera 1993, p. 53.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Freud 1955, p. 23.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, p. 24.

[19] Palomera 1993, p. 54.

[20] Freud 1955, pp. 25–6.

[21] Lacan 1944, seminar of 13 March 1957 (XIII): ‘Toute la suite du jeu se poursuit dans ce leurre, à la fin insupportable, angoissant, intolérable, de la relation du petit Hans à sa mère, en tant qu’il est : lui ou elle, l’un ou l’autre, jamais sans qu’on sache lequel, le phallophore ou la phallophore [. . . .]’

[22] See Lacan 1994, seminar of 20 March 1957 (XIV).

[23] This also contributes to the status of little Hans as a neurotic rather than situating him in a perverse position; though there is no space to elaborate on this here.

[24] Palomera 1993, p. 54.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Lacan 1994, seminar of 27 March 1957 (XV).

[27] It should be stated that at this stage, anxiety is not ‘the only feeling which indicates a relationship to the real,’ (Colette Soler, ‘Transference,’ pp. 56–60 in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink & Maire Jaanus [State University Press of New York: Albany, 1996], p. 57) as it would come to be understood in Seminar X (see Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book X: Anxiety, trans. A. R. Price [Polity: Cambridge & Malden, 2014] [Le Séminaire livre X: L’angoisse (Seuil: Paris, 2004)]); rather, following from Seminar II it is situated ‘in the imaginary.’ (Soler 1996, p. 57)

[28] It should be noted that in Seminar IV, Lacan introduces – as a development in line with his conceptualisation of the three registers of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real – the distinction between the Imaginary father, the Symbolic father, and the Real father.

[29] Palomera 1993, p. 55.

[30] Éric Laurent, ‘The Oedipus Complex,’ pp. 67–75 in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink * Maire Jaanus (State University of New York: Albany, 1996), p. 73.

[31] Palomera 1993, p. 51.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Lacan 1994, session of 5 June 1957 (XXI).

[35] Ibid., session of 26 June 1957 (XXIII). Cf. Freud 1955, pp. 82–83.

[36] Ibid., seminar of 8 May 1957 (XVIII).

[37] Ibid.

[38] This ‘reality’ or ‘nature,’ so to speak, of the signifier as such is articulated by little Hans via the images of the two giraffes, the big giraffe and the little giraffe (See Lacan 1994, seminar of 10 April 1957 [XVII]).

[39] Palomera 1993, p. 55.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Freud 1955, p. 59.

[42] Lacan 1994, seminar of 26 June 1957 (XXIII).

[43] Palomera 1993, p. 56.

[44] ‘[M]ythic creation responds to a question. It runs through the complete circle of what presents itself at the same time as a possible opening and as an opening that impossible to take. The circuit thus accomplished, something is realized, which means that the subject has put itself on the level of the question.’ (Lacan quoted in Nadia Sels, ‘Myth, Mind and Metaphor: On the Relation of Mythology and Psychoanalysis,’ pp. 56–70 in S: Journal of the Jan van Eyck Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique, 4 (2011).

[45] Lacan 1994, seminar of 26 June 1957 (XXIII).

[46] Palomera 1993, p. 57.

[47] Ibid, p. 58.

[48] Palomera 1993, p. 58.

[49] Lacan 1994, seminar of 19 June 1957 (XXII).

[50] Ibid.

[51] Though Hans has not resolved the Oedipus complex and remains at the level of the ‘imaginary phallus,’ the phobia and the production of myths serves to ‘cover over what we can call the complete circle of what emerges as both a possible exit and an exit impossible to take. Once the circuit has been run through something has taken place which signifies that the subject has placed himself at the level of this question.’ It is for this reason ‘Hans will be a neurotic rather than a pervert.’ (Palomera 1993, p. 58)

[52] Lacan 1994, seminar of 3 July 1957 (XXIV). This possibility of oblivion or forgetting is drawn out of Lacan’s discussion of Freud’s examination of Leonardo da Vinci as well as in connection to the 1922 postscript to ‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy, where Freud writes that the subject of ‘little Hans’ had informed him that ‘[w]hen he read his case history [. . .] the whole of it came to him as something unknown; he did not recognize himself; he could remember nothing; and it was only when he came upon the journey to Gmunden that there dawned on him a kind of glimmering recollection that it might have been he himself that it happened to.’ (Freud 1955, p. 148)



A pdf version of this text can be accessed here: simon-mcnamee_lacans-reading-of-the-case-of-little-hans-and-the-failure-of-the-paternal-metaphor

Françoise Giroud’s « Quand l’Autre etait Dieu »






The text presented here is my translation of Françoise Giroud’s « Quand l’Autre etait Dieu », originally published in L’Express on 14 August, 1968. The text represents Giroud’s account of, or report on, Lacan’s seminar of May 15, 1968 and, as such, it addresses Lacan’s teaching in relation to the events of Mai ’68 in Paris as well as the significance of Lacan’s teaching in general.

            In order to place this historical document of Giroud’s in context, I present the following selection from Élisabeth Roudinesco’s Jacques Lacan[1]:


‘[After giving money to students that were members of the Movement of March 22, meeting with Cohn-Bendit and Michèle Bargues] …the next day [Lacan] interrupted his seminar on “the psychoanalytic act” in obedience to the strike notice issued by snesup, the union of university teachers. He praised Cohn-Bendit and attacked his own disciples. “I half-kill myself telling psychoanalysts they ought to expect something from the insurrection. And some of them reply: ‘And pray what does the insurrection expect from us?’ Then the insurrection answers: ‘What we expect from you is help in throwing cobblestones when the occasion arises.’”’[2]

‘Lucien Goldman [in response to the events of May ‘68] reverted to a much more academic objection: it is men who make history, he said, not structures. He backed this up by referring to a famous sentence written on a blackboard at the Sorbonne in May 1968: “Structures don’t go out onto the streets.” […] [Lacan] was inspired when it came to replying to Goldman: “I don’t consider it at all correct to have written that structures don’t go out onto the streets, for if there’s one thing the events of May prove, it’s precisely that they do.” The fact that the sentence was written down only proved, he added, that “an act always misunderstands itself.”’[3]




‘[Lacan] pointed out that the student protest [of May ‘68] had led to the abolition of the ancient university function of master or teacher and its replacement by a tyrannical system based on the idea of communication and the pedagogical relationship. He couldn’t have spoken a truer word: it is clear today that the revolution of the barricades was one of the key stages in the university’s replacement of intellectuals by technocrats.’[4]


If we move outside the historical context, the text also addresses issues of crisis, their precipitation and their address, which are relevant beyond the specificity of situation in the text; hence, its continuing relevance and the continuing relevance of Lacan’s response to Mai ’68.








When the Other was God[5]

Françoise Giroud


« There is no dialogue. Dialogue is a deception [duperie]. »[6]

The voice that puts forward this striking formula, at a time when dialogue is the aspirin to cure all the headaches of society, swells and dwells in suspension for a long time. Among the audience there is total silence, broken only by the creaking of a door which beats every time someone slips into the room and by the noises of the street which penetrate through the broken window panes—vestiges of the fighting going on in the Latin Quarter. The lecturer, Jacques Lacan, the either venerated or hated psychoanalyst, depending on which group you ask, speaks before those who wish to follow his teaching every Wednesday at the École normale supérieure. This time, he takes as his point of re-entry a brief commentary on the events of May.

The modulations of his voice, which range from forte to pianissimo, demand from the listener who is not familiar with his language a more sustained attention to what is said, for he frequently speaks the contrary of today’s doxa and common sense. In any case, nothing destroys most assuredly intellectual comfort than to approach Man via the royal road of psychoanalysis. And finally, with Lacan or Marcuse, here we are.

The teaching Dr Lacan provides at the ENS does not lie at the level of therapeutic methods to be applied to those of us who feel uncomfortable in our own skin [qui se sentent mal dans leur peau]. The Normaliens are not drawn to the cures of neurosis of their contemporaries. The treatment of asthma, eczema, ulcers, migraines, obesity—those various bodily manifestations by which the organism expresses psychical troubles—is also not their concern. Psychoanalysis, however, is taught as psychoanalysis; for one cannot teach someone how to swim without getting wet, despite what students of psychology may think—those who are fascinated by the luxurious image projected by society of the psychoanalyst, that of the secular bishop, and who dream of incorporating its power.



What Lacan’s usual audience expects of him is the disclosure of the real [réel] in the relation of man to himself and with the world.

Now, a good lady who, learning of the railway accident which had occurred near Lyon, proclaimed the day after the elections: « Here we go again! », apparently thinking that in voting for order and getting satisfaction, there could be no place in a Gaullist diet for accidents. There are a certain number of people who see in the May crisis something of a superficial disorder. Others attend to the deeper meaning of May: here the words of Lacan are situated.

The deception [duperie] of « dialogue », according to Lacan, is the notion that there is never an exchange between two individuals. There is eventually exchange of objective information, communication of information, and, hence, an outcome from a joint decision on the basis of such information. But in all other cases, dialogue is only the juxtaposition of monologues. It is monologue by which knowledge [Savoir] is gained; that is to say, the knowledge [connaissance] of the real [réel], of oneself, of one’s own truth. Man cannot attain it in chatter. « I have found the secret », writes Claudel, « I know how to speak : if I wish, I can tell you what each thing wishes to say. »[7]

Man is language. The biologists have even suggested that language created man—that is would have preceded the emergence of the central nervous system proper to the human species.

But if all that Man says constitutes and betrays his truth—his lapses, his verbal associations, the formulations of his desires, of his emotions—he does not know what he says. That is why he dares, we dare, speak. He knows not what he says and he does not say that, unconsciously, he knows. But it is nonetheless expressed by his dreams or in words and symbolic images. His truth « lies at the point where he refuses to know ».[8]



Everyone knows talking is the basis of the psychoanalytic cure. The Other is, then, is always, « the place wherein the words are situated ».[9] And in this psychoanalytic framework, knowledge [Savoir] is truly knowledge only after it has been returned by the Other.

This is not how we teach algebra, but it is, in reality, how it is learned.

Psychoanalysis is not for everyone. Indeed, most people accommodate themselves very well to the avoidance of « knowing ».[10] But what is this « accommodation », what does it amount to? Collectively, the May explosion was possibly a revolt against a society which believes it has mastered the real because it has mastered science; but knowledge [connaissance] of science is only the complement of the real [le complément du réel]. Science, says Lacan, is the means by which mortified society [sociétés mortes] keeps talking.

This frenzied appetite for dialogue, that is, for verbalisation, its sudden surging up, is a sign that something is coming to an end: the time when Man dialogued with God—that is, dialogued with the Other whose omnipotence did not teach or a transmit knowledge, but prophesised. Once the rapport with the Other is no longer mystical or transcendental, its power is no longer accepted; it is able to be contested. « I am free », Claudel says to God, « deliver me from freedom ».[11]  And it is contested, except, of course, by the holders of temporal power, those who divide it up, and those who situate God in Rome, Moscow or Peking.

This is the difficult and dry interpretation Lacan delivers on the subject and it provokes further discussion from those who participate in his Seminar. And this interpretation does not prevent anyone from claiming « dialogue » is a benefit when it is reduced to the communication of information and, therefore, proffers a better understanding of what determines decisions as well as the possibility of participation. But before falling into the trial and error of daily life wherein everyone tries and arrives at the wrong answers and the difficulties one finds or experiences in the concrete, perhaps, for those seeking answers this interpretation can be offered as food for thought.

It is also an interpretation reflected by science, as the holder of the chair of molecular biology at the Collége de France, M. Jacques Monod, demonstrates in the conclusion to his inaugural lecture: « Is the ideal offered to today’s man, who is above and beyond himself, not the reconquest by knowledge of the nothingness he himself has discovered? »[12]



Translated by Simon McNamee



[1] Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan, trans. Barbara Bray [based on second edition, 1994] (Polity Press: Cambridge; Columbia University Press: New York, 1997) [Jacques Lacan: Esquisse d’une vie, histoire d’un système de pensée (Librairie Arthème Fayard: Paris, 1993)].

[2] Ibid, pp. 336–37.

[3] Ibid, p. 341.

[4] Ibid, p. 347.

[5] « Quand l’Autre etait Dieu », originally published in L’Express (14 August 1968).

[6]Il n’y a pas de dialogue. Le dialogue est une duperie. »]

[7]J’ai trouvé le secret [. . .], je sais parler : si je veux, je saurai vous dire ce que chaque mot veut dire. »]

[8] [Sa vérité « gît au point où il refuse de savoir ».]

[9]  [Or ‘the site of speech’: « le lieu où la parole vient prendre place ».]

[10] [s’accommodent fort bien de ne pas « se savoir ».]

[11] [« Je suis libre [. . . .] Délivrez-moi de la liberté. »]

[12] [« Quel idéal proposer aux hommes d’aujourd’hui, qui soit au-dessus et au-delà d’eux-mêmes, sinon la reconquête, par la connaissance, du néant qu’ils ont eux-mêmes découvert ? »]


Some Basic Explications: Richard D. Wolff & Stephen A. Resnick on the Fundamental Differences between Marxian Economics and Neoclassical Economics




‘Marxian economic theory proceeds by focusing first and foremost on class exploitation. It defines “class” as a process whereby some people in society produce goods and services for others without obtaining anything in exchange. Marxian theory begins not with presumptions about human nature but rather with presumptions about social relationships, which shape and change what human beings are and think and do. Individuals are understood to be born into social arrangements they did not create nor choose to live with.

In Marxian theory, the logic runs from an analysis of social relationships to the resulting patterns of individual behavior. The emphasis is on class as one economic relationship within the broader society. This reflects Marxism’s view that the class division of society into exploiters versus exploited—those who obtain goods and services produced by others versus those who must produce for others—is unjust and has an undesirable influence upon every aspect of that broader society. Marxian economic theory also is intertwined with a philosophic position: that the individualism and free markets favored by the neoclassicals serve to hide and perpetuate class injustice.

Marxian economic theory approaches the economy as a complex set of relationships, and includes class exploitation alongside the buying and selling and owning emphasized by neoclassical theory. Indeed, a major purpose of Marx’s original critique of classical economics was to remedy what he saw as its fear and loss of theoretical persists to this day in its insistence on the role of class in economic analysis. Starting from its presumption of class exploitation, Marxian theory proceeds to explore how other aspects of an economy and of the broader society interact with that society’s specific class structure (its specific division of citizens into antagonistic class groupings).

[. . .] Marxian theory concludes that class divisions—particularly those labeled as “capitalist”—damage modern societies in countless ways and impose suffering that could be avoided. The point is that stopping the suffering and undoing the damage would require changing the class structure. Those who obtained the fruits of others’ labor without providing anything in return would have to give up that position; the social division between capitalists and workers would have to be abolished.


[. . .]


Neoclassical economic theory directs the bulk of its attention to some distinctive objects. Individuals, markets, commodities, technologies, and prices figure most prominently, followed by money, income, savings, and investments. In making sense of (theorizing about) these objects, neoclassical economic theory defines and attends to a long list of other objects. Chief among these are individual preferences, utility, supply, demand, production, distribution, labor, capital, growth, GNP, interest rates, and uncertainty.

These and the other particular objects that play central roles in neoclassical economic theory form part of a general image of how society works. For neoclassical economists, society is the collection of individuals in it. Individual wants, thoughts, and deeds combine to make society what it is. To understand an economy is then to make sense of the aggregate effects of individual wants and acts. Neoclassical theory does this by demonstrating how individuals maximize their material self-interests by utilizing their owned resources and the available technology in market transactions. What happens in an economy is always explained as the result of individuals acting in this way (with more or less allowance being made for possible external interference with individual market freedoms).

As we will show, neoclassical economic theory also distinguishes itself by the particular cause-and-effect concepts it uses to connect its particular set of objects. Its notion of causality usually has a few objects combining to cause some other object. It expresses this relationship by attaching the description “dependent variables” to objects it views as effects and “independent variables” to objects it holds to be causes.

This particular notion of causality has been called “essentialism,” or sometimes “determinism,” among philosophers for many years. In recent years, the term “reductionism” has becomes popular. [. . .] They refer to the presumption that any event can be shown to have certain causes or determinants that are essential to its occurrence. Essentialist (or determinist or reductionist) reasoning proceeds as follows: (1) when even A occurs in society, we know that an infinite number of other events are occurring simultaneously and that an infinite number of other events have occurred previously; (2) we presume that a few of this vast number of other events were the key, chief, “determinant,” or “essential” causes of A; and (3) we therefore define theoretical work as separating the essential (determinant) from the inessential (nondeterminant) causes. The result is an “explanation” of A: the cause of A has been reduced to its final determinants. Hence the term “reductionism” refers to theories that reduce the explanation of events in the world to a few essential causes.

For example, suppose that event A was an increase in the price of coffee during August 1986. A quick survey of economic news that month would show that many other events happened then as well: interest rates feel, the price of tea rose, the value of the dollar rose, unemployment worsened, and so on. Further research would indicate that millions of other economic and noneconomic aspects of our world changed during and before August, 1986: rainfall increased, tax rates were cut, President Reagan’s health became an issue, military conflict in Central America spread, and so on. Faced with this overwhelming mass of data on simultaneous and prior occurrences, all of which probably had some impact on the price of coffee, what do neoclassical economists do?

Believing that they can determine which of the many influences on the price of coffee were “the most important,” they group these influences—typically such things as individual income, the cost of producing coffee, weather, taxes, and a few other preferred influences—under the heading “supply and demand.” Thus they affirm the basic logic of neoclassical theory: they presume that the change in the price of coffee (dependent object or “variable”) resulted from changes in the supply of and demand for coffee (independent objects or “variables”). Neoclassical economists then investigate exactly how some or all of what they believe to be the final causal determinants produced the effect in question. That is why the term “determinism” describes this particular causal method so accurately.

Reductionists or determinists explain the events they deem to be important by centering on the essential causes of those events. This presumption—that it makes sense to think that events have some particular, fundamental causes that can be isolated—runs deep in the consciousness of many people. It appears in many theories, not only in neoclassical theory.

Neoclassical theory is reductionist across the entire range of its analytical claims. At the most general level, economic development can be reduced to an ultimately determining cause: individuals pursuing their self-interest. More narrowly, market prices are presumed to have an ultimate cause—for example supply and demand. Profit rates are thought to have an ultimate cause—for example, the marginal contribution of capital to the production of output. Interest rates are thought to be determined by savings, investments, monetary conditions, and perhaps a few other selected factors.

Neoclassical economics do often argue among themselves over which precise causes are the essential determinants of the objects of their theory. Their arguments vary from issue to issue and usually turn on the debaters’ different preferences among a small group of generally favored essential causes. What we want to stress here, however, is that they do not question or dispute the reductionism common to them all. They presume, as if it were natural, that an essence—an ultimately determining cause—of every event exists and needs only to be found via proper theoretical work. Each even can be explained by (reduced to) that essence. Indeed, a subfield of growing importance in recent decades—econometrics—develops and applies mathematical tests to determine which essentialist hypotheses of economic theory best fit the facts that are collected by neoclassical economists.


[. . .]


Marxian theory has its distinctive objects too, those aspects of the economy that it deems to be most worthy of attention. First among these is class, which it defines as the relationship among people in which some individuals work for others while obtaining nothing in return. To explain class, Marxian theory requires the notion of surplus. Some people in society produce a quantity of goods and services that is greater than what they get to keep. This surplus is delivered to people who did not assist in its production. Class relations exist when this kind of surplus production and deliverance occurs in society. Beyond class and surplus, Marxian theory focuses on such objects as capital, labor, labor power, commodities, values, production and distribution, accumulation of capital, crises, and imperialism.

Further, Marxian theory attaches distinctive qualities and qualifications to its objects of theoretical attention. For example, there are different kinds of relationships in which surplus gets produced by some and delivered to others. Indeed, these different qualities of class relationships are used in Marxian theory to divide human history into distinct epochs: capitalist, feudal, slave, communist, and some other kinds as well. Marxian theory also distinctively qualifies certain of its objects—labor and capital—with the adjectives “productive” and “unproductive,” and another of its objects—surplus value—with the adjectives “absolute” and “relative.”

This partial and preliminary listing underscores a remarkable difference in the neoclassical and Marxian theories. Notwithstanding the considerable overlap in the words and phrases that appear in both theories, basic objects in one theory exist as secondary objects or are altogether absent in the other. Self-interest-maximising individuals are as scarce in Marxian theory as surplus labor is in neoclassical theory. Qualifications that are central to Marxian theory—productive, unproductive, relative and absolute—do not figure significantly, if at all, in neoclassical theory. Likewise, the adjectives “dependent” versus “independent,” which neoclassical theory attaches to its objects, do not exist in Marxian theory.


[. . .]


In addition to its concept of class exploitation, what is often most striking about Marxian theory is its distinctive notion of causality, of how its objects connect to one another as causes and effects. [. . .] the Marxian theory presented here rejects any presumption that economic (or, for that matter, noneconomic) events has essential causes. Such presumptions are referred to as “economic determinism” when there is thought to be an essential economic determinant of the event, or as “cultural” or “political” determinism when an essential cultural or political determinant is thought ultimately to cause the event.

In contrast to these determinisms (essentialisms), [Marxian theory presupposes] that any event occurs as the result—the effect—of everything else going on around that event and preceding that event. If we suppose that the world comprises an infinite number of events, then the occurrences of any one of them depends on the influence of all the others, not some “essential few.” This means that since all events add their unique effectivity or influence to producing the occurrence of any one happening, no single event can ever be considered to occur by itself, independent of the existence of the others. Events thus always occur together, in relationships with one another. It follows that Marxian theory cannot use the independent-versus-dependent variable or cause-and-effect terminology of neoclassical economics. It cannot do so because each event is always understood to be simultaneously a cause (it adds its own influence to the creation of all others) and an effect (its own existence results from the combined influence of all others on it).

In the Marxian tradition, this kind of logic was often referred to as “dialectical” reasoning. Dialectics has become the Marxian way of understanding how events exist (are caused). However, despite its place within the Marxian tradition, we will not use the term “dialectics” in this book. We will use instead the newer and, we think, more exact term “overdetermination” to refer to this Marxian notion of causation. “Dialectics” is a term with a long history in both Marxian and non-Marxian philosophic discourses. It overloaded with diverse meanings deriving from often bitter debates, especially among Marxists. One important reason for preferring “overdetermination” is to distance its meaning from many of the meanings that have been attached to “dialectics.” “Overdetermination” gives us a more precise definition of a specifically Marxian notion of causality without burdening that definition with the complex intellectual history of dialectics.

To illustrate this Marxian notion of overdetermination, consider the occurrence of an economic recession. It is not presumed to follow from high interest rates or government spending or foreign trade or any restricted group of such factors. Rather, in this Marxian view, a recession is “caused” not only by these but also by all other factors that exist in our world. Natural changes in climate and soil chemistry, political changes in voting and legal patterns, cultural changes in religious and sexual preferences—these and many other factors like them play roles in shaping—in influencing—the occurrence of a recession. For Marxian theory, none of these factors can be ruled out as causes—each in its particular way—of the recession. Indeed, the prefix “over-” in the term “overdetermination” is a way of signaling the reader that this event, a recession, is (over)determined by the influences emanating from all of these factors. If we decide to focus our attention on only some of the causes, that is no problem so long as we are aware of an explicit about the necessarily partial and incomplete analysis that results.

Such a notion of causality sometimes startles people. They rightly wonder whether we can ever explain anything if we are required to investigate everything in order to do so. If the world is infinitely complex, if everything is caused by everything else, we can hardly examine an infinitely each time we propose to understand or explain some event. How do Marxists respond to this dilemma?

Marxists answer that no explanation, no matter what theory is used to produce it, is ever complete, total or finished. Human beings can no more fully explain an event than they can fully appreciate a work of art, fully understand another person, or fully control their environment. Instead, we all do these things partially, utilizing our thoughts and feelings as best we can to produce some appreciation of a painting, some understanding of a friend, and some control over our environment. So it is with any theory. It uses its particular apparatus—its objects, qualifications, and notions of causality—to produce its particular (and inevitably partial) explanation of an event.

Marxists thus insist that they, like everyone else, are producing their distinctively partial explanations. The point is simply that the Marxian explanation is different from the non-Marxian one; both are partial. Indeed, what differentiates Marxists is their view that theories and explanations are all partial, their own included, while neoclassical theorists presume that final causes of events exist and that their theory can and will disclose them in a finished and completed explanation. Once discovered, these final causes by definition cannot be reduced to anything else. That is why such theorists believe that they have obtained a complete explanation.

By contrast, Marxists cannot talk of independent and dependent—or essential and nonessential—variables among the objects of their theory. Each aspect of society, for them, is dependent on all the other aspects. No event or aspect of society is independent; nothing determines other things without itself being determined by them. Marxists do not look for the ultimate causes of events, because they presume that such final explanations do not exist. Neoclassical theorists do look for and claim to have found such essences among the objects of their theory. Hence they order aspects of society into dependent and independent variables.

So Marxian theorists produce their partial explanations of social development and contrast them with the partial explanations produced via alternative theories. Marxian explanations focus on the class aspects, class causes, and class consequences of social life. Marxists do not claim that they focus on class because class is the essential, ultimate cause of social structures and changes. Such a claim would violate their own commitment to overdetermination, their rejection of the presumption of and the search for essential causes of any kind. Marxian theory is antiessentialist and antireductionist. Its analyses proceed in terms of the mutual cause-and-effect relationships (overdetermination) between class and nonclass aspects of any economy and society chosen for examination and explanation. Class exploitation is no more a cause of historical development than any of the other nonclass and noneconomic components of a society.

Marxists justify their antiessentialist focus on class on two grounds: (1) class as an aspect of social life has been neglected; and (2) the neglect of class prevented people from constructing the kind of societies which Marxists would like to see. A theory of social structures and historical changes which emphasizes class, the Marxists argue, can help remedy the neglect—especially by neoclassical theory—of class exploitation. Marxists want to direct attention to class because they see it as a part of social life that will have to be changed if social justice is to be achieved. Marxists clearly feel that their theory will stimulate the needed attention. Notice that their justification of the focus on class is not a claim that it is some final and ultimate determinant of historical change, but rather a judgment about how analytical thought can and should be oriented to achieve social goals.’

—Richard D. Wolff & Stephen A. Resnick, Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore & London, 1987), pp. 9–22.

Jean-Claude Maleval on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis contra Contemporary Psychiatric Scientism



‘We should [. . .] note that the “clinical case presentation” as practiced by Lacan had few commonalities with classical psychiatric practice. Lacan already had reservations about this practice in his youth. He writes in his doctoral thesis (1932): “Interviewing has few advantages being nearly always disadvantageous” [. . . .] In 1955, his critique becomes more radical: “Three quarters of the time that we show the subjects how to proceed we note nothing else but what we ask of them—what we suggest they respond to us. We introduce distinctions and categories in what they experience that are of concern only to us. [. . .] Proceed according to order, and the chapters are already written” [. . . .] Contrary to this practice oriented towards classification, Lacan emphasizes that the first approach to good interviewing and to a “good investigation concerning psychosis” involves “letting the patient talk as long as he or she wants to.” It concerns a presentation where one “listens” [. . .], founded on the supposition that the subject can teach us and not on trying to insert him into a grid. By way of this alone we come to see a subject as dynamic in his own treatment, and this will reverberate on the attitude of the treatment team where such listening will be practiced. It makes for a rupture with the DSM modality of treatment, allowing a humanization in psychiatry.

[. . .] the ethics of the psychoanalytic approach to the psychiatric patient [. . .] breaks with the idea of approaching the patient scientifically. According to Lacan, such scientism denotes an ideology of the suppression of the subject of the unconscious. Science is animated by one goal—knowledge—such that neither desire nor guilt would hinder the development of its logic. No one today takes notice of this, and this is why we need to have so many ethical committees. This lack of awareness can have, Lacan says in 1973, “stifling consequences for what we call humanity.” Psychoanalysis finds itself in the place of exception in terms of the discourse of science. With regard to this place of exception, as well as to the effects that are sometimes “stifling,” Lacan assigns the function of an “artificial lung thanks to which one tries to find jouissance in speech so that history will continue” [. . . .] The psychoanalytic practice of one by one is a counter-balance to the scientific treatment of the subject by universalization.’

(Jean-Claude Maleval, ‘Treatment of the Psychoses and Contemporary Psychoanalysis,’ trans. Manya Steinkoler, pp. 99–111 in Lacan on Madness: Madness, Yes You Can’t, ed. Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkoler [London & New York: Routledge, 2015], pp. 109–10)

: Jacques Lacan & Henri Ey à Sainte-Anne, 1932.

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