Affect and Contract

That the Law gives way to affect, surprises. Nothing seems further from the Law than the register of affects. One signs a contract. One cannot say the next day: “I no longer want anything to do with this gentleman,[1] I tear up the contract” – at least not without penalty. The Law is constructed precisely so that affects do not affect contracts. Affects pass, the contract remains. However, if an affective condition has to be mentioned in a contract of association, it is perhaps that “the symbolic order” is not enough, that there is a “beyond of the contract”, with which the Law itself must cope.

Is it Imaginary?

Is this “something else” imaginary in nature? At the level of the imaginary, the standard relation is neither the contract, nor affection; it is an assassination, that is to say: you or me, me or the others. Recall the mirror stage. Aggressiveness persists, in one form or another, in the social bond; it arises as soon as the discourse which contains it weakens. Certainly, there is love, rooted in the imaginary. But affectio societatis is certainly not love.


Let’s say a word about marriage, which isn’t love either. Marriage is a contract. We accept as grounds for divorce what we call in French l’incompatibilité d’humeur [incompatibility of mood or temperament]. Look at Charles and Diana: when she wants to dance, he wants to go horse riding, when he comes in, she goes out, and vice versa. In terms of incompatibility – Lacan mentions the word in his Radiophonie, there is pathos: it is about suffering, about a certain way of suffering. Marriage is not just a contract; it is perhaps the desire to suffer together, of the suffering of the one by the other, with the other. The truth: it’s that the one is always incompatible with the other. When we no longer want to be [incompatible], that’s when we divorce. The mood of the one and that of the other are [then] said to be incompatible. But the incompatibility is established above all between mood and contract: a certain mood is incompatible with the contract. And that’s what the contract provides for: the mood [humour] condition.

The Impotence of Statutes

An important statutory industry has developed in the Freudian Field. Statutes can do nothing without affectio societatis. I understand very well that the death drive and the mirror stage cast a shadow on the validity of this notion. It could merely be a fiction with no practical implication. However, Lacan invites the analysts of his School to be good comrades. Is this humour? Is this to be taken seriously? Each one chooses.

Alone or Together

Let’s distinguish two slopes: what do we do alone and what do we do together?

In the sexual domain, it is better – Freud thinks – to be two. The solitary act is not recommended in psychoanalysis as it was amongst the Cynics. However, the drive achieves its goal by looping on itself. But precisely, is it sexual? The analytic discourse prescribes going alone to your analyst. When you arrive accompanied, as is the case for children, or certain phobics, that’s rare. When there are several of you entering the office, it’s group therapy, not analysis. The analyst, for his part, is alone. He may be in supervision, but the supervisor does not come to sit next to him and teach him to direct the treatment. The analyst, alone, and the analysand, alone, make a couple nevertheless, but only for the analysand. Thus, in so far as he is alone, he is in a relation with the association of these two solitudes. On the analysand’s side, affectio societatis is called “transference”. The “counter-transference”, on the other hand, is not convenient: the analyst does not associate. On what side is teaching in a School as we understand it? Rather on the side of “alone”. It would be dangerous to collectivise it. The statutes state that: “Anyone who teaches does so at their own risk.”

The not-me

We certainly have to protect the slope of solitude: that of the patient, that of the analyst, that of the teacher. Simultaneously, let’s affirm the dignity of what we do together: colloquiums, publications, libraries, cartels, juries. Is being-together, Mitsein, more difficult between analysts? Lacan thought so. That which makes the analyst rebel against identifications is the very thing that would make his colleagues unbearable for him. But it is also from the position of minus-one, of except me, that the neurotic gladly ensures his jouissance. He counts himself out. A position which has its dignity and which often appears at the origin of “the psychoanalytic vocation”.

The for-all

A School is established on universal rules, on the for-all, as Jorge Forbes recalled this evening; this for-all, is the absolute fascinum of the not-me. The affectio societatis introduces a supplementary element, which is lodged in a failure of the universal. All of the social bond cannot be captured by the universal, the Law testifies to this. There, where Law says affectio societatis, Freud says Eros. See the. Massenpsychologie. The symbolic identification with a master-signifier does not fully saturate everything concerning the group. It is necessary to add to it the factor of the drive, the aggregative side of which is designated as erotic. In so far as it is inscribed as a supplementary element in the group, let’s give it the name it owes to Lacan: the object a.

The object a of the School

Shall we talk about the object a of the School? It is certainly problematic. However, this evening, in Rio, let’s try. We understand each other. At least, we think we understand each other. Earlier, we applauded. It was also the first time: yesterday, in Sao Paulo, we did not applaud. Perhaps it is only in Rio that there is the object a of the School. This little apologue is in order to localise the object a in the group at the level of “we understand each other”: these are the meanings that the members have in common; it’s the bread and wine that we share.

Two nights ago, in Curitiba, Jorge Forbes began his intervention by saying: “The earth is blue”. We smiled. All, except me. I had no idea what that meant. I grasped the “literal” meaning, but not its value. I had to be told that the phrase was said by Gagarin in Sputnik, and that it was famous in Brazil, in a manner that I was unaware of. Did you know this? (Yes). Perfect, so you get along with your colleagues in Curitiba (laughter). I only knew that A terra é azul translates into French as La terre est bleue, without knowing that it came from the Russian and that it was proverbial, or at least lexicalized in Brazil. I didn’t know on what basis Jorge Forbes got along with his audience. So there was the object a there. The object a is present whenever “they understand each other”.

The Sectarian Effect

The symbolic order has universal discourse as its horizon. What hinders it is the object a, which always particularises. Despite the Association that brings us together being a “world” association – at least that’s its name, its wish – we understand each other in a way that distinguishes us from others: by references, allusions, by what is not-said, these are ours, and which give the impression to those who are not of the parish, who do not come under our affectio societatis, that we are a sect speaking its jargon. Is it not true? Each time there is affectio societatis, that there is group and object of the group, there is particularisation, a sectarian effect. We may combat it, but it is born every day, and it emanates from the group through all its pores.

Do not tire the object a

Let’s not stake too much on these issues about the Statutes. For there to be a School, it is first of all a matter of there being affectio societatis. The painter Braque used to say: “proofs tire truth.” You should never tire the objet petit a.



Translation by Raphael Montague

* Originally published in French in La Lettre Mensuelle, n*151, July 1997 and in Spanish in Elucidación de Lacan: charlas brasileñas, Buenos Aires: Ed. EOL, Ed. Paidós, Junio de 1998.

[1]La tête de ce monsieur ne me revient plus“.