In this space and time, the onset of the pandemic didn’t thunder in a peaceful sky, just as psychiatrists used to explain for a subject, who never shown any sign of pathology, the sudden onset of a bouffée délirante. We knew this could happen, but we ignored it. At present, it besieges the body. It changes the air we breathe into a worrisome substance that may be infectious. Yet there is no scientific evidence on airbone transmission. In the past, miasmas were believed as the main culprit. All year round we breathe polluted air without thinking about it. Here, it’s different because this lethal enemy was given a name. Its presence is invisible, but using our cells as hosts, this virus is becoming our partner far too real.

At the beginning of all this, the Real was transmitted via the signifier coronavirus, the latter then became covid19. Linguistically, it went through a mutation to change into what it is now; a disturbing S1 impacting our lives without one single opportunity to grab onto a S2. To distinguish it from others, it goes under the name of Covid19. All we know is its name and its type. Scientists themselves did admit that we know, at first sight, nothing about this virus.

And then we had to deal with self-isolation, social distancing, hygiene guidelines; all regulations unable to bring meaning, unable to fix our unbalanced subjectivity for the disruption of our lives. We all became addicted to watching the news. The content of the news is itself dependent of the virus’ strong-will acting like an unpredictable Other that can strike you whenever it wants and can limit your freedom of movement. Of course, before all this took place, we did witness a slight exodus of people moving to their country or seaside holiday homes, and some final indulgence when both bars and restaurants shut down. All, cocking a snoot at death itself.

Like the people living on those islands threatened by tsunamis, we seem to be ourselves waiting for that wave… But here the wave is invisible, yet visible through the daily numbers of cases reported by the French director of the national health agency… through the number of infected people, of inpatients, of deaths, and for the last few days, of recoveries. We are now certain this forceful wave can take you away and turn all it comes in contact with into waste- including, the body. Here, this marine metaphor barely covers our being as object.

We are lacking the words to express what we experience. Similarly, what spreads over all the news is a surge of opinions. And as long as opposite views are present, opinions are faulty to give a vague definition, to create disagreements, even if the ones that do intervene are accountable. Gaining more knowledge means that what is said today will be questioned tomorrow. And so, all the information we gathered from China must be reconsidered because they didn’t report the severity of this phenomenon and lied about the epidemic’s tipping point…

Broadly speaking, we are living at the time of the inexistence of the Other, at the time of the parlêtre’s disorientation, and of the body. The shelter for our being has now turned into a balloon the virus can burst. A fragile place the Thing can easily invade. The structure, or rather the architecture that held together with the edifice of our lives, in other words, all the semblance that formed a discourse have been scrubbed off, leaving only a thin layer of humus. As Lacan said in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis,[1] his seminar where the theory of four discourses explains the social bond, later defined in Encore as what “is only established by being anchored in a certain way that language is imprinted, is situated, is situated on what the place is teeming with; namely, the speaking being.”[2]

When the body enjoys, language acts as a barrier. It builds seawalls and chicanes. It forms holes and voids to let jouissance pour out causing as little damage as possible. It depicts a journey as an attempt for the small train of signifiers to move along the railways of the drive. Primal contamination. The impact of language onto the body creates a trauma that bounced back as an echo because the body speaks. Onto this swarm S1- the signifying chains will find their place, within their reasoning and within this traumatic echo, to protect it, to cover it, and to make language and meaning bearable. Yet, the fantasies framing jouissance will collapse, their foundations are too fragile and as the virus do, jouissance will change the function of the linguistic cells to its benefit. Wild interpretation, persecution, or bodily phenomenon, all seeking answers in the Real, like antibodies in the absence of meaning.

The presence of the signifier Coronavirus and its infection intrude people’s lives leaving a hole. Some are destabilised, disconnected, or damaged by language. For the last 30 years, he worked in the same company with his colleagues and his manager. A friendly atmosphere that carried on. But then, 6 months ago, another manager took over. He was demanding. He reorganised the way people worked and broke that friendship. Nevertheless, “it was bearable, we were united, we worked in an open space, we talked to each other, we made time for coffee”. He did get in touch with the staff delegate for an appointment with the HR’s chief officer but when the pandemic broke out, working from home isolated him. Throughout his emails, his manager asks him to produce specific jobs that he could no longer perform. It contaminates his family life, he says, it is intrusive. He seeks advice from the doctor who told him to take some time off. He is unable to sleep. The small chain that kept his life together broke. He finds himself alone and starts experiencing persecution. Years ago, he wanted to be the manager but quickly gave up, feeling he was caught between a rock and a hard place, and about to break down.

She came to see me at the time she felt she had possibly reached “the end of the road”. Since the age of 10, she had mapped out her life. She would be a successful student, she would own a house, and live with someone but without children. She succeeded in all the above but is feeling helpless since it’s time for her to invent something new. She has no idea how to. The first time, when she was 10, the ideas came to her naturally. It was a response to her father’s death that never was symbolised. Inventing something new is a struggle because she is unable to speak. Let’s be clear here, when she feels involved and obliged to reply because of her role, she faces the void between signifiers. The phallic foundation is unable to hold, so she is unable to speak. She continues her sessions by phone and speaks to me about the things that customers must do when they come to her shop. “At times, I realise how harsh I am. And some other times I tell myself ‘who do you think you are to force people to do these things? They are old enough and you should leave them alone’. Telling them to do what’s best is absurd. As soon as I get the feeling I’m being controlled or someone wants me to fit, I only want one thing from life; run away and cut all ties.” I tell her she does in fact direct herself towards others when words can’t. She realises how she always managed that way. When the atmosphere in work is tense and colleagues are rude, she is does not intervene. We both agree that it’s an easy thing to do. This session allows her to recognise her symptoms as a way of dealing with the Real, because her symbolic staple is quite weak. When she is pushed towards an Ideal, she encounters an abyss, the proof of a lack that could disorganise her relationship with meaning. Without playing on words, sessions on the phone are precious threads.

The uncertainty of the pandemic and its consequences depict, for each of us, a new landscape. Others are silent. Self-isolating becomes the norm in this suspended life…but life keeps going and jouissance must find its way. So, we must invent a way to respond to all of this, since we know now, how fragile, and more than ever how temporary life is. The RSI knot is changing. Hence, we must attempt to re-knit it without causing damage for the subject. Each session is a session and a subjective emergency. Psychoanalysts, in a way, are becoming emergency practitioners. Freud, himself, defined psychoanalysts as surgeons because the body also suffers. We strive to knit the thread of flesh together with the one of language for the subject now aware of having a body, that thing so easy to ignore, and to invent the language that can gives support to it, insofar as not overflowing jouissance too much and not fraying the thread of life.

Reading Lacan’s concept of lalangue, at this moment in time, is particularly important, because lalangue is “[…] in the sense of a series fiddling about, a fiddling, a scratching, in a word of a fury – the animation of the jouissance of the body.”[3]



Translated by Delphine Velut

1 Lacan J., (1969-1970). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. In J.-A. Miller (Ed.) N.Y.: Norton, 2006.

[2] Lacan J., (1972-1973). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore- On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge. In J.-A. Miller (Ed.) N.Y.: Norton, 1998. p. 133.

[3] Lacan J., Les Non Dupes Errent. Lesson of 11th of June 1974. Unpublished.