In an analysis, the subject comes to speak about what doesn’t work, what bothers him, makes him obsessed or anxious. Something of his jouissance is opaque to him. Once the Subject Supposed to Know is in place, a phenomenon arises, speech changes. It is no longer open to the four winds, nor to all meaning and summons a new way of addressing the Other: “the analytic session is a space where the signifier keeps its dignity,” [1] Jacques-Alain Miller tells us. To say the unsayable is only possible on this condition.

Situating the event

Today, the clinic confronts us with a dizzying increase in complaints concerning sexual abuse, whether intra-familial or not, indicating the impact of the signifier family in our action. Nevertheless, that which is traumatic is not always clear. There is the excess of certain facts, but there is also the infinitesimal or the infinitely small of the encounter with an unsayable jouissance. For example, the psychical torture which sometimes perverse conditions of love impose, the sexual allusions reiterated on the adolescent bodies, the looks and the hands which go too far, there is violence, contempt, humiliation, the night restlessness, the pierced prohibition, etc.  Sexual assault calls for a number of affects including anxiety, “that which deceives not,” [2] as Lacan put it.

Freud also found that speech becomes more difficult when it comes to the unveiling of fantasies. This reticence demonstrates that the freedom of speech encounters an obstacle, that of shame, a sign indicating that jouissance touches the intimate.

The unsayable of jouissance

To say the unsayable resonates with the title of our Study Days. It is situated at the crossroads of the intimate and that which can or cannot be said about the traumatic encounter, of which incest and rape mark the dimension of the assault. There sexuality is forced and reduces the subject to being a sexual object submitted to the sexual relation under the menace, blackmail and will of an other. The rupture accounts for an obscure point where the sexual act strips the imaginary which serves as support to the symbolic fabric, so fragile in relation to sexuality. The screen of the fundamental fantasy is broken. What remains is the shock of the real. This is what the subject who suffers  rape or incest is confronted with. For psychoanalysis, this rupture is to be taken as synonymous of the “the real (…) without law,” [3] as defined by Lacan.

Saying the unsayable is an invitation to say that which cannot be said, as real. Sexual trauma supports the circumscription of the unsayable of jouissance, always traumatic. This is the sensitive point of our theme. How to account for the trauma of the sexual encounter, which is structural, with the intrusion of rape? How to trace the border? Which part to give to fantasy? How to grasp the use a subject makes of his fantasy as defense, when he was confronted to the illegible of the desire of the Other, which plunged him into the Freudian Hiflosigkeit?[4]

Psychoanalysis seeks neither confessions nor evidence. It does not reduce speech to a factual truth, but to that which is written in the rupture, the discontinuity, the disorder spoken about it. The symptom is its compass. Being the real of trauma, it already marks its function as inscription, even if it is in an après coup, sometimes distant from the traumatic event, the Freudian nachträglich which signals its dimension of cut. It is because there has been a trauma that there is a symptom but this does not suffice, Freud indicates. It is the encounter with an unknown jouissance which will return in the symptom. As a formation which veils the real at stake, the symptom is a chance for the subject. It is a response to a question impossible to formulate. Its function is to knot, even repair the hole. This is why to “put the trauma into words”, as it’s said, does not resolve it, because “the horror of a jouissance unknown to himself”[5] will remain unthinkable for the subject, left empty or imprisoned in the symptom. In this way, it responds for the term rupture [effraction] as an event outside-of-meaning. As soon as we say something about it, we attempt to inscribe it in one’s history, to think of its gap, to lodge the object a through thought, panser. Under transference, the unsayable finds a path/ voice [voie/ voix]. Sometimes, it goes through the writing given to the analyst to read, as a trace of that which cannot be said. From then on something is detached and the speaking being testifies to the effects of silence which have fixed certain images, certain looks or certain gestures. The encounter with the unnameable can thus be read.

Psychoanalysis faced with trauma

We shall question the psychoanalytic clinic in relation to all the other current therapeutic modalities at the subjects’ disposal in order to free themselves from sexual traumas. There where the confession functions as a reparation which permits the nomination of “victim of sexual abuse”, we approach sexual trauma as a tension between the violence suffered and the jouissance that got fixated there. We do not put a gag on the jouissance encountered or on its effects over time. Saying the unsayable, is also welcoming what can be heard of that which is said in between words, what is said of a jouissance that was experienced and unacceptable, or also denied and of which some symptoms can be the offspring, whether they are symptoms concerning the sexual exchange  itself (vaginismus, disgust, refusal of sex, impotence, etc.) or symptoms of inhibition in love life, aggressiveness or fear towards men, linked to fright.

Jouissance is always a rupture [effraction], be it the trauma is sexual or not. Saying the unsayable is in this regard, a discontinuity between the therapeutic discourse and psychoanalysis. The former is occupied with recognising the damage caused by the trauma, while psychoanalysis deals with what is below the trauma. It is a question of reaching the confines of a jouissance always singular and which cannot be repaired: he who speaks is responsible for his jouissance, his culpability reveals its weight, because “one is more or less guilty of the real,” [6] Lacan specifies.

Psychoanalysis is in this respect a place where what one says, becomes first and foremost an event for oneself, insofar as the analyst knows how to grasp the saying. “The fact that one says remains forgotten behind what is said in what is heard.[7] This phrase by Lacan emphasises what is said [dit], linked to truth, when the saying [dire] makes a hole, index of the real.

Saying is an event

In his seminar Les non-dupes errent, Lacan indicates that “saying is of the order of an event,”[8] which is not the case with speech, “because without it we wouldn’t be saying vain words!” [9] This formulation indicates that there is something of the real in the signifier. Sexual assault is one of the names of this real. Psychoanalysis can say something about it. But beware, it can neither say everything of it nor can it know everything about it. The clinic will let us discover that each one advances with their trauma up to the point when the words said are emptied of their enjoy-meant [jouis-sens], and what remains of them is written: the symptomatic remainders as Freud called them; what Lacan named sinthome, whose writing circumscribes a saying that is only read at the end of analysis, and which traces a possible solution between what we have perceived, once the fundamental fantasy has been crossed, of the traumatic real which has produced the fixation of jouissance and the saying which has echoed it.



Translated by Peggy Papada

Originally published in DESaCORPS, Newsletter of the 50th Study Days of the ECF, No 1, 2nd June 2020. Available in French online.

[1] Miller, J.-A., “On shame”, in Jacques Lacan and the Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Duke University Press, 2006.

[2] Lacan, J., Seminar X, Anxiety, edited by J.-A. Miller, Polity, 2014, p. 76.

[3] Lacan, J., Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, edited by J.-A. Miller, Polity, 2016.

[4] Cf. Miller, J.-A., “Presentation of Book VI of the Seminar of Jacques Lacan”, Hurly-Burly, No. 10, 2013, pp. 33-47.

[5] Freud, S., “Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis”, in The Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. X, pp. 3-149), London: Hogarth.

[6] Lacan, J., Seminar, XXIV, « L’insu que sait de l’une bévue, s’aile la mourre », lesson of 15 March 1977, unpublished.

[7] Lacan, J., “L’étourdit”, Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 449.

[8] Lacan, J., Seminar XXI, « Les non-dupes errent », lesson of 18 December 1973, unpublished.

[9] Ibid.