In his last Seminar, The Moment to Conclude, Lacan says the following: “The Symbolic is language: we learn to speak and it leaves traces […], consequences that are nothing other than the sinthome and analysis consists […] in realising why we have these sinthomes […][2]” That is to say, language has an effect on the body, marking it with traces that impede the speaking being, that confuse it and that are the sinthome. It is a real effect of language on the body. The speaking being is struck by the language into which it enters, and this leaves a real mark, an effect of jouissance. It’s not like in the classical period of Lacan’s teaching where the subject is caught up in the signifier and its effects of signification; here it’s a corporeal effect of language, a strike of the signifier on the body. This is the position of the last Lacan.

From the imaginary to the symbolic

In Freud there are some remarks on the body as an organism, for example when he says that “anatomy is destiny”. But fundamentally the body of organs is not what comes to the fore when we speak of the body in psychoanalysis. In the very first stage of Lacan’s teaching, the body is essentially grasped as a unifying image that constitutes a first identification. The real body is then the fragmented body stemming from before this capture in the idealising image. This image is already what forms the Ego in Freud, which is certainly very heterogeneous, but which is “above all a corporeal Ego.” [3]For Freud, it is “the projection of a surfaceThis is the image of the body that Lacan will develop in The Mirror Stage, adding an alienating character to it since it is constructed from another image, in the mirror. Jouissance is narcissistic then, since the subject jouits his own image.

From the classical Lacan, who advances the pre-eminence of the signifier, this imaginary is regulated by the symbolic. It is the iron law of the signifier that imposes itself as a real, what Jacques-Alain Miller calls the ‘real-order’[4] and of which the diagrams in The Purloined Letter give us the concept. It is the body mortified by the signifier that has this double effect of symbolic death in life and symbolic life in death. Empedocles committing suicide on Mount Etna will remain forever present in the memory of mankind.

Bits of the real

However, Lacan takes a further step: from Seminar XI onwards another signification of the real appears. With the distinction between two types of repetition, αυτοματον and τυχη, he gives a new meaning to the real. The automaton is the signifying repetition that obeys the symbolic order; the tuche is the repetition of a trauma. It is the real that is at the root of this repetition which occurs as if by chance. We pass from a real order to a real-trauma. The body no longer appears only as an image or caught up in a symbolic order, but also as the site of another jouissance of the body, partial, linked to morsels of the real.

This is what gives the little object a its legitimate place: bits of the real, bits of jouissance. The body is now caught in the series of its objects. Éric Laurent argues that burial, by which the body remains body and does not become carrion, is a writing by which “the body becomes inscribed absence, around which the objects of jouissance are arranged and deposited.”[5] “Alongside the void of which the set of bones is the correlate, there remain the instruments of jouissance which present themselves as so many sub-sets around the subject. […] The instruments of jouissance thus always overflow the extensions of organs that they can incarnate; they are always in excess”[6].

But this “logical moment” of Lacan’s development “finds its stopping point […] in Seminar XX Encore, chapter VIII, when Lacan throws his hands up […] and formulates that the object a cannot “sustain itself in approaching the real[7].This is where Jacques-Alain Miller commences on the last Lacan. “There is a second version of the real, not the end version. There is the version that Lacan calls the sinthome. […] it is really something else, since the sinthome is a system. It is well beyond the bit of the real […] it is the real and its repetition.[8]


Read the full text here.

Translation by Raphael Montague

Reviewed by Joanne Conway

[1] This text is an excerpt from the full Orientation text for the upcoming NLS Congress: Bodily Effects of Language, 22-23 May 2021. For more information, go to the Congress Blog. Text based on a course at the Brussels Clinical Section and two lectures given in November 2020, one in Ghent, the other at the Lacanian Compass (USA).

[2] Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, The Moment to Conclude, Lesson of the 10th of January 1978. Unpublished.

[3] Freud, S., [1923], The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIX, The Ego and the Id, London: Hogarth Press, 1961, pp. 19-27.

[4] Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, Course of the 2nd of February 2011. Unpublished.

[5] Laurent, E., L’envers de la biopolitique, une écriture pour la jouissance, [The Other Side of BiopoliticsA Writing for Jouissance], Paris: Navarin ◊ Le Champ freudien, 2016, p. 39. Unpublished in English.

[6] Ibid. p. 41-42.

[7] Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, op. cit., Course of the 3rd of March 2011. Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book e XX, Encore, London and New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 95.

[8] Miller, J.-A., op. cit., Course of the 9th of February 2011.