During confinement, we experienced absent bodies from a distance. We experienced that the notions of proximity, distance, and border between self and other were insufficient to account for presence. Near, far, social distancing, blurring (an English term to designate the absence of a border between the private and the professional), FOMO (fear of missing out) [1], fear of missing something on social networks, or FOGO (fear of going out), fear of sticking one’s nose outside, which seems to be a nuance of agoraphobia. These are the new phrases that testify to new discomforts related to the presence and effects of relationships with the other, outside, close quarters, intimate and extimate.

To compensate for absence, the digital has imposed itself, inserted itself very deeply into our lives. Two neologisms have become part of the common language to circumscribe this effect: presential [2] and distancial. With digital technology, we have had access to the possibility of “seeing each other”, without being presential, “hearing each other”, by connecting, getting closer, but distancial, at a distance. Each time the object a has been touched, ‘seeing’ imposes itself to the detriment of the gaze, and the specular image becomes the reflection of oneself. The absence of the body no longer hooked on, no longer giving ballast or support to speech, has become lost, emptied of meaning and jouissance, and in return the effects of “fatigue”, “weary bodies”, even “weariness” are sometimes felt. Our encounters become digital. Our encounters become virtual. Has presence been touched?

Without the presence of the bodies, without the confrontation of the bodies, presence becomes more enigmatic but necessary. Will it always be so? What are the conditions for an encounter to be real, for a presence to be felt, to be experienced? How does the feeling of presence occur?

Analytical sessions have not escaped this phenomenon, which attests to the way analysis is inseparable from a certain relation to the bodies that are present. What the absence of bodies has revealed is the body that slips away. Lacan evokes the slipperiness [fuyance][3] of the body in the seminar on transference. Let us grasp the equivocation of flight [fuite], of absent bodies and of the body which leaks [fuit], in order to question what real presence is. Is it that which is made “in flesh and blood”?

The expression of real presence[4] appears for the first time in the seminar on transference, and on several occasions, notably as a chapter title. It is often through its negativity, its negation, that this notion is grasped. Here, it is in the form of insult. The insult has the real presence that Lacan spots in the clinic of a female obsessive neurosis. Her symptom consists in seeing (without its having to do with hallucinatory phenomena) the male genital organs in the place of the host [Communion bread]. This insult to the sacredness of Catholic religious dogma is an insult to the Eucharist. Lacan takes it up to evoke the notion of real presence. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, real presence is substance. It designates not something visible to the “bodily eye,” but the intelligible reality of a being. The real presence names the body of Christ. It is not perceptible by any of the senses, nor by the imagination, even when the wine and the bread (the host) give imaginary form to clothe this substance. Lacan uses this term to give an account of the big Phi function, the function of the phallus, which symbolises absence and presence and which he designates as real presence. The big Phi symbolises both meaning and its beyond, the interval between two signifiers, as empty presence, as non-relation between two signifiers (S1//S2). “For the sign to be given [by the psychoanalyst] is the sign of the lack of a signifier.”[5]

In each interval, the question of the desire of the Other is opened up for the subject, and makes a sign of desire, but nothing that is signifiable. This is why the obsessive devotes himself to warding off this interval between two signifiers each time it presents itself to him. Thus, in the cure, the function that the symbolic phallus occupies in its place “is that it is not simply a sign and a signifier but the presence of desire. It is the real presence [of desire].” [6]

The phallus, beyond its representation of the organ, beyond any representation or possible signification, has a status as sign. But this sign is a real presence that the analyst, in his desire and his body, can incarnate in flesh and in bone.

The objects a are housed in the analyst, he incarnates them.

Let us distinguish with Jacques-Alain Miller’s teaching, the beginning of the cure, the moment when idealisation is only the mask of the object a, it is the stage of revelation, then the stage of repetition, it is the analysis that lasts. And finally the third stage, that of stagnation, that of the cage of the sinthome, its inertia. That of very real jouissance. According to the moments, the objects of demand and desire are underlined, accentuated, marked or, on the contrary, reduced to zero, subtracted by the analyst. The handling of the object is what establishes the real hole in language, it is both what symbolises it and covers its lack in various guises. Whether the gaze is supported or diverted, here the subject’s body is first and foremost that of narcissism reduced to the image. Or in the idealization of truth, speech, and meaning, the analyst incarnates the Other as the place of signifiers and truth, but also by his silence indicates the presence of jouissance. His silence, or noise, is what summons the object voice. The voice is not sonorous, it is not the voice of vocalisation but the voice that arises each time the signifier breaks on what cannot be said, on what is unspeakable. It is the voice, like that which topples, that which falls from the body, when meaning is lost and flees. The word, to be without the echo produced by the analyst’s silence, is emptied of meaning and jouissance.

In the same way, the body of the subject, as a support for the phallic presence, or placed on the couch like a peel, confronts the living body of the analyst, beyond what is, what exists. The real presence of the body of the analyst as a support is also the one that convokes the present of saying. “The speaking present [le dire du présent] and the present speaking [le présent du dire]”[7] – Lacan makes this distinction in The Formations of the Unconscious. And he specifies that it is not a simple play on words but the here and now of the present making it possible to identify the actuality of the speaker at the level of the message, while the present of saying opens up to the space of metonymy, of what can be heard. Let us add: what is read from what is said, what enjoys itself in saying. When the psychoanalyst is presence, he is both a veiled support of a desire – Que vuoi? – and a support of jouissance, through the intermediary of the object a in presence.

For when the analyst’s desire becomes the support of a real presence as impossible, he can also incarnate, make interpretation of an event of singular jouissance. If the signifier is not everything, the real presence linked to the desire of the analyst is the index of the real of the jouissance of the body. With the real presence, Lacan puts us on the path of the analytic session as a topological object, a real produced not by the impossible but by the knot, the handling of the knot.


Translated by Janet Haney


Originally published: https://www.lacan-universite.fr/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/ironik-42-Habeas-corpus.pdf

[1] See “Confinement and the FOMO, fear of missing out on social networks”, available online (www.nova.fr).

[2] This adjective qualifies a way of functioning in a real situation, in the present time and without  intermediary or media intermediary. As opposed to “virtual” and “remote”. Usually used in a  professional setting. (Online: www.linternaute.fr).

[3] Lacan J., Seminar 8, Transference, text established by J.-A. Miller, transl. B. Fink, Cambridge, Polity, 2015, p. 230. Fink translates ‘fuyance’ as ‘dissonance’, which has to do with sound. We have used flight/fleeting to evoke more of the body.

[4] Ibid., p. 241.

[5] Ibid., p. 233.

[6] Ibid., p. 246.

[7] Lacan J., Seminar 5, Formations of the Unconscious, text established by J.-A. Miller, transl. R. Grigg, Cambridge, Polity, 2017, p. 53. “It is the opposition between what I will call the speaking present [le dire du présent] and the present speaking [le présent du dire]. This looks like a play on words. It’s nothing of the sort.”