Psychoanalysis? In the 21st century? In the era of neuroscience and medical imagery?

Psychoanalysis? Dragging along its cortege of mummy and daddy, St. Oedipus and all the normative nonsense in the epoch of gender studies and the questioning of binary sexuality?

Psychoanalysis? That bourgeois thing? Narcissistic, egocentric? While nations are rumbling, the planet is burning, and the search for survival is becoming ever more urgent?

Psychoanalysts, you are way off the mark!

Saying something about your practice, going forward with the psychoanalytic signifier is to expose yourself to such a florilegium of the current discourse. The real of the century, the real of the discontent in civilisation which Freud was endeavouring to show, still resonates in the individual psyche but in a profoundly different way.

Can we all keep up – rather than giving in to the dominant mode of discourse – and also respond to it, knowing that such questioning has gone beyond Freud, and the two periods of Lacan’s teaching, right up until the edge where a psychoanalysis beyond the semblant seems to run the risk of its own disappearance?

It is a fact that these presuppositions concerning the uselessness of such a practice of speech faced with the great social issues of the day attest to a very particular conception of analytic speech: this way of speaking [1] full of the symbolism proper to offering its power of revealing buried truths, full of the meaning that would finally unveil the unconscious desire of the subject. A speech that does not fully represent the contemporary use of the signifier that scurries and strikes, signalling, day after day, its affinity with jouissance more than with repression.

Our daily practice finds itself necessarily modified, in accordance with what Freud foresaw very early on as the “hole at the heart of the real” [2], which, whatever the century, cuts the speaking being from his ideals and confronts him with the impossibility of being at peace with the world or the other. The paradox is that speech, the very thing that the subject complains about indirectly, is what we use to treat him. The fact that speech runs through him and isolates him, gets him bogged down in the same dead ends, is used to confront him with the most obscure aspect of what animates him.

“Is it really necessary to repeat all this every week, and anyway what’s the point?” an analysand recently questioned me.

“No, there is no point”, I immediately thought, echoing the enigmatic phrase of the later Lacan that has already struck my body several times “Ça sert à rien, it’s pointless, but ça serre, it grips tightly.” [3]

It’s this later Lacan, far away from the sirens of meaning offered by the paternal metaphor, that orients us today. A Lacan who opens up a difficult avenue for us: to touch the real is a question of envisaging another unconscious, truly different from meaning and its lying truth. It’s a question not of going to the other side, au delà, of the unconscious, but, as Jacques-Alain Miller proposes, en deçà, of staying on this side. [4]

So will we have the chance to be able to hear, and make resonate, perhaps not so much the words but the lalangue which marked the body before common language covered it up; to rely on the signifier less in its signification than in its materiality, to bring out the load of jouissance, to empty it as much as possible, but, above all, to know how to deal with it.

“What does to free associate mean? Is it a guarantee that the subject who speaks is going to say things that have a little more value? But everyone knows that ratiocination, as we call it in psychoanalysis, has more weight than reasoning.”

Faced with this ratiocinateur that is the speaking being, cut, punctuate, affect the body, disturb him. Locate and surround and grasp the death drive between the four walls of the consulting room. Sometimes exposing the hole rather than covering it up, sometimes bordering it with the real presence of the analyst, and perhaps less with his words than his voice.

To intervene, in short, not with words that are stuffed with the belief that things will get better, but as an analyst relieved – thanks to your own analysis – of the injunction “for all”. Don’t add meaning. Work to shape, capture, model the most singular of what could then happen.

Yes, it’s pointless. But it’s vital. That’s it.


Translated by Delphine Velut & Janet Haney


Text originally published in L’Hebdo-Blog, Issue 192, on 23rd February 2020.

[1] Lacan J., “The Function and the Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, Écrits, the First Complete Edition in English, transl. Bruce Fink, Norton, London/New York, 2006, pp. 197-268.

[2] Lacan J., “Le Phénomène lacanien”, lecture presented at the Nice Mediterranean University Centre, 30 November 1974, and published by the Section Clinique de Nice, 2011, pp. 9-25. [The Lacanian Phenomenon. Forthcoming]

[3] Lacan J., Seminar Book XXIII, The Sinthome,  Ed. J.-A. Miller, transl. A.R. Price, Polity, Cambridge , 2016, p. 65.

[4] Miller J.-A., “En deçà de l’inconscient”, La Cause du désir, No. 91, November 2015, pp. 97-126.

[5] Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XXIV, “L’insu que sait de l’une-bévue s’aile à mourre”, lesson of 19 April 1977, Ornicar ?, No.17/18, 1979, p. 13. [Seminar 24. Unpublished]