When the real arises in our life, it comes without warning, as unknown, it constitutes an event we cannot describe. We are speechless. Following in the footsteps of Freud and Lacan, we can talk about trauma as the unexpected encounter with the unspeakable real.


Lacan borrows the term tyché from Aristotle.[1] Confronted by tyché, the subject finds himself helpless and terrified. Freud distinguishes fear from the dimension of surprise, from the anxiety that signals the imminence of danger. The brutality of trauma breaks the continuity of psychic life by preventing the event from being connected to the signifying chain, leaving it meaningless, incapable, unlike other life events, of being integrated into the subject’s history­­­­. Lacan forged a neologism to designate this sudden break: “le troumatisme.”[2] This unassimilable event returns the subject to the fundamental distress of the defenseless fragile little child when he finds himself far from the Other protector. It reveals an unfathomable abyss.

A Signifier Alone

As such, the S1 COVID-19 at the origin of this accidental emergence, appeared by chance under a new face. This signifier without connection to an S2 and unable to kickstart a new signifying chain is isolated. It is an enigma. Indeed, language is above all the index of an unrepresentable. There is no pre-established knowledge concerning existential questions. The human subject comes up against the lack which cannot say everything about death and sex. This is why the subject has no choice but to forge his own fantasy solution from his early experiences and from the signifiers that have been transmitted to him. The discourse of science puts itself to work searching for a truth to cover the lack exposed by the emergence of the real.

A Singular Invention

It is through the operation of symbolic castration, the sole operator of lack, that the subject can forge with a signifying imaginary construction. Making a compass so that he can orient himself in the face of the enigma of life. What is traumatic is the hole in knowledge, this gap where the unconscious comes to lodge. The sanitary lockdown recommended all around the world, a time of suspense in the life of the city, obliges us to revisit the automaton as repetition and invites everyone to invent, to create anew. In this time of “social distancing,” like the S1 of the discourse of the master, the discourse of the analyst is thereby modified in his very practice.

The function of tyché, as such, constitutes the reality of a breaking experience. A tipping point between the old and the new, it introduces a conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. This is where the unassimilable can be buffered by subjective homeostasis, as in dream activity, for example.


[1] Lacan J., (1964) Seminar Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. J.-A. Miller, transl. A. Sheridan, Penguin, London, 1979, see Chapter 5: “Tyché and Automaton”.

[2] Lacan J., (1973-1974), Seminar XXI Les non-dupes errent, lesson of 19 February 1974, unpublished. [A condensation of “hole” [trou] and “trauma”]

© “Surfaces et détails”, courtesy Michäel Sorne, Paris 2020