This expression “body event”, as defining the symptom, can be found in the text Lacan submitted for inclusion in the proceedings of the 5thInternational Joyce Symposium in 1975, under the title “Joyce the Symptom”.[2]Here is the passage in question: Let us leave the symptom to what it is: an event of the body, bound up with the fact that:one ’as it, one ’as it ov air, one ’as the aery’v it, one ’as it…From time to time this gets sung and Joyce does not forbear from doing so”.[3] Why does Lacan ask us to “leave the symptom to what it is”? Most simply, this could be taken as an indication not to separate the symptom in its ‘being’ from the ‘having’ of the body that characterises man. Does this imply that the body would thus not hold without the support of the symptom? And should the symptom, itself, no longer be considered without its “fastening” [son “accroche”] to the body?

Can we not find a first answer to these questions already included in the sentence itself? Lacan in fact indicates that “from time to time” the symptom “gets sung” in the non-sensical form of a childish refrain. Is it thus possible to hear, in the Ratman’s major obsession, in the bodily symptoms of Dora and the first “Freudian” hysterics, in the Wolfman’s compulsions, and in Little Hans’s horse phobia, “a little song” that constitutes the bone of it? It seems to me that, here, Lacan invites us to detach ourselves as analysts from the appeal to meaning exerted by the signifying chain, as such, in order to be receptive to the enjoy-meant, the joui-sensof the symptom as the speaking body’s little refrain, the air we have in our ears and that insists without reason, but not without resonances, the air out of which our base or aery’s made and our erring makes headway [erre]. The little song that guides our existence.

What Body?

If we take as our starting point the body as Lacan approaches it in an utterly renewed fashion in this text, which is contemporary to Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome,[4] we are struck by the assertion, repeated many times here, that man has a body and has only one; but it is a repetition that finds its support in the extraterritoriality between speech and writing, the efficacy of which Lacan demonstrates in this sentence by using a form of phonetic writing: “LOM, LOM at base, bockedy LOM who’s gotta body and Kun have just that one”.[5] He thereby brings about a fragmentation of meaning which literally explodes our inclination to understand this sentence and thereby transform it into banality. By uttering this sentence in this fashion, Lacan brings about what he is saying in act, he creates a ‘body event’, in other words a discourse event which is at the same time a jouissance event, by making it take a “bond de sens”, a “leap of meaning” [and also a “leap away from meaning”] – which is here opposed to bon sens,‘good sense’[6] – while making use of the same words. He thereby gives the model of interpretation, which is to use the same old words, while “crumpling” them a little, to make their value of enjoy-meant [joui-sens], suddenly appear. He manages to achieve this because he succeeds in linking together what he has produced throughout his teaching as enjoyed-sense [sens-jouit] about the body, namely the construction of three bodies arising from “three orders”: imaginary, symbolic and real. A sentence in this text brings them together to make it clear that man has but one body: what testifies to this, he says, is “the fact that he blabbers away in order to busy himself with the sphere from which to fashion himself an escabeau”.[7] It is very important for us here to grasp this insistence on Lacan’s part for the following reason: what he defines as symptom, is what happens (the event) to this body and LOM has only that, that one-body [un-corps], and has no other resources but that in order to recognise what is happening to him.

To the question “Qu’as-tu?”, “What’s wrong?”, literally: “What do you have?”, which serves the subject as a means to “fictively question himself”, but which sets us on the path, there is only one answer: “J’ai ça”,“I have this” [in the sense of “I have this or that complaint or malady”]. Let’s illustrate this simply: What is wrong with you crying, screaming, sulking, fretting…? To this the subject can only respond by declining a phenomenon of the imaginary body (anatomical, physiological), or a phenomenon of the symbolic body (mental or psychical), or a phenomenon which relates to the real of the body (which runs through him, that he runs up against, or that he is unable to say), in other words, he responds with a knowledge derived from current discourses and, if he is in analysis, he responds with his unconscious. These various body phenomena are registered as “body events” only in so far as they happen to the body that we have as one. When they are caught up in other discourses that bring them under control [les maîtriser], their event value is obscured. They are events, without Other, insofar as they say themselves in the treatment, because it is in this saying that their jouissance value is revealed, in a flash. It is in so far as they say themselves that the body rate [taux de corps][8] that they carry for the subject, without their knowing, is registered both for the person speaking and for the analyst: hysteric subjects are the ones who allow this to be grasped, they who, whether male or female, adapt themselves to the symptom in the other, who perceive it in another body. But this is what constitutes their drama, as they thus seek to extract themselves from what, at the end of his teaching, Lacan saw as the only limit that man has to deal with, his body, a limit which is also his sole responsibility.

Read the full text here.

Translated by Philip Dravers 

[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.

[2] This Lacan, J. “Joyce the Symptom”, Trans. A. R. Price, The Lacanian Review 5 (2018), pp.13-18.

[3] Ibid. p. 17. translation modified. [T.N. The original French for this little ‘ritornello’ or refrain is difficult to render in English: l’on l’a, l’on l’a de l’air, l’on l’aire, de l’on l’a. The version published in TLR 5 is as follows: “Let us leave the symptom to be what it is: an event of the body, bound to how: y’aint without it, y’got it from thin air, y’air it, an aria y’ain’t without. Once in a while that gets sung, and Joyce doesn’t hold back from doing just that”.]

[4] Lacan, J. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII, The Sinthome, trans. A. R. Price, Cambridge: Polity, 2016.

[5] Lacan, J. op. cit., p. 13

[6] Ibid. p. 14-15.

[7] Ibid. p. 14. [translation modified]

[8] Lacan, J. Le Séminaire, livre XVI, D’un Autre à L’autre, Paris, Seuil,  2006, p. 371.