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Seminar VII

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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1959 - 1960 L'éthique de la psychanalyse
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

At the root of the ethics is desire, but a desire marked by the "fault". Analysis' only promise is austere: it is "the entrance into-the-I," l'entrée-en-Je. "I must come to the place where the Id was," where the analysand discovers, in its absolute nakedness, the truth of his desire. The end of the cure is then the purification of desire. Lacan makes three statements: one is only guilty of "having given in on one's desire"; "the hero is the one who can be betrayed with impunity"; goods exist, but "there is no other good than the one that can pay the price of the access to desire," a desire that is only valid insofar as it is desire to know. Lacan lauds Oedipus at Colonus who calls down curses before dying, and he associates him with Antigone, walled up alive, who has not given in at all. Both have rejected the right to live in order to enter the "in-between-two-deaths," - entre-deux-morts - that is immortality.

Since Le désir et son intépretation, the analysis of the son's passion (subject) has become more pressing. Who is the Father? Here is the terrible Father of the primal horde (Freud's Totem and Taboo); Luther's God with "his eternal hatred against men, a hatred that existed even before the world was born"; the father of the law who, as to Saint Paul, leads to temptation: "For me, the very commandment - Thou shall not covet - which should lead to life has proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, seduced me and by it killed me." Lacan adds, "I have put the Thing in the place of sin," denouncing the complicity between the law and the Thing, "which is called Evil." But what is the Thing against which the Father cannot or does not know how to defend himself? It has nothing to do with the object, which is created by words. It is the outside signifier and also the hostile outside signified: a mute reality prior to primal repression that puts in its place the pure signifying web without being able to hide it. It is the center of the unconscious but it is excluded; it is the Real but always represented by an emptiness, the nonthing, l'a chose, the nothing, a hole in the Real from which the Word, the Signifier, creates the world. It is the place of deadly jouissance sanctioned by the prohibition of incest. It is associated with the mother who represents it by her manifest carnality, and with woman who, idealized in courtly love, speaks the truth: "I am nothing but the emptiness which is in my cloaca." The idea of a distorted sexuality meets the 70s mantra: "There is no such thing as a sexual rapport." Woman, who is the other, bears the burden of the curse, although the Thing is settled at the heart of all subjects who have to recognize it. Who am I? "You are the waste that falls in the world through the devil's anus." However, salvation holds on by a thread: the theme of the exquisiteness of the son's love for the father would be amplified in D'un Autre à l'autre. This father is a symbolic Father, he is all the more present for being absent, a Father without a body or the glorious body of signifiers, a father who can only be the object of an act of faith, for: there is no Other of the Other" to guarantee him. Sublimation is an attempt to confront the Thing: true love for one's neighbor consists in recognizing in him, as in oneself, the place and the wound of the Thing. As for disbelief, by rejecting the Thing it makes it reappear in the Real, which is the Lacanian definition of psychosis.

If ethical thought "is at the centre of our work as analysts," then, in the cure, ethics converges from two sides. On the side of the analysand is the problem of guilt and the pathogenic nature of civilised morality. Freud conceives of a basic conflict between the demands of civilised morality and the essentially amoral sexual drives of the patient. If morality takes the upper hand and the drives are too intense to be sublimated, sexuality is either expressed in perverse forms or repressed. Freud further develops this idea in his theory of an unconscious sense of guilt and in his concept of the superego, that interior moral agency which becomes crueler to the extent that the ego submits to its demands. The analyst, on the other hand, has to deal with the pathogenic morality and unconscious guilt of the patient and with the ethical problems that arise in the cure.

Lacan addresses the issue of how the analyst will respond to the patient's sense of guilt by arguing that he must take it seriously, for whenever the patient feels guilty it is because he has given way to his desire: "the only thing of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one's desire." As to the pathogenic morality acting through the superego, Lacan asserts that psychoanalysis is not a libertine ethos. The ethical position of the analyst is revealed by the way that he formulates the goal of the cure. Ego-psychology, for instance, proposes a normative ethics in the adaptation of the ego to reality. Lacan opposes this stance and devises an ethics relating action to desire: "Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you?"

Traditional ethics (Aristotle, Kant) revolves around the concept of the Good, where different goods compete for the position of Supreme Good. Lacanian ethics see the Good as an obstacle in the path of desire, thus "a repudiation of the idea of Good is necessary." It also rejects ideals, such as health and happiness. Traditional ethics tends to link the good to pleasure: moral thought has "developed along the paths of an hedonistic problematic." Lacan does not take such an approach because psychoanalytic experience has revealed the duplicity of pleasure: there is a limit to pleasure, and when it is transgressed, it becomes pain. Jouissance is the paradoxical satisfaction that the subject derives from his symptom, the suffering he derives from his satisfaction. Finally traditional ethics puts work and a safe, ordered existence before questions of desire by telling people to make their desires wait. Lacan forces the subject to confront the relation between his actions and his desire in the immediacy of the present.

Lacan introduces the notion of das Ding, the Thing, via the opposition between the pleasure principle and the principle of reality, this opposition, however, is deluding since the latter is but a modification of the former. Two are the contexts where das Ding operates. Firstly there is Freud's distinction between Wortvorstellungen, word-presentations, and Sachvorstellungen, thing-presentations. The two types are bound together in the preconscious-conscious system, whereas in the unconscious only thing-presentations are found. This seems to contradict the linguistic nature of the unconscious. Lacan counters the objection by pointing out that there are two words in German for "thing": das Ding and die Sache. Freud employs the latter to refer to the thing-presentations in the unconscious, and if at one level Sachvorstellungen and Wortvorstellungen are opposed, on the symbolic level they go together. Die Sache is the representation of a thing in the symbolic, whereas das Ding is the thing in the real, which is "the beyond-of-the-signified." Thing-presentations found in the unconscious are of linguistic nature, as opposed to das Ding, which is outside language and outside the unconscious. "The Thing is characterized by the fact that it is impossible for us to imagine it."


Yet,in relation to jouissance, as well as being the object of language, das Ding is the object of desire. It is the lost object which must be continually looked for, the unforgettable Other, the forbidden object of incestuous desire, the mother. The Thing appears to the subject as the Supreme Good, but if the subject trangresses the pleasure principle and attains it, it is experienced as suffering or/and evil because the subject "cannot stand the extreme good that das Ding may bring on him." It would seem then fortunately that the Thing is usually inaccessible.

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Date PDF
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