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Time

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time (temps) One of the most distinctive features of Lacanian psycho-

analysis is Lacan's approach to questions of time. Broadly speaking, Lacan's

approach is characterised by two important innovations: the concept of logical

time, and the stress on retroaction and anticipation.





e Logical time In his paper entitled 'Logical time' (1945), Lacan under-

mines the pretensions of logic to timelessness and eternity by showing how

certain logical calculations include an inescapable reference to a temporality.

However, the kind of temporality involved is not specificiable by reference to

the clock, but is itself the product of certain logical articulations. This

distinction between logical time and chronological time underpins Lacan's

whole theory of temporality.

The fact that logical time is not objective does not mean that it is simply a

question of subjective feeling; on the contrary, as the adjective 'logical'

indicates, it is a precise dialectical structure which may be formulated rigor-

ously in mathematical terms. In the 1945 paper, Lacan argues that logical time

has a tripartite structure, the three moments of which are: (i) the instant of

seeing; (ii) the time for understanding; (iii) the moment of concluding. By

means of a sophism (the problem of the three prisoners) Lacan shows how

these three moments are constructed not in terms of objective chronometric

units but in terms of an intersubjective logic based on a tension between

waiting and haste, between hesitation and urgency. Logical time is thus 'the

intersubjective time that structures human action' (E, 75).

Lacan's notion of logical time is not just an exercise in logic; it also has

practical consequences for psychoanalytic treatment. The most famous of

these consequences, historically speaking, has been Lacan's use of sessions

of variable duration (Fr. sÈances scandÈes), which was regarded by the

International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA) as sufficient grounds for

excluding him from membership. However, to focus exclusively on this

particular practice is to miss various other interesting clinical dimensions of

the theory of logical time, such as the way in which Lacan's concept of 'the

time for understanding' can throw light on the Freudian concept of working-

through. (See Forrester, 1990: ch. 8.)

Lacan's concept of logical time anticipates his incursions into Saussurean

linguistics, which is based on the distinction between the diachronic (or

temporal) and the synchronic (atemporal) aspects of language. Hence Lacan's

increasing stress, beginning in the 1950s, on synchronic or timelesS STRUCTURES

rather than on developmental 'stages'. Thus when Lacan uses the term 'time',

it is usually to be understood not as a fleeting diachronic moment but as a

structure, a relatively stable synchronic state. Similarly, when he speaks of 'the

three times of the Oedipus complex', the ordering is one of logical priority

rather than of a chronological sequence. Change is not seen as a gradual or

smooth move along a continuum, but as an abrupt shift from one discrete

structure to another.

Lacan's emphasis on synchronic or timeless structures can be seen as an

attempt to explore Freud's statement about the non-existence of time in the

unconscious. However, Lacan modifies this with his proposal, in 1964, that the

unconscious be characterised in terms of a temporal movement of opening and

closing (Sll, 143, 204).





e Retroaction and anticipation Other forms of psychoanalysis, such as

ego-psychology are based on a linear concept of time (as can be seen, for

example, in their stress on a linear sequence of developmental stages through

which the childaaturally passes; see DEVELOPMENT). Lacan, however, comple-

tely abandons such a linear notion of time, since in the psyche time can equally

well act in reverse, by retroaction and anticipation.



e Retroactiom(Fr. aprËs coup) Lacan's term aprËs coup is the term used

by French analyts to translate Freud's Nachtr‰glichkeit (which the Standard

Edition renders 'deferred action'). These terms refer to the way that, in the

psyche, presentevents affect past events a posteriori, since the past exists in

the psyche only as a set of memories which are constantly being reworked and

reinterpreted in the light of present experience. What concerns psychoanalysis

is not the real past sequence of events in themselves, but the way that these

events exist now in memory and the way that the patient reports them. Thus

when Lacan argues that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is 'the complete

reconstitution ofthe subject's history' (Sl, 12), he makes it clear that what he

means by the term 'history' is not simply a real sequence of past events, but

'the present synthesis of the past' (Sl, 36). 'History is not the past. History is

the past in so far as it is historicised in the present' (Sl, 12). Hence the

pregenital stages are not to be seen as real events chronologically prior to

the genital stage, but as forms of DEMAND which are projected retroactively

onto the past (E, 197). Lacan also shows how discourse is structured by

retroaction; only when the last word of the sentence is uttered do the initial

words acquire their full meaning (E, 303) (see PUNCTUATION).



ï Anticipation If retroaction refers to the way the present affects the past,

anticipation refers to the way the future affects the present. Like retroaction,

anticipation marks the structure of speech; the first words of a sentence are

ordered in anticipation of the words to come (E, 303). In the mirror stage, the

ego is constructed on the basis of the anticipation of an imagined future

wholeness (which never, in fact, arrives). The structure of anticipation is

best illustrated linguistically by the future-perfect tense (E, 306). Anticipation

also plays an important role in the tripartite structure of logical time; the

moment of concluding' is arrived at in haste, in anticipation of future

certainty (Ec, 209).
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