In Le transfert Lacan describes symbolic identification as identification with the signifier. Here, he examines the rapport of the subject to the signifier. In the three types of identification isolated by Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921, S.E. XVIII), he finds:
- A primitive identification with the father as such based on a single feature: the matrix of the Ideal-of-the-Ego, a symbolic introjection of the father's mark, "An identity of body links the Father of all times to all those who descend from Him."
- A regressive identification in love relations: the object refuses itself, therefore the subject identifies with the object (one centered around objet a and the phallus).
- An hysterical identification where the subject recognizes in the other his global situation.
By asserting the identification of the signifier and the identification with the signifier, Lacan brings about a new category consisting in the first two and centered on the rapport to the Father and to the phallus. It becomes crucial to institute the subject in his rapport to the signifier - to the signifier alone. To mark the difference between the preverbal and the verbal Lacan points at his dog, Justine, who has speech but not language: insofar as she speaks, she never takes him for an other, she is not capable of transference and lives in the demand. In "The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud" (Écrits: A Selection) he refers to the language of the affect and of the body as the "nonhuman" aspect of those who "do not have language." The only salvation lies in "the signifying identification" where the preverbal is articulated within the subject's relation to the word.
In "The agency of the letter..." the signifier is turned into an inscription in the unconscious, a seal, which in L'identification becomes the "unbroken line," trait unaire, a symbolic term which is to produce the ego-ideal. Though this trait may originate as a sign, it becomes a signifier when incorporated into a signifying system: identification raises the question of the identical. Can it be said that A = A? No, for there already is a difference due to repetition: hence A A. Against the One of totality, Lacan institutes the 1 as the single mark, the unbroken line, made by mere repetition. The signifier has a unity only insofar as it is that which all the other ones are not, insofar as it is pure difference: the One as such is the Other. There is no tautology in expressions such as "war is war" or "Lacan is Lacan." The real thing has nothing to do with this, it is the same signifier that functions to connote pure difference, for, in repetition, the signifier represents the subject for another signifier and not for some one. The identification of the signifier and the identification with the signfier closely mingle. Formal logic, the study of the proper name, the complex grammar of negation... everything works toward defining the unbroken line as "a return, the seizing of the origin of a counting before the number." The phallus as the symbolic mark is at the origin since "[[narcissism and incorporation should be located in the direction of the Father and not in the direction of the parasited mother's body." Lacan's response to the problem of the origin (the chicken or the egg?) is the rooster, the signifier that makes the rooster, the letter or unbroken line. His project is to create "a topological structure of the subject."
To whomever asks, "What is the truth of your discourse?", Lacan answers: "I am an analyst, and as such, I have to to disappoint you, I don't tell the truth about truth." "I can take you very far on the path of the 'who am I' without the truth of what I am telling you being guaranteed, but nevertheless, in what I am telling you, it is still a matter of truth."