From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Revision as of 00:57, 24 August 2006 by Riot Hero (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search
French: forclusion

From his doctoral dissertation in 1932 on, one of the central quests which animates Lacan's work is that of identifying a specific psychical cause for psychosis.

In the course of addressing this problem, two themes are constant.

The Exclusion of the Father

As early as 1938 Lacan relates the origin of psychosis to an exclusion of the father from the family structure, with the consequent reduction of the latter to mother-child relations (Lacan, 1938: 49).

Later on in his work, when Lacan distinguishes between the real, imaginary and symbolic father, he specifies that it is the absence of the symbolic father which is linked to psychosis.

The Freudian concept of Verwerfung

Freud uses the term Verwerfung (translated as 'repudiation' in the Standard Edition) in a number of disparate ways (see Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967: 166), but Lacan focuses on one in particular: namely, the sense of a specific defence mechanism which is distinct from repression (Verdr‰ngung), in which 'the ego rejects the incompatible idea together with its affect and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all' (Freud, 1894a: SE III, 58). In 1954, basing himself on a reading of the 'Wolf Man' case history (see Freud, 1918b: SE XVII, 79-80), Lacan identifies Verwerfung as the specific mechanism of psychosis, in which an element is rejected outside the symbolic order just as if it had never existed (Ec, 386-7; Sl, 57-9).

At this time Lacan proposes various ways of translating the term Verwerfung into French, rendering it as rejet, refus (Sl, 43) and retranchement (Ec, 386). It is not until 1956 that Lacan proposes the term forclusion (a term in use in the French legal system; in English, 'foreclosure ) as the best way of translating Verwerfung into French (S3, 321). It is this term that Lacan continues to use for the rest of his work.

In 1954, when Lacan first turns to the Freudian concept of Verwerfung in his search for a specific mechanism for psychosis, it is not clear exactly what is repudiated; it can be castration that is repudiated, or speech itself (Sl, 53), or 'the genital plane' (Sl, 58). Lacan finds a solution to the problem at the end of 1957, when he proposes the idea that it is the NAME-OF-THE-FATHER (a fundamental signifier) that is the object of foreclosure (E, 217). In this way Lacan is able to combine in one formula both of the themes that had previously dominated his thinking on the causality of psychosis (the absence of the father and the concept of Verwerfung). This formula remains at the heart of Lacan's thinking on psychosis throughout the rest of his work.

When the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed for a particular subject, it leaves a hole in the symbolic order which can never be filled; the subject can then be said to have a psychotic structure, even if he shows none of the classical signs of psychosis. Sooner or later, when the foreclosed Name-of-the-Father reappears in the real, the subject is unable to assimilate it, and the result of this 'collision with the inassimilable signifier' (S3, 321) is the 'entry into psychosis' proper, characterised typically by the onset of HALLUCINATIONS and/or DELUSIONS.

Foreclosure is to be distinguished from other operations such as REPRESSION, NEGATION, and PROJECTION.


Foreclosure differs from repression in that the foreclosed element is not buried in the unconscious but expelled from the unconscious.

Repression is the operation which constitutes neurosis, whereas foreclosure is the operation which constitutes psychosis.