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Le séminaire, Livre III: Les psychoses
1955 - 1956 Le séminaire, Livre III: Les psychoses
The Seminar, Book III: The Psychoses
Back Cover

Taking us into and beyond the realm of Freudian psychoanalysis, Lacan examines the psychoses' inescapable connection to the symbolic process through which signifier is joined with signified.

Lacan deftly navigates the ontological levels of the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real to explain psychosis as "foreclosure," or rejection of the primordial signifier.

Then, bridging the gap between the theoretical and the practical, Lacan discusses the implications for treatment.

In these lectures on the psychoses, Lacan's renowned theory of metaphor and metonymy, along with the concept of the "quilting point," appears for the first time.

Short Summary

Only the first half of the seminar is explicitly concerned with questions of psychosis and psychotic phenomenon.

The second half looks at hysteria, the relationship between the signifier and the signified and finally issues of metaphor and metonymy.

The seminar also contains early formulations of the Name-of-the-Father and the phallus.

Sometimes controversial, invariably fascinating, Lacan's psycholinguistic approach to analysis of the psychoses is seen here in virtually unmediated form.


'Psychosis is one of three clinical structures.

The other two are neurosis and perversion.

Each structure is distinguished by a different operation: neurosis by the operation of repression, perversion by the operation of disavowal, and psychosis by the operation of foreclosure.

By way of foreclosure of the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father it is possible to understand psychosis and distinguish it from neurosis.


Foreclosure corresponds to Lacan's translation of Verwerfung (repudiaton).

The Name-of-the-Father is not integrated in the symbolic order of the psychotic, it is foreclosed: a hole is left in the symbolic chain.

In psychosis "the unconscious is present but not functioning."

The psychotic structure results from a malfunction of the Oedipus complex, a lack in the paternal function: the paternal function is reduced to the image of the father (the symbolic reduced to the imaginary).

Symbolic Order

Two conditions are required for psychosis to emerge:

  1. the subject has a psychotic structure (inheritance) and
  2. the Name-of-the-Father is called into symbolic opposition to the subject.

When both conditions are fulfilled, psychosis is actualized; the latent psychosis becomes manifest in hallucinations and/or delusions.

For Lacan psychosis includes paranoia (Papin sisters), so he bases his arguments on the Schreber case (as related by Freud).

He argues that Schreber's psychosis was activated by both his failure to produce a child and his election to an important position in the judiciary.

These experiences confronted him with the question of paternity in the real- called the Name-of-the-Father into symbolic opposition with the subject.

The Name of the Father is the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally.

It both confers identity on the subject (naming and positioning it within the symbolic order) and signifies the Oedipical prohibition.

When foreclosed, it is not included in the symbolic order.

Lacan rejects the approach of limiting the analysis of psychosis to the imaginary: "nothing is to be expected from the way psychosis is explored at the level of the imaginary, since the imaginary mechanism is what gives psychotic alienation its form, but not its dynamics."

Only by focusing on the symbolic are we able to point to the fundamental determining element of psychosis: the hole in the symbolic order caused by foreclosure and the consequent imprisonment of the psychotic subject in the imaginary.

"The importance given to language phenomena in psychosis is for us the most fruitful lesson of all."

Point de Caption

The Saussurian opposition between signifier and signified leads to the radical separation of the two chains, until they are tied through anchoring points, points de caption.

These are points at which "signifier and signified are knotted together."

Despite the continual slippage of the signified under the signifier, there are nevertheless in the neurotic subject certain points of attachment between signifier and signified where the slippage is temporarily halted.

A certain number of these points "are necessary for a person to be called normal" and "when they are not established or when they give way" the result is psychosis.

In the psychotic experience "the signifier and the signified present themselves in a completely divided form."


Thus the phenomena most notable in psychosis are disorders of language: the presence of such disorders is a necessary condition for its diagnosis: holophrases and the extensive use of neologisms (new words or already existing ones which the psychotic redefines).

These language disorders are due to the psychotic's lack of a sufficient number of anchoring points: the psychotic experience is characterized by a constant slippage of the signifier under the signified, which is a disaster for signification.

Later, Lacan will posit that there is a continual "cascade of reshapings of the signifier from which the increasing disaster of the imaginary proceeds, until the level is reached at which signifier and signified are stabilized in the delusional metaphor."

Thus "the nucleus of psychosis has to be linked to a rapport between the subject and the signifier in its most formal dimension, in its dimension as pure signifier. If the neurotic inhabits language, the psychotic is inhabited, possessed by language."

"On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis" (‘’Écrits: A Selection’’) is a text written in 1958 and contemporary with ‘’Les formations de l'inconscient’’; it is a synthesis of ‘’Les psychoses’’ and focuses mainly on the term foreclosure, ‘’forclusion’’, German ‘’Verwerfung’’.

In the Schema L "...the condition of the subject S (neurosis or psychosis) is dependent on what is being unfolded in the Other O. What is being unfolded is articulated like a discourse (the unconscious is the discourse of the Other)."


In the Schema R: "...I as the ego-ideal, M as the signifier of the primordial object, and F as the position in O of the Name-of-the-Father. One can see how the homological fastening of the signification of S under the signifier of the phallus may affect the support of the field of reality delimited by the quadrangle MieI. The two other summits, e and i, represent the two imaginary terms of the narcissistic rapport, the ego and the specular image."


This schema articulates the imaginary triad with the symbolic triad, both of which cut the quadrangle of reality.

The term 'reality' is ambiguous in that it designates both our rapport to the world and our rapport to the Real as inaccessible.

Schema R is elaborated in terms of a particular form of psychosis (Schreber). Later, ‘’Kant avec Sade’’ (1962) will develop the perverse version as Lacan is concerned with creating the formal bases for his theory before addressing the problems of the treatment of psychosis.

The preliminary question seems to be the one of the Other, whose presence commands everything else.

It is the place from which the subject is confronted with the question of its existence (sexuation and death).

What is the Other? Is it the unconscious where "it speaks?"

Is it the place of memory that conditions the indestructibility of certain desires?

Is it the place where the signifier of signifiers is the phallus?

Is it the place symbolized by the Name-of-the-Father since the Oedipus complex is consubstantial with the unconscious?

When the paternal metaphor does not allow the subject to evoke the signification of the phallus, when the response to the call of the Name-of-the-Father is a lack of the signifier itself, then it is a case of psychosis.

"This applies to the metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father, that is, the metaphor that puts this Name in the place that was first symbolized by the operation of the mother's absence."

It designates the metaphorical, substitutive, character of the Oedipus complex.


It is the fundamental metaphor on which all signification depends: thus all signification is phallic.

If the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed (psychosis), there can be no paternal metaphor and no phallic signification.


  • Le Séminaire. Livre III. Les psychoses, 1955-56. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1981 [The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993].