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The notion of time in psychoanalysis intersects several other concepts such as repetition, regression, fixation, and rhythm, though Freud also discussed the idea of time directly.

He began by emphasizing the atemporality of unconscious processes:

The unconscious ignores time, and he suggested that the origin of the representation of time could be found in the discontinuous relation the preconscious-conscious system maintained with the external world, the time dimension then being associated with acts of consciousness.


Lacan offers an interesting analysis of hesitation.

Logical time]] is divided into three "moments".

  1. the instant of seeing
  2. the time for understanding
  3. the moment of concluding

Three Prisoners

Lacan illustrates this with a story of three prisoners.

The prison governor shows them three green discs and two red ones.

Then he puts a green disc on each prisoner's back.

Each can see the disc on the other two prisoners' backs.

The first one to deduce the colour of the disc on his own back will be granted his freedom.

The correct deduction appears to depend on the hesitation of the group.

"If I had a red disk, then each of the other prisoners would not hesitate to deduce immediately that he was green. Since neither has done so, I must also have a green disk."


Delay, doubt, hesitation, procrastination, the ability to make nothing happen .[1] - these characteristic features of decision-making are grounded by Lacan in the phenomenology of obsessional neurosis.

For a detailed discussion, see John Forrester, The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida .[2], Chapter 8. The prisoner story can be found on p178 ff.

  1. ungeschehenmachen
  2. Cambridge 1990