The Death Drive and the Missed Encounter

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Psycho-analysis is not an idealism - The real as trauma - Theog of the dream and of waking - Consciousness and representation - God is unconscious - The objet petit a in the fort-da

Today I shall continue the examination of the concept ofrepetition, as it is presented by Freud and the experience of psychoanalysis.

I wish to stress here that, at first sight, psychoanalysis seems to lead in the direction of idealism. God knows that it has been reproached enough for this-it reduces the experience, some say, that urges us to find in the hard supports of conflict, struggle, even of the exploitation of man by man, the reasons for our deficiencies-it leads to an ontology of the tendencies, which it regards as primitive, internal, already given by the condition of the subject.

We have only to consider the course of this experience from its first steps to see, on the contrary, that it in no way allows us to accept some such aphorism as life is a dream. No praxis is more orientated towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psychoanalysis.


Where do we meet this real? For what we have in the discovery of psychoanalysis is an encounter, an essential encounter-an appointment to which we are always called with a real that eludes us. That is why I have put on the blackboard a few words that are for us, today, a reference-point of what we wish to propose.

First, the tuchi, which we have borrowed, as I told you last time, from Aristotle, who uses it in his search for cause. We have translated it as the encounter with the real. The real is beyond the automaton, the return, the coming-back, the insistence of the

signs, by which we see ourselves governed by the pleasure principle. The real is that which always lies behind the automaton, and it is quite obvious, throughout Freud's research, that it is this that is the object of his concern.

If you wish to understand what is Freud's true preoccupation as the function of phantasy is revealed to him, remember the development, which is so central for us, of the Wolf Man. He applies himself, in a way that can almost be described as anguish, to the question-what is the first encounter, the real, that lies behind the phantasy? We feel that throughout this analysis, this real brings with it the subject, almost by force, so directing the research that, after all, we can today ask ourselves whether this fever, this presence, this desire of Freud is not that which, in his patient, might have conditioned the belated accident of his psychosis.

So there is no question of confusing with repetition either the return of the signs, or reproduction, or the modulation by the act of a sort of acted-out remembering. Repetition is something which, of its true nature, is always veiled in analysis, because of the identification of repetition with the transference in the conceptualization of analysts. Now, this really is the point at which a distinction should be made.

The relation to the real that is to be found in the transference was expressed by Freud when he declared that nothing can be apprehended in effigie, in absentia - and yet is not the transference given to us as effigy and as relation to absence? We can succeed in unravelling this ambiguity of the reality involved in the transference only on the basis of the function of the real in repetition.

What is repeated, in fact, is always something that occurs -the expression tells us quite a lot about its relation to the tuchi-as if by chance. This is something that we analysts never allow ourselves to be taken in by, on principle. At least, we always point out that we must not be taken in when the subject tells us that something happened to him that day that prevented him from realizing his wish to come to the session. Things must not be taken at the level at which the subject puts them-in as much as what we are dealing with is precisely ,this obstacle, this hitch, that we find at every moment. It is this mode of apprehension above all that governs the new deciphering that we have given of the subject's relations to that which makes his condition.

The function of the tuché, of the real as encounter-the encounter in so far as it may be missed, in so far as it is essentially the missed encountet-first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma.

Is it not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassimilable in it-in the form of the trauma, determining all that follows, and imposing on it an apparently accidental origin? We are now at the heart of what may enable us to understand the radical character of the conflictual notion introduced by the opposition of the pleasure principle and the reality principle-which is why we cannot conceive the reality principle as having, by virtue of its ascendancy, the last word.

In effect, the trauma is conceived as having necessarily been marked by the subjectifying homeostasis that orientates the whole functioning defined by the pleasure principle. Our experience then presents us with a problem, which derives from the fact that, at the very heart of the primary processes, we see preserved the insistence of the trauma in making us aware of its existence. The trauma reappears, in effect, frequently unveiled. How can the dream, the bearer of the subject's desire, produce that which makes the trauma emerge repeatedly-if not its very face, at least the screen that shows us that it is still there behind?

Let us conclude that the reality system, however far it is developed, leaves an essential part of what belongs to the real a prisoner in the toils of the pleasure principle.

It is this that we have to investigate, this reality, one might say, whose presence is supposed to be required by us, if the motive force of development, as it is represented for us by someone like Melanie Klein, for example, is not reducible to a formula like the one I used earlier, namely, life is a dream.

To this requirement correspond those radical points in the real that I call encounters, and which enable us to conceive reality as unterlegt, untertragen, which, with the superb ambiguity of the French language, appear to be translated by the same word-soufrance.1 Reality is in abeyance there, awaiting attention. And Zwang, constraint, which Freud defines by Wiederholung, governs the very diversions of the primary process.

The primary process-which is simply what I have tried to define for you in my last few lectures in the form of the unconscious-must, once again, be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness, in that nontemporal locus, I said, which forces us to posit what Freud calls, in homage to Fechner, die Idee einer anderer Lokalitdt, the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between perception and consciousness.


We can, at any moment, apprehend this primary process.

The other day, I was awoken from a short nap by knocking at my door just before I actually awoke. With this impatient knocking I had already formed a dream, a dream that manifested to me something other than this knocking. And when I awake, it is in so far as I reconstitute my entire representation around this knocking-this perception-that I am aware of it. I know that I am there, a-t what time I went to slecp, and why I went to sleep. When the knocking occurs, not in my perception, but in my consciousness, it is because my consciousness reconstitutes itself around this representation-that I know that I am waking up, that I am knocked up.

But here I must question myself as to what I am at that moment-at the moment, so immediately before and so separate, which is that in which I began to dream under the effect of the knocking which is, to all appearances, what woke me.2

I In French, the phrase 'en soufrance' means 'in suspense', 'in abeyance', ,awaiting attention', 'pending'. It is this sense that translates the German word. 'Souffrance' also means 'pain', of course. Hence the ambiguity referrcd to by Lacan. [Tr.].

2 There follows a passage in which Lacan comments on the use in French of the 'pleonastic ne', that is, the 'ne' used without the usually accompanying 'pas', 'que' or jamais', etc. Since the passage includes examples of this use in French, it is strictly untranslatable. I therefore give it below in the original:

'je suis, que je sache, avant que je ne me riveille-ce ne dit explétif, déjA dans tel de mes écrits d6signé, est le mode meme de présence de ce je suis d'avant le réveil. 1l n'est point explétif, il est plutot l'xpression de mon impléance,chaque fois qu'elle a A se manifester. La langue, la langue fran4;aise le d6finit bien dans I'acte de son emploi. Aurez-vousfini avant qu'it ne vienne? cela m'importe que vous ayez fini, A Dieu ne plaise qu'il vint avant. Passerez-vous, avant qu'il vienne? - car, déja, quand il viendra, vous ne serez plus là.'

Observe what I am directing you towards-towards the symmetry of that structure that makes me, after the awakening knock, able to sustain myself, apparently only in a relation with my representation, which, apparently, makes of me only consciousness. A sort of involuted reflection-in my consciousness, it is only my representation that I recover possession of.
Is that all? Freud has told us often enough that he would have to go back to the function of consciousness, but he never did. Perhaps we shall see better what is at issue, by apprehending what is there that motivates the emergence of the represented reality, namely the phenomenon, distance, the gap itself that constitutes awakening.

To make things quite clear, let us return to the dream -which is also made up entirely of noise-that I left you time to look up in The Interpretation of Dreams. You will remember the unfortunate father who went to rest in the room next to the one in which his dead child lay-leaving the child in the care, we are told, of another old man-and who is awoken by something. By what? It is not only the reality, the shock, the knocking, a noise made to recall him to the real, but this expresses, in his dream, the quasi-identity of what is happening, the very reality of an overturned candle setting light to the bed in which his child lies.

Such an example hardly seems to confirm Freud's thesis in

the Traumdeutung-that the dream is the realization of a desire.

What we see emerging here, almost for the first time, in the Traumdeutung, is a function of the dream of an apparently secondary kind-in this case, the dream satisfies only the need to prolong sleep. What, then, does Freud mean by placing, at this point, this particular dream, stressing that it is in itself full confirmation of his thesis regarding dreams?

If the function of the dream is to prolong sleep, if the dream, after all, may come so near to the reality that causes it, can we not say that it might correspond to this reality without emerging from sleep? After all, there is such a thing as somnambulistic activity. The question that arises, and which indeed all Freud's previous indications allow us here to produce, is-What is it that wakes the sleeper? Is it not, in the dream, another reality? -the reality that Freud describes thus-Dass das Kind an seinem Bette steht, that the child is near his bed, ihn am Armefasst, takes him by the arm and whispers to him reproachfully, und ihm vorwurfsvoll zuraunt: Vater, siehst du denn nicht, Father, can't you see, dass ich verbrenne, that I am burning?

Is there not more reality in this message than in the noise by which the father also identifies the strange reality of what is happening in the room next door. Is not the missed reality that caused the death of the child expressed in these words? Freud himself does not tell us that we must recognize in this sentence what perpetuates for the father those words forever separated from the dead child that were said to him, perhaps, Freud supposes, because of the fever-but who knows, perhaps these words perpetuate the remorse felt by the father that the man he has put at his son's bedside to watch over him may not be up to his task: die Besorgnis dass der greise Wdchter seiner Aufgabe nicht gewachsen sein datfte, he may not be up to his job, in fact, he has gone to sleep.

Does not this sentence, said in relation to fever, suggest to you what, in one of my recent lectures, I called the cause of fever? And is not the action, apparently so urgent, of preventing what is happening in the next room also perhaps felt as being in any case too late now, in relation to what is at issue, in the Psychical reality manifested in the words spoken? Is not the dream essentially, one might say, an act of homage to the missed reality-the reality that can no longer produce itself except by repeating itself endlessly, in some never attained awakening? What encounter can there be henceforth with that forever inert being-even now being devoured by the flames-if not the encounter that occurs precisely at the moment when, by accident, as if by chance, the flames come to meet him? Where is the reality in this accident, if not that it repeats something actually more fatal by means of reality, a reality in which the person who was supposed to be watching over the body still remains asleep, even when the father reemerges after having woken up?

Thus the encounter, forever missed, has occurred betwee dream and awakening, between the person who is still asle and whose dream we will not know and the person who has dreamt merely in order not to wake up.

If Freud, amazed, sees in this the confirmation of his theory of desire, it is certainly a sign that the dream is not a phantasy fulfilling a wish.

For it is not that, in the dream, he persuades himself that the son is still alive. But the terrible vision of the dead son taking the father by the arm designates a beyond that makes itself' heard in the dream. Desire manifests itself in the dream by the loss expressed in an image at the most cruel point of the object. It is only in the dream that this truly unique encounter can occur. Only a rite, an endlessly repeated act, can commemorate this not very memorable encounter-for no one can say what the death of a child is, except the father qua father, that is to say, no conscious being.

For the true formula of atheism is not God is dead-even by basing the origin of the function of the father upon his murder, Freud protects the father-the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious.

The awakening shows us the waking state of the subject's consciousness in the representation of what has happened -the unfortunate accident in reality, against which one can do no more than take steps! But what, then, was this accident? When everybody is asleep, including the person who wished to take a little rest, the person who was unable to maintain his vigil and the person of whom some well intentioned individual, standing at his bedside, must have said, He looksjust as if he is asleep, when we know only one thing about him, and that is that, in this entirely sleeping world, only the voice is heard, Father, can't you see I'm burning? This sentence is itself a firebrand-of itself it brings fire where it falls-and one cannot see what is burning, for the flames blind us to the fact that the fire bears on the Unterlegt, on the Untertragen, on the real.

This is certainly what brings us to recognizing in this detached sentence from the dream of the grief-stricken father the counterpart of what will be, once he is awake, his consciousness, and to ask ourselves what is the correlative, in the dream, of the representation. This question is all the more striking in that, here, we see the dream really as the counterpart of the repr sentation; it is the imagery of the dream and it is an opportunity for us to stress what Freud, when he speaks of the unconscious, designates as that which essentially determines it, the Vorstellungsreprdsentanz. This means not, as it has been mistranslated, the representative representative (le reprisentant reprisentatif), but that which takes the place of the representation (le tenantlieu de la representation). We shall see its function later.

I hope I have helped you to grasp what is nodal in the encounter, qua encounter forever missed, and which really sustains, in Freud's text, what seems to him, in his dream, absolutely exemplary.

The place of the real, which stretches from the trauma to the phantasy-in so far as the phantasy is never anything more than the screen that conceals something quite primary, something determinant in the function of repetition-this is what we must now examine. This, indeed, is what, for us, explains both the ambiguity of the function of awakening and of the function of the real in this awakening. The real may be represented by the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming. But, on the other hand, this reality is not so small, for what wakes us is the other reality hidden behind the lack of that which takes the place of representation-this, says Freud is the Trieb.

But be careful! We have not yet said what this Trieb is -and if, for lack of representation, it is not there, what is this Trieb ? We may have to consider it as being only Trieb to come.

How can we fail to see that awakening works in two directions-and that the awakening that re-situates us in a constituted and represented reality carries out two tasks? The real has to be sought beyond the dream-in what the dream has enveloped, hidden from us, behind the lack of representation of which there is only one representative. This is the real that governs our activities more than any other and it is psychoanalysis that designates it for us.

Thus Freud finds himself providing the solution to the
problem which, for the most acute of the questioners of the soul before him-Kierkegaard-had already been centred on repetition.

I would ask you to re-read Kierkegaard's essay on Repetition, so dazzling in its lightness and ironic play, so truly Mozartian in the way, so reminiscent of Don Giovanni, it abolishes the mirages of love. With great acuteness, and in a quite unanswerable way, Kierkegaard stresses the feature that ' in his love, the young man-whose portrait Kierkegaard paints for us with a mixture of emotion and derision-addresses only to himself through the medium of memory. Really, is there not something here more profound than La Rochefoucauld's remark that few would experience love if they had not had its ways and means explained to them? Yes, but who began it? And does not everything essentially begin by deceiving the first to whom the enchantment of love was addressed-who has passed off this enchantment as the exaltation of the other, by making himself the prisoner of this exaltation, of this breathlessness which, with the other, has created the most false of demands, that of narcissistic satisfaction, the ego ideal whether it is or the ego that regards itself as the ideal?

Freud is not dealing with any repetition residing in the natural, no return of need, any more than is Kierkegaard. The return of need is directed towards consumption placed at the service of appetite. Repetition demands the new! It is turned towards the ludic, which finds its dimension in this new -Freud also tells us this in the chapter I referred to last time.

Whatever, in repetition, is varied, modulated, is merely alienation of its meaning. The adult, and even the more advanced child, demands something new in his activities, in his games. But this 'sliding-away' (glissement) conceals what is the true secret of the ludic, namely, the most radical diversity constituted by repetition in itself. It can be seen in the child, in his first movement, at the moment when he is formed as a human being, manifesting himself as an insistence that the story should always be the same, that its recounted realization should be ritualized, that is to say, textually the same. This requirement of a distinct consistency in the details of its telling signifies that the realization of the signifier will never be able to be careful enough in its memorization to succeed in designating the primacy of the significa!ice as such. To develop it by varying the significations is, therefore, it would seem, to elude it. This variation makes one- forget the aim of the significance by transforming its act into a game, and giving it certain outlets that go some way to satisfying the pleasure principle.

When Freud grasps the repetition involved in the game played by his grandson, in the reiteratedfort-da, he may indeed point out that the child makes up for the effect of his mother's disappearance by making himself the agent of it-but, this phenomenon is of secondary importance. Wallon stresses that the child does not immediately watch the door through which his mother has disappeared, thus indicating that he expects to see her return through it, but that his vigilance was aroused earlier, at the very point she left him, at the point she moved away from him. The ever-open gap introduced by the absence indicated remains the cause of a centrifugal tracing in which that which falls is not the other qua face in which the subject is projected, but that cotton-reel linked to itself by the thread that it holds-in which is expressed that which, of itself, detaches itself in this trial, self-mutilation on the basis of which the order of significance will be put in perspective. For the game of the cotton-reel is the subject's answer to what the mother's absence has created on the frontier of his domain-the edge of his cradle-namely, a ditch, around which one can only play at jumping. "

This reel is not the mother reduced to a little ball by some magical game worthy of the Jivaros -it is a small part of the subject that detaches itself from him while still remaining his, still retained. This is the place to say, in imitation of Aristotle, that man thinks with his object. It is with his object that the child leaps the frontiers of his domain, transformed into a well, and begins the incantation. If it is true that the signifier is the first mark of the subject, how can we fail to recognize here -from the very fact that this game is accompanied by one of the first oppositions to appear-that it is in the ob ect to which the opposition is applied in act, the reel, that we must designate the subject. To this object we will later give the name it bears in the Lacanian algebra-the petit a.

The activity as a whole symbolizes repetition, but not at all that of some need that might demand the return of the mother, and which would be expressed quite simply in a cry. It is the repetition of the mother's departure as cause of a Spaltung in the subject-overcome by the alternating game,fort-da, which is a here or there, and whose aim. i its alternatio ' is simply that , of being the fort of a da, and the da of a fort. It is aimed at what, essentially, is not there, qua represented-for it is the game itself that is the Reprdsentanz of the Vorstellung. What will become
of the Vorstellung when, once again, this Representanz of the

mother-in her outline made up of the brush-strokes and gouaches of desire-will be lacking?

I, too, have seen with my own eyes, opened by maternal divination, the child, traumatized by the f@ct that I was going away despite the appeal, precociously adumbrated in his voice, ard henceforth more renewed for months at a time-long after, having picked up this child-I have seen it let his head fall on my shoulder and drop off to sleep, sleep alone being capable of giving him access to the living signifier that I had become since the date of the trauma,

You will see that this sketch that I have given you today of the function of the tuchi will be essential for us' in rectifying what is the duty of the analyst in the interpretation of the transference.

Let me just stress today that it is not in vain that analysis posits itself as modulating in a more radical way this relation of man to the world that has always been regarded as knowledge.

If knowledge is so often, in theoretical writings, related to something similar to the relation between ontogenesis and phylogenesis-it is as the result of a confusion, and we shall show next time that the very originality of psychoanalysis lies in the fact that it does not centre psychological ontogenesis on supposed stages-which have literally no discoverable foundation in development observable in biological terms. If development is entirely animated by accident, by the obstacle of the tuchi, it is in so far as the tuchi brings us back to the same point at which pre-Socratic philosophy sought to motivate the world itsele

It required a clinamen, an inclination, at some point. When Democritus tried to designate it, presenting himself as already the adversary of a pure function of negativity in order to introduce thought into it, he says, It is not the u?76!v that is

essential, and adds-thus showing you that from what one of my pupils called the archaic stage of philosophy, the manipulation of words was used just as in the time of Heidegger -it is not an u?16&, but a 6sv, which, in Greek, is a coined word. He did not say &, let alone Jv. What, then, did he say? He said, answering the question I asked today, that of idealism, Nothing, perhaps?-not perhaps nothing, but not nothing.


F.D0LT0: I don't see how, in describing the formation of intelligence up to the age of three orfour, one can do without stages. I think that asfar as the defence phantasies and the phantasies of the castration veil are concerned, and also the threats of mutilation, one needs to refer to the stages.

LACAN: The description of the stages, which go to form the libido, must not be referred to some natural process of pseudomaturation, which always remains opaque. The stages are organized around the fear of castration. The copulatory fact of the introduction of sexuality is traumatizing-this is a snag of some size-and it has an organizing function for development.

The fear of castration is like a thread that perforates all the stages of development. It orientates the relations that are anterior to its actual appearance-weaning, toilet training, etc. It crystallizes each of these moments in a dialectic that has as its centre a bad encounter. If the stages are consistent, it is in accordance with their possible registration in terms of bad encounters.

The central bad encounter is at the level of the sexual. This does not mean that the stages assume a sexual taint that is diffused on the basis of the fear of castration. On the contrary, it is because this empathy is not produced that one speaks of trauma and primal scene.

12 February 1964