In 1951, Lacan began to give private lectures in Sylvia Bataille's apartment at 3 rue de Lille. The lectures were attended by a small group of trainee psychoanalysts, and were based on readings of some of Freud's case histories: Dora, the Rat Man and the Wolf Man.
In 1953, the venue of these lectures moved to the Hôpital Sainte-Anne, here a larger audience could be accommodated. Although Lacan sometimes refers to the private lectures of 1951-2 and 1952-3 as the first two years of his "seminar", the term is now usually reserved for the public lectures which began in 1953. From that point on until his death in 1981, Lacan took a different theme each academic year and delivered a series of lectures on it. These twenty-seven annual series of lectures are usually referred to collectively as "the seminar", in the singular.
École Normale Supérieure
After ten years at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne, the seminar moved to the École Normale Supérieure in 1964, and to the Faculté de Droit in 1973. These changes of venue were due to various reasons, not least of which was the need to accommodate the constantly growing audience as the seminar gradually became a focal point in the Parisian intellectual resurgence of the 1950s and 1960s.
Given Lacan's insistence that speech is the only medium of psychoanalysis, it is perhaps appropriate that the original means by which Lacan developed and expounded his ideas should have been the spoken word. Indeed, as one commentator has remarked: "it must be recalled that virtually all of Lacan's 'writings' were originally oral presentations, that is many ways the open-ended Seminar was his preferred environment."
As Lacan's seminars became increasingly popular, demand grew for written transcripts of the seminar. However, apart from a few small articles that he wrote on the basis of some lectures delivered in the course of the seminar, Lacan never published any account of his own seminars. In 1956-9 Lacan authorised Jean-Bertrand Pontalis to publish a few summaries of sections of the seminar during those years, but this as not enough to satisfy the growing demand for written accounts of Lacan's teaching. Hence unauthorised transcripts of Lacan's seminar began increasingly to be circulated among his followers in an almost clandestine way. Even during Lacan's lifetime, the seminar circulated in the form of photocopies of diverse and unreliable written versions of the spoken text. Beginning in 1973, Lacan entrusted the transcription of the seminar to Jacques-Alain Miller. In 1973, Lacan allowed his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, to publish an edited transcript of the lectures given in 1964, the eleventh year of the seminar. In an editor's note to The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, the first of his publications of Lacan's seminars, Miller writes:
"My intention here was to be as unobtrusive as possible and to obtain from Jacques Lacan's spoken work an authentic version that would stand, in the future, for the original, which does not exist."
Since then, Miller has continued to bring out edited versions of other years of the seminar, although the number published is still fewer than half. Miller's role in editing and publishing the seminar has led to some very heated arguments, with opponents claiming he has distorted Lacan's original. However, as Miller himself has pointed out, the transition from an oral to a written medium, and the editing required by this, means that these published versions of the seminar could never be simple transcripts of the lectures given by Lacan. So far only nine of the yearly seminars have been published in book form, while authorised extracts from others have appeared in the journal Ornicar?. Unauthorised transcripts of the unpublished years of the seminar continue to circulate today, both in France and abroad.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 40
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. xi
- Miller, Jacques-Alain. Entretien sur le Séminaire, avec François Ansermet. Paris: Navarin, 1985