The Seminars

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seminar (French: séminaire)


In contrast with Freud, whose work was primarily written, Jacques Lacan's work was for the most part an oral improvisation from notes delivered as an ongoing seminar that he held in Paris from 1953 to 1980.

From 1953 to 1963, Lacan's seminar was held at the Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris.

From 1964 to 1969, starting with seminar 11, it was held at the École Normale Supérieure on rue d'Ulm. A

nd finally, from 1969 to 1980, starting with seminar 17, it was held before a much larger audience in the amphitheater of the law school at the Panthéon.

Early Lectures

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.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

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,[1] it is perhaps appropriate that the original means by which Lacan developed and expounded his ideas should have been the spoken word.

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."[2]

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.[3]

So far only nine of the yearly [[seminar]]s 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.

Name-of-the-Father was to be the next seminar, but only a single session was given, on November 25, 1963, at Sainte-Anne Hospital.

Lacan stopped giving this seminar when he learned that the International Psychoanalytical Association had refused to reinstate him as a training analyst.

Each seminar contains approximately 25 presentations from the weekly seminar]].

While each presentation is supposed to pick up and follow on from the week before, the connections can often be tenuous.

Unlike the Écrits, the seminars are not difficult to read, but it can still be hard to follow the train of associations and links that Lacan makes.

Usually, though, in a performative flourish Lacan will pull the whole presentation together in the final moments and provide a startlingly clear and understandable formulation of what he has been talking about.

The individual seminars that make up Lacan's seminar are as follows:

Because Lacan was old and ill, seminar 27 was not delivered publicly but only published.

It dealt with the dissolution of his school,École freudienne de Paris (Freudian School of Paris).


A seminar is a form of academic teaching, at a university or offered by a commercial or professional organization, in small groups where students are requested to actively participate during meetings.

This often has to be done by presenting a paper in class and also in written form. Normally, participants must not be beginners.

The idea behind [[seminar]]s is to confront students with the methodology of their chosen subject and also to familiarise them with practical problems that might crop up during their research work. Often a seminar will be open to discussion, where questions can be raised and debates conducted.

Another form of academic teaching is lecturing, a form which involves larger student groups with less active participation.

In some European universities a seminar can be a large lecture course, especially when conducted by a renowned thinker, regardless of the size of the audience or its participation in discussion.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.40
  2. 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
  3. Miller, 1985
  1. École Lacanienne de psychanalyse. (1991). Le transfert dans tous ses errata and Pour une transcription critique des séminaires de Jacques Lacan. Paris: E.P.E.L.
  2. Miller, Jacques-Alain. (1985). Entretien sur le séminaire avec François Ansermet. Paris: Navarin.