time (temps) One of the most distinctive features of Lacanian psycho-
analysis is Lacan's approach to questions of time. Broadly speaking, Lacan's
approach is characterised by two important innovations: the concept of logical
time, and the stress on retroaction and anticipation.
e Logical time In his paper entitled 'Logical time' (1945), Lacan under-
mines the pretensions of logic to timelessness and eternity by showing how
certain logical calculations include an inescapable reference to a temporality.
However, the kind of temporality involved is not specificiable by reference to
the clock, but is itself the product of certain logical articulations. This
distinction between logical time and chronological time underpins Lacan's
whole theory of temporality.
The fact that logical time is not objective does not mean that it is simply a
question of subjective feeling; on the contrary, as the adjective 'logical'
indicates, it is a precise dialectical structure which may be formulated rigor-
ously in mathematical terms. In the 1945 paper, Lacan argues that logical time
has a tripartite structure, the three moments of which are: (i) the instant of
seeing; (ii) the time for understanding; (iii) the moment of concluding. By
means of a sophism (the problem of the three prisoners) Lacan shows how
these three moments are constructed not in terms of objective chronometric
units but in terms of an intersubjective logic based on a tension between
waiting and haste, between hesitation and urgency. Logical time is thus 'the
intersubjective time that structures human action' (E, 75).
Lacan's notion of logical time is not just an exercise in logic; it also has
practical consequences for psychoanalytic treatment. The most famous of
these consequences, historically speaking, has been Lacan's use of sessions
of variable duration (Fr. sÈances scandÈes), which was regarded by the
International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA) as sufficient grounds for
excluding him from membership. However, to focus exclusively on this
particular practice is to miss various other interesting clinical dimensions of
the theory of logical time, such as the way in which Lacan's concept of 'the
time for understanding' can throw light on the Freudian concept of working-
through. (See Forrester, 1990: ch. 8.)
Lacan's concept of logical time anticipates his incursions into Saussurean
linguistics, which is based on the distinction between the diachronic (or
temporal) and the synchronic (atemporal) aspects of language. Hence Lacan's
increasing stress, beginning in the 1950s, on synchronic or timelesS STRUCTURES
rather than on developmental 'stages'. Thus when Lacan uses the term 'time',
it is usually to be understood not as a fleeting diachronic moment but as a
structure, a relatively stable synchronic state. Similarly, when he speaks of 'the
three times of the Oedipus complex', the ordering is one of logical priority
rather than of a chronological sequence. Change is not seen as a gradual or
smooth move along a continuum, but as an abrupt shift from one discrete
structure to another.
Lacan's emphasis on synchronic or timeless structures can be seen as an
attempt to explore Freud's statement about the non-existence of time in the
unconscious. However, Lacan modifies this with his proposal, in 1964, that the
unconscious be characterised in terms of a temporal movement of opening and
closing (Sll, 143, 204).
e Retroaction and anticipation Other forms of psychoanalysis, such as
ego-psychology are based on a linear concept of time (as can be seen, for
example, in their stress on a linear sequence of developmental stages through
which the childaaturally passes; see DEVELOPMENT). Lacan, however, comple-
tely abandons such a linear notion of time, since in the psyche time can equally
well act in reverse, by retroaction and anticipation.
e Retroactiom(Fr. aprËs coup) Lacan's term aprËs coup is the term used
by French analyts to translate Freud's Nachtr‰glichkeit (which the Standard
Edition renders 'deferred action'). These terms refer to the way that, in the
psyche, presentevents affect past events a posteriori, since the past exists in
the psyche only as a set of memories which are constantly being reworked and
reinterpreted in the light of present experience. What concerns psychoanalysis
is not the real past sequence of events in themselves, but the way that these
events exist now in memory and the way that the patient reports them. Thus
when Lacan argues that the aim of psychoanalytic treatment is 'the complete
reconstitution ofthe subject's history' (Sl, 12), he makes it clear that what he
means by the term 'history' is not simply a real sequence of past events, but
'the present synthesis of the past' (Sl, 36). 'History is not the past. History is
the past in so far as it is historicised in the present' (Sl, 12). Hence the
pregenital stages are not to be seen as real events chronologically prior to
the genital stage, but as forms of DEMAND which are projected retroactively
onto the past (E, 197). Lacan also shows how discourse is structured by
retroaction; only when the last word of the sentence is uttered do the initial
words acquire their full meaning (E, 303) (see PUNCTUATION).
ï Anticipation If retroaction refers to the way the present affects the past,
anticipation refers to the way the future affects the present. Like retroaction,
anticipation marks the structure of speech; the first words of a sentence are
ordered in anticipation of the words to come (E, 303). In the mirror stage, the
ego is constructed on the basis of the anticipation of an imagined future
wholeness (which never, in fact, arrives). The structure of anticipation is
best illustrated linguistically by the future-perfect tense (E, 306). Anticipation
also plays an important role in the tripartite structure of logical time; the
moment of concluding' is arrived at in haste, in anticipation of future
certainty (Ec, 209).