Fragment from Lacan seminar – spring 2021
EPIS SEMINAR—LACAN EcritsPosition of the Unconscious (701/829-830) Saturday March 6 2021 10:00 to 12:00

Note: The matheme is a concept (and neologism) introduced by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan in the 1950s. Mathemes are formulae, designed as symbolic representations of his psychoanalytic  concepts. Formed by derivation from ‘mathematics‘ and by analogy with phoneme and Levi-Strauss’s mytheme, the term is an equivalent to ‘mathematical sign’. Lacan begins to use a variety of graphs and ‘schemata’ at any early stage in is work. They were intended to introduce some degree of technical rigor in philosophical and psychological writing, as an easy way to hold, remember, and rehearse some of the core psychoanalytic concepts.’Matheme,’ for Lacan, was not simply the imitation of science by philosophy, but the ideal of a perfect means for the integral transmission of knowledge.


As he writes (706//833) Lacan’s goal is to use his teaching in order to reverse the anti-Freudian trend practiced sustained by psychology, by revitalizing the Freudian conceptual belief in the unconscious –> “colloquium has reversed the trend” (706/833)… Lacan’s seminars are a “moment of combat in a place where ideas were exchanged.” 707/833

Will there be “analysts for whom Freud exists?” 710/838

Lacan exposes his “present doctrine of the unconscious.”707/833 reaffirming it:

psychoanalysts are part and parcel of the concept of the unconscious, as they constitute that to which the unconscious is addressed… The presence of the unconscious, being situated in the locus of the Other, can be found in every discourse, in its enunciation.”—707/833

One could not be clearer!



Enunciation and Enunciated (Statement)

French and Continental thinking (Lacan/Kristeva/Derrida/Zizek…) distinguishes between “énoncé” and “énonciation.”Énoncé,” or “statement,” refers to the actual words uttered; “énonciation” refers to the act of uttering the words. It re-duplicates/amplifies at another level the difference between signifier and signified/


statement is speech analyzed in terms of its abstract grammatical units, independent of the specific circumstances of occurrence.


An enunciation is speech analyzed as an individual act performed by a particular speaker at a specific time/place, and in a specific situation  notion of performance.

Already in 1936, for example, Lacan stresses that the act of speaking contains a meaning in itself, even if the words spoken are “meaningless“—like “speaking in tongues.” Prior to any function it may have in “conveying a message,” speech is an appeal to the other. The special attention Lacan devotes to the act of speaking in itself, irrespective of the content of the utterance, anticipates his focusing onto the dimension of the enunciation.

Psychotic Language

When Lacan does come to use the term “énonciation” in 1946, it is first of all to describe strange characteristics of psychotic language, with its “duplicity of the enunciation.”

Subject of the Unconscious

Later, in the 1950s, the term “énonciation” is used to locate the subject of the unconscious.

Graph of Desire

In the graph of desire, the lower chain is the statement, which is speech in its conscious dimension, while the upper chain is “the unconscious enunciation.”

Unconscious Enunciation

In designating/locating the “enunciation” as/in the unconsciousLacan affirms that the source of speech is not the ego, nor consciousness, but the unconscious; language comes comes from the Other, and the idea that “I” am master of my discourse is only a (necessary) illusion. Hence “ça parle” (“it speaks”),’’ “Lalangue”…

Subject of the Statement or Enunciation

The very word “I” (“Je”) is ambiguous; as shifter, it is both a signifier acting as subject of the statement, and an index which designates (but does not signify), the subject of the enunciation. How can one signify one’s own positioning in speech as speaking “I”, except as a posturing…

Split Subject

The subject is thus split between these two levels, divided in the very act of articulating the “I” that presents the illusion of unity. Who is “I” in my speech? When I say “I” I’m already other… The signifier “I” is split and therefore splits the subject of the enunciation (Ecrits, 707/833). As Lacan writes, the signifier can only represent the subject for/to another signifier. A signifier an only represent for/to another signifier. As the French poet Rimbaud wrote: “Je est un autre.” Lettres du Voyant or Lettre à Paul Demeny, 15 mai 1871, Pléiade (2009) pp 343-344 …


Lacan “what the unconscious brings back to our attention is the law by which enunciation can never be reduced to what is enunciated in any discourse.” (Écrits, 892.) In other words, an unconscious production is one in which one does not recognize oneself in what one has actually said.


Position (Physical meaning? Location? Whereabouts?) How can something immaterial and linguistic have a position?

What does belong to the unconscious and what does not?

Where is the unconscious? What is unconscious? What is of the unconscious (what belongs to…)? Is the unconscious a sort of mind, or part of the mind (is there an “unconscious mind?”)

Especially in the view that the analysand’s ego mistakes the discourse of the unconscious for the discourse of (coming from) the Other.

In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the unconscious mind is defined as a reservoir of repressed feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that exist outside of conscious awareness. They manifest themselves via freudian slips, actes manqués, compulsions and repetitions

The term “unconscious” was first coined by the philosopher Friedrich Schelling in the late 18th-century and was later translated into English by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In psychology, the notion of unconscious was used by thinkers such as William James and Wilhelm Wundt. Freud was the mentalist/analyst (therefore jumping from psychology to psychoanalysis) who popularized the idea of the unconscious and made it a central component of his psychoanalytic approach to psychology. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung also believed that the unconscious played an important role in the molding of personality. However, he believed that there was a personal unconscious that consisted of an individual’s suppressed or forgotten memories and urges as well as what he referred to as “the collective unconscious.” “The collective unconscious” was said to contain inherited ancestral memories common to all of humankind (the human archetypal and primeval layers and strata…)

The word subconscious represents an anglicized version of the French subconscient as coined in 1889 by the psychologist Pierre Janet (1859–1947), in his doctorate thesis, De l’Automatisme Psychologique. Janet argued that underneath the layers of critical-thought functions of the conscious mind lay a powerful awareness that he called the subconscious mind.

What the Unconscious is not (704/831):

During the 19th and 20th centuries many liberties were taken with the word “unconscious,” so much that it lost its actual, important, essential meaning.

The unconscious is not the primordial, the instinctual, the archaic as the structural anthropologist Lévi-Strauss explained.

Also THE UNCONSCIOUS is not equal or identical to:

  1. The sensory unconscious (optical effects, illusion…)
  2. The automatic unconscious of habit (like driving a car, walking at night along a well know path, etc.)
  3. The co-consciousness of split-personalities
  4. Ideational emergence of latent activity in creative thought betraying a pattern, a teleology, a design…
  5. Telepathy
  6. Memory materials
  7. Over-determining passions
  8. The unconscious as instinct (or heredity—in Zola’s naturalistic novels) under the influence of the behaviorist model of consciousness (unconscious as instinct). Even Freud thought that our basic instincts and urges were contained in the unconscious mind (“life and death instincts,” for example). The life instincts, sometimes known as the sexual instincts, are those that are related to survival. The death instincts include such things as thoughts of aggression, trauma, and danger. Lacan makes fun of the “instinctual understanding of the unconscious” when appealing to analysts: “if we were to call upon each analyst as well, regardless of the doctrine he was most trained in, and ask him whether…. he ever, had the feeling he was dealing with anything like an instinct—could he say yes?”—708/835
  9. The unconscious as unconscious rational or metaphysical mental acts (Eduard von Hartmann).
  10. The unconscious as an overarching archaic function, or with shadowy, mystical connotations (Jung).
  11. Daydreaming

All these categories correspond to the heterogeneous dimension of consciousness (erroneously taken as having a certain homogeneity, being synthetic, equal to itself, and having a unitary dimension, teleological, and a product of the dialectic of judgment). 705/832

Unconscious Behavior can generate:

  • Anger
  • Bias
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Difficult social, a-social or anti-social interactions
  • Distress
  • Relationship problems
  • Violent acts

The notion of the unconscious is what delineates/separates psychology from psychoanalysis and characterizes psychology aversion towards Freud (706/833).

Cartesian Ego

The unconscious presupposes a “Cartesian subject.” Speech affirms itself as truth. (712/840) The Other is the one supposed to know. The unconscious knows.

Role and Influence of Hegel on Lacan


Philosophie des Geistes (Geist: Spirit and Mind) about the march of the spirit through the history of consciousness-> 6 divisions: consciousness; self-consciousness; reason; spirit; religion; absolute knowledge.

Negation inherent to Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel influence help Lacan formulate some of his key notions: ego/alter ego (the other); consciousness; the Other (Master/Slave dialectic); name-of-the-father; the Subject.

Also Lacan uses Hegel’s phenomenology “as an example…. to counter identification.” (710/838) because the unconscious stands in the way of identification subject/his/her speech/ the object/the other….

Lacanian Aufhebung: to transform Hegel’s lure into an occasion to point out (not “an ideal progress” as Hegel wants to show) the avatars of a lack. Civilization as lack, as eternal return, repetition, failure, etc. 710/838

+influence of Plato (Platonic forms and world of ideas (ideal/ideation) -> the Real and the Imaginary)

p. 705/832: Problem of the extension and distribution of consciousness in the psychical reality of the individual.

705/832: the only homogeneous dimension of consciousness is located in the ego’s capture by the specular reflection during (defining) the Imaginary Function (Imaginary Dimension in the Lacanian Mirror Stage)

1950s and 1960s: Psychology kowtow to the wishes and means of the market -> women are supposed to realize their potential through “gender ideals” (hence Betty Friedan the “feminine mystique” which sparked the second wave of feminism in the U.S.).


Note: The Feminine Mystique is a landmark book by feminist Betty Friedan (1963) describing the pervasive dissatisfaction among women in mainstream American society in the post-World War II period. She coined the term feminine mystique to describe the societal assumption that women could find fulfillment through housework, marriage, sexual passivity, and child rearing alone. Further, prevailing attitudes held that “truly feminine” women had no desire for higher education, careers, or a political voice; rather, they found complete fulfillment in the domestic sphere. Friedan articulated the unsatisfaction with their lives experienced by many women and the difficulty they had speaking about their feelings. Friedan deemed that unhappiness and inability to live up to the ‘feminine mystique’ the “problem that has no name.”


For Lacan, psychoanalysis has become vulnerable to attacks coming from psychologists and materialist ideologues because of its poor or weak defensive posture and belief about is key foundational elements.

The ethical dimension inherent to analysts’ training should allow them to refuse this indoctrination by ideology. Belief and notions of the unconscious debilitate psychologists because the way they think about it in order to argue against it is wrong… 706/833

Lacan’s goal is to re-affirm the presence/location and existence of the unconscious in general psychology in Europe and the US, and not only in the anthropological domain dealing with “primitive mentality.” 706/833

Prejudice against psychoanalysis encountered in Eastern Europe  ‘bourgeois science” refusing to deal with “social exigencies.” (706/833)… hence the accusation of psychoanalysis as a “bourgeois, reductionist science” or a “non-materialist science.”

Psychoanalysis should learn from theology in order to re-affirm its ethical dimension. 706/833
Deontology’s psychoanalysis is based on the presence of the unconscious. Deontology is the normative ethical theory (in moral philosophy) that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong according to a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action) 706/833

The unconscious is the site/locus of the Other and permeates every discourse at the level of the enunciation. 707/833

Analysts (who sustain the presence of the unconscious –see page 708/835 about what the psychoanalyst does…. Fulfilling his role, fostering the patient’s discourse, restoring its meaning, putting himself on the line—s’y mettre en cause, responding, remaining silent…) should be aware and weary of their own splitting by the signifier, by their own enunciation (besides, of course, the one of the analysand).

Animals/ codes of communication / instinct -> no “enunciation problems;” no splitting of egos and consciousness.

Humans / language (speaking beings or “parlêtre” / unconscious -> ego and “enunciation problems;” splitting of egos and consciousness.

Necessity to obviates Freud’s use of the word “instinct.” 708/835 by focusing on enunciation (with its Saussurian effects constitutive of the unconscious—metaphor and metonymy… or condensation and displacement as Freud writes…)

Here Lacan is more Freudian than Freud, i.e. using Freud and modern linguistics in order to make Freud give birth to a renewed and more combative Freudianism.


Differences between speech and language… are metonymy and metaphor effects of speech or language (708/835)?

Language introduces the notion of cause into the subject (hence the “Cause Freudienne”—the Freudian Cause). The subject is not the cause of himself. 708/835

Why discourse?

The discourse of the unconscious because it always shows that it is structured like a language (forgettings, omissions, slips of tongue, repetitions, denegations…) Analysts must use the metaphoric or metonymic structure of the patient’s own discourse in order to unveil his key signifiers. Why?

Because (708/835) “the subject disappears beneath the signifier he becomes,” and “one does not speak to the subject. It speaks of him, and this is how he apprehends himself.”

The signifier is the cause of the subject, causes him/her to exist and ex-sist…to be and be split. There is no subject without signifier. As Lacan writes, the signifier can only represent the subject for/to another signifier. A signifier an only represent for/to another signifier. The subject is reduced to a signifier—what Lacan calls the “défilés du signifiant”(the “defilers/spoils/narrows/ of the signifier”).

709/ 836


Notes: Aphanisis: (Ancient Greek) = Disappearance of Desire. The Greek term was first introduced into psychoanalysis by Ernest Jones in psychoanalysis with the meaning of “disappearance of sexual desire.” For Jones, the fear of aphanisis exists in both sexes, giving rise to the castration complex in boys and penis envy in girls.

Fading or Aphanisis of the Subject : Disappearance of the Subject: Lacan takes up Jones’s term, modifying it substantially. For Lacan, aphanisis does not mean the disappearance of desire, but the disappearance of the subject. The aphanisis of the subject is the fading of the subject, the fundamental division–or split, of the subject which institutes the dialectic of desire (during the period of the incest taboo).

Neurosis: the neurotic aims at the disappearance of desire. Aphanisis is not his object of fear, on the contrary. The neurotic attempts to shield himself from his desire, to put it aside.

Fading: Lacan also uses another term, “fading,” in a way that makes it synonymous with the term aphanisis. Fading (a term which Lacan uses directly in English) refers to the disappearance of the subject in the process of alienation.

Matheme: The term is used by Lacan when describing the mathemes of the drive and of fantasy: the subject “fades” or “disappears” in the face of demand and when confronted by the object of desire, as is shown by the fact that the subject is barred in these mathemes.

Double Alienation: Specular Trap against Linguistic Awareness: Speech as the Locus of the Unconscious

3 signifying cuts generating “sexuation” and “en/gendering”: birth trauma (expulsion)/ incest taboo: paternal metaphor/ castration (and symbolic seduction—for girls).

  1. First movement:

Language with its operating cuts—effects of signifier—as for instance the primary signifier of paternal metaphor) translates a signifying synchrony (mother/child dyad) into the primordial temporal pulsation (on/off// presence/absence// Freudian fort/da) = constitutive fading of the subject’s identification—what Freud calls the “primary.”


Note: Diagram of the paternal metaphor

*Representation of the object of m(o)ther’s desire:

S1- signifier of the object of mother’s desire


s1 signified (idea) of the object of mother’s desire (Phallus since it stands for the difference between mother and position of the other of the m(o)ther -> father)

*Representation of “father”

S2 signifier of the father


s2 signified (idea) of the father

  • hence the Matheme of the substitution for mother’s desire by the Phallus (paternal metaphor):

S of the object of the mother’s desire x S of the father -> S of the father

s of the object of mother’s desire x s of the father S of the object of mother’s desire


s the object of mother’s desire-Phallus


Name-of-the-Father desire of the mother Name-of-the-father (big O)

——————- x ———————- ==> ——————————-

Desire of the mother signifier to the Subject Phallus (signifier of the lack)



  1. Second movement:

The signifying cut brought about by the paternal metaphor of substitution of the object of mother’s desire produces the metonymy which generates desire (desire is metonymy but the symptom is metaphoric) produces diachrony (history) of the subject accompanying the fundamental split of the subject. “The topology of the subject is [is projected] into… fantasy.” 709/836

The subject becomes prisoner of his egoic image (capture by the image). This specular trap prevents the subject of realizing his/her dependency upon language and the fact that s/he is alienated. i.e. that his desire resides in the Other (the other of the m(o)ther)… or “name-of-the-father.”

The mirror stage is the first alienating function. The second is the fact that the subject’s desire is within (represented by) the Other’s desire.

Plato and Socrates questions (709/836)

Secondary education -> Preparatory Classes (after the Baccalauréat)->Normal classes -> Grandes Ecoles (for the future Elite).

Criticism of the relation between truth, education, and elite education.

Education (“high personalism”) and civilization / inflation: to live beyond one’s intellectual means… Corruption due to intellectual comfort… Lacanian critique of academia.

Even Resistance, discontent and malaise, unhappy consciousness miss their target because of denial in spite of the teachings of Hegel and Freud.

The subject even the resisting subject is still under the sway of impossibility/ failure/ procrastination…

Why? Because they do not deal with the fundamental “lack of being.”

Future sentence of Lacan criticizing the May 1968 movement: “structures do not walk into the streets.”

Why? Subjectification which underpins resistance objectifies the false evidence of the ego

Koine of resistance = koine of the lack of being (training analysis or “analyse didactique).


Scientific spirit

To unmask the “beautiful soul…”

Hegelian expression about the cynicism of the dandy above the crowd…in Hegel’s Philosophy of the Spirit. The” beautiful soul,” lacks an actual existence, and is entangled in the contradiction between his pure self and the necessity of that self to externalize itself and change itself into an actual existence, and dwelling in the immediacy of this firmly held antithesis…


Plato’s dialogues and Symposium


Seminar; “là où ça parle

The Platonic cave (“Marionette’s mask to wooden insults” ) – 710/838

How to gain access? 711/839

Paradox of admission: entrance possible when it closes…

Open Sesame” One should call from the inside…


(French: Sésame, ouvre-toi; Arabic: افتح يا سمسم‎) is a magical phrase in the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from Antoine Galland’s version of One Thousand and One Nights. The sentence opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure. The phrase derives from the plant sesame.

The unconscious escapes the notion of location: it is neither inside or outside… It is like a Kleinian type of bottle. It cannot be turned into an inside on can penetrate (711/839)

Note: Topology of the Psychoanalytic Subject (Consciousness/Unconscious both structured by language)


The unconscious does not obey the unfolding of a linear time… “retroactive effect of meaning in sentences, meaning requiring the last word of a sentence to be sealed.” 711/839

Temporal structure of the unconscious…

The retroaction of the signifier is different from the final cause of the symptom.

Trauma -> symptoms: “Deferred action” (“Nachträglichkeit”)après-coup”…

Overdetermination (712/840) and circular articulation.

Grounding of the unconscious in topology.

To deal with the consequences of the cut (what closes and pulsates (gap/ beat/alternating suction) -> Space reduced to a combinatory (edge). See the pulsation of the rim through which the being… must flow.” 716/845

Notion of “cause” -> perpetuation of “the reason that subordinates the subject to the signifier’s effect.”-> the “cause freudienne.”

Failure of Hume to grasp the ultimate mechanisms of causation because they are situated in the unconscious (according to Lacan)

Note: David Hume (1711-1776) is one of the British Empiricists of the Early Modern period, along with John Locke and George Berkeley. Although the three advocate similar empirical standards for knowledge (no innate ideas -> all knowledge comes from experience) Hume is known for applying this standard rigorously to causation and necessity. Instead of taking the notion of causation for granted, Hume challenges us to consider what experience allows us to know about cause and effect.

Hume shows that experience does not tell us much. Of two events, A and B, we say that A causes B when the two always occur together, that is, are constantly conjoined. Whenever we find A, we also find B, and we have a certainty that this conjunction will continue to happen. Once we realize that “A must bring about B” is tantamount merely to “Due to their constant conjunction, we are psychologically certain that B will follow A”, then we are left with a very weak notion of necessity. This tenuous grasp on causal efficacy helps give rise to the Problem of Induction–that we are not reasonably justified in making any inductive inference about the world. There are 3 types of “Humian interpretations”: causal reductionism (Hume’s definitions of causation are definitive)// causal skepticism (Hume’s problem of induction are unsolved); causal realism (need for additional interpretive tools to consolidate Hume’s notions of causation and sit them on solid grounds).

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