The Missing Word
The volume that the reader holds in its hands is a peculiar kind of dictionary. Nominally, there exist different editions, each one corresponding to one of the most important languages of the Freudian Field. But if we immerse ourselves in the reading of this dictionary, we soon see that the language that we are above all dealing with is the very language of Lacan. This was born from his teaching, the latter being nourished in its turn by his own practice of psychoanalysis, as both analyst and analysand – this last position being the one he said he occupied in his Seminar.
We notice that we are dealing with a proper language because of the torsions that the different national languages have to make in order to translate terms that – without aspiring to configure a “technical” terminology, an ideal language – make use of and at the same time force everyday language, not infrequently challenging common sense and running against ordinary discourse; and not without at times producing, in the leap from language to language, inter-linguistic neologisms that seem natural to us, but that grate or say nothing for common speakers.
This doesn’t only affect, however, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English. For, although Lacan’s language has a much more direct relation with French, it cannot be reduced to it. If it certainly admirably exploits the resources of this language, it also forces its limits and exploits its equivocalness, the very thing that common discourse tries to make disappear.
This Scilicet makes this clear in a peculiar form. It gathers many important terms from the different elaborations on psychosis throughout the whole of Lacan’s teaching, and also includes the developments of these terms that have been brought about in the Freudian Field in the last twenty years, starting from the orientation provided by Jacques-Alain Miller under the heading of the “ordinary psychoses”. Finally, beyond the national languages, it is the very language of psychiatry, the sacrosanct “nosology”, which ends up being violently distorted.
The nature of the subject matter being treated, which is distinguished by its complexity and diversity, highlights the extent to which in our way of speaking about our clinic we include terms from different periods. Each one of them has certainly been the object of a rereading with the passing of the years, but even the oldest preserve a validity that the reading of the relevant articles doubtlessly demonstrates.
The very choice of the entries for the volume posed this problem in an acute form. Given that the theme of the IX Congress was “The Ordinary Psychoses…”, would it be better to limit ourselves to the concepts and terms more specifically related with this category? We straightaway saw that this was impossible, given that we do not consider the ordinary psychoses as a nosographic term, as a classificatory entity: nothing that leads us to speak of a case as an ordinary psychosis functions as a univocal criterion.
If we put the accent, for example, on the continuous clinic, it is impossible to define and situate it without taking into account – and without rethinking from a contemporary perspective – the discontinuities that in its moment theory stressed as decisive, in what we can in an approximate manner call the classic doctrine of psychosis.
Shall we speak about “neo-triggering”? OK, but how to do this without also specifying the way in which we confront today the problem of defining what a triggering – and its conditions and conjunctions – consist in?
Shall we take an interest in the uses of metonymy in certain cases of ordinary psychosis? Fine, but how can we ignore the subtle link between metonymy and metaphor, as well as the need to again bring up to date the way in which we think the latter against the background of a theory in which the symbolic no longer possesses a privilege over the imaginary and the real?
Are we interested in the term “escabeau”, proposed by Lacan starting from his reading of Joyce? Yes, but isn’t it necessary to think it in relation and opposition to a newly revised and conceived sublimation?
The same could be said of expressions that we continue to use because they have not lost their validity, despite their demanding of us an effort of constant redefinition. We speak of foreclosure, but how to think of its pertinence and modalities from the perspective of Lacan’s last teaching? How to speak today of the quilting point, whose usefulness is undeniable, but which doesn’t mean the same thing when, beyond the graph of demand and desire, we consider a topology of knots and the function of the symptom as a fourth ring?
It wasn’t an easy task to attain the present list of 108 terms. It is worth mentioning that the first list proposed by the Scientific Committee had almost 300. A fruitful work of exchange and discussion with this collective body – one year ago now, and hand in hand with the Directors of the Congress – allowed for a drastic reduction; but not without a certain regret in the case of some words that, in the very moment of being suppressed, seemed to acquire a supplementary agalmatic value. The debate didn’t lack moments of humour.
In any case, many terms and expressions were lost along the way, each one of them testifying to the richness, diversity and refinement of a whole series of works and observations that, for many years already, have constituted a real treasure of experience in the Freudian Field.
Our orientation, which emphasises the dimension of the particular, and therefore recommends the production of a mode of speaking about each case that preserves something of the unique, the unrepeatable, makes it difficult to know to what extent a term that emerges in an article or clinical presentation attains a level of generality sufficient for the elucidation of an important series of cases. The carrying out of this process of reduction, in an always imperfect and unstable equilibrium between the one by one and the general, was one of the first tasks of the realisation of this project.
Without doubt, the reading of the whole of the volume will give an impression of incompleteness. Each of us will miss some word that we consider important, perhaps because it has played an important role in our own clinic. But this volume is not only incomplete; it is also inconsistent. There are terms that are partially contained by others, and also terms whose definition is impossible without partially making explicit that of others, etc. The respective extensions of each definition are superimposed in intension, they tread on each other’s feet, perhaps even contradict one another more than once.
This might be considered a defect. Considered more profoundly, however, it reveals itself to be a virtue, or in any case the result of a fidelity. In effect, there is no way of capturing the real of the clinic – and specifically the real of our clinic of the psychoses – in a coherent system. This is why, in the last instance, we should remember that what we are dealing with here is being able to think and listen, and also to write, the way in which we speak of our clinic. The task consists in putting these terms into tension with our practice, making a continued effort not to fall into an empty automatism.
One of the missions of this dictionary is to modestly contribute to the possibility that our way of speaking about psychosis – which is based on Lacan’s language and the way we use it in the community of experience that constitutes the Freudian Field – does not become a dead language. As Eric Laurent says in “The Politics of the Unary”: “It is up to us to make the different psychoanalytic parishes understand that what unites them, rather than the standard, is the search for common sense. This common sense, this common ground, is none other than the real at work in the very language of psychoanalysis”.1
This requires from each of us an effort of updating, reinvention and constant confrontation. What is at stake is not the use of the terms of theory as if they were capable of providing direct access to a real, but instead a knowing how to employ them in such a way that each one of them allows us to illuminate, in a precise moment, that which always escapes from the real. The real of contingency, which predominates in the case by case, will never fit into any category. In this sense, the different versions of theory, its concepts, are always an approximate cartography that we should know how to use in order to be able, at the right moment, to do without it – and to follow our path without losing our way. In order to find our treasure, sooner or later we have to get rid of the map, but only after having previously consulted it.
The peculiar mutations of psychoanalytic theory, which are always and inevitably produced in the successive confrontations with pieces of the real that couldn’t previously have been put into words, are what produce the coexistence, albeit always in a partial manner, of concepts from different periods. This is what renders impossible a neat separation between the periods of doctrine that might fit into the chapters of a manual. But this is also what makes indispensable an adequate periodization, submitted not to chronological criteria, but instead to those that belong to the very movement of elucidation of the real of the clinic, whose key moments Jacques-Alain Miller has decisively shown to us in his course on the Lacanian Orientation.
In this sense, I would like to mention here something that served as a guide for me in the moment – inevitably vertiginous – of proposing a first list of terms. I am talking about two paragraphs of Jacques-Alain Miller’s conference “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”,2 which in my view provide a necessary key for the confrontation with the paradoxes of the present volume.
The first paragraph I want to stress is the following: “[psychoanalysis] changes factually, in spite of our attachment to the old words and schemas. It is an ongoing effort to stay as close as possible to experience in order to say it, without crashing into the wall of language.”
The second, which comes a little later, runs thus: “our reflection is woven from this kind of cobbling together (ravaudage) of various pieces from different eras, borrowed from Freud and from Lacan, and we should not shrink back from this kind of patchwork in order to move ahead in tightening our grasp on psychoanalysis in the twenty-first century.”
So, the principle of construction of this Scilicet is this very procedure of the cobbling together, with pieces taken from Freud and Lacan, of different periods. The real that concerns us is what we attempt to say in that strange language that, if we are not careful, can turn into a jargon, a “langue de bois”, even a dead language. To each one of us corresponds the task of revitalising the words of this more or less common language with our experience as analysands and analysts; an experience that, for its part, is not common, but can nonetheless be put in common without ceasing to be singular.
Jokes of the unconscious: I had been convinced, right up to today, of having included in the list the very term “ravaudage”, in order that some colleague might attempt to stitch together a definition of it. This seemed fair to me, given that it had been the very principle of construction of the list of words. But despite having read all the articles several times, in all the different languages, I notice today that it is missing. In some place in my mind I mistook it for another, “raboutage” (assemblage), which certainly is present.
I quote the first paragraph of the article that Sophie Gayard dedicates to this last word: “why does this term […] have […] such success that it comes to occupy a place in this volume of Scilicet?”
This question must have been posed more than a few times throughout the process of the construction of the present volume.
1 Laurent, E., ‘Politique de l’unaire’, La Cause freudienne 42.
2 Miller, J.-A., ‘The Unconscious and the Speaking Body’, www.wapol.org