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Discourse and the jouissance of lalangue

In Seminar IIIi Lacan says that we require the presence of language disturbances before making the diagnosis of psychosis. Lacan´s teaching undoubtedly passed through various phases, but one can say that he was always concerned with this theme in all its amplitude: language, discourse and writing as constants take on different nuances. Nonetheless, there is something that he maintains from the beginning, a Freudian point taken up by Guiraud and by Lacan early on, in current terminology discourse and the jouissance of lalangue.


As a psychiatrist Lacan was interested in language and writing in psychosisii. The French psychiatry of the time was concerned with the relation between language and madness in order to find a new diagnostic perspective that would allow its mechanism to be exposed. This involved a phenomenological reflection and an organic causality.

In “Psychical Causality” Lacan indicates that the problem of madness cannot be separated from language, from speech as knot of signification. It involves an articulation of psychical structure with the structure of language considered on the basis of signification.

“Let us follow this path in order to study the significations of madness, as we are certainly invited to by the original forms that language takes on it it: all the verbal allusions, cabalistic relationships, homonymic play, and puns that captivated the likes of Guiraud. And, I might add, by the singular accent whose resonances we must know how to hear in a word so as to detect a delusion; the transfiguration of a term in an ineffable intention; the fixation of an idea in a semanteme (which tends to degenerate into a sign here specifically); the lexical hybrids; the verbal cancer constituted by neologisms; the bogging down of syntax; the duplicity of enunciation; but also the coherence that amounts to a logic, the characteristics, running from the unity of a style to repetitive terms, that marks each form of delusion – the madman communicates with us through all of this, whether in speech or in writing.”iii

This is a paragraph that requires to be studied in depth. The reference to Guiraud is to “Les forms verbales de l’interpretation délirant” which had already been cited by Lacan in his Thesis. In “Psychical Causality” Lacan adds to Guiraud´s list difficulties with syntax and the duplicity of enunciation, pointing the way towards subsequent developments, situating them in the context of communication.

For Guiraud the verbal forms of delusional interpretation should be approached from the point of view of the clinic and the psychological mechanism. He clinically formulates the following varieties: verbal hallucinations, cabalistic relations, homonyms, plays on words. With respect to the psychological mechanism he tries to situate what it is that gives form to verbal interpretations. He establishes a difference between interpretations with logical justification, which have certain analogies with some para-scientific theories, and interpretations without logical justification.

In the first group the following characteristics are observed: the polarization of word associations by affective state; the localized loss of critical sense; an attempt at harmonization between the new affective certitude and the intelligence.

The second group involves verbal interpretations that do not form any system. Language becomes syllogistic but there is no underlying systematicity, only the certitude of the evidence.

The Freudian influence undoubtedly makes itself felt. Guiraud indicates that what dominates in these processes is the intensity of affective potential. He relates the distinct varieties of interpretation to the modality of discourse in its systematic axis, indicating that when the intensity of affective potential dominates logical organization is diminished. This point will be a constant for Lacan expressed in different ways according to the period of his teaching.


In Seminar III Lacan will make the Name of the Father the point of subjective anchoring with the structure of language. This is why he writes in “On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis” that neurosis or psychosis depends on what takes place in the Other. Lacan indicates that on the basis of the fact that the subject speaks the Other exists, here the Other of language. In psychosis, the Other is excluded and it is the little other that speaks about the subject. The Name of the Father is the signifier that in the Other functions as law.

Lacan separates disturbances of language from the disturbances that appear in the imaginary register on account of the absence of phallic signification. In this way he diagnoses delusional language by the functioning of words, characterised by the intensity of the jouissance involved. It is a question of “a language in which certain words take on a special emphasis, a density that sometimes manifests itself in the very form of the signifier”.iv Here he refers to neologisms in paranoia, to the two phenomena of intuition and the formula. The special emphasis of the words allows us to speak of key words.

At the level of the signifier, in its material character, the neologism with the two types of phenomena mentioned, bring signification to a halt. The intuition has a full character that inundates the subject and the formula is repeated as a refrain. At the level of signification it essentially refers to nothing but itself; it is an irreducible signification, it is the weight of the ineffable.

Lacan proposes not considering this as another language but rather treating the economy of discourse, which is what allows him to ascertain that a delusion is involvedv:

-the relation of signification to signification

-the relation with the logical organization that is common in discourse

Once again we find the double reference to the functioning of words in relation to jouissance and the relation of organization to law. The delusional metaphor, in the absence of the paternal metaphor, stablises the relation of signifier to signified. In this period, the imaginary profusion responds to the lack in the symbolic.


Lacan´s teaching on the quilting point, the object a, the distinction between enunciation and statement, provides elements for situating the particularities of discourse, especially in the case of psychosis as outside discourse. It the effect of the foreclosure of castration that impedes the quilting point, the extraction of the object a and the division between enunciation and statement.

Millervi has indicated the effects of the lack of quilting point in discourse in relation to the phenomenon of the ‘fog’ that impedes the fixing of the signified, generating the dimension of the eternal present. There is an impossibility of memory in psychosis because the alteration of the temporal axis impedes historisation.

In this way one of the discursive registers that allow us to speak of the past is eliminated.vii

History is not the same as bringing something into relief, it is not what one recounts but rather what is shown of the marks of functioning. Lacan specifies that the relief is given by surplus jouissanceviii which includes castration.

It should be remembered that it is the clinical experience of psychosis that led Lacan to extract the function of the object gaze and the object voice. Millerix specifies that “speech knots the signified – or rather the ´to be signified´, what is to be signified – and the signifier”. This knotting always entails as third term the voice, aphonic and outside meaning. The voice is a phenomenon of the entire signifying chain. On this point one should recall the example of the “Sow!” from Seminar III.

Mrs. M. presents a coherent discourse, if a little over-refined, but one lacking in relief, without nuances. The words only have a single sense and she is disturbed by plays on words. Literality is the mechanism for fixing discourse – “if I say a it means a” – and all slippage bothers her because the other does not conform to what it says. That is, in some way it makes present the jouissance of the Other.

Lacan had already indicated in Seminar XVII that the texture has a relief, it captures something.x It is a logical construction that is enunciated and the functioning is shown by the enunciation. The enunciation is the position with respect to what is said and permits the localization of the saying. It is a question of what stands out, of what is highlighted. To a certain degree the enunciation can be made equivalent to a version of the real because while it sustains a statement at the same time it de-completes it and touches the body. The distance between statement and enunciation makes the barred A exist. In psychosis there are many nuances that testify to difficulties with this question.

Mr. B., a very discreet paranoiac, is dedicated to the supposed enunciation of the other while his own appears completely effaced.


In the 1970s Lacan differentiates the two axes of language – that of speech and that of the sign. With lalangue he elaborates a language which does not serve for communication but rather for jouissance. Language is a derivative of lalangue, which is defined as speech prior to grammatical or lexicographical organization. Lalangue is speech in its disjunction from the structure of language. Here we can think of Schreber´s fundamental language made up of neologisms.

The division of language into lalangue and social bond again puts into question the regulating element beyond the name of the father. The outside discourse of psychosis questions the social bond that joins the singularity of lalangue with the standard element. We could say that the discourse of the master attempts to ´normalise´ lalangue.

The last teaching makes of the knot a writing uncoupled from speech. But writing had always been present for Lacan. In the “Ecrits inspirés”xi the authors set out from the concept of “schizoaphasia” in order to indicate that certain instances only manifest themselves in written language. The conception of deficit appears here clearly explained: when there is poverty of thought automatism supplements for the deficit and is judged as valid because it appeals to an emotion. Nevertheless, the relation with surrealism is established along with the recognition of the poetical value of certain writings. A plus of creativity is inscribed in the panorama of the deficitary conception.

This is the line that Lacan will follow in his thesis. Effectively, in the case of Aimée he analyses her writings to which he will adjudge a clinical value that will allow him to study the relations between delusion and personality, and in this case a recognized literary value that will be extinguished a posteriori. The analysis of Schreber´s text gives it a character of testimony that by its rigor approximates to the scientific discourse, while in the text of Wittgenstein he locates a psychotic ferocity. He indicates that what was remarkable was that the English university had given him a place apart, isolated, which allowed him to withdraw and return to pursue this “implacable discourse”xii to save the truth.

The reading that Lacan makes of Joyce is fundamental. In Joyce he indicates that his writing will have the function of symptom in the Borromean sense by knotting the real, symbolic and imaginary registers with a fourth ring. The use of writing expresses his symptomatic singularity to the point of producing the illegible. Joyce´s style of writing leaves the English language disarticulated, it fragments it. The function of this writing is to correct the error in his knot, making an Ego with it and maintaining a quite particular relation with his own image. This poses his difficulty with the imaginary and leads the real and symbolic to become coalesced.

Joyce gives to language a use distinct from the ordinary. By means of writing he decomposes speech. Lacan raises the question of whether it is a matter of freeing himself from the phenomenon of chatter or allowing himself to be invaded by phonemic properties.

The function of writing as an operation on jouissance brings to the fore the question of style for which Lacan had a sensibility from the beginning of his work on the problem of style and the paranoiac forms of experience.xiii

The cases outside discourse are those that show that although language is a defence that can be put to use in different ways, discourse permits a social bond and helps with a certain know how which gives an appearance of normality.

This new partition is an updated version of something that Lacan had proposed from the start, the relation between the singularity of the use of language and the social bond that common discourse implies. It is in this way that the idea that everybody is delusional comes to light but nonetheless, following Lacan, it is always a question of considering “the economy of discourse” and the creative effects of invention that maintain the tension between these two aspects.

(Translated by Roger Litten)

i Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book III, The Psychoses, Norton, 1993.

Cf., Lacan, J., et. al., Ecrits inspires: Schizographie”; Lacan’s Thesis, “Paranoid Psychosis and its Relation to the Personality”; Lacan, J., “The Problem of Style and the Psychiatric Conception of Paranoiac Forms of Experience” (1933).


iii Lacan, J., “Presentation on Psychical Causality”, in Ecrits, The First Complete English Edition, Norton, 2006, p. 137.

iv Lacan, J., Seminar III, op. cit., p. 32.

v Ibid., p. 34.

vi Miller, J.-A, et. al., Los inclasificables de la clinica psicoanalitica, Paidos, 1999, p. 346-347.

vii Lacan, J., 13/11/1973, unpublished.

viii Lacan, J., 13/01/1971, unpublished.

ix Miller, J.-A., “Jacques Lacan and the Voice”, in The Psychoanalytical Notebooks of the London Society, Issue 30, 2015, p. 78.

x Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Norton, 2007, p. 54.

xi Lacan, J., Migault, P., Levi-Valensi, A., “Ecrits inspires: Schizographi”, in Annales Medico-Psychologiques, Vol II, pp. 308-322.

xii Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Norton, 2007, p. 63.

xiii Lacan, J., “The Problem of Style and the Psychiatric Conception of Paranoiac Forms of Experience” (1933), transl. by Jon Anderson in Critical Texts, vol.5, 3, 1988.