The unconscious : a psychoanalytic study | LAPLANCHE - LECLAIRE

| quarta-feira, 14 de outubro de 2009
An Examination of Politzer's Critique
That we accord the Critique of the Foundations of Psychology a
privileged place here at the beginning of our study should be taken
as a tribute to an author--or at least to the original phase of his
thought-whose influence on the development of psychoanalysis in
France has not been sufficiently appreciated. His work has served
as a veritable "introduction to psychoanalysis" for an entire generation,
and even now its shock value is far from diminished. For who
will deny the liberating effect of the cry: "down with metapsychology!"
at a time when Freud's metapsychological concepts continue
to exist primarily for the secondary gain they provide as a means of
defence against thinking.

I. Three Approaches Toward a Realism of the Unconscious1
(A) Meaning and Letter. An Examination of Politzer's Critique
That we accord the Critique of the Foundations of Psychology a
privileged place here at the beginning of our study should be taken
as a tribute to an author--or at least to the original phase of his
thought-whose influence on the development of psychoanalysis in
France has not been sufficiently appreciated. His work has served
as a veritable "introduction to psychoanalysis" for an entire generation,
and even now its shock value is far from diminished. For who
will deny the liberating effect of the cry: "down with metapsychology!"
at a time when Freud's metapsychological concepts continue
to exist primarily for the secondary gain they provide as a means of
defence against thinking.
It would be difficult to find a clearer introduction to the problem
of the unconscious than a discussion of this text. Is the unconscious
a meaning or a letter? Politzer answers this question in exemplary
fashion with a radicalism of meaning that pretends to take over the
whole of Freud's discovery while simultaneously eliminating the
unconscious. His attempt immediately takes us beyond the old
objections raised by a psychology of consciousness, such as the ones
Freud refutes in the first section of "The Unconscious."
1 This essay was originally delivered at a colloquium on the unconscious
at Bonneval (1960). It appeared in L'lnconscient (VIe Colloque de Bonneval),
Desclke de Brouwer, 1966.-Ed.
2 Georges Politzer's Critique des fondements de la psychologie (Paris, 1928),
has recently (1968) been reissued by Presses Universitaires de France.-Ed.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
If we take up the terms of Politzer's critique, we find the metapsychological
hypothesis of the unconscious attacked on two levels:
for its abstraction and its realism.
Abstraction is the first of these reproaches. It would seem that
Freud was inconsistent with the consequences of his own discovery;
this situation would appear to be most evident in the way his thinking
progresses in The Interpretation of Dreams. For while the essence
of the Freudian discovery consisted in replacing impersonal mechanisms
with a way of explaning dreams as acts of a particular subject
in a "first-person" drama, Freud, in all his metapsychological essays,
and in particular in the last chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams
("The Psychology of the Dream-Processes") falls back to the level of
abstract psychological entities whose interplay would occur mechanically
and no longer at the level of subjectivity. What then comes to
the fore are impersonal factors, agencies, psychical forces whose
machinery attempts in vain to reconstitute the phenomenon in its
concreteness. According to this analysis, Freud was not true to his
fundamental aim: "what is expressed in the manifest content as the
act of an I should not be reduced at the latent level to an interaction
of psychical things. The latent content, the dream-wish must not leave
the domain of subjectivity, the domain that deiines psychology.
We will try to say later how we might consider Freud's machinery,
when we come to the metapsychological developments of 1915. We
pause here only over the expression "first person" in order to indicate
the deviation or at least the restriction it imposes on Freud's
discovery: is there no other alternative than between a mechanism
-a process operating at the level of a thing-and the first person?
Is it not precisely Freud's discovery, under the name of "dreamthoughts,"
that an utterance may take place "in person"-without,
however, being in the first person, but in the alienated form of the
second or third person? If the subject of the utterance is at first only
a grammatical one, it is none the less a subject: when "it talks" [ga
parle] in the unconscious, we do indeed find the dramatic unity so
dear to Politzer, but this drama does not necessarily take place "in the
first person." We may even wonder whether the defining characteristic
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of unconscious structures is not that they include voices other than
that of the "first person."
Realism is the second principal reproach. Let us follow here
Politzer's demonstration in the case of the dream.
A dream analysis gives the impression that we move from a
manifest content to a latent one. Now, "to speak more precisely, a
dream has only one content" (p. 184), the latent one, just as we can
say that there is only one narrative, the manifest one: the text of
the dream only expresses in an unconventional language meanings
[intentions significatives] which have not found an adequate sign.
Dream interpretation is, of course, a translation, but the mistake of
Freudian realism consists in assuming the actual independent existence
of this translation, at the moment when the dream is elaborated, in
the form of unconscious thoughts. Under the pretext that the "significant
intentions" of the dream can be expressed in the language of
waking life, it is assumed that they are already embodied, at the time
of the dream, in a text distinct from the manifest content.
Politzer opposes this realism of signification with a theory of the
immanence of meaning which, if it does not borrow its elements from
phenomenological doctrine, could certainly be justified in terms of
it. Politzer uses various comparisons to make us see the connection
between the manifest and the latent: the dramatic relationship that
links a play to its theme, without our having to assume that this
theme is already written-in somewhere (p. 73), the immanent relation
through which the rules of tennis are present in a match in implicit
fashion (p. 190), the linguistic relation . . . but here let Politzer speak
for himself:
In the dream of Irma's injection, 'Irma has a sore throat' means 'I wish there
were an error in diagnosis'. Now first of all, there can only be 'explanation'
at the level of meaning, since we are faced with the explication of a text, or
rather, with the analysis of a dramatic scene. Thus the wish for an error in
diagnosis explains the sore throat just as the Latin term 'pater' explains the
French word 'pkre', or rather, as jealousy explains Othello's action @. 176).
This double "or rather" by which Politzer quickly abandons the
"linguistic" relation for a relationship of another order, more specifJean
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ically the expression of an emotion in a gesture, is significant: for
how could Politzer be at ease in his linguistic example, in a relation
which is not the immanence of a hypothetical intention to a sign, but
the substitution of one sign for another?
But let us close for a moment the door that opens on to the
linguistic dimension of the substitution of signifiers, in order to indicate
the perspective in which Politzer intended to "found" psychology.
What Freud reified in the term c'unconscious" is, in this view, only
a particular instance of the general category of signification or of the
"first person drama," a category destined to replace that of causality
in psychology. For Politzer, this category is a scientific category in
the full sense of the term, since it is the result of an objective elaboration:
the subject is in no way privileged in relation to this knowledge.
Of course, the subject may himself be the one who interprets his own
actions, but for this act of learning his subjective situation is, in fact,
unfavorable: "Indeed, it does not seem to us legitimate to expect of
the subject anything other than the actual accomplishment of the
action: the meaning of the act may be known to him, but dreams
and the facts of mental pathology show sufficiently that he may also
not know it" (p. 211). And "precisely because it does not consider
that the ignorance of the subject as to his own being is a particularly
remarkable thing," concrete psychology "has no need for the notion
of an unconscious" @. 214).
". . . The facts of the unconscious are no longer given directly
but constructed, like those of the other sciences" (p. 215).
We should not conceal from ourselves the aspect of these texts
that finds an echo not only in Freudian experience and teaching, but
in a certain philosophical tradition as well: the blindness which by
virtue of his very position affects the subject in regard to the meaning
of his actions, the radical opacity of the cogit-this Malebranchian
thesis finds its correlate in Freud's theory.
And as to the other facet of Politzer's position, the notion that
the unconscious is only the construction of the other as knowing
subject, we may juxtapose this with Freud's article on "Constructions
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in Analysis," where the importance of this "intellectualist" mode of
approach is demonstrated.
And yet, however satisfying and stimulating a perspective which
sweeps out the old metapsychological arsenal may be ; however close,
too, it may seem to a modern thesis which would emphasize the similarities
between the field of analysis and that of linguistics or
cryptography-how can we fail to see the reduction, indeed the flattening
that Politzer imposes on the dimension of subjectivity as
discovered by Freud. In other words, the mere opposition of the
manifest narrative or gesture and the drama or meaning immanent to
them, and which analysis has only to reconstruct-all this seems to
us incapable of accounting for the data of psychoanalysis. This can
be demonstrated both at the level of manifest behaviour or of the
manifest text and at the level of latent meaning.
At the level of the manifest text: our experience goes against any
simple reduction of a gesture, symbol, or word, as they are presented
to us in analysis, to a new sign invented by the subject in order to
express in a unique language a meaningful intention, itself characterized
by its particularity. Sign, symptom, and symbol are sustained
not only by the unconscious meaning to be discovered in them, but
also by the immediate meaning which they first seem to express.
A dreamer tells us: "I dreamed of Mrs. X. She wore a red scarf."
The red scarf quickly leads us to the subject's mother. That person
is my mother, he says. That's all. Don't we realize that he has simply
led us to a dead end, to a point of stagnation which he will be able
to get out of by understanding why he dreamed of his mother in the
guise of Mrs. X and by means of the red scarf? If the manifest sign,
in fact, expresses only a single meaning, we will not be able to escape
from the following alternative :
1. Either the subject is saying: "I want to sleep with my mother,"
which means he wants to sleep with his mother, and we are in the
realm of psychosis.
2. Or the subject, in order to express the fact that he wants to
sleep with his mother, creates an absolutely new sign, a perfect
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neologism-but then the path by which we, or he, could accede to
the latent meaning is totally inconceivable.
The objection also holds if we consider Politzer's reduction of the
latent content to a "meaning."
To put it briefly, since we shall have occasion to come back to
it later, notions such as conflict, compromise formation, etc. . .. are
untenable in a structure whose two sole dimensions are those of a
letter-the manifest content-and a meaning, which would occupy the
place of the unconscious. Who will be able to tell us on what stage
the encounter between these two characters can take place: the one,
as in a farce, always leaving the stage when the other comes on?
To take up a comparison made by Politzer, if the unconscious should
not be taken more realistically than the law scientists construct in
order to explain certain facts in physics, who would be able to describe
the conflict between 112 gt2and the fall of an apple?
Between a single letter and a single meaning, a letter so particularly
adapted to its meaning that "conventional dialectics" "are unsuited"
to interpret it, how could we conceive of any other relation than one
of adequation? How would we understand, moreover, Freud's account
of the existence, in exceptional cases, of a cooperation between
the unconscious and the preconscious which, when it occurs, gives to
3 Let us recall his argument: "In short, we are faced with two hypotheses.
One, the Freudian hypothesis, considers the dream as a vertiable transposition
of an original text that the dream distorts; for the other, on the contrary,
the dream is the result of the operation of an individual dialectic. The essential
difference between these two conceptions resides in the fact that in the first,
the dream is something which is derivative, and that in the second, it is the
primary phenomenon and is self-sufficient. In the latter case, the dream does
not have, strictly speaking, two contents: a latent and a manifest one. It can
have only a manifest content, in fact, if we try to interpret it in terms of
conventional dialectics. Now it is just these dialectics that are powerless in the
case of dreams: the dream is not their product since it can be explained only
by a personal dialectic. The dream, therefore, has only one content, the one
Freud calls the latent content. But the dream has this content immediately, and
not after being disguised.' "
Although Politzer pretends to answer in this way the theory of the
"dynamic" unconscious, we can affirm that it is on this point that the Freudian
theory remains "irrefutable" (DmIch und das Es, p. 241): when it founds
the autonomous existence of the unconscious (autonomous-that is, not purely
correlative to conscious expression) on the phenomena of repression, resistance,
and, in the last analysis, on the notion of conflict, the dialectic which Politzer
invokes here, but in vain, since he has eliminated the distinction of levels that
would allow it to function.
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the resulting action a quality that cannot be mistaken: there occurs
a particularly perfect action, free of any contradiction (of the type
found in obsessional symptoms). The possibility of adding to each
other the effects of the unconscious and those of the preconscious
provides stunning proof that the latter is not simply the manifestation
of the former.
(B) The Two Ways of Listening. Lacunae in Conscious Speech. The
Notion of "Formations of the Unconscious"
However schematic these considerations may be, they have nevertheless
a direct echo in our day-to-day practice. In this connection,
it would be particularly interesting to define the attitudes, the ways
of listening that make up what each of us understands by "free-floating
attention." In our view, one would find two very different types of
listening, between which most individual cases would fall: we would
be prepared to compare them under the rubrics: "the attitude of
simultaneous translation" and "the attitude of attention to lacunary
Even if it does not follow directly from it, the attitude of simultaneous
translation seems to us to correspond to the position of the
unconscious as meaning, as Politzer has expounded it. The patient's
speech (but also his other forms of production, such as his drawings)
are here taken as raw material, for the interpretation of which the
conscious intention of the patient does not have to be taken particularly
into consideration. Free-floating attention, by not privileging
any one bit of content, has the effect of privileging them all, of taking
the whole of the discourse as a text capable of being translated into
"unconscious" language. But in this formulation one should really
put the term "language" in the plural, since the essential ambiguity
of any material in regard to its meaning allows, for the same text, a
totally coherent demarcation into "oral," "anal," and "phallic," to
take only the most classic idioms.
4 "Das Unbewusste," G. W., X, 293.
5 Doubtless, the notion of over-determination will be invoked to justify
these multiple decodings; but to our mind, it is an abuse of language to apply
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More boldly, one could speak of the analyst's free associations,
seeking support a bit hastily in the commonplace of a "communication
between unconsciouses." We propose here the simple counterproof of
a translation of the manifest content-of a dream, for example-not
only into Freudian, but also into Jungian, existentialist or even (and
this is not a gratuitous hypothesis) into Marxist. What else would we
have done but project our object into different systems of coordinates,
of which some are no doubt more convenient than others, but of which
none has ally claim to greater truth.
It is indeed because of the radical ambiguity of the letter, as we
evoke it in this context, that any attitude of psychoanalytic listening
seeks to be "free-floating." But whereas in the case we have just
described, the egalitarian treatment of the material led to a sort of
leveling in which all the contents are equally significant and charged
(by whom?) with unconscious meaning, in another perspective, on
the contrary, the evenness of the field of attention aims at bringing
into relief the nodal points ("Knotenpunkte") in the patient's speech :
points of intensity, of absence of intensity, lacunae, hollows.
We borrow this perspective from Freud himself who defines in
precisely this way the presence of the unconscious in psychoanalytic
experience. The data of consciousness are defective, "lacunary"
("luckenhaft"); the unconscious is what allows us to reestablish a
homogeneously to the whole of a psychological text a phenomenon that takes
on all its meaning at the level of individual elements of speech, in a special
way for each of these elements, determinable in the very structure of the
element in question. Limited in its extension, as we see, in relation to the whole
of the psychological text ("its surface"), over-determination is no less limited
"in depth." It is as "double determination" that it is introduced by Freud:
"an hysterical symptom is produced only where two opposing wish-fulfillments,
each of which has its source in a different mental system, meet in a single
expression" (G. W., 11-111, p. 575). Nothing here authorizes the confused
manner in which this central notion of Freudianism is recurred to in order
to declare all possible interpretations compatible without showing how they are
articulated among themselves. It would seem that Freud, at least, did not
discover such an "interminability" of the unconscious in his own experience.
We would never have done with denouncing the (easily determined) error and
the (infinite) pathos which prevail on the subject of "interminable" analysis.
One would have to have limited oneself to the title of Freud's article on the
question not to understand that, according to him, analysis is "interminable"
only because it runs up against a very well-determined obstacle: the castration
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coherent sequence, an intelligible relation "when we interpolate the
unconscious acts that we infer." We see here how Freud can put forth
a "constructionist" thesis about the unconscious (the unconscious is
"inferred") while at the same time avoiding what we might call a
Politzerian position : the unconscious is rigorously distinguished from
the manifest text, and it is precisely for that reason that it can enter
into relation with it:
(a) The unconscious is not coextensive to the manifest as its
meaning: it must be interpolated in the lacunae of the manifest text,
(b) What is unconscious is in relation to the manifest not as a
meaning to a letter, but on the same level of reality. It is what allows
us to conceive of a dynamic relationship between the manifest text
and what is absent from and must be interpolated in it: it is a
fragment of discourse that must find its place in the discourse as a
Let us conclude here by noting that the way of listening we are
trying to define tends to bring to the fore the notion of a privileged
manifestation, of a formation proper to the unconscious: dreams,
slips of the tongue, erroneous acts are the classic examples. Conversely,
are we not also saying that not all of the patient's speech is interpretable,
that there are utterances without unconscious correlates. ..
most often, in the analytic context, empty chatter, but also, on
occasion, "full" speech [parole "pleine"], the assumption of a hitherto
unconscious meaning, for if analysis seeks to elucidate what it means
to speak, it must also at times be the case that speech means. .. what
it says.
(C) The Unconscious and the Problem of Consciousness
Before engaging the debate on the ontological status of the unconscious
we believe it useful to recall what it is opposed to in
psychoanalytic theory. Let us set it down as schematically as necessary
: the unconscious, which is the specific domain of psychoanalysis,
6 G. W., X, p. 265.
7 According to the term put forth by J. Lacan.
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should be taken in the topographical sense. In this respect, it contrasts
as much with the "preconscious" (which is unconscious only in the
descriptive sense) as with consciousness.
This distinction, in fact, is found throughout all of Freud's work.
From a purely descriptive, phenomenological point of view, the
conscious, as the realm of consciousness situated (or situating itself)
in time, may be contrasted with the totality of the contents it does not
embrace at a given moment, and which are by definition unconscious.
But the crucial separation, the one which coincides with the action
of censorship, cuts across this "unconscious" domain. The unconscious
in the psychoanalytic sense is constituted by contents inaccessible to
consciousness; the preconscious, on the other hand, is theoretically
available to it: constituted by my non-activated memories, my knowledge,
my stock of opinions, etc., it covers the whole area described,
outside of psychoanalysis or prior to it, as "unconscious" or
' ' s u ~ ~ o ~ s c ~ ~ u s . ' ~
Freud designates this preconscious system distinctively by the
name of "conscious knowledge" (bewusste Kenntniss), which, of
course, opposes it to consciousness hie et nunc, but even more to
the system Ucs. The two terms here are entirely distinctive:
"knowledge" implies that the essential distinction lies in terms of
systems, of a certain knowledge (or discourse) of self; the term
'konscious" insists on this same distinction since it serves to describe
phenomena which are manifestly unconscious from the descriptive
point of view but which are linked to the conscious from the topographical
8 "The Unconscious," G. W., X, p. 265. Of course, Freud, impelled by
apologetic necessity, brings up the unquestionable existence of the preconscious
(memories, etc.) as an argument for defending the possibility of an unconscious
mind in general. For a moment in this text, the "descriptive" distinction
(Cs / Pcs, Ucs)--and not the "topographic" one (Cs, Pcs / Ucs)--seems to be
in the forefront. In fact, the essential systematic distinction is quickly
rediscovered since, at the end of the section (p. 267: die hartniickige
Ablehnung), Freud indicates that the question of the unconscious is in essence
posed only by the facts discovered by psychoanalysis, and that outside the latter
one need only "neglect certain enigmas of the psychology of consciousness
to spare oneself the hypothesis of unconscious psychical activity."
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This is Freud's constant position; it is radically and scandalously
intolerant of any attempt at interpretation by the conceptual tools
of a psychology of consciousness. We recognize in it the direct
consequence of the experience of emergent "insight," as it occurs in
a psychoanalytic cure. In such cases it is rare, and even exceptional,
for the discovery of the unconscious to occur as a phenomenon that
can be situated within the time and field of a unified consciousness.
Usually it takes a patient effort, proceeding from particular to
particular, in which the reorganization of perspectives is pursued
through discontinuous, isolated moments of consciousness, often greatly
separated from one another, none of which is characterized by that
sudden reconversion of the totality of meanings that could be called
a revelation.
Even more, if what may be called a "moment of insight" in the
narrow sense sometimes occurs-the resurgence of a forgotten memory,
a sudden illumination-it may be said that this phenomenon,
which is unquestionably conscious in the descriptive sense, does not
allow us to decide whether it belongs topographically to the conscious
system. This was already the case, in the development of analytic
technique, for the sudden and ephemeral flashes of memory under
hypnosis. At a later stage, the energetical theory of the abreaction of
a traumatic memory was in turn seen to be wanting when faced with
remembrances which, even when accompanied by all the affective
trappings apt to modify the structure of the field of consciousness,
did not result in a stable restructuring of the subject. It is here that
the theory of Durcharbeiten intervened: an interpretative elaboration
or working-through whose role is to weave around a rememorated
element an entire network of meaningful relations that integrate it
into the subject's explicit apprehension of himself, that is: into the
Preconscious-Conscious system. In the passage from one system to the
other, the moment of conscious insight [prise de conscience], in the
9 With the insistence that the Freudian experience of "memory" has less
to do with the recollection of an "event" than with the repetition of a
structure has come the use of the verb se remkmorer to designate the analytic
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descriptive sense, is only an ephemeral instant, all the emphasis being
placed on the reorganizing of the preconscious system.
Let us rapidly summarize our conclusions:
The problems posed by the Unconscious in the Freudian sense are
a far cry from those posed by a psychology or a phenomenology of
consciousness. The psychoanalytic unconscious is not, in fact, defined
in relation to the intentional field in which the subject "temporalizes"
himself, but in opposition to a system whose greater part is unconscious:
the system Pcs-Cs.
If one wanted to find a philosophical correlate to such a system,
one could do no better than to compare it to what Hegel describes
under the term of "consciousness" ("unhappy consciousness," the
"beautiful soul," etc.): an organized structure of self-apprehension
which entails and includes a plurality of moments, an entire coherent
discourse that is never actualized in its totality (a "consciousness,"
a "Bewusstsein").
Which is to say how far the contribution of psychoanalysis is from
descriptions given in the realm of phenomenology. In Sartre, for
instance, the critique of the psychoanalytic unconscious misconstrues
the latter's radical heterogeneity by reducing unconscious contents to
the misunderstood fringes and implications of present intention, or, in
Freudiam terms, to the limit between the conscious and the preconscious.
The questions thus posed (bad faith, conscious reticence,
misunderstanding-pathology of the field of consciousness, etc.) do
not lose their interest if we characterize them as marginal in relation
to a domain which is properly psychoanalytic. They are situated
rather at the level of that second censorship which Freud places at the
boundary between the preconscious and consciousness, but which he
hardly began to describe. lo
10 The example that Sartre, in his refutation of the Freudian unconscious
takes over from Stekel : the frigid woman who would "in reality" have pleasure,
but does not want to recognize it, plays at this boundary and not at that of
the Ucs. This is the process of misperception or disguising of an affect, suppression
(Unterdriickung), which psychoanalysis distinguishes from repression
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11. The Unconscious as System in Freud. Orientation and Impasse
of the Freudian Hypothesis
Freud's text on "The Unconscious" (G. W., X, 264-303) throws into
focus the subject it proposes with such rigor that we could profitably
limit ourselves to following and commenting on all of its stages. Our
intention here is somewhat different. We want to bring into relief,
through reference to certain particularly difficult passages, the fundamental
necessity which drives the author into the meanders of his
metapsychological conceptions.
While we do not ourselves accept all of his topographical or
economic concepts, we think it useful, nevertheless, to discuss them
in some detail in order to show that Freud forges and reworks them
in order to adapt them to the object he is pursuing: the unconscious
system. Thus the whole text is in search of a distinction which would
found the real, topographical separation of the two systems, a distinction
which is sometimes sought in a qualitative difference (the theory
of "two inscriptions"), sometimes in an economic one (a "cathectic
energy" proper to each system).
(A) Necessity of a Second Structure
By its very strangeness, a first passage is very characteristic of the
realistic imperative in Freud. This is the rather complicated reasoning
by which he hopes to confirm the legitimacy of the hypothesis of the
unconscious. Freud extends here to intrasubjective structures the
reasoning by analogy which, according to him, allows us to move
from our own consciousness to the existence of a psyche or consciousness
in others.
Freud does not deny the weakness of this argument at the level
of the existence of other minds, and he shows us right away that he
is not wed to it by putting it into doubt as an example of the process
of identication (p. 267-268). It is rather at the level of the knowledge
of other minds that the argument is maintained, supported by the
exemplary fact that the meaning of a bit of behavior is often clearer
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in others than in ourselves (whereas our own existence would be more
certain). Let us transfer this reasoning, at Freud's invitation, to the
level of the individual psyche: here too we are faced with events and
contents for which we cannot immediately account (the manifestations
of the unconscious).
In a text such as this it would seem that a "Politzerian" solution
is called for: starting from a certain lived experience-our own
drama-the "unconscious" meaning of this experience must be inferred,
constructed in the same way as it is for the experiences of others.
Why then does Freud not avail himself of this category of meaning,
which is, after all, not absolutely foreign to him? Why introduce the
realistic hypothesis of a "second consciousness" in us, a second
consciousness that in fact has nothing in common with consciousness
proper aside from a common degree of reality?
The only answer is that Freud needs a radical division between
two domains situated at an identical level of reality ; only this effective
duality allows him to account for psychical conflict: in order for a
meaning to be opposed to the experience of which it is the meaning,
the experience itself must equally be meaning and the unconscious
meaning must have in its turn the consistency of experience. Thus,
says Freud: "one should judge all the acts and manifestations that I
cannot link up with the rest of my mental life as belonging to another
person" (p. 268). Once again, lacunary phenomena are posited at the
origin of the hypothesis of the unconscious: but the latter does not
consist in a more comprehensive meaning which allows these phenomena
to be attached to the rest of the text, it is, on the contrary, a
second structure in which these lacunary phenomena find their unity
independently of the rest of the text.
(B) The Hypothesis of the Double Inscription
It is in Section 11, "Different Significations of the Term 'Unconscious';
the Topographical Aspect," that the notion of a
systematic distinction is introduced, symbolized by the abbreviations :
Ubw, Vbw, Bw. The topographical point of view, Freud notes (p. 272),
removes us even further from a "psychology of consciousness."
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The question posed in the following pages (272-275) will continue
to appear throughout the rest of the text: what founds this topographical
distinction? When an unconscious representation becomes
conscious, is it the same one undergoing a change of state ("functional
hypothesisv)--the process being accomplished on the same material
and in the same "locality"-, or is it a question of a second "inscription"
(Niederschrift), of a new "fixation?"
Here Freud does not decide. The hst viewpoint seems to him
"the more probable"; it is one we might call phenomenological : the
same object, at the moment of insight, is subjected to different lighting.
The second conception seems to him both "cruder" and "more
In the discussion Freud pursues concerning the process of interpretation
in therapy, we can see him oscillating between the two points
of view. The question is here formulated in these terms: if the transition
to the preconscious-conscious system entails a new inscription,
can there be a coexistence of these two inscriptions-the preconsciousconscious
and unconscious ones. This "topographical" hypothesis
seems confirmed by the fact that interpretation, while bringing a
certain content to consciousness, does not at the same time abolish its
unconscious effects. But Freud immediately questions his own example
by indicating that in this case-that of an ineffective interpretationit
is probably not the same content in each of the two "inscriptions".
Thus, nothing proves that when it really is the same content which
becomes conscious, that content still remains inscribed at the
unconscious level.
For ourselves, who would willingly decide in favor of the double
inscription, the question would be to discover how to formulate the
second point of view in a less "crude" way, that is, by accounting
for the modification produced in the unconscious, simultaneously with
the second inscription in the preconscious-conscious. 11
11 What fate does Freud assign to the theory of double inscription in the
rest of the text? We will see below that the introduction of the economic point
of view allows him apparently to eliminate the "topographical" hypothesis in
favor of the "functional" one. In point of fact, the topographical hypothesis
of "double inscription" reappears again later @. 288) when Freud indicates
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
(C) The Economic Hypothesis
With Section IV of Freud's text, "Topography and Dynamics of
Repression," the theory of a double inscription is momentarily abandoned:
the same term, the same representation can no longer be
"inscribed" simultaneously in the unconscious and in the preconscious
systems: its arrival in one place abolishes its presence in the other.
Are we thus brought back to the hypothesis of a single, identical
content which may or may not be illuminated by consciousness?
Perhaps this is the case at the level of individual terms, but, at the
level of systems of representation, the realistic distinction between
the two domains subsists and is now based on a new economic
concept, that of a "cathectic energy" proper to each.
We cannot approve without reservation when Freud declares that
"the functional hypothesis has here easily driven out the topographical
one." We would say rather that if the transition of a term from the
unconscious to the conscious, or vice versa, has become a functional
one, it is at the cost of an even more clearly marked topographical
distinction, supported by an economic one.
"Unconscious cathetic energy," "preconscious cathetic energy":
let us examine successively their point of application, the direction
in which they act, and finally their nature.
that two different inscriptions for preconscious and unconscious memories
probably have to be admitted. Freud indicates here that what he rejected
earlier (p. 279) was in fact only the double inscription "for the relation between
conscious and unconscious representations." But if we refer to the preceding
passage, we see that it is indeed regarding the relation between the preconscious
and unconscious systems that the "topographical" hypothesis was abandoned.
What does this mean? Freud seems to be more than supplementing what he
said before; this is a real correction, which should end up, in his opinion, "by
putting an end to our indecision regarding the denomination of the uppermost
system, which we have been mistakenly calling at times Pcs, at times Cs"
(p. 288). Does this solution not point in the following direction: the passage
from the Ucs to the Pcs would happen necessarily through the Cs, and this
without a new inscription, but the subsequent passage to the preconscious would
imply a new inscription, which could be diagrammed as follows :
Durcharbeiten + ucs + Cs + Pcs
(Niederschrift) (Niederschrift)
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1. In the Freudian model, each of these energies is strictly specific
to its system. There is no transformation of unconscious energy into
conscious energy. This energy is applied to isolated terms, representations
it cathects or decathects. The passage of an element from one
system to another is produced by withdrawal of cathexis by the first
and recathexis by the second.
2. Up to now things seem relatively simple: each system has a
sort of cohesive force, an internal energy which, when applied to an
isolated element, maintains it in the totality. But Freud does not
always remain faithful to this scheme, especially in the case of
unconscious energy. At times, the latter seems to exert a force of
attraction on the representations : this is the case particularly in the
theory of repression (G. W., X, 250-251) where attraction by elements
which are already repressed serves to collaborate with suppression by
the superior system. But in other cases (or simply: according to
another modality of Freud's thought), the unconscious cathexis would
be, on the contrary, that which drives a representation to irrupt into
the preconscious (G. W., X, p. 280).
In this way the essential question is presented-but we would have
liked the contradiction to be more explicit--of knowing in which
direction the unconscious acts: as a repetitive, attracting force for
cohesion, opposed to conscious insight, or on the contrary, a force
which would constantly tend to make its "derivatives" emerge into
consciousness and which would only be contained by the vigilance of
3. But perhaps this difficulty is tied to the major obscurity of
Freud's economic hypothesis, which consists in purely and simply
identifying this systemic "cathectic energy" with libidinal energy, that
is, with the energy of the sexual drives.
We should indeed recall that the libido as such cannot be specific
to either one of the systems in question. For Freud, the drive is at
first neither conscious nor unconscious, but organic. If it comes to be
localized in a system, it is precisely only by linking itself to a representation,
to an "ideational representative."
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
We see here the difficulty that then exists in assimilating the energy
of the drive to the "cathectic energy" of a system: while the latter
must account for a representation's belonging to such and such a
system, it is on the contrary the topographical position of a given
representation that determines the topographical position of the libido
that comes to be "fixated" to it.
To press this assimilation to its conclusion would be to come to
a notion that contradicts the general theory of the libido: that of a
topographical and qualitatively irreducible opposition between an
unconscious libido and a (pre-)conscious one, an opposition such that
one could not be transformed into the other.
Let us conclude this study of Freud's text on the Unconscious:
Freud's aim is above all to establish the independence and the
cohesion of the two systems.
The most satisfactory explanation he gives is the economic
hypothesis. But the only coherent interpretation we could present
would have to distinguish in an absolute manner between the
"cathectic energies" involved and libidinal energy. We may for
the moment give a Gestaltist model for this play of energies. The
cathectic energy of a system would be comparable to the Pragnanz
of a "good shape." But it is important to note at what level the passage
from one system to another operates: it cannot be the global
passage of the same structure from one mode of organization to
another, similar to the oscillatory effect at work in the perception
of an equivocal image. What passes from one Gestalt to another is
always an isolated equivocal element, capable of being captured by
the Pragnanz of the unconscious or (pre-)conscious Gestalt: repression,
as Freud emphasizes, "works in a completely individual way:
each isolated derivative of the repressed may have its own peculiar
fate" (Die Verdrangung, G. W., X, 252).
A convenient example would be those puzzle-drawings in which
a certain perceptual attitude suddenly makes Napoleon's hat appear
in the branches of the tree that shades a family picnic. But if this
hat is able to appear, it is because it can be related to an entirely
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different "anecdote," which not at all present in the rest of the drawing
: the "Napoleonic legend."
In this model, what Freud calls cathexis is the relation of the
detail in question (the hat) to the system which corresponds to it (the
Napoleonic legend). The anti-cathexis is found in the same detail's
relation to the term which evokes it in the other system (that is, the
leaves of the tree); it is the Pragmnz of the "conscious" system (the
picnic) which keeps the tree and its leaves in existence and maintains
the hat in a latent state.
111. The "Unconscious Text" of a Dream
No one doubts any longer that the dream is truly "the royal road to
the unconscious." In what respect? This is what we would now like
to examine. In taking up the text of a dream analysis, we hope to
find the desired explanations concerning the topographical question
of unconscious inscriptions and the economic problem of the energy
proper to the unconscious system.
(A) Analysis of a Dream l2
Here then, as told by Philippe, a thirty-year-old obsessional neurotic,
is a first dream, the "unicorn dream":
The deserted square [place] of a small town; it's odd, I'm looking for something.
Liliane-whom I do not know-appears, barefoot, and says to me: it's
been a long time since I've seen such fine sand. We are in the forest and the
trees seem peculiarly colored, with bright and simple shades. I think that there
are a lot of animals in this forest and, just as I am about to say it, a unicorn
(licorne) crosses our path; we walk, all three of us, toward a clearing that we
suppose is down below.
It is a generally admitted hypothesis that the dream is the disguised
expression of a wish-fulfillment. Let us say right away that what
12 The following dream analysis is pursued further in S. Leclaire, Psychanalyser
(Seuil, 1968).-Ed.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
underlies this dream is a wish, a desire to drink, and we shall show
how it can be clearly elicited from this story.
Nothing in the manifest text of the dream directly expresses a
desire to drink; it is what Philippe says in the course of the session
that first reveals it to us: namely, that he woke up a little later the
same night afflicted with a rather strong thirst. But he does not
mention any other dream directly preceding his awakening. In this
regard, he indicates that he had dined the previous evening on salted
"Baltic herrings," which he especially likes. In the same way, we
find in the narrative of the previous day's events the essential part
of the dream material and other evocations of the desire to drink:
Philippe had taken a walk in the woods with his niece Anne. As
happened sometimes, they had stalked game and, above all, had
noticed, near the bottom of a vale irrigated by a stream, numerous
deer and doe tracks, indicating one of the places the animals came
to drink. We shall anticipate here by remarking that it is very probable
that at the moment the remembrance of the dream ends, they
are accompanying the unicorn-doe, who is going to drink in the
The actual dream analysis leads us to three childhood memories.
The deserted square at the beginning of the dream presents
something odd in that it lacks a monument or a fountain; if we
follow the dreamer's associations, the site would be the square of a
small provincial town in which the "unicorn fountain" is located. It
is not only the quite remarkable depiction of the fabulous animal
adorning the fountain that seems to have stayed in Philippe's
memory; it is also, indistipctly at first, then gradually emerging
from the story, the memory of a scene from a summer vacation he
spent in that spot when he was about three years old: he tries to
drink the water that springs from the fountain in the hollow of his
cupped hands. We also find a correlate to this gesture, which is most
important to the subject as a sign of an independence linked to an
experience of motor mastery, in the second memory.. .
A walk in the mountains to which we are brought especially by
the phrase : "it's been a long time since I've seen ..." ; in fact, this
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is a daytime residue applied during the previous day's walk to the
flaming brightness of particularly opulent heather (the same play of
colors that amazes him in the dream, where it is transferred to the
trees). The memory of this Swiss mountain site (the dazzling heather
and the forest) is linked to a childhood attempt at imitating an older
playmate, who was able to produce the noise of a siren by blowing
into his two hands shaped like a conch shell. This call or signal
reverberated particularly well in the forest.
It is a more precisely articulated call that we find in the third
memory, that of a beach on the Atlantic, which we are led to by
the herrings, by way of the Baltic, and by the unexpected ending
of the sentence "It's been a long time.. . such fine sand," as well
as and above all by the name Liliane which does not correspond to
anyone Philippe can identify. He then breaks down the name: "Anne"
is indeed his niece; is it then a question of "Lili"? Lili is a person
quite close to his circle, a cousin of his mother's, who was with him
on the Atlantic beach when he was barely three years old (most
probably at the beginning of the same vacation that brought him
to the town of the unicorn). The memory that marks this stay
particularly is one of being teased by Lili: since, in that dazzling
July, Philippe never stopped repeating to her at every moment, with
a grave and insistent (should we say seductive?) air: "I'm thirsty."
Lili eventually ended up by asking him each time they met: "Well,
Philippe, I'm thirsty?" This affectionate mockery became in the following
years a sort of formula, almost a sign of recognition between
them, spoken in the same grave and falsely despairing tone (connivance,
assurance of satisfaction): "Philippe, I'm thirsty."
Thus we find briefly sketched out in the evocation of these three
memories a first approximate interpretation of the dream.
By way of a thirst clearly motivated by the consumption of
herring, on the occasion of this need to drink, we might say, arises
a dream which, for a time at least, calms to a certain extent the
desire to drink and puts off the moment of awakening.
But we should immediately emphasize that the temporary satisfaction
that the dream brings does not concern the need to drink,
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
that is, the bodily state of hyperchloruration to which the dream
brings no remedy: the dream seems to respond to something else,
which is the desire to drink, Philippe's thirst, and it is that which
we should investigate. The dream brings us back to Philippe's fundamental
declaration: "I'm thirsty" and to two consequences of that
proposition: on the one hand, he drinks on his own, showing a
certain motor coordination; on the other hand, he places himself
before Lili as he who calls, speaks his thirst: he finds himself in
this way pinpointed by the ironic and affectionate formula, "Philippe,
I'm thirsty."
Of course, we still have to pursue the dream analysis we began
and principally the study of this wish to drink. Why does he appear
bound in this way to the call and the attempt at mastery? Why is it
precisely under the sign of the unicorn that the memory of a gesture,
performed no doubt for neither the first nor the last time, is engraved?
Where, finally, do the other fragmentary memories of a
burning summer lead us? For the moment, let us leave these
questions in abeyance.
This thirst appears clearly as the very wish which is answered
by the production of the dream. But what we see above all, already
at this stage, is the double force that underlies the dream: on the
one hand, the need to drink, a contingent, actual, unavoidable thirst
(whose secondary effect will be to bring about his awakening), and
on the other hand, the thirst, the wish to drink, which receives a
measure of satisfaction from the very fact of the dream production.
This double force comes together, without merging however, in the
word thirst.
(B) From Need to Wish. The Problem of Drives
A dream, writes Freud, in the famous title of the third chapter of
the Traumdeutung, is the fulfillment of a wish. Which is to say, an
(unsatisfied) desire constitutes the energy necessary to the constitution
of a dream. But what exactly is this desire whose effects we see
before us? It seems to us quite insufficient to reduce it to a need
to drink after the consumption of herring, to an organic necessity.
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And yet who would deny the link between the "need to drink" and
the "wish or desire to drink"?
How to move from need, an organic energy, to desire, the active
principle of unconscious processes-this is how we might formulate
the problem to which we must address ourselves presently.
Between the purely organic "need" which marks the outer limit
of our psychoanalytic field and the "desire" which orders its essential
center, Freud introduces the concept of drive (pulsion, Trieb).
A drive, Freud tells us, is a constant force of a biological nature,
emanating from organic sources, that always has as its aim its own
satisfaction through the elimination of the state of tension which
operates at the source of the drive itself. l3
As for desire, he tells us, it is that direction of the psychical
apparatus oriented according to the perception of pleasure and unpleasure;
desire alone can set the apparatus in motion. l4 Desire, as
opposed to drive, appears, then, as a properly psychical force. Both
the one and the other account for a movement, for a modification
having as its goal the elimination of a state of tension; but this in
no way justifies confusing the two.
The first thing we ask ourselves about is the actual nature of the
drive. In Philippe's dream it immediately occurs to us to call it oral;
but in introducing this element what exactly have we done, other
than relate it to a privileged erotogenic zone, the mouth, of which
we know that it is the first to be distinguished in post-natal development.
Philippe had been easy to feed, as they say, and no restraint
had been applied in doing so-in conformity with the domestic
maxim that it is better to be envied than pitied. But how then can
we imagine, in a child so well provided for, a need bearing witness
to some lack to be drunk? And yet, the fact remains: Philippe was
thirsty. It is here that we begin to distinguish brute need, on the
one hand, and drive on the other, in that the drive introduces into
the sphere of need an erotic quality: libido will be substituted for
13 "Triebe und Triebschicksale," G. W., X, 212-214.
14 Traumdeutung, G. W., 1/11, 604.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
need-and it is with the former that we must come to terms in
Here then, we might think, a first force has been recognized,
one which tends to reduce the state of organic tension-libido: the
oral drive, this "drive energy" that we find in Philippe, would then
be an anachronistic manifestation of a force which drives him to
satisfy any physiological need, whatever it might be, by means of
the oral libidinal zone.
We would certainly be tempted to simplify the investigation of
the nature of the drive and thus of the enigmatic "drive energy" if
Freud from one end of his work to the other had not maintained
the almost dogmatic requirement of a dualism of drives: "Our conception
was dualist from the start; it is even more clearly so today,
since we designate as life-drives and death-drives the opposition we
used to call ego-drives and sex-drives," writes Freud in 1920. l5
Thus it is not possible for us to limit the study of the energy of
drives, one of the energies that animate the dream, to the libido that
is manifest in it in an oral context.
But how then are we to understand this other aspect of driveenergy,
the ego-drives, the death-drives, which must also play a part,
even in the production of this dream?
It is not perhaps without interest to recall here another expression
which commonly served to designate Philippe: he belonged to that
category of children often called "Me-I" [Moi-je] because most of
what they say begins with that ritual formula. But when he was
called Mr. "Me-I" it was not, we may be sure, in the same sympathetic
context in which Lili returned to him that sign of complicity:
"Philippe-I'm-thirsty." Here he showed that hateful egotism, the
kind said to be so natural to children insofar as they do not have
the added impudence to formulate it politely, the way "grown-ups"
15 G. W., XIII, 57. Because the analysis is dependent on it, we have
translated pulsion de mort (Todestrieb) as "death-drive." See Laplanche's more
recent work (Vie et mort en psychanalyse), in which much importance is
attached to respecting the latent diacritical distinction in Freud's texts between
instinct (Instinkt) and drive (Trieb).-Ed.
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do; thus this ego (me) that rubs shoulders with the I appears quite
simply indecent-in short, insufferable.
Let us for the moment remark that with this "me" there appears
that which indeed one should never exhibit in good company: the
word that sustains the void of the death-drive (ego-drive in the first
terminology.) l6
If it is easy, on the whole, to represent the domain of the sexual
drive energy-in other words the libido-it is surely not the case for
the realm subject to the death-drive.
We would like in this regard to report a second dream of Philippe's,
of considerably later date than that of the unicorn.
Someone (a boy of about twelve years old, it seems) has just slipped with one
leg into a hole. He is lying on his side and shouts very loudly as if he were
seriously injured. People (I am one of them) rush to see where the wound is:
but nothing shows, either on his knee or his leg; all they find is a slight
scratch on his foot, on the side of the heel, resembling a long, large comma,
and which doesn't even bleed. He must, then, have hurt himself on an object
hidden in the hole: people look for it, thinking of a rusty nail; actually it
looks more like a bill-hook [une serpe].
Since the castratory context of this dream is clear, we will dispense
with a general commentary in order to concentrate impartially on
the principal themes its narration leads to. In other words, if it is
clear that it is the "desire for castration" that motivates the dream,
what can we say more precisely about this paradoxical desire, so
alien, it would seem, to any "need"?
A fragment of an analysis of the bill-hook dream will allow us
to locate the existence of the death-drive in its function as matrix
of desire and as essential support of the castration complex.
The first idea that comes to our patient following this story is
that of a facial scar such as is mentioned on his identification card
under the category of "identifying marks." Thus the wound has be-
16 See Vie et mort (1970) for Laplanche's later thinking on the latent
structure of Freud's theory of drives. It will result in a divergence from the
present formulation: the "death-drives" will "repeat" the "sex-drives," and
Eros-the bound and binding sexuality of the later theory-will reveal its
complicity with what had earlier been described as narcissism (and, consequently,
the "ego drivesM).-Ed.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
come a scar and a mark, now masked, we might say, by this trace.
The dream unmasks the wound which, along the thread of his discourse,
rises from the heel to the thigh, rear side, front side, and
finally finds is true place between them: flower, wound, cave or
The hidden wound constitutes the pivot of the dream. In its
evocation, its importance is revealed by the very instantaneity of
its occurrence, smooth and lightning-quick as a razor cut; the pain
comes only after the moment of the wound and it seems that the
catastrophic howl is linked less to the suffering which develops only
gradually, than to the shock of the accident. l7
We see with Philippe in this schematic portrayal of a threat to
the integrity of the tegument a radical questioning of his unity as
living body, a rupture, effraction, sudden disorder, fatal intrusion;
in the chain of associations that the hook-cut of the dream gives
way to in our patient, the themes of amputation, deadly tetanus,
and decapitation emerge: it is the all-important theme of the end
or the beginning that appears here in its catastrophic instantaneity.
We should note as well that here it marks the origin of a state of
tension-pain-linked to the subject's surviving that injury. But with
pain we take leave of the indescribable, ungraspable fact of the deathdrive:
we are already entering into the field of a libidinal economy,
here in its negative form as displeasure, as unresolved tension.
More commonly, but in a reverse order, we find the experience
of a resolvent, almost ecstatic instantaneousness in the moment of
orgasm which concludes-and gives meaning to-the increasing
pleasure of amorous union.
The death-drive is that radical force, usually fixed and fixating,
which surfaces in a catastrophic or ecstatic instant, at the point where
the organic coherence of the subject in his body appears for what
it is, unnamable or inexpressible, swoon or ecstasy, shouting its appeal
for a word to veil and sustain it. 18
17 AS another memory of noisy panic caused by no real injury bears witness.
18 Let us emphasize here that the death-drive, thus conceived, is to be
clearly distinguished from all the negative libidinal manifestations usually
grouped under the term aggressiveness.
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Thus the death-drive surfaces without ever being seen. But we
already perceive, though we cannot insist on it here, that it constitutes
the "bedrock," lg the foundation of the castration complex,
that it allows-as indescribable and strictly unquantifiable limit-the
development and the organization of the sexual drives, and that finally-
and we shall return to this-it imperiously gives rise to the
development and structuring of language.
We could hardly have considered the energy sources of the dream
without having asked the question of the nature of drives. Freud's
affirmation concerning their dualism compelled us to take this long,
circuitous path. It remains for us now to consider another aspect
of the problem of drives, that of their representations in mental life.
It is emphasized that the drive, properly speaking, has no place
in mental life. Repression does not bear on it, it is neither conscious
nor unconscious and it enters into the circuit of mental life
only through the mediation of the "(Vorstel2ungs-)Reprasentanz."
This is a rather unusual term of which it must be immediately said
that in Freud's usage, it is often found in divided form as one of its
two components. We will translate this composite expression by
"ideational representative" and we shall inquire into the nature of
this mediation, through which the drive enters into (one could even
say "is captured by") mental life.
It is on the ideational representative, it is said, that the primal
repression constitutive of the unconscious operates (as we will show
in detail further on); in the same way it is to representations that the
derivatives of the biologically grounded drive energy will be bound. 22
What exactly is this domain of "representation" through which
drives enter into mental life?
19 "Die endliche und die unendliche Analyse," G. W., XVI, 99.
20 "Das Unbewusste," G. W., X, 275.
21 G. W., X, 250.
22 Let us mention in passing that, starting from these "representations,"
Freud provides a very simple framework for the (so confusedly debated)
question of affect: ". . . representations are cathexes, while affects and emotions
correspond to processes of discharge whose ultimate manifestations are perceived
as impressions," G. W., X, 277.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
If we take the example of the unicorn dream, it is only in the
context of its associations that we find the terms representing the oral
drive, and we will underline two of them. The first is the memory
of a gesture engraved like an image: Philippe, in recounting the
memory, imitates the gesture on the couch, and it is this, moreover,
that brings him, as we mentioned before, to the evocation of the same
cupped hands to produce the sound of a siren. We can say that for
Philippe, this gesture will remain linked, in whatever circumstances,
to the evocation of an oral drive: and if it should happen that he
joins his palms thus to pick up some snow to cool his face, the
gesture will retain on that occasion all its power to evoke the thirst
quenched at the unicorn fountain. Assuredly, if this motor-representation
thus remains electively tied to his thirst, it is also because such
a gesture evokes in everyone, long before Philippe had ccrediscovered"
it, that of the supplicant awaiting alms; the gesture of invocation,
the "sumbolon" at last realized in this mime. It is also, more concretely
but no less deeply, the complementary form-inverted in its
concavity waiting to be filled--of the felicitous and full convexity
of the breast.
The second term representative of the drive in the dream-associations
is the formula "I'm thirsty." Even more clearly than the gesture,
it signifies the orality of the drive-fixates it, we might say-and we
have already indicated one of the specific ways in which it was
fixated and embodied in Philippe's history; he used to say "I'm
thirsty" r a i soifl (or rather, it is reported, j'ai "choif"), virtually
flaunting that declaration--often motivated in that burning summeras
a sort of insignia of himself ("me"!), Philippe, lost as he was
on the immense beach. But this representative formula was fixated
most of all through the agency of Lili, to the extent that the phrase
"I'm thirsty" had become a sort of password when Lili, in order
to address him or talk of him, said: "Philippe-I'm-thirsty."
Inasmuch as we are thus able, through a fragment of analysis,
to grasp what the "ideational representatives" of the drive are, we
may say that this gesture and this phrase are included among them.
It is they, image and word, that will pursue their adventures in
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Philippe's psychic life; "representatives" henceforth indifferent to
or at least detached from the bodily disturbance underlying biological
thirst, they drag along with them, always and in every circumstance,
a small measure of the basic avidity, of the anxious demand of this
oral libido and of the fundamental levelling of the death-drive.
Having thus attempted to locate the specific level of drives, and
having attempted to distinguish them from simple "need," it remains
for us to characterize what is called, strictly speaking, the desire of
the dream,-that specific force which alone, according to Freud, can
set the mental apparatus in motion.
How then is this essential motor-force present in the analysis of
the unicorn dream? It is easy to see that what appears beyond the
provisional formulation "the desire to drink" is another desire,
modeled less on the drive, forged essentially from these representations
and their derivatives. It is around Lili, to whom the representative
"I'm thirsty" is addressed, that the essence of Philippe's
desire is articulated. We are led there by more than one path: first
of all the facile and ambiguous play on words which leads us from
"lili" to "lolo" in the latter's double meaning: the infantile one
(milk) and the vulgar one (breast). Thus there emerges more clearly
that "desire for Lili" of which we are only beginning to see the
implications. For what Philippe also tells us is that the nickname
Lili seemed to be reserved for the exclusive use of her husband (and
of himself, Philippe). We should finally emphasize the very special
importance of the phoneme "li" which we find again in the text of
the dream, in li-corne [unicorn] ; we pause here only to recall another
facile pun mentioned by Philippe in this regard; Lili's lit [bed],
evoking for him the "happy couple" formed by Lili and her husband,
in contrast to the more difficult relationship between his own parents.
Thus we come by a laborious detour to that which, for an analytical
ear, marks the crux of the dream and the soul of its desirethe
unicorn: a fabulous composite animal, half-deer, half-horse,
obvious symbol of exposed virility. But as, we shall see, it is not by
chance that it should be the unicorn that arises in Philippe's dream:
all the tracks, so to speak, led to it, just as it, in turn, leads on to
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
the drinking spot, to the moment of drinking in which desire
culminates and fades away.
Why then does this simplistic combination of Lili and horn [corne]
come to impose itself on Philippe as an enigmatic symbol ; why does
this horn (horny, calloused feet) shift from feet to head (we will see
this shortly in relation to the analysis of a symptom) just as in the
dream of the bill-hook the scar had been displaced from forehead
to heel? We will come back to this and be satisfied for the moment
with indicating what precisely the analysis of Philippe's desire reveals
to us: for him it is precisely a wish to establish a link, to forge a
connection, to hide a gap, to defend against the catastrophe of a
wound, to hold off at any price what might suggest castration in
any way. In this sense the unicorn appears as the very realization
of that mythical unification, the fabulous animal which, in place of
a third eye, carries the invulnerable and victorious appendage. The
most widespread of the legends has it that the unicorn is an animal
difficult for the hunter to capture; he can succeed only by beguiling
the animal with the help of a young virgin, for after placing his
horn in her lap, the unicorn falls asleep.
The level of desire and its force is precisely this: the imaginary
realm of myth and delusion, inasmuch as they take on the essential
and natural function of concealing that radical force which is the
To sum up--perhaps more enigmatically-we will say for the
moment that the unicorn (licorne) appears in the dream-analysis as
the metonymy of Philippe's desire.
(C) Remarks on the Mechanisms of the Dream and of its Interpretation.
The "Primary Process." Metaphor and Metonymy.
Thus there gradually appears, to the precise extent that we are able
to deepen our analytical investigation, the outline of a text whose
coherence is foreign to those procedures commonly recognized as
Philippe's dream expresses and fulfills a wish to drink, which,
upon analysis, is seen to be complex, and composed for the moment
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of heterogeneous representations : Lili, foot, sand, horn, wound, trace,
bill-hook, and finally the unicorn that seems to rise above and summarize
this incongruous edifice, the fantasy-monument of Philippe's
It is the specific coherence of this discourse (the interpretation
of the dream) that we must now consider.
As opposed to logically-oriented speech, which unfdlds in a clearly
defined time and place, we observe that the unconscious text neglects
these limits, that the square [place] of the fountain is a beach [plage],
that this does not exclude the presence of a particular mountain, and
that the summer of 195- is at the same time the summer of 193-.
Upon closer examination, we see above all that the text includes
rather peculiar articulations: not sequences punctuated by conjunctions
present like signposts indicating the right direction, but, more
simply: "switch-words." Thus the word sand, by simultaneously
replacing and suggesting the heather, leads us not only to the sand
which bears the footprints (tracks) of the does, but to the sand on
the Atlantic beach as well; this word then appears in the text as
containing (condensing) within itself meanings which are precise but
which relate to another temporal and spatial context.
Finally, we could also emphasize another aspect of the particular
coherence of unconscious discourse ; yhich is that, in a certain sense,
nothing is lost in it; thus the vivid colors of the heather are found
again shifted onto the peaks of the trees, just as the unicorn in effigy
on the central fountain which has disappeared from the square is seen
again as companion and guide in the forest. It is obvious that these
displacements are not merely accidental, and consequently the displacement
of the flamboyant colors of the flowers onto the tree trunks
must have a precise meaning, a "shift of lighting" from the flowerwound
onto a proud phallic symbol.
Timelessness, absence of negation and contradiction, condensation,
displacement, these are indeed the specific characteristics "that we can
expect to find in the processes of the unconscious system." Within the
framework of the characteristics specific to this system, Freud goes
on: "I have proposed to consider the mechanisms of displacement
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
and condensation as the signs of what we call the primary psychical
process." 23
It is here that we might in passing pinpoint this play of meaning
and letter with an example: it is clear that in order to interpret the
manifest text, we must first of all perform a rigorously "literal"
reading. From then on, we take into consideration the patient's "chains
of associations," that is, a more ordered discourse ; these associations
unfold roughly along two paths; on the one hand the purely literal
level of the "signifier" 24 (for example, the disentangling of Anne and
Lili from Liliane) and, on the other hand, the level of meaning or
"significance" (for example, the fine sand leads to the beach).
We see, finally, that the chains of associations and the dream's
manifest text coincide, as we have already mentioned, in a few
"switch-words," which are precious for our investigation; it is these
terms that must be considered as the constitutive elements of the
unconscious text. Thus the terms Lili, beach, sand, unicorn-occurring
in the manifest text or the associations around the &st dream-no
doubt constitute already the elements of the unconscious chain that
we are to discover.
We would not want to conclude these comments on the texture of
the dream and the correlative process of our interpretation without
returning to the question of the "primary process," and insisting on
what J. Lacan has already often emphasized 25-that is, the perfectly
feasible identification in scientific linguistic terms of the two mechanisms
of displacement and condensation.
The mechanism of cundematiun (Verdichtung), which consists in
the substitution of one signifier for another, is to be seen in terms
of that of metaphor. Thus, in the dream-text, the signifier "square"
[place] seems to have replaced the signifier "beach" [plage]. The
metaphor square thus points to and masks the scene in question in the
23 G. W., X, 285-286.
24 The "signifier" is the literal, formal element which constitutes the sign.
25 "L'Instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient": La Psychanalyse, Vol. 3,
64-68: P. U. F. (Paris, 1957). Also in J. Lacan, Ecrits (Pans, 1966). English
translation in Structuralism, edited by J. Ehrmann (Garden City: Anchor
Books, 1970).
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dream-the beach. But it is clear that this substitution underscores
precisely the "forefront" position, the "publicity" given in the dream
to the original beach scene. We shall return at length to the mechanism
of metaphor, precisely to the extent that it is linked to
Displacement, or Verschiebung, corresponds to metonymy. The
unicorn appears in the dream as a marvelous metonymy, harking back
to the fountain, but also to its own legend and, indeed, to a whole
circuit whose structure still remains to be determined in detail.
Technically, metonymy is precisely the figure that emphasizes the
connection between one signifier and another, thus sustaining the
whole elementary mechanism of language, which dreams exploit
without limit.
But what must be emphasized here is that the metonymic connection
establishes a bridge between two (or more) signifiers whose
relationsip, in form or content, is much less obvious (much more
arbitrary and singular) than in the case of metaphor: between "place"
and "plage" the link may be apparent; but only the unicorn can rise
above and bind together the incongruous medley of fantasies which
sustain Philippe's desire.
The unicorn is a metonymy in the sense that everything in it, in
the effigy as in the word, indicates not only condensation, of course,
but also the displacement and the interval that separates the terms
it joins. From the li(t) [lit=bed] in Lili to the horny callous [corne]
that Philippe would like to have on his feet, the licorne [unicorn]
maintains in the interval between its two first syllables the intermediate
elements of the unconscious chain. On another level, it refers
more simply to the fountain it overlooks, to the water that springs
from it, to the very instant of drinking; finally, from feet to head,
just like the scar in the bill-hook dream, it displaces the horn by
transforming it from hard outer skin into a spike.
When we speak of the metonymic function of the unicorn (licorne),
it is precisely to the extent that this signifier refers back, not to an
object which would quench the thirst in question, but on the contrary,
to the fact that it is itself, as metonymy and bearer of the phallic
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
symbol, that which designates, covers or masks the gaping abyss of
the subject or, if one prefers, his "original castration." Thus metonymy,
like the scar, by its inexhaustible power of displacement, is made
precisely to mark and mask the gap through which desire originates
and into which it perpetually plunges, on the bedrock of the deathdrive.
It is at one of these limit-points in which the death-drive surfaces
that we may mythically situate, according to Freud, the "birth of the
unconscious"-as we will show later on.
IV. The Unconscious is the Precondition of Language. Znterdependence
of the Preconscious and Unconscious System
(A) Situating the Problem: Language and the Primary Process
The preceding analysis leads us, as J. Lacan has shown, to identify
what Freud calls the primary process-the free flow of libidinal
energy along paths of displacement and condensation-with the fundamental
laws of linguistics.
Were we to stop at this all too simple conception, however, we
would run up against the most serious objections, and it is in Freud
himself that we h d them set out the most clearly. 26 Freud, in fact,
did speak explicitly of language, but what he relates it to is essentially
the preconscious system and the process that characterizes it:
the secondary process, which opposes its barriers and detours to the
free play of libidinal energy.
There is, of course, we read in Freud, a language which functions
according to the primary process, but it is a very special language,
not language itself: it is the language of psychosis. Let us go further;
what differentiates this language from others is what makes it
less of a language than they, for it treats words not as words, but
as things, or as images in a dream:
26 G. W., X, 294-303.
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"In schizophrenia, words are subject to the same process as that
which makes dream-images out of latent thoughts, and which we
have called the primary mental process. They undergo condensation
and constantly transfer their cathexes to one another through displacement;
the process can extend so far that a single word, which on
account of its manifold relations is especially suitable, can come to
represent a whole train of thought. . . . (Freud adds in a note): "On
occasion the dream-work treats words as things and then creates
very similar "schizophrenic" utterances or neol~gisms."~
How can we get out of this contradiction? For Freud, it is clear that
something more has to be introduced into the primary process, a
certain regulation, in order for language in the strict, or at least in
the common sense of the term to be established. Let us indicate
at once the idea which will govern the rest of our discussion: this ballast
which removes languages from the exclusive domination of the
primary process . . . is precisely the existence of the unconscious chain.
(B) The Fiction of Language in a Reduced State
The theoretical, deductive character of this section should be forgiven:
it can be taken, if one wishes, as a myth-the myth of a
language that would unfold on only one level, that is, without an
On a single level? But we would rather say in a single discourse,
for we should recall here the symbolism that modern linguistics, fol-
lowed by J. Lacan, has taught us to use: the formula -, where
the S symbolizes the signifier, that is, language taken in its most
literal, material texture. 28 As for the signified, s, the question is
already much less simple, since we cannot be content with the purely
"mental" reality, the "concept" it is said to connote by Saussure.
As for the bar that separates them, it is there, in our opinion, that
the essence of the problem lies, for if the very possibility of this
27 G. W., X, 297-298.
28 La Psycharzalyse, Vol. 3, 67-68.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
formalization implies the bar's resistance to any crossing over from
one level to the other, it must, however, lend itself to what we have
to call effects of meaning, that is, it must account for what, in the
final analysis, appears to phenomenological analysis as the openness
of language to the world of meanings. We say, "in the final analysis,"
for at the outset we must maintain that this intentionality is absolutely
irreducible to the link between a thing and a signal, such as
the theory of conditioned reflexes sought to introduce at the origin
of human language. It could easily be shown that what is conceived of
as such, as designation-the word table learned by gesture-is conceivable-
in the child, for instance-only within an already constituted
language in which he is immersed, and in a universe itself
constituted by language.
In order to construct our myth, however, let us take things at
their origin, as if language, for the individual in his primitive infantile
state, came to be constructed little by little, a pure neo-language
and not the assumption of a pre-existing linguistic world. We will be
pardoned for offering for consideration the example which has been
much bandied about recently because of its very richness: the socalled
"fort-da" example. If, by allowing him to master them, the
opposite pair of phonemes A-0 comes to symbolize for the child
the presence and absence of his mother, is it not by this same movement
that presence and absence are themselves constituted as the
two categories into which the child's whole universe is divided,
whereas previously (to the extent that one can speak of a prior time)
it was wholly and without mediation satiety or void. The banality
of what we are saying joins up with the universality of the myth of
Genesis: in a single motion, the separation and the naming of heaven
and earth occur.
In this example, reduced to the simplicity of its four terms-presence
and absence which are signified, the 0 and the A as signifiers
-the coextension of the two systems (signifier and signified)
appears in all its clarity, as does the essential fact that A refers
29 Described by Freud in Jerrseits des Lustprinzips (G. W., XIII, 11 ff.).
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to presence only to the extent that it refers to its phonemic opposite,
If we now suppose that the system is enriched through differentiation,
by the introduction of those successive dichotomies which,
from Plato to modern linguistics, characterize the moment of "definition,"
the structural characteristics will remain the same: if the
signifier refers to the signified, it is only through the mediation of
the entire system of signifiers-there is no signifier that does not
refer to the absence of the others and that is not itself defined by
its position in the system. And the only correspondence between the
signifier and the signified is the correspondence of the totality of
signifiers to the totality of the signified, which correspondence is a
perfect one, without any overlap.
If we stop at this point, the system thus obtained resembles
schizophrenic language in more than one respect, and it is with a
touch of malice which is not without a certain profundity that Freud
compares the latter to abstract philosophical thought. 30 We can sense
this by referring to the dizzying effect of a dictionary: each word,
definition by definition, refers to the others by a series of equivalents
; every synonymous substitution is authorized (as Freud indicated
in the case of the schizophrenic), but language ends up in
tautology, without at any moment having been able to hook onto the
least "signified." Here is indeed the origin of that constant sliding
of the signifier over the sea of the signified, as J. Lacan has described
it. But we are faced here with a truly demented sliding
without any limit, the model of a language subject only to the primary
process. 31
30 G. W., X, 303.
31 In a paranoid schizophrenic we have treated, language seemed totally
subjected to pairs of opposite terms, of which the most striking was the pair
left-right: "You say the right sleeve and it's the left sleeve.. ." "When we talk
and you say my right I will think my left, when you say my left I will think
my right. .." etc. The analyst's nafvete is to direct himself to the signified, to
the "content" (a felicitous nafvete, by the way, and one that has produced
many discoveries). But here one would quickly discover that the whole of the
meanings could not be classified on either side of the alternative. There was
indeed a "left alliance," but also, alas! a "right alliance." "Right" was not
only "the maladjusted," but also "getting along well with my family," etc. A
banal example of intellectual ambivalence founded on an affective one? Of
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
It is here that J. Lacan introduces his theory of so-called "capping
points [points de capiton] by which, at certain privileged points,
the chain of signifiers comes to be fixed onto the signified. 32 It
would be wrong to see in this a surreptitious return to a nominalistic
theory, in which the function of cuting short the circular dash
of language is assigned to a link with some "real" object, to that
link of habit that a certain type of modern experimentation designates
as "conditioning." 33
If we return to the example of the dictionary, we may say that
what prevents one term from sliding-endlessly-into another is not
its empirical relation to a thing, but the fact that it is not univocal
and includes several definitions, that it is the whole group of meanings
b, c, etc. which prevents word x from flying out the door opened
by meaning a. We see that our fiction of "language in a reduced
state" joins that of a language without equivocation, and that this
unequivocal language would be, paradoxically, one in which no stable
meaning could exist.
(C) Metaphor as Constitutive of the Unconscious, and Primal Repression
Between the two chains.. .those of the signifiers as opposed to all the ambulatory
signified that circulate because they are always in the process of sliding-
the pinning-down or capping point I speak of is mythical, for never has
anyone been able to pin a meaning to a signifier; but on the other hand, what
one can do is pin a signifier to a signifier and see what happens. But in that
case, something new always results.. .namely, the appearance of a new
meaning. ..34
It is in the "thesaurus" of various definitions that fall into place
for a given word that we must look for the path to that which limits
course; but even more radically, we find here a "linguistic ambivalence" which
we try to outline in our fiction of a "reduced-state language."
32 The point de capiton is literally one of the attachments that hold
upholstery down.-Ed.
33 What is the determining element, the primurn movens in the experience
of conditioning? The signifier or the signified? This reminds us of a good
professor's quip that in Pavlov's experiment, a dog had taught his master to
play the trumpet each time he, the dog, salivated. If we are not granted a
priori the human semiological system, the question remains insoluble.
34 J. Lacan, Skminaire of 22-1-58, p. 33 (mimeographed copy of the S. F. P.
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the primary process. A thesaurus of metonymies, according to
J. Lacan, to the extent that the signifier thus finds itself included
in a number of chains. But at the same time, we would say, a
thesaurus of past metaphors, for it is always a metaphor, a substitution
of signifiers that is found at the root of the creation of new
Let us recall here the diagram that Lacan gives of metaphor in
its linguistic symbolization :
It consists in the substitution, in the relation of signifier to sig-
nified (-), of a new signifier Sf: used as signifier of the original
signifier S, which, by virtue of that fact, falls to the rank of signified.
Thus, according to the algebraic formula : 35
S' S 1
- x - - - - - - + S ' X - (I)
What has happened is apparently something quite simple, a
change of name: the signified "s" that I first named "S', is now
connoted by "S'."
But we also see, and this is what interests us, that something
has fallen below, has been "simplified out" in the algebraic sense
of that term-the original signifier. It is to the extent that the fate of
this signifier "S' is distinct from a pure arid simple suppression that
metaphors offer poetical resources creative of meaning, as opposed
to mere "nominal definitions": "Metaphor must be defined as the
implantation, into a chain of signifiers, of another signifier, by dint
of which the one it replaces falls to the rank of signified, and, as
latent signifier, perpetuates the interval onto which another chain
of signifiers can be grafted."
35 We use here one of the formulas given by J. Lacan in his article on
psychosis: La Psychanalyse, vol. IV,25.
36 J. Lacan, La Psychanalyse, vol. V,p. 12.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
What happened to the signifier "S"' ? It has fallen to the rank of
signified, but at the same time, to the rank of latent signifier; so
that we are prepared to write the formula of this process as follows:
What we see in formula (11) is nothing other than the very diagram
of repression, in which what had apparently been "simplified
out" in preconscious speech has been preserved on another line.
This formula is able to account for a certain number of essential
characteristics not only of repression, but also of tb.e relation between
the repressed unconscious and the preconscious, and of the
structure of the unconscious chain.
1. Let us insist, first of all, on the layered structure-the four
layers--of the formula. A certain ambiguity is essential to it, since
the two lower layers, which constitute the unconscious chain, are
themselves in the position of signified in relation to the preconscious
chain, but at the same time they are themselves split-at least potentially-
into a letter and a meaning, exactly like the preconscious
chain. We thus find symbolized what we sought to show in our
critique of Politzer's position as well as in the imperative, running
throughout Freud's text, of maintaining in their autonomy as systems-
in correlation, of course, but even more, independent of each
other-the preconscious and the unconscious.
37 We thus use the possibility of transformation written in the following
general way :
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2. In what respect does this formula, which is originally that
of metaphor in all its generality-poetic, conscious metaphor-seem
to us particularly suited for symbolizing repression?
To tell the truth, the question of deciding whether purely conscious
metaphors exist does not seem easily resolved. In any case, leaving
this question aside for the moment, we will try, rather, to apply our
formula to different types of repression, and more precisely to the two
main categories distinguished by Freud : after-explusion (Nachdrangen)
and primal repression (Urverdriingung).
In the case of after-explusion, Freud tells us, the representation
is repressed by a double action: first, a repulsion on the part of the
upper preconscious system, then an attraction on the part of what
had been previously repressed. Freud differentiates this first action
(repulsion) into a decathexis-a breaking of the connection that existed
in the upper chain, and an anti-cathexis-a replacement, in the upper
chain, of the repressed term by another. We see that this description
coincides in essence with the mechanism of metaphor.
But, Freud tells us, there would be no repression if the repressed
term did not connect up with elements of the unconscious that were
already there and which exert on it a real attraction. What does this
mean, if not that the term of the lower chain, -, finds itself
absorbed, as it were, by the signifying connections it contracts at the
unconscious level, that is, by what we have already encountered as
u n c ~ n ~ c i ocuat~h exis or "unconscious systemic Pragnanz."
But for this attraction to operate, there must already be an
unconscious system, and that is why Freud has recourse to a concept
which we believe essential to his theory, and in particular to the
domain of psychosis: primal repression. "Thus we have reason for
assuming a primal repression, a first phase of repression, which
consists in a denial of entry into consciousness of the mental representation
(representative) of the drive. This is accompanied by a
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
fixation; the representation in question persists unaltered from then
onwards and the drive remains attached to it." 38
We shall comment on certain expressions : "the representation of
the drive is refused entry into consciousness. . . . " That is: the object
of primal repression was never conscious; but since, on the other
hand, it was not unconscious either before being repressed, at least
in the sense of the dynamic unconscious, we have to admit a sort of
mythical primitive state in which the differentiation of the preconscious
and unconscious systems does not yet exist, and in our
opinion, this myth is directly parallel to the previously presented
myth of a unilinear language.
"This is accompanied by a fixation." Fixation is here to be taken
in the broadest sense. It is, of course, fixation in the classic
psychoanalytic sense, but at the same time and inseparably from it,
it is, on the one hand, a fixation in the unconscious, what Freud in
another passage we have quoted calls indifferently fixation or inscription,
that is, the insertion into an unconscious chain; on the
other hand, it is the fixation of the drive to this mental representation,
a process by which, and by which alone, the drive is introduced into
and present in the unconscious.
"It is this (the anti-cathexis) which represents the continuous dfort
demanded by a primal repression but also guarantees its persistence.
The anti-cathexis is the sole mechanism of primal repression ;
in the case of repression proper ('after-expulsion') there is in addition
withdrawal of the preconscious cathexis." 39
We see that all the energy found at the beginning of the constitution
of the unconscious resides in the anti-cathexis; here there can
obviously be no question of an unconscious attraction, since the latter
does not yet exist; on the other hand, a withdrawal of preconscious
cathexis is out of the question, since we may say that the preconscious
does not yet exist as a system. We may think of things in the
following way: all the energy of both the preconscious and unconscious
systems comes from this kind of original cleavage, as one
38 S. Freud, G. W., X, 250.
39 G. W., X, 280.
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can imagine that a negatively charged particle of electricity and a
positive one could be formed by splitting from a void of energy.
But the creative gesture, for Freud, springs, despite all this, from
a certain energy he calls anti-cathexis. In the formula for metaphor,
it is necessary here to conceive of the existence of certain "key-signifiers"
placed in a metaphorizing position, and to which is assigned,
because of their special weight, the property of ordering the whole
system of human language. It can be seen here that we allude in
particular to what J. Lacan has called the paternal metaphor.
3. Another point should surprise us and hold our attention: it
is the identity of the two terms which, in the unconscious chain, are
found in the position of signifier and signified: -.
Here we will take a detour through Freud. Our point of departure
above was his reflections on psychosis. It is in order to account for
the difference between the phenomena encountered in psychosis and
in neurosis that Freud comes to posit an essential distinction, that
between thing-representations (Sachvorstellungen) and word-representations
(Wortvorstellungen). Note immediately that both of these must
be taken in all rigor for what they are: elements of language, signifiers.
Thing-representations, Freud says, characterize the unconscious
; it is these that constitute the language of dreams, concerning
which we know that "topographical" regression is accompanied by
a requirement of expression in a language of images (Riicksicht auf
Darstellbarkeit). Word-representations, words taken in their most
material sense as acoustic traces, characterize the preconscious system.
Now, Freud returns here to the question that haunts his entire
endeavor : the question of double inscription :
It strikes us all at once that now we know what is the difference between
a conscious representation and an unconscious one. The two are not, as we
supposed, different inscriptions of the same content in different parts of the
40 Cf. in this regard "A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of
Dreams," G. W., X, p. 418, where the subjection of the dream to the primary
process is represented as the consequence of this regression to the level of
representations of things.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
mind, nor yet different functional states of cathexis in the Same part, but the
conscious representation comprises the representation of things plus the corresponding
verbal representation, while the unconscious representation is that
of things alone. 41
Our formula illustrates this passage in a striking manner: at the
level of preconscious language, the distinction between signifier
(words) and signified ("images") exists. At the level of unconscious
language, there are only images, serving simultaneously and inseparably
as signifier and signified. In a sense, it may be said that the
unconscious chain is pure meaning, but one can say as well that it
is pure signifier, pure non-meaning, or open to all meanings.
It is indissolubly because of the existence of this unconscious
signifying chain that preconscious language possesses a certain fixity
of meanings, the stability [capitonnagel that characterizes the secondary
process-and because of the existence of a preconscious chain
with the characteristics familiar to us that the unconscious chain has
taken over, so to speak, the characteristics of the primary process,
such as we have mythically presented them "in the beginning," as
characteristics of a signifying chain reduced to a single dimension.
We must, however, distinguish between the primary process's mode
of operation in our "primal fiction" and in the case of the unconscious
chain: in the first case there was, after all, a distinction between the
level of signifiers and the level of the signified, and an uncontrollable
sliding of one over the other; in the second instance, the possibility
of "any meaningy' arises from a real identity of signifier and signified.
Is this to say that here there is no more possibility of sliding? On
the contrary; but let us say that what slides here, what is displaced,
is the drive energy in its pure, unspecified state.
Let us conclude this chapter of theoretical elaboration. The origin
of the unconscious must be sought in the process that introduces the
subject into a symbolic universe. One could describe, abstractly, two
stages in this process. At a first level of symbolization, the network
or web of significant oppositions is cast onto the subjective universe;
but no particular signified is caught in any single mesh. What is simply
41 G. W., X, 300.
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introduced, along with this system coextensive to experience, is pure
difference, scansion, the bar: in the "fort-da" gesture, the edge of
the bed. This is, need we repeat it, a purely mythical stage, but the
prenomena of psychotic language show that it can reappear "secondarily,"
in "regression," in the form of the uncontrollable oscillation
of a pair of differential elements. 42
The second level of symbolization is that which, following Freud,
we called primal repression, 43 and, following Lacan, metaphor. It is
this which really creates the unconscious, by introducing that ballast
which will always be missing in a unilinear language, and which is
lacking-to a greater or a lesser extent-in the symbolic world of
the schizophrenic. The signified is from then on caught in specific
meshes, at certain privileged points: the indefinite oscillation of +
and -, 0 and A, "good" and "bad," right and left, comes to a halt.
To borrow a term used by Merleau-Ponty in relation to perception,
this second stage is one of an amhoring (ancrage) in the symbolic
As to the ontological status of the unconscious thus constituted,
need we recall that, if that system is linguistic, such a language can
by no means be assimilated to our "verbal" language?
The "words" that compose it are elements drawn from the realm
of the imaginary-notably from visual imagination-but promoted to
the dignity of signifiers. The term imago, somewhat fallen into disuse,
corresponds fairly well, if taken in a broad sense, to these elementary
terms of unconscious discourse.
By virtue of the very fact that they remain images, we do not
find any distinction in these terms between a signifier and a signified ;
42 See note (21, p. 33 bis.
43 It is at this precise point that our research diverges. J. Laplanche wants
to maintain the distinction between two types of metaphorization, which he
relates to the two stages of repression according to Freud. S. Leclaire is
concerned with the prior logical moment, that is, the first level of symbolization,
whose constitution is necessary so that metaphor may "function." This
divergence of interest explains why for J. Laplanche, what is "primal" is the
whole of the two levels of symbolization, of which the second would be
primal repression (or metaphor), while for S. Leclaire what is "primal" is the
very constitution of the first level of symbolization (myth of the meeting of
the biological and the signifier, the problem of the "fixation" of the death-drive).
(J. L. and S. L.).
Jean Laplanche and Serge keclaire
the signifying image refers to nothing but itself as signified. It is
closed-as well as open-to every meaning.
The "sentences that are found in this discourse are short
sequences, most often fragmentary, circular and repetitive. It is these
that we discover as unconscious fantasies, or, more, inclusively, as
Imago, unconscious fantasy, complex-these three levels of the
organization of unconscious contents present the two following,
seemingly contradictory characteristics : the fixity or even the rigidity
of their formulation and their structure, and the interchangeability of
the elements they may come to incorporate in the actual existence
of the subject. The most striking example of this is given to us in
analysis, when all the characters of a real situation occupy successively,
as in a circular permutation, all the slots in the structure of the
These are the different data which we have tried to account for
by the formula of the repressive metaphor.
V. Clinical Study of Some Fundameutal Mechanisms of the
Thus there emerges more and more clearly the perspective of an
unconscious structured like a certain type of primal language and
which is a necessary correlate of language in the strict sense. We think
we have shown sufficiently in the preceding pages that such a
conclusion could not but impose itself upon the analyst.
We must now show how this conception offers improved possibilities
of approach to the treatment of neurotic symptoms.
(A) Secondary Repression and Primal Repression.
Before illustrating our theory clinically, perhaps we may visualize
things temporarily (and, of course, somewhat imprecisely) in a diagram
which is useful not only for simply picturing the two systems and their
inter-relations, but for situating as well the level of a question left
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partly in abeyance: that of the specific energy permitting the anticathexis
necessary to primal repression.
Thus our (summarizing) diagram shows on the right side the
"clinical" level of the problems, reserving in a sense the left part for
the "mythical" level of the "creation of the unconscious."
Myth Clinical
S' S' place
s scene
S plage
S S plage
In the clinical sector, we find first of all two horizontal parallel
lines portraying the two systems, chains or discourses of which we
have at great length demonstrated the implied necessity in any
Freudian perspective. The upper chain is that of the PCS or CS
system, the lower is the UCS. Their structures are in correlation.
Following J. Lacan, we indicate the element of preconscious discourse
by the conventional formula -. As for the element of unconscious
discourse, the result of repression and the necessary correlate of
conscious discourse, it is characterized by the relation between two
signifiers -. We have seen, above all, and hope to have clearly
shown, that the two formulas are linked by the metaphorical process
of repression ; we thus indicate the metaphorical link by a vertical
line pointing in both directions, while the vertical line parallel to
it, which points only downward, indicates repression. We should note
that, in this instance, our point of departure is a past act of repression,
S thus, so to speak, the following formula:
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
If "place" is the signifier Sf, we can say that is has been metaphorically
substituted for the signifier "plage," that is, S, which is
repressed. We thus have in the upper chain (the manifest discourse)
the signifier "place" which is there joined to the signified "scene"
or "place of action." "s", the signified, is thus indeed the "scene"
where the action takes place. If we reversed the direction of repression
we would again find the original sign -, that is, the beach [plage]
as scene of the action -. Let us note in passing the selective
nature of the repression which in this case (if we adopt the "literal"
viewpoint to which Freud has accustomed us) is applied to the "ge,"
homologous in the context of the unconscious chain to the "je" [I]
of "I'm thirsty" or "Me-I."
Such then is the process of (secondary) repression properly
speaking, simply illustrated, in conformity with the perspectives of our
diagram. It will now be easy for us to pose the unresolved problem
of primal repression (the mythical sector, at the left of our diagram).
Freud says quite explicitly, as we recalled, that there could be
no secondary repression if the repressed term did not enter into
connection with unconscious elements that were already there, and
which exert upon it a real attraction. What does this mean, if not
S plage
that the term of the lower chain, -, or -, finds itself absorbed,
S plage
as it were, by the connections of signifiers through which it enters the
level of the unconscious, in this case by the "je," homologous to the
"ge" we remarked on just now.
Now, and we can only repeat ourselves here, for this ''unconscious
systematic Pragnanz" to become manifest, for this attraction to act,
there must already be an unconscious system, the one "created" by
primal repression.
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We shall try, still with the help of the same example, to illustrate
this "creation," concerning which we recall that it must also be
considered as a myth.
If we return to our diagram and move towards the left of our
lower chain, we arrive in the mythic sector where primal repression,
in "creating" a first unconscious chain with the help of the drive's
ideational representatives, virtually makes possible access to real
S plage
language. Let us then move to the left ----, or ---,or even better,
S plage
ge Thirst
-which gives us by metonymic displacement --. Here we
ge Thirst
come to the repressed signifier-relationship concerning thirst. We had
already indicated in our dream analysis to what extent the formula
"I'm thirsty" constituted one of the fundamental unconscious themes
of the dream. But the real question even then was to know how to
articulate what appeared there as the desire to drink with the oral
drive and need to drink.
How can we move from "drive energy," which we presuppose, to
"desire" as we have elaborated it: a composite fantasy symbolized
by the metonymy of the unicorn [licorne]?
The dream analysis shows us insistently that the mediation between
the drive energy and the desire is in this case electively assumed by
the formula "I'm thirsty," which becomes the "ideational representative":
that which, according to Freud, introduces the drive into
mental life. It is, as we have recalled, through the process of its
"fixation" (inscription) to a representative, that the drive is introduced
into and present in the unconscious.
It is, then, in the energy necessary for the maintenance of this
anti-cathexis that everything that can be considered as energy creative
of the unconscious lies.
As a suggestive illustration, we can, in this case, reconstitute the
original myth of Philippe's thirst, if not with certainty-who could?-
at least with maximum probability.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
When Philippe as a child was still in that state of dependence his
mother likes to remind him of-and which is universally invoked as
an all too convenient explanation-he certainly felt a longing to drink
in that unrnediated, unnuanced way we evoked in the words: plenitude
and void. Whether he was permitted to drink or not probably
made little difference to the insistence of an ever-renewed need, until
the day when (we can speak retrospectively in this way, as in a fairy
tale)-was it Lili or another?-someone articulated clearly : "Philippe
is always thirsty" and called him "Philippe-I'm-thirsty."
To recognize and say that Philippe was thirsty was to introduce,
despite the benign appearance of the remark, an entirely new dimension.
Being thirsty no longer drowned Philippe in the depths of a
blind drive, it became for him at most a passion. . . he continues to
cultivate; for being thirsty was not only gaping and shouting, it was
from then on being recognized as being subject to a drive defined
by the word thirst; it was above all, and this is the essential part, to
introduce through the signifier "thirst" the basic dimension of Lili's
thirst-for Lili used to say, in referring to herself-his memory is
definite on this point-: "Philippe, I'm thirsty." (In truth, as may be
realized, the memory is ambiguous, and it is this which gives it its
value. Lili spoke this way "as a joke," but we know what "a joke"
means. For everything indicates that Philippe had understood the
joke literally and, beyond that, with all its resonances.)
That this is a relatively recent memory of the age of three years
takes away nothing of its value as a retrospective illustration of an
experience that marked Philippe in a fundamental way, for we are
not naive enough to believe that this privileged memory constitutes
and delimits our subject's experience.
We are now able to give a first formula which will summarize the
myth of the birth of the unconscious: it results from the capture of
drive energy in the web of the signifier.
Let us then complete the mythic sector of our diagram by indicating
undifferentiated drive energy as a horizontal arrow ; similarly,
we will add the incidental fragment of Lili's manifest chain of
signifiers, enclosed in a "balloon": "Philippe, I'm thirsty."
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Liti says: Philippe, I'm thirsty
undifferentiated thirst S
drive energy thirst S
It is this "I'm thirsty" that will constitute one of the original
kernels of the unconscious chain.
Of course, we may still inquire as to why it was precisely this
signifier that was repressed in order to constitute one of the basic
terms of this primordial unconscious. Without wanting to pursue the
development of this analysis too far, we think that it is nevertheless
opportune to develop one aspect of it.
We have already seen, in the course of our previous analysis, that
by means of the new-formed name Liliane, Lili took on a special
weight at the level of the dominant unconscious formations of Philippe's
mental life. Besides the already noticed fact of the easy passage
from lolo to Lili, concerning the drinking question, and the phonemic
opposition lo-li .. .(!) that we will not develop here, we should recall
that Lili was not the name of the person in question, but only the
diminutive used exclusively by her husband. .. and himself.
It thus appears fairly clearly, as we have already shown, that
beyond the desire to drink, by which we have summarized the wish
that formed the dream, there appear one after the other, Philippe's
desire for Lili, Lili's desire to drink, and finally, above all, Lili's desire
far her husband.
We can then say that if the incident "Lili says: Philippe, I'm
thirsty" takes on the function of a catalyst creating the unconscious,
it is to the extent that the signifier THIRST arises there like a
representative intersection, a crossing of paths that leads not only to
a dual situation of dependence on the mother, but to an Oedipal one
as well, in the direction of Lili's thirst.
Thus we have shown by a first reconstitution of the fantasy of
Philippe's thirst the myth of the birth of the unconscious, to the extent
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
that the latter "results from the capture of drive energy in the web
of the signifier."
But we must now focus more rigorously on the mythical location
of the encounter between drive and signifier.
In the unicorn dream it is at the very moment of drinking, when
all tension disappears in a flash; the moment when "Me-I'm thirsty"
is realized and abolished, that the death-drive, as we said earlier,
emerges at the surface. For the nurseling it is the instant in which,
literally sated, he dozes off, just as the unicorn of the legend drops
off to sleep and loses himself after yielding to the hunter's ruse: it
seems, for an instant, that with the plenitude there opens up the
fascinating call of a void: of bliss or catastrophe. But for Philippe
today it is no longer drinking that satisfies or moves him thus ; what
remains is sometimes, granted, the anxiety of finding himself in a
place which might lack water, but mostly what survives today is
precisely the "me-I'm-thirsty," a veritable magic formula that opens
and shrouds abysses for him, from above or below, and which he
cannot express otherwise. He becomes uneasy upon hearing it, just
as in a dream a chasm or light vaguely perceived suspends the dream
in a scream or a laugh.
Doubtless we are able to understand that from the day "I'm
thirsty" [j'ai soifl or simply "Choif" could replace this inarticulate
scream, Philippe began to master something in the order of the
ineffable. At the same time as he took on in this way a fragment of
language, his primary unconscious was born together with this first
masking of the death drive.
This appears to us more clearly in the bill-hook dream, where the
scream is a part of the dream itself, evocative of the "kiai" (that
sacred cry in Zen Buddhism) which is capable of killing or bringing
back to life: now in this dream, what comes, instead of death, to fill
up the gaping wound, is a scar, a "trace." And we shall see that this
trace is far from indifferent, that it is even revealed to be the signifier
par excellence.
This red trace on his heel, the only apparent injury caused by the
hidden castrating hook in the dream, refers us back, as we have seen,
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to a scar that Philippe in fact bears on his forehead. It is the trace
of a relatively serious childhood accident: in the context of a struggle
for recognition with a boy considerably older than himself there occurs
a wound, which is experienced as catastrophic and which brings him
back to a regressive situation of satisfaction as his mother's coddled
child. Today, this sign, this identifying mark, remains in some sense
the sign of the favorite, even the elected one. As symbol of preferential
distinction, and as signifying above all this wound and, beyond it,
many others, the scar also refers directly to the dominant mark of
ritual circumcision. Through the dream analysis the meaning of the
foot bearing a wound is revealed as correlative to the circumcized
penis and the present versions of his desire. To have been the favorite
is in fact to have been an object of his mother's desire.
For our subject nothing indicates security and unshakable shelter
(consolation, fortress, and impasse) better than the scar, the trace of
a mother who received him with love; but even more than security,
the scar signifies today that he was loved with a passion. Thus this
mark remains the symbol of an unmediated, sterile and imprisoning
consolation ; above all, it stigmatizes and freezes the subject into the
fantasmatic but aberrant position of signifier of desire.
Just as the mark of his circumcision virtually founds the instrument
of his virility and fertility in a wound and a consecration, the
mark on his face seems in a similar way to have dedicated him
entirely to his mother: the scar is there to signify that his body in
its entirety remains the sterile privilege of his mother's desire.
The unicorn's horn indicates the very location of this scar: it is
as though in Philippe's unconscious the horn originated in it.
In regard to the question we asked: what is the specific energy
allowing the anti-cathexis necessary to primal repression, the true
"creator of the unconscious," we can do no better for the moment
than to answer through the analysis of Philippe's case which we have
just elaborated. The specific energy is the fact of the death-drive
precisely in so far as it is manifest as a radical and immobile force,
or, better yet, as the opposite of a force, a void, for example, which
is only related to libidinal drives in the sense that it founds them.
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
We should like to be more precise and say that the representative
of the drive is above all a representative of the death-drive: thirst or
scar (trace, mark, hook); it is these primordial representatives that
constitute the primal unconscious, that which exists only in the state
of primal repression. As it appears in our fragment of analysis, it is
from these primal unconscious representatives that what is called
the subject's desire may (with varying degrees of success) develop:
it is from this primordial text, inseparably bound to the surfacing of the
death-drive, that representatives of libidinal drives appear and what
can indeed be called "desire" is structured. It is from the signifier
thirst that the libidinal complex "thirst of (for) Lili" develops. It is
from the trace (scar) that the libidinal complex of the "favorite"
More generally, we can say that language, like the unconscious, is
primarily and indissolubly linked to the surfacing of the death-drive
in so far as the latter remains precisely that foundation of the world
of desire, which, alive, we can neither see nor name. We believe it
useful to insist on this specific dimension of the "primal" unconscious ;
if it escapes us, it becomes very hard to work effectively with the
"psychotic" unconscious, as well as in the domain of the neurotic
unconscious-which is an effect of the secondary repression whose
mechanism we have set out in detail.
For Philippe, then, the signifiers thrist and trace seem constitutive
of the primordial unconscious. Thirst and trace are and accomplish
primal repression, that is, the "fixation" of the ineffable or catastrophic
surfacing of the death-drive.
It is on the basis of this primal unconscious, whose mythical,
genesis in this instance we have tried to describe, that the unicorn
will be able to evolve as the metonymy par excellence of Philippe's
(B) The Formation of the Neurotic Symptom
We would like to consider further, in regard to Philippe's case, the
mechanism of an apparently minor sympton called up by the dream
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associations. It might be referred to as the sympton of the "grain
of sand."
It did not take Philippe long to tell us that he did not like the
beach-but in such a fashion that it was easy for us to suspect
the existence of some more fundamental difficulty. More memories,
and very clear ones, of the summer on the Atlantic emerged, details
related to experiences of cutaneous sensitivity: the contact of hot
sand on the whole surface of his skin; of cool and humid sand when,
in a game, he was buried in it; sand burning against the soles of his
feet; and most of all, a major detail, contact with a plate of zinc
heated by the sun.
To be on a beach for him now means to have sand everywhere,
in his hair, in his teeth and ears ; whether a little or a lot, some sand
always remains, all the more annoying when there's hardly any. The
height of irritation is occasioned by the single grain of sand that
remains malignly hidden after a careful cleaning; the one that swells
against the skin-but also by the wrong fold, the badly sewn seam,
the little pebble in his shoe. All in all a very common irritation, but
which assumes for Philippe the proportions of an obsessive preoccupation
(is there not a crumb in the fresh sheets? a hidden pebble
that will reappear in a carefully inspected shoe?), a more or less
mastered obsession which can on certain occasions lead him to the
brink of anxiety or throw him into a state of considerable irritation
against others, himself, and the incriminated objects. This is how
the symptom of the grain of sand appears.
What we would like to bring into relief in this instance is the
specific constitution of the unconscious chain correlative to the
secondary repression emergent here in the symptom.
Thus, through a cutaneous excitation, something unconscious
arises and imposes itself to the point of leading the subject to the brink
of anxiety or anger.
In this particular case, thanks to the work done on the dream, it
seems to us almost possible to determine the constitution of that
unconscious "something." If we consider the signifier sand, which
appears as a grain at the center of the symptom, we can develop on
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
the lower chain the following sequence : on the one hand, the signifiers
"beach," then "Lili," the major term of the chain. On the other, the
important terms in the associative chain linked to the symptom:
"skin" and the "foot" which was already alluded to in the manifest
text by Liliane's "bare feet," and by the associations recalling the
attention paid to tracks.
Here a complementary indication is necessary in order to arrive
at the ultimate term of the unconscious chain manifest in the symptom.
It is the fact that Philippe distinguishes a privileged zone on the
surface of his body-the soles of his feet-inasmuch as it fulfills one
of his typically obsessional fantasies : having an insensitive and almost
invulnerable skin, resistant and "hard as horn [corne]" ; (note, by the
way, that in that expression the reference is to horses' hooves). He
remembered the pleasure he was to have later in walking barefoot, not
only on sand, but also in the beds of dried-up torrents, and even, a
far more singular fact, in the scree of glacier-hewn slopes: he was
proud of the horny callouses developed in this way.
We shall not elaborate further the question of cutaneous erotization
except to say that Philippe manifested a whole series of symptoms
related to his skin, of which the grain of sand was only a relatively
simple example. We should add, however, a necessary remark:
Philippe, who had very diverse attitudes toward different parts of his
body, had particularly cathected his feet, and in similar fashion, his
Let us return now to the unconscious chain thus completed by
"horn" insofar as it is precisely this "horn" which will bridge the
gap between feet and head, in conformity with its metonymic function.
We can spell it out entirely and write:
LILI-beach-sand-skin-foot-HORN [CORNE], as it appears
to us after an attempt at analysing that indefinable thing which
intrudes by means of a small cutaneous irritation to form a grain
of sand.
It will suffice now, in order to summarize this chain, to condense
its extremities; the LZ-CORNE [unicorn] will be sketched out. It is
in this way, in the final analysis, that the unconscious is discovered.
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It seems to us that if a formation may be identified by the term
complex, it is indeed something like this sequence frozen by the
illusion of its grotesque discourse into the effigy of the UNICORN.
We will not resume here an analysis of the unicorn, which would
in some sense be a repetition of what we have already elaborated
concerning Lili. It would show us again that what gives it its
irresistible force is its relation to a major element, the phallus, the
signifier par excellence of desire.
We will pause rather to pursue a little further the dream of the
bill-hook. We have already emphasized that this dream (occurring
after the unicorn dream) led us more directly than the earlier one tothe
primal repression constitutive of the primordial unconscious.
The moment of drinking and the signifier thirst appeared to us
in the unicorn dream as the surfacing and concealment of the deathdrive;
the catastrophic scream and the signifier trace appear to us
in this hook dream even more clearly as the emergence and the
fixation (primal repression) of the same radical force constitutive of
the primordial unconscious.
At the level of the clinical analysis of the second dream, that
of the bringing to light of the unconscious properly speaking (the
fruit of secondary repression), we find certain constants of Philippe's
unconscious, such as the foot. Instead of being the one who "leaves
a trace," he bears it on his heel in the form of a red scratch on the
very spot where the horny callous is usually hardest. Similarly, this
trace refers us to the forehead, to the precise spot in which the mythical
animal's horn is planted ; if we then consider, as the analysis leads
us to, the themes of castration in this dream, the phallus appears as
marked by the wound, or better, as being fixated to the wound itself.
Philippe seems to be marked in his totality by the sign of this castration
; he appears, one could say, as one huge scar or a single marked
phallus, which makes it difficult for him to become the bearer of a
phallus, except through the metonymic intermediary of the unicorn.
And we may inquire here, in comparing this analysis with those of
other obsessionals (such as the case of Philon, which we have developed
elsewhere), whether this particular position with regard to the
Jean Laplanche and Serge Leclaire
castration complex is not specific to obsessional neurosis. 44 It is as if
for Philippe the theme of castration were never separated from that
primal repression in which the signifier comes to mask the surfacing
of the void of the death-drive ; he remains, as is said, in the breach,
constantly occupied, it seems, in mastering the primordial unconscious
without ever really succeeding-or if so, at what a price. . .
The analysis of the bill-hook dream should allow us to reintroduce
dialectically, at the level of secondary repression, the scar of the real
wound and to decathect it of maternal passion; it should lead us above
all to free Philippe somewhat from the breach he feels compelled
to fill like an omnipresent phallus. Thus he will be able to have (and
no longer be) a phallus by founding it precisely on this mark, and to
open the field of his desire by assuming castration instead of fending
off or denying it.
If the unicorn dream leads us principally to the Oedipal-i. e.,
libidinal-context of Philippe's unconscious, the bill-hook dream opens
more directly to us the path of the castration complex and the energy
specific to the death-drive.
Both of these forces are found in the constitution of the neurotic
symptom of the grain of sand: the unconscious chain of the bill-hook
dream-foot-sand-trace-head-coincides with and confirms the unicorn
dream, as we see, in more than one aspect.
We can now say that the grain of "sand which-bears-and-loses-the
trace," by irritating Philippe's skin and foot, leaves in its turn a trace
there ; it quickens the edges of that imaginary wound, crevice or gap,
trace or thirst; it summarizes and reminds Philippe, in its malign
way, of the difficult assumption of his desire.
Chapters I, 11, and IV were written by J. Laplanche; chapters 111
and V by S. Leclaire.
Translated by Patrick Coleman
44 Evolution Psychiatrique, 1959, 111, 383

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