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Moments of crisis - Work in progress One by Yves Vanderveken

Towards the NLS Congress
Moments of Crisis
Geneva,  9th and 10th May 2015

Moments of crisis – Work in progress One

Yves Vanderveken


Moments of Crisis – Work in Progress One

Yves Vanderveken

Knotting Seminar - Athens


So, “Moments of Crisis” will be the title of the next NLS Congress, which will take place in Geneva, in Switzerland, on the 9th and 10th of May 2015. Here in Athens, the first NLS Knotting Seminar of the academic year is also taking place under this same title. Throughout the year, several other seminars will take place in the different locales of the NLS in Europe and the rest of World. Interlinked between the various societies and groups of the NLS, these seminars will each be so many moments of work in progress towards the congress. That the first of these Knotting Seminars should, quite by coincidence, take place in Greece is in some respect ‘fortunate’. At the heart of a major economic, social and political crisis, we could hardly find a better way to begin our work of exploring the different kinds of knowledge about “crisis” that Gil Caroz supposes the different groups of the NLS harbour.1 We now have his text, which initiated this theme, translated into numerous languages, including Greek. I assume that you are familiar with it and that you have read it. If not, I urge you to do so.


“Crisis”, the word is out. It is everywhere, in every domain. A simple Internet search reveals its semantic proliferation. One way or another, it is recognised by everyone. No discourse escapes it. It is the crisis. It is not just that different bodies of knowledge and geographical areas are implicated but that, at the heart of each of them, one crisis follows another, at break-neck speed.


What then do Lacanian psychoanalysts have to say about it?


To take up the psychoanalytic definition given to this theme by Jacques-Alain Miller, if a crisis is what happens “when discourse, words, figures, rites, routine, the whole symbolic apparatus, is suddenly found to be powerless in tempering an unruly real”, if a “crisis is the real unchained, impossible to master”,2 then through the semantic extension of the signifier “crisis”, and through its constant reiteration, we must conclude that what we have here is one of the names of the real for our time.


Let us propose that it takes the form of a continuous moment of “crisis of truth”.3


It is as if symbolic frameworks are no longer able even to frame the real, even for a short time. They are constantly being overwhelmed and rendered obsolete – which of course is structural, but at the moment they are being swallowed up at such a rate that no sooner do they appear than they vanish.


And psychoanalysis? 


In an interview for Panorama magazine, re-edited in France by the Magazine Littéraire,4 Lacan sweeps away the idea that psychoanalysis could be in crisis with a flick of his hand: “There can be no such thing” as a crisis of psychoanalysis, he says.5 It stands to reason, since he defines psychoanalysis as being concerned precisely with “what’s not working out” – hence, he says, “it’s terribly difficult”. Let us propose that psychoanalysis has an affine relationship with crisis and the real. This is why, without it being a psychoanalytic concept as such, the theme of crisis concerns it to the utmost degree. In its clinical manifestations and structural differentials, psychoanalysis encounters these moments of rupture in the symbolic order through the emergence of contingent and unforeseeable events of a jouissance that creates holes in it, undoes it and renders it incapable of establishing why. This is what psychoanalysis has isolated, for example, in the form of ‘trauma’, as so many moments of crisis in the subjective economy. It is also what psychoanalysis understands under the term ‘symptom’. In the same article, Lacan explains: “I call symptom everything that comes from the real. And the real is everything that doesn’t work out [ne va pas], that doesn’t function, that gets in the way of man’s life and the affirmation of his personality”.6


If psychoanalysis is not in crisis, by virtue of, in some way, not knowing and not concerning itself with anything but itself, Jacques-Alain Miller constantly underlines the fact that it changes, that it is modified through the effects of its time! He situates this as a fact that transforms the practice and the clinic.  For our theme, it is interesting to consider why and in relation to what coordinates. Let us propose that it is precisely because of what characterises our contemporary symbolic order that we can say that it is in crisis like never before.


The symbolic order of the 21st Century has undergone a major shift.


In his address at the Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis, Jacques-Alain Miller clarified that from now on:


it is very widely thought of as an articulation of semblants. The traditional categories that organise existence have passed over to the rank of mere social constructions that are destined to come apart. It is not only that the semblants are vacillating, they are being recognised as semblants.7


The dimension of truth is constantly being put into question. All forms of order are being challenged and all semblants are being denounced as such. Even those that drew their strength from mimicking the supposed order of nature as closely as possible, and which thus seemed inviolable, no longer escape and are being returned to their status as simple social constructions in the face of the advance of science and the principles of equality. To measure the scope of such changes, let me simply mention ‘sexual difference’, ‘the principles of reproduction’, and what used to be known as the ‘“elementary” structures of kinship’.


One of the consequences is that, from now on, all discourse is potentially marked with the stamp of being ‘false’, being virtual. It is the era of the generalisation of fake – a word one often hears in the mouths of the young and, of course, on the web everyone is young. It is the time of ‘generalised disbelief’, where nothing is worth it, or rather where everything is worth the same as everything else. It is the reign of the non-dupe. On this subject, ‘public opinion’ is a marker; everywhere, it is presented as no longer believing, as being suspicious and marked by the feeling of being conned. Political speech, for example, is on the front line in this respect – it is badly served by its representatives, who are unable to do anything about it. You know a bit about this here in Greece. In France, standing as the last bastion for those trying to save something of the ancien regime, not a day passes without the supposedly most eminent offices in the land being destroyed and brought into disrepute, its semblants ripped to shreds by ever more serious and far-reaching revelations, for example about private modes of enjoyment, where everything is laid bare. Everything is now being laid on the table, as one says. No Aufhebung of the office is reflected in the ‘normality’ of the person who incarnates it. As for Belgium, at least on the francophone side, it has been a long time since people believed in all that, if they ever did. In our language we translate this as the object a being raised above the bar, instead of being beneath the bar, where it used to be situated as a veiled remnant, wrapped beneath its signifying representation. From now on, it is naked, raw, unchained and frenetic, under the impact of the advances that science has paved the way for, the development of technology and its corollary, the reign of transparency. The deconstruction of the symbolic order continues – which gives the permanent character of crisis or at least the break-neck speed at which one crisis is followed by the next.


The effects of the debunking of semblants and the unravelling of large-scale social constructions ensures the production of certain privileged affects: from disenchantment and feelings of rage, to the feeling of being duped and discarded, as populations are constantly proclaiming. In the previously mentioned interview for Panorama magazine in response to the question: “What’s not working out for people today”, Lacan, already indicated the result of these effects: “It’s this great life-weariness that comes as a consequence of the race towards progress”.8


In return, these social constructions are in demand, sometimes through acts of protest, and ever increasingly they are demands for a semblance of truth. But the main effect that results is that of boredom – the non-dupes err. In this respect too, one has only to listen to the young. In the realm of the false, of lies, of the ‘lying truth’, where everything appears to be mere semblance and vain, the only thing which thus rings true is sensation: the body, the drive – and anxiety! Another modern affect.


From this, there results the explosion of diverse bodily practices, operating as real marks, where previously they had been more symbolic. Drug use (simultaneously to evade boredom and get ‘stoned’) stems from this, as does the practice of extreme sports. Sensation is sought as an experience of truth, and it has to be increasingly powerful – the acquired tolerance demands it. It alone gives the sense of being alive again. Sexuality is also profoundly marked in this way. Diverging from its insertion in fantasy scenarios to pornography, it is generalised and accessible to all, raw, stripped bare, in ‘ready-made’, repetitive scenarios that reduce it to a practice of disincarnate bodies where the imperative of jouissance dominates. As Jacques-Alain Miller has remarked, we have not simply passed from a time of prohibition to one of permission, but to a time of exhibition that is quasi- forced upon and open to all. A modification of sexual behaviour is emerging for young people as a result of new forms of sexual initiation: disenchantment, brutalisation and the trivialisation of practices once called perverse, like the “normalisation” of sadomasochistic practices. The consequences for jouissance are new. What is striking, is the dimension of “semantic vacuity”9 present in modern pornographic acts of copulation, reduced to a practice of bodies, cut from their imaginary and symbolic dimensions. Take, for example, the appeal to ‘true-speak’ in the political sphere, which ‘calls a spade a spade’, and thus refers to ‘concrete action’ and ‘concrete politics’ – where the same refrain of disenchantment can be heard again. We are witnessing a depreciation of the metaphoric dimension in favour of a so-called ‘real’ one. As Eric Laurent recently asserted in Dublin, at a societal level it is undeniable that societies are becoming increasingly violent. He remarked that the reason for this is not yet clear.10 I will allow myself to suggest that some of the reasons for the phenomena are anchored in what I am developing here.


In this semantic void in which the cult of sensation dominates, the call to new discourses, new truths that function as causes and as ideals is strong. When I said there would be no turning back with regard to the new, I didn’t say there wouldn’t be any attempts at restitution. But in all probability everything will bear the ‘real’ mark of the age. The phenomenon known as Islamic State is, to my mind, an example of this.  An appeal to meaning and to the cause, the restoration of so-called patriarchal values that, in reality, are of a most delusional kind, the crushing of the feminine, the restoration of an ‘order’ improperly called religious; a whole ‘shaping’ that doesn’t veil, or better, is necessarily accompanied by the most ferocious and denuded forms of violence meted out by one body upon another: decapitation, rape, unbridled jouissance and dreadful terror. Let us also note, as a trait, that the number of those who hear such a calling rises – particularly among the young who are ‘converted’ in less than two weeks – to the degree that the physical exactions are shown and unveiled.  Far from acting as a deterrent, they function as a call.


While every subject is called upon to invent and to face up to the real that rushes in to fill the void created in the symbolic system, psychoanalysis does not have to surrender its arms. What’s more, it has its own part to play in this development with respect to the unveiling of semblants.11 It does not have to surrender its arms; it has to interpret!


However, in such new discursive and clinical coordinates, interpretation has to be rethought and is not without having to bear the mark of a necessary shift itself. At this level, psychoanalysts are called upon to play their part in their consulting rooms and in the direction of the treatment once more. Psychoanalysis can no longer situate itself entirely in the register of lifting repression and in the dyad: interpretation-truth. As Jacques-Alain Miller once again remarks, repression is a category that from now on will not be commonly used:


Certainly, there are memories that come back to the surface, but nothing attests to the authenticity of any of them. None of them are final. What is called the ‘return of the repressed’ is always dragged into the flow of the parlêtre where truth turns out to be incessantly mendacious. In place of repression, the analysis of the parlêtre installs mendacious truth […] What doesn't lie is jouissance, the jouissance of the speaking body.12


A different status of interpretation is thus necessary, as well as – we must go this far – a different status of the unconscious. Oracular interpretation, which demands a ‘true supposed knowledge’ and dissymmetrical positions in relation to knowledge, which is becoming more and more unacceptable, here lives out its swan song. In the register of the ‘lying truth’, no doubt the orientation of the treatment will be to lead the analysand to be “the dupe of a real”,13 so “his debility gives ground to the dupery of the real”.14 This is something that Jacques-Alain Miller highlights here that we must clarify in the course of the work towards our Congress. In other words, what comes to be grasped and isolated in the cure, beyond the lying dimension of truth, is a singular and contingent real that causes the subject.


It is down to psychoanalysis to restore a real, which is not a semblant. Without that, the price to pay will be anxiety – another affect that does not deceive – that the parlêtre increasingly seeks to anesthetise as it becomes ever more present as correlative to the couple mania/depression.


In this work towards the new, with which we as analysts are called to rendezvous, Seminar XI will doubtless serve as an important reference point to help us along the way.15 There is in this seminar something like an anticipation of all this. While Lacan grasps repetition in terms of the signifier, and thus as symbolic, as interpretable and above all decipherable, situating repetition on the side of the unconscious, he finds it necessary to take account, or at least to distinguish, an inertia that he situates on the side of the drive, which cannot be deciphered in signifying terms. Here we have the point of departure that will later lead him to find it necessary to invent a concept that, as he goes on to say, is more workable than the unconscious: the parlêtre. This concept takes this inertia into account: the inertia of the id, of the drive and the body, while also allowing him to overcome the dichotomy that he introduces in Seminar XI between repetition and inertia. Repetition is less of a signifying repetition than a repetition of jouissance. Here it is less a question of a signifying or logical enigma, than a libidinal one.


In a psychoanalysis, what we are concerned with is the persistence of modes of jouissance: namely, the iteration of these mysterious moments where, in an encounter between the signifier and the body, modes of jouissance come to be fixed in a contingent way. These moments are not moments to be remembered or deciphered, since properly speaking they are moments in which, as subjects of the cogito, you were not there. Something of this percussion between the body and the signifier is missing from the symbolic order for it to be able to be said. It is this missed encounter that constitutes the trauma. It returns in iterative bits which index this moment of failed encounter – lived afterwards as a jouissance that should not be, which is not the right jouissance: too much, too little, as a result of intrusion, forcing, etc. as the clinical cases show.


Psychoanalysis is thus an excellent observatory for this moment of crisis.



Translated by Philip Dravers




1 Caroz, G. Moments of Crisis, congress.

2 Miller, J-A., “The Financial Crisis” transl. Jorge Jauregui, Lacan dot com, [transl. modified]. Published in French as “La crise financière vue par Jacques-Alain Miller”, Marianne, 10 October 2008.

3 Miller, J.-A., “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”, transl. A.R. Price from “L’inconscient et le corps parlant”, presentation delivered in Paris, 17 April 2014.

4 Lacan, J., “An Interview with Panorama, 1974”, translated by Philip Dravers, Hurly-Burly 12 (2014), forthcoming.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Miller, J.-A., “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”, op. cit.

8 Lacan, J., “Il ne peut pas y avoir de crise de la psychanalyse, op. cit.

9 Miller, J.-A., “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”, op. cit.

10 Laurent, E., “Psychoanalysis and the Cognitive Paradigm”, presentation delivered in Dublin at the ICLO-NLS, 13 September 2014.

11 Miller, J.-A.,“A Fantasy”, Lacanian Compass,

12 Miller, J.-A., “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”, op. cit.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid

15 Lacan, J., The Seminar Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, transl. A. Sheridan, Penguin, London, 1977.


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