43rd Days ECF

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Lacanian child is a
by Philippe Lacadée



Let us begin with one of Jacques Lacan’s observations. It
involves an exchange of his with a young child, most likely from his family; an
exchange that he relates in his Four
fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis
, immediately after evoking Freud’s grandnephew.
Lacan says, “I myself also saw the child, with my own eyes opened by maternal
divination, traumatized by my departure despite the precociously formulated
call of his voice, and henceforth renewed for several months – I saw it again,
long after, when I took him in my hands – I saw him rest his head upon my
shoulder to fall asleep, with only this sleep being capable of giving him
access to the living signifier I incarnated ever since the trauma.”[i] The
child of whom Lacan speaks finds the peace of the symbolic in the Other and
falls asleep there.

Let us first comment on how Lacan speaks of this child traumatized
by the Other’s departure, despite the child’s call. This child who, ever since,
facing the Other’s absence of response, addressed no further call, entered into
a sort of mutism – indeed even a sort of autism – by means of sleep in the arms
of Lacan: “The access to the living signifier that I incarnated ever since the

For this child, the Other is above all a living signifier, one
that illustrates that although the encounter with the Other is traumatic, it
can be pacifying as well. Lacan indicates that the signifier is not simply
symbolic or pacifying, but that it is alive; that it can enjoy his own life as
signifier, thus engendering a meaningless jouissance. Since no other signifier
comes to give it signification, this jouissance escapes the child’s
understanding, and therefore is traumatizing to him. The child understands
nothing of this and his ignorance traumatizes him. In his departure, the Other
abandons him, not responding to his call. The Other, the bearer of the
signifier, lives and enjoys elsewhere, apart from him.

We remark that Lacan underlined the devastation for a child
when one ignores his call. He says that between the child and the Other, there
was a “precociously formulated call of the voice.” Finally we note how, through
the call to the Other, he introduces the importance for the child of this object,
which comes from the Other’s desire. The voice object is central for any
subject in its relation to the Other. This voice object and the attached
invocatory drive, as in the case of the sight object and its corresponding
scopic drive, are two fundamental objects that Lacan highlighted in his clinic
of the child. The sight object and the scopic drive are essential in this
scene: “I saw with my own eyes” and the “gaze of the mother.” While elaborating
on the “mirror stage”, Lacan first pointed out the moment when the child, faced
with chaos and the disintegration of his being, attempts to recover unity in
the specular image which he libidinally and imaginarily invests in order to
make himself an ego. Later, he would underline the importance of the Other’s
gaze and the scopic drive.

During the scene of taking this child in his arms, the Other
(Lacan) is witness to the heartbreaking tear[1] of
being which shocks the child. The gaze he bears, however, involves him in the
event, makes him occupy a causal position that gives existence to this scene
through his observation. The Other, by its gaze, becomes that which accompanies
the child at the moment of his entrance into the world and ends up being the
fundamental, active element that transforms this hostile world into a pacified
one. The Other frames the child’s experience through his gaze.

Moreover, we remark how, in this clinical vignette, Lacan clarifies
that his position orients itself from the maternal relation. He specifies that
through maternal divination the scales drop from his eyes, making the
traumatism visible to him. Here we note how the signifying divination, founded
in eytmology, elides between divine and psychic[2], and
allows this divinity attached to the figure of the child to appear – of the
divine child as God, of the child “innocent and joyous” as described by Victor
Hugo in his poem Lorsque l’enfant paraît[ii],
or as Freud in Introduction to narcissism
designates “His Majesty the baby”. We remark as well how, for Lacan, the
Freudian child is guilty of wallowing in the masochistic jouissance he endures,
indeed in the jouissance from which he benefits. In the child there is a
precocious disposition to revert to a primordial masochism, which pushes him to
suffer his degeneration and extract a fundamental satisfaction, a jouissance.

Something insists at the heart of being, whose existence
Lacan asserts as a first necessity; this something places every being at the
mercy of being abandoned by the one who symbolically supports him in his
nomination. For Lacan, the child is not an innocent; he is guilty of the
jouissance extracted through use of the signifier as well as for indulging in his
primordial masochism.

For Freud and then Lacan, childhood neurosis does not
originate so much from a traumatic encounter with the Other as with the real,
from the jouissance at play in this encounter, a jouissance that the child
cannot put into words despite the fact that he does obtain a certain usage.

The Lacanian child is not careless since, by the facts of
language, there is no possible symbiosis between him and his parents; instead
there is always the discord of misunderstanding. The child is separated from
this world into which he was born, which precedes him. He is an immigrant to
the world of language, a world in which the call does not always find a
response. A child is born, a wrenching occurs, a fault opens, and a distance
remains irreducible. There is a cut, a separation.

The child never unveils the mystery of his origin; faced
with the question of Who is he,[iii]
he must resist the belief that one day he will be able to resolve the mystery
of his origin. Infantile amnesia attests to the impossibility of any subject to
respond to this question – the child does not go back to his origins, he
introduces the dimension of the real through the means of misunderstanding. Something
escapes the subject, something, from which he is forever separated. This
non-symbolizable real can return, can erupt at any point in his lifestory. To
the question of who is this child? we could propose to respond that the child,
to be a child, is fundamentally traumatized. We have already seen[iv]:
“Of traumatism, there is no other: man is born misunderstood.”[v]

To give back vigor and rigor to the term ‘trauma’, Lacan
forged the neologism ‘troumatisme’.[vi]
How can one better speak of what causes trauma for the child? It is the
encounter with a void in his understanding of the things and words he receives
from the Other. For the child there is a hole in knowledge; he cannot put his
experience, what he feels, what he encounters, into words. He experiences something
beyond meaning, an experience of jouissance in an encounter with a real which
he cannot assimilate. Thus the Lacanian child is a trholematized child.






Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, livre XI, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la
Seuil, Paris 1973, p. 61.

Hugo, V., « Lorsque l’enfant
paraît », in recueil Les feuilles
1831 :


« Lorsque
l’enfant paraît, le cercle de famille

à grands cris.

doux regard qui brille

briller tous les yeux,

les plus tristes fronts, les plus souillés peut-être,

dérident soudain à voir l’enfant paraître,

et joyeux. »

Lacadée, Ph., « Qui est-il, cet enfant-Là », chapitre 2 , in Le malentendu de l’enfant, Nouvelle
édition revue et augmentée, Préface de Christiane Alberti, Editions Michèle,

Thèse développée dans Le malentendu de

Lacan, J., « Le malentendu » 1980,
in Ornicar ? n°22/23, Lyre ,
Paris 1981, p 12.

Lacan, J., « Les non-dupes-errent », leçon du 19 février, 1974 ,


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