Lacanian Review Online: That Other Practice of the Letter

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LRO 219
25th March 2020


Éric Laurent

On the basis of Television, we must distinguish between a clinic of moral cowardice and a clinic of the rejection of the unconscious. In the first case, what is in question is a subject defined on the basis of the structure of language, its key being desire. In the second, the rejection of the unconscious refers to another register, where mortifying jouissance is knotted to the birth of the symbolic. In 1953, Lacan designated this zone in the following terms: “When we want to get at what was before the serial games of speech in the subject, and what is prior to the birth of symbols, we find it in death, from which his existence derives all the meaning it has”.[1] What is indicated here is a clinic that is not at all worn out by following the establishment of a “depressed discourse”. We can include here, not only isolated depressive phenomena in adults, which have escaped being taken up in the subject’s history and his symptoms, but also major depressive moments for the child. In such cases, it is a matter of interrogating the subject, not with respect to the unconscious as discourse of the Other, but with respect to the silence of the death drives. In the new jouissance that has irrupted for this subject, we will find indications of what to expect at certain moments in life, in the bad encounters that might have taken place, even in the course of the analysis. Our hypothesis is that such moments of rejection of the unconscious have the same indicative value as certain “elementary phenomena” that Lacan identified, for example, following Freud, in the case of the Wolf Man.

In these moments, the subject is confronted not by the Other of the signifier, but by the place of the letter, the terrible universal library from which the subject has been excluded as a living being. Jorge Luis Borges, very interested in Buddhism, made a story out of this feeling. His famous, “The Library of Babel”, in fact, bears an epigraph from the great melancholic, Burton, and his Anatomy of Melancholy. It picks out an exercise recommended by Burton to distract the melancholic subject and initiate him into “the variation of the 23 letters”.[2] Borges’s Librarian, who is “preparing to die”, observes: “Methodical composition distracts me from the present condition of humanity. The certainty that everything has already been written annuls us, or renders us phantasmal”.[3] The Borgesian subject draws his melancholic certainty from this moment of subjective destitution that the practice of the letter imposes. The Letter! The Litter! Borges managed to rework this Joycean axiom into a story. He finds the image that achieves it in that moment when the librarian’s body falls into the universe of the libraries books, to the point of being effaced, sicut palea.

This certainty is the opposite of what Lacan wanted to achieve through that other practice of the letter that is psychoanalysis. Lacan stipulates nothing less than enthusiasm as the affect that falls due at its end.


This text is an excerpt of “Melancholia, the Pain of Existence and Moral Cowardice”, transl. P. Dravers & S. Seth, in Hurly-Burly 12, 2015.

[1] Lacan, J., Écrits, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, The First Complete Edition in English, op. cit. p. 263.
[2] Borges, J. L., “The Library of Babel”, Fictions, transl. A. Hurley, Penguin, London, 2000, p. 65.
[3] Ibid., p. 73.

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