NLS Congress: The argument and the title unveiled

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NLS Congress  |  17th and 18th May 2014 in Ghent


What Cannot Be Said

Desire, Fantasy, Real



In my title, some of you will have recognised an echo of Wittgenstein’s formulation, the last proposition in his Tractatus: “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”[i]. Unlike the philosopher, I have cut the formulation in the middle and allowed the suspense to complete it on the basis of what Lacan proposes in Seminar VI, along with the decisive orientation that Jacques-Alain Miller gave to it in Athens.[ii]


For psychoanalytic experience invites one precisely not to be silent about what cannot be said, “which provides an opportunity to put to the test the fact that words cannot say it all”.[iii] In the course of the treatment, the aspiration to find the word that would say the thing fades, even if Lacan began by installing the Name-of-the-Father as the final word of the story. He made it into an Other of the Other, the guarantee of the established order, which he consecrated as the symbolic order. But what J.-A. Miller shows in his presentation is that in what follows and right up to the end of his teaching, Lacan systematically dismantled this pseudo-harmony of the symbolic. That is the meaning of this formulation from Seminar VI: “there is no Other of the Other”.


Free association necessarily encounters the impossible to say. It is thus at the moment when the word with which to say it is found to be lacking that the subject falters to the point of panic, there where he must, as Lacan says, face up to his existence. “At this moment which is, if one may say, a panic point, the subject must cling to something, and what he clings to is precisely the object qua object of desire.”[iv]


Wittgenstein would be right, says Jean-Claude Milner, “if only what we cannot speak about consented to be silent.”[v] The analysand would thereby conclude his analysis on the revelation of a want-to-be that constitutes the metonymy of his desire and arrive at the “forsaken horizon of being.”[vi] As J.-A. Miller notes, this version of the end of analysis turns the subject into a non-dupe, in other words, a subject founded on erring.


However, as he pointed out in Athens, the place where the end of analysis is played out is not on the side of the insubstantial being of a desire, which would be a pure signifying metonymy, but on the side of the fantasy, which is enjoying substance [substance jouissante]. Thus, “the heart of this seminar is not interpretation; it is the subject’s unconscious relation to the object in the desiring experience of the fantasy.”[vii]


What is a psychoanalysis practice that aims at the object a of the fantasy? What is at stake is not that the analysand narrates his phantasmagorias, it is a question of circumscribing what the subject’s life is structured around when he is a prisoner of his fantasy – in the singular and unconscious – just as Lacan does in his analysis of dreams or of Hamlet. There is no direct experience of the unconscious fantasy, which is why it is necessary to reconstitute it in our constructions.


The Congress in Ghent will thus focus on what does not consent to be silent and makes its way through the inter-said [inter-dit]. We shall emphasize “the opposition between the closed order of the father (metaphor is always a stopping point) and what desire brings, on the contrary, of the irregular and fundamentally out of place.”[viii] The theme unfolds between what cannot be said except between the lines and what is impossible to say. It may be true that “the analyst offers himself as a support for every demand, and responds to none of them”,[ix] but it is not merely in this non-responding that the mainspring of our presence lies, as Lacan says at the end of Seminar VI. As this Seminar reveals, the true nature of the objects of the fantasy is to be real objects, “separated from the subject though they are closely related to his vital drive.”[x] The analyst makes himself into its “inexorable”[xi] support. In the different structures, the reconstitution of the fantasy as support of desire will serve as the turntable with which to articulate the relation of the subject’s desire to the desire of the Other… without Other. 



Dominique Holvoet



Translated by Florencia F.C. Shanahan and Philip Dravers

[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1961, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, (London: Routledge, 1961), p. 89. [T.N. Or according to Ogden’s translation: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” Ludwig Wittgenstein,Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus  (1922) trans. C.K. Ogden (New York: Cosimo, 2007), p 27 and p 108.

[ii] J-A Miller, “The Other without Other”, closing presentation at the NLS Congress in Athens, May 2013. To be published in Mental 30 and Hurly-Burly 10. Working version available on the NLS website.

[iii] J-A Miller, “La psychanalyse, sa place dans les Sciences”, Mental, 25, p. 19.

[iv] J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, (La Martinière et le Champ freudien editions, 2013), p. 108. (Unpublished in English).

[v] J.C. Milner, “L’oeuvre claire, Lacan, la science, la philosophie”, (Paris: Seuil, 1995), p. 169.

[vi] J. Lacan, “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power”, Écrits. The First Complete Edition in English, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006), p 536.

[vii] J-A Miller, “The Other without Other”, op. cit., p 9.

[viii] J-A Miller, Ibid., p. 12.

[ix] J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation, (La Martinière & le Champ freudien editions, 2013), p. 572 (Unpublished in English).

[x] J. Lacan, Ibid. p.469.

[xi] J. Lacan, Ibid., p.565.



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