Report on the Knotting Seminar of the NLS, January 2014 in London

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Knotting Seminar, London Society of the NLS, 11 January 2014


Report by Janet Haney



The new-format knotting seminar in London welcomed Nathalie Laceur, secretary in the NLS Executive and member of the Kring Society (Belgium), and Susana Huler, from the GIEP society (Israel). Unfortunately, Mikhaël Strakhov, who was due to come from the group in Russia was unable to join us for the event due to last minute problems with visas. From our own London Society, Veronique Voruz also agreed to present a case for the seminar.

In the opening presentation, Nathalie took up a point from J.-A. Miller’s commentary in Athens[1] and followed the path back to The Dream of the Dead Father, which, she said, “is a dream that Lacan uses to bring us something about the question of the relationship of the subject to desire”. Freud had first used this dream to illustrate a point at the end of his work on Two Principles of Mental Functioning[2]. This ‘absurd’ dream later entered an updated version of The Interpretation of Dreams[3]. Lacan takes up Freud’s discussion at the end of the lesson of 26 November 1958[4].

Nathalie led us through the steps that Lacan took in his commentary on Freud’s approach. First, he noted that this man did not dream of his father in order to satisfy the wish to see him. This was not a dream of wishful thinking. Secondly, he noted that Freud tried to resolve the absurdity of the dream by assuming that there were signifiers that must be added back into it, and that this presupposed that there had been signifiers that had first been subtracted from it. But Lacan had gone on to say “this gives us strictly nothing from the point of view of what Freud himself designates to us as the final aim of interpretation, namely the re-establishment of unconscious desire.” So, if restoring the missing clauses brings nothing new, reasoned Lacan, then it is their removal that has assumed a positive value, and it was this that brought new meaning. What was new was the idea of “an elision”, a process of merging abstract ideas together, which could produce new signification according to the structure in which it occurs. “The dream, far from making an allusion to what came before, namely the relationship of the father with the son (during the father’s lifetime), introduced something that sounded absurd, and that had a range of completely original meanings on the manifest level.” In raising the question of structure, Lacan opened the possibility of considering the question not only via repression but also by rejection, or foreclosure, and arrived at the idea that there could be a feeling of living alongside a death.

This gave the seminar a jolt of life, and as Nathalie paused to question the translation of her words, the mood in the room shifted a gear. “What would happen here, if we were all fully alive?” she asked us, paraphrasing Lacan: “you may imagine what you want, but perhaps you do not dare to even think about it. Though, probably, it doesn’t have the slightest chance of happening, let alone of being desirable.”

Caring for the other, she underlined, is how Lacan coined the heart of the neurotic strategy, for to care for the half-dead in the other ensures that you do not wake the half dead in yourself. 

In her style and presentation of these ideas, Nathalie created a buzz in the seminar, and proceeded to the conclusion of this section of the meeting by summarising the difference between Freud’s and Lacan’s relation to the holes in this dream. “Unlike Freud, Lacan no longer treats the text on the basis of its holes, but as a text in itself. It says something that usually goes unnoticed. Lacan reads the text of the dream, together with the elision of clauses, he takes the absurdity of the dream literally and does not rush to plug the gaps. Rather, he considers the elision as a means of producing a new sense, certainly absurd, but new, and in doing so he makes accessible something that most of the time must remain hidden.”

Then it was Susana Huler’s turn to take the floor, and to give us another chance to appreciate how this novel tack away from Oedipus can work out in practice. She spoke about a case in her clinic – a successful woman who knows a lot about therapy. Susana’s analytic interventions refused to allow her analysand to find refuge in the sleep of complacent self-interpretations, and she showed us the vivacity of her own style and her use of the variable-length sessions to keep her patient alert to life: standing, to end the session she replied to her patient’s self-interpretation with “it is not because you love him that he will die [like your father], but because, like everything that exists, he can cease to exist”. The analysand said (although not in reply to this, but at another time) “what happens to me here is absurd. But empathy holds us back. Empathy makes life easy and comfortable, but not effective. I think it helps that you are not empathetic.”

Finally, Veronique Voruz invited us to consider the way that three different supervisors kept her alert to the real at stake for her young patient who in turn responded to one of these reorientations (‘faut pas rêver’ – get real) by saying something of her intimate truth. The analyst was so struck by how real this declaration was that she thanked the girl for telling her something so true about herself, and thus welcomed and validated it. This then made it possible for the girl to begin to bring further ‘vital’ disclosures, which in turn made it possible for her to talk about her experience with the real and her body. Later, the girl asked her analyst to apologise to her previous therapist on her behalf for not having told her these vital things. Both presentations showed us the parts that can be reached by this particular orientation of our analytic tradition, the roots of which can be traced to Seminar 6.

Each case presentation, in its own style, showed the inventiveness and verve of each analyst (more examples: one went to visit a school to change their decision about removing the child to a school for ‘rejects’, the other welcomed the analysand’s partner into the session to hear her accusations against the analyst). And after this invigorating seminar, the members of the London Society gathered round the table to discuss the results of the work of the ‘flash cartel’ (or ‘fulgurant’ which also translates as ‘lightning’), which had given a careful reading to Chapters 20 and 21 of Seminar 6. More energy pulsed through the group and in writing this now, I am reminded of the exchange in the afternoon seminar, between analyst and her young analysand: the girl expressed a wish to get a job where she could bring inanimate objects to life with electricity, the analyst replied that electricity was to objects what speech was to humans.



[1] J.-A. Miller, “The Other without Other”, Hurly Burly Vol 10.

[2] S. Freud, “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” [1911], S.E. Vol. 12, p.225.

[3] S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams [1900], P.F.L. Vol. 4, p. 559-60.

[4] J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, livre VI, Le désir et son interpretation, 1958-9, Éditions de La Martinière, 2013. See especially pp. 70-78 and 112-124, supplemented by reading pp.127-146.

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