The Speaking Body

On the unconscious in the 21st century

The director introduces the theme and the poster

Marcus André Vieira


Our body never stops speaking. To doctors, its signs indicate whether the machine is functioning well or poorly. The body can, however, say much more, as it is also our living history, the result of our encounters and of what has marked us and constituted us, even before birth.

That’s what Freud discovered, as well as that when we touch these sayings, made up from more than words, but also of sensations and image fragments, we affect the body’s life itself and its jouissance.

What, of this veritable rain of speaking that falls upon us, will count though? What will be part of us, constituting us as subjects? The very unit of the body is not given from the beginning. We need somebody, a mother or somebody who looks after us, to give it consistency, little by little. Only when I am capable of experiencing the swarm of sayings that cross this body as my own, does this body that thus far was spoken of, become a speaking body, my body.

Today, all that used to support the unity of imaginary identification tends to be replaced with the legion of pieces of knowledge from Google, that befall children. We have reason to ask whether something has changed in the Other’s mirror.

That is what our poster seeks to show. It is the work of Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist who takes a classical representative painting by  Eckersberg and remakes it, using pieces torn from pages of magazines. It is part of a series the artist calls “paper mirrors”.

The result gives us the very contemporary feeling that the image we have of ourselves can only stand on its own when we look at it from afar. I do not refer to the well-known theme according to which from up close we are able to see the hidden faults and imperfections, but rather perceive how our self-image, including the body, is the result of a fabrication.

The poster aims, however, to indicate something else (incarnated in the title that floats somewhere between the screen and us). It presents the theme of our 10th Conference:

The Speaking Body: On the unconscious in the 21st century.

The body on the poster is not the one we have just referred to. It is not the body that is spoken of, or the body that has acquired the ability to speak, a body that speaks, but rather the speaking body.

To accept the wager of the unconscious is to assume the following premise: what supports us as One is not what the mirror gives back to us. This wager opens us up to the profusion of images and fragments that gravitate around us. It is particularly in the wager  that we find such support.

When the venture of analysis proceeds as far as possible, up to the last consequence, every time we approach a body’s most essential jouissance, when we approach that which keeps us alive, the ultimate point of our singularity, we find no unity. Besides, we are also faced with things that are made up of, both, language and jouissance (what Lacan calledLalangue).  We see this in the testimonies of those who have taken their analyses to that point and who, upon offering their accounts to the Pass, were awarded the title of Analyst of the School, Analyste de l’École.

And what about the body? From the vantage point of the Pass, our body is a veritable “surreal collage” (as Lacan says in his Seminar XI, referring to the drive). It is somewhat like the body of the woman on the poster.

Well, there is a difference between today’s imploded and fabricated body, and the body as analysis leads us to consider it. It shows us how we support ourselves precisely in these separate pieces, which are simultaneously pieces of jouissance and language.

The pieces are not that numerous. Throughout the analytic encounters, we see that there is something in them that returns, much like a note that insists in a melody. It is not by chance that we often speak of “percussion” to translate its presence. It doesn’t have much meaning, it is just a continuous recurrence in our speech that we call, with Lacan,sinthome.

From that point of view, the woman on the poster only has a body because of the sinthome, that inaugural incidence of language on the living, which becomes speech and intertwines with others, making up a language mosaic that gives its user the mirage of unity. It is in speaking, therefore, that she can have a body, and, furthermore, believe that she is one. This is where the term parlêtre, that Lacan proposes in these seminars, comes from.

We are not used to having this concept as a reference in our practice. More often we take the person who comes to see us as a subject who considers their body as a closed unity, and who, for example, reacts very negatively to any intervention or modification to their body, as they consider it the sacred dwelling of their soul. It must be said that we are dealing, increasingly often, with situations such as the one faced by the woman on the poster, who does not need to assume she is a body, but rather that she has a body, and proceeds to build it and rebuild it as well as she is able to, often losing herself in it, unable to rely on support by her sinthome.

This is how I understand why J. A. Miller, when presenting the theme for our Congress (http://bit.ly/1HG4OAs), proposed that we approach the body’s contemporary pulverisation with Lacan’s concept of the parlêtre and take a wager. We will, therefore, take him up on his proposal that “we can bet that we are already analysing the parlêtre, and it is up to us to find out how to say so”.

We will not simply oppose the subject and the parlêtre as though one belonged in the past and the other in the future, but rather try the effect, in the present, of approaching the clinical experience based on the first and the latter. It is about speaking well of what happens in our practice when the parlêtre is a partner, i.e. when it aims at the speaking body and not so much at that which the fact of speaking engenders as a semblance of identity. 

Our practice has increasingly got to deal with another division than the one between body and soul. For example the division in somebody who has power and loves to exercise it, but sees that their out-of-control use of cocaine puts all of it at risk, or the division in the woman who can only be in love as the subject of abuse, but who at the same time is extremely successful in business. These are divisions between jouissances, not so much between body and soul.

We will have to base ourselves on the tension proposed by Jacques-Alain Miller, at the same congress, between sinthomeand escabeau. The latter, part of the “negation of the unconscious”, by which we mean somebody who believes to be “the master of his Being” to, then, take an escabeau from culture, that is, “what the parlêtre hoists himself onto, hauls himself onto in order to make himself beau” to “brag and flout ones vanity ”.

We will also talk of the triad Miller proposed, of delusion, debility and dupery as actual clinical axes referring to Lacan’s three registers – imaginary, symbolic and real – in the context of the clinical experience with the parlêtre. In fact, thesinthome embraces the debility in taking the body as One, the delusion articulates what is needed to believe it and the dupery allows us to be taken by that to circumscribe a real, “a real in which one can believe with adhering to it, a real that does not carry any meaning, that is indifferent to meaning, and which cannot be any different from how it is”. Can we say that we have access to that plane in our daily clinical practice? It seems more prudent to use it as a map to follow the current forms of our suffering, wandering and jouissances

This is a major clinical requirement. It begins with the effort to reduce the great distance that sometimes separates what we read and what we write, from what we do in practice.

Only a community like ours can set itself such a challenge. Our biennial congresses are moments of convergence for the work of the members of the World Association of Psychoanalysts. We are scattered all over the world but work by the same compass.  Our President ensures that the direction is maintained, and he is following the preparation for our meeting closely.

Soon you will be able to find out more on the event website, as well as get all the necessary practical details.

Lastly, I’d like to say that Brazil, the host of our next Congress, can play a significant role in it. This is a country that takes the body very seriously, in the best and worst manners; it has a tradition of great processions in which the speaking body is present and commands huge crowds that can at times reach millions. The members of the Brazilian School of Psychoanalysis are aware of what can be gathered from this, based on Lacan’s teachings.

The essential, in my opinion, is to highlight what takes place when the speaking body appears, supporting a saying in what may cause laughter or scandal. Is that not what explains the large numbers that attend our events? They know everything can be read on Google and seen on Facebook, but in order to be on the level of the wager, the wager of the undecidable, of what can cause a saying when the body is encountered, one needs to be there.

It is the fact of the encounter with a saying that it changes a life, which continues to be the challenge of psychoanalysis, and for that, according to a famous Brazilian song, there is no balance, only balancing acts. This is why I would like to invite you to come and meet the WAP members and witness their work in Brazil.




Translation from Portuguese: Dulce Horta

Revision: Natalie Wulfing


10th Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis


The Speaking Body

On the unconscious in the 21st century

25 – 28 April 2016 – Sofitel Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

© MUNIZ, Vik/ Licenced by AUTVIS, Brazil, 2014



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