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Categories:Articles from World Association of Psychoanalysis Media

The Choice of Words




Laure Naveau

There was a relation to language and to the Real, or more exactly, to what was said and the way in which it was said (in its relation to the whole and to truth), that was very particular to me. As with others of my generation, marked by May ‘68, I encountered a colloquial, rather liberal way of saying; an interpretative style which was very much in fashion at the time of my adolescence and which left some marks in me. Let’s say that I was marked, like everyone else, by the incidence of language, by the torrent of language, of which, according to Lacan in his Geneva Conference on the symptom, “something is left in passing, a detritus, with which, as he points out, it is necessary for us to cope”.

There are events of speech which provoke events in the body, even though we can say that psychoanalysis has emphasised that the moment when desire becomes humanised is the moment when the child is born into language. Psychoanalysis reveals a humanity of language, which gives the subject its dignity.

But if each one is marked by the real of language and if Lacan baptises this real with the neologism lalangue, in one word, to say that each one speaks his own lalangue, I was for my part, marked by a style of language which resonated in my ears as carrying a whole truth, which in the face of, I believed that there was, paradoxically, nothing more to say.[i] Firstly rebellious, oftentimes hurt, subsequently I chose to be silent. I believed that the Other I was dealing with knew it all, since it authorised itself to this daily interpretative enthusiasm. And insofar as there was this prior knowledge, which was presented as knowledge about me, about my unconscious acts, it had an impact on my way of enjoying and also on my relation to knowledge itself. The misunderstanding was undoubtedly there! But in saying that, damn it! [malédiction] I became a little too over-invested. I was too given to this supposed all-knowledge of the Other, which I loved, and to which I therefore gave this latitude, this power. A verbal pathology of saying it all, had reduced me, in fact, to a guilty silence which occurs when one gives up one’s desire to speak, and thus feels at fault. This continued until the moment when I took the floor again,

on my own account, by engaging in an analysis; it lasted almost twenty years, and I became an analyst.

I was released from what had become a real instance of the superego, which was reduced at the end of my analysis to an empty value and so I arrived at this pass which made me an AE, an Analyst of the School. Supposed to testify to problems crucial to psychoanalysis, I circumscribed the point at which I had arrived. A point of an impossible to say beyond what could be said, and which used to leave me speechless [without voice].

I had left this fourth family complex, a sort of complex of saying-all, to which I had given all this power, not knowing how to escape from it, except by running away.

The trauma, here, came from the saying it all realised in an eruption of meaning which contained an impossibility, there was no word which did not wound. This is a way of saying that does not take into account the eminently Lacanian principle of not-all, the essential thesis that Lacan will support up until his last breath and with which he concludes his final seminar in Caracas, in 1980, when he ends his intervention on this sentence which is so moving to me: “Of course, I don’t tell you all, this is my merit.”[ii]

In his great inaugural text Function and Field of Speech and Language written twenty years before Television, Lacan arrives at the point of saying that the subject is an effect of speech, in essence the speech of the parents. To be an effect of speech, presupposes that we are spoken before we speak. This however does not obviate the fact that in what happens to us beyond all our signifying determinations, including those to which I have just referred; psychoanalysis proposes that each one plays his part: “one is always responsible for one’s position as a subject”[iii], Lacan argued for this statement which he qualified as “terrorist”. But one day I decided that I preferred this terrorism -that of the responsibility for my fantasmatic position-, to that which indeed had held me captive.


We are responsible, by way of example, for the manner in which we appropriate the signifiers of the Other, of that language we denote as “maternal” [mother-tongue], those of the S?, and for the way we make it our own as well as for what we add to it.

So I made it my own, this principle according to which there is a specific deployment of the subject, a libidinal deployment we might say, that is decisive in the face of the knowledge of the Other and the discourse of the Other, and which reduces the latter to a bemused trickle. There is a singular mode of response to the demand and desire of the Other within which we find ourselves ensnared, it is called the subjective position, and that changes many things!

“[…] the object is there active, and the subject subverted […]”, is what Lacan said in his Roman Conferences [iv], when he evokes the act of becoming an analyst.

I subsequently discovered in analysis that one feels guilty for having conceded a subjective position which would liberate one from the fantasy, and for allowing the Other to account for a truth that does not exist.

This is what can be reached through the analytic experience, an ethical experience of speech, beyond the fantasmatic position.

Also I was particularly aware of the emergence of Lacan on the scene, in his Television, when he articulates this extraordinary proposition which has served as a compass for me: “I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there is no way to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it is through this very impossibility that the truth holds on to the real.” (Margin note by JAM: S(A/)[v]

This introduction is formulated in multiple ways throughout his intervention, up until the one which has since been emphasised: the well-spoken [le bien-dire]

There is that which can be said and there is that which cannot be said, but can be written. There are words and there is the letter. For me, in Television, which is an oral intervention, Lacan emphasises that which is written.

It is a paradox which mediates the effects of speech and provides a relief from the Other, that which promotes the One rather than the Other, and which puts into tension, in a manner of sorts, Freud and Lacan: “The greediness by which he characterizes the superego is structural, not an effect of civilization, but discontent (symptom) in civilization”.[vi] In a way, what Lacan states is that one does not need the Other in order to construct symptoms, it is the impact of language on the body, which in effect leaves the marks.

Psychoanalysis liberated meaning from the captivity of repression where power had made an alliance with religion; religious meaning being always obscurantist. But, as J.-A. Miller expresses in his presentation towards the forthcoming Congress of the WAP on the Real[vii], it is capitalism in its alliance with science -through the promotion of a globalisation and a relation to material goods and gadgets which has taken precedence over the social bond-, that has caused a denaturalisation of the symbolic order and of the real of nature. TV seems to convey this new watchword: everything can be said, and heard, by all, without limits, all can be shown and seen without a veil.

Lacan was opposed to this trend, which he sometimes called a delusion. Without however promoting the function of the father –which he reduced to a semblant-, and without an appeal to, or nostalgia for, the old order, he posits that there is a limit. By the use of his Gödelian matheme, S(barred A), which formulates the inconsistency and incompleteness of the Other, he affirms that it is not possible to say-it-all: it is an impossibility, an impossibility with which he invents the Real as well as the not-all.

And so he baptises with the name lalangue, in one word, the Real of language-in-itself, which contains a limit; its own impossibility.

Thus he opposes, to the saying it all of his epoch, a style which –due to its own complexity- acts as a stopping point of this interpretative madness, introducing a different consideration with regard to the saying [le dire] from where he extracts the analyst’s desire and the end of analysis itself: that of the well-spoken of analysis.

This is the period when he gives his Seminars on logic and in particular the Seminar Encore where, through his formulas of sexuation, he attempts to write that which, of the sexual relation, cannot be written[viii].

And so, in this context, one can consider the well-spoken as falling within the logical category of contingency, of that which ceases not to be written, while to-say-it-all would fall within that of the necessary, that which does not cease to be written.

The well-spoken of an analysis can be grasped in the form of the Lacanian truth, which Lacan will index precisely as being not-all. This signifies that not everything can be said since there is no all in the order of truth, there is in fact, not any truth that is all true. Like a solid element, this varité, which is consonant with the variety [variété] of truth [vérité], has indeed many faces.

There lies the secret of psychoanalysis: although one must deal with it, the truth can only ever be partly said, one can only but half-say it.

Thus the well-said is akin to the half-said in that it functions in opposition to saying-everything [saying-it-all], and to the eruption of the drive that it triggers.

“It is through this very impossibility that the truth holds on to the Real”[ix]

The matheme of the analytic discourse inscribes a separation between meaning [sense], between S1, the master signifier and S2, knowledge in the place of truth, which is reduced to non-sense [non-sense].

In opposing the slope of meaning and the slope of the sign, Lacan introduces writing and emphasises that which, of what is written, is reduced, with a single stroke of the paintbrush, to a trait. He qualifies this, at the end of his teaching, using the signifier all-alone, to designate a unique trait of jouissance, proper to each one, “which no longer carries any meaning”[1]0 and is the remainder which is leftover when an analysis in conducted to its end.

Thus Lacan reduces the dimension, (the dit-mension, the mansion [house] of the said)[x], to that of the One: in the speaking-being’s world, there is (something of the) One.

Unknotting through words that which was knotted by words, the knot of signifiers in which the symptom consists, is to reduce it to the One of the trait.

To knot and to unknot the signifying material, to act on the signifier to reduce its heterogeneous meaning which does nothing in any case but feed the cipher of meaning, is in effect to alleviate the subject from the weight of meaning.

If, as J.-A. Miller states, there are events of speech that have left marks on the body, symptoms, and if the incidences of language on the body of the speaking-being fall within the contingency of a statement [un dit], then an analysis helps to decipher the symptoms left on the body by speech.[xi] Being in analysis, becoming an analyst involves –as J.-A. Miller points out- knowing how to read a symptom. And if what is at stake is a reading, then it is so because it is first about a writing.

The principle which is the basis of analytic discourse is situated on the side of the comic: it is that there is no sexual relation. By contrast the basis of psychotherapy is common-sense, which is disseminated to make the sexual relation exist; this Lacan describes as suggestion, denouncing it as leading us to the worst [au pire], the tragic, that which fascinates us, that which may well be, precisely, the to-say-it-all. This is meaning, which we enjoy [jouir] and from which symptoms are born.

The future of psychoanalysis and its progression, as indexed by the principle of “the Pass”, consists thus in opening that which had been closed and locked within the analytic field, to all those who can testify with regard to their particular analytic path and of its logical end.

“The more Saints, the more laughter”[xii]: this is the way out of capitalist discourse.

Thus, defining analytic discourse “as a social bond determined by the practice of an analysis”, which derives its value from being placed at the level of the most fundamental among the bonds between speaking-beings[xiii], leads us on the path of an ethics of the Well-spoken which is not at all the same as the Aristotelian ethics of the Good.

“[…] we qualify sadness as depression […] but it isn’t a state of the soul it is simply a moral failing, as Dante and even Spinoza said: a sin, which means a moral weakness, which is, ultimately, located only in relation to thought, that is, in the duty to be well-spoken, to find ones way in dealing with the unconscious”[xiv]: one is guilty of ill-saying [mal dire].

It is from this duty to find one’s way in dealing with the unconscious that the analyst is authorised in his position as analyst. “There is no ethic beside that of the Well-spoken…” (Margin note by Jacques-Alain Miller[xv]).

“In contrast with sadness there is the Gay Science [gay sçavoir], which is a virtue […]: not understanding, not a diving at the meaning, but a flying over it as low as possible without the meaning gumming up this virtue, thus enjoying [jouir] the deciphering […]”[xvi]

The Lacanian virtue is thus not to know everything or to understand everything (Lacan himself cautions the analyst in this regard), but to enjoy the deciphering. What he equates to the Gay Science is that which J.-A. Miller notes in the margin: “no knowledge besides that of non-sense”… It is the knowledge of the enigma, the hieroglyph, the rebus, the coded message, of that which gives one a break from too much meaning…

Boredom, moroseness, bad mood, these then are affects which arise from too much meaning and from not saying-well. They are discordant. Lacan refers to them with the expression “a touch of the real”, to say that it does not deceive; these affects have a ring of truth to them which concerns the subject’s relation to speech and language.

So what to do? This is the question that J.-A. Miller poses. “To draw the ethics of the well-spoken” from analytic practice, this is the affair proper to the analytic discourse.

This is our affair.


[1]: Laure Naveau

[2]: Translator’s note in English

La langue, lalangue and langage are all really only translatable into the English using the signifier ‘language’. I translate la langue as language (in the common English usage of the word) and leave lalangue untranslated.

[3]: Jacques-Alain Miller

[4]: Translator’s note in English

The expression here in the French does not translate readily into the English as it contains a homophony and play on words around ditmension and dit-mansion [dimension, said-mansion].


Source: scribd


  Date of Publish: 6 April 2017