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In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the term denotes the mechanism of negation characteristic of psychosis. Several important articles in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse take up and elaborate Lacan’s claim that science itself involves a kind of foreclosure.

Jacques Lacan used the term forclusion to translate Freud’s Verwerfung (which is sometimes translated into English as ‘repudiation’). In ‘The Neuro-psychoses of Defence’ (1894), Freud had distinguished Verwerfung from Verdrängung (repression) as a ‘much more energetic and successful kind of defence’; ‘here the ego rejects [verwirft] the incompatible idea together with its affect and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all’ (SE 3: 58). When the child ‘rejects’ [verwirft] the threat of castration, for instance, ‘no judgement on the question of existence’ is involved, ‘but it [is] the same as if it did not exist’ (SE 17: 84). The end result is psychotic hallucination, where ‘what was abolished [das Aufgehobene] internally returns from without’ (SE 12: 71). In Freud’s case of the ‘Wolf Man’, the child is prematurely exposed to the mother’s lack of a penis at the age of one and a half, and rejects the ‘theory’ of her castration, holding instead to a theory of anal insemination. When the Wolf Man goes on to hallucinate a bleeding finger, Freud explains that it is the rejected theory of castration returning from outside.

In their Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis note an ambiguity in Freud’s theory about what is ‘rejected’: is it a ‘theory of castration’ or some sort of ‘perception’ of the woman’s lack of a penis (and if the latter, how can this be conceived)?1

Lacan first translates Verwerfung as ‘foreclosure’ in Seminar III on The Psychoses.2 In ‘On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis’ (1955), he defines Verwerfung as a foreclosure ‘of the signifier’: ‘at the point at which the Name-of-the-Father is summoned […] a pure and simple hole may thus answer in the Other; due to the lack of the metaphoric effect, this hole will give rise to a corresponding hole in the place of phallic signification’ (E, 558). He specifies that it is the Name-of-the-Father that is foreclosed’ (E, 563). In Laplanche and Pontalis’s assessment of Lacan’s thinking on this subject, foreclosure is presented as the primordial rejection of a fundamental ‘signifier’. The signifier that is foreclosed is ‘the phallus as signifier of the castration complex’.3 ‘Foreclosure consists in not symbolising what ought to be symbolised (castration) […]. Whence Lacan’s formula for the hallucination […] “what has been foreclosed from the Symbolic reappears in the Real”’.4

In Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, Lacan situates the emergence of psychoanalysis within the epoch of modern science. ‘Precisely what Freud defines for us as subject is the new, original relationship, unthinkable before his discovery, but affirmed, of a subject to a not-knowing […], Must I dot my i’s? The unconscious means that the subject refuses a certain point of knowing. The fact is that the subject is designated by deliberately trying not to know, it is that the subject is established – this is the step where the Freudian articulation is enriched by what I outline in the margin concerning the relationship of the subject to the signifier – the fact is that the subject is established from a rejected, verwerfen, signifier, from a signifier [un signifiant] about which one wants to know nothing’.5 Psychoanalysis can bring to light this ‘non-knowledge’ that results from foreclosure. Lacan’s conception of science will pose a problem for the authors of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Is it science as a closed system that is foreclosive, or do epistemological breaks in science themselves also involve a kind of foreclosure?

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Lacan returns to his claim about the foreclosive nature of science in ‘La Science et la vérité’ (CpA 1.1). ‘Our science’s prodigious fecundity must be examined in relation to the fact, sustaining science, that science does-not-want-to-know-anything about the truth as cause. […] You may recognize therein my formulation of Verwerfung or “foreclosure”, which forms a closed series here with Verdrängung, “repression”, and Verneinung, “negation”’ (CpA 1.1:23; E 874). Lacan specifies that the ‘closure’ of science could be attributable to its maintenance of a ‘successful paranoia’. Lacan is ambivalent about the effects of scientific foreclosure. On the one hand, he suggests that psychoanalysis should bring science’s foreclosive rejection of the Name of the Father to light and subject it to analysis; on the other hand, he also suggests that the pattern of foreclosure is conducive to scientific progress. ‘If one acknowledges that psychoanalysis is essentially what brings the Name-of-the-Father back into scientific examination, one comes upon the same apparent deadlock; but one has the feeling that this very deadlock spurs on progress, and that one can see the chiasmus that seemed to create an obstacle therein becoming undone’ (CpA 1.1:25; E, 875).

In her article ‘Communications linguistique et spéculaire’ (CpA 3.3), Luce Irigaray uses the term ‘foreclosure’ in a description of the structure of the delusional [le délirant]. The delusional brings about a ‘foreclosure of the specular image’ that ‘becomes the elaboration of a closed system, palliating the missing image. Language freezes into fascinating totalities where the “subject” alienates himself. Words no longer serve as a means of exchange. They are too similar to him and at the same time too inaccessible’ (CpA 3.3:53; translation, 22).

Serge Leclaire’s ‘Les Éléments en jeu dans une psychanalyse’ (CpA 5.1) returns to Freud’s account of psychotic hallucination in the case of the ‘Wolf Man’. At an early age, the patient witnessed the ‘primal scene’ of his father having sexual intercourse with his mother from behind. The image is traumatic because he associates the act with the thought of the castration of the mother. Rather than repressing the thought of castration, he repudiates it altogether, and consequently experiences hallucinations of wounds on his body (SE 17: 84-85). Leclaire notes that Lacan extracts his concept of foreclosure from this example to denote ‘a return, in the form of hallucination (Lacan says “in reality”) of what is rejected (verworfen)’. Leclaire notes that Freud’s statement that the ‘oldest’ psychic pattern in the Wolf Man was to ‘simply reject castration’, or to reject the cut [rejet de la coupure]. For Leclaire it is more than a ‘pure signifier’ that is rejected, it is more fundamentally the symbolic ‘cut’ on the erogeneous body itself (CpA 5.1:22-23).

In the foreword to Volume 9, titled ‘Généologie des sciences’, the Cercle d’Épistémologie write that it is necessary that a ‘genealogy of the sciences’ make use of the doctrine of foreclosure, ‘following it not solely in the subjective position that it sets, but also in the politics that insinuates itself there’ (CpA 9.Introduction:4).

In his ‘Action de la structure’ (CpA 9.6), Jacques-Alain Miller develops Lacan’s account of the foreclosive nature of science. There is a closure [clôture] proper to scientific discourse that is different in kind from ‘the suture of non-scientific discourse’ (CpA 9.6:102). The expulsion of exteriority and lack is intrinsic to the explanatory aims of science. Whereas the operation of suture involves the incorporation of the non-identical into a series in the form of a ‘zero’ term, foreclosure is a complete expulsion of lack. Nevertheless, Miller argues that this ‘lack of a lack’ in science is also, from the perspective of the subject, a lack, and correspondingly ‘leaves in every scientific discourse a place for the misrecognition of the ideology that accompanies it’. By foreclosing anything outside its field, ‘every science is structured like a psychosis: the foreclosed returns under the form of the impossible’ (103).

Miller does not elaborate upon this claim and his suggestion is open to more than one interpretation. It is possible that he is following Lacan in claiming that every science has a paranoiac relation to events occurring in its field, projecting its conceptual framework upon a reality that is indifferent to it. Alternatively, Miller’s conception may be similar to Althusser’s account of epistemic change, given its fullest exposition in his Cours de philosophie pour des scientifiques (1967). There Althusser outlines the various types of reactions scientists make to crises in their sciences.6 Under conditions of epistemic change, what has hitherto been foreclosed as impossible can only be experienced in a hallucinatory manner. What was formerly held to be impossible apparently becomes possible as a result of new experiments or speculations, but there is no new framework to rationally account for the change. Hence the ‘hallucinatory’ experience of what is foreclosed is prey to ideological interpretation. This conception is taken up in François Regnault’s article on epistemology (CpA 9.4).

In ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’ (CpA 9.4), Regnault elaborates Lacan’s idea that science involves a foreclosure within the context of epistemology as the theory of science. Regnault presents a ‘matrix’ of the different possible relations of epistemology to science, and allots each a Hypothesis from Plato’s Parmenides. The Hypotheses are presented as couples: Hypothesis I presents the existence of the Absolute One, and its partner, Hypothesis V, asks what follows for the ‘Others’ or difference; Hypothesis II presents the existence of the Relative One, and its partner, Hypothesis IV, asks what follows for the Others; Hypothesis VI presents the non-existence of the Relative One, and its consequence for the Others (Hypothesis VIII), and Hypothesis VII presents the non-existence of the Absolute One, and the consequence for the Others (Hypothesis IX). Regnault argues that the foreclosive character of science emerges in each of the four cases through the medium of the partnered Hypothesis (which concerns the ‘Others’).

Regnault begins by asking about the relation between foreclosure and the One of pure scientificity (Hypothesis I). Referring to Miller’s account of science’s ‘lack of a lack’ (CpA 9.6:102-3), he contends that this Absolute One is beyond even a lack of a lack, being rather a ‘lack of this lack of the lack, since beyond science taken in the sense of this first Hypothesis, there is nothing. Instead of excluding something at the exterior, science excludes the exterior itself’ (CpA 9.4:59). This primary ‘foreclosure of foreclosure’, by virtue of the repression of the Others it induces, turns into a ‘suture’ of the Others or ‘difference’, insofar as it does not even allow for a minimal epistemological position outside it. Hypothesis II, which envisages an integration between the One and Being, or what Regnault calls a ‘dogmatic, participatory absolute’, also has its own kind of foreclosure in its partner, Hypothesis IV. For instance, with the emergence of relativity theory, Newtonian space is shattered into a space of ‘little others’ or impetuses that overdetermine it (CpA 9.4:64). The ‘negative’ hypotheses also reveal a foreclosive relation to the Others. The idealist negation of the Relative One carried out according to Regnault by philosophers such as Léon Brunschvicg (Hypothesis VI) has its consequence in a relativist scepticism, in which the Others find themselves ‘sutured to multiple discourses’ (Hypothesis VIII) (CpA 9.4:69). The absolute non-existence of the unity of science (Hypothesis VII) results in the absolute meaninglessness of the existence of the Others (CpA 9.4:70).

For Regnault, the task of epistemology is to take on the consequences of these foreclosures, and to assign ‘illusory’ phenomena such as impetus and sensations of ‘force’ a place in relation to science. Epistemology, as theory of science, provides assistance to scientific subjectivity by permitting the latter to break through the overdeterminations of experience necessarily generated by the progress of science.

In ‘Marque et manque: À propos du zéro’ (CpA 10.8), Alain Badiou argues against Miller’s insistence that the ‘lack of a lack’ in science is itself also a kind of lack (CpA 9.6:103). Miller’s statement is in conformity with Lacan’s claim in ‘La Science et la vérité’ that there is something that science ‘does not want to know’ (CpA 1.1:23; E, 874), a position which certainly brokers the image of an externality to science that relates to it in some kind of determinant capacity. Putting forward an ‘epistemology of logic’ (CpA 10.8:150), Badiou contends that the fundamental axioms and propositions of logic and mathematics have their own specific kind of stratification which precludes any foreclosive relation with an ‘outside’. ‘In logic, a lack that is not a signifier has no signifier: it is foreclosed’ (156). Even when they encounter limits to formalisation, logical systems are always ‘internally limited’ (153). For instance, the incorporation of Gödel’s theorem into a theory of formal systems shows that ‘the undecidable is not the suturing of lack, but rather the foreclosure of that which is lacking through the failure to produce within what is derivable the entirety of the non-derivable as negated’ (155). ‘Stratification repeals the axiom by which Miller, in another text, characterized foreclosure: the lack of a lack is also a lack. No; not if that which comes to be lacking was always already marked: then the productive difference of strata suffices to name the interstice’ (161). According to Badiou, there is no ‘subject of science’, as science is infinitely stratified without recourse to an outside to which a subject might be constitutively ‘sutured’. There is a sense, then, in which science forecloses a genuine Outside of thought. ‘Foreclosure, but of nothing, science may be called the psychosis of no subject, and hence of all: congenitally universal, shared delirium, one has only to maintain oneself within it in order to be no-one, anonymously dispersed in the hierarchy of orders. Science is the Outside without a blind-spot’ (162-63). ‘Through science we learn that there is something un-sutured; something foreclosed, in which even lack is not lacking’ (164).


  • Althusser, Louis. ‘Philosophy Course for Scientists’ [1967]. In Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, ed. Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, 1990.
  • Lacan, Jacques. Écrits [1966], trans. Bruce Fink, in collaboration with Héloïse Fink and Russell Grigg. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
  • ---. Seminar III: The Psychoses (1955-56), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993.
  • ---. Seminar XII: Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
  • Laplanche, Jean and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse. Paris: PUF, 1967. The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Hogarth Press, 1973.


1. Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, ‘Foreclosure (Repudiation)’, 166.

2. Lacan, Seminar III, The Psychoses, 25th session, 4 July 1956, 321.

3. Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, ‘Foreclosure (Repudiation)’, 166.

4. Ibid., 168.

5. Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 18th session, 12 May 1965, 6.

6. Althusser, Philosophy Course for Scientists, 110.