Synopsis of Serge Leclaire, ‘L’Analyste à sa place?’
[‘The Analyst in his Place?’]
This piece is a direct response to Jacques-Alain Miller’s ‘Suture: Éléments de la logique du signifiant’, the preceding article in the first volume of the journal (CpA 1.3). A footnote states that the text is a version of a presentation given by Leclaire in Lacan’s Seminar on 24 March 1965 (one month after Miller’s presentation of ‘Suture’ in the same seminar on 24 February) but this is inconsistent with the dates given in manuscripts of Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, which list Leclaire’s presentation as occurring in the 20th session of the seminar (26 May 1965). The published version differs in some respects to the text to be found in Seminar XII.1 In his introduction to the seminar of 26 May, Lacan says that Leclaire had suggested that Miller’s ‘Suture’ deserved a ‘public’ and ‘properly analytical’ response.2 Lacan announces he will put aside the first half of the session, which is to be devoted to the continuation of his reading of Plato’s Sophist3 to Leclaire’s text and a response from Miller. Miller chooses not to respond immediately, but gives his reply to Leclaire in the subsequent session. The main points of Miller’s reply are outlined at the end of this synopsis.
Leclaire begins by saying that his aim is to show, taking Miller’s ‘Suture’ as his point of departure, that ‘the position of the psychoanalyst is irreducible to all others, and is perhaps, strictly speaking, inconceivable’ (CpA 1.4:50). He immediately contends that:
In his enterprise of interrogating the foundations of logic, of the logic he describes as the logic of the logicians [logicienne], and in gathering together from the work of Lacan the elements of a logic of the signifier, Miller himself ends up presenting us with a logical, or rather as he puts it archaeological, discourse, capable of comprehending the discourse that issues from the analytic experience. But to arrive at such a discourse, it is necessary, if I may say, to have a secure grasp of the point that makes the articulation of a logical discourse possible, that is, the point that Miller presents to us as the weak point [le point faible], and simultaneously the crucial point of every discourse, namely the suturing point [le point de suture] (50).
Leclaire then refers to Miller’s suggestion that the function of ‘suture’ is characteristic not only of the philosopher, but also of the logician and linguist. Leclaire says he is in perfect agreement with this, and that indeed ‘it is clear that Miller, as a logician, or archaeologist, himself also sutures’ (50). But the difference is that ‘the analyst, for his part … even when he attempts to produce discourse about psychoanalysis - the analyst does not suture’. If the philosopher, the logician and the linguist perform a ‘suture’ in their discourse, the psychoanalyst is the one who is exempt from this.
The stakes of the debate between Miller and Leclaire thus concern the relative positions of the logician and the psychoanalyst. According to Leclaire, the analyst escapes the position set out by Miller, and, if he experiences the temptation to suture, ‘he ought to strive to guard himself against this passion’ (51). Having made this point, Leclaire says, ‘I could stop there. This would obviously be the most concise form’.
Nevertheless, he indicates that he would like to try to take his argument further by enquiring into the nature of the ‘point of suture’ that Miller claims to have isolated.4 Leclaire questions Miller’s claim that Frege ‘sutures’ logical discourse by assigning the number zero to the concept of the non-identical (CpA 1.3:44; trans 29). Leclaire says he would like to ‘go further’ on this point.5
The introduction of this concept of non-identity to itself follows on from the Leibnizian concept of identity-to-self advanced by Frege, namely: ‘those things are identical of which one can be substituted for the other without the truth being lost’. It is starting from there that one arrives at this other proposition: 'The truth is: each thing is identical to itself'. What is this thing that is identical to itself? It is the thing insofar as it is one, namely, the object. That everything is identical to itself is what permits the object (the thing insofar as it is one) to fall under a concept. It is necessary that the thing should be identical to itself in order that truth can be saved: here, we might discover the major accent not only of Frege’s book, but also of Miller’s exposition, namely, the saving of the truth (CpA 1.4:51).
But, Leclaire goes on, ‘the analyst, for his part, is not necessarily concerned with saving the truth’. If this is the case, the relevance of Miller’s unveiling of the repression involved in the concept of truth would be put in question. It may be true, as Miller says, that ‘in the autonomous construction of the logical through itself’, the logician must ‘evoke on the level of the concept an object not-identical-to-itself’ (CpA 1.3:44; trans 30), but for Leclaire this does not affect the psychoanalyst. Moreover, with regard to Leibniz’s principle of truth as self-identity, ‘an analyst will happily admit (or at least I would) that “there is also truth”’.6 But ‘there is also reality’, contends Leclaire. ‘And reality, for the analyst, forces him to envisage [envisager] the thing insofar as it is not one, to envisage the possibility of the non-identical to itself’. Leclaire concurs with Miller that Frege implicitly does this, even if he immediately blocks the non-self-identity with the number zero. But if the ‘saving of truth’ is suspended, as it is in privileged moments in psychoanalytic practice, then the non-identical does not disappear into zero, as Miller suggests. A psychoanalytic apprehension of non-identity is can indeed arise, specifically through an encounter with the most ‘radical difference, otherwise known as the sexual difference’ (CpA 1.4:51).
Leclaire claims that an ‘extremely precise reference to this’ can be found in Freud’s references to the work of an ‘unconscious concept’ in the shift from anal to genital eroticism in the case of the ‘Wolf Man’. According to Freud, both the process of the training of the sphincter and genital eroticism involve ‘the individual part[ing] with a piece of his own body in order to gain the favour of some other person whom he loves’ (SE 17: 131). Genital eroticism is underpinned by the extension of anal eroticism. Freud says that ‘‘Faeces’, ‘baby’ and ‘penis’ thus form a unity, an unconscious concept (sit venia verbo) - the concept, namely, of ‘a little one’ that can become separated from one’s body’ (ibid). Leclaire comments that:
This [concept] certainly involves a unity, but one that covers things that are non-identical to themselves: in his example, the faeces, the child, or the penis, or why not, the finger, the cut finger, the little spot on the nose, or indeed the nose itself. The notion of the unconscious concept emerges from the pen of Freud to connote the unity of things that are small or indifferent, but which are capable of being separated from the body. Perhaps we have here the concept, the reality of a thing that is non-identical to itself (CpA 1.4:52).7
Leclaire will take up Freud’s notion of unconscious concepts in greater detail in ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’ [‘Reckoning with Psychoanalysis’], session of 15 December 1965, ‘Du corps à la lettre’ [‘From the Body to the Letter’] (CpA 1.5:67-68), where he situates it in the context of his theory of the erogenetic body and the constitution of the sexual drives. Here, he simply suggests that the conception of the ‘zero’ put forward by Miller threatens to ‘hide the truth of a radical difference, a difference-to-self’ found in an irreducible ‘sexual reality’ (CpA 1.4:52).
The analyst alone is capable of apprehending this sexual reality. Leclaire then makes a visionary claim for psychoanalysis: ‘Whoever does not suture is able to see the reality of sex underlying the fundamental castration. He can envisage the enigma of generation. Not only that of the engendering of the sequence of numbers, but also of the generation of men’ (52). In the second instalment of Leclaire’s seminar, ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’, Leclaire will elaborate this conception by relating it to the ‘open cycle’ of sexual reproduction (CpA 3.6:93). The differences between Leclaire’s position on the one hand, and the position of Miller and Milner on the other, reach a head in the discussion following this seminar (CpA 3.6:94-96).
Leclaire moves on to specify what the real role of the analyst should be. ‘The domain of the analyst is a domain that is necessarily a-veridical [a-véridique], at least in its exercise’. The analyst for Leclaire is the one who attempts not to suture, stitch up, or close up the productions of the unconscious. According to Leclaire, the analyst is not in the business of ‘constructing a discourse’, even when he himself is speaking. What is fundamental and irreducible to the analyst is his power of listening. ‘Fundamentally […] the analyst listens [est à l’écoute]. Listens to what? To the discourse of his patient, and what interests him in the discourse of his patient is precisely to know what is fixed for him as his point of suture’. In the introduction to his 1969 book Psychanalyser, Leclaire will foreground this aspect of psychoanalytic practice. The analyst attends to the gaps in the patient’s discourse, looking for symptoms, attempting to hear or to ‘listen’ to the different registers of speech at work in the discourse of the patient, always remaining aware of possible ‘transferences’ between analyst and patient that may influence the patient’s speech.8
Leclaire concludes with a parting shot that if Miller claims to situate himself in a peculiar ‘topological point that is neither open nor closed’, he is welcome to that, ‘but the analyst, for his own part, is much rather like the subject of the unconscious, which is to say that he has no place and cannot have one’.
I imagine that this position or this non-position of the analyst might give vertigo to the logician, the one whose passion is for the truth. For it is in fact what testifies in his action to this radical difference between a sutured desire and one that refuses to be sutured, a non-suturing, a desire-not-to-suture. I know very well that in a certain sense this position is intolerable [insupportable]. But I believe that, whatever we are to make of it, we are not finished with it, and you neither, Miller, you have not finished in your attempt to put, or, as they say, to put the analyst back in his place. And that is a good thing. For whether he puts himself there by himself, through his own lassitude, or whether he is forced there, only one thing is sure: that the day when the analyst arrives at his place, there will no longer be any analysis (CpA 1.4:52).
In his response to Leclaire’s presentation, in the subsequent session of Lacan’s seminar, Miller rejects Leclaire’s arguments. ‘Neither Serge Leclaire nor I want a dialogue. We are only speaking in order to reject that we are in reciprocal positions. We only listen in order to hear in the discourse the part that is secret to itself’9 Miller charges that Leclaire has misunderstood his main point about the role of non-identity in Frege’s construction of number. Leclaire has confused Frege’s position with his own.
He was not careful to distinguish the discourse which I dismantled, the logic of the logician, Frege’s [logic], from the discourse that I articulated starting from Jacques Lacan about the logic of the signifier. He overlooked that it was starting from this logic of the signifier, assumed as my discourse, that the sequence of numbers engendered in the discourse of Frege could be said to be sutured, [and] that this logic was general enough to be described correctly as that of the signifier.10
With regard to Leclaire’s implicit charge that Miller conspires in ‘blocking […] the non-identical to itself with the number zero’ (CpA 1.4:51), Miller responds that Leclaire has made a ‘striking lapse’ in ‘imputing to me what I myself attributed to Frege’.
Next Miller turns to the issue of psychoanalytic practice, where he reiterates that ‘the analysed subject’ indeed ‘sutures his lack of being, the metonymical effect of desire, the metaphorical cause’, but admits that the issue of whether the analyst himself sutures raises complex issues:
It is true [that the analyst does not suture] since he is the subject who is supposed-to-know, and because he holds himself in this position and because he speaks from this position […]. We can say that a subject who supposes himself to know, namely, if he stamps his position with the point of certainty in order to give a content to his knowledge, he makes himself, in that way, supposedly adequate to the real, the model for the identification of the analysand. By this he sutures, that is, he sutures the lack through which he is a desiring subject. It is therefore the analyst’s desire that his word be non-sutured. [… Nevertheless] it seems certain to me that when he attempts to speak about analysis, the analyst is not in the position of the subject who is supposed to know.
For myself, suturing my desire, in order to speak about theory, is my theoretical discourse sutured? Suture here therefore necessitates that my discourse, perhaps relates to the law of my desire […] according to a rule which does not overlap with the order I give to it. I would say to Leclaire that this remains to be proven. But is it not obvious, on the contrary, that Leclaire in a certain way wants, desires my discourse to be sutured? Perhaps he only desires to have before him the words of his patients?11
References to this text in other articles in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse:
- Brunswick, Ruth Mack. ‘A Supplement to Freud’s History of an Infantile Neurosis’ . In The Wolf Man, by the Wolf Man, ed. Muriel Gardner. New York: Basic Books, 1971.
- Frege, Gottlob. The Foundations of Arithmetic, trans. J.L. Austin. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1980.
- Freud, Sigmund. History of an Infantile Neurosis (‘The Wolf Man’). In Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-1974. Vol. 17.
- Lacan, Jacques. Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis (1965-66) trans. Cormac Gallagher, unpublished manuscript.
- Leclaire, Serge. Psychanalyser. Paris: Seuil, 1969. Psychoanalyzing, trans. Peggy Kamuf. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
- Miller, Jacques-Alain. ‘La Suture: Éléments de la logique du signifiant’. CpA 1.3. ‘Suture: Elements for a Logic of the Signifier’, trans. Jacqueline Rose, Screen 18:4 (Winter 1977-78).
- ---. Contribution to Lacan’s Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 21st session.
Selected secondary literature:
- Roudinesco, Elisabeth. Jacques Lacan & Co: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. London: Free Association, 1990.
1. The omissions are given in footnotes to this synopsis. ↵
2. This particular seminar was a ‘closed’ seminar, not open to the general public. ‘In the first steps of my closed seminar’, Lacan explained, ‘it is of course to be expected that things will not immediately take on either their shape, or their style, or their method and that certain things will remain in suspense. Our friend Leclaire thought it was a pity that there had not been any response here, I mean a public one, to what Jacques-Alain Miller had written, the text of which had been put at everyone’s disposal. So then, I give the floor to Leclaire who is going to contribute in this connection some remarks which will not simply have the protocol interest of marking the importance of this text of Jacques-Alain Miller but of giving it a properly analytic response. This intervention by Leclaire will be brief. Jacques-Alain Miller will reply to him if he thinks it is good and opportune to do so. This ought not to cut too much into the totality of our session today which, I remind you, is devoted to the attention that I asked should be given to the text of the Sophist’ (Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, trans. Cormac Gallagher, 20th session, 26 May 1965, 1. ↵
4. Omission from S XII version: ‘It is easy to say [the word] suture’. ↵
5. Omission from S XII version: ‘and to question Miller’s interest in the concept of non-identity to itself’. ↵
6. There is an omission from S XII at the beginning of the sentence about the analyst ‘happily admitting’ that alongside ‘reality’, ‘there is also truth’. S XII has it that it is with respect to ‘the proposition “Truth is: Each thing is identical with itself”’ [CpA 1.3:43; trans. 29] that the analyst would happily admit the claims of both truth and reality. ↵
7. In the Cahiers version of this text, there is a footnote reading: ‘Doctor Leclaire here gives an other example that we do not reproduce here: it will be the theme of a session of the seminar at the E.N.S.’ The example, from Ruth Mack Brunswick’s 1928 ‘Supplement’ to Freud’s analysis of the Wolfman, is taken up in Leclaire’s essay ‘The Elements at Play in a Psychoanalysis’ (CpA 5.1:21). The omitted text as it appears in Seminar XII reads as follows: ‘In the experience of the Wolf Man, there are many moments on which his experience pivots, turns upside down, where something changes radically. In the supplement to the History of an Infantile Neurosis (The “Wolf Man”) that Ruth Mack Brunswick has given us, she signals textually one of these moments where the world pivots on its axis, where the structure of the world, the order of the world seems to vanish. It is the moment, when, uneasy about the presence of this pimple [bouton] on the nose, the Wolfman, having questioned the dermatologist, hears it being said that nothing can be done, the pimple will remain the same, it will not change, there is nothing more to be done, there is no need to treat it or take it off. You will tell me, this pimple is therefore precisely one of these things which is found to coincide with itself. Does that mean that it is identical, that it can be located as identical? I do not think so at all. The proof is that he goes to see another dermatologist, has the pimple removed, experiences moreover an acute ecstasy at the moment that this pimple is removed. He is relieved about it for a while. The veil which separates him from the world is once again torn, and he is once again present to the world. But of course, this does not last. And what replaces the pimple is a hole. And of course his delusional preoccupation – in fact the delusion is not one that would frighten us – is going to be what is going to happen to this hole, this little scar, this little scratch, which cannot be seen, but he, at his mirror where he constantly looks at his nose sees this hole. The decisive moment, another decisive moment, which this time decides him to begin a new slice of analysis, is when he is told that the scars will never disappear. There again it is the same thing: whether what is involved is the pimple or the scar of the pimple; different things, they are nevertheless the same things. For him also, here the world pivots on its axis, he can no longer live like that, it is completely intolerable’ (Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 20th session, 4). ↵
8. Serge Leclaire, Psychoanalyzing, chapter 1, ‘On the Ear with which One Ought to Listen’, pp. 1-16. ↵
9. Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 21st session (2 June 1965), 4 ↵
10. Ibid, 5. ↵
11. Ibid, 6. ↵