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Synopsis of Xavier Audouard, ‘Le simulacre’

[‘The Simulacrum’]

CpA 3.4:57–72

Together with Jean-Claude Milner’s ‘Le Point du signifiant’ (CpA 3.5), this article appears in volume three of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse under the general heading ‘Sur Platon. A propos du Sophiste’ [‘On Plato: The Sophist’]. Like Yves Duroux’s ‘Psychologie et Logique’ (CpA 1.2) and Jacques-Alain Miller’s ‘Suture: Éléments de la logique du signifiant’ (CpA 1.3), Audouard’s and Milner’s pieces have their immediate origins in Jacques Lacan’s Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis (1965-66). Audouard’s text was given as a paper on 26 May 1965 at the 20th session of Lacan’s Seminar. The previous sessions of Lacan’s seminar had been devoted to interpretations of Plato’s Sophist, and Audouard’s paper is a response to a request from Lacan for a paper on the text.1

The Sophist is a dialogue from Plato’s late period, written after the Parmenides; the latter is discussed by François Regnault in ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’ (CpA 9.4).2 The Sophist involves three participants, the Stranger from Elea (a Greek settlement in Italy), who represents the position of Parmenides, Socrates, Theodorus, and a younger man, Theaetetus.3 Socrates mentions that the Stranger comes from a place where there are three different kinds of person that merit attention: the Sophist, Statesman, and Philosopher (Sophist, 217a). Socrates asks the Stranger to tell him how he defines the Sophist. Rather than expound a theory, the Stranger chooses a dialogue as the means for arriving at a true definition. The Stranger proposes that they practice the method of dichotomy by taking a familiar subject and subjecting it to dichotomic definition: the subject chosen is the fisherman (218d). The Stranger takes Theaetetus as his interlocutor and asks him a series of questions that place the subject on either side of a dichotomy. Is the fisherman a man of art or not? If yes, is he then involved with the art of production or acquisition? Acquisition, Theaetetus replies. What, then, are the kinds of acquisition? And so on. The next few pages of the dialogue are occupied with performing the same process of dichotomy on the concept of acquisition or taking possession.

In his opening development of Plato’s dichotomous treatment of the fisherman, Audouard alludes to the possibility that he has been ‘caught on the hook’ of his own master (i.e. Lacan). Audouard’s paper, given a fortnight after Lacan’s initial request, takes up the central thematic Lacan identifies in the Sophist. In the sessions of 12th and 19th May in Seminar XII, Lacan singles out the passage on the genera of being, non-being, sameness and difference (Sophist, 254-258) as a key text in the history of the theory of language and logic, unveiling within Plato’s theory a basic mechanism for the relating of ideal forms. Lacan suggests that ‘the modern status of the subject’ can already be discerned in Plato’s ontology of the genera, but that ‘the tension that there is between this Other and the One, and which would allow us to ground this Other as what I call the One-more (Un-en-plus)’ has to wait until ‘the theory of the One-more that you only see emerging in the theory of numbers with Frege’. The Sophist performs a decisive operation on the concepts of non-being and difference, revealing a basic mechanism by which ‘the signifier can represent the subject for another signifier’. Plato shows how ‘the signifying dyad’ of opposition between being and non-being ‘requires the introduction of the Other as such’. ‘In order that being and non-being should not be contraries equally existing, thus giving shelter to all the conjuring tricks of the sophist, it is necessary that non-being should be established as other, in order [in turn] that the sophist can be rejected there.’4 Audouard’s paper amplifies Lacan’s statements by returning in detail to Plato’s text.

Audouard suggests that the method by which the Stranger will pursue the definition of the Sophist, the method of dichotomy, is itself responsible for relating the positions of the Stranger and the Sophist. The dichotomic method progressively determines subjects by predication. If one commences with the dichotomic passages of the Sophist, then it becomes possible to map out the ‘subject’ of the dialogue, the Sophist himself. Moreover, the Stranger will only rediscover the basis for his Parmenidean principles by encountering the Sophist. Audouard asks if every subject of a discourse is not ‘hidden’ in this manner as soon as discourse commences (CpA 3.4:61).5

With the method of dichotomy established, the Stranger proceeds to give a preliminary definition of the Sophist, who (the Stranger says) is a ‘many-sided creature, and as the saying is, not to be caught with one hand’ (Sophist, 226a). The Sophist is said to be a ‘disputer’ [έφαμεν] (232b). The Sophist subjects everyone’s beliefs to doubt, showing inconsistencies in their ideas. He uses language to achieve effects that have nothing to do with truth. He belongs to the class of conjurers [θαυματοποιών], and is an expert in the art of appearances (235b). The Sophistic method involves the cross-examining of different people as to their opinions and a comparison of the different opinions in such a way as to ‘purge’ the soul of received ideas (230b-d; CpA 3.4:62). The Stranger exclaims, ‘when a man says that he knows all things and can teach them to another for a small price in a little time, must we not consider that a joke?’ (CpA 3.4:62). Audouard cites 234b, where the Stranger likens the Sophist to an artist who deceives children into thinking he is capable of creating any reality he chooses to make.6 The Sophist reduces thinking to a faux-semblance, a game with illusions, a mimicry or mimétique. He always hides behind discourse and never signs his name to any proposition or idea. In the course of the dialogue, the Stranger will attempt to hunt down the Sophist and corner him in a definition; if he succeeds in this, the Sophist will lose his power.

The Stranger makes a distinction between two types of imitation [μϊμησις] (Sophist, 235d). The first involves likeness [είκόνα] and the second simulacra [φάντασμα]?7 He notes that when artists produce a large work of sculpture or painting, they have to adjust the proportions to fit the spectators. ‘For if they reproduced the true proportions of beautiful forms, the upper parts would seem smaller and the lower parts larger than they ought, because we see the former from a distance, the latter from near at hand’ (236b-c). In such cases, the artist gives the appearance of the Forms, rather than the Forms themselves. But the making of likenesses or copies should be distinguished from the making of phantasmatic appearances. ‘What shall we call that which appears, because it is seen from an unfavourable position, to be like the beautiful, but which not even be likely to resemble that which it claims to be like, if a person were able to see such large works adequately? Shall we not call it, since it appears [φαίνεται], but is not a likeness, a simulacrum?’ (236b). Simulacra are constructions which include the angle of the observer in order that the illusion may be produced from the very point where the observer finds himself (235d-236b). The Sophist uses simulacra to create illusions by appealing to the interlocutor’s own point of view. Audouard notes that in this sense he creates the ‘representative of a representation’ (or a Vorstellungsrepräsentanz) (CpA 3.4:64). The Sophist’s art is ‘the art of the fantasy’.

The notion of the simulacrum leads the Stranger to a reflection on the concept of non-being, which Parmenides had consigned to the sphere of mere appearance and falsehood. Audouard contends that the notion of the simulacrum, rather than that of non-being, is at the centre of the dialogue:

What status is one to give to non-being, to that which lacks being in the simulacrum? Our way of introducing it so far rather makes us think that the emphasis should not be laid on the status of non-being, but rather on this little gap [écart], this minute warping of the real image [ce petit gauchissement de l’image réelle] which is attached to the particular point of view occupied by the observer, and which constitutes the possibility of constructing the simulacrum, the work of the Sophist (CpA 3.4:64).

In his enquiry into non-being, the Stranger first asks Theaetetus whether it is possible to utter the phrase ‘that which has no being at all’ (237b). Non-being cannot be attributed to any being, and it is impossible to think ‘it’ under any form (even to say ‘it’ is already too much, as it makes a unity of it) (239a). Theaetetus must make an effort ‘to say something correct about non-being, without attributing to it either existence or unity or plurality’ (239b). The Stranger notes that the discussion of the distinction between copies and simulacra is especially difficult for him, since to say that falsehood exists involves the assumption that non-being [μή όν] exists (236e). Audouard states that the Stranger is caught in a ‘contradiction’. If he says that the Sophist succeeds at his imposture, then he is saying that non-being can be, and that the Sophist succeeds in producing it (CpA 3.4:66). But, as an Eleatic and follower of Parmenides, the Stranger wants to ‘make non-being disappear, we must make the Sophist himself disappear, along with his art’. ‘The Father of our discourse, Parmenides’ stated that it was not possible to ‘bend non-beings to being’, and that we must separate ourselves entirely from the path of non-being.8 Is there a way to retain the Eleatic doctrine while admitting the existence of the simulacra manipulated by the Sophist? How is it possible for falsity to have existence?

Audouard’s view, in opposition to Milner’s in his accompanying paper, ‘The Point of the Signifier’ (CpA 3.5), is that the question of the status of non-being in the Sophist is ‘ultimately transposable onto that of the status of the subject’ (CpA 3.4:65). ‘Non-being thus poses in truth, for us, the question of the subject, because if the φάντασμα is possible, it comes from the particular place that the subject occupies with respect to the universal and all-seeing Subject’ (65). The Eleatic Stranger must disabuse himself through dialectic of his dependency on the paternal figure of Parmenides. The Father stands to become an ‘unassailable monolith’, and his offspring reduced to the status of tiny beings unable to detach themselves from him. Thus the Stranger faces a new task: ‘it will be necessary that the place of non-being, that is to say the Subject, should be filled with a speech to which it is impossible to respond’ (66). The Stranger pleads for Theaetetus not to think he is a ‘parricide’ when he suggests that ‘after a fashion non-being is and on the other hand in a sense, being is not’ (241d). But, what the Stranger is really afraid of, Audouard claims, as he enters into the pursuit of the Sophist, is not so much becoming a parricide, but becoming nothing more than ‘the simulacrum of a parricide’ (67): in which case the Sophist will have won, and unleashed non-being in an uncontrolled state into the space of discourse.

Audouard’s solution is explicitly Hegelian. He starts by turning to the discussion of the being of change or movement at Sophist, 249c-d. If there is no movement, then there can be no intelligence about anything; but if all things are in flux and motion, mind or intelligence are also removed.

It would seem that the philosopher, due to his high regard for these things, must necessarily refuse to accept the idea of the immobility of the whole, whether this is defended because of the One, or because of the multiplicity of forms; on the other hand, he must equally refuse to lend his ear to those who say that being is universal movement; he has to be like a child begging for ‘both’, and say that being and the Whole are both at the same time (249c-d; 67).

Audouard claims that Plato in effect brings about a HegelianAufhebung’ of the Sophist (67). Taking up Plato’s analysis of the genera of ‘movement’, ‘rest’, ‘being’ and ‘non-being’, ‘sameness’ and ‘otherness’ (or ‘difference’) (254f), Audouard notes how Plato’s dialectical account of the relation of the pure genera allows him to determine a complex idea of movement and becoming. ‘If it is true that being is, it is not strictly true that non-being is not. Genesis is not being, but being and the other, which is only the non-being of this being insofar as it participates in a being that it is not yet’ (67). Thus ‘Plato attempts to reconcile Parmenides with Heraclitus, the on with the genesis, being with becoming, the unchangeable with the changeable, the true being attained by pure thought, and the becoming that is attained by sensation’. Audouard argues this approach is the key to the constitution of Plato’s notion of participation or community [κοινωνία]. If there is no interpenetration between the forms, there can be nothing other than a pure identity, which would make all thinking impossible (67). What the Philosopher (as opposed to the Sophist) seeks is ‘unity in the multiple, and multiplicity in the one’, and he perceives ‘opposition and alterity’ as the means to construct such a link. ‘The limitation of being by non-being founds the possibility of the Whole’ (67).

Audouard turns to the dialectic of the genus of movement itself. We know that movement is other than rest. But movement, as a genus, as well as being the ‘same’ as itself, is also other than the ‘same’, one of the other genera. It is therefore both the same and not the same: Plato achieves a proto-Hegelian ‘Aufhebung’ of the Sophist by dialecticising the genera.

We must admit that movement is the same and is not the same, and we must not be disturbed thereby; for when we say it is the same and not the same, we do not use the words alike. When we call it the same, we do so because it partakes of the ‘same’ in relation to itself, and when we call it not the same, we do so on account of the community it has with the other, by which it is separated from the ‘same’, and becomes not that but other, so that it is correctly spoken of in turn as ‘not the same’ (256a-b; CpA 3.4:68).

The ‘triumph of the Stranger’ (68) is secured through the decisive move of qualifying non-being as ‘otherness’ (or difference: to heteron):

So it seems that, when one part of the nature of the other and one part of that of being are mutually opposed to each other, this opposition is not, if it is not wrong for me to say so, no less truly being than being itself, for it is not at all the contrary of being that it expresses, but simply something other than it. [...] It is clear that this is precisely the non-being we were looking for because of the Sophist (258b; CpA 3.4:68).

Audouard observes that this allows Plato to arrive at a new definition of the Sophist. Through the conversion of non-being into the concept of the other, the Sophist loses his aporetic power, and is subjected to judgment (68). ‘By refusing non-being to the profit of the other, the Stranger believes himself to have shown that non-being is just a creation of the Sophist’, and that the latter’s refusal to ascribe any ontological significance to it leads him into contradiction.

The preceding passages should be referred to Lacan’s account in the session of 12 May 1965 in Seminar XII (two weeks before Audouard’s presentation) of the passage on the genera at Sophist 254-58. Lacan suggests that the contraries Plato elicits, being and non-being, are not to be found ‘in the real’ but are ‘signifying oppositions’.9 ‘It is around this that there revolves the whole Platonic development. This dyad [of being and non-being], as it subsists in Plato’s thinking, requires the introduction of the Other as such. In order that being and non-being should not also be contraries equally existing, thus giving shelter to all the conjuring tricks of the sophist, it is necessary that non-being should be established as other, in order [in turn] that the sophist can be rejected there.’10 Lacan draws attention to the analogy between the Sophist, whose theme is the attempt to introduce order into dyadic, oppositional thinking, and to find the place of non-being in thought and language, and the process by which the child enters speech through the navigation of signifying oppositions (as expressed in Freud’s account of the child’s ‘fort-da’ game; SE 18:14-15) and an encounter with the ‘non-being’ latent in language:

Everything that I will say about this other in what is going to follow, emerges, is already perfectly articulated at the end of the Sophist, which I invoked for you just now under the rubric of the Other. If the modern status of the subject is not given in Plato, it is insofar as there escapes there, that there is not articulated there, the tension that there is between this Other and the One, and which would allow us to ground this Other as what I call the One-more (Un-en-plus), it is One-more that you only see emerging in the theory of numbers with Frege. In other words, the conception of the singular as essentially lack.

The Sophist exposes in a raw form the ‘the signifier representing the subject in a function of alternation, of vel, of either/or’.11In ‘Le Point du signifiant’ (CpA 3.5), Jean-Claude Milner takes Lacan’s suggestions in a different direction to that taken by Audouard. He returns to Plato’s account of the genera, showing how the Stranger’s aim is to discover which genera ‘mix’ or ‘blend’ with each other, which lend themselves to community and which do not, in order to arrange a hierarchy among them. For Milner, the autonomous self-differentiation of the genera serves as the key to a logic of the signifier.

It is still necessary to confine the Sophist to his proper domain: in ‘discourse’ (68). If falsity can be real, it is only insofar as it is part of discourse. The last battle between the Stranger and Sophist will thus be fought on the latter’s terrain: in the domain of opinion and discourse, truth and falsity (CpA 3.4:68). Theaetetus asks, ‘I do not understand why we need to define discourse in common at this moment’ (260b). The Stranger responds:

We have discovered that non-being is a determined genus among other genera, and that it is distributed throughout the whole sequence of beings [...]. We now have to see if it mixes with opinion and discourse [...]. If it does not mix with them, it is inevitable that everything will be true; if it does mix with them, then false opinion and discourse will be produced. The fact that there are non-beings that are represented or can be enunciated amounts also to falsity in thought and discourse. But where there is falsity, there is deception. [...] But we said that the sophist had taken refuge in this region and had absolutely denied the existence of falsehood: for he had said that non-being did not in any way participate in being (260b-d; CpA 3.4:69).

This is how to establish ‘the being of the false’ (69). It is possible to say false things; discourse, imagination and opinion are all capable of producing illusions. But the non-being produced by falsity is a function of discourse: if things are said of something that are other than what that thing is, then a false discourse is being produced, which is in principle capable of being corrected by appealing to the established use of ‘names’ (69) and the ordering of the parts of discourse.

Nevertheless, according to Audouard, there is a further ‘double’ nature of the simulacrum to be accounted for. The simulacrum can be both an instrument, and a person who makes a simulacrum by lending themselves to it as an instrument. In other words, one may imitate knowingly or unknowingly. ‘I think we must say that such an imitator is quite different from the other, the one who does not know from the one who knows’ (263d). The Sophist knows nothing, imitating nothing more than opinion; according to a neologism of Plato’s, he is a doxomime (70). He imitates unknowingly. This is to be distinguished from the maieutic discourse of the wise man, who when he defines justice, proceeds from dichotomy to dichotomy, in such a way that his initial unknowing is retrospectively revealed as essential for his knowing at the end. However, things are not so simple. To whom should we attribute subjectivity, to the one who speaks unknowingly, or to the subject at which one arrives by following the dichotomic procedure? The problem is that the wise man or sage puts himself in the position of ‘the subject supposed to know’. He presents himself as always having known what it is necessary to know. The Sophist, on the other hand, is the one who ‘claims that to know and not to know amount to the same thing, because there is no truth in the simulacrum, and because the gap [écart] which created the simulacrum differentiates it as much from the copy of reality as from reality itself’ (71). Retrospectively, we can say that it is the simulacrum that institutes the subject by incorporating this gap. The subject can only be brought to light at each moment of the dichotomic procedure, in such a way that it will never achieve a full view of the totality of the gaps through which it has been constituted. The subject to be known is thus itself finally a simulacrum, a ‘fantasy’, because it can never be known except from the particular point of view of the subject to whom it reveals itself.

In the last analysis, concludes Audouard, returning to the spectre invoked at the beginning of the piece, it is the Sophist alone who prevents the dialogue on the sophist from becoming an enormous sophism. The Sophist ‘institutes himself like the zero, from which enumeration will begin and as the zero which is going to sustain it so that it can be obtained’ (71). It is the Sophist who ‘permits all the enumerations of the Stranger’, apart from the latter’s desire that the zero of arrival should be ‘the One of knowledge’, which he thwarts by forcing the abandonment of Parmenidean being in its integrity during the course of the dialectic. The Stranger claims to possess science, in place of all those who admit they do not have it. He wants to be the subject of all knowledge. But the course of the dialogue undermines that possibility for the Stranger, and his victory over the Sophist comes at a cost.

Audouard ends by suggesting that the Sophist ‘speaks to us, and about us, every day on our couches’ (70). The Sophist ‘speaks in us when we listen to those who speak: he is the obsessional soul who haunts every place of analysis’. Finally, the Sophist, as the subject who has lost his bearings in the constitutive gap of the simulacrum, is ‘nothing less than the analyst himself’.12

References to this text in other articles in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse:


English translation:


Primary bibliography:

  • Barnes, Jonathan, ed. Early Greek Philosophy. London: Penguin, 1987.
  • Plato. Sophist, trans. Harold North Fowler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, Loeb Classical Library, 1921.
  • ---. Le Sophiste. In Platon, Œuvres complètes, VIII, 3, ed. and trans. Auguste Diès. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1923.
  • Lacan, Jacques. Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis (1964-65), trans. Cormac Gallagher. Unpublished manuscript.
  • 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).

Selected secondary literature:

  • Cornford, Francis MacDonald. Plato’s Theory of Knowledge. The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato translated with a running commentary. London: Routledge, 1935.
  • O’Donnell, Barry. ‘Lacan and the Sophist - Indications of the Logic of the Subject’, Psychoanalytische Perspectieven 41/42 (2000).


1. At the end of his first exposition of the Sophist Lacan says that he would like one of his audience to give a commentary on ‘the astonishing embrace between Plato and the sophist’. He wants the participant ‘to show in it what appears everywhere, the extraordinary similarity, the shimmering reflection which means that at every turn of the page we read in it the characteristics of the palpitation that is current and present in the history of the psychoanalyst himself’ (Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 6-7).

2. The dialogue Theaetetus has been dated as not earlier than 390BCE. The end of the Theaetetus mentions a meeting between Socrates and Theodorus to take place the following day (210d), and the Sophist begins with a reference to ‘yesterday’s agreement’ about meeting. The Sophist was therefore the sequel to Theaetetus, although it could have been written at any time between 390 and 347BCE. The Greek title of the dialogue is ΣΟΦΙΣΤΗΣ. In the mediaeval manuscripts translated in the Loeb edition of the Sophist, the dialogue has the subtitle ‘Η ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΨ ΟΝΤΣ. ΛΟΓΙΚΟΣ’ [‘On Being: Logical’].

3. Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Sophist is online via Project Gutenberg, at

4. Lacan, Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, 12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 6-7.

5. Here Audouard implicitly connects the logical subject of a judgment with the subject in Lacanian psychoanalysis.

6. The Stranger suggests that maturity puts an end to such illusory games, which appear trifling in the face of the realities of life. After Theaetetus and the Stranger reassert their difference in age, the Stranger advises the young man that ‘we are in fact trying to bring you as close as possible to the realities and spare you the experience’ (234d-e). As Audouard notes at this point in the paper delivered in Lacan’s seminar (but not in the actual text), ‘the simulacrum created in discourse will be overturned by the realities of life’. Audouard immediately associates the Stranger’s attitude here with the situation of psychoanalysis in the USA, and, playing on the terms ‘USA’ and ‘usages’, echoes Lacan’s concerns about the emphasis on ‘adaptation to the realities of life’ in American ego-psychology. On the latter view, it would be our wisdom and love of ‘reality’ that allows us to denounce the Sophist as a magician or illusionist (CpA 3.4:58).

7. Auguste Diès’ 1923 translation of Plato’s Sophist – which Audouard uses in this article – translates φάντασμα as ‘simulacre’.

8. Parmenides, B. 2.1-6, in Barnes, ed., Early Greek Philosophy, 132.

9. Here Audouard takes up remarks by Lacan in Seminar XII. For Lacan, Plato’s attempt to relate the One to the Other at 258b of the Sophist reveals the basic tertiary structure of signification. It reveals ‘the conception of a “subject” as that which corresponds to the position of the signifier – I mean the elementary signifier of the phoneme – in the system where the signifying battery, where there is established the concrete reality of every existing tongue’ (12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 6).

10. Lacan, Seminar XII, 12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 7.

11. Lacan, Seminar XII, 12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 7.

12. Lacan’s connection of the Sophist with the psychoanalyst provides the space for the theoretical conflict between Audouard and Milner: ‘The psychoanalyst is the presence of the sophist in our time, but with a different status from which the reason has emerged [...] why these sophists operated with so much force and also without knowing why. The moment of force is based on something that analysis teaches us: the fact is that at the root of every dyad, there is the sexual dyad’ (12 May 1965, 18th session; Gallagher version, 8).