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Synopsis of Serge Leclaire, ‘Compter avec la Psychanalyse. Séminaire de l’École Normale Supérieure 1965-1966’, II

[‘Reckoning with Psychoanalysis. Seminar at the École Normale Supérieure 1965-1966’, II]

CpA 3.6:84–96

This is the second instalment of Serge Leclaire’s three-part seminar (CpA 1.5, CpA 3.6, CpA 8.6) at the ENS, ‘Reckoning with Psychoanalysis’. This instalment is composed of two sessions, the first on ‘The Drives’ [Les Pulsions], took place on 12 January 1966; the second, entitled ‘Elements for a Psychoanalytical Problematic of Desire’, on 2 February. The questions at the end of the second session relay a crucial debate between Leclaire on the one side, and Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner on the other. This discussion is translated in full at the end of this synopsis.

Session 1: ‘The Drives’ [‘Les pulsions’]

12 January 1966. From notes taken by François Guéry.

Leclaire begins with material from a case study, which he reads in the light of Freud’s theory of drives. The clinical fragment depicts a patient (Claude), whose ‘discourse is marked by a demand for constant punctuation from the other, a desire for his discourse to be scanned and closed by his interlocutor’ (CpA 3.6:84). His speech is hampered by respiratory symptoms. In the analysis, he tells of a difficult birth, involving a ‘veil’ (voile) over the mother, and the stitching up of her body (which thus bore ‘suturing points’ [points de suture]). Leclaire identifies a persistent fantasy of reparation, involving the fantasmatic representation of a valve, rooted in the oral drive. He offers that ‘the themes of punctuation, scansion [scansion], and closure [clôture] emerge as an effect of this obturating valve’ (84). Reconstructing the patient’s story, Leclaire found that it was Claude, not the mother, who shortly after his birth had to submit to a reparatory surgical intervention, from which he emerged with a slight malformation of the soft palate [voile du palais] that made sucking difficult. Leclaire suggests that in this atypical case, the surgical repair in the mode of a suture constitutes a model of a primary satisfaction of the drive [satisfaction pulsionnelle], insofar as the subject’s oral drive was literally subject to a twisting and reformation (taking the patient to the edge of a psychotic structure). Claude’s demands for scansion, punctuation and closure in the analytic session stemmed from the uncertain nature of the process of repression to which he submitted in the course of the development of his drives.

Leclaire then turns to the central Freudian text on the drive, ‘Drives and their Vicissitudes’ [‘Triebe und Triebschicksale’].1 Referring to Freud’s division of the drive into four components - its pressure [Drang], aim [Ziel], object [Objekt], and its source [Quelle] (SE 14: 122), Leclaire gives a definition of the drive as follows: ‘the drive is the psychic representative of a constant force emanating from the interior of the organism and which tends to satisfy itself by the suppression of the state of tension that reigns at the source of the drive itself’ (CpA 85). Leclaire highlights that (1) the psychoanalyst always has to do with psychic representatives [représentants] - emotions and felt drives, and he suggests that it is vain to interrogate what is represented by starting from the representative; (2) the ‘constancy of force’ Freud attributes to the drive appeals to the energetic and quantitative side of his theory; and (3) it is the fact that the drive emanates from the interior of the organism that makes it problematic for the organism, since the latter cannot flee it as in the case of an external threat and (4) according to Freud, the object that permits the reduction of tension is secondary to the psychic process of the satisfaction of the drive. Leclaire remarks that the sexual drives are at the centre of this conception (due to their relative independence from the ego-drives; cf. SE 12: 222).

The problem of the drives is situated within an economic perspective. The increase and diminution of tension corresponds to unpleasure and pleasure respectively. Taking up again point made in his ‘Note sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’ (CpA 2.5:132-33), Leclaire notes that this theory encounters difficulties in Freud’s later work with regard to masochism and the discovery of the repetition compulsion. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud manages to conserve the basic economic conception by proposing that the search for pleasure presupposes the existence of ‘short-circuit’ towards death as supreme pleasure and cessation of all tension, with the ‘life-drives’ [pulsions de vie] obstructing this goal by creating a ‘long circuit’ for the satisfaction of drives. ‘The true definition of the drive’ is thus to be sought in the dynamic that results between the short and long circuits. Citing once more a key reference from Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Leclaire says that ‘the difference between the satisfaction obtained and the satisfaction sought always pushes the subject onwards because the path behind towards complete satisfaction is barred in general’: ‘the drive situates itself within this same difference’ (CpA 86; cf. SE 18: 42; CpA 1.5/68, CpA 2.5:129, 134 and CpA 5.1:17). Leclaire reasons that if the first object is unattainable, then the fact of difference is established from the beginning, and the real aim of the ‘pressure’ cannot be the reduction of a difference in tension, but the actualisation of an irreducible difference. This leads to an ‘adjusted’ definition of the drive:

The repressed drive is a constant force which assures and maintains the difference that is experienced as satisfaction at the level of the body. In the case of Claude, the first satisfaction is the suture of the soft palate [voile palatin]. This makes the difference appear between the level of the need where a determined object pacifies the tension and that of pleasure, which aims at an indifferent object. Pleasure is the evocation of the non-difference as non-attained (CpA 3.6:86).

Leclaire then takes up the problem of the ‘constancy’ of the pressure of the drive. Freud assumes the coexistence of the constancy of the drive with ‘a certain pulsation’ [pulsation]. The drive ‘implies that the body is affected by the bursting open of the primary needs; it is a surface affected by holes that become signifying places in relation to the loss of the first object’ (CpA 87). But the body surface can also act as a resistance, insofar as it can be marked by an encounter. In Claude’s case, the suturing of his cleft palate left a trace that went beyond the physical scar. At this primary level, repression is not yet involved; rather, the representative of the emotion presents itself as an onomatopoeia of the clicking of the tongue: ‘cl’o’ (which is like ‘an interpellation of the subject Claude’, as well as recalling the verb ‘clore’ (to close). Leclaire notes that for Lacan, however, ‘there is something irrepressible in the current of the drive [le courant pulsionnel], that does indeed imply repression even at this level’.

Where Freud says that the object is non-specific and is interchangeable (cf. SE 14: 122-23), and Lacan says it is an ‘almost-nothing’ [presque-rien], Leclaire now specifies the role of the object of the drive as ‘something that assures, and therefore does not reduce, the difference between a similar and non-similar, or “parallel” and “non-parallel” [pareil and non-pareil]. It is the very splitting of the difference. The object is where the drive underlines its value as an index of the split between the terms of a couple object lost - object present. The repressed drive aims towards the object as a remainder of the signifying order’. Is the object of the drive a signifier or the objet petit a in Lacan’s sense? Leclaire explains that these two are indissociable: insofar as it is the terminus of sought-for satisfaction, it is the objet petit a, but insofar as it is connected with a differentiation in the body, it is a signifier. The difference between the objet petit a and the obtained corporeal satisfaction is ‘lived’ as an ‘antinomy of pleasure’, and through ‘the representation of the splitting of the subject’ [la schize du sujet] (CpA 87).

With regard to the duality of the drive, Leclaire says that by virtue of the drive emanating from the interior, it appears as a non-flight [non-fuite] from its source, but that it nevertheless aims at the installing of something ‘other’ that is both separable and pacifying. The death drive aims at the ‘objectal’ side of the object, and reintroduces the separable element as something lost, while the life drives affirm the separable thing as signifier, albeit one that transgresses the corporeal surface. It is the drive that assures the putting in place of a deep structure in which the subject is not yet placed, and is characterised by its lack of the lost object and the alterity of the separable, corporeal components towards which it is directed.

Session 2: ‘Elements for a Psychoanalytic Problematic of Desire’

2 February 1966. From notes taken by Jacques Nassif.

An analysis of the terms ‘wish’ and ‘desire’ is necessary. Freud’s term ‘Wish’ [Wunsch] is ‘the master key to the Interpretation of Dreams’.2 It is translated into French as ‘désir’, but the latter more appropriately translates the German ‘Begierde’. Lacan’s notion of desire, moreover, is not identical in meaning to Freud’s term ‘wish’. In Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, four types of wishes are distinguished, which Leclaire enumerates as follows:

- Desires originating in natural needs (to drink, to urinate) that oppose the need to sleep.

- Non-realised preconscious desires revived in the dream.

- Desires that have never been fulfilled and that are still repressed in the unconscious.

- Unconscious desires properly speaking: inaccessible and irreducible.

In the context of Freud’s account of the psychic apparatus as a ‘reflexive system tending to reduce external and internal excitations to the minimum’, desire (that is, the ‘wish’) emerges when the subject tries ‘to re-establish the identity between a perception and a mnemic trace that has become associated with it following an appeasement of a first excitation’ (CpA 90; cf. SE 5: 565-6). In the absence of the object that was responsible for the appeasement, the infant ‘hallucinates’ a satisfaction that is more or less efficacious. ‘Thus the aim of this first psychical activity was to produce a “perceptual identity” - a repetition of the perception which was linked with the satisfaction of the need’ (SE 5: 566). On its own, the primary process knows nothing other than desire, and aims simply for a pleasurable discharge. The secondary system in turn invests memories in such a way that reminiscences of unpleasure are blocked, and a durable and secure satisfaction is attained. The kind of ‘thought’ that emerges as a result of the secondary process is devoted to the maintenance of a system of ‘detours’. Thus a ‘fundamental relationship’ is established between thought and pleasure, with an opposition emerging between ‘unconscious desires’ on the one hand, and the aims of the secondary process on the other (CpA 91).

In the second part of the session, Leclaire returns to the object of the drive (introduced in the session of 12 January). In relation to its object, the drive appears as the ‘actualisation of an irreducible and ungraspable difference’. Leclaire proposes that this dimension of ‘difference’ reappears in the case of desire in the distinction between primary and secondary satisfaction. The same difference between a ‘parallel’ and ‘non-parallel’ occurs, and the same relation of geometrical incommensurability Leclaire sketches out in ‘Note sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’ (CpA 2.5:134-35) is also present in desire. The objet petit a is irreducible and ungraspable, just as rational numbers can be figured in geometry, but are ungraspable as individual numbers.

There are three levels of cleavage or split [clivage]: (1) Need presupposes a relation to an object that is split and detached from the body. (2) The drive presupposes a split between the trace and its repression. (3) Desire involves a cleavage through the exclusion that introduces the dimension of the subject, or of ‘redoubled alterity’ (92).

In the third part, Leclaire proposes that desire is fundamentally bound to sexuality and alterity, and therefore implies four different splits or cleavages: the cleavage of sexual differentiation; the cleavage of the signifier and the object; the signifying order itself; the constitution of the subject as excluded (92). With regard to the first cleavage, Leclaire refers back to his previous discussion of the construction of the libidinal surface in ‘Du corps au lettre’ [‘From the Body to the Letter’] in CpA 1.5:66-69 (‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’, I, 15 December 1965). With regard to the second, he reiterates that:

The object is presented in the order of the signifier in the same way as the irrational number is for the Pythagoreans: it is this fallen remainder [ce reste chu] of signifying concatenation, incapable of being integrated by it, although it cannot do without to support itself. The object is first of all this non-unarisable [non-unarisable] remainder, in the sense of the unary aspect of the signifier; it is defined as pre-unary, or, to take up the formulation that was employed with relation to the body, as the non-dual [le non-deux] (92).

His discussion of the signifying order develops several ideas that will provoke discussion amongst Leclaire, Miller and Milner at the end of the session. Alluding to the conception of the relation between truth and discourse set out in Miller’s ‘Avertissement’ to the first volume of the Cahiers pour l'Analyse (CpA 1.Introduction), Leclaire says that the signifying order is composed of concatenations in a sequence that is ‘constrained by truth’. He immediately notes, however, that for the psychoanalyst, this constraint is also corporeal, and that he must consider the signifying order as an ‘incarnated order’. The object is the correlate of this order, ‘insofar as it is defined by its relationship to the signifier in the relation of dejection [déjection].’ He says he will clarify this by reference to two ‘modalities’:

a. The genealogical tree: the object appears as a ‘deject’ [déjet] in the order of a certain engendering by the body that poses the structural model of Oedipus (cf. how genealogy comes directly after the recounting of the fall in the Bible).

b. The open cycle: in the structural model of procreation through reproduction, the signifying order is a loop [boucle] that repeats itself but never coincides with itself and leaves a little remainder at each turn of the spiral [spire] (93). [A diagram illustrates this conception by means of an incomplete circle, with the insignia ‘(a)Δ’ signifying the ‘remainder’].

These formulations indicate that Leclaire conceives a close relationship between the signifying order and the order of kinship and lineage. A ‘structural model of procreation through reproduction’ undergirds the order of the signifier. He then specifies that:

The child can precisely be considered as an object (a) of the same type as this object that falls, is produced and separated. And if the mother considers him uniquely as an object (a) as a remainder [reste], making abstraction from the fact that the child is itself split [clivé], that is to say, affected by need, and by lack-in-being as well as marked by sex, the destiny of the latter risks being psychotic. But, inversely, he can be considered exclusively in the manner of a signifier, and if the mother remains in this relation of pure nomination, the destiny of the child is equally at risk of being psychotic (93).

For the parents, the child appears as ‘the place of the elective projection’ [lieu de projection électif] of the two preceding cleavages: that of the non-dual (object) and that of the unary (signifier). Thus the child will be shaped by the unconscious desires of its parents.

Finally, Leclaire turns to the constitution of the subject properly speaking, in the mode of exclusion. ‘It is in this play of the non-dual and the one that the proper dimension of the subject is established’. Where the object appears as a ‘dejection’ in the signifying order, the subject always first appears in a relation of exclusion. Leclaire refers to the linguistic definition of the signifier as a ‘materiality invested with a certain power of appeal’ (93), inscribed in a ‘time of succession’, and asserts that the subject that appears in relation to this unfolded [déroulé] nature of the signifier presents itself as a ‘scansion’. Borrowing Jacques-Alain Miller’s formulation in ‘Suture’, Leclaire says the subject appears as ‘flickering in eclipses’ (CpA 1.3:49; trans. 34), while the object, on the other hand, is situated laterally on the outside of this scansion.

Reviewing this series of different cleavages or splits, Leclaire concludes that four terms are central: the signifier, subject, object and body. The movement called desire counts each of these as its necessary elements. What now remains to be done, he says, is to map out the different normal and pathological ‘modalities’ of this formation of the subject of desire.

In conclusion, Leclaire proposes six ‘constants’ that each supply a partial description of the ‘movement’ of desire. He enumerates, without developing them, the following characters (93-4):

1. Alienation: the desire of man is the desire of the other. Perhaps implicitly referring to Freud’s notion of the ‘prehistoric, unforgettable Other’ who provides the first experience of satisfaction (Letter 52 to Fliess, 1896; SE 1: 239), Leclaire says that for Freud desire is of an other (rather than the Other, but that this other is ultimately ‘the unconscious’.

2. Focalisation, in the relation to an object that is cause of desire. This object cannot accommodate itself to reality, and thus is not to be found in reality.

3. By virtue of the reciprocal implication of the drive and object, the object (the ‘almost nothing’) is not so much marked by a relation to an other, as to a third that relates the objective and subjective poles of desire.

4. Desire is always sexual, because it has the function of ‘engendering’. Perhaps referring to his earlier discussion of the structure of procreation, Leclaire says that desire ‘transcends the organisation of the individual’. He adds that reference to the phallus makes most sense when the child appears in its first guise, as both objet petit a and signifier in the relation of desire (with the parental figures).

5. Desire requires organisation around a fantasy. Leclaire cites Lacan’s formula of fantasy: ‘$ ◊ a’.

6. Finally, the singular terms that universally mark the movement of desire for each subject are nevertheless irreducible in each case.


From notes taken by Jacques Nassif. [Translation of CpA 3.6:94-96].

Responding to a demand for clarification, Dr Leclaire insists on the necessity of maintaining the distinction between the signifier (Sa) and its remainder (a), that which does not permit the definition of Sa by the unarity of the trait: the one of this trait interests us insofar as it is developed and connotes an effect of transgression.

In order to underline the difficulty of this distinction, he remarks that the analyst is in a situation which is close to the perverse position, tending to handle the signifier as if it were an object.

Milner puts in question this ‘laterality’ of the object by relating it to the signifier: is it not possible to insert it in the signifying order, by discerning it as that which, in the non-coinciding cycle traced out by Dr Leclaire, assumes the calm function of the non-cyclical [la fonction calme du non-cyclique]? It would then be worthwhile to specify the places where such a function can anchor itself and to take up the two figurations of the signifying order advanced by Dr Leclaire, the tree (genealogical) and the cycle, by showing, perhaps with reference to logical formalisation, how to pass from one to the other figuration, or why there is no contradiction between them.

Dr Leclaire then insists once again on the irreducibility of the object in the order of the nameable: when I say that the dimension of the constraint is represented in large part by the body, I place all possible weight on this in order to make sure that this signifying order is not reduced to some theoretical schema that conjures away the dimension of ‘suture’. He then raises the discussion on the subject of the definition of this signifying order by concatenation. Is it enough to say this?

[95] Milner: In the concatenation, what I retain is the plurality of elements and the constraints that induce the relations of these elements.

Leclaire: Then nothing has been said about the signifying order, insofar nothing has been said about the elements of this concatenation nor of the nature of this constraint.

Milner: The nature of the constraint? It can only be formal.

Leclaire: In the singular experience towards which analysis aims, the constraint is also that of the events marking childhood. In order to better describe this constraint, it would be necessary to return with greater exigency to the description of repression as a process engendering a return to a trace.

Miller remarks that, although the object is ‘dejected’ when the subject is ‘excluded’, subject and object, without which there is floating or confusion, are both homogeneous insofar as they constitute a correlation. If with relation to all geometrical space, the subject and the object are in a relation of aberration, is that to say that the impossible object becomes subject? Not at all, for the impossible object is not a remainder, but a lack. Logical discourse subsumes this lack of the object that defines the subject of the lack. And this object which can only lack because it is named, is the subject. The object (a) is therefore the zero as lack.

If the subject is the scansion of the chain of movement and the object the calm function of this chain, the object can be said to be what is in excess and the subject is in deficit. As regards what is involved in the relation between 0 = (a) and the other elements of the signifier, I would hazard: the object (a) is the very signifier of the suture.

Dr Leclaire then remarks that [in that case] the object is no longer heterogeneous to the signifier, and asks once again if the definition of the signifier as unary trait is sufficiently explicit.

Miller responds that this definition takes account of the property of the signifier to necessarily repeat itself, without doubling itself. As for the materiality of the signifier, which one could designate as the ‘insignified [insignifié] of the signifier’ - this irreducible non-sense that is the ‘letter’ legitimates the image of the unary trait which is there in order to designate the minimal trait of meaning [sens].

Dr Leclaire asks himself it is possible to determine the calm element of the chain.

Milner gives the example of the proper name, which can, in certain cases, function as a calm element, occupying the place of the (a).

Dr Leclaire: Can one say that this calm element constitutes a part of the chain?

Miller: Yes, like the zero in the sequence of numbers.

Dr Leclaire: There is therefore a homogeneity of the subject and the object in this formula.

Miller: It is the minimal homogeneity made necessary by the correlation.

Dr Leclaire: But which effaces the no less necessary heterogeneity of the terms.

Milner: It would be necessary then to distinguish between terms and places. The terms are heterogeneous, while there is a homogeneity attached to the places.

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


English translation:


Primary bibliography:

  • Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams [1900]. In Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-1974. Vol. 4-5. [Hereafter ‘SE’ followed by volume number].
  • ---. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality [1905], SE 7.
  • ---. ‘The Sexual Theories of Children’ [1908], SE 9.
  • ---. ‘Drives and their Vicissitudes’ [1915], SE 14.
  • ---. ‘The Unconscious’ [1915], SE 14.
  • ---. ‘Repression’ [1915], SE 17.
  • ---. Beyond the Pleasure Principle [1920], SE 18.
  • ---. ‘The Ego and the Id’ [1923], SE 19.
  • ---. ‘The Economic Problem of Masochism’ [1924], SE 19.
  • ---. ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’ [1937], SE 23.
  • Leclaire, Serge. ‘Compter avec la Psychanalyse. Séminaire de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure 1965-1966’, CpA 1.5
  • ---. ‘Note sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’. CpA 2.5.
  • ---. ‘Compter avec la Psychanalyse. Séminaire de l’École Normale Supérieure 1966-1967, III’. CpA 8.6.
  • ---.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).
  • Milner, Jean-Claude. ‘Le Point du signifiant’. CpA 3.5


1. Translated as ‘Instincts and their Vicissitudes’ in the English Standard Edition.

2. Freud’s Traumdeutung (Interpretation of Dreams) was translated into French in 1926 as Science des rêves; Leclaire cites this title.