VIII Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis WAP
World Association of Psychoanalysis

23rd to 27th April 2012
Hilton Hotel

Macacha Güemes 351, Puerto Madero
Buenos Aires City, Argentina

Organization project of the AMP nights
The Symbolic Order in the 21st Century. It's no longer what it was. What consequences does this have for the treatment?
by Rose-Paule Vinciguerra

1. The symbolic order and its decline
It seems to me that these preparatory evenings cannot avoid a definition of what we understand by "the symbolic order" in the context of Lacan’s work. Lacan began by referring psychical effects to the imaginary mode,[1] and desire to the desire for recognition. In the latter case it is a question of being compatible with the order of the world.

However, the way the symbolic order takes hold of the human being and structures human reality was soon grasped by Lacan. In "The Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’", in particular, this order is linked to a law, to the law of language and the combinatory structure of the signifier as it deploys itself in the story. The unconscious is structured like a language and it is also the discourse of the Other where the emitter receives his own message in an inverted form.

Of course, Lacan articulated this symbolic on the basis of Saussure, Jakobson and Levi-Strauss, while at the same time demarcating his own conception from theirs. The paternal metaphor was the keystone for this order which coincided with "the subjectivity of the époque" organised around the agency of the master signifier.

The symbolic and its order was thus asserted as dominant to the point that the drive itself (even given that not everything can be said) was written in terms of signifiers and desire posed in terms of the signified. As for the imaginary, which is where "confusions in the symbolic stem from"[2] only the symbolic can re-transcribe it and sort it out.

From this perspective, the symbolic is the condition of existence in reality[3] and the real is excluded from this, just as it is excluded from analysis. In fact, in this period of Lacan’s teaching,[4] what holds is the structure of language. However, there is the impossible to say and the desire engendered by the symbolic will finally turn out to be incompatible with speech.[5] The symbolic is incomplete; it is holed so that it is impossible for the subject to discover "where it is".

In the course of Lacan’s teaching, the real will little by little be situated outside what is symbolised and the symbolic will, like the imaginary, be thought of as defence against the real of jouissance.[6]

However, in another development where the same terms are taken up but with a different usage, Lacan will elaborate the inclusion of jouissance in the drive and then establish a link between the signifier and jouissance (particularly in Seminar XI). Lacan will go as far as to conceive the primitive relation between the signifier and jouissance (Seminar XVII). The signifier itself will become an apparatus of jouissance. The autonomy of the symbolic order will thus be effaced.

At the end of his teaching, on the basis of a generalised approach to psychosis, Lacan will make of the real that which obeys no law and excludes the symbolic over which it has supremacy. "The Orientation towards the real […] forecloses meaning".[7] In this respect, the object a itself becomes insufficient for capturing what the real is all about.[8] How, then, shall the symbolic be characterised? It will be incarnated in the very material of lalangue, which is not in the body. Speech thus becomes that of the One all alone who "speaks for himself" with the drive.[9] From this point on, the unconscious is no longer the discourse of the Other, because each person only speaks their own language. The unconscious is thus a hypothesis that one constructs on the basis of the hole in the real. Thus, the harmony of the subject with the symbolic is effaced and what is manifested in analysis are rather the tangles that the symbolic traps the subject in. The symbolic is thus only a certain arrangements of semblants.

In the treatment, it concerns making "subjects ‘recite their lesson’ in their grammar",[10] at the same time it concerns working out what repeats and what does not speak.

2. The social effects of this displacement in the symbolic order
Until now, the symbolic entailed that everyone had a place that was compatible with everybody else in society through the very fact of having surmounted the conflicts of the mirror stage. The social bond therefore assured the domination of a master signifier which imposed its order on discourse. Today, capitalism has undone identifications with the Ideal. After becoming the common market that Lacan was already stigmatising in the sixties, this new master-signifier has now been dissolved by globalisation which is but a "false figure of a false universal".[11]

In fact, the extension of democracy erodes the notion of the ultimate master-signifier. Every subject becomes free to invent his own and the existence of the One-all-alone founds contemporary individuality. Globalisation and the inexistence of the Other go together[12] when the Other, the Name-of-the-Father and the phallus no longer assure the conjunction between the agencies of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real.

What organises itself according to the laws of speech finds itself brought into disrepute. The Wikileaks effect testifies to the fact that the Other of good faith has been radically thrown into question.

Ideologies therefore try to reconstitute the One through the ideology of the One of equality or constitute the Other of the multiple[13] by opposing all forms of imperialist domination, but what they fail to grasp is that the social bond is only determined by the relation to jouissance itself.

How then is this infiltration of jouissance everywhere masked in discourse? Here we see the burgeoning demand for happiness for all in whatever way one wishes – while it is the standardised imperatives of the moment that are being imposed, without subjects being aware of it – or again the invocation of a "universal and animal nature present in each body" – which goes to the point of the injunction "One more effort to be an animal!" as Éric Laurent has suggestively put it[14]… But, what is not said is that the relation to jouissance has become a relation of addiction. It is no longer the naïve "enjoy freely" of May 1968, it is "enjoy better and quicker". The frenzy for consumption and various exploits has invaded every aspect of existence – with the secret hope of eroding the particularity of the symptom.

As Éric Laurent has noted, the political consequences of this deflation of the master-signifier are, on the one hand, a withdrawal into the fundamentalist reaction, with its murderous correlates in societies where the "cult of the unique Name" of God reigns, and, on the other, the opening up of a world which has the logical form of the not-all, in societies where this absolutism of the Name has been abolished. In the latter, the "inconsistent multiplicity (Cantor) and the not-all (Lacan)"[15] of feminine jouissance has replaced the symbolic order regulated by the Name-of-the-Father which has become a symptom. Elsewhere today we are witnessing revolutions that are full of hope, but we don’t know whether the Absolute of the name of God will triumph or the more widespread form of the untotalisable civilisation. Contemporary societies are being pulled between these two forms, even if psychoanalysis is only practiced in the second.

Yet, still worse than religion, which Lacan said would be on the rise, what Lacan was afraid of seems to be happening: science is taking the place of religion and in a way that is "even more despotic, obtuse, and obscurantist" than religion ever was.[16] Science rejected the Name-of-the-Father and would like "the real, this monstrous thing which does not exist, to be swept away". If science has been able to appear to treat the real through the symbolic and push the limits of the real further and further back, in reality, with its formulas, it produces a new real which excludes sense and invades space. The question of whether God exists is no longer of interest today; what prevails from a scientistic perspective is the existence of a nature that supposedly opens up the horizon of a neo-humanity.

3. What could the effects of this dissolution be when it comes to individual jouissances?
If the hierarchical symbolic order and the master-signifier constitute a defence against what is problematic about the sexual relation, today, as Jacques-Alain Miller has said, "the subject is confronted more directly with what is problematic about the sexual relation". In fact, there is a confrontation with the non-negative aspect of jouissance. It is no longer possible to deal with it on the basis of the phallus as a third term between the sexes and as the power of signification.

What thus prevails is the autism of jouissance. Subjects find themselves between anxiety and boredom and in this respect "the relation between the sexes will become more and more impossible".[17] The One all alone, ruled over by an anxiogenic surplus enjoyment [plus-de-jouir], "will be the post-human standard".

With the ascendance of the object a to the social zenith, erected as a tyrannical object, it is the drive fragment that reigns. With the oral object we have the various addictions, or the One of jouissance reiterated ad infinitum. With the anal object, the multiplication of waste (civilisation is a sewer) on the one hand and hording on the other (in this respect the art market itself has become a machine for financial speculation and short term profitability). A form of art that situates itself at the level of the postprandial, the communal toilet and the obscene is raised sky high. Supposedly making us enjoy, it only seems to maintain what Proust called the snobbery of scoundrels. With the scopic object we have so many multiple screens where subjects, observed in even the most insignificant of their choices, are manipulated at will. And finally we have vocal objects taking the form of objects of communication which "mask what is most real in the voice",[18] the command. However, this invasion of the object a is not to be interpreted as hedonism, for the incidence of the death drive is always at work in them.

This crescendo of an "asexuated" surplus enjoyment[19] only renders the non existence of the sexual relation more evident, while in the master’s discourse this non existence was a truth repressed by the master-signifier.

But beyond even the object a, which remains an "in-form of A",[20] it is above all the non-localisable aspect of feminine jouissance, which exceeds all phallic order, that leads us to reconsider the impasse of the sexual relation within the order of jouissances.

One thus sees the break-up of all institutional forms of union between partners, the creation of new master-signifiers in the gay community that challenge all identity, as well as their demand to be granted the institution of marriage, multiple forms of segregation, new forms of fertility, the reworking of bodies aiming at a future humanity freed from anatomical contingencies. The belief in a new form of sexuality thus makes its appearance which in fact is only "a throwing into question of identitarian assignations of jouissance".[21] Going along with this throwing of everything into question is the idea that the old symbolic order was the cause of all repression of jouissance. And communities of identification function "like an imaginary foundation for a symbolic neo-guarantee".[22]

4. What are the consequences for symptoms and their "treatment"?
The symptom remains, as Marx had discovered before Freud, "the sign of what does not work out in the real".[23] With the inconsistency of the Other, the master-signifiers which have today been displaced or abolished have thus engendered new symptoms.

On the basis of the decline of the father, one is no longer interested in parricide, but child abuse, as Éric Laurent has indicated. On the basis of the consumer society, there is a crushing interest in anorexia and bulimia. And "there needed to be a crisis in the question of the real for depression to acquire such an empire".[24] Technical advances in fertility treatment lead to anxiety about questions of filiation, adoption and parenthood. Contemporary civilisation produces formal reconfigurations of symptoms. These are no longer classed according to clinical entities, but are distributed according to unprecedented norms that the new leading lights of jouissance promote at the heart of this civilisation. Certain symptoms are born, others disappear, sometimes according to the economic necessities of laboratories or the tenants of behavioural re-education (as is born out by the posters stuck up in towns to trivialise autism).

Being opposed to standardised symptoms, the Lacanian clinic allows us not to give way on anything concerning the particularity of each case; and the clinic of the later Lacan allows us to refine our diagnostic reference points for "ordinary" psychosis as well as for "unclassifiable cases".

In this respect, the new symptoms prove to be impossible to insert, above all, in the dialectic between meaning and the real. In fact, for Freud, the symptom implied that there was "sense in the real".[25] Knowledge given in free association is enough to treat the symptom which, as such, poses an obstacle to the imperative discourse.[26]

But today there is a "scission between the sense and the real";[27] there is a scission in the being of the symptom. One no longer has the idea that one has to speak in order to reach it. And the discourse of science which has produced a new real that supposedly masters every symbolic has only reinforced that.

As for Lacan, he did not challenge knowledge in the real, but the latter remains without law and does not make for agreement between the sexes. Symptoms, even if they are articulated in signifiers, are symptoms of the sexual non-rapport. The real that they interrogate exceeds all semblants. There is no pre-existing order to characterise how symptoms depart from it. Thus psychoanalysis is asked "to unburden us of the real and of the symptom".[28]

Before this deflation of the old symbolic order, we witness a therapeutic panic: either symptoms are treated biochemically or else by privileging floods of meaning – and here, when it is not simply a question of an authoritarian mode of speech, the hearing that corresponds to it is one of pure semblance. Meaning is bluntly levelled and the symptom is either contradicted or overflowing on all sides. The Lacanian clinic neither muzzles nor proliferates the sense of the symptom. This is what allows it to undo alienating identifications. Beyond the Name-of-the-Father with which it continues to work, it takes account of the real in the symptom, "the parasite of jouissance".

5. How can Lacanian psychoanalysis be practiced today?
In 1968, Lacan was already saying: psychoanalysis "is a symptom of the point we have arrived at in what I will provisionally call civilisation".[29] But, as Jacques-Alain Miller puts it in "A Fantasy", if we are today without a compass, are we, for all that, "without discourse"? If our world cannot be put in order through universals, then to say "the unconscious is eternal" is to try to fortify a purely imaginary place of refuge. What about the exaltation of the symbolic conveyed by tradition and even the points of "convergence between the Bible and the Traumdeutung"[30] and the transformation "of the paternal metaphor into standards"?[31] Isn’t this merely to base oneself on an obsolete conception of the symbolic? The analyst does not have to be nostalgic for the Name-of-the-Father. If the impossible is his position, he cannot set himself against changes in civilisation. The inconsistency of the Other – that of civilisation and that which he has come to know through his analysis – is rather what he must support.

For all that, does the analyst have to be the dupe of progress? And of what progress? The progress of the multiplication of "lathouse" objects,[32] of ever available modes of satisfaction, with their cortege of ever new demands. By ignoring that in this way the want-of-enjoyment [manque-à-jouir] has spread across the surface of the globe, the psychoanalyst would only be a "collaborator" in the system that tells you "How to…". And can he be the dupe of the progress of the discourse of science and of its consequences on the psyche? Those who give way to being such a dupe only make psychoanalysis fall in step with false sciences, while believing themselves to be putting it in step with the real of science. As Leonardo Gorostiza notes, it is against this "neuro-cognitive translation of psychoanalysis" that our wager is to be made.[33] How will the analytic symptom be able to respond to the symptom of science?

The analyst is not an egalitarian. Faced with the contemporary demand for egalitarian transparency between the analysand and the analyst,[34] the Lacanian analyst, by contrast, installs a hierarchy. The unconscious of the analysand and the analyst are on the same side, but, through his silence, through the economy of his speech, through the timeliness of his interpretation, the analyst allows the subject supposed to know to be installed. In this respect, the analytic act does not support the semblant. But, as opposed to the authoritarianism of the DSM,[35] he leaves the subject his freedom to associate and recognise his responsibility. The analyst doesn’t treat through knowledge, through the S1 or through substitute objects. On the basis of subjective division, he simply allows the subject to have an access to the unconscious that is a little more supple.

However, if the subject supposed to know is the pivot of transference, what becomes of this subject supposed to know and the symbolic order that it implies when, in the treatment, this fades before the real of jouissance in play?

If the relation of subjects to jouissance makes them, henceforth, unconnected Ones, how are we to make the unconscious exist as knowledge, how can we establish the symbolic connection between the S1 and the S2? "Whoever is not in love with their unconscious errs", says Lacan in Les non-dupes errent.[36] With Lacan, we must therefore reverse the perspective and see, as Lacan did at the end of his teaching, that from now on "it is transference that is the pivot of the subject supposed to know".[37] For it is what allows the One-all-alone to enter into a relation with the Other of unconscious knowledge. In this respect, the presence of the desire of the psychoanalyst can solicit this love that subjects do not spontaneously have with their unconscious knowledge.

One must not believe that the psychoanalyst’s action is deployed in the horizon of an anticipated plenitude. For psychoanalysts are also victims of psychoanalysis. The consequences of psychoanalysis turn against its very practice. The semblants of the Oedipus and of castration have faded and from now on the impossible becomes its condition. The analyst is thus at the place of the "it fails" which is the manifestation of the relation to this impossible. The contingency of success in psychoanalysis does not invalidate the law of failure. Rather it is its demonstration.

If Lacanian practice has undergone a "deformation, a transformation, in the topological sense",[38] as Jacques-Alain Miller has underlined, it is this very transformation that allows it to overcome the consequences.

6. What are thus, in this particular context, the tasks of the analyst?
To believe and make believe in the symptom
The analyst only believes in one symptom in particular. He believes in this particularity, in the traumatic encounter that it conveys. But he must also make the subject believe in his symptom as "the way to enjoy the unconscious insofar as the unconscious determines it";[39] to make him believe in his symptom as an event of the body, setting himself against all treatments of the symptom through the dimension of the imaginary of the body. He can thus "render the symptom in its double contingency [...], inscribed in an Other that is already there and in a body in which it constitutes an event".[40]

In making itself thus the complement of the symptom, the analyst can counter the identification to a common symptom and reactivate the agalma which has been frozen. But if the symptom can lighten, even be forgotten, what can the analyst do for the irreducible, permanent part of the sinthome to be recognised by the analysand without it being taken up in the register of a negative therapeutic reaction? How can he, in this respect, undo the promise of happiness that the analysand has placed in him and get him to recognise his sinthomatic identity?

Disturbing the defence
The analyst does not take delight in the liberation from social mores "as he sees its other side, the new empire of jouissance",[41] which is nothing but the imperative jouissance of the superego.

From the first, the analyst is placed in the position of the object a, in the place of "what exceeds representation",[42] but he also has to deal with the inconsistency of the Other. However, it is on the bass of the void of the symbolic order that he can disturb the defence. Disturb and not signify the defence. But in order to do that, he must have discovered the un-symbolisable point of his own jouissance in order to keep it at a distance and so that this place can be empty and thereby have the chance of becoming an analytic act.

Show the Name-of-the-Father to be fake and pose the question of nomination
The desire of the psychoanalyst is certainly to obtain absolute difference, as Lacan put it in Seminar XI, but what appears earlier in his teaching is that the psychoanalyst has to "have a way with" ["savoir y faire avec"] the imaginary and symbolic incidence of jouissance as much as with its real incidence. For the contingency of the subject’s mode of jouissance to appear, the analyst must have supported the subject’s testing out of the necessity of structure and the impossible of the sexual relation.

This thus displaces the question of the father. It is the phallus as ineffaceable point of jouissance. Thus Lacan was able to say that "the Name-of-the-Father is […] something lightweight".[43] In the end, the Name-of-the-Father shows itself to be only a name of a mode of enjoyment. The analyst thus allows the question of nomination to be posed for the subject: that of the symptom, of the fantasy and of the sinthome, which operates on the basis of a reversal in relation to the point of fixation of jouissance and opposes itself to any appointing by the mother [nommé-à maternel]. It is on this condition that the analyst can counter the anguish and the boredom generated by contemporary civilisation. Thus one can say that "the analytic other side of contemporary civilisation is the inconsistent set of interpretations given to these symptoms".[44] As Lacan said in 1975, psychoanalysis is a symptom that appeared late in the day, for it was necessary that "something of a certain relation to substance, the substance of the human being, be preserved (without doubt because it is in danger)".[45] But, he adds, it is a symptom that one cannot reduce.


Translated from the French by Philip Dravers


  1. Lacan, J., "Presentation on Psychical Causality", Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink, New York and London, Norton, 2006, p. 145; taken up again by Jacques-Alain Miller in his Course of 2011 and in particular in the session of the 26 January 2011.
  2. Lacan, J., Écrits, op. cit., p. 607.
  3. Miller, J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne III, 9, Le tout dernier Lacan, course of 15 November 2006, unpublished.
  4. Between The Seminar Book I, Freud’s Paper’s on Technique (1956-1955) and Le Séminaire livre VI, Désir et son interprétation (1958-1959).
  5. Lacan, J., Écrits, op. cit., p. 535.
  6. This development is particularly manifested in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis; cf. Jacques-Alain Miller, "Les paradigms de la jouissance", in La Cause freudienne Issue 43, pp. 12-14.
  7. Lacan, J., Le séminaire livre XXIII, Le sinthome, Paris, Seuil, 2005,p. 121
  8. Miller, J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne, III, 9, op. cit., lesson of 6 December 2006, unpublished.
  9. Miller, J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne, III, 9, ibid., lesson of 13 December 2006, unpublished.
  10. Lacan, J., "L’étourdit", in Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 492.
  11. Laurent, É., "Les enjeux du congrès de 2008", text published on the site of the sixth Congress of the AMP on Objects a in the Analytic Experience, June 2007.
  12. Miller, J.-A., L’orientation lacanienne III, 10, lesson of 12 March 2008, unpublished.
  13. Laurent, É., "Les enjeux du congrès de 2008", Lettre Mensuelle, Issue 261, p. 21.
  14. Laurent É., "Les enjeux du conges de 2008", text published on the site of the sixth Congress of the AMP on Objects in the Analytical Experience, June 2007.
  15. Miller J.-A., Le neveu de Lacan (Paris: Verdier, 2003), p. 165
  16. Lacan, J., "Il ne peut pas y avoir de crise de la psychanalyse", republished in Le magazine littéraire, February 2004, p. 28.
  17. Miller, J.-A., "A Fantasy", Lacanian Praxis 1, May 2005, p. 11.
  18. Laurent, É., "Les enjeux du congrès de 2008", op. cit. p. 20.
  19. Miller, J.-A. "A Fantasy" , op. cit. p. 10.
  20. Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, 1968-1969, Paris, Seuil, 2006, p. 311.
  21. Laurent, É., "Pourquoi Lacan aujourd’hui?", article published on the site of the ECF.
  22. Laurent, É., "Un nouvel amour pour le père", in La Cause freudienne, Issue 64, p. 86.
  23. Lacan, J., Le Séminaire XXII, RSI, session of 10 December 1974,in Ornicar ? Issue 2, p. 96.
  24. Laurent E., "La société du symptôme", Quarto, no 85, p. 22.
  25. Miller. J.-A. Miller "A Fantasy", op. cit. p. 12
  26. Ibid. p.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Lacan., J, "La troisième", Lettres de l’EFP, Issue 16, November 1976, p. 186
  29. Lacan J., Le Séminaire livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, Paris, Seuil, 2006, p. 31
  30. Miller, J.-A., "A Fantasy", op. cit. p. 9
  31. Miller, J.-A., Closing remarks to the colloquium Peurs d’enfants, 19 March 1011, notes and manuscripts.
  32. Lacan J., The Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, transl. by R. Grigg, Norton & Co., p. 188
  33. Gorostiza, L., "Resonances of ‘A Fantasy’", on the website of the 8th Congress of the WAP
  34. As advocated by Owen Renik, for whom the subject supposed to know is "supposed to know how to maximise better the predicaments of her relation to jouissance" quoted in Laurent, É., "The Symbolic Order in the Twenty-First Century", in Hurly-Burly, Issue 5, 2011, p. 208.
  35. Cf. American Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, 1994
  36. Lacan, J., Le Séminaire XXI, Les non-dupes errent, lesson of 11 June 1974.
  37. Miller J.-A. "A Fantasy" op. cit. p. 15
  38. Ibid., p. 11
  39. Lacan J., "Le Séminaire", livre XXII, "Les non-dupes errant", 18 February 1973
  40. Eric Laurent., "La société du symptôme" op. cit. p. 22
  41. Ibid., p. 21
  42. Laurent E. "The Symbolic Order in the Twenty-First Century", transl. by V. Woollard, op. cit., p. 209.
  43. Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, livre XXIII,Le sinthome, op. cit. p. 121.
  44. Laurent É., "La société du symptôme", op. cit. p. 22.
  45. Lacan, J., a short speech pronounced at the time of the Study Day of the Cartels, 13 April 1975, in Lettres de L’EFP, Issue 18, 1976, p.269.