Seminar II – The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis

1954 – 1955

Chapter XIII – The Dream of Irma’s Injection

(All quotations refer to The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954 -1955, Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Sylvana Tomaselli, with notes by John Forrester, WW Norton: 1991)

In this session Lacan wants to take a look at the dream of Irma’s injection. This is the dream that Freud chooses as the first to analyse in his Interpretation of Dreams, which should give us some measure of the importance he attached to it in helping to demonstrate his theory. As has also been the case with many other commentators who have taken up this dream, Lacan too grants it special importance, calling it “the dream of dreams” (p.147). But he begins this chapter by making the point that he wants to distinguish his approach from that taken by his contemporary Heinz Hartmann, in not trying to make the dream synchronise Freud’s thought at this stage of his work – 1899 – with  that of his later work. Lacan’s attacks on ego psychology, a theoretical elaboration to psychoanalysis most associated with Hartmann and ascending to dominance in the IPA at the time Lacan is delivering this seminar, are almost legendary, so there is no need to discuss them here. The specific critique Lacan makes is just to propose that we look at Freud’s dream as a response to research questions that occupied him all throughout his life, so that whether he is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ from our perspective is neither here nor there. What matters is the question Freud is asking, and how we find this same question reframed later on.

Lacan’s most immediate critique however is of the developmental psychologist, also a contemporary, Erik Erikson. The latter contributed a paper for the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association entitled ‘The Dream Specimen of Psychoanalysis’, which revisited the dream of Irma’s injection, in the year before Lacan delivered this part of the seminar. Whilst Erikson’s paper is very illuminating of the many suggestive ambiguities present in the German terms Freud chooses in his narration of the dream (many of which are lost in the translation to the English in the Standard Edition), Lacan is dismissive of this ‘culturalist’ reading as a method by which to approach the dream. Erikson is trying, he claims, to mine all the cultural undertones of the individual dream elements as Freud narrates them in order to map the development of Freud’s ego through general stages that Erikson was famous for having plotted. But Lacan believes that if we are going to revisit this dream it should not be so that we can learn something about the development of the ego, or by extension, Freud’s psychology. As he puts it, “This [Erikson’s] culturalism converges quite singularly with a psychologism which consists in understanding the entire analytic text as a function of the various stages in the development of the ego” (p.148). In other words, reading the cultural specificity of the dream as giving an indication of the dreamer’s psychology is the wrong approach; as Lacan repeatedly argues in the chapter ‘Censorship is not resistance’, psychoanalysis, in practice and in theory, cannot be reduced to a psychology as its object is not an individual’s psyche. On the contrary, for Lacan the essence of the Freudian discovery is “the decentring of the subject in relation to the ego” (p.148). He repeats again here his earlier association (p.124) that the dream is extra-psychological: “You must start from the text, start by treating it, as Freud does and as he recommends, as Holy Writ. The author, the scribe, is only a pen-pusher, and he comes second” (p.153).

Lacan reminds his audience of the text of the dream itself (as found in the Standard Edition, Vol IV, p.107). About Irma herself Lacan is able to tell us only as much as he knows from Freud’s remarks about his former patient. There seems to be a general consensus nowadays amongst Freud scholars that she was Anna Lichtheim (nee Hammerschlag), the daughter of Freud’s Hebrew teacher and family friend. Whilst Freud’s letter to Abraham about the dream in 1909 (discussed below) does indeed mention an Anna as one of the characters in the dream, Freud tells us in his analysis of the dream that the patient’s family name, not first name, bears a resemblance to an association he has to the word ‘Ananas’ (SE IV, p.115, n.1). Lacan notes that the difficulty Freud encounters in her treatment is the result of a counter-transference (p.149) at the origin of which is Freud’s frustration to get Irma to accept his explanations for her suffering. At this stage in his work, Freud assumed that all that was necessary for the cure to be effected was for the patient to accept his explanation, which we can guess from this point in the development of his thought (the date of the dream being July 1895) centred around the theory of seduction at the origin of the neuroses, a theory which he did not abandon until two years later in 1897. The persistence of Irma’s suffering in the form of vomiting attacks are therefore her own fault, assumes Freud, a signal of her failure to accept what he tells her. At the time of the dream he has therefore broken off the treatment, but on the day of the dream itself his friend Otto visits and gives him an update on Irma’s condition that implies that she is well, but could be better. As Freud tells it,

“I was conscious that my friend Otto’s words, or the tone in which he spoke them, annoyed me. I fancied I detected a reproof in them, such as to the effect that I had promised the patient too much; and, whether rightly or wrongly, I attributed the supposed fact of Otto’s siding against me to the influence of my patient’s relatives, who, as it seemed to me, had never looked with favour on the treatment. However, my disagreeable impression was not clear to me and I gave no outward sign of it” (SE IV, p.106).

Despite this detected rebuke, Freud is characteristically sure of the solution he has provided to Irma. Lacan tells us that the signifier here, Lösung (‘solution’) has the same ambiguity in German as it does in French and English – it can be taken as the solution to a conflict as much as a solution that is injected. However, Lacan believes that Otto’s words are the catalyst that precipitates the dream, and although we know from Freud’s account that he spends the evening of the same day, before he goes to bed, writing up an account of the treatment for a fellow doctor in his circle which he hopes will exonerate him, perhaps the dream indicates something not quite resolved from this writing up. The lingering effects of Otto’s words are picked up on by Lacan, and he refers us to a passage in a letter to his then fiancée dated 30th June 1882 in which Freud remarks that it is not so much the events of the day themselves that form dreams, but those that have been cut off, prematurely abandoned or abridged. Lacan appears to believe the origin of the dream, in the form it takes, lies in the fact that something was left unsaid in this exchange with Otto. As we know, Lacan uses this effect of interrupted speech – known as the Zeigarnik effect – to great effect in his practice of the variable-length analytic session (and he also refers to it earlier on in this Seminar, p.86-87).

Lacan looks first at Freud’s interpretation of the dream, which it is worth summarising here from Freud’s text itself:

“The dream fulfilled certain wishes which were started in me by the events of the previous evening (the news given me by Otto and my writing out of the case history). The conclusion of the dream, that is to say, was that I was not responsible for the persistence of Irma’s pains, but that Otto was. Otto had in fact annoyed me by his remarks about Irma’s incomplete cure, and the dream gave me my revenge by throwing the reproach back on to him. The dream acquitted me of the responsibility for Irma’s condition by showing that it was due to other factors – it produced a whole series of reasons. The dream represented a particular state of affairs as I should have wished it to be. Thus its content was the fulfilment of a wish and its motive was a wish” (SE IV, p.118-119, Freud’s italics).

As Lacan puts it, Freud’s interpretation of his own dream was “to be relieved of his responsibility for the failure of Irma’s treatment” (p.151). However, Lacan is interested in another question, a question which makes us wonder why Freud opens the Interpretation of Dreams with this dream:

“But the question in my view is rather more like this – how is it that Freud, who later on will develop the function of unconscious desire, is here content, for the first step in his demonstration, to present a dream which is entirely explained by the satisfaction of a desire which one cannot but call preconscious, and even entirely conscious?” (p.151).

Given that the desire expressed in the dream, as it is interpreted by Freud, requires no more special conception of desire than the one we use in popular understanding, why does Freud choose this dream to open his book on dreams? It is surely not a very good demonstration of the central theory.

This is an oddity that has been noted by other analysts that have looked at this dream, and at others in the Interpretation of Dreams – if the dream expresses an unconscious wish that is usually sexual, where is it? Most prominently, the psychologist Hans Eysenck has written of this in his attack on Freudianism, The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire:

“The wish involved in the dream is a perfectly conscious and present one, and this goes completely contrary to Freud’s hypothesis. Thus we have the odd but often repeated situation that facts are offered us as proof of the correctness of Freudian theories when in fact they serve to disprove them” (Eysenck, Hans, The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, London: Penguin, 1985, p.37).

And later in the same work,

“One of the oddities of The Interpretation of Dreams is… the fact that all the dreams quoted by Freud in his book as illustrating and proving his theories, in fact do the opposite; none of them is based on wishes arising from infantile repression, and hence his chosen examples serve to disprove his own theory” (Eysenck, p.119).

Whilst Lacan evidently does not disagree with this criticism as such – “since in the end it is only a preconscious desire which emerges” (p.151-152) – his point from the beginning of the chapter about bearing in mind the difference between the ego and the subject in looking at the dream should make us wary of expecting the dream to tell us something about the desires and intentions that we might try and attribute to Freud’s ego. Desire, for Lacan, is not located at the level of the ego but at the level of the Other, so for him we cannot take the dream as an indication of what Freud is ‘really thinking’. Lacan does not want to just re-analyse the dream, which he says is a futile task because Freud’s associations end despite his admission that there is more to say (SE IV, p.121). Rather, Lacan says he wants to “take this dream and the interpretation which Freud gives of it as a whole, and see what it signifies in the symbolic and imaginary orders” (p.152). The dream, and the interpretation of the dream, are bound up together, a binding which he says he can conceptualised through his categories of the imaginary and the symbolic:

iS – imagining the symbol, putting the symbolic discourse into a figurative form, namely the dream.

sI – symbolising the image, making a dream interpretation.

So the dream itself is a ciphering of the discourse of the Other into the manifest content of the dream (iS), whilst the interpretation of the dream is a putting into words or signifiers of the manifest content of the dream. This does not aim at sense-making, however. The interpretation does not simply retrace the signifiers or impressions of the previous day that have been ciphered into the dream; it dredges them back up and re-orders them, to make a sense different from the latent thoughts, one that does not necessarily refer to the day-residues.

Lacan is using these categories of the imaginary and the symbolic to demonstrate how to avoid one of the impasses in Freud’s thought, namely, how Freud conceives of the hallucinated satisfaction in dreams as a regression to perception (the left end of the schema of the psychical apparatus sketched out in chapter VII of The Interpretation of Dreams, ‘The Psychology of the Dream-Processes’ (schema found in SE V, p.537, 538 and 541):


This is the problem that Lacan deals with in the previous chapter of this seminar, on the question of regression, and is perhaps why he says at the start of the current chapter that “if he [Freud] already could have used the term imaginary, then it would have removed a large number of the contradictions” in the hypothesis of regression that Freud employs to explain what goes on in the dream (p.146).

Returning to the dream itself, Lacan notes the fact that Freud’s associations centre on the resistance displayed by Irma. We assume here that Lacan is referring to the resistance put up by Irma in the dream, against Freud’s conducting an examination by looking down her throat – as opposed to her resistance to Freud’s treatment – although the former is described as “recalcitrance” in the Standard Edition (SE IV, p.109). In connection with this scene in the dream, Lacan also draws our attention to associations Freud makes to two other women besides Irma, whom he describes as “despite being symmetrical, are nonetheless problematic” (p.155). The first is his wife, who does not feature in the dream but is associated with its scene – the hall in the Bellevue pension – because this is where they plan to host the celebrations for her birthday, to which Irma amongst others is invited. The second is someone Freud describes as Irma’s “intimate woman friend of whom I had a very high opinion” (SE IV, p.110). He suspects her of being a hysteric, like Irma, says that she suffers from hysterical choking, also like Irma, and that whilst he would like to have her as a patient she is very “recalcitrant”, the same word he uses to describe Irma’s attitude in the dream. So we see that  three women now feature in the dream’s latent thoughts – Irma, her friend, and Freud’s wife. Lacan believes that,

“If Freud analysed his behaviour, his responses, his emotions, his transference at every moment in the dialogue with Irma, he would see just as easily that behind Irma is his wife, her intimate friend, and just as easily the seductive young woman who is just a few steps away and who would make a far better patient than Irma” (p.154).

We then come upon what we might consider the first of two highpoints of the dream – the point at which Freud gets Irma to open her mouth so he can examine inside. Both Lacan and Freud note the obvious association to speaking and revealing things, which Freud does not get from Irma but believes he could get from her female friend. “Her friend would have been wiser”, says Freud, “that is to say she would have yielded sooner. She would then have opened her mouth properly, and have told me more than Irma” (SE IV, p.111, italics Freud’s). Lacan believes that this point in the dream is rich with associations – “Everything blends in and becomes associated in this image, from the mouth to the female sexual organ by way of the nose” (p.154) – and indeed Freud himself admits in a footnote that he could take the associations further along the line of the three women but does not want to (footnote SE IV p.111). He does however note that the white scabs he sees in Irma’s mouth remind him of the turbinal bones of the nose, and expresses the fear that he might be damaging his own through frequent use of cocaine.

However, it is probably best to be careful about attributing too many associations to what Freud sees inside Irma’s mouth. Lacan recognises in it associations to the mouth and what does or does not come out of it, the nose, the sexual organs, but in Freud’s text the only associations Freud notes are to himself and another patient regarding their use of cocaine, and to his daughter’s diphtheria. Although we can assume that the nose had a sexual significance for Freud – given the importance attached to it as a sexual organ by his then close friend and colleague Wilhelm Fliess – it is interesting that Freud does not mention this. Moreover, the associations that Freud does make to it suggest that it is wrong to perceive the experience of looking into the mouth as a manifestation of the Lacanian real. Even if he does later call it a “horrific image” (p.158) can this really be taken as a manifestation of the Real, given that Freud never says that he finds what he sees disturbing (SE IV p.107). There are too many associations attached to the scene to label it as being an experience of the Real – the real being the domain where words fail – and, as Lacan credits Erikson for noting, it is important to remember that rather than waking up in horror Freud carries on dreaming.

However, Lacan takes the opportunity to elaborate his critique of Erikson’s handling of the dream at this point. Erikson’s paper had tried to analyse the dream as representing a particular stage in Freud’s ego’s development, which he there labels “a reflection of the individual ego’s peculiar time-space” (Erik Erikson, ‘The Specimen Dream of Psychoanalysis’, in Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 1954, Volume 2, Part 2, p.21), and later says that “the Irma Dream and its associations clearly reflect a crisis in the life of a creative man of middle age. As the psychosocial criterion of a successful ego synthesis at that age I have named a Sense of Generativity” (Erikson, p.50). Lacan calls these “psychological diversions” (p.155), and we can note again Lacan’s eagerness to distinguish his conception of analysis from anything that might be considered the psychological. He says the different ego-stages that Erikson maps out in his paper – and for which he is famous (the ‘Eight Stages of Man’) – “goes against the very spirit of Freudian theory (p.155). On the contrary, Lacan, who claims fidelity to Freud on this point, defines the ego as “the sum of the identifications of the subject, with all that that implies as to its radical contingency. If you allow me to give an image of it, the ego is like the superimposition of various coats borrowed from what I would call the bric-a-brac of its props department” (p.155). In other words, against Erikson’s conception, the ego does not evolve.

As if to underline this point, in the following scene of the dream Lacan says that Freud’s ego disappears completely – “from this point on, it’s no longer a question of Freud” (p.155). The appearance of the three doctors – Dr M, Leopold and Otto – are each of them “the site of an identification whereby the ego is formed” (p.156). Their differing explanations as to Irma’s suffering, whilst contradictory together, taken in their singularity function to absolve Freud of blame for the failure of her treatment.

Like Freud, Lacan pays close attention to the figures of the three doctors in the dream. Freud’s associations to Dr M. (SE IV, p.111-112) are of his senior position in Freud’s professional circle and in relation to Freud himself. Freud recalls an incident in which he was culpable of malpractice and called on the assistance of Dr M, just as calls for his immediate assistance in the dream. Dr M.’s physical appearance in the dream also reminds Freud of his older half-brother, Philippe. Lacan makes much of this connection to Freud’s own family and its senior male members in relation to the three doctors in the dream. Freud’s two older brother, Emmanuel and Philippe, were “already old enough for each of them to have been the father of the little Freud, Sigmund, who was born to a mother exactly the same age as Emmanuel” (p.156). Thus, Freud’s two older brothers from his Father’s first marriage incarnate the problem of paternity, and more precisely, of whose woman the mother is. According to Lacan, in their pseudo-paternal position they dilute the function of the father, sharing it with the actual father, Jakob Freud, with the effect that “the symbolic father remains intact thanks to this division of functions” (p.156).  This strange family constellation into which Freud was born is given accorded capital importance by Lacan, who tells us that “If Freud’s induction into the Oedipus complex was decisive for the history of humanity, it is obviously because he had a father who already had two sons from a first marriage” (p.156). We will take up again our discussion of this family connection in our commentary on the second part of Lacan’s exploration of the dream, chapter XIV.

With respect to the other two doctors, Leopold and Otto, Freud associates their rivalry, the two being related and both practising as physicians in the same field. Of the three characters, Lacan summarises their relationship to Freud thus:

“Dr M. represents the ideal character constituted by the paternal pseudo-image, the imaginary father. Otto corresponds to the character who played a perennial role in Freud’s life, the intimate, close friend who is both friend and enemy, who from one hour to the next changes from being a friend to being an enemy. And Leopold plays the role of the character who is always useful to counter the character of the friend-enemy, of the beloved enemy” (p.156).

We can therefore represent the male characters from the dream, and the male characters from Freud’s life (and to whom he and Lacan note important links), with this diagram:

Irma men

Similarly, we can make another triangle for the female characters:

Irma women

Lacan calls this the “mystic trio” (p.157) and asserts that the presence of these three characters hints at death. He draws our attention to Freud’s association to a patient he inadvertently poisoned, and whom had the same name – Mathilde – as Freud’s own daughter. For Freud the fact that each of these three characters are connected by similar situations means that the three characters are interchangeable. As he puts it, “The identity of these situations had evidently enabled me to substitute the three figures for one another in the dream” (SE IV, p.118). He also draws our attention to Freud’s 1913 paper on ‘The Theme of the Three Caskets’ (SE XII p.291-301). The suitors of Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice must choose between three caskets in order to marry her. Freud refers to three women in this context, one of whom is mute, which he claims symbolises death.

Lacan locates the second highpoint of the dream as coming with the emergence of the chemical formula for trimethylamine, which Freud sees printed in heavy type before him. In the text of his dream, this is the substance that Otto has injected Irma with, and which at the end of the dream Freud isolates as showing that Otto is to blame for Irma’s illness: “Irma’s pains had been caused by Otto giving her an incautious injection of an unsuitable drug – a thing I should never have done” (SE IV, p.119). Thus, Freud is exonerated, and the desire of the dream is just that. On the signifier itself though, Freud associates the aspect of sexuality, both from Fliess, who believes this substance to be a product of the sexual metabolism, and also to the person of Fliess himself, a trusted friend who is receptive to Freud’s views on the sexual aetiology of the neuroses at a time when few others are. As an ear, nose and throat specialist, he also connects to the examination of Irma in the dream, in which Freud stares into her mouth but encounters the turbinal structures found instead in the nose.

For Lacan, “This explains everything trimetylamine” (p.158). He compares its sudden and autonomous appearance to the Meme, Tekel, Upharsin from the Book of Daniel, the writing on the wall which appears mysteriously on a temple foretelling the fall of the Babylonian Empire. He draws out the chemical formula of trimethylamine Freud sees for the benefit of his audience:


Again, we see the pattern of three elements, as with the three doctors and the three women. Lacan follows up on the sexual associations Freud makes to trimethylamine, saying “Indeed – I’ve made inquiries – trimethylamine is a decomposition product of sperm, and it gives it its ammoniacal smell when it’s left to decompose in the air” (p.158). Trimethylamine is also responsible for the odour given off by some infections, and the smell of bad breath, which perhaps you might smell if you looked into someone’s mouth.

What does trimethylamine mean, then? Aside from the above states associations Freud makes to Fliess’s theories, a few years later, in a letter to his colleague Karl Abraham, he offers an alternative interpretation. Abraham asks Freud whether there is not a suggestion of syphilitic infection in the dream. Freud responds thus:

“In the paradigm dream there is no mentioning of syphilis. Sexual megalomania is hidden behind it, the three women, Mathilde, Sophie and Anna, are the three godmothers of my daughters, and I have them all!” (Freud’s letter to Abraham, dated 9th January 1908, found in Flazeder, Ernst (Ed), The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, 1907 – 1925, London: Karnac, 2002).

For his part, perhaps surprisingly, Lacan says that “the formula gives no reply whatsoever to anything” (p.158). Lacan appears to treat it as independent of what precedes it in the dream, although he does focus on “the structure of this word, which here makes its appearance in an eminently symbolic form” (p.158), picking up on the significance of the structure of the formula – the two sets of threes – that so easily remind us of the two sets of threes that Freud associates to the other dream elements (the three doctors and the three women).

Returning to the categories of the imaginary and symbolic that Lacan utilises at the start of the chapter, we can perhaps say that if iS represents the imagining of the symbolic (the ciphering by the dream work of signifiers into manifest dream elements); and if sI represents the work of interpretation; because the formula for trimethylamine is not an imagining of the symbol but the symbol itself we can call it an sS – a symbolisation of the symbol. That is not to say that the formula represents some pure, unciphered element that emerges with clarity in a raw form, but rather that it has not undergone transformation into what Lacan calls an imagining of the symbolic, an iS (p.152).

Lacan states again that, contrary to the argument of Erikson, the dream does not show us the developmental passage of Freud’s ego, but on the contrary that Freud’s ego is so difficult to identify in the dream:

“The structure of the dream shows us clearly enough that the unconscious is not the ego of the dreamer, that it isn’t Freud in the guise of Freud pursuing his conversation with Irma…. His ego was identified with the whole in its most unconstituted form. Quite literally, he escaped, he called upon, as he himself wrote, the congress of all those who know [the three doctors]. He fainted, was reabsorbed, was abolished behind them. And finally another voice is heard [the appearance of the formula for trimethylamine]” (p.159).

But Lacan also does not accept Freud’s own resolution to the dream given in The Interpretation of Dreams. It is not Freud’s professional pride that is at stake, nor his medical conscientiousness with his patients. Lacan is very clear that “what is at stake in the function of the dream is beyond the ego, what in the subject is of the subject and not of the subject, that is the unconscious” (p.159). He also makes a remark which seems to contradict Freud’s assertion that the dream represents the infantile, usually sexual wishes of the dreamer. As with Erikson, it is easy to see how such a theory might require support from the notion of regression. But Lacan is not interested in the psychology of the dreamer himself. He says,

“What gives this dream its veritable unconscious value, whatever its primordial and infantile echoes, is the quest for the word, the direct confrontation with the secret reality of the dream, the quest for signification as such” (p.159-160).

However, this does not absolve us of the need to analyse the formula for its particular significance in the light of Freud’s associations. We still need to ask the question: why does this element appear and not some other. This is something that Lacan does not go into, perhaps because of his stated wariness of being seen to re-analyse the dream after Freud. We will look at how much further we can take the analysis of trimethylamine in our discussion of the next chapter, the conclusion of Lacan’s commentary on this dream. Here however Lacan says very little about its significance, rather stating that “symbols only ever have the value of symbols” (p.160). This might make us wonder however what sense it makes to speak of the meaning of a dream? Is it the case that we cannot positively identify a meaning in the dream, and that the only thing that dreams demonstrate is the mechanism of the unconscious, the dream-work itself?

Lacan does however say a bit more about how the trimethylamine formula is produced. “The important thing”, he says, “and this dream shows us it, is that analytic symptoms are produced in the flow of a word which tries to get through” (p.159). Just as he found that the hysteric suffers from a word literally caught in the body, and just like censorship conceals a word that cannot be said but is expressed elsewhere, in a ciphered and clandestine form, so the dream element is produced in the same way. The word is caught between the resistances of the ego of the subject and its image, he claims, and the force of these two resistances resolves itself into the dream element:

“It always encounters the double resistance of what we will call just for today, because it is late, the ego of the subject and its image. So long as these two interpositions offer a sufficient resistance, they clarify each other, if I may put it like that, within this flow, they are phosphorescent, they flash” (p.159).

This might remind us of what Lacan says in chapter XI of this seminar, that where the patient expresses doubt about an element of the dream, that doubt is not to be taken as a weakness of his account of the dream, but of an emphasis, a “soulingage” or ‘underlining’ of that element (p.126).

To conclude, we can say that the point of the chapter is, elaborating the theme developed in the last two, that the subject, and that the proper object of psychoanalysis, is not the ego of the individual, or his particularly psychology, but the signifier, the extra-psychological aspect. Lacan privileges the transmission of the signifier – here the formula for trimethylamine – rather than Freud’s wish to absolve himself of professional misconduct or even the sexual connotations Erikson notes in his article. The appearance of the three doctors, and the sudden, mysterious manifestation of the formula produces the dissolution of the ego of the dreamer, and so to analyse the dream by reference to what it can tell us about the dreamer’s ego is misguided. Instead, Lacan finishes the session by referring to “the inmixing [immixtion] of subjects” (p.160) that the dream produces, a phrase that he retains and later uses as the title to his Baltimore address in 1966, Of Structure as the Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever. “An unconscious phenomenon”, he says, “which takes place on the symbolic level, as such decentred in relation to the ego, always takes place between two subjects” (p.160). What can we make of this? Perhaps one possible reading is from the angle of Lacan’s famous maxim that the signifier represents the subject for another signifier. The ego is out of play here; the unconscious is of the order of the symbolic, the signifier, and whilst prior to the subject, its place can be located between two subjects:


Lacan goes on, “As soon as true speech emerges, mediating, it turns them into two very different subjects from what they were prior to speech. This means that they only start being constituted as subjects of speech once speech exists, and there is no before” (p.160). This ‘true speech’ is therefore something that splits him from his ego and divides the subject, splits him between signifiers. Whilst we might read this as another way of phrasing symbolic castration, Lacan says there is “no before”, indicating that the subject will be divided or barred by the signifier – which we can represent as $ – even if it is not your own speech that is in question.

By Owen Hewitson,

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