Introductory Remarks

The first question we have to confront is a terminological one: in what sense do we mean the ‘end of a psychoanalysis’? This phrase could refer simply to the final session, regardless of whether a ‘psychoanalysis proper’ has been undertaken prior to this moment. Or it could refer to the conclusion of an analytic work, the end of a process carried out to the point at which some change or alteration has been effected, allowing the analyst and/or the analysand to believe that if they were to continue it would make no more difference. Or, thirdly, the ‘end’ of a psychoanalysis could be taken to refer to its goal or purpose, to what extent an aim worked towards was achieved.

For the most part, this article takes the ‘end’ of analysis to refer to a specific, identifiable period in the treatment, and looks at what Lacan said on the subject. A recent round table discussion organised by the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research in London termed this period as an ‘ending’ rather than an ‘exit’ from analysis. In his paper ‘On Beginning the Treatment’, Freud writes that psychoanalysis is like a game of chess: once it is underway there are an infinite number of courses it could take, depending on the associative material that is pursued in the session. But there are only a certain number of opening moves (SE XII, p.123). This article looks at whether there are corresponding ‘moves’ for the end of a psychoanalysis, certain sign-posts or pointers that would herald its transition to a final phase. Should we expect to see the same markers in all cases? If we assume that the directions their respective treatments take prior to the end of an analysis are different, how might this end differ for hysteric, obsessional, perverse and psychotic subjects?

Understanding that an end has been reached however entails a certain view of the process of a psychoanalysis, and many psychoanalysts of Lacan’s time measured the end of an analysis by how successful it was in meeting certain aims. Lacan devotes a substantial amount of work to critiquing these other psychoanalysts, so we will look as well at what these ‘ends’ are supposed to be in the final, concluding period of a psychoanalysis.

To a certain extent, any project to divide psychoanalysis into a beginning, middle and end is antithetical. A psychoanalysis on a Lacanian model involves a substantial manipulation of time (something previously discussed on this site with reference to the short session). But nevertheless, certain things have been said by Lacan specifically on the subject of the end of a psychoanalysis, and it is those things that this article is going to explore.

We can begin with an irony. Leaving aside the question of its ends, many people who consult a psychoanalyst – perhaps any form of therapist – do not stick around long enough to even begin. Indeed, the majority of those who come to a psychoanalyst for an initial consultation never come back. Edward Glover remarked in 1955 on how a multitude of factors can conspire to cause an analysis to terminate prior to its end, for reasons of change of job, residence, marriage or health (Glover, ‘The Technique of Psycho-Analysis’, p.140). Because of this, the number of psychoanalyses that actually reach what we might call an end, in the sense of a completion, are very low. Glover observes that “The opportunities of watching a classical analysis to a classical termination are much less frequent than is generally supposed.” (ibid).  Ferenczi makes a similar point. Despite asserting “my conviction that analysis is not an endless process, but one which can be brought to a natural end with sufficient skill” he goes on to admit, “If I am asked whether I can point to many such completed analyses, my answer must be no.” (Ferenczi, ‘The Problem of the Termination of the Analysis’, in ‘Selected Writings’, p.253.)

Part of the reason for this might be, as Freud acknowledges, that psychoanalysis can be an extremely time-consuming process. At the very start of his provocatively-titled work Analysis Terminable and Interminable he rejects any attempts to shorten it, such as those proposed by his follower Ferenczi. But what length of time did Freud have in mind here? It might be surprising to a modern student of psychoanalysis that Freud refers to a shorter period than is usually expected of psychoanalyses these days. When discussing what a psychoanalysis involves in The Question of Lay Analysis in 1926 he laments the slow pace of analytic work, but his complaint is that “analytic treatments take months and even years” (SE XX, p. 187.) Moreover, we know that Freud saw many patients, even those who are the subjects of his most famous case histories, for a far shorter time than this.

In contrast, it is extraordinary how often one encounters people familiar with psychoanalysis that retain the idea that for an analysis to be ‘complete’ or ‘successful’ (whatever that might mean) it should last a minimum of four years. This expectation is something of an intellectual weed in the analytic community, but is widely-held and persistently asserted amongst people undertaking an analysis – particularly those doing so as part of a psychoanalytical training programme. The Institute for Psychoanalysis in the UK, for instance, asks that its trainees take analysis in sessions of 50 minutes five times a week, and for the length of the training. Its website states this training lasts on average four to five years. The SITE for Contemporary Psychoanalysis advertises training that must “not be completed in less than four years” and that “All trainees are required to be in individual psychoanalytic psychotherapy/psychoanalysis for at least one year prior to training and to remain in it at least until graduation.” Even the Lacanian training organisation the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research (CFAR) states that “The training lasts for a minimum of four years” and in listing what it expects of candidates states that “A personal analysis undertaken throughout the period of registration”.

Indeed, if analyses in Freud’s time were relatively short in duration, some prominent analysts in our own time believe that the final period of analysis itself should last years. For instance, former IPA President Horacio Etchegoyen remarks that, “This part of the process will last for a variable but never a brief period of time – in my opinion always more than two years – during which there will be moments of progress and integration and others of “inexplicable regression.” (Etchegoyen, The Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique, p.627.)

So how does one know when the analysis is over, or how to move it to that point? What has to happen for an analysis to be at its end?

Although criticised on the subject by Freud in Analysis Terminable and Interminable, Ferenczi makes an interesting observation about the end of analysis. In his 1927 paper ‘The Problem of the Termination of the Analysis’ which Freud refers to throughout the latter work (see especially SE XXIII, p.247), Ferenczi says that “The proper ending of an analysis is when neither the physician nor the patient puts an end to it, but when it dies of exhaustion, so to speak” (Ferenczi, ‘The Problem of the Termination of the Analysis’, in ‘Selected Writings’, p.252.)

We will see how this is one of the closest approximations to the view that Lacan takes up about the end of analysis.

The role of the analyst – identification with the analyst as ideal

One of the refrains most commonly found throughout Lacan’s work is his criticism of those analysts who subscribe – explicitly or implicitly – to the idea that an analysis should culminate in the identification of the analysand with the analyst. For Lacan this makes psychoanalysis a process of modelling of one ego, which is presumed to be weak, on another which is presumed to be stronger and more conflict-free. Lacan’s attacks on this notion find their most purified expression in the Écrits. In ‘The Freudian Thing’, for instance, he asks rhetorically of these analysts: “Isn’t it similarly clear that there is no other criterion of cure than the complete adoption by the subject of your measure? This is confirmed by the common admission by certain serious authors that the end of analysis is achieved when the subject identifies with the analyst’s ego.” (Écrits, 425). And at the very beginning of his Seminar Lacan wastes no time in naming prominent IPA contemporaries against whom he levels these accusations:

“Read Nunberg. What is the essential mainspring of the treatment in his eyes? The good will of the subject’s ego, which must become the ally of the analyst. What does that mean? – except that the subject’s new ego is the ego of the analyst. And Hoffer is there to tell us that the normal end of the treatment is identification with the ego of the analyst. (Seminar I, p.285)

Whilst Lacan’s opposition to these views is usually framed as a battle between the Anglo-American and Continental psychoanalytic traditions, it is worth remembering that the analysts he targets are for the most part those that had fled mainland Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. They are therefore Anglo-American by adoption rather than by birth; their psychoanalytic training was in Europe.

What makes the idea of identification with the ego of the analyst as an analytic outcome so hazardous is that it can be so easily confused with the transference. How can we tell that the analysand has overcome the transferential bond if the analysis has as its aim one of the key guises under which that transference manifests itself? This opens up another line of attack for Lacan to level against some of his contemporaries. He tells his audience in Seminar XI that:

“What is certain is that the transference is one thing, the therapeutic end another. Nor is the transference to be confused with a mere means. The two extremes of what has been formulated in analytic literature are situated here. How often will you read formulas that associate, for example, the transference with identification, whereas identification is merely a pause, a false termination of the analysis which is very frequently confused with its normal termination. Its relation with the transference is close, but precisely in that by which the transference has not been analysed. On the other hand, you will see the function of the transference formulated as a means of rectification from the standpoint of reality, to which everything I am saying today is opposed.” (Seminar XI, p.145-146).

However, beyond the critique of analysts like Nunberg and Hoffer, from the late fifties we can detect in Lacan’s work a growing importance granted to the psychoanalyst’s own desire as a motor force for the ending of the treatment. As we will see, this is something which will come to figure prominently in his later work on the subject. For the time being it is worth nothing simply that at the same point in the paper ‘The Direction of the Treatment’ from the Écrits that Lacan is bemoaning the ‘happy ending’ demanded of an analyses in American culture, he writes of how “An ethics must be formulated that integrates Freud’s conquests concerning desire: one that would place at the forefront the question of the analyst’s desire.” (Écrits, 615). Ethical questions raised by the analyst’s own desire are of course the theme of Seminar VII, in which he asserts that:

“What the analyst has to give [to the analysand], unlike the partner in the act of love, is something that even the most beautiful bride in the world cannot outmatch, that is to say, what he has. And what he has is nothing other than his desire, like that of the analysand, with the difference that it is an experienced desire.” (Seminar VII, p.299-300)

Loosening the bonds of the imaginary

In Seminar XV Lacan associates the effect of what in 1967 he terms ‘subjective destitution’ with the act of free association. Following the ‘fundamental rule’ of psychoanalysis (that the analysand is obliged to report without omission, hesitation or self-censorship what comes to mind) puts the analysand at the mercy of their own associations. The more they do this however the more they will experience this ‘subjective destitution’:

“This is the aim of the rule. By committing himself, at the limit, to the drift of language, he is going to attempt, by a sort of immediate experience of its pure effect, to connect up with its already established effects. Such a subject, a subject defined as effect of discourse, to the point that he undertakes the trail of losing himself in it in order to find himself, such a subject… in a way puts himself to the test of his own destitution.” (Seminar XV, 07.02.1968).

You lie on the couch, you associate. All of a sudden you realise that something you have just said carries a meaning other than the one you intended to convey. For Lacan, this phenomenon reveals the autonomous effect of the signifier on your history, the life’s story you are narrating. This is what Lacan means in this passage by the “immediate experience of is pure effect, to connect up with its already established effects”. Recognising these effects entails that a psychoanalysis will always be, in this sense, an experience of ‘destitution’.

In Seminar I Lacan presents the task of analysis as involving the disruption of imaginary relationships which have hitherto provided consistency and wholeness to the subject’s ego. Insofar as it is an imaginary phenomenon, the transference becomes something of a focal point for these imaginary bonds:

“Through the successive identifications and revivals, the subject must constitute the history of his ego…. In analysis, the point around which the subject’s identification at the level of the narcissistic image focuses is what we call the transference…. The transference such as it is commonly understood as an imaginary phenomenon.” (Seminar I, p.181-182).

But at this point in his work, what loosens these imaginary bonds for Lacan is the speech of the subject in the analytic session:

“Speech is that dimension through which the desire of the subject is authentically integrated on to the symbolic plane. It is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire, whatever it is, is recognised in the full sense of the term.” (Seminar I, p.183).

At this early point in his work then, Lacan seems to believe that the end of analysis is reached by the progressive weakening of the imaginary bonds in favour of a symbolic integration by the subject of his or her own personal life story, his or her history. We will examine Lacan’s ideas on the assumption of a personal history in connection with his remarks on destiny in a moment, but for now we can trace the development of the idea that the therapeutic effect of a psychoanalysis lies in the ability of speech to ‘overwrite’ the effects of the imaginary via his comments on the analyst who prompts him to make these remarks.

In this part of Seminar I Lacan is discussing Balint’s views on the end of analysis (that it should end in what Balint terms ‘primary love’ (see Balint’s Primary Love and Psycho-Analytic Technique, 1956). He picks up his comments on this in the Écrits, where he criticises Balint on the grounds that the latter fails to recognise that,

“… The individual’s very specular presence to the other, although it covers his reality, uncovers his ego-related illusion regarding a consciousness of the body as frozen…. According to Michael Balint, in the state of elation that results, the patient believes he has exchanged his ego for his analyst’s ego. Let us hope, for his sake, that nothing of the kind has happened. For even if it is the terminus of the analysis, it is not analysis’ end, and even if we see here the end of the means the analysis has employed, they are not the means by which to reach its end.” (Écrits, 681-682).

This seems like the kind of criticism he made with respect to Balint in Seminar I. However, we see that by the time of the publication of the Écrits, Lacan’s own conception of the symbolic ‘overwriting’ the imaginary has evolved, and he does not think things are so simple:

“… My model dates back to a preliminary stage of my teaching at which I needed to clear away the imaginary which was overvalued in analytic technique. We are no longer at that stage.” (Écrits, 681-682).

The assumption of one’s history, destiny or Atë

In the Ecrits, in the paper known as the Rome Discourse, Lacan gives us one of his clearest and most pithy descriptions of the ends of analysis, that is, its aims: “Analysis can have as its goal only the advent of true speech and the subject’s realisation of his history in its relation to a future.” (Ecrits, 302.) What he means by this can be made clearer if we look at a passage from the same era where Lacan discusses the aim of analysis as being the integration of the subject’s own history. In Seminar I we find him posing the question of whether the end of analysis can be posited on the subject’s ability to articulate his desire better, asking his audience,

“Where is the dialectic of the symbolic reintegration of desire going to lead? Is it enough simply for the subject to name his desires, for him to have permission to name them, for the analysis to be terminated? That is the question that I may perhaps raise at the end of this session. You will also see that I will not leave it there.” (Seminar I, p.193).

And then he goes on to present the end of analysis in terms of an assumption of the subject’s history in the symbolic register:

At the end, right at the end of analysis, after having gone through a specific number of circuits and brought about the complete integration of his history… will a part of the subject still remain on the level of this sticking-point which we call his ego? Does the analysis only deal with what we consider to be a given, namely the subject’s ego, the internal structure which could be improved by exercise?” (Seminar I, p.193, my italics).

Again, he singles out Balint for criticism, continuing:

“That is how someone like Balint and one whole trend of analysis have come to think that, either the ego is strong, or else it is weak. And if it is weak, they are obliged, by the internal logic of their position, to think it has to be strengthened.” (Seminar I, p.193).

It is interesting to note that Lacan’s attacks on Balint and Hoffer in Seminar I that we looked at earlier, and which Lacan repeats in papers in the Écrits from the same period, came at a time when figures such as these were deeply consumed with the subject of the end of analysis. Psychoanalysts of the late 1940s and early 1950s gave the topic serious consideration. A British Psycho-Analytical Society Symposium on ‘Criteria for Termination of Psychoanalytic Treatment’ took place on 2nd March 1949 and in the year that followed a number of prominent analysts lent their voices to the debate. Melanie Klein addressed the theme at the Zurich Congress in August that year, and a collection of analysts such as John Rickman and Sylvia Payne gave presentations on the subject in April, with Hoffer and Rickman’s papers appearing in the Internal Journal of Psycho-Analysis (number 31) the following year.

So what does Lacan contribute in response, other than a criticism of the views of others?

Destiny, death or disarray? Lacan’s pessimistic view of the end and ends of analysis.

In Seminar II Lacan says that,

“… Through the analysis the subject discovers his truth, that is to say the signification taken on in his particular destiny by those givens which are peculiar to him and which one can call his lot…. Whatever the fundamental lot is, the biological lot, what analysis reveals to the subject is its signification. (Seminar II, p.325-326, my italics)

What Lacan calls destiny here we can understand essentially as a subject’s particular signifying ‘constellation’ and how it compels them to repeat. This is what Lacan had made the subject of his paper, ‘The Neurotic’s Individual Myth’, on the Rat Man case history in 1953, only a year or two before the second Seminar. His remarks quoted above would suggest that by this time it is not biology (or, to use Freud’s term, anatomy) which is destiny, but the way in which we make sense of our  ‘lot’ in life, the significations we give to the ‘hard facts’ of the state of affairs we are born into. What Lacan calls here one’s ‘destiny’ could reveal itself in analysis as an effect of the particular signifying constellation that produces a signification that at some level the subject comes to identify with. It could be related to what Freud saw in the uncanny regularity with which human beings repeat compulsively either the antecedent events of their own lives or those of their family heritage.

But the unconscious fulfilment of a destiny has a menacing horizon for Lacan: that of death. In Seminar II Lacan refers to the myth of Oedipus and points to the fact that the latter is ignorant of his own destiny, which he fulfils without knowing it. The implicit suggestion is that this goes for those in analysis too – that the ultimate end of the analysand’s unconscious discourse is death:

“When we come to talk of death again, I will perhaps try and explain to you the end of Oedipus’s tragedy, as the great dramatists have portrayed it. You should read Oedipus at Colonus for the next seminar. There you’ll discover that the final word of the relation of man to this discourse of which he is ignorant, is death. Indeed one must attain poetical expression in order to discover how intense can become the identification between this veiled preterite and death as such, in its most horrible guise.” (Seminar II, p.210, my italics.)

Lacan is presenting a powerful connection between the force exerted on the subject by his unconscious destiny and death. He again posits the connection to death in an enigmatic passage in Seminar VII. He begins almost by prescribing that a connection be maintained between desire, questioned and refined in the course of an analysis, and death:

“As I believe I have shown here in the sphere I have outlined for you this year, the function of desire must remain in a fundamental relationship to death. The question I ask is this: shouldn’t the true termination of an analysis – and by that I mean the kind that prepares you to become an analyst – in the end confront the one who undergoes it with the reality of the human condition? It is precisely this, that in connection with anguish, Freud designated as the level at which its signal is produced, namely, Hilflosigkeit or distress, the state in which man is in that relationship to himself which is his own death – in the sense I have taught you to isolate it this year – and can expect help from no one.

At the end of a training analysis the subject should reach and should know the domain and the level of the experience of absolute disarray. It is a level at which anguish is already a protection, not so much Abwarten [waiting] as Erwartung [expectancy]. Anguish develops by letting a danger appear, whereas there is no danger at the level of the final experience of Hilflosigkeit.” (Seminar VII, p.303-304, emphases mine).

The end of an analysis should present the subject with the experience of distress which Lacan equates with the death of the subject. But Lacan does not appear to mean an ‘actual’ death here, mortality. His reference in this passage is rather to Hilflosigkeit and his intention appears to be to liken this to the experience of death, rather than to claim death itself comes at the end of a psychoanalysis. What he seems to suggest the experience of an end to analysis entails is that of disarray or distress. This experience is more easily linkable to his remarks about subjective destitution in Seminar XV we discussed above, and which Lacan will raise again in 1967 (Lacan, Proposition of 9th October 1967, translated by Russell Grigg, available here).

Nevertheless, this is a particularly gloomy prognosis for Lacan to give for the end of a psychoanalysis, and it might remind us of Seneca’s remark that Freud is said to have often quoted: that one has two choices in life, to be led by fate or dragged by fate. However, in the last paragraph of the mirror stage paper of 1949 Lacan discusses the end of analysis in relation to death (which he here calls the subject’s “mortal destiny”), but here he says that analysis finds its limit in prescribing to the subject what he should do with that destiny:

“In the subject to subject recourse we preserve, psychoanalysis can accompany the patient to the ecstatic limit of the “Thou art that”, where the cipher of his mortal destiny [death] is revealed to him, but it is not in our sole power as practitioners to bring him to the point where the true journey begins.” (Écrits, 100).

The assumption of a transgenerational Atë

Lacan therefore leaves the question of how to assume one’s destiny open. Notwithstanding the fact that the figures he draws on from Greek mythology such as Oedipus and Antigone that are deeply tragic, he invokes another term from this tradition, that of Atë. Roughly translated, Atë refers to folly or rashness as a result of some hubris (more on the concept here).  In Seminar VII Lacan refers to this as a transgenerational (and therefore symbolic) phenomenon and suggests that psychoanalysis gives the subject some insight into this Atë:

“What the subject achieves in analysis is not just that access, even if it is repeated and always available, but something else that through the transference gives everything living its form – the subject, so to speak, counts the vote relative to his own law. This law is in the first place always the acceptance of something that began to be articulated before him in previous generations, and which is strictly speaking Atë. Although this Atë does not always reach the tragic level of Antigone’s Atë, it is nevertheless closely related to misfortune.” (Seminar VII, p.299-300)

Whilst it is related to misfortune – perhaps some event in the family history which drives a repetition that fates the subject to unhappiness or calamity in certain areas, or to neurosis – in saying that the subject can “count the vote relative to his own law” Lacan appears to be suggesting here that psychoanalysis gives the subject the ability to ascertain or weigh up the impact of his family Atë on his life, and choose how to assume it. Insofar as the end of analysis confronts this point Lacan is not totally pessimistic therefore.

The end of analysis and ethics

Wo Es war…

Perhaps Freud’s most famous pronouncement on the end of analysis comes in the New Introductory Lectures. It is a formulation that, whilst often quoted, has had its meaning debated by many post-Freudians: Wo Es war, soll Ich warden which Stratchey translates in the Standard Edition as “where id was, there ego shall be” (SE XXII, p.80). For his part, Lacan prefers “Where It was, I must come into being. This goal is one of reintegration and harmony, I might even say of reconciliation [Versohnung].” (Écrits, 524).

In Seminar VI Lacan explains his choice of alternative translation and presents Freud’s maxim as an ethical matter – a duty – to put oneself in the place where one’s desire is articulated. This place is the place wo Es war, where It was – namely, where unconscious desire has been spoken:

“‘I must come to be where it was’. It is very precise, it is this Ich which is not das Ich which is not the ego, which is an Ich, the Ich used as subject of the sentence. Where it has been, the place where it speaks. Where it speaks, namely where a moment before there was something which is unconscious desire, I must designate myself there, there I must be this I which is the goal, the end, the term of analysis before it is named, before it is formed, before it is articulated, if indeed it ever is, because as well in the Freudian formula this soll Ich werden, this ‘it must be, this I must become’, is the subject of a becoming, of a duty which is proposed to you.

We must re-conquer the lost field of the being of the subject as Freud says in the same sentence in a nice comparison, like the re-conquest by Holland from the Zuider Zee of lands which could be peacefully conquered. This field of the unconscious which we must win in the great analytic work is indeed what is in question. But before this is done there where it has been, what designates for us the place of this I which must come to birth? …. Very exactly the function and the term of what is in question in the unconscious.” (Seminar VI, 20.05.1959.)

Scoffing at happiness

Lacan’s stated intention in Seminar VII is one of “exploring the general ethical consequences involved in Freud’s opening up of the relationship to the unconscious…. our ethics as analysts” (Seminar VII, p.291). He questions something that we might nowadays take as a given at the end of a psychoanalysis: an eventual happiness – or bonheur, in Lacan’s French – of the person who entered it (ibid, p.292). But Lacan scoffs at this idea:

“It is in such a context that analysis appears to be … and the analyst sets himself up to receive, a demand for happiness…. There is in Aristotle a discipline of happiness….. Please note the one finds nothing similar in psychoanalysis.” (Seminar VII, p.292-293).

Lacan is not departing too far from Freud’s own stated view in this respect. Here is how Freud ends the Studies on Hysteria, co-authored with Breuer in 1895:

“When I have promised my patients help or improvement by means of a cathartic treatment [the precursor to psychoanalytic psychotherapy] I have often been faced by this objection: ‘Why, you tell me yourself that my illness is probably connected with my circumstances and the events of my life. You cannot alter these in any way. How do you propose to help me, then?’ And I have been able to make this reply: ‘No doubt fate would fine it easier than I do to relieve you of your illness. But you will be able to convince yourself that much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health you will be better armed against that unhappiness.’” (SE II, 305).

So even this early in his work Freud believes that a psychotherapy can be judged to have reached a successful end if neurotic misery is exchanged for ordinary unhappiness.

Later in Seminar VII Lacan states unequivocally that we should reject as fraudulent the end of analysis a sense of happiness or contentment derived from the achievement of a certain ‘good’, whether this be understood as material goods or forms of ‘wellbeing’ that are valued:

“If we are to consider an analysis completed for someone who is subsequently to find himself in a responsible position relative to an analysis, in the sense that he becomes an analyst himself, should it ideally or by right end with the position of comfort that I categorised just now as a moralising rationalisation of the kind in which it often tends to express itself?

When in conformity with Freudian experience one has articulated the dialectic of demand, need and desire, is it fitting to reduce the success of an analysis to a situation of individual comfort linked to that well-founded and legitimate function we might call the service of goods? Private goods, family goods, domestic goods, other goods that solicit us, the goods of our trade or our profession, the goods of the city, etc.

Can we, in fact, close off that city so easily nowadays? It doesn’t matter. However we regulate the situation of those who have recourse to us in our society, it is only too obvious that their aspiration to happiness will always imply a place where miracles happen, a promise, a mirage of original genius or an opening up of freedom, or if we caricature it, the possession of all women for a man and of an ideal man for a woman. To make oneself the guarantor of the possibility that a subject will in some way be able to find happiness even in analysis is a form of fraud.

There’s absolutely no reason why we should make ourselves the guarantors of the bourgeois dream. A little more rigor and firmness are required in our confrontation with the human condition. That is why I reminded you last time that the service of goods or the shift of the demand for happiness onto the political stage has its consequences. The movement that the world we live in is caught up in, of wanting to establish the universal spread of the service of goods as far as conceivably possible, implies an amputation, sacrifices, indeed a kind of puritanism in the relationship of desire that has occurred historically [that you have to cede or restrain your desire in pursuit of the good]. The establishment of the service of goods at a universal level does not in itself resolve the problem of the present relationship of each individual man to his desire in the short period of time between his birth and his death.” (Seminar VII, p.303-304, italics mine).

Analysis aims at furthering the analysand’s Eros

If the ‘good’ or ‘goods’ that the analysand may demand of their analysis are not, in Lacan’s view, enough to constitute its end, in Seminar VIII Lacan nevertheless suggests one good that psychoanalysis can provide: the furthering the analysand’s Eros. Eros itself transcends the good that it may serve. Early in that Seminar he says:

“Again is it indeed a question of underlining this “making use of Eros”. And to make use of it for what purpose? Here indeed is why it was necessary for me to recall to you the reference points of our articulation from last year: to make use of it for [the] good. We know that the domain of Eros goes infinitely further than any field that this good may cover, at least we can take this as understood…. You should indeed not have in any preconceived or permanent way, as a first term of the end of your action, the supposed good or not of your patient, but precisely his Eros.” (Seminar VIII, 16.11.1960., italics mine)

Lacanian analyst and translator of his Ecrits Bruce Fink has also commented on this realisation of the subject’s eros as one of the possible aims of a psychoanalysis (see Fink, ‘A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique’, p.211).

Sublimation is the sole saviour of happiness

Another glimmer of hope Lacan offers for the aims of a psychoanalysis comes in the form of sublimation.“One thing only alludes to the possibility of the happy satisfaction of the instinct, and that is the notion of sublimation”, he says in Seminar VII.

“But it is clear that if one looks at the most esoteric formulation of the concept in Freud, in the context of his representing it as realised pre-eminently in the activity of the artist, it literally means that man has the possibility of making his desires tradeable or saleble in the form of products. The frankness and even cynicism of such a formulation has in my eyes a great merit, although it is far from exhausting the fundamental question, and that is, How is it possible?” (Seminar VII, p.292-293)

As Lacan presents it here, sublimation provides a sort of harbour in which the analysis can reach its end. It is important to note however that he does not present it as the key to happiness, that analysis culminates at a point when the analysand produces some sublime transformation of their neurosis into something commodifiable. Instead, as he presents it here sublimation offers “the happy satisfaction of the instinct” or drive, which by its nature is never fully satisfied. What is more, at the end of this passage Lacan admits that he does not know much about how this can be achieved!

On depression

We can round up our survey of Lacan’s pronouncements on the end of analysis with respect to ethics by looking at some rather perplexing comments he makes on the subject of depression. In Television, his interview on the French public service broadcaster ORTF in 1973, Lacan makes what seem to be some shocking statements about depression. In reproducing his comments below I include the French alongside the English for the avoidance of doubt as to whether Lacan’s words have been misrepresented by his translators:

“We qualify sadness as depression, because we give it soul for support [La tristesse, par exemple, on la qualifie de dépression, à lui donner l’âme pour support] …. But it isn’t a state of the soul, it is simply a moral failing, [mais ce n’est pas un état d’âme, c’est simplement une faute morale] as Dante, and even Spinoza, said: a sin, which means a moral weakness [lacheté morale, alternatively: moral cowardice or moral ‘looseness’], which is ultimately, located only in relation to thought, that is, in the duty to be Well-spoken, [du devoir de bien dire] to find one’s way in dealing with the unconscious, with the structure.” (Television, p.22).

Is Lacan referring to sadness as a moral failing, or depression? The ‘it’ here appears to refer to sadness, exalted into depression to give it “soul” for support. But it depends on in what sense ‘qualify’ is meant: to qualify sadness as depression could mean to check or make less absolute, in which case ‘depression’ would be the more trivial of the two. Alternatively to ‘qualify’ could be taken in the sense of to recognise sadness as depression, establishing its status as depression, in which case ‘depression’ would be the stronger of the two terms. Yet this may blind us to the formula in what follows: that the duty of thought is to become ‘Well-Spoken’ or ‘Well-Said’. Whether sadness or depression here, what is testified to is a failure of being able to ‘speak well’ the unconscious, the kind of articulation that as we saw above Lacan believes an analysis facilitates.

The making of the analyst

At the very beginning of his Seminar, in the Overture to Seminar I at the end of 1953, Lacan talks about the aims of a didactic (or training) analysis, presumably to an audience many of whom were interested in becoming analysts themselves. What he tells them is that their training does not produce an ascesis or the assertion of ego-syntonic self-control; rather, it enables the analysand to follow what Jacques-Alain Miller has called  “the discipline of the signifier”:

“The ideal of analysis is not complete self mastery, the absence of passion. It is to render the subject capable of sustaining the analytic dialogue, to speak neither too early, nor too late. Such is the aim of a training analysis.” (Seminar I, p.3).

In Seminar XV Lacan states that the act of the analyst should be only that of a signifying intervention, that he should act “only in the field of signifying intervention”. But in the same passage he talks about what the move from being psychoanalysand to psychoanalyst means. As Lacan’s work on the end of analysis evolves, we find him becoming more and more preoccupied with the question of the analyst’s desire. What the analysand makes of the analyst’s desire becomes something of a motor-force in a psychoanalysis, driving it towards its end; but the analysand who wants to become an analyst themselves must go through the process of questioning their desire for this outcome.  It is a movement of the analyst from the position of ‘subject supposed to know’ to object a, cause of desire (something we will examine in more detail later).

“When he puts himself there [in the position of psychoanalyst], after having himself taken the psychoanalytic path, he already knows where he will be led to then as psychoanalyst by the path to be re-travelled: the désêtre of the subject supposed to know by being nothing but the support of this object called the object a. What is outlined for us by this psychoanalytic act, one of whose co-ordinates it must be carefully recalled is precisely to exclude from the psychoanalytic experience any act, any injunction to act? It is recommended to what is called the patient, the psychoanalysand, to name him, as far as possible he is recommended to wait before acting. If something characterises the position of the psychoanalyst, it is very precisely that he only acts in the field of signifying intervention that I delimited just now.” (Seminar XV, 17.01.1968., italics mine)

Lacan has already raised several times this point of difference between the psychoanalyst and the trainee in Seminar VII. Does the subject who has ended their analysis and taken up the position of psychoanalyst know more about their unconscious than someone who has not? If so, what does he or she do with this knowledge? Despite admitting a difficulty in providing firm answers to the question of what characterises the analyst as opposed to the analysand, he here suggests that the difference might lie in how the analyst is more able than the analysand to bear their castration:

“It is not sufficient now to speak about catharsis, the didactic purification, as I might say, of the greater part of the analyst’s unconscious, all of this remains very vague…. We have not even made the slightest beginning in what one could articulate so easily in the form of questions concerning what must be acquired by someone for him to be an analyst: he is now supposed to know a little bit more about the dialectic of his unconscious? When all is said and done what exactly does he know about it? And above all how far must what he knows have gone concerning the effects of knowledge? And simply I pose you this question: what must remain of his phantasies? You know that I am capable of going further, of saying ‘his phantasy’, if indeed there is a fundamental phantasy. If castration is what must be accepted at the final term of analysis, what ought to be the role of his scar to castration in the Eros of the analyst? These are questions of which I would say it is easier to pose them than to resolve them.” (Seminar VIII, 11.01.1961.)

Once again Lacan situates his discussion of the end of analysis at the intersection of knowledge and fantasy. But here he refers to a particular fantasy – the fundamental fantasy. We might align this ‘fundamental fantasy’ with ideas of destiny and Atë that, as we have seen, pepper Lacan’s discussion of the end or ends of analysis earlier on in his work. A fundamental fantasy could perform a similar function as a blueprint or DNA of the subject’s life.

At the end of the section quoted above, Lacan questions how the trainee-turned-analyst must come to situate him- or herself in relation to the “scar” of their castration. This is another theme developed over the course of Lacan’s work with respect to the end of analysis, and it follows Freud’s pronouncement in one of his final works, ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’, that the completion of any analysis will involve the striking of what he describes as a ‘bedrock’ of castration, a fundamental resistance below which the analysis cannot penetrate, and which therefore Freud assumes to be biological.

Let’s review Freud’s text before looking at how Lacan engages with it.

The acceptance of ‘castration’ and the sexual non-rapport

The end of analysis in Freud’s ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’

This paper of 1937, published shortly before his death, is Freud’s most prolonged meditation on the end and ends of a psychoanalysis. At the start of the second section, Freud poses the question as to whether there is even such a thing as a natural end of an analysis, remarking on the ambiguity of the phrase ‘end of analysis’. Indeed, he narrows down the conditions under which an analysis can be said to have been definitively ended. All neuroses, he believes, are a combination of constitutional and accidental factors. The constitutional refers to the degree of strength the drives exercise; the accidental to the subject’s traumatic history. One does not ‘trump’ the other – the constitutional factor can make traumas more unbearable, or unbearable traumas may make the drives less ‘tameable’. But in terms of aetiology it is only the traumatic sort that can be successfully treated by a psychoanalysis. “Only in such cases”, Freud states, “can one speak of an analysis having been definitively ended.” (SE XXIII, p.220).

But importantly for Freud this does not necessarily mean that analysis should aim at removing repressions. Rather it should aim at “A correction of the original process of repression” (SE XXIII, p.227) and it is in this that he pinpoints the difference between the ego of one who has been analysed and one who has not.

In one surprising passage, Freud says that a training analysis can only be short and incomplete and only really aim at giving the analysand knowledge of the unconscious. What’s more, the analysis is not even for the trainee’s benefit but for that of his or her supervisor, “to enable his teacher to make a judgement as to whether the candidate can be accepted for further training.” (SE XXIII, p.248). But even following completion, the analysis is not over. Indeed, one meaning to which Freud intended to give the ‘interminable’ of his title can be understood if we take seriously his advice that analysts should re-enter analysis every five years or so (ibid, p.249). For analysts, at least, analysis never really has an end.

Perhaps the most well-known reference to the end of analysis comes in the paper’s final section. The point beyond which an analysis cannot penetrate is a ‘bedrock of castration’, which Freud views as futile to attempt to overcome:

“At no other point in one’s analytic work does one suffer more from an oppressive feeling that all one’s repeated efforts have been in vain, and from a suspicion that one has been ‘preaching to the winds’, then when one is trying to persuade a woman to abandon her wish for a penis on the ground of its being un-realisable or when one is seeking to convince a man that a passive attitude to men does not always signify castration and that it is indispensable in many relationships in life.” (SE XXIII, p.252).

Underneath the layers of psychological strata Freud believes an analysis strikes a biological bedrock. Whilst this is often interpreted as being a point that analysis founders on, beyond which it cannot move, this is not necessarily true. To continue the citation, in the final line of the paper Freud suggests that you can alter your attitude to it, if not the fact itself:

“We often have the impression that with the wish for a penis and the masculine protest we have penetrated through all the psychological strata and have reached bedrock, and that thus our activities are at an end. This is probably true, since, for the psychical field, the biological field does in fact play the part of the underlying bedrock. The repudiation of femininity can be nothing else than a biological fact, a part of the great riddle of sex. It would be hard to say whether and when we have succeeded in mastering this factor in an analytic treatment. We can only console ourselves with the certainty that we have given the person analysed every possible encouragement to re-examine and alter his attitude to it.” (SE XXIII, p.252-253, my italics).

When Lacan comes to comment on Freud’s paper in Seminar VIII, what is important for him is not the having or not having of the penis, or the passive attitude of man-to-man, but a lack as such. Lacan’s interpretation boils the issue of castration down to the point where it is simply the name for this lack:

“Simply as readers of Freud, you should all the same already know something of that which in its first appearance at least may present itself as the paradox of what presents itself to us as endtelos, as the completion, the termination of analysis. What does Freud tell us if not when all is said and done that what the one who follows this path will find at the end is nothing other essentially than a lack? Whether you call this lack castration or whether you call it Penisneid this is the sign, the metaphor.” (Seminar VIII, 30.11.1960.)

Castration is a problem in the relationship between the subject and the Other, not simply a problem for the end of analysis 

As such, Lacan’s reading of Freud’s remarks in this paper are much broader and less literal than those of other commentators (something of a hallmark of Lacan’s style!) In Seminar X, he concludes that what Freud refers to as castration indicates a disturbance in the relationship between the subject and the Other, and as such this ‘bedrock’ is not only encountered at the end of analysis:

“Such are the paths on which there are presented, in considering the genital plane, genital realisation as a term, what we could call the impasses of desire, if there were not the opening up of anxiety. We will see, restarting from the point that today I have led you to, how the whole analytic experience shows us that it is in the measure that it is summoned as object of propitiation [appeasement] in a failed conjunction, that the phallus which proves to be missing, constitutes castration itself as a point that it is impossible to get round in the relationships of the subject to the Other, and as a point that has been resolved as regards its anxiety function.” (Seminar X, 29.05.1963., my italics)

Two things are of note in this passage: firstly, that it is not castration in the sense of loss of the penis that is the bedrock in the relationship to the Other, but rather ‘the phallus which proves to be missing’. Secondly, that the “point that it is impossible to get round” involves the relationship to the Other, not simply to the end of analysis. Lacan is not talking here of a bedrock of castration as much as a constitutive disruption for all neurotic subjects in the relation with the Other (or, perhaps more precisely, the Other’s desire).

Castration as a solution to the claim on the phallus

Lacan’s remarks in Seminar V on Freud’s 1937 paper are amongst the most interesting, and worth quoting in their entirety. Essentially, his argument is that Freud mistook the ‘bedrock of castration’ as being of a biological rather than psychological nature because he did not grasp that what is important for a man or a woman is not having or not having the organ; in fact, both can have it because, in Lacan’s interpretation, the phallus is the signifier of the sexual relation per se, the signifier of desire. And it is because this single signifier – the phallus – represents both men and women that the relation to the phallus is so problematic. In opposition to Freud, whose belief in a biological bedrock leads him to write that to seek to overcome this is “preaching to the winds”, Lacan is adamant that the acceptance of castration, for both men and women, is a necessary step in coming to terms with this problematic:

“Freud saw and designated the frontiers of analysis as stopping, as I might say, at this point which in certain cases, he says, proves to be irreducible, there descends on the subject a sort of wound which for the man is the castration complex, and which keeps all its predominant manifestations, which in short can be resumed as follows: that he cannot have the phallus except against the background of not having it, which is exactly the same thing as what appears in the woman, namely that she does not have the phallus except against the background of the following: that she has it, because otherwise how could she be so enraged by this irreducible Penisneid….

If Freud in a certain fashion marked here what he called on a certain occasion the infinite character, projected to infinity, which is badly translated by interminable, of what can happen in analysis, it is because he does not see… that the solution to the problem of castration in man as in woman, is not about this dilemma of having or of not having the phallus, because it is only starting from the moment when the subject perceives that there is one thing which in any case must be recognised and stated, that he is not the phallus, and it is starting from this realisation in analysis that the subject is not the phallus, that he can normalise what I would call this natural position, that either he has it, or that he does not have it.” (Seminar V, 11.06.58., italics mine).

Satisfaction is premised on a lack; castration is the condition of satisfaction

In Seminar X Lacan says,

“In the whole measure that the situation of desire virtually implied in our experience, whose entire texture as I might say is not nevertheless truly articulated in Freud, the end of analysis comes up against something which makes the sign implied in the phallic relationship take on its form: the [minus phi] in so far as it functions structurally as [minus phi], which makes it take on this form while being the essential correlate of satisfaction.

If at the end of Freudian analysis the patient whoever he may be, male or female, lays claim to the phallus that we owe him, it is in function of this insufficiency through which the relationship of desire to the object which is fundamental, is not distinguished at every level from what is involved as a lack constitutive of satisfaction.” (Seminar X, 15.05.63., my italics)

What can we get from this especially difficult and confusing passage? The phallus as lack (here represented by minus phi) is “the essential correlate of satisfaction”. Whilst the relationship of desire to the object is characterised by insufficiency (or lack), this lack, as represented by the phallus, is “constitutive of satisfaction”. In other words, satisfaction is premised on a lack. It is not the lack as represented by the phallus which curtails satisfaction; rather this is the very condition of satisfaction. Lacan continues:

“Desire is illusory. Why? Because it is always addressed elsewhere, to a remainder, to a remainder constituted by the relationship of the subject to the Other who comes to substitute himself there.

But this leaves open the locus where there can be found what we designate under the name of certainty. No fixed phallus, no omnipotent phallus is capable of closing the dialectic of the relationship of the subject to the Other and to the real by anything whatsoever that is of a pacifying order. Does that mean that if we touch here the structuring function of the lure, we ought to remain there, to admit that our impotence, our limit is the point where the distinction between finite and indefinite analysis is broken? I do not believe it is anything of the kind.” (Seminar X, 15.05.63.)

To précis this section: desire can be said to be illusory because it relates to a remainder rather than to a person. The phallus in Lacan’s sense does not function by being omnipotent, but – as he says in ‘The Signification of the Phallus’ – only as veiled, and this is what he is saying here when he refers to the “structuring function of the lure” of the phallus. Therefore, it is not a question of having or not having the phallus; Lacan seems to believe it would therefore follow that we cannot simply accept the ‘bedrock’ of castration as marking the end of analysis.

The case of the obsessional woman – ending analysis not with a ‘having’ but a ‘being’

In Seminar V Lacan discusses the case of an obsessional woman that, as long as we bear in mind the particularities of the case, we can take as helpful in illustrating this function of the phallus as signifier of sexuation for both sexes. Lacan says that it is important for the subject to recognise that there is nothing in the masculinity of the man – nothing “in himself”, as he puts it – that makes him the phallus. The phallus is not a question of having but of being the object of desire. He illustrates this in the case through a focus on the aggressivity the obsessional woman exhibits towards the man. Describing it to his audience, Lacan explains:

“The original desire is: I want to be what she, the mother, desires. In order to be it I must destroy that which for the moment is the object of her desire. The subject wishes to be what this desire is. What she must be led to see in the treatment is that it is not in himself that the man is it, the object of this desire; it is to show her precisely that the man is no more the phallus than the woman. What causes her aggressivity – I will show it to you better the next time – with regard to her husband qua man, is in so far as she considers that he is, I do not say that he has, that he is the phallus, and it is under this heading that he is her rival, it is under this heading that his relationships with her are marked by the sign of obsessional destruction.” (Seminar V, 11.06.1958., my italics)

How is this (typically obsessional attitude) treated as the analysis moves towards its end?

“That this desire of destruction is turned against herself in accordance with the essential form of the obsessional economy, this indeed in effect is the goal of the treatment, it is namely to make her see that: you yourself are what you wish to destroy, in so far as you also wish to be the phallus.” (Seminar V, 11.06.1958.)

Discussing the same case a bit later on that year, he says that the analysis concluded with a,

“… kind of intoxication of power, of goodness, a quasi-manic intoxication which is the usual case and the sign of those treatments which end with an imaginary identification…. Should we content ourselves, for the solution of a neurosis, with something which is only put there after from among the constitutive components of the neurosis as such, a more successful symptom, separated out as I might say from the others? I do not think that we can hold ourselves to be entirely satisfied with this.” (Seminar V, 25.06.1958.)

The last line is particularly revealing: a symptom substitution, even a ‘successful’ one, does not at this point in his work give Lacan the end he is looking for. And, perhaps, not the end he was looking for in the case of this patient.

Acceptance of castration entails desire; desire requires that happiness be forsaken as a goal of analysis

As we have discussed, the difficult relation to the phallus (in Lacan’s sense) can be summarised in the following problematic: one signifier, two sexes. In the passage below from Seminar VII on ethics, Lacan seems to see this as producing a kind of ‘deadlock of desire’, with the effect that analysis is put on a path running counter to the aim of happiness. Commenting on Freud’s 1937 paper, he tells his audience:

“At the end of one of his final papers, ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’, Freud tells us that in the end the aspiration of the patient collapses into an ineradicable nostalgia for the fact that there is no way he can be the phallus, and that since he cannot be it, he can only have it in the condition of the Penisneid in a woman or of castration in a man. That’s something to remember whenever the analyst finds himself in the position of responding to anyone who asks him for happiness. The question of the Sovereign Good is one that man has asked himself since time immemorial, but the analyst knows that it is a question that is closed. Not only doesn’t he have that Sovereign Good that is asked of him, but he also knows there isn’t any. To have carried an analysis through to its end is no more nor less than to have encountered that limit in which the problematic of desire is raised.

That this problematic is central for access to any realisation of oneself whatsoever constitutes the novelty of the analysis. There is no doubt that in the course of this process the subject will encounter much that is good for him, all the good he can do for himself, in fact, but let us not forget what we know so well because we say it everyday of our lives in the clearest of terms: he will only encounter that good if at every moment he eliminates from his wishes the false goods, if he exhausts not only the vanity of his demands, given that they are all no more than regressive demands, but also the vanity of his gifts.” (Seminar VII, p.299-300, my italics)

He then continues by broaching some kind of impossibility in searching for happiness in sexual matters:

“Psychoanalysis makes the whole achievement of happiness turn on the genital act. It is, therefore, necessary to draw the proper consequences from this. It is doubtless possible to achieve for a single moment in this act something which enables one human being to be for another in the place that is both living and dead of the Thing. In this act and only at this moment, he may simulate with his flesh the consummation of what he is not under any circumstances. But even if the possibility of this consummation is polarizing and central, it cannot be considered timely.” (ibid, p.299-300)

Against ‘oblativity’

The essential disturbance Lacan sees in human sexuality therefore marks a limit point of the end of a psychoanalysis. In Seminar V Lacan contests that what other analysts of his time referred to by the strange term of (genital) ‘oblativity’ – that is, harmonious, mature sexual union – is a method through which the subject attempts “to escape what is effectively to be resolved in the problem of desire.” (Seminar V, 21.05.1958.) Lacan rejects of the aim of oblativity as a goal of analysis:

“I think that the term oblativity, as it is presented to us in this moralising perspective, can be called without forcing the terms, an obsessional phantasy…. The illusion, the phantasy even which is within the reach of the obsessional, is that in the final analysis the other as such should consent to his desire.” (Seminar V, 21.05.1958.)

Is this not what goes under the term ‘romance’ essentially amounts to? Oblativity is a “submission to the demands of the other” (ibid). Indeed, he amusingly notes that the so-called ‘golden rule’ of ethics – do not do unto others what you would not wish to be done unto you – which, according to Lacan, is one of the “presuppositions for the successful termination of analytic treatment” is “completely beside the point when it is a question of a realisation like sexual union” (Seminar V, 21.05.1958.)

The subject as incarnated lack at the end of an analysis

At the end of analysis, Lacan claims, the subject will have “realised himself as subject in castration, qua something lacking in the enjoyment of sexual union” (Seminar XV, 17.01.1968.) The realisation of the phallus as function, rather than as organ, ‘positivises’ this lack. Later, in Seminar XV, commenting on Freud’s conclusion of Analysis Terminable and Interminable, Lacan states this view slightly differently: that analysis culminates in the realisation of castration as the lack of a unifying jouissance. He goes on to say that the end of analysis involves the realisation of the difference between the phallus as organ and the phallus as function:

“The subject is only realised exactly qua lack, which means that the subjective experience culminates in something that we symbolise by [minus phi]…. a lack must be incarnated by us in what effectively gives it its name: castration. Namely, that the subject realises that he does not have, that he does not have the organ of what I would call unique, unary, unifying jouissance. It is a matter, properly, of what makes enjoyment one in the conjunction of subjects of the opposite sex. Namely, what I insisted on last year, in picking out the fact that there is no possible subjective realisation of the subject as element, as sexed partner in what is imagined as unification in the sexual act.” (Seminar XV, 17.01.1968.)

Lacan continues, specifying that the lack that must be incarnated at the end of analysis is not the lack of an organ:

“This is where there operates what appears as subjective realisation at the end of the psychoanalytic task. Namely, this lack is not the organ, this naturally is not without a background if we remember that the organ and the function are two different things. So different that one can say that there comes back from time to time the project of knowing what function must be given to each organ, and this is where the true problem of the adaptation of the living being lies. The more organs he has, the more entangled he is” (Seminar XV, 17.01.1968.)

Later in Seminar XV Lacan spells out that it is an ‘act’ of this divided, castrated subject that marks the end of analysis, and that this heralds the realisation that this was the reality of his position all along:

“In as much as the psychoanalysing subject, for his part, having come to this realisation of castration, it is a return achieved to the inaugural point, which in truth he never left, the statutory one, that of the forced choice, the alienating choice between ‘either I am not’ and ‘or I do not think’, which ought, by this act accomplish this something finally realised by him. Namely, what makes him divided as subject. In other words, that he accomplishes an act while knowing, being fully aware, why this act will never realise him fully as subject.” (Seminar XV, 20.03.1968.)

Jacques-Alain Miller gives us some idea of what Lacan is doing in his reading of Analysis Terminable and Interminable:

“He [Lacan] provides an answer to the enigma by speaking of the sexual non-relationship. He provides the following meaning to that which is lacking in the signifying order: what is lacking above all are signifiers capable of ciphering the relationship between the sexes; the signifier of the phallus comes to take the place [or stands in for] those lacking signifiers, the phallus then appearing as a cover for the sexual non-relationship – not as the final answer to the enigma but as the false answer to it.” (Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘Commentary on Lacan’s Text’ in ‘Reading Seminars I & II: Lacan’s Return to Freud’, p.425).

In Part II of this article we will continue our examination of Lacan’s work on the end of analysis. We will look at important changes Lacan makes with respect to his theory on the topic from the early 1960s, and trace its development by looking closely at major turning points in Seminar XI, XV and in the Proposition of October 1967. Click here for Part II.


By Owen Hewitson,

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