The Meaning (or Signification) of the Phallus (Munich): 9th May 1958 : Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on May 9, 1958

The lecture ‘Die Bedeutung des Phallus’ was given in German on May 9, 1958, at the Max Planck Society in Munich, at the invitation of Professor Paul Matussek.


Details of three English translations and their availability

Related reading and references


Publication in French

Further Information

There are three English translations available:

1) The Meaning of the Phallus: P74-85 of ‘Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality’

Translated by Jacqueline Rose

Available here

Published in: Juliet Mitchell & Jacqueline Rose (Eds): Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality: 1982: Macmillan:

Editor’s Preface & Bibliography etc Available here: Commentaries & Information from ‘Jacques Lacan & the École Freudienne: Feminine Sexuality’ : 1982 : Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose or here

Introduction to the Jacqueline Rose translation:

‘The Meaning of the Phallus’ is the only article of this collection previously to have appeared in English. It is included as Lacan’s most direct exposition of the status of the phallus in the psychoanalytic account of sexuality. This is the issue around which the whole controversy over femininity has turned.

It was first presented in German at the Max Planck Institute in Munich in 1958. At this stage, Lacan was concerned above all to emphasise the place of the symbolic order in the determination of human subjectivity, and to give an account of that order in terms of the laws of linguistic operation – the contemporary science of linguistics, as he argues here, having been unavailable to Freud.

Lacan, therefore, returns to the debates of the 1920s and 1930s (Abraham, Jones, Klein) and criticises what he sees as a reduction of the phallus to an object of primitive oral aggression, belonging in the realm of the instinct. Instead he places the phallus within the symbolic order, and argues that it can only be understood as a signifier in the linguistic sense of the term.

This is the first article of this collection to introduce the central concept of desire, which indicates for Lacan the fundamental division which he felt was avoided in discussion of the genital relation in certain French analytic circles at that time. Lacan, on the other hand, traces his conception through to the difficulties of the sexual relation itself, especially – we would stress – for the woman, whose relationship to the phallic term is described essentially in terms of masquerade.

This is perhaps the article which illustrates most clearly the problem of giving an explanation of the phallus which avoids reducing it to the biological difference between sexes, but which none the less tries to provide a differential account, for men and for women, of its effects.

‘The Meaning of the Phallus’ was published in Écrits (p685-695), Paris: Seuil, 1966, and translated by Alan Sheridan as ‘The signification of the Phallus’ in Écrits: a selection: Lacan, Routledge, 1977, p281-291. The following text is a new translation for this collection.

b) This translation reprinted in Sue Vice (ed): Psychoanalytic Criticism: A reader: 1998: Pollity Press, Cambridge

2) The Signification of the Phallus: 1958:

p281-291 of Alan Sheridan’s translation in Écrits: a selection: Lacan: Routledge: 1977

Available here

For further details see Translator’s note, Bibliography Note : 1977 : Alan Sheridan & Classified index of the major concepts, Commentary on the graphs : 1966 : Jacques-Alain Miller : from ‘Écrits: a selection’ : Information here

Introductory paragraph to the Alan Sheridan translation:

The following is the original, unaltered text of a lecture that I delivered in German on 9 May, 1958, at the Max-Planck Institute, Munich, where Professor Paul Matussek had invited me to speak.

If one has any notion of the state of mind then prevalent in even the least unaware circles, one will appreciate the effect that my use of such terms as, for example, ‘the other scene’, which I was the first to extract from Freud’s work, must have had.

If ‘deferred action’ (Nachtrag), to rescue another of these terms from the facility into which they have since fallen, renders this effort impracticable, it should be known that they were unheard of at that time.

Sheridan’s Footnote:

1.Aphanisis, the disappearance of sexual desire. This Greek term was introduced into psychoanalysis by Jones in ‘Early Development of Female Sexuality’ (1927), in Papers on Psycho-analysis, 5th edn., London 1950. For Jones, the fear of aphanisis exists, in both boys and girls, at a deeper level than the castration complex. [See below for access to Jones’ paper.]

3) The Signification of the Phallus : 9th May 1958 : pp575 – 584 of Bruce Fink’s translation in Jacque Lacan’s Écrits, The FIRST Complete Edition in English : 2002 : W. W. Norton & Co

Introductory paragraph: The following is the unaltered text of a lecture I gave in German on May 9, 1958, at the Max Planck Society in Munich, having been invited to speak there by Professor Paul Matussek.

If one has any notion of the mentality then prevalent in not otherwise uninformed circles, one can imagine how my use of terms that I was the first to extract from Freud’s work, such as “the other scene” (to cite one mentioned here), must have resounded.

If deferred action (Nachtrag), to take back another of these terms from the domain of the highbrow literati where they now circulate, makes this effort impracticable, it should be realized that they were unheard of at that time.

Related Reading:

a) Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality : 1958 [Presented in Amsterdam, 5th September 1960] : Jacques Lacan or here

b) Deutsch Helene The psychology of women in relation to the functions of reproduction : IJPA : vol vi : 1925 p405-418 : Available here

c) The early development of female sexuality : 1st September 1927 (Innsbruck) : Ernest Jones : See here : The term ‘Aphanisis’ which Jacques Lacan uses in ‘The Meaning (Signification) of the Phllus’ comes from here.

d) The Phallic Phase : given in Wiesbaden on 4th September 1932 [1933] : Ernest Jones : Information & availability here

e)  Womanliness as a masquerade : 1929 : Joan Rivière : Information here


See A Reader’s Guide to Écrits: 1982: John P. Muller and William J. Richardson : Information here

Chapter 8: The Signification of the Phallus …. p332 : Available here

Originally published in French

in Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Information here

Further Information:

For further texts by Jacques Lacan, translated into English, see Jacques Lacan in English or here

Other related texts:

Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here