The symptom in the perspective of the speaking body in civilisation (audio) : 19th May 2016 (London) : Éric Laurent

by Julia Evans on May 19, 2016

Last in a seminar series, The Speaking Body is Today’s Unconscious – Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century, arranged by London Society of the New Lacanian School and Kingston University (in collaboration with Art and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins).

An audio tape available here

Éric Laurent is a psychoanalyst and former president of the World Association of Psychoanalysis. Trained by Jacques Lacan in the 1970s, Éric Laurent was a member of the directorate of the École freudienne de Paris at the time of the School’s dissolution in 1980 and has been a member of the École de la Cause freudienne since its inception. He was editor-in-chief of La Cause freudienne from 1992 to 1994 and currently teaches within the framework of the Clinical Section of the Department of Psychoanalysis at University Paris-VIII.

Introduction by Véronique Voruz (Dept. Psychoanalysis, Kingston University, London)

A rough guide to references:

Help in establishing these references would be received gratefully….

Inside and outside – Note: Freud reservoir inside Lacan outside elements of J – void of the subject rim object a through zone of exchange.

The reference to Sigmund Freud may refer to Jacques Lacan’s examination of the death drive:

p204 of Dennis Porter’s translation : Seminar VII : 27th April 1960


Pierre Kaufmann’s Commentary on Sigfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive & Entropy : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960, p204-205 : Notes towards Reading Group of 22nd February 2014 or here  by Julia Evans on February 2, 2014


Commentary on Sigfried Bernfeld’s & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960 : Pierre Kaufmann or here

The Principle of Entropy and the Death Instinct (Der Entropiesatz und der Todestrieb) : 1931 : Sigfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg or here

P212 of Dennis Porter’s translation : Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 where Jacques Lacan examines Freud’s death drive.

Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: from 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan : Notes & availability here

The empty set as a not-One – see Seminar XX onwards. In Seminar XXIII, Jacques Lacan examines what happens when the father or the paternal function is an empty set, as in James Joyce.

- the reference to Alcibiades. This is probably to Seminar VIII : Transference : 1960-1961 : Begins 16th November 1960 : Jacques Lacan Availability & notes here

Lacan’s examination of this text takes place over many of the sessions. Here are a few references:

Seminar VIII : 16th November 1960 : p6-7 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

Seminar VIII : 23rd November 1960 : p14-16 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

To tell the truth if you simply know how to read – it seems to me you can speak all the more freely in so far as, I believe that one swallow does not make a summer, many of you, following my announcement the last time have acquired this work and therefore have been able to dip into it – you can hardly fail to be struck by what happens in the second part at least of this discourse between Alcibiades and Socrates outside the limits of the banquet itself. In so far as we will see later that it is a ceremony which has its rules, a sort of ritual, of an intimate competition between members of the elite, a society game… this society game this Symposium we see is not a pretext for Plato’s dialogue, it refers to customs, to habits that are differently regulated according to the locality in Greece, the level of culture we would say, and the rule that is imposed there is not something exceptional: that everyone should bring his share in the form of a little contribution of a discourse determined by a subject (194d). Nevertheless there is something which was not foreseen, there is what one might call a disturbance. The rules were even given at the beginning of the Symposium that there should not be too much drinking; no doubt the pretext is that most of the people there already have a hangover because they had drunk too much the night before. One also notices the importance of the serious character of this elite group that is made up that evening by fellow drinkers.

This does not prevent that at a moment, which is a moment at which not everything is finished, far from it, one of the guests, Aristophanes, has something to say in the order of a rectification of the agenda, or a demand for explanation. At that very moment there enter a group of people, who are completely drunk, namely Alcibiades and his companions. And Alcibiades, who is pretty high, takes over the chair and begins to make statements which are exactly the ones whose scandalous character I intend to highlight for you.

Obviously this presupposes that we have some idea of what Alcibiades is, of what Socrates is and this takes us very far. All the same I would like you to take into account what Alcibiades is. In any case, for the usual version, you should read in the Nine Greek Lives what Plutarch wrote about him, this to help you to take into account the stature of the personage.

I know well that this again is going to demand an effort from you. This life is described for us by Plutarch in what I would call the Alexandrian atmosphere, namely at a funny moment in history, in which all the personages seem to pass to the state of a sort of shadow. I am speaking about the moral accent of what comes to us from this epoch which involves a sort of emergence of shadows, a sort of nekuia as it is called in the Odyssey.

Plutarch’s construction, with what they contain moreover as a model, as a paradigm, for a whole moralistic tradition which followed, have this something or other which makes us think of the being of zombies: it is difficult to see blood flowing through their veins. But try to imagine from this singular career that Plutarch outlines for us, what this man must have been; this man coming here before Socrates, Socrates who elsewhere declares that he was protos erastes, the first to have loved him, Alcibiades, this Alcibiades who on the other hand is a sort of pre-Alexander, a personage no doubt whose political adventures are all marked with the sign of defiance, of extraordinary exploits, of an incapacity to situate himself or to come to a halt anywhere, and wherever he passes upsetting the situation and making victory pass from one camp to the other wherever he goes, everywhere hunted, exiled and, it must be said, because of his misdeeds.

It seems that if Athens lost the Peloponnesian War, it is in so far as it felt the need to recall Alcibiades right in the middle of hostilities to make him account for an obscure story, the one described as the mutilation of Hermes, which appears to us to be (4) as inexplicable as it is ridiculous as we look back on it, but which surely involved fundamentally a character of profanation, of properly speaking insulting the gods.

Nor are we at all able to consider the memory of Alcibiades and his companions as settled. I mean that it is surely not without reason that the people of Athens brought him to book for it. In this sort of practice which evokes, by analogy, some sort of black Mass or other, we cannot fail to see against what kind of background of insurrection, of subversion with respect to the laws of the city, that there emerges a personage like Alcibiades. A background of rupture, of contempt for forms and for traditions, for laws, no doubt for religion itself… This is the disturbing thing that this personage carries with him. But he carries with him just as much a very singular
wherever he goes. And after this suit by the people
he does neither more nor less than pass over to the
Sparta, to this Sparta moreover that he Alcibiades responsibility in making the enemy of Athens, previously, he did all in his power in short, to make the peace negotiations fail.

So he goes over to Sparta and he immediately finds nothing better, nor more worthy of his memory, than to make the queen pregnant, something which everybody saw and knew about. It happens to be very well known that the king Agis has not slept with his wife for ten “months for reasons which I will pass over. She has a child, and right away Alcibiades will say: in any case, it was not for the pleasure of it that I did this, it is because it seemed appropriate to my dignity to ensure that my descendants would have a throne, and in that way to honour the throne of Sparta with one of my own race. This sort of thing, as you can well imagine, may be captivating for a certain time, but it is not forgiven. And naturally as you know Alcibiades, having contributed this present and some ingenious ideas about the manner of conducting hostilities, is going to change quarters again. He can hardly fail to go to the third camp, to the Persian camp, to the one represented by the power of the king of Persia in Asia Minor, namely Tissaphernes who, Plutarch tells us, was a bitter enemy of Greece. To be frank he hates them, but he is seduced by Alcibiades.

It is from there that Alcibiades is going to set about reestablishing the fortunes of Athens. He does it in conditions whose story of course is also extremely surprising because it seems that it is really in the midst of a sort of network of double agents, of permanent betrayal, all the warnings he gives to the Athenians are immediately reported through a circuit to Sparta and to the Persians themselves who make it known to the specific person of the Athenian fleet who passed on the information; so that at the same time he in his turn comes to know, to be informed, that it is perfectly well known in the highest places that he is a traitor.

Each of these personages sorts himself out as best he can. It is certain that in the midst of all this Alcibiades redresses the fortunes of Athens. After all that, without our being able to be absolutely sure of the details, in the way that the ancient historians reported them, we must not be astonished if Alcibiades comes back to Athens with what we could call a really outstanding triumph which, despite the joy of the Athenian people, is going to be the beginning of a change of opinion.

We find ourselves in the presence of someone who cannot fail at every instant to provoke what can be called public opinion. His death is also quite a strange business. There are many obscurities about who is responsible for it; what is certain, is that it seems, that after a succession of reversals of fortune.of reversions each more astonishing than the other, (but it seems that in any case, whatever difficulties he find himself in, he is never disheartened), a sort of enormous confluence of hatreds is going to culminate in the destruction of Alcibiades by means of procedures which are those, which legend, myth say must be used against the scorpion: he is surrounded by a circle of fire from which he escapes and it is from a distance with javelins and arrows that he must be brought down.

Such is the singular career of Alcibiades. If I have shown you the level of a power, of a penetration of a very active, exceptional mind, I would say that the most outstanding trait is still the reflection which is added to it by what is described not alone as the precocious beauty of Alcibiades as a child (which we know is closely linked to the story of the type of love then reigning in Greece namely, the love of children) but this beauty preserved for a long time which meant that at a rather advanced age it makes of him someone who seduces as much by his form as by his exceptional intelligence.

Such is the personage. And we see him in a gathering which reunites in short learned, serious men (although, in this context of Greek love on which we are going to put the accent later on which already contributes a background of permanent erotism from which these discourses on love are going to emerge) we see him therefore coming to recount to everybody something which we can summarise more or less in the following terms: namely the vain efforts that he made when he was a young man, at the time Socrates loved him, to get Socrates to have sex with him.

This is developed at length with details, and in short with a considerable crudity of language. There is no doubt that he made Socrates lose control, show how disturbed he was, yield to these direct corporal invitations, to a physical approach. And this which is publicly [reported] by a drunken man no doubt, but by a drunken man the whole extent of whose remarks Plato thinks it worthwhile reporting to us – I do not know if I am making myself fully understood.

Seminar VIII : 14th December 1960

P54-55 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : And in its very text, this discourse of Alcibiades (because it is a matter of the avowal of his own disconcertment) everything that he says is really about his suffering, how disturbed he is by an attitude of Socrates which still leaves
him, almost as much as at the time, wounded, eaten by some
strange wound or other. And why this public confession? Why in this public confession this interpretation by Socrates which shows him that this confession has an altogether immediate goal:
to separate him from Agathon, the occasion right away for a sort
of return to order? All of those who have referred to this text, since I have been speaking to you about it, have not failed to be struck by how consonant this whole strange scene is with
all sorts of situations, of instantaneous positions which are liable to happen in transference.

Seminar VIII : 21st December 1960 : p70 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

The Academy is a sort of reserved city, a refuge for the best people. And it is in the context of this enterprise, whose horizon certainly went very far…. what we
know about what he dreamt of in his voyage to Sicily (curiously
to the same places where his adventure is in a way a sort of echo of the dream of Alcibiades who, for his part, clearly dreamt
about a Mediterranean empire with Sicily as its centre) bore a
sign of the most lofty sublimation: it is like a sort of Utopia
of which he thought he could be director. From the heights of Alcibiades, obviously all of this is reduced to a level that is certainly less elevated.

Perhaps it would go no further than a high point of masculine elegance. But it would all the same be to depreciate this metaphysical dandyism not to see the range of which it was in a
way capable. I think that one is right to read the text of Plato from the angle of what I am calling dandyism: they are writings for the outside, I would even go so far as to say that
he throws to the dogs that we are tiny scraps which may be good
or bad, the debris of an often rather infernal humour. But it is a fact, that he has been understood differently. The fact is that Christian desire, which has so little to do with all these adventures, this Christian desire whose core, whose essence is in the resurrection of bodies (you have to read St. Augustine to glimpse the place that that holds)…. that this Christian desire recognised itself in Plato for whom the body must dissolve into a beauty that is super-terrestrial and reduced to an extraordinarily incorporeal form, of which we are going to speak in a little while, is the sign obviously that there is here a complete misunderstanding.

But it is precisely that which brings us back to the question of transference and to this delusional character of such a taking-up of the discourse into another context which is properly speaking contradictory to it.


Must we not recognise here the effect of the only tangible convergence between the two thematics which is the Word presented as object of adoration? This is why it is so important (over against the Christian mystique, in which one cannot deny that love produced rather extraordinary fruits, follies according to the Christian tradition itself) to delineate what the import of love is in the transference which is produced around this other, Socrates who, himself, is only a man who claims to know about love but who only leaves of it the most [p71] simply
 natural proof, namely that his disciples tease him for losing his head from time to time before a beautiful young man and, as Xenophon testifies to us, to have one day – this does not amount to much – touched with his shoulder the naked shoulder of the young Cristobulos; Xenophon himself tells us the result of
it: it left him with neither more nor less than an ache – which
is not nothing, for such an experienced cynic! Because already in Socrates there are all the figures of the cynic. This proves in any case a certain violence of desire, but it leaves, it must
be said, love in a rather instantaneous position.

Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego : 1921 : Sigmund Freud

You will find Freud’s paper in English with the original German text laid out in the right hand column : published by : available here

Knowledge of Jouissance & Ecclesiasticus

Probably Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan: Text in English & References : Notes here

Seminar X : 19th December 1962 : pVI 10 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

Knowledge of Jouissance & Freud’s case of Dora

Probably Seminar XXIII: The Sinthome or Joyce and the Sinthome: 1975-1976: beginning on November 18th 1975 : Jacques Lacan : Notes & availability here

Seminar XXIII : 9th March 1976 : pVIII 2 onwards of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

Seminar XXIII : 16th March 1976 : pIX 13 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation

Press Conference at the French Cultural Center, Rome (The Triumph of Religion) : 29th October 1974 : Jacques Lacan

Notes & availability here

Further texts:

By Éric Laurent here

By Jacques Lacan here

Of the clinic here