The Position of the Unconscious (Bonneval Hospital): 31st October 1960: Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on October 31, 1960

This paper summarizes the remarks Jacques Lacan made at the Colloquium held October 30th to November 2nd, 1960, at Bonneval Hospital. They were condensed in March 1964 at Henri Ey’s request for his collection of the talks given at the colloquium, published as L’inconscient (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1966).

Published in English:

1) Position of the Unconscious: 1960: Translated by Bruce Fink: in Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink and Maire Jaanus (eds), ‘Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, 1995, p259-282

Available here

2) Écrits, Jacques Lacan, The first complete edition in English : translated by Bruce Fink : W.W. Norton & Co : 2002 : Information here  

Published in French

1) L’inconscient (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1966)

2) Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan: Information here

3) École Lacanienne de la Psychanalyse, Pas Tout Lacan:  and available: 1960-10-31, Position de l’inconscient au Congrès de Bonneval (15p) or here

Warning! This site has been redesigned : NOW 5 – Pas-tout Lacan – here


Serge Leclaire’s case study of the unicorn or Poordejeli available : The Dream with the Unicorn – Pôor(d)j’e-li : 30th October 1960 (Bonneval Hospital) [published 1966/68] : Serge Leclaire or here

Alienation and Separation in Seminar XI (Paris) : 1st July 1990 : Éric Laurent : or here


From Bruce Fink’s Preface to ‘Reading Seminar XI : Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’ (eds) Bruce Fink, Richard Feldstein & Maire Jaanus: 1995: Albany, State Uni of NY Press : Quote

The reader will note that we have included at the end of this volume the first English translation ever to appear in print of Lacan’s article from the Écrits, “Position of the Unconscious.” It is a perfect companion piece to Seminar XI, as it takes up a considerable number of the subjects covered therein-the unconscious, the drives, alienation and separation, transference, the “lamella,” and so on – at a still higher level of abstraction. And it is quoted and/or alluded to in many of the papers presented in this volume.

Originally written in 1960, “Position of the Unconscious” was considerably reworked for its 1964 publication in VI’ Colloque de Bonneval : l’Inconscient (Paris : Desclée de Brouwer,1966),and further reworked for
its 1966 publication in the Écrits. Thus it presents a slice of Lacan’s more “mature” work in which the real has truly come into its own, object a is viewed as a part of the subject’s libido located outside of his or her own body, and sexual difference is articulated in terms suggestive of Lacan’s 1970s formulas of sexuation.

The article is, strictly speaking, unreadable, once again confirming Lacan’s appraisal of his Écrits in Seminar XX : they were not meant to be read (“ils n’étaient pas à lire” [29]). Indeed, they were not written in such a way as to facilitate the reader’s task. Rather they were written to be worked over –unabridged dictionaries and an immense library in hand(including all of Lacan’s seminars and his other Écrits) – mulled over, diagrammed, pieced together ,dreamt about, and reformulated in non-Lacanian French. Their translation into other languages is obviously impossible, at one level, when not altogether ridiculous.

Some will, no doubt, feel that what is to be gleaned from this particular Écrit does not justify the effort of working it over and over and over. Others will, I hope find the text an inexhaustible source of provocative formulations that stick with them even if they aren’t the least bit sure what they mean:


[T]he signifier as such, whose first purpose is to bar the subject, has brought into him the meaning of death. (The letter kills, but we learn this from the letter itself.) That is why every drive is virtually a death drive.


[P]sychoanalysts are part and parcel of the concept of the unconscious.


[The subject] was first produced at the other’s summoning.


The subject, the Cartesian subject, is the presupposition of the unconscious…. The Other is the dimension required in order for speech to affirm itself as truth. The unconscious is, between the two of them, their cut in act.


The effect of language is to introduce the cause into the subject. Through this effect, he is not the cause of himself; he bears within himself the worm of the cause that splits him. For his cause is the signifier, without which there would be no subject in the real.