Crisis in transference, by Lilia Mahjoub – NLS Congress, Geneva, 9 may 2015


With a crisis, something ruptures, cuts through, or gets disordered, in what, until then, proceeded smoothly, according to a symbolic order. What is the status of this disordering, of that which cannot be named, which makes some want to find their way anew, and that others, on the contrary, want it to change because they have certain aspirations?

After the crisis of 1968, Lacan had addressed the students of the University of Vincennes, telling them that their revolutionary aspirations would lead them to the master’s discourse, notably that after the revolution and its crisis, one would return to the same point as before.

This circling is the same for all the discourses: for the university’s discourse, Lacan had put it forth as a new master’s discourse. Similarly, for the hysteric’s discourse, notably after a hysterical crisis, when it is treated through the framework of the master’s discourse, there is no change, the master remains the master, and the hysteric remains a hysteric. This was the crisis in transference for Dora’s analysis, when she had returned to see Freud after a long interruption.

Freud reported that he hadn’t succeeded in ‘mastering the transference’.1 He even promised Dora when he perceived that she ‘was not in earnest over her request’, ‘to forgive her for having deprived me of the satisfaction of affording her a far more radical cure’. 2

That which became an obstacle in the case of Dora is something that emerges from transference, and more precisely from Freud’s place in this cure, which led to a crisis in the transference, as it happens in every analysis.

In the case of the young homosexual, even if Freud sees it more clearly, as Lacan states he ‘errs when he regards himself as the object aimed at in reality by the negative transference’.3

So, what can psychoanalysts be interested in, starting from this concept of transference, even its crises, if not by the question of the unconscious, to define the conception of it?

Speaking about transference in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, Freud argues that ‘we must above all get rid of the mistaken notion that what we are dealing with in our struggle against resistances is resistance on the part of the unconscious’4 because it ‘offers no resistance whatever to the efforts of the treatment. Indeed, it itself has no other endeavour than to break down through the pressure weighing down on it and force its way either to consciousness or to a discharge through some real action.’5 Lacan, as we know, will go on to develop that resistance does not come from the subject of the unconscious, but rather from the analyst.

He further considered that the concept of transference as the presence of the past, as a reproduction, was incomplete. He further developed in his seminar on transference that this presence was not ‘a simple passivating of the subject’,6 but rather ‘there is something creative in transference’s manifestations’.7 Repetitions related to what remains fixed in the signifying chain are thus distinguished from transference as what the subject fabricates; constructed as a part of transference, it is a fiction to be heard by an Other.

In addition, Lacan had upheld that ‘in the central, normal conditions of analysis – in the case of neuroses, that is – transference is interpreted on the basis of and using the instrument of transference itself.’8

Therefore, if the analyst interprets the transference from the position that the transference gives him, namely the Other of the transference, this will always include an irreducible margin of suggestion, ensuring ‘the subjects exit from the transference is thus postponed adinfinitum.’9

Thus, from transference distinguished from repetition, it was necessary to find a place outside of transference in order to interpret it.

Lacan would go on to redefine the unconscious as that which barely opens, that it closes and that what is at work in this closure is transference. He thus reconfigured the idea that Freud gave, to that of a ‘besace’* or double-sack, something that was closed and had to be penetrated from outside by inverting it. The unconscious is not an inside but what is outside, something that is ‘to think in exteriority’10 as Jacques-Alain Miller said in December 2007.

Thus, transference is not to be treated through transference, rather, as the locus of crisis, from this exteriority. It is from another place than that of the Other of transference that the analyst will have to operate.

In other words, and as formulated by Jacques-Alain Miller in his course, Lacan arrives at that which was not arrived at by Freud by separating the unconscious from psychoanalysis by giving two distinct formalizations of discourse of the unconscious and the discourse of the analyst.

The discourse of the unconscious is subject to the master signifier which orders the words of the analysand, and ‘is wholly reducible to a knowledge’,11 notably S2. This is how the Freudian unconscious is structured, with the subject, $, installed in the position of truth, since Freud supposed it in the subject. In the analyst’s discourse, this is the last change in position, as it is no longer knowledge that is at work, but rather the subject, which empties the truth of the subject. Knowledge, meanwhile, finding itself in the place of the truth as it is not-all, turns out to be incomplete. Later, Lacan will state that the insistence of unconscious knowledge, as it was discovered by Freud, does not ‘necessarily presuppose the real that I [Lacan] make use of’12.

It is by bringing forth this response from the real that Lacan carries the Freudian elucubration, according to his formula, to ‘its degree of symbolism, to the second degree’ 13. He does not invalidate the Freudian discovery, but rather moves ahead from it in order to elevate it to this second degree, pointing out that the real is his own symptomatic response to the Freudian unconscious, where the position of the analyst is in some way shackled by transference. In other words, the Freudian or transferential unconscious is reinvented by Lacan as the real unconscious. And it is this real which the analyst pretends (faire semblant)** to as the object a which will direct the interventions. To define the unconscious, we need these two discourses, hence the topology of the Möbius strip.

It is thus by re-situating the analyst to a place that is no longer that of the transferential Other that Lacan will establish the discourse of the analyst.

According to Lacan’s expression, which is a neologism, this object a is ‘obstaculant’14 to the expansion of the all-encompassing imaginary. It is therefore an obstacle to an enlargement of the imaginary, but also to the opening of the unconscious, as in the example of the hoop-net*, and thus produces a crisis of transference. Placed at the control of the analyst, it is therefore the means to his actions.

When Dora left Freud, as the precious object that the hysteric purloins from the knowledge produced by the master, Freud writes:

Might I perhaps have kept the girl under my treatment if I myself had acted a part, If I had exaggerated the importance to me of her staying on, and had shown a warm personal interest in her… . I do not know. … I have always avoided acting a part and have contended myself with practising the humbler arts of psychology.’15

Freud does not occupy the place of ‘make belief (faire semblant) of the object a’ because its relation to the truth at stake is an obstacle.

By articulating the analyst’s discourse, Lacan makes sure that the analysand is relieved, if I may say so, of the charge of this object, which was not the case with Dora, who does not support the disclosure of a truth about her value as an object, reduced to the ‘nothing’ of Mr K.

In the seminar The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan spoke of a ‘permanent conceptual crisis […] in analysis’16 about transference and specified that this crisis as a closing of the unconscious could be treated from the position of the object a. It is when there is a crisis of transference that the interpretation of the analyst is indeed expected.

The psychoanalyst is not the master of the game, but ‘[…] all the same,’ said Lacan, ‘he supports it, he embodies the trump card, as long as it is he who comes to play the role of the object a, with all the weight that entails.’17

It is a curious place that the analyst is supposed to occupy, that is why it is always advisable to question him as proposed by Lacan with the Pass. He also referred to this place as that of ‘refuse’ and added that it was necessary to ‘go via this determined refuse, so as perhaps, to retrouver, to find again something that might belong to the order of the real’, in his seminar The Sinthome18.

To extend what is there of crisis in transference, apart from that which is played out in an analysis, I will now speak of the crises in transference as they occur outside the strict framework of the cure, for example in the analytical movement. These are crises of transference that are of course related to the conception of the unconscious current at that time.

It is by the term crisis that Lacan refers to 1953, as it was relative to the place of the psychoanalyst in the world. ‘So far as my place is concerned’, he said at a conference in 1967, ‘At that time, in psychoanalysis in France, we were in what might be called a moment of crisis. There was talk of setting up an institutional mechanism to settle the future status of psychoanalysts’19.

In the middle of a ‘hurly-burly’’*** (tohu-bohu), Lacan says that he found himself with a certain number of people on a raft and for ten years had he lived at the edge of his means.

It is there, he says, in this crisis, that what he had to say got a certain significance, namely that he had to say what the unconscious was, even though everyone knew there was an unconscious, in other words everyone thought they knew what it was. And that is precisely what psychoanalysts themselves should not say from the outset. This, I would say, is the difference, and that is what gives the chance to the unconscious. ‘And this is where things begin to get interesting’20, said Lacan.

For after all, nothing proves the a priori existence of the unconscious, except admittedly the idea, as I said before, that there is one. The analyst has to account for it by means of a discourse and not per se, because the unconscious does not exist and it is in this sense that it is real. It must be possible to demonstrate it otherwise than as something admitted collectively.

In other words, if the unconsciousness has an exteriority, it is for the discourse of the analyst to play its role in this exteriority, to intervene in what has already been mastered by the discourse of the unconscious in common speech.

Thus, the psychoanalyst has a place to hold in the crises which strike the world, and this, from the position of the analyst’s discourse. We see it every day, the world has changed and we have to keep an eye on the beacon**** of the unconscious that is transference with its crises.

Jacques-Alain Miller, in Comandatuba in August 200421, wondered if the object a was the compass of today’s civilization. Certainly, I say, provided that the psychoanalyst puts in his two-penny worth by focusing on its crises.

In Civilization and its Discontents Freud criticized the issue of love for one’s neighbour by arguing that ‘their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them’22. And thereby ‘to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him’23 It is neither more nor anything less than the death drive, the one which slips past discourse, that we find exposed here. The death drive is, as Lacan states, ‘the real inasmuch as it can only be pondered qua impossible’.24 This is what makes my neighbour embody the position of object a and that which summons the analyst’s speech to take charge of it in the sense which I mentioned it before.

The discourse of the analyst is the one which takes care of the work that other discourses cannot do. This is what we consider the public utility of psychoanalysis.

The public utility is not about the psychoanalyst working for a collective good, but to take the time to understand what is also a crisis in society, since it is in these crises from which arises a real that perturbs the symbolic order.

The youth are in crisis today, not all, but a part nonetheless, and one which we have ignored. Why are an ever-increasing number of adolescents contagiously turning to radical issues, such as enlisting in religious extremist causes, to kill and be killed? These teenagers are of diverse cultural and religious origins, and among them many are being converted to these causes.

We have experienced this painful ordeal for several months, if not for a few years in France, in Belgium, and in other countries that want to be secular and free of these deadly crises. We cannot look away saying that there is no question of the unconscious in these events, especially after how I have defined the ever-reformulated definition of the unconscious, and return to the serenity of our private practices. They will retort that there must be transference is, that psychoanalysis does not have a good press at this time, and that they prefer suggestive methods; but this transference is just waiting to be established, as I have stated, with interlocutors who need to speak in order for this scourge to be treated. It seems to me about time that psychoanalysts should reflect on their position on this so-called absence of transference and hence on the answers they can give to this burning problem before it turns more horrific.

Text originally published in Mental n° 34, Identités en crise, with the title: ‘Crise dans le transfert, crise dans la jeunesse’.

* Translator’s Note: Lacan contrasts the hoop net (nasse) and the double sack (besace) in Seminar XI.

** Translators Note: faire semblant carries connotations of pretending or make belief as well as representation.

*** Translator’s Note: Tohu wa-bohu, is a Biblical Hebrew phrase found in the Genesis creation narrative (Genesis 1:2) that describes the condition of the earth (eretz) immediately before the creation of light in Genesis 1:3. In French it carries connotations of confusion.

**** amer in French carries nuances of both bitterness and stinging as well as being an unambiguous fixed and identifiable landmark used for marine navigation.

Translated by Arunava Banerjee

Works Cited

1 Freud S., ‘A Case of Hysteria’, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII. Vintage, London,1953, p.118
2 Freud S., Ibid., p.121-122
3 Lacan J.,
Écrits: The first complete edition in English, New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 2006, p. 534.

4 Freud S., ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII, Vintage, London,1953, p.19
5 Freud S., Ibid.

6. Lacan, J. Transference: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VIII, Trans. Bruce Fink and Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2015, p.174.
7. Ibid., p.174
8. Ibid., p.173
9 Lacan J., ‘
The direction of the treatment and the principles of its power’ Écrits: The first complete edition in English, New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 2006, p. 494
10 Miller J.-A., La lettre mensuelle n° 264, E.C.F., p. 39. Personal Translation.
11 Lacan J.,
The Sinthome: The seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII, Trans. Adrian Price and Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2016, p.112.
12 Ibid. p. 113
13 Ibid. p. 113
14 Ibid., p. 70
15 Freud S., ‘A Case of Hysteria’, op. cit., p.109
16 Lacan J.,
Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Trans. A. Sheridan, London, Vintage, 1998, p. 131
17 Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, Paris, Seuil, mars 2006, p. 353. 6 pers. Trans.
18 Lacan J., The Sinthome, op. cit., p.105
Lacan, Jacques, and Jacques-Alain Miller, My teaching, London, Verso, 2008, p.6.
20 Ibid. p.8.
21 Miller J.-A., ‘Une fantaisie’,
Mental n° 15, février 2005, NLS, p. 11.
22 Freud S., ‘Civilization and its Discontents’,
The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI, Vintage, London,1953, p.111
23 Freud S., Ibid., p.111.
24 Lacan J., The Sinthome, op. cit., p. 106