The Course of the Symptom: To Speak is to Suffer, or the Three Temporal Moments of the Fundamental Symptom in a Psychoanalysis


To speak is to suffer, because it is not pure speech. One
cannot say everything. Something is always lost, and that is
a risk that I am taking today. That is also what analysands who
come to see us for the talking cure do: they come with their
suffering and their symptoms. They come to speak so as to get
rid of their symptoms.
There is also an easy kind of talk, that of blah blah: « How
are you »; « it’s a nice day today »; « looks like it’s gonna rain“,
etc. But there is also what you hear on the couch in the well—
meaning and well thought out discourses of « good analysands“ who
blither at a loss, so to speak, in other words to purely mask
There are simple silences with the
what they don’t want to know.
same aim as well. As soon as speech is easy (and silence is but
one of its forms), everything is comfortable, and the feeling of
comfort, like all feelings, is misleading. As soon as speech (in
whatever form) is difficult, we are not far from anxiety, the
only true affect, as’ everyone knows —— true in the sense of the
subject’s truth.
But let us come back to our analysand who comes to us »to
speak so that his symptom will disappear. what will be the fate
in store for his symptom? That is the question I would like to
address today. In the very demand to begin an analysis, which
thus consists in coming « to speak so that the symptom disappear »,
we see the whole paradox of the subject in question. For how can
speaking make symptoms disappear, when the fundamental symptom
is, if you will, speaking itself, in the sense of being in the
field of speech? In this vein, one might say that the psychotic
is the normal subject who is not affected by this fundamental
symptom. Nevertheless, there are psychotic subjects who request
analysis. Michel Sylvestre proposed that we take as the
psychotic’s symptom the surplus and threatening signification
which cannot come into being because of the lack of a privileged
signifier, namely the Name—of—the5Father. This signification he
lacks is produced by the construction of a metaphor which takes
the place of the paternal metaphor._ One can thus perhaps speak,
in any case, of a substitutional symptom as well. For those who
don’t have any symptoms are in big trouble! One cannot_ do
without symptoms. A One of our colleagues spoke of the necessity
of symptoms in reporting that one of_ his analysands, though
relieved of his symptoms through psychoanalysis, found himself
led into even worse straights. Even normality is a symptom, and
it is probably the most uncurable. Thus if the symptom cannot
disappear, what happens to it in the course of an analysis? and
at the end of an analysis?
Let us recall for the record a definition of the symptom
which Lacan provides in his Seminar R.S.I. (Real, Symbolic,
Imaginary). « I define the symptom by the way in which each
person derives jouissance from the unconscious, insofar as the
unconscious determines that person. » This definition of the
symptom by forms of jouissance contains within it the fact that
there is always something which remains incurable, as there is
always one form or another of jouissance, even if not all use-

values of jouissance are equivalent. If something changes in a
subject’s symptom during treatment, that clearly has something to
do with his form of jouissance. In what way does this form of
jouissance change in the course of analysis? This is another way
of posing the question of the symptom, about which the subject
complains when he requests to start an analysis and with which he
contents himself at the end of the treatment, for a change in its
jouissance value has taken place in the interim, allowing the
symptom to change forms, the jouissance it provides no longer
having the same value, unburdened, as it is, of its surplus
How does treatment operate on the symptom’s jouissance, if
not by transference and interpretation, the two mainsprings of
psychoanalysis, which do not, however, bounce all by themselves.
I’ll turn now more directly to the theme of this workshop
concerning transference and interpretation. –
A psychoanalysis consists in the interpretation of desire
insofar, as Jacques—Alain Miller has said, as « The unconscious is
itself its interpretation. »
Interpretation is what operates in an analysis, and everyone
knows that interpretation is of no value without transference.
There is thus no such thing as interpretation without
transference. lt is transference which gives the analyst his
specific status from which he can interpret, when the time comes,
even if the status of his interpretation, insofar as such,
becomes clear only after the fact. Let me take this oppurtunity
to say that interpretation can only be recognized in its effects,
i.e. after the fact. An analyst who, concerning a particular

analysand, would say to himself one fine morning when in a
particularly good state o? mind, « Okay, today I think I’ll give
him an interpretation,“ would be getting off to a bad start. An
interpretation cannot be programed because of its very nature.
And even if one can speak of the calculation or calculus of
interpretation, the question here is more one of an uncalculated
calculation, in that it is not conspired, Forseen or programed by
the analyst (as opposed to the explanation of sense or meaning).
The e+¥ects o¥ his act will determine whether or not it
consti tutes an interpretati on.
This leads us to wonder what the effects of interpretation
are. They are not the kinds of e¥¥ects the analysand expects
when he requests analysis. What, in Fact, does the analysand ask
¥or? For his symptoms to disappear and for his suffering to
stop. In other words, he demands that the prosthesis he found in
the ¥orm o§ his symptom, which fended off what certain people
call the foreclosure o¥ sex, or otherwise stated, which
supplemented the empty relationship, the void 0% that place where
the partner lacks, i.e. the fact that there is no sexual relation
—~ he demands to longer need that prosthesis, but not to get rid
of it any old which way. What he demands is to no longer have
his prosthesis (his symptom) —— and here let us take the example
of a one—legged man’s wooden leg —— not because he will be
satis¥ied to walk with one single leg, but because his second leg
will have grown back. In other words, what the analysand wants
is to find the knowledge which would erase the “§ault » (in the
geological sense o¥ the word) which constitutes the fundamental
trauma o? existence. This knowledge which would erase the fault,

this knowledge which he takes to be the only worthwile knowledge,
that which concerns sex, he attributes this knowledge to the
psychoanalyst as the subject—supposed—to—know. He asks the
psychoanalyst to give him this knowledge which would remedy the
fact that there is no such thing as a sexual relation (i.e. that
the difference between the sexes is nowhere inscribed in the
unconscious). In situating worthwhile knowledge in the analyst’s
chair, he says at the same time thereby to what extent he is
terrified by (and’ hates) his own knowledge (in the place of
truth), about which he obviously does not want to know anything,
and which he carefully hides behind his symptom. This fault or
division —— whose subject he refuses to be, for which he feels
guilty, which he tries to avoid, mask and disavow, paying the
price of suffering, however great it may be —— it is this very
fault or division which makes him give up on his desire, or sell
out (on) his own desire (as Stuart Schneiderman has said in his
seminar), to take refuge in the jouissance of the symptom in the
« One is more or less guilty of the real“, according to
Lacan. The analysand, at the beginning of the treatment, does
not see things in exactly that way. For him, guilt is born from
division. The superego, which makes him feel guilty, imposes the
imperative of jouissanc upon him. The love one directs at one’s
analyst in transference—love is thus love for the subject-
supposed—to—know, in other words, as Lacan says, « It is love, not
desire, which is directed at knowledge.“ One sees thus how, on
the basis of a request to begin analysis, addressed to a supposed
knowledge, correlated with a relation to knowledge, in other
words to signifiers, the analysand enters into transference love,
a necessary but insufficient condition for analysis to take place
(insufficient in that there is always plenty of transference to
psychoanalytic knowledge, one might even say that it is always on
our hands, but that we are not for all that in an analytic
position to do something with it which would permit us to
interpret. we can only try to keep from sinking beneath these
muddy waters, from which institutions —— including psychoanalytic
ones —— are not immune).
The transference love which comes into being and becomes the
analysand’s new symptom, or rather the symptom’s second temporal
moment, always has the function of masking his division, though
this time taking advantage of the analytic situation, and the
relation to knowledge it brings with it.
Transference love is also the new link between the subject’s
lies and resitances concerning his truth. If the analysand
attributes knowledge to the analyst because of love, we know that
the analyst is not the depository of the subject’s knowledge
about his symptom, for he too is barred from this knowledge.
which is not to be forgotten, for he could direct the analysand’s
treatment such that the question of desire would be isolated in
the quagmire of love, or any other affect —— it is not to be
forgotten, as I mentioned, for if the analyst forgets this, what
happens? In other words, if the analyst thinks he holds in his
hands knowledge about his analysand’s symptom, he thus places
himself as the one who knows and not in the position of pretence
or semblance (implied by the term « subject—supposed—to—know »),
which is to say that he functions as a mirror with his
analysand, in relation to the question of knowledge, consenting
thereby to the belief that there is knowledge which can palliate
the lack of a sexual relation. Otherwise stated, he would be in
the same position in relation to the symptom as the analysand, in
the same « I don’t want to know anything about it », except that he
would be seated in the armchair instead o¥ lying on the couch.
This is what happens when the analyst involves himself in
making scholarly interventions about the analysand’s existence
and the reasons for his functioning —— interventions he calls
interpretations but which are o? the following type: « you are
taking me for your mother », « you desire your mother without
letting on to your father », « your Dedipal complex is making you
feel guilty“ —— or even in the interrogatory ¥orm: « wasn’t it
your right eye you glued to the keyhole to watch your sister when
she was naked? », this question being addressedd to an analysand
blind in the right eye. Such statements could turn out to be
correct, but not true, in the sense that the correctness of a
statement doesn’t stop it from masking all the more the truth of
the lacking sexual relation. This question of the analyst’s
relation to knowledge has, as we see, many repercussions on the
direction of the treatment, and thus of the handling of the
transference and the practice of interpretation.
Here I would like to recount two clinical vignettes related
to the questions of knowledge and interpretation.
The first consists in a sentence one of our colleagues
quoted from one of his analysands, which runs as iollows: « My
former shrink, he told me my li¥e story really well!“
The second was» an intention manifested by one of my
analysands who had come to me to do a second stage of analysis,
an intention which she declared to me during a session in which
she quickly told a couple of dreams and then politely lapsed into
silence for a while, leaving me the time to provide some
explanation. Seeing that no explanation was forthcoming, she
then said, “my unconscious is not answering », complaining thereby
that her analysis wasn’t working as she had hoped, that it was
useless to dream as the gods invoked weren’t taking their cue by
casting light on the dark night of her symptoms.
If the first analysand is to be believed, the interpretation
which concerns meaning, in wanting to restore the meaning of his
life and fantasies to the subject, doesn’t change anything
related to the question with which the subject came into
analysis. In other words it has hardly any cutting effect as to
the subject’s jouissance. If the second analysand is to be
believed, the unconscious —— as that which escapes the analysand
in tquestion —— can be measured as well in terms of the analyst’s
silence regarding what she desperatedly tried to obtain: that her
analyst interpret her unconscious, interpreting here, of course,
to be understood as saying to her what it is, as making her
understand through explanations providing meaning —— much as
does herself, for, so as to fallstall any faults, she spends her
sessions as this vi nette shows inter retin her own
s 9 Qunconscious in the register of meaning: « she said this because
her father did that…; she does that because of her mother…;
she believed this because of her fantasy…; » and so on. Ne
clearly see here that this style, brought to bear on all this
material by analysands who have been through this before coming
to us, is that of a type of psychoanalysis which falls into the
register of meaning.
We know that meaning equals narrative equals imaginary.
Let us notice then that, in this sense, as concerns the
transference, analysands’ jouissance, with all that it brings
with it which is impossible to bear, was not at all relieved,
despite the call for that implied in their request to start
we thus see that, if the analyst’s symptom jives with the
analysand’s symptom —— in the sense of a symptom whose function
is to close off the question of lack —— the main operation which
should take place in treatment cannot, this operation being a
displacement of the Uther’s knowledge to the subject, a
displacement which requires the time allotted to the
transference, a time which is necessary so that the analysand can
strip the Other of its false consistency —— as the supposed
possessor of knowledge —— reducing it at the end of the treatment
to the cause of his division. In this displacement of knowledge,
a transformation takes place simultaneously in the relation to
knowledge and in knowledge itself as well. In effect,
knowledge, like the symptom, does not have the same consistency
at the beginning and at the end of treatment. As we have seen,
at the beginning we are dealing with imaginary knowledge, and
that in relishing in it the subject avoids symbolic castration,
giving himself over to the jouissance of the real as impossible
to bear, namely the symptom. Real, symbolic and imaginary can
thus be found there in a certain configuration. Now, if there is
knowledge at the end of the treatment, it is obviously of another
sort, the correlate o+ this being that the symptom at the end is
also o¥ another sort than at the beginning and during the
transference. The knowledge at the end is not a surplus-
knowledge, it is not knowledge like one might conceive of it in
academia, i.e. a knowledge of facts and reasons. It is rather
knowledge which translates in terms of processes of loss. It is
a knowledge of production but unlike industrial processes it has
to do withrreducing loss!
Loss o¥ what? Loss of jouissance, jouissance whose
calculation in an analysand’s dictums —— dictums and not words,
words,\ words, “parole, parole, parole » as the Italian song goes)
—— produces knowledge in terms of loss of jouissance. So how can
one move from words to dictums, as it is there that the results
of treatment are played out? Blithering speech turns around in
circles in the imaginary, and that can last a dog’s age! For the
analysand to produce a dictum, in other words, a truth about his
jouissance, in traversing his fantasm which masks the Dther’s
castration, he must not expect it. There again, it is not
planable ahead o¥ time, as if one were to make good resolutions
For the next session of the emeritus analysand who decides to
show his hand in a well—thought—out strategy. It is even
usually the contrary, being through surprise and the unexpected
that he acceeds to the truth of his dictum as « an intrusion of a
signi¥ier » (as Jacques—filain Miller has said). Interpretation
operates in this same way. In order to open things up towards a
new dictum, interpretation must surprise, cut, astonish, not be
exactly understood, be equivolcal, enigmatic and splitting. It
does not even have to be understood by the analyst himself at the
very moment at which he poses his act, « understood » in the sense
that he would not know in advance all the ins and outs of the
analysand. This is what I called earlier the uncalculated
calulation of interpretation, which is to say that interpretation
itself is a dictum of the analyst, sustained by his desire as
analyst. His desire as analyst is not based on fantasy, nor is
it willing to collaborate with the subject’s jouissance. This
uncalculated interpretation is thus not transmittable through
solely technical rules. i
We see that this conception of treatment has major
consequences on its direction, for interpretation has nothing to
do with empathy, but rather goes at times against the grain,
striking in a place where the analysand does not expect it. It
is thus that equivocal or surprising interpretation, which
produces an effect that looks like an enigma, traversing the
imaginary so as to isolate the place of the object, hidden behind
the symptom. This isolation of the object leads to the
displacement of its aim at the beginning of the treatment to a
position of cause, the cause of the subject’s split or division.
The object of jouissance is the same and it is because of that
that there is always a symptom, an incurable one. The object has
simply changed places, as has the symptom. One could say that
the symptom is like the fifth wheel of a cart which follows the
other four: R, S, I and — 1? It has to adapt to the situation,
its function changing as the other elements change in the course
of analysis. The symptom moves from having a function of
filling in and masking lack, to that of being a product or fruit
of lack, as interpretation of the metaphor of the symptom brings
the subject towards the minus of castration, which I called
earlier the fundamental symptom. That is why we can say that
there is an identification with one’s symptom at the end of
In 1975, Lacan situates the end of treatment in this way.
This identification with the symptom is such that the subject
becomes satisfied with this new symptom, or rather this symptom
dressed in new clothes. This is another type of symptomatic
supplementation, very different from that of transference love
which must be transitory. The third version of the symptom has
thus the particularity of being satisfying.
banal for a symptom! That it be satisfying
which is not exactly
is of the third type of symptom, and it is a condition of the end of
analysis as well. Lacan says that there is an end—satisfaction
which must be urgently provided, and it is
that I will urgently end my talk today, in
statement by Lacan emphasizes that the end
situated at a point of dissatisfaction or of
up and listless, which would imply that the
wrapped up in transference love f— the hate on this very point
commenting that this of analysis is not being completely fed
analysand was still version or aspect —
and as such any attempt to break off the analysis would simply
amount to an acting out, similar to identification with one’s
analyst. But on the contrary, this tipping of the scales which
signals the end of analysis takes place under duresse (just like
the beginning of analysis) and is accompanied by the satisfaction
of having dug up a bearable symptom.