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The Lichtenberg knife aspired to be a kind of Occam’s razor, to shave from psychoanalysis the very excess that constituted it, to excise the shadow, the (a), which—attaching itself to every (would-be, self-identical) one— seemed to court ridicule and lack necessity. Taking that excess for our title, we announced our intention to participate in the labor, begun by Lacan, of excavating and refining Freud’s original instrument. We have done this by focusing, in turns, on concepts specific to psychoanalysis and by trying to bring psychoanalysis to bear on questions generally considered to be outside its purview. Through numerous translations, we have sought to bring important texts to the attention of English speakers and through urgent invitations, we have sought to induce thinkers from adjacent fields to contribute to the psychoanalytic adventure. We have tried throughout to emulate the firm stance The Original Instrument taken by Freud in his “History” and warmly thank all who generously and enthusiastically joined us in this.


1. There is in fact no “first” issue of Umbr(a); there is instead a repetition.

2. For the account of Jung’s reaction, see Ronald Hayman, A Life of Jung (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 191.

3. Sigmund Freud, “On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans.

James Strachey, et. al. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-1974), 14: 66.

4. Ibid., 62.

5. Ibid., 55.

6. Freud, “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes,” SE, 19: 252.

7. Freud, “On the History,” 55.

8. Ibid., 62,


Counter-Memories of the Present Sigi Jöttkandt

Nachträglichkeit. This is Freud’s term to describe how an event may acquire meaning only retroactively, in some cases, many years after the experience took place. To gain a belated or “deferred” understanding of an event, this is in fact the precise wager that psychoanalysis makes. Freud puts it unequivocally in his essay, “Sexuality in the Aetiology of the Neuroses”: it is only because “the manifestations of the psychoneuroses arise from the deferred action of unconscious psychical traces, [that] they are accessible to psychotherapy.”1 From this view, any recall of previous events is, in a sense, a future and, potentially, a counter-memory of something that has yet to (fully) happen.

The present inserts us between two temporalities, in the interim between an event that never was and its future or deferred instantiation. We inhabit the now in the uncanny condition of the future anterior, as subjects of an event that will only ever have been.

Freud’s decisive step, then, was to conceive memory not as a recording device but as a power of figuration or inscription. To re-cast the words of Gilles Deleuze slightly, memory produces “a history from nature and transforms history into nature in a world that no longer has its center.”2 Moreover, this decentering of the subject from the world engages another logic as well, in the shape of a crisis of interpretation. Memory becomes a battle-ground for contested pasts and different subjective configurations. Every past event, along with its belated understanding, comprises a site of multiple possible readings, each one capable of transforming our horizon of understanding and eliciting in its turn another potential shock of understanding. For, as Freud observes, belated recognition may at times effect what he calls a “second seduction.” There may be a shock that comes from seeing an event or a memory from the perspective of Nachträglichkeit.

The essays collected here represent one approach through the precipitate of signifiers that, as special topics, began assembling beneath the journal Umbr(a)’s masthead from the moment it declared its commitment to what is ‘in’ psychoanalysis more than simply the terms and vocabulary of psychoanalytic 8 Penumbra thought. In our difficult task of selecting among these diverse texts, we have given precedence to contributions that are more than the sum of their individual parts, that is, texts that seem to exemplarily intervene in or stage encounters with the key debates of their time. Moreover, given the increasing difficulty of obtaining many of the journal’s back issues—the early ones now circulate only as comically over-priced collectors’ items on Amazon—we have principally sought contributions that have not subsequently been republished elsewhere. What emerges in this volume, with the sort of “second seduction” that comes from a Nachträglich rereading of Umbr(a)’s archive, is the extent to which a fidelity to the work of thinking has maintained its hold over the collective’s critical desire from the journal’s earliest inception. This volume is a testament to the constancy of those energies as performed by the changing Umbr(a) editorial collective at the Center for Psychoanalysis and Culture at the University at Buffalo over many years, and to the inspired intellectual leadership of Joan Copjec, the Center’s director.

We open with Sam Gillespie’s essay, “Hegel Unsutured: An Addendum to Badiou,” his contribution to the inaugural Alain Badiou issue (1996) which contained the first English translations of Badiou’s work. Gillespie’s essay comprises an in-depth reflection on the nature of the philosophical subject as it has been taken up by psychoanalysis. Although its ostensible topic is Hegel, Gillespie’s text is more properly the earliest attempt in English to think rigorously through the differences between Badiou’s and Lacan’s approaches to the subject. Foreshadowing the concerns of his subsequent work in The Mathematics of Novelty (2008), in this piece Gillespie shows how the key difference revolves around each thinker’s conceptions of the One. Gillespie argues that while both Lacan and Badiou jointly share a Cartesian conception of the subject, in Badiou’s ecumenical philosophy any finite point can potentially express a subject (for Badiou, the One is what the infinite “passes through”).

For Lacan, on the other hand, any One that is produced under the aegis of repetition always maintains a link to the Other insofar as this One remains buttressed by the singularity of jouissance.

In emphasising jouissance in this way, the predominant focus of the journal had been set. Mobilized by the work of Copjec and Slavoj Žižek, whose meteoric appearance on the academic scene in the 1990s opened the door to Lacan for a new generation of English readers, Umbr(a) was soon to become one of the chief voices of the emerging generation of American “New Lacanians.” This is a perspective on Lacanian theory that insists on the relevance of psychoanalysis for thinking through the impasses of contemporary political and cultural critique, and it is one that continues to be voiced throughout the rest of the essays collected here, beginning with Charles Shepherdson’s essay from the 1997 issue of the journal, “The Elements of the Drive.” Addressing the ongoing debate between biological determinism and cultural construction, Shepherdson offers a pointed critique of both positions. His careful revisiting Counter-Memories of the Present of Freud’s and Lacan’s accounts of the genesis of the drive highlights the way this extra-representational element can only be signaled in the symbolic as a “malfunctioning” of the Other. The drive, that is, presents neither as simply a biological nor a social effect but as what violates any easy distinction between nature and culture. As such, der Trieb emerges as a paradoxically determining non-determinative that requires a fundamental rethinking of our definitions of both nature and culture.

Focusing on the critical role of names in the subject’s formation of identity, Russell Grigg’s essay, “On the the Proper Name as the Signifier in its Pure State,” signals one possible pathway that this reconceptualization of nature and culture might take. In this brief but incisive account of Lacan’s thinking on this topic in the ’60s, Grigg leads the reader through a number of different conceptions of the proper name as they appear in Lacan’s still unpublished Seminar IX, Identification (1961-1962). Grigg examines the development of Lacan’s concept of the unary trait as something that leaves a mark on the subject, particularly noting the persistent way this mark or “letter” gets carried into symbolic representation. To the extent that the name is the embodiment of the letter in the symbolic, the proper name floods the signifier with the “abundance of sense” that Lacan calls jouissance. In answer to the question posed at the beginning of his essay of whether or not the proper name contains sense, Grigg affirms that it must do so, but we cannot understand “sense” here in any conventional meaning of the term.

From linguistic sense, we move on to another of sense’s aspects, this time as the key architectonic of the aesthetic realm. Alenka Zupančič’s essay, “The Splendor of Creation: Kant, Nietzsche, Lacan” reads as part of the wider interest in questions of beauty and aesthetics that emerged with Dennis Porter’s 1992 English translation of Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960). In her reading of Lacan’s remarkable commentary on Antigone’s blinding beauty, Zupančič asks us to reconsider the traditional role of art in the psychoanalytic narrative as a compensatory mechanism. She accordingly rethinks art in terms of a fundamental creativity that ultimately forces a recast of our habitual understanding of the subject-object relation. As Zupančič puts it, “the arch-gesture of art is precisely that of creating an ‘excluded interior,’ of producing the very void around which it spreads its ‘net.’” When Slavoj Žižek maintains in his essay, “Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism,” that there is a form of knowledge that “touches the real,” it is to cut through what he perceives as the chief impasse in late twentieth-century contemporary thought. The notorious “Science Wars”— inaugurated by Alan Sokal’s 1996 hoax article in Social Text and followed up by his and Jean Bricmont’s Impostures intellectuelles3—appeared to lead to a theoretical dead-end. Žižek’s contribution pits these two dominant knowledge practices (or, as he calls them, “theoretical state apparatuses”) against each other: historicism’s claim that knowledge can only reflect the ideological 10 Penumbra presuppositions of its given moment versus cognitivism’s attempt to re-establish the “‘professional,’ rational, empirical problem-solving” business-as-usual functioning of academic knowledge. In a move whose familiarity now should not blind us to its continuing theoretical effectiveness, Žižek proposes that we should see this deadlock as its own solution. He asks provocatively, “what if there is no ‘universe’ in the sense of an ontologically fully-constituted cosmos?” Rather than a fully-constituted, positive “chain of being,” Žižek understands reality as ontologically incomplete, and it is this gap at the heart of reality, he contends, that “accounts for the mysterious ‘fact’ of transcendental freedom.” A concept proposed by the 19th century French author, Villiers de l’IsleAdam, provides the occasion for further reflections on the paradoxes of this “mysterious ‘fact’ of freedom.” In “The Enjoying Machine,” Dolar revives Villiers’ notion of the “claque,” a fantastical “machine for producing glory” in order to illustrate how subjectivity always implies an alienating otherness.

Villiers’ conception of a machine hidden in the “orifices of the statues” that would clap, react, hoot, recite, lament and cry for encores in the Parisian theater points to the way that it is not we who enjoy, but rather something that enjoys in our place. The subject, as subject of desire, is necessarily an interactive subject, yet our enjoying substance is something else, neither an activity nor a passivity, but a drive. While desire first emerges as grounded “only in the contingency of fantasy,” once this fantasy is shattered, the only thing that remains is the by-product of the fantasy. If analysis is up to its task, then, it should “dismantle” this mechanism in order to make something else emerge, namely, a new kind of desire from the drive or, in other words, the desire of the analyst.

This focus on the goal of analysis is carried over into Colette Soler’s “The Aim of the Analytic Act.” Here the Parisian analyst and analysand of Lacan's clarifies the difference between Freud’s and Lacan’s conceptions of what constitutes the end of analysis. Soler compiles a lucid account of the varying emphases in both thinkers’ definitions of the aim of analysis, noting an important shift in Lacan’s thinking between 1968 and 1975: where previously Lacan held that the aim of analysis was to produce an “incurable” subject, by the mid-70’s we are famously enjoined to “enjoy” our symptom. But given that the symptom represents a constraint for the subject—it is, in many cases, the very reason an analysand enters analysis in the first place—why would Lacan propose it as an analytic goal? Soler explains that the symptom carries the trace of the “contingency of a fateful encounter” with jouissance and it is in the opacity of this jouissance that the subject must come to recognize itself.

Lacan’s changing conception of the relation between the symbolic and real is also the concern of Jelica Šumič’s essay, “On the Path of the Semblant.” Šumič suggests that Lacan’s last period marks a momentous shift in his teaching, which is characterised by a heightened emphasis on the real. Šumič Counter-Memories of the Present traces this turn back as early as Lacan’s Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960), in which the concept of the semblant first appears as a “vanishing mediator” that helps us to understand how “fictions” from the symbolic are directed towards the real of the body. As Šumič observes, the semblant marks the beginning of an important turn away from truth and towards the real in Lacan’s work. However, it is not until Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70) and Lacan’s elaboration of the four discourses that the full import of the semblant—as well as the possibility there might exist “a discourse that would not be a semblance” (Seminar XVIII)—becomes clear.

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