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Between these two formulas a third one remains implicit, a concept at which Lacan hammered away for a whole seminar through the famous phrase, “There is (the) One.” This formula is not as simple as it seems, whether it refers to the “One” of the signifier One as opposed to Two, or the “One” of the saying, the One-saying (l’Un-dire), or the “One” of the jouissance of the body beyond all ties. In each case, this formula underscores the exile of the speaking-being (parlêtre) from any relation with the jouissance of the sexual partner. The symptom that achieves a union between the discrete elements of the unconscious and that other thing which is jouissance, as I have said, provides a replacement. Given that an appropriate or natural partner for jouissance is lacking, the symptom is put in place of something else, a substitute, an element seized from the unconscious, or a letter (as Lacan claimed in 1975), which fixes the privileged jouissance of the subject, this subject, who is subjected otherwise to the great law of the want-to-be. Lacan went so far to say: the symptom is the way by which everyone “enjoys the unconscious” (jouit de son inconscient).4 I designate the fundamental symptom, just as we speak of the fundamental fantasy, as the singular symptom which establishes a link where there is no established social link, that is to say, at the level of love affairs. As Lacan says in Television, love affairs are cut from any social link. This means, in the same way that the psychotic subject confronts his organs and even his life without the assistance of a discourse, every speaking being is forced to confront the other sexed body without the help of an established discourse. The fundamental symptom is the symptom which compensates for this fundamental lack, it determines a singular mode of relating to a sexual partner, a modality that is always enigmatic, produced by the unconscious as operating on the real. At this level, every one is without equal (sans pareil), and this is why Lacan can say that, for a man, “a woman is a symptom.” I have called this 192 Penumbra the “fundamental symptom,” but could also call it the last symptom, for it is the symptom that compensates for the lack of the final term in the field of libido language.

The fundamental symptom is no longer the problem but the solution— and this is without any paradox. The solution is proper to everyone, the response to the non rapport imposed on all, the universal illness for beings who are affected by the unconscious. “There is no such thing as sexual relationship” means that any partner is a symptomatic one. This symptomatic solution can be more or less uncomfortable for the subject, more or less common, but in any case it responds to the lack which is at the core of language, the lack stemming from the impossibility of inscribing the Other jouissance.

A solution is invented, case by case, according to the accidents of history.

But what can be said of the inventor? It is difficult to say that the symptom is the subject’s invention, since it constrains him. Shall we say that it is an invention of the unconscious? This would be too simple, for it would also be necessary to bring up the response of jouissance—the subject of jouissance— which creates what Freud called a “fixation.” Let us say then that this marriage of the unconscious element and jouissance is the fruit of the conjuncture of first encounters—which, as Freud would say, are traumatic. According to him, these encounters have either touched one’s own body or the other’s body. Therefore, the unconscious in the symptom-letter is not the discourse of the Other, it is the trace of the contingency of a fateful encounter (rencontre fatale)—just as we say femme fatale—with a being of jouissance that the subject did not know, but which had already begun to respond.

I therefore conclude that invention was at the beginning. Invention is found not only in the act that is reiterated as always new, without Other— and this is why I have elsewhere spoken of “actheism” to play on “atheism”— and also not only in the ciphering that makes unexpected statements appear.

In the beginning there is no subject, for the subject is an effect. There is, however, the symptom, which is the choice of a singular jouissance, in the double sense of the term (as individual and strange). The speaking being must recognize itself in the very opacity of this jouissance. This, indeed, is why inventions, especially those in the arts, can be homologous to the symptom. We can also conceive, if the symptom is invented in the gap of the Other, that a new symptomatic invention can expel another. Therefore, the first encounter, which I called fateful, is not fatal.

The spectrum of consequences that the symptom entails is vast, but the foremost one is this: there is no subject without a symptom. It is through the symptom that everyone has access to his or her jouissance. Its functions as a prosthetic device, given the foreclosure of sex. In other words, every subject invents or adopts—if the term invents is too strong—an alternative, something which comes into the place of the empty rapport. One should never dream of eliminating it, and with it we can defend the incurable Lacan spoke The Aim of the Analytic Act of in 1968. An analysis which starts with the symptom will also end with the

symptom, but with an obvious transformation. A key question now emerges:

how does the act operate on this necessary function of the symptom, and how can we situate the therapeutic effect?

SYMPTOM(S) If the symptom is a substitution, not all substitutions have equal value.

The problem is then to define the value in question. Given that the ethic of psychoanalysis is not an ethic of norms, what would provide the criterion of values? Jouissance? This is problematic, given that jouissance is subject to several paradoxes. We would have to ask the question, “Jouissance for whom?” since the value of jouissance for the speaking being is linked to its exchange value.

The Other cannot be eliminated here. On a practical level, this means that autism is not a tenable position. There are certainly instances of autistic jouissance, but they are strictly local: Freud noticed this early on, amazed at how one can fall ill from not being able to love, in other words, from not being able to transfer one’s libido outside oneself. More than that, we know that it is not any jouissance whatsoever that is compatible with the social link.

There are clearly many different types of symptoms. On the one hand, the Other of discourse proposes a symptom to the subject. The symptom that the Other proposes is normality. This normality consists in imposing norms as a remedy for the non-rapport, and typically these are male norms (normes mâles), as Lacan would say. Normality is the compensation par excellence that satisfies the Other, and when it is also able to satisfy the subject—here is the key reservation—it is clearly an incurable symptom. On the other hand, at the other extreme, there is perversion. Perversion is a satisfying symptom, in the sense that it is enough—satis means “enough” in Latin—of a compensation of jouissance. It compensates well enough for the absence of the sexual relation.

This satisfaction does not mean that the pervert will not complain or suffer. Fritz Lang’s marvelous film, M, is as a prototype in this regard. The compensation function is seen here in all its simplicity: the protagonist, unable to have intercourse with women, strangles little girls. The first people to suffer from his symptom are the others, his victims and their families, but he is also subjected to a very real suffering, because he is divided by the diabolical truth of his jouissance, which is his own jouissance at the same time as being alien to him. This example shows in an exemplary way how a symptom that satisfies as much as a compensation, despite the pain that the subject might have to pay as its price, is not susceptible to analysis. In other words, Jack the Ripper is not a subject for analysis even if he is really unhappy and really sorry for the

consequences of his actions. A warning to those analysts who work in prisons:

remember that there are acts which do not involve an appeal to the Other.

This, at least, is how I understand Lacan’s advice against taking a subject into 194 Penumbra analysis who has killed his father, a recommendation that is given without knowing any more information about the case.

Between the symptom of normality that satisfies the Other and the symptom of perversion that goes against the Other, there is, of course, a third form: the neurotic symptom. This neurotic symptom, which Freud qualified as a compromise, is unsatisfying both with respect to norms and to jouissance.

In this sense, it is abnormal, but it does not succeed in becoming perverse:

the neurotic only dreams of being a pervert, for the precise reason that he is not one. Caught between these two dissatisfactions, the subject complains. In this respect, I believe the neurotic symptom par excellence is what Lacan, at one time, called hysteria without symptoms, in the classical and nosographic sense of the term. Hysteria without symptoms is when the subject gives his complaint the dignity of a symptom. This shows us the true source of the symptom, since it involves the subject’s yearning for the missing rapport and, at the same time, refusing any substitute for this place that he marks simply with his incessant complaint. This is a position which is, in fact, opposed to the supplementary character of any compensation or substitution of jouissance. When it is stubborn, this refusal may go as far as beauty itself or even death, which is not without its link to beauty. We may recall here the example of Socrates.


What is the impact of the act on the symptom at the start of analysis? The act’s first effect is to render the symptom analyzable. This involves a change, and the term “to render” here should be understood in the sense of producing something. The symptom will change its use, that is, it will exchange its value as insufficient jouissance for a value as knowledge: this is the induction to the transference. At the start of analysis, one might say that the analytic act has the effect of dissociating the symptom, of producing a separation between its core of jouissance and its formal envelope. This is the initial change, which we can make more precise with Lacan’s term dés(a)ification, in the sense of an extraction of object a as surplus jouissance. Through this operation, the act serves as a catalyst for speech, allowing what will produce the work of transference to emerge, that is, fragments of unconscious knowledge. This is the situation at the start of analysis.

Transference, however, is a reconstitution of the symptom. The analysand binds himself to the couple analyst-analysand, which went unknown until Freud. It is important in this coupling that the analyst knows what determines him at the level of jouissance. As the cause of transference work, he is also the cause of another jouissance, that of deciphering. For it is true, as Freud clearly witnessed, that the speaking being never really gives up anything.

The problem is that the symptom in the treatment needs to be transitory, and that if it is the name of the analyst, it is a name that is to be lost, like the The Aim of the Analytic Act Name-of-the-Father. In others words, the efficacy of the act is as an operation of the symptom, but at the same time against the symptom. After having constructed the analytic symptom, it must be deconstructed to produce an exit from the process; otherwise, the analysis is interminable.

The exit still has to be a good one. The good one is the one that satisfies. As Lacan put it, “the main aim of analysis is to give this urgently needed satisfaction,” thus positing a final urgency to match the subjective urgency that motivates the entry into the treatment.5 I would define the exit that is not good as the one which fails to satisfy. Perhaps the form it most often takes is that of the exit due to wear and tear, due to the long passage of time, to weariness; the one which is made on the basis of the “I’ve had enough” of pure resignation. The proper exit, on the other hand, is the one that satisfies. But how should we understand this if not by linking it to the final identification with the symptom?

The incurable subject that I have evoked is a subject identified with its own symptom, at least the symptom I have called fundamental, which defines the symptomatic sexual partner. Is this a return to the status quo ante?

Certainly it is not, given that it supposes a change insofar as we come to relate to the transference included in the neurotic symptom.

We must not forget that, if the symptom is a way to enjoy the unconscious, there are different ways to do so. With respect to the marriage between the signifier and jouissance, ciphering is one mode while the fundamental symptom is another. The latter is a function of exception—a logical function— in relation to the infinite labor of ciphering. This symptom anchors or fixes a configuration of constant jouissance, whereas ciphering, which is sporadic, never ceases to displace this jouissance in the series of signs, thus opening up the way to surprise and even innovation.

The identification with the fundamental symptom puts a stop to the symptom of transference, and we can say that it exposes the true name of the subject, the name of its own identity of jouissance—an incurable identity.

To illustrate this distance between the symptom as a sign to the analyst in the transference and the symptom as a name, I will return to M. The film allows me to situate a difference between neurosis and perversion. It is astonishing how clearly Lang’s film shows us the difference between the symptom as sign and the symptom as name. What makes a sign for M. is the little melody that accompanies his outings and signals the murders, but which only the blind, those who are not captured by the jouissance of vision, can hear. This is the sign of the symptom. Then there is the letter M that is marked on M.’s back: this is the name of the accursed, a name with which he does not identify himself, but which the other uses to identify him, since M.

is obviously neither an analysand nor a neurotic. I will return, then, to the incurable at the end of analysis.

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