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Lacan And The Lure Of The Look

The Letter, Issue 8, Autumn 1996, Pages 33 - 48


Stephen J. Costello

In vain your image comes to meet me And does not enter me where I am who only shows it

Turning towards me you can find On the wall of my gaze only your dreamt-of shadow.

I am that wretch comparable with mirrors

That reflect but cannot see Like them my eye is empty and like them inhabited

By your absence which makes them blind.

Aragon, 'Contre-chant', Fou d'Elsa.

It was an instance, par excellence, in the Real. It concerned a dream told to Freud by a woman patient and which Freud analysed in chapter seven of The Interpretation of Dreams. A father had been waiting and watching at the bed-side of his sick son for days and nights. After the boy had died, the father went into the next room to lie down, but left the door open so that he could see into the room in which his son's body was laid out with tall candles surrounding it. An old man had been told to keep watch over it and was seated beside the body murmuring prayers. After an interval spent sleeping, the father dreamt that his son was standing beside his bed, taking hold of his arm and whispering reproachfully to him: 'Father, can't you see I'm burning'. The father wakes up, notices a bright glare from the next room, hurries in and finds the old watchman sleeping and discovers that the wrappings and one of the arms of his son's dead body had been burned by a candle. He concluded that the candle over­ turned, the sheets of the boy's bed caught fire while he slept next door. It was an accident, a contingent, capricious and meaningless event in the impossible Real which always comes without having been called, unbidden, unwelcome, captured in this dream by the words: Father, can't you see I'm burning.

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