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Of The Real, Paradoxes And Contradictions

The Letter, Issue 16, Summer 1999, Pages 49 - 56


Jacques Laberge

In Lacan's teaching with regard to the real and its articulation to the imaginary and the symbolic, I would like to point out some paradoxes and contradictions with respect to four aspects: (1) Starting from the symbolic; (2) impossible to penetrate; (3) the non-existence of sexual rapport; (4) the impossible in relation to the original repression.

Starting from the Symbolic

Starting from the notion of the symbolic, Lacan comments:

Many things get a direction and become clear, but many paradoxes and contradictions appear (...) that are not because of this, opacities or obscurities.[1]

To avoid mere confusion with respect to the real, the first step is imposed: start from the symbolic order, because, according to Lacan, 'it's from there that the other orders, imaginary and real, find their place and get ordered'.[2] This affirmation in Seminar I is repeated in a similar way in this same Seminar and throughout Lacan's teaching. For him, it's not just a question of starting from the notion of the symbolic in order to clarify our work but to recognise the anteriority of the symbolic, a logical anteriority of the necessary psychic determination. If there's no symbolic, one cannot speak properly of the real. But in this context, paradoxes and contradictions appear to be more crude in all these first works. For example, Lacan agrees with Rosine Lefort who believed there was no symbolic function1whatsoever in little Robert and 'still less imaginary function' and that 'he was ship-wrecked in the real’.[3] This agreement with Lefort, without explanation, confounds us but also shows Lacan's initial difficulties in articulating the three registers. However, he does stress 'the already established symbolic system'.[4] 'Everything starts from zero' in Seminar XXV, 'the moment of conclusion’, in '78, becomes a full stop for us in the long route having the symbolic as the starting hole. The symbolic is associated and identified with language which on the one hand conditions the unconscious and which on the other hand is in some way that to which the unconscious could be reduced. From the appearance of the knots in Lacan's teaching, the symbolic as the zero starting point must, paradoxically, live with the equivalence between the three registers in so far as if one is cut the other two are automatically cut.

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