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The Parmenides And The One

The Letter, Issue 30, Spring 2004, Pages 31 - 43


Barry O'Donnell

...I recommend to those who want to hold the position of the analyst with what that involves in terms of knowledge not to run away from it, to bring themselves up to date with what of course for them can only be read by working on Parmenides.[1]


I am going to talk to you about a dialogue by Plato called Parmenides because both in Seminar XIX, ...ou pire, and in the series of lectures entitled The knowledge of the psychoanalyst, Lacan indicates it as a text which will inform our attempts to grasp what he means by the Real. In particular, he suggests that the Platonic dialogue's account of the One is crucial to an understanding of the term: the Real. At this time in his work Lacan was emphasising the importance of the notion of the Real for our approach to the condition of the speaking subject, the subject constituted in a relation to language.

The Real is a very difficult and challenging term. Therefore, before speaking about Plato's text, itself a perplexity to centuries of readers, I will read a few of the statements Lacan makes about the Real in his Seminar to provide some kind of orientation. In the third week of the Seminar Lacan tells us that this Real 'ought to be privileged by us.. .because it shows in an exemplary way that it is the paradigm of what puts in question what can emerge from language.'[2] In other words, the Real is about the limit of language, the limit for language, and the limit belonging to language.

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