In this paper I deal with the subject of what is usually known as “discovery of the unconscious” atttibuted to Sigmund Freud. I establish, perhaps for the first time in our discipline, a contrast among “discovery”, “invention”, “production” and “creation” of psychoanalysis and its main concept: the unconscious, focusing my magnifying glass on Lacanian references to the differences separating them.
The Invention of Psychoanalysis
Néstor A. Braunstein
In this lecture I’ll try to articulate, perhaps for the first time in regard to psychoanalysis, four terms which can be useful in defining some essential aspects of the history, the theory and the practice of our discipline. These four terms dwell in the same neighborhood but at the same time they carry essential differences among them. To begin by ending the suspense, I will name them:
Creation — discovery — production — invention.
As all of we can all easily see, there is an element they share, something they have in common; they all belong to the same semantic field. In every case they refer to the emergence, or the appearing, of something new, something that is now present and was previously absent. They are all different ways of generating or engendering new “objects” whose nature can be ascribed to a vast variety of categories.
I aim at establishing the differences among these terms in regard to psychoanalysis but I’ll keep in mind, at every moment, the semantic differences that these four words imply in relation to the fields and discourses of a) religion, b) science and c) art. The four ways of the appearance of something new are involved in all the aforementioned discourses. We might also keep in mind that in all cases they point to some sort of intention, even if, as in the case of a discovery, chance may play its part.
Thus, we have two quaternaries: on one hand: creation, discovery, production and invention and, on the other: religion, science, art and psychoanalysis. It would be tempting to relate these quatrains in a direct, term to term way, but it is not easy, inasmuch as the differences between them are not clear-cut. There are always areas of overlap where distinctions require a careful examination, before we decide to which field they will be assigned. For instance: a poem, an engine, a concept, a game, a dream, a cedar tree: are they created, discovered, produced or invented?
This subject was suggested to me by the exciting experience of reading George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation (Yale, 2001) where the author matches (by opposing and by assimilating) creation and invention mainly in relation to religion and art. He makes some allusion to discovery and almost never refers to production. In reading that exciting book I was always thinking of our classical syntagm regarding “Freudian discovery of the unconscious”.
The epistemological status of the unconscious (and of metapsychology) was for me at stake: did Freud discover or did he invent the unconscious? Then my thoughts led me to think about the ways in which those terms appeared, were confused, and were contrasted, in Freud’s and Lacan’s presentations of their ideas on the origins of psychoanalysis and its essential concept.
There are a lot of things to be considered when relating those two quaternaries. Let us go to the heart of the matter, following Steiner’s path:
Did God invent the world and the universe? Your answer will be immediate, no matter how atheistic you may be. No! In every theological discourse, the formation of the Universe is the result of the act of creation. Even if the believer cannot answer to questions like ‘Why did He do it?’ ‘Could He restrain Himself from doing it?’ (was it a necessity for Him or was it a contingent caprice?) Once he committed himself to Creation, is He able to repent, and to destroy and annihilate this creation as easily and gratuitously as He decided to go on with His project? This enticing idea of the divine creation remains as the model of making something appear out of nothing, ex nihilo. The concept of creation ex nihilo was elaborated by Lacan through some lectures given in his Seminar VII on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Then (1960) he strongly advocated the idea of such surging out of nothing and criticized the opposite idea, supposedly more scientific, of a development proceeding gradually from simpler to more complex forms of organization of matter, in other words, the evolutionist Darwinian conception.
He held that this evolutionist theory was in fact teleological and therefore, theistic, inasmuch as it was guided by the notion of progress, that is to say of a project that was accomplished gradually, while the notion of creation implied nothing but the action of the signifier, of, for instance, the creation of the vase by the potter who packages a portion of void with clay, being the void (the void of the famous mustard pot) what constitutes the essential requirement for the creation of the container. Nevertheless, we always read this plea in favor of creation ex nihilo as something quite arguable inasmuch as the signifier must be before the creation. Thus, it would not be creation out of nothing but creation out of the signifier, so confirming St. John’s first words of the Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Verb’. Or, in Lacanian terms, in the beginning was the Other, the barred Other such as it was already conceived since the Lacanian construction of the graph of desire in Seminar VI, the year before the Seminar on Ethics. We’ll come back to this point later.
Now, allow me the possibility of posing a seemingly preposterous question: Did Freud create the unconscious? I think that your answer will be as immediate as it was in the first question: No! How could a thinker create a theoretical concept? His proposal of the unconscious could not be brought out ‘of nothing’. He, we decide almost automatically, he, Freud, discovered the unconscious, he brought it to light. Did Freud invent something? Yes; of course, he invented the psychoanalytic setting, the situation in which, by means of a couch and a chair, of a verbal exchange between analysand and analyst, the unconscious could be discovered once and once again. By the way, Freud also invented the most extravagant of objects, the analyst, a character defined by the renunciation of his/her own subjectivity, a character whose only aim is to widen the field of a subject’s knowledge, previously unknown, dwelling in the heart of the analysand’s mind.
Thus, we arrive to a thesis repeatedly advanced by Freud (even when he diffidently pretends to pass the credit on Breuer): the unconscious was discovered by somebody. He implies that the ucs. was there and it had to be dis-covered, un-veiled, taken out from his hiding place, from obliviousness, in some sort of a-letheia.
Lacan spoke and wrote hundreds of times about the discovery of the ucs. the Freudian discovery par excellence, (I do not exaggerate: they can be counted in any CDROM with the sum of all Lacanian texts). One of the best books ever written as an introduction to the Lacanian reading of Freud, the best one in my view, carries precisely this heading: Freud: The Discovery of the Unconscious. His author, as you know, was Octave Manonni.
This syntagm, this idea of the ‘discovery of the unconscious’ is one of the commonplaces of every psychoanalytic discourse, either when we refer to Freud or when we speak about the daily activity of the analyst. This is our spontaneous epistemology: Freud discovered and we repeat in our practice, in every session, that discovery.
Let us (as a digression) go forth and back to the other discourses:
Did Newton discover, invent, create or produce the equation of the law of gravity? Did Beethoven discover, invent, create or produce the 9th Symphony? Did Michelangelo create, produce, invent or discover his ‘Pietá’? I pose these last two questions because, although they may sound repetitive, there could be a doubt as to the appropriateness of describing the bringing forth of different works of art with the same word. We might make a distinction between poetry and music and the fine arts or the performing arts.
In religion we tend to speak of ‘creation’, in science of ‘discovery’ and the applications of it as ‘inventions’, in art we usually doubt between ‘creation’ and ‘production’, sometimes we speak of ‘poetic inventions’ or we may use, as J. S. Bach did, the term of ‘invention’ as a way of introducing novelties in the artistic form. In our own field we oscillate between the most common terms ‘discovery’ and ‘invention’, for instance, of a psychoanalytic ‘construction’. Seldom if ever we use the formula: “the invention of an interpretation”.
The idea of a discovery of the unconscious has connotations that fall heavily on the very idea of ‘unconscious’. In a ‘discovery’ the subjectivity of the discoverer is fortuitous and contingent: if Newton have not ‘discovered’ the law of gravity, somebody else would have done it, and the ‘discovery’ in itself would not have suffered any change. The law of gravity would not be any different if Dupont, Schmidt or Rodríguez were set it down on paper. Isaac Newton is nothing but a coincidence in the history of physics. Can we say the same about the supposed discovery of the unconscious? Can we state that the unconscious does not carry the signs of the German language, of the Jewish origins of the first man who promoted the idea, of the dominant ideas in Vienna at the turn of the XIX-XXth century, of Sigmund Freud’s subjectivity and ambitions, of the relation among the fields of psychology, neurobiology and philosophy at the moment of its ‘birth’? Could Dupont, Smith or Mastrangelo be the ‘discoverers’ of the unconscious? We seriously doubt it; even more, we know that, as Foucault put it (Qu’est ce qu’un auteur?) Freudian ideas are intimately linked to the person who wrote them in a way may be more comparable to art than to science. For Foucault, Freud and Marx are not just “authors” but something different: the introducers, the founders (instaurateurs) of a new discursivity
This idea takes us to an essential trait of the Freudian unconscious: if it have been ‘discovered’ we would be forced to attribute to that ‘thing’ an ontological status, some kind of ‘substance’, of material existence, a being there since the beginning of mankind waiting for the moment in which some bold conqueror would dare to bring it to light. I think that such idea has little to do with the Freudian theory (specially after the turn of the twenties), a lot to do with the Jungian unconscious crowded with collective archetypes and nothing to do with the Lacanian unconscious structured as a language. At this I want to remind you of the paradoxical but luminous saying of Lacan: “The Ucs. neither is nor is not. It belongs to the realm (c’est de l’ordre du) of the not realised”, meaning that the ucs. is something unexpected that can only appear retroactively to an utterance. Previously it was not something and it was not nothing, it was something that depended on a fortuitous crossing of something said and something listened to by an ear invested with transference.
A good example of this ontological idea of the unconscious or the psychic apparatus can be found in Hanna Segal’s ‘Introduction of the Work of Melanie Klein (Heinemann, London, ?) where we can read
“…” (English quotation missing in this text – to be read)
If such an ignorant patient could have a precise idea of the structural Freudian theory of the psychic apparatus, then the idea would be mirroring the real existence of a specific “substance” (the ucs.) independent of the theoretical idea. In that case Freud, we may say, did not create or invent anything: he only recognised something that was already there.
Let us take some other examples: for instance, America –supposedly discovered by Columbus. Was it a discovery or an “invention”? Was the continent waiting through eternity for some sailor to discover it or is America a political fact, an effect of nominations and other performative activities and discourses making the reality which, afterwards, they refer to? Would you say that Michelangelo’s Moses was there, in the block of marble waiting for him to ‘discover’ it per via di levare, or the Mona Lisa waiting for Leonardo to ‘discover’ it per via di porre? We are tempted to assign the elaboration of works of art to the category of ‘production’ inside a field, a specific genre (like statues, oil paintings, sonatas) previously ‘invented’ by somebody who usually is unknown, lost in the night of time. This assignment goes against the usual thought that attributes a godlike semblance to the divine creation and the human act of ‘creating’ out of nothing. Steiner carefully points to the fact that there is no work of art, no matter how ‘original’ it may seem, lacking a powerful stream of antecedents. Joyce’s Ulysses takes us back to Homer, Ligeti to the most primitive inflections of a voice imitating nature.
Nobody would dare say that a work of art, a symphony, a sonnet, a painting, could be the same without the intervention of a subject who leaves its mark on them, the mark of an ‘authorship’. The attachment of every piece of artistic work to a certain genre indicates the presence of language, of the signifier, of the Other framing the production as a social effect, as an object resulting from an exchange between the artist (who becomes an artist retroactively to his/her act of production) and the human world where the object is either received or rejected. In that sense, reception is a part of the object in the same way as the answer is a part of the message.
Every work of art is the singular effect of the combinatory of elements stemming from language, from an idiom (langue) originated far away in time. Creation ex nihilo? We would gladly agree if we could find any true example of it… Meanwhile we prefer to speak about the ‘production’, a specific kind of ‘production’ where every object carries the traits of the man or woman, sometimes the group, that summoned it to existence.
Divine creation and scientific discovery seem to have an obvious relation between them. From a naturalistic or from a theological Weltanschauung we accept that reality is there and that the word, organized as knowledge, is the way to appropriate for mankind what Nature in his movement or God in His design have created. The scientific discoverer (once the obscurantists are put away) is a developer (in the photographic metaphor) of reality who writes and signs the contract between word and world. The subject has nothing to do with its discovery, even if he obtains the Nobel Prize. Would the double helix of the nucleic acids be different if somebody else, instead of Watson and/or Critch, had discover the chemical structure underlying life? Certainly not. But the Freudian unconscious, we insist –neither “created” nor “discovered” – would not have come into existence without Freud. And certainly it is not a “production” in the same sense as we may speak of the ‘production’ of works of art.
The scientist discovers what we find in nature and it matters little if what is unveiled results from a stupid event left to chance (Big Bang) or from a divine design, impossible to prove, impossible to falsify. Something has been created, something is afterwards discovered.
Did Freud make any discovery? Surely he did. We can name his discoveries: he discovered, first, that there is knowledge that is unknown to the subject who suffers and who has the jouissance of this knowledge; Freud discovered that this ignored knowledge is effective on all that the subject dreams, speaks, loves or hates, plays or works at, what the subject experiences from its birth and till its death. Secondly, there is the Freudian discovery of the essential relation between ‘mental life’ and the activities of a body understood, not as a biological device or organism, but as an entity oriented to the seeking of pleasure and to something that is beyond pleasure, jouissance. And finally (but the list is not exhaustive) Freud discovered that the life of the body, oriented and divided between the two axis of desire and jouissance is regulated by the signifier, a fact that is manifest in certain conceptual entities, invented by Freud himself such as the Oedipus complex that paves the way to understanding the dominant place of a specific signifier, the phallus, which receives its importance since the child discovers the lack of the penis in his/her mother and is so diverted, per-verted to the father.
These three Freudian discoveries are derivatives and, at the same time, impel Freud to an already mentioned invention: that of the psychoanalytic situation, the Freudian setting, that allows the methodical and systematic reproduction of the aforementioned discoveries. By the way, and without his realizing it too well: at the beginning he invented the psychoanalyst.
Nobody would contest the idea of the Freudian invention of the psychoanalytic setting. But the time has come for us to pose the question: to invent, invention (s): what do these words mean? Quoting what we find in the most meticulous etymological dictionaries, the Latin word invenire refers to something that comes to one, that arrives or reaches the self from the outside or from the interior, even something we stumble upon. Supposedly invention takes place only once. Ironically, Jorge Luis Borges could say that Nietzsche, with his theory of the ‘eternal return’ was “the most recent inventor of the doctrine of the cycles”. The invention is linked in a consubstantial way to the name of the inventor. One doesn’t invent something for a second time, even if it is always possible to improve a previous invention. The invention may be transcendental (the personal computer changing the human world, “the most terrible of inventions , even more than the atomic bomb, is the calculating machine”, Lacan, 1954) or may be something as inconsequential as a pun, for instance Heine’s ‘familionair’ commented by Freud and Lacan. Last week I invented two cities: “Sidom and Gonorrhea” but sadly I realized that this joke was untranslatable into English because the word SIDA in romance languages becomes AIDS in English and therefore Sidom would loose its allusion to a venereal disease and the comic effect I wished to produce. “Invention is often thoroughly humorous. It surprises.” –Steiner says – while “creation” is always a serious matter, something astonishing and amazing, producing awe rather than laughter.
As Steiner remarks: “The spaces of meaning and connotation surrounding ‘invention’ are, almost from the outset, disturbing. The aura of ‘feigning’, of ‘fabrication’… of ‘contrivance’, modulating into falsehood, are audible after the early 1530s. As the term ripens into currency, both spheres are present: that of origination, production and first devising on the one hand, that of possible mendacity and fiction on the other … Said to a child (or even an adult): n’invente pas signifies ‘do not lie, don’t tell fibs’. To enjoin: ne crée pas, would, in every respect, be a nonsensical phrase. In another register, however, that of the iconoclastic, prohibitions on ‘creation’ can be cardinal. I have already cited the taboo on the ‘making of images’ in Judaism and Islam. To create such images is to ‘invent’, it is to ‘fictionalize’ in the cause of a virtual reality, scenes, real presences beyond human perception or rivalry.” There is a current interdiction condemning the passage of the real to the imaginary register through the symbolic. It would be a way of attempting against the divine privilege of creation, something forbidden to human beings made of clay.
There are different and even contrasting meanings attributed to the in-venire but in any case they all involve making something new come to light, to bring out of a human head a new and unexpected thing. It may be an artifact deriving from scientific knowledge, that is, a technological invention such as Edison’s light bulb; it may be the child’s lending of a magical power to an otherwise innocuous object; it may be the invention of a pun, a fable or a metaphor invested with a precise or with an ambiguous meaning. It may be the invention of a tall story or of an excuse or the coming up with a good answer off the top of one’s head as a justification or a rationalization of a failure. But inventions have also changed the history of mankind, for example agriculture, irrigation, the forging of metals, musical instruments, etc. The invention may be called ‘genial’ (the wheel), banal (tepid water) or a blatant lie (weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).
Inventing is often seen as a transgression and the bringing forth of a new object in concurrence with the ‘natural’ or ‘created’ thing can be considered a crime. Mythology, making use of some emblematic figures, often condemns the ‘inventor”. Restraining ourselves to the Mediterranean area we find, in the beginning, in the OT the figure of Cain and Cain’s stock as the inventors, while poor Abel died without issue and Seth’s lineage is that of a peaceful and obeying people. Noah, Moses and Christ come from Seth. We should remember that Cain, after killing his brother out of sheer jealousy, founded the first and gave it the name of his first-born son, Henoc. He invented the system of weights and measures and demarcated the land and registered his properties in his own name. He introduced the idea of deeds as signs of ownership. With these inventions he changed the original innocence and ingenuity of habits and introduced calculation and cunning in human affairs. Some authors points to him as the inventor of capitalism, an anticipated symbol of a Judaism that murders that innocent soul of his younger brother, the one preferred by the Father, the one who offered the sacrificial lamb instead of the (forbidden) fruits of the earth. Thus, Cain would be responsible for the Passion of Christ in the Golgotha, the representative of greedy and pitiless Jews killing the peaceful son of God. Cain’s stock includes the names of the greater inventors: Jabal, inventor of cattle breeding, Jubal, who invented the flute and the harp, that is, music and with it, all arts, and Tubalcain, inventor of sharp weapons, metal forging and industry in general.
In Egypt the inventor is Theuth or Toth who, according to Plato (Phaedrus), invented numbers and calculation, geometry and astronomy, the game of checks and dice and also the characters in writing. When he boasted of having invented writing as a medicine against oblivion in front of King Thamos of Thebas, he received the most formal condemnation from the king who argued that exactly the opposite would happen, that writing would conspire against memory because people will begin relying on written texts instead of acquiring a better understanding and a deeper knowledge of what the masters were apeaking about. The city of Hermopolis was consecrated to Toth, the prodigious inventor, and he passed to the Greek Pantheon as Hermes, the son of Zeus, impersonation of skill and shrewdness. Hermes was a thief from birth (as a baby, he stole Apollo’s herd). We all know him as the god of theft and deceive, patron of all sort of speakers, charlatans and merchants. Not always we remember him as the Greek inventor of weights and measures, of musical instruments and of many of the devices that made life easier in ancient Greece.
The last inventor we shall mention is Daedalus, the inventor par excellence who was, like Cain, a killer. He murdered his twelve year old nephew because he was jealous of the boy for being even more resourceful than himself in matters of invention. The child had invented the saw, the compass and the potter’s wheel, reasons enough for the uncle to throw him from the Achropolis. Escaping from Athenian law he went to Crete where he designed the cow in which Pasiphae enjoyed the gifts of the divine white bull. He constructed the labyrinth, a jail for the unspeakable son of that guilty love. He flew away from Crete in wings that he attached to himself and to his ill-fated son Icharus, who died as a vengeance according to the wishes of his sister, mother of Thalus, who had, by the way, a love affair with his young boy, and who ended by committing suicide. After losing Icharus, Daedalus went to Sicily where he became a great architect, built beautiful temples and was revered as the most clever of men. We should remember that Socrates himself, according to Xenophon, boasted of having Daedalus as his ancestor and that James Joyce adopted his name in the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the final line of which sounds like a prayer to Daedalus: “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead”.
To invent is to bring forth something new and unexpected. What would a possible opposite of invention be? I would dare to suggest “convention”, the expected, the conventional, the cliché haunting every utterance and writing and work of art. Convention is the rule, invention is the exception.
This detour through the ill-famed and doomed inventors was necessary before coming back to Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis. At the core of the analytic situation we find the analytic rule: “Say whatever comes to your mind… no mattering how unpleasant, etc., it could be” Isn’t it an injunction to invent, to let things come “to a head” and pass to the speaking mouth in unexpected and unconventional ways? What do we expect in an analytic session if it is not the constant invention of sentences, of speech acts, of constructions in the field of language (langagières)? The subject is pushed into invention by the force of transference and he receives from the analyst some kind of spoken construction or an acted intervention that also constitutes an invention, astounding, often perplexing, seemingly meaningless.
What did Freud invent? After learning to listen to his patients (to listen to a patient was in itself an invention) he invented new clinical structures, a new nosography too well known for us to repeat its categories. He invented the notion of transference and transference neurosis, the drives (and their destinies), those mythical entities, enormous in their indetermination, the death drive, an invention that received the concerted rejection of most of his followers. He invented the Oedipus complex, heavily burdened by his own subjectivity (Lacan says that he dreamt it); he invented different myths about origins, origins of the father, of the family, of law, of the state, of poli- and monotheistic religion, and of psychic life in general: he advanced a lot of new concepts characterized by the prefix Ur: Urvater, Urphantasien, Urverdrängung, Urszene. So, we ask again: did he invent or did he discover the Unconscious? We cannot answer without examining Lacan’s ideas on the question.
As we have already said, in the beginning of his teaching he had no doubts. The discovery of the unconscious was a Lacanian cliché. Until Seminar XI there is no hesitation. Even in this crucial Seminar we can repeatedly read this successful syntagm. We hear him saying : “Certainly (note the adverb, italics added), the unconscious has always been present, it existed and acted before Freud, but it is important to stress that all the acceptations given, before Freud, to this function of the unconscious have absolutely (another adverb, íd.) nothing to do with the Freudian unconscious.” (p. 126) And, in the same page he reminds us that: “In my Rome report, I proceeded to a new alliance with the meaning of the Freudian discovery”.
It is in 1965, the following year, when he poses a question that sounds like (and really is) a provocation. In his XIIth Seminar, on May 12th, 1965, he said: “The unconscious would not be anything else but Freud’s invention. Why not?” The question, usually launched by the pervert to the previous question: ‘Why do you commit such acts?’ he usually answers: ‘Why not?’, so challenging the other to transform himself into a defender of conventions and norms who will be defeated and ridiculed if he insists on his reserve regarding the pervert act. Why would Freud not invent the unconscious (instead of discovering it)?. ‘Why not?’ is the seal of a transgression admitted as such. The idea appears again and again in subsequent seminars. Finally, after repeating it often enough, he takes the provocation to the ultimate degree. It was during the 9th Congress of the Freudian School of Paris when he shamelessly risked the proposition: “It must be said: Freud invented this tale, really nutty, that is called the unconscious and the unconscious is, may be, a Freudian delusion. The unconscious explains everything, too much, as Karl Popper put it well. It is a conjecture that cannot be refuted.” We can see the provocation in “it must be said” and the oscillation in “is, may be, a Freudian delusion”. At the time, his formulation shook the foundation of all his own former teaching. What would remain of his motto: L’inconscient est structuré comme un langage given the fact that it is (may be) a Freudian delusion?
Freud would not be as astonished at this Lacanian dictum as the followers of Lacan were. We all know of the moment in which Freud himself compared his theories with Schreber’s delirium and said that perhaps there is more truth in the paranoiac system of thought and more delusion in psychoanalytic theories than what we would be willing to admit. If the Freudian invention of the unconscious is to be sustained as an invention, then we can say that all Lacanian teaching is a continuation of that invention, even if it is a delusional one. Why not?
From 1965 until the moment of his death, Lacan overtly dedicated himself to the task of inventing. At the moment of presenting his Écrits, in 1966, in the prefatory text (écrit) entitled De nos antécédents, he speaks about “the invention of the mirror stage”, previously considered a “discovery”. Some years later we find him being very proud of inventing the object small a –following Marx’s invention of the surplus value – of having invented the metaphor of the borromean chain, of having invented the rules of the game of the three looped borromean knot where the real act as the third element, etc. One of the most surprising inventions of which Lacan was proud was nothing less than the invention of the Real (pace Hegel, obviously).
He boasted for the first time of having invented the real in his seminar XXI (Les non-dupes errent) of December 11th, 1973: “I began my teaching, long ago, by saying ‘I baptise you, Real, you as a third dimension (joined to the symbolic and the imaginary)…’ to which I added in my heart of hearts: ‘I baptise you, Real, because if you didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent you.’ And this is why I invented it.”
After this big talk he insisted in something new in his discourse: an intensification of the virtues attributed to invention, particularly with the invention of the syntagm “invention of knowledge”. He confessed himself passionate about the possibility of inventing knowledge and complained about the lack of the desire to know of the public of his Seminar.
On April 9th, 1974, after repeating that he invented the object small a, he said: “I invent in relation to knowledge, but in relation to truth I do not invent. Truth is brought to me. I have barrels full”. Previously (February 19th,, 1974) he had said: “I do not discover truth; I invent it. To which I add that this is knowledge: knowledge is invented.”
In his seminar of April 13th, 1976 (Le sinthome) Lacan said (in J-A. Miller’s version): “If Freud really made a discovery, and supposing that it was a true one, it can be said that the real is my sinthomatic answer to Freudian discovery. But reducing it to a sinthomatic answer is to reduce every invention to the sinthom”. . . “I have invented that which is written as the real. . .”
In 1973 he spoke (Télévision, IV) about the passions of the soul. It was one of the few instances in which he referred to the much abused term of depression, assimilating it to sadness. He agreed with Dante and with Spinoza in qualifying “depression” as a sin and even more, as a moral cowardice, in which the subject renounces to his duty of well-saying (bien-dire), acknowledging its place in the (unconscious) structure. To sadness, to moral cowardice, he opposed the virtues of gay science, the gay knowledge. “A virtue –he added – does not acquit anybody from (the original) sin. What I call gay knowledge does not consist in understanding or nibbling at the meaning (the sense) but in shaving it as much as possible … enjoying (en jouissant) of its deciphering. At the end this gay knowledge will end in a fall, in the return to sin”.
Lacan was never prone to making recipes for life, of recommending self-help books or counseling people about how to manage their existence in this world, but he came close to it through the condemnation of “depression” (sadness) as sin and opposing to it the virtues of a knowledge which is not, of course, a textual knowledge, but a referential knowledge . This new knowledge, coming from the combinatorial possibilities opened by the (primary, poetic) unconscious processes, is linked not to the repetition ( S 2 ) of a conventional know-how or a science, but to the challenging of the already established notions and to the accepted meaning or meanings. Thus, we arrive at the invention of a gay science (Nietzsche) that reduces meaning by showing its own lack of meaning and leads the speaking being to jouissance, the kernel of the subject, to an enigmatic jouissance that has to be deciphered. It is this work of deciphering the unconscious which is, to Lacan, a synonym for the “invention of knowledge”. At this moment we cannot help but be reminded of a commentary by Hanna Arendt to Heidegger’s thesis about sein zum Tode. (being towards death); she said “We were not born to die. We were born to invent”. I am willing to state that Lacan would agree. Grimness was not one of his traits and he didn’t encourage his analysands to experience grimness. The Lacanian technique aims at inventing knowledge from one session to the next. And invention is the Lacanian way to death (“the only thing we can choose is our own way to death”, Freud said in Beyond the Pleasure Principle).
We have been carefully trying to examine the relations among creation, discovery and invention but, there is a fourth concept which we have hardly mentioned until now: production. This term has no function in the Freudian doctrine but it is very relevant in the teaching of Lacan.
In relation to “production” we have to consider the idea of the production of the subject in the two ways opened by the genitive: the subject as a producer (of sentences, utterances, énoncés,énonciations) and the subject as a product (of discursive practices). Lacan is not alien to the Marxist discourse and its emphasis on the concept of the modes of production (of the material conditions for human life and subsistence, production of commodities). If we think back on all lessons previously given and taken by ourselves, we can say that the first thing that a mode of production has to produce is the subject who is capable to produce in that mode of production. In a few words: there is no production of commodities without the subjects who will produce them. And the production of subjects is an essential goal in every social formation. Lacanian theory of the subject is not based upon the traditional ideas of development (biological, psychological or sociological); it is based upon the recognition of the efficiency of the signifier chain in the production of the subject. Under this light we can see the essential contribution that psychoanalysis can make to political and economical thought. The production of a subject is the matter itself of psychoanalytic theory and practice. I will not make any further observation on the subject at this point.
Another interesting point to be reflected upon is the production of psychoanalysts. They result, as everybody knows, from the personal experience of a psychoanalytic process in which an analysand becomes an analyst, in other words, a subject capable of setting forth new analytic processes, allowing new analysands to invent the unconscious while they, with their own acts and interpretations (new inventions), and confronted with their analysands’ inventions, will produce what will retroactively have been the unconscious. Later on, after the analytic session, the analysts will go on with the invention of knowledge through the activities of psychoanalysis in extension: writing, lecturing, allowing this sinthomatic activity of the transmission of psychoanalysis to take place.
Freud´s invention would come to nothing if it were not for this constant renewal of his discovery of the unknown knowledge dwelling in everybody´s heart. This renewal involves a necessarily unending practice of invention.
We can examine again the already mentioned production of works of art. They result from the combinatory possibilities of the signifier and give the impression of being acts of creation. The signifier is always already there, “ready-made” for all kind of combinations framed in some artistic form. Infinite sonnets, paintings, plays and operas can be composed but, beyond the pretentious hopes of the artists themselves, all of them are nothing but variations from an established model, new ways of playing with the same worn out toys. We may agree with Robert Graves (The White Goddess) when he sustains that true poetry (and we add, all art) has a single language and a single infinitely variable theme. For him, this single theme is the ancient cult-ritual of the White Goddess and her Son and is expressed through the infinite panoply of myths. However, as psychoanalysts, we would suggest a small correction. Once we have recognized behind Graves’ proposal all that Oedipal stuff, we can go one step further and isolate the structural weight of the lack in the almighty White Goddess, the Phallus as signifier of this lack, and therefore the inexistence of the sexual relation, the impossibility of writing the lack and the subsequent efforts to outline the borders of the central hole that constitute at the same time the subject and the Other as barred. Every work of art, trying to create out of nothing with the signifiers borrowed from the Other, cannot but reproduce and tell, again and again, the same story, that of the inexistence of the sexual relation, even if this impossibility is apparently disavowed in the fictional content or in the pictorial image. The darning points to and underlines the hole. This is the story told by all stories.
Production is, at last, in the Lacanian tissue of inventions, the result of every discourse. Remember the scheme of the four discourses advanced in Seminar XVII (L’envers de la psychanalyse): in every discourse we have the place of truth (down, to the left), the place of the other (up, to the left), the place of the other (up, to the right), and the place of the production (down, to the right). In the discourse of the master, a, the commodity, the object, is the result. In the discourse of the hysteric, S 2, knowledge, comes to the place of the production. In the the discourse of the psychoanalyst, it is the master signifier (S 1) which constitutes the final result of the analytic situation. And in the discourse of the university, it is the subject itself who comes to the place of the production. Thus, we can go back to the beginning of our series of indications about what we can call production, when we referred to the production of subjects, the subjects required by the production processes and the subjects who will act as semblances of object a in the psychoanalytic practice. The subject ($) is the effect of the action of knowledge (S 2) over a raw material, human flesh (object a), according to a certain truth, that of the master signifier (S 1). For Lacan, the subject is the production of the discourse of the University wherever it may take place (of course not only, not necessarily, not primordially at the University).
Let us summarize our results: there is no way to delineate with exactitude the respective fields of creation, discovery, production and invention because definitions carry with them an always present possibility of semantic overlapping. But we can risk a provisional distinction between them: creation is linked to the idea of ex nihilo and nothing can be said as being ex nihilo in the human world. Therefore we may ascribe creation to religion.
Discovery is the unveiling of what previously was. The discoverer is somebody who adds knowledge to the cultural Western design that figures the world as a book that can be translated into language and then read, in the same univocal way, by anyone who knows the language in which it is written. The idea is that reality can be made one’s own (ereignet) , appropriated by the symbolic order. Therefore, let us assign discovery to science.
Production, as we have just seen, is the final result of every discourse. We could stop here for a few minutes to draw a rough sketch of the production of works of art. I think that our idea of art as objects that produce aesthetic pleasure is a narrow one, and it can be easily overcome if we go back to the Greek idea of tekhné. If we accept that every production (either of commodities or of useless objects cherished and rated as artistic) is the result of the application of a certain tekhné, then we can assimilate production to art (tekhné).
The last point to be dealt with (after creation-religion, discovery-science and production-art) was being prepared while we walked along the path, thinking about Freudian and Lacanian history in relation to what each of them discovered and invented. We recognized some important discoveries linked to the name of Sigmund Freud and, afterwards, we could understand how he “invented” the concept of unconscious (and of “metapsychology” in general) as a way of dealing with and as a means of justifying his discoveries. Thus, we can think of the theoretical activities of the psychoanalyst as practices of “invention”. Although, of course, we cannot restrict the concept of invention to psychoanalysis. We already pointed out the links between invention and the creation of fables or even lies, on one hand and, on the other, of technological inventions. All these “inventions” (psychoanalytic, fantastic and techno-scientific) share the common trait of being inseparable from the name and from the subjectivity of their “inventors”.
Now, if we have gone thus far, allow me the risky proposition of making these four assimilations between the four different ways of engendering new things and the practices of religion, science, art and psychoanalysis, I shall be even bolder and ask for your indulgence as I incur in adding, so late in the evening, a new quaternary. I think that at this point we can think about the two quaternaries that we have dealt with, and correlate them to Lacan’s use of modal logic. I’ll be very brief, apparently because it is late, but at bottom because I think that what I am about to say is very daring and I am not sure of what I’ll try to articulate in front of you. Do you remember the four modalities posed by Aristotle in his logic? Propositions are either necessary, possible, impossible or contingent. Lacan added that this logic refers to writing (inasmuch as logic, the science of the real –du réel – is always tied to the written, not to the spoken). Therefore he distinguished:
1) the necessary is that which does not cease of being written,
2) the possible is that which ceases of being written,
3) the impossible is that which does not cease of not being written, and
4) the contingent is that what ceases of not being written.
So let us think about the eventual kinship (nothing but a kinship) between:
1) religion and creation (impossible, what does not cease of being written);
2) art (tekhné) and production (possible, what ceases of being written);
3) science and discovery (necessary, what does not cease of being written, and
4) psychoanalysis and invention (contingent, what ceases of not being written).
But by now you are too tired . . . and so am I.
Translation into English revised and extensively corrected by