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IXth Congress of the WAP • 14-18 april 2014 • Paris • Palais des Congrès • www.wapol.org

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In psychoanalysis there is no knowledge in the real
by Miquel Bassols

Miquel BassolsThis is the affirmation that Jacques-Alain Miller sustained in his presentation of the theme of the forthcoming IXth Congress of the WAP on 'A Real for the 21st Century'[1] His elaboration allows us to re-read a paragraph from Lacan that appears paradoxical. It is to be found in the Italian Note of 1973 and is directed at the point of conjunction-disjunction between psychoanalysis and science:

"There is knowledge in the real. Even though it is not the analyst but the scientist who has to accommodate it (le loger).[2] The analyst accommodates another knowledge, in another place, but one that has to take account of the knowledge in the real. The scientist produces knowledge, by the semblant of making himself its subject. A necessary but not sufficient condition."[3]

From a certain perspective, it appears difficult to sustain that there is knowledge in the real, a knowledge already inscribed in it, a knowledge that would be natural and inherent to it. Even though this is, in effect, a supposition that we encounter in many developments of contemporary science: there would be a knowledge already written in the biological real – in the gene or in the neurone, for example – a knowledge that would have to be deciphered according to Galileo's maxim: "Nature is written in the language of mathematics." But this Nature, written then with a capital, is the nature that was previously equated with the real, the same nature that modern science has found in a disorder that becomes increasingly manifest, in particular with the physics of the past century (cf. E. Schrödinger, for example) and continues in the present. In the epoch of Galileo, as Jacques-Alain Miller indicated, "Nature was the name of the real when there was no disorder in the real." The real without law that we approach in the analytic experience oriented by Lacan's latest teaching is thus separated from the Nature[4] governed by a subject supposed to know, whether this would be God or any other author of the mathematical laws that should rule the trajectory of the celestial bodies or the knowledge of each cell in order to fulfil its function.

Let us look a little more closely, then, at Lacan's paragraph.

"There is knowledge in the real". The French text involves a partitive, always resistant to passing into the Spanish [or English] tongue: "Il y a du savoir dans le reel". It is not a question of there being a knowledge, this or that knowledge, written from the beginning in the real, but rather that 'of knowledge', there is some in the real. As one would say: of water, there is some in the sea. How much? We don't know, it would have to be measured, in cubic metres, for example. Only that in this operation, however interminable it might be, we are doing two things at once. First, we are introducing number and quantity into this uncountable sea, where, like the pass, we always have to begin again. We are introducing that which language, the symbolic, serves to articulate of the real via number.[5] Second, we are in fact emptying the sea of water, in considering it as a container that can be emptied of the water that we are trying to make countable. Number, then, serves to articulate a real and at the same time empties that real of signified. It turns it into something as unimaginable and without possible concept as a sea without water. This is an image that brings us closer to the most unrepresentable of the real. This void of a sea without water is also the subject of the signifier once we conceive it as a response of the real.

Let us suppose thus that the water is the knowledge and the sea is the real. The scientist then makes room for the knowledge of the countable water in the sea - always uncountable - of the real. It is a knowledge that has not been there forever, waiting to be read and deciphered, but rather a knowledge that the scientist has lodged in the sea in order to make it representable, in the very operation of its discovery. Furthermore, the scientist necessarily has to 'make room for' this knowledge, in order to symbolise the real, even if it is at the price, as Lacan says elsewhere, of rendering it mute. And he does so by way of an operation that is the inverse of the transference, if we understand by transference the supposition of a subject supposed to know – whether the supposition of a knowledge to the Other or the supposition of a subject to the real. The operation of the scientist goes against the grain of the transference by making himself the subject of this knowledge that is lodged in the real. Or at least he makes it appear, makes 'semblant' of making himself subject of this knowledge. What would it really mean to make oneself the subject of this knowledge? It would involve, in the first place, identifying oneself to its signified, the Other that determines the meaning of knowledge, the Other of the Other even who would say this meaning, if it existed. Which is purely and simply delusional. In reality, neither the celestial bodies nor the cell have any knowledge of the subject, however much the scientist attributes it to them – in the two senses of the expression: that the scientist attributes this knowledge of the subject or that he himself attributes to himself being the subject of this knowledge.

The analyst, for his part, makes room for an Other knowledge, the knowledge of the unconscious, and in an Other place, the place of the Other that only exists on account of transference. But Lacan does not situate the analyst in an absolute disjunction in relation to science. His knowledge and his place should take into account this knowledge that the scientist lodges in the real, even though this knowledge is not sufficient.

Between the necessary and the sufficient then, the real of the knowledge of the unconscious does not cease to insist, still. And in science too.

Translated from the Spanish by Roger Litten

  1. Published at http://www.congresoamp2014.com
  2. [TN.] The term translated here as 'accommodate' is 'alojar' in the Spanish, 'loger' in the original French ["L'analyste loge un autre savoir, à une autre place mais qui du savoir dans le réel doit tenir compte."]. I have used 'accommodate' in this instance, but 'lodge' in a later instance where the active sense of 'lodging a knowledge in the real' is more highlighted.
  3. Jacques Lacan, Autres écrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris 2001, p. 308.
  4. "You will note that I have spoken of the real and not of nature", writes Lacan in his 'Introduction to the German Edition of the Écrits', Autres écrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris 2001, p. 557.
  5. In effect, "language articulates in number the real with which science is elaborated". Jacques Lacan, 'Introduction to the German Edition of the Écrits', Autres écrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris 2001, p. 558. [TN. The term translated here as 'articulate' is 'vehicula' in the Spanish (as in 'vehicula el real con el numero'). It seems that 'articulate' provides a more acceptable English version than the notion of 'vehicularizing' the real with number.]