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The Clinic and the Real
by Graciela Brodsky

Graciela BrodskyIn the address given by Lacan on the occasion of the creation of the Clinical Section in Paris[1] we find a definition of the real that is worth commenting on. At the time Lacan was giving his seminar L'une-bévue, a title that can be translated in Spanish as Una-equivocación (or in English as One blunders), and is a play on words with the German term Unbewusste. That is to say that at the moment that Lacan is creating his Clinical Section he is taken up with a questioning of the Freudian unconscious. There are two important texts that accompany this period: 'Television' and the 'Preface to the English Edition of Seminar XI', which closes the Autres Ecrits.

In the exchange that follows his opening words, speaking colloquially in response to a question, Lacan defines the psychoanalytic clinic as "the real insofar as it is the impossible to bear". This is a phrase that has often been commented on, but which allows certain precisions. In the first instance it corrects something that Lacan had already formulated a few years previously: the real is the impossible. Saying that the real is the impossible is different from saying that the real is the impossible to bear.

The real as the impossible refers to a real that emerges from an impasse of formalisation, which does not cease to not write itself, and which at the same time that it emerges as paradox, as product and residue of the symbolic – on which it depends – does not cease to escape the signifying machinery.

The impossible to bear is something else. The real as impossible to bear is separate from logical and mathematical writing. In the midst of the impossible formalisation, the 'bearing' evokes the dimension of the load, of the weight, of the suffering even. In sum, bearing requires a body.

For whom, then, is the real the impossible to bear? To begin with, for the one who calls on us, the one that we improperly name the patient, given that for the patient the impossible to bear appears as emergency, as excess of the body or of thought.

J.-A. Miller comments on this reference in an old article entitled 'The Clinical Lacan'[2], whose Spanish version is to be found in the collection Matemas II. This is a lecture in which he maintains that the symptom only takes on clinical form when it is impossible to bear. In the meantime one puts up with it. This does not imply that one does not have symptoms, but that it is a state of the symptom that is not clinical. This appears to me to be a useful indication because it indicates that there is a clinical state of the symptom and there is a state of the symptom that is not clinical. For example, Lacan says of himself in the Seminar L'une-bévue: "I am a perfect hysteric, that is, without symptoms". [3] In Seminar V he points in the same direction: "I reminded you how Dora lived up to the moment when her hysterical position was destabilised. She is very much at ease, apart from a few little symptoms, but which are precisely those that constitute her as hysteric..."[4] If we wanted to go further with the distinction between the clinical symptom and the non-clinical symptom, we could conjecture that this anticipates something that involves the sinthome as way of coming to terms with, of managing with the real, of making do with the real in the way that the artisan makes do with the material with which he works.

This sinthome, is it something that is encountered at the end of analysis, or is it something that functions from the start, even though the subject is unaware of it? I am inclined to think that the subject has to find a way to come to terms with the troumatisme of lalangue (which one always encounters unprepared and without resources), something that does not wait for the analysis in order to be produced. But this state of the sinthome is not clinical, to follow Miller's indication. It turns into a clinical symptom when the coming to terms fall s apart and the signals of the real reappear, impossible to bear.

But for the analyst too the clinic is the real as impossible to bear. The clinic as impossible to bear goes hand in hand with the clinic as attempt to organise the real, to seek a law for it, to symbolise it. All classification is an attempt to regulate the real, to frame the impossible to bear, the impossible of the practice of psychoanalysis. And if we classify symptoms, weave knots, draw diagrams, write formulas, trace graphs, it is because we have the daily experience – at times unbearable – that in the real there are no classes, only spare parts, "épars désassortis", as Lacan called them.[5]

Who knows about Ernst Lanzer? He was born in1878 and died, like so any others, in the Great War. It appears that his true name was Paul Lorenz, or that the true name of Paul Lorenz was Ernst Lanzer; it is actually not clear whether they were the same person or not. He saw Freud for nine months. We don't know what his family called him, whether it was Ernst or Paul, but that doesn't matter to us. We have been speaking about him since 1909 and for us he was, is, and will be the 'Rat Man'. It is not natural for man to get enjoyment from torture by rats, but once he had encountered this contingent jouissance neither the name of the father nor that of the civil register fitted him.

This is what the Lacanian clinic is made of, hence the problem of the presentation of cases. What would be the way of presenting a case that captured something of the most singular of a subject, which on the basis of the contingency of an encounter allows us to read a programme of jouissance whose repetition, apparently necessary, demonstrates in the end that it is the solution that the subject found for the real as impossible to bear?

This is something that is probably only achieved with a clinic elaborated on the basis of testimonies. Lacan made this attempt with the aid of two apparently dissimilar devices: the pass and the patient presentations. In both cases, the real is not so much demonstrated as imagined by its resonance.

Translated from the Spanish by Roger Litten

  1. Lacan J., 'Ouverture de la Section clinique', text established by J.-A. Miller, Ornicar? n° 9, avril 1977, p. 7-14.
  2. Miller J.-A., "Lacan clínico", Coloquio de Ottawa [mayo 1984], in: Matemas II. Buenos Aires, Manantial, Los ensayos, 1994, p. 127.
  3. Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XXIV, 'L'insu qui sait de l'une-bévue s'aille à mourre', leçon du 14 décembre 1976, Ornicar?, Paris, Lyse, n° 12/13, décembre 1977, p. 7 à 10.
  4. Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre V, 'Les formations de l'inconscient', Paris, Seuil, 1998, p. 397.
  5. Lacan, J., Preface to the English Edition of Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, transl. by A. Sheridan, Norton, 1981, p. ix, where 'épars désassortis', literally 'dispersed oddments', is translated as 'scattered, ill-assorted individuals'.