Presentation of the theme

The question of social links is acutely posed in Jacques Lacan’s designation, in 1970, of the  “Lacanian field” as the field of jouissance. Today this question is everywhere, since this field is everywhere. The links which bind the couple, the family or the world of work have become so precarious that the question of what undoes them is on everyone’s lips. The failure of capitalism, they say, or indeed of the science that conditions it.

Nevertheless, it was in psychoanalysis that it pressed forward when Freud, at the beginning of last century, questioning himself about “group psychology” as he listened to the thread of his analysands’ speech, could do nothing less than re-animate that ancient couple of Eros, god of the link, and Thanatos, the “daemonic” power that separates. Thus he reconnected, through the clinic of intimacy, the questions which rage in capitalist society, thereby showing, as Lacan put it, that “the collective is nothing but the subject of the individual.”1 From then on, psychoanalysis has something to say about both, since for both the same question arises: what is it that invisibly brings bodies together, enough to make couples and  societies, and what is the power that breaks them apart? This power that Freud recognized, Lacan called it jouissance. It constitutes the substance of the Lacanian field, which is not only the field of desire but also that of jouissance-events of the body, where they are produced. But jouissance does not link, it only ever belongs to an individual, be it in repetition, the symptom or even….the sexual act.

This theme of social links thus invites us to traverse the field of the social as well as that of the “one by one,” and first of all by using instruments forged by psychoanalysis to think the subject of the unconscious.

I. Language, discourse, and the Borromean knot are the three major terms

With these Lacan attempted to rethink and reorder the whole Freudian clinic of what makes linking and unlinking.

1. Freud gave us the original master words: drive, libido, narcissism, repetition, death drive and, we must not forget, the corresponding identifications by which beings who speak are socialized. These Freudian roots are to be re-explored.

2. Lacan recast them first on the basis of the chain of language, what he called the “fleece-like aggregations of the Eros of the symbol” via demand and desire. Then, based on the structure of discourse, which ordains distinct places that assure social links in the absence of a sexual order that does not exist. Finally, he had recourse to the Borromean knot with its three registers proper to beings who speak, namely, the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real, the knotting of which does not happen without the occurrence of speaking, thus accounting simultaneously for what at times he called the “real subject” and for its possible social links. With each of these steps, it is the ensemble of the Freudian clinical corpus that is being  reworked, testifying to the fact that here, as elsewhere, a theory is responsible for the facts it makes possible to establish, which facts in turn validate it. A demonstration that is always to begin again.

II. The social link in question

1. Its definition in psychoanalysis starts from Freud’s group psychology and goes to the structure of discourse in Lacan. For Freud, it is always the libido–including love and desire–and the various identifications it determines–which assure the links. But there are various types of links, and the order they establish between individuals is always an order of jouissances, for “the only discourse there is…is the discourse of jouissance.”2. Whence the political incidence: without the regulation of the jouissances that the discourses assure, no society is possible. The whole question is to know how this regulation is installed in each individual. This is the point on which capitalism presents its challenge.

2. Without even mentioning the misery it produces, one no longer doubts that it degrades established social links, generating solitude and precariousness, already the individual is the last residue of this degradation. We know this, but one ought to say how, by what trick, and what are the possible limits to its ravages? Could Eros be a recourse?

III. Clinic of the couple

The question concerns romantic couples inside and outside psychoanalysis.

1. One might wish that love would make one out of two, but human loves have a destiny that is fully mapped, as ancestral experience testifies: it goes from rapture to despair or disenchantment. Lacan marked out its boundaries in the gap between two formulas “You are my wife” (tu es ma femme) in 1953; and “kill my wife” (tuer ma femme) in 1973. It is a question of showing what is at work here, and in each particular case, to rupture the expected dialogue and the encounter of bodies. This is the problem of the real at stake in love and of knowing what it becomes after an analysis.

2. And then there is the analytic transference which introduces something new into love, a subversion3  which certainly “makes a promise”4 but of what? The vicissitudes of transference love discovered by Freud have lost none of their currency. They go from perpetuation to ruptures to reiteration. And what about their resolution? The formulas abound: liquidation, a perceived break, a fall, but are these the end of transference, even at the end of an analysis? Here again, it is only the particulars of each case that can instruct us.

Colette Soler, December 22, 2014

Translated by Devra Simiu

First published in Wunsch, International Bulletin of the School of Psychoaanalysis of the Forums of the Lacanian Field , Number 15, January 2016.

  1. Lacan, J. “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty.” in Écrits (trans. Bruce Fink, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), p.175.
  2.  The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, trans. Russell Grigg, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), p. 78
  3. “Introduction to the German edition of the Ecrits”. Autres écrits (Seuil, Paris, 2001), p.557
  4. Télévision (Seuil, Paris, 1973), p. 49. See Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment. Trans. D. Hollier, R. Krauss, A. Michelson. New York and London, W.W. Norton & Company, p. 28.
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