REVIEW Catherine Millot: “La vie avec Lacan” (The Life with Lacan)

Catherine Millot         

La vie avec Lacan (The Life with Lacan)

Paris : Gallimard, 2016 (coll. « L’infini ».  105 pages).


An analyzing life

              “Life with Lacan”. This rings for me as: with Lacan, life. Catherine Millot does not speak of “my life” with Lacan. And yet, this is a highly personal text, revealing the man, Lacan. Catherine Millot runs her script through the elementary reduction of traits, without voyeurism but not without humour.

The author does not recount her life with Lacan. It is not so much a narrative as rather an act of writing that operates a second turn, giving its signification to the first turn of life with Lacan. Marguerite Duras in Les derniers des métiers (Paris: Seuil), said that “all books are about the same subject, writing”: this is so when writing is an act. Then can one speak of sublimation: an object is raised poetically to the dignity of the Thing, and the satisfaction is that of a two-fold repetition, inherent to the act that engenders the subject. It is a repetition according to the incommensurable measure of the average and extreme reason. It is not surprising that Catherine Millot quotes Etienne Gilson’s book, L’école des muses [The Muses' School], in which it is a question, amongst others, of the love between Petrarch and Laura: “The carnal violence of passion that Petrarch feels for Laura is one of the characteristics of his love that he most insisted upon” and “his morals were troubled from the moment he discovered his love for Laura, in 1327”[1]. Sexual desire is a part of courtly love.

There is something similar to courteous love in this love that Catherine Millot speaks about. I think she was a muse for Lacan, in particular when he was absorbed in the construction of “Joyce the symptom”. As for Millot, did she not complete the journey with the writing of her return to “life with Lacan”, in this way placing him, in turn,  in the (feminine) position of muse?

The act of writing is an act of saying, that like every act, establishes a before and after, and the writing of her  book is registered in the time of haste, which is that of the act, a time, according to Lacan, that is linked “to the very depths of logic”, where too early is the avoidance of too late. A haste present in Lacan’s life and work, a haste in the writing of this book, as in its reading.

It does not leave readers indifferent, those who were part of the years the book covers, but also the others. So it is, the love Millot speaks of is a woman’s love for her analyst, who admittedly was not just any analyst and who always incited transference. It is a love to which she committed her whole being and her desire to grasp Lacan’s being. “I played ‘all in’ when I went to him, and the stakes were a matter of life or death”, she says (p.102). It implies that this entwining of analysis and love cannot be reduced to conventional notions of transference and passage à l’acte. For our part, it is not a question of justifying this passage, but of acknowledging the questions Millot’s book raises on the complexity of love in transference. The same questions arise today, under the same terms Lacan formulated, all throughout his teachings.

This resonates, for example, with what Lacan says at the end of his seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, on the desire of the analyst as a “desire to obtain the absolute difference” and that “only there can the signification of a love without limits emerge, because it is outside the limits of the law where it can only live”. What law? I would say: outside the limits of the law…of the love of the father, that is to say, of the father-version (père-version), of the half-said of Jouissance. It is outside the limits because it is at the heart of these limits and as such, communicates the exterior limit with that of the interior, like the hole of the torus it is in the zone of extimacy and the pas-tout, within the “confines” (in the sense of “L’étourdit”) of a tout, in a logic that it escapes from.

Is it not this that Lacan refers to when Millot speaks of her anxiety at the idea of not being able to complete her “analysis under such particular conditions”? He answers enigmatically, as only he can: “Yes, something is lacking” (p.102). What? Catherine Millot does not give us her interpretation of this phrase. She likewise invites us not to answer in her place, nor in place of Lacan, but just simply to risk certain interpretations. And, in this way, to realize that particularly in this type of phrase, but actually throughout the whole book, Millot positions herself at the (topological) juncture of psychoanalysis in intension (analysis) and extension (the transmission), and that this place is a place of vibrations, of waves, that summons the avid reader of psychoanalysis. I would therefore suggest that this phrase is linked, in my opinion, to the lack of relation from 1 to 0 of the empty set, when there are two. It lacks the 0, as marker of the lack, which renders inaccessible the 2 as the sum or product of smaller numbers, (one cannot obtain 2 from 0 and 1). “The matter is particularly of interest concerning this 2, since regarding the relation of 1 to 0, I have sufficiently pointed out that the 1 issues from what the 0 marks as lack.”[2] In other words, the 2 of the sexual relation lacks.

Through her act of writing, Catherine Millot invites us into a zone of logical paradoxes that Lacan also encounters in love “when it becomes serious and incites rigor, like with mystics, to the point where nothing can be said without contradiction, and loss and salvation are the same”, as Catherine Millot had already written in La logique et l’amour[3] [Logic and Love]. It is to re-situate the place of love in analysis within a logical perspective that gives the means to consider what is paradoxical about this place, within the context of a singular experience where the stakes were and remain vital.

This explosive mix is part of the transmission of analysis in that, in many ways, Lacan’s conduct indicates an analytic position that does not in fact claim to be one. It is perhaps not so surprising to admit, as we do, that this book is at the juncture of psychoanalysis in extension and in intension. Two traits are proof of this. Firstly, the recognition that a form of love does not necessarily disappear with the fall of the subject supposed to know (Millot bears witness to this in her analysis). At the minimum there remains a love of gratitude. But there is also the desire to pay homage, in the way Lacan does in his “Hommage to Marguerite Duras for the ravishing of Lol Stein”. “Like honoring an appointment, a way of finding him again[4]…” Whatever it be, the distinction must be made between a love lodged in the subject supposed to know and other forms of love knotted to a real, that is only possible to name with the topology of the Borromean knots.  At one moment Lacan interpellates Millot with an “it is you”, designating a complex Borromean knot (which one?). Of course this could be to indicate to her that she is complex, as is his relationship with her. But does it not also indirectly signify that the love specific to transference can only be interpreted by separating the different forms of the articulation of love and transference with the triple Borromean of R.S.I.: transference-love symbolically imaginary, imaginarily real, really symbolic…?

The book furthermore gives an illustration of what Lacan called “intermediary lockage” (l’éclusage intermédiaire) of “an analyzing life” between the public and the private (Seminar XV, L’Acte analytique, 28 March).

In this way, what comes forward is Lacan’s determined, driven personality (skiing, driving…) in his private and public life, measured against the haste in analysis. Similarly, his refusal of psychology in social life was in agreement with his positioning in collective logic when he said: « The collective is nothing but the subject of the individual. » Finally his ever-wakening curiosity, for example in his visits to museums, served to enrich and refine his research in psychoanalysis. In his seminar L’insu que sait de l’une-bévue c’est l’amour (December 14, 1976), he admitted: « I only consist of an unconscious which of course I think about day and night… »

Throughout the book is a portrait of Lacan who does not play the analyst, and who is fully committed to life, a life spiraled by psychoanalysis, like his culebra cigars. He lives as a man who is perseverant, determined, concentrated and unafraid (p.104), who does not shirk his responsibilities and acts according to prior and subsequent consequences that he fully assumes. When faced with attacks, adversity and betrayal, he knows to remain silent. It is a position not without its share of solitude, incomprehension, even hatred from others. The same others by whom, in spite of or because of this, he needs sometimes compulsively to be surrounded. Like a five-year old child, Lacan says of himself.

These individual traits of Lacan had therapeutic effects on Millot (p. 103) and on many others. I testify to this with this praise for the book. One can herein read, if it is written, the indication that if the analyst is in a position of the object a in analysis, it is by means of sustaining the existence of his desire (itself sustained by a fantasy, let us not be mistaken) that follows a particular line. It is a line between awakened intellectual curiosity and active available passivity, between moments of forcing and patience, of silence and speech, of tact and severity, of acceleration and stagnation, of isolated and shared solitude.

This desire is at work in what Lacan calls making “a pair” (la paire) and being “on a par” (être au pair) with “emergency cases”. Which means it is not just a dual relationship, because the pair refers to the ordered pair of signifiers in set theory, which includes the tertiary element of the empty set, counted as the one-more (l’un en plus) of the subject’s enunciation. And to be on a par with someone is not to have arrears with him, not to lengthen the delay on something, and so to be ready to make haste; to hasten to the point of leaving behind the haste of the letter.

With her writing Millot joins the “on a par” (l’au pair) (and not the “Oh! Père” [father]) with Lacan, and so pursues her analyzing life.



Translated from the French by Mary Mc Loughlin

[1] E. Gilson, L’école des muses, Paris, Vrin, 1951, p.50-52.

[2] J.Lacan, …Ou Pire, Paris, Seuil, 2011, p.178

[3] C. Millot, La logique et l’amour et autres textes, Paris, Editions Nouvelles Cécile Defaut, Paris 2015, p.74

[4] C. Millot, La vie avec Lacan, op. cit., p. 105

Published by I.S.A.P. - ISSN 2284-1059