Lacan’s Sinthome; or, the Point of Psychoanalysis


Lacan began his seminar on Joyce saying that “sinthome is an old way of spelling what was subsequently spelt symptome,” with no direct explanation of the “meaning” of these spellings or their origins seeming to follow (Lacan 2016, p. 3). Rather, Lacan, like Joyce, repeatedly puns on the “letter” of the words over and over. Oddly enough “for someone who plays strictly on language,” Joyce can be seen to reduce language to what it produces by way of effect, “when one does not analyze” this very effect (Lacan 2016, p. 146). What language produces here – and what Joyce presents – is the sinthome. Even stranger for psychoanalysis (a practice whose etymological roots lie in a Greek word meaning “loosen”), what Lacan presents is that which Joyce puts forth or nominates – along with his name – as impossible to analyze; or, a knot not-to-be loosened or analyzed.

Perhaps this is not a strange idea to have come from the same Lacan who wrote “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” but one could imagine that psychoanalysis itself would be surprised to see its name linked to this destiny. After all, what is the point of psychoanalysis if not to subject to analysis even that which seems definitively unanalyzable, even beyond reason? Departing from this question, the following essay address the question of what “the point of psychoanalysis” might be or mean, interrogating various figurations of points throughout Lacan’s work – namely, the phallus, the sinthome, and the point “as such.” I will argue that these references to “points” mark decisive moments in Lacan’s consideration of the fate of psychoanalysis in relation to the fate of Western capitalist civilization – specifically, Western civilization in its Judeo-Christian iteration, which grounds its tradition on the question of the symbolic function of the father and the master. I claim that Lacan’s analyses of Joyce’s father’s “abdication of paternity” and the advent of university and capitalist discourses allows us to discern some of the impasses of psychoanalysis and the tradition from which it was born.

The seminars of Jacques Lacan are littered with figures of what one can call, in Lacan’s own terms, “anchoring” or “quilting” points (point de capiton), “master-signifiers” around which the consistency of his psychoanalytic interventions revolve in a given period. Notable among these notions are “phallus,” “Name of the Father,” and perhaps most opaquely, “sinthome.” One could roughly conceive of these terms in correspondence with Lacan’s three orders of reality: Imaginary (phallus), Symbolic (Name of the Father), and Real (sinthome). Yet in the passage from the first two terms to the third, we move from two figures of matter in their substantiality to a figure that articulates a purely insubstantial feature of that which the subject presents. Further, “sinthome” already represents the evacuation of substantial content from the prior notion of a “symptom.” How are we to conceive of the relation (or lack thereof) between these figures?

At the beginning of the section of his 1975-1976 seminar The Sinthome entitled “On Sens, Sex, and the Real,” Lacan says that “Joyce is stimulating because he suggests, though it’s merely a suggestion, an easy way of presenting him” (Lacan 2016, p. 101). Quite simply, what Joyce “puts forth” – in a way Lacan suggests is singular to the know-how of an artist –  is the sinthome (Lacan 2016, p. 106). However, that Joyce suggests an easy way of presenting him is not synonymous with what Joyce himself presents. Lacan tells his seminar about a dream he’s had where he fumbles at the task of presenting Joyce to them, and insofar as what Joyce presents is the sinthome, Lacan calls Joyce himself “the sign of my entanglement.”

After twenty years, the seminar of Lacan, the most prominent psychoanalyst of the postwar era, would culminate in the study of Joyce, a writer that Lacan considers to be “unanalyzable” – more specifically, unanalyzable in virtue of the fact of being “a rock-solid catholic” (Ibid). One can hear an echo of Freud’s “bedrock of castration” that signals the ultimate limitation of that which can be analyzed, in Lacan’s statement on the rock-solidity of Joyce’s catholicism (Freud 1937, p. 252). In an earlier session of the seminar (“Was Joyce Mad?”), Lacan elaborates the association of Joyce’s catholicism, un-analyzability, and limitation. [1]Lacan argues that Joyce’s father effectively abdicated from the function of paternity, going so far as to claim that this abdication constituted a “de facto Verwerfung (foreclosure)” for which the entirety of Joyce’s artistic work represented a compensation (Lacan 2016, p. 72-73).

In a sense, it was as if Joyce’s father outsourced the job of being a father to the Jesuit priests by whom the young Joyce was educated. Ultimately, the limitations engendered by this abdication were transmitted to Joyce all the more through the minimal execution of paternal duties in the formal education by the Jesuits, and felt in the form of “imperiously receiv[ing] his calling” (Ibid). Lacan justifies his presentation of Joyce and the symptom Joyce presents most directly as follows:

“Joyce has a symptom that starts out from the fact that his father was a failing father, a radically failing father. He speaks of nothing but that. I centered everything around the proper noun, and I thought – make what you like of this thought – that it was in wanting a name for himself that Joyce came up with a compensation for the paternal failing” (Lacan 2016, p. 77).

Joyce’s imperious reception of a calling – one that sounds less like a calling freely accepted then a limitation with which one works – is, for Lacan, “the specific mainspring” by which the proper noun is something strange in Joyce” (Ibid). Having received only his name, “Joyce,” from his father, James Joyce (also imperiously) valorizes “the name that is proper to him…at the expense of the father” as “a homage to be paid, a homage that he refused to anyone else.” Crucially, Lacan states that the proper noun “does all it can to make itself more than the S1, the master-signifier,” which is assigned the fate of linking to the signified (labeled S2), “that around which the gist of knowledge accumulates” (Ibid). In short, a proper noun can be brought back into the realm of common nouns – Joyce can be a Joyce among others, just as James can be a James among others. It is through the multiplication of aliases (“James Joyce also known as Dedalus”) that the signifier “Joyce” can break free from its significance in relation to an existing body of knowledge, and further, that Joyce meets his “calling.” Lacan’s interest in the proper noun lies in the fact that “the function of phonation…[is] precisely…what is at issue in supporting the signifier”; “phonation is what transmits the proper function of the name” (Lacan 2016, p. 61).


Names, and the Father

At this juncture, it is important for the sake of conceptual rigor to comment further on the notion of paternal abdication that Lacan introduces in Seminar 23 with reference to his own elaboration of “paternal deficiencies” 18 seminars earlier in Formations of the Unconscious. Against a wave of burgeoning psychoanalytic literature at the time that posited various final causes for the failure of a father in relation to a patient’s symptoms (father is too cruel, too nice, too present, too absent, too bankrupt, too rich, et. al), Lacan offers a simple but intricate answer to the question of what constitutes a “paternal deficiency”:

“I am saying exactly this – the father is a signifier substituted for another signifier. That is the mainspring, the essential and unique mainspring, of the father’s intervention in the Oedipus complex. And if you don’t look for the paternal deficiencies at this level, you won’t find them anywhere else” (Lacan 2017, p. 165).

It is worth noting that “mainspring” is the word used to refer to both the substitution of the father as a signifier for another signifier as the operation constitutive of the father’s intervention in the Oedipus complex in Seminar V, and the function of Joyce’s imperiously received calling in constituting the fact of the proper noun’s strangeness in Joyce. [2] To return briefly to the question of Lacan’s presentation of Joyce himself, Lacan uses the same “mainspring” metaphor as a means of describing, in essence, the notion of metaphor itself in two separate instances. Put alternatively (and quoting directly from Seminar V), “it’s insofar as the father intervenes as a real person, as /, in order to fulfil this function that the / will become an eminently signifying element and constitute the nucleus of the final identification, the ultimate outcome of the Oedipus complex” (Lacan 2017, p. 210). One can also see in this 1957 discussion of the paternal function an anticipation of Lacan’s later discussion of the master’s discourse in 1969’s seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, where “the little master,” as “ego,” articulates the foundation of what is known (Lacan 2007, p. 30).

The “de facto” dimension of Joyce’s father’s “abdication,” then, consists in having left the very question of whether or not the “I” representative of mastery and essential for identification would be articulated to his son’s Jesuit teachers, who were in no place to do so themselves. Why were Joyce’s Jesuit teachers in no place to stand in for the father function, though? Lacan speaks repeatedly throughout the seminar about Joyce’s desire to keep the critics – which Lacan notably locates in academia – “busy for three hundred years” (Lacan 2016, p. 7; 143). It is perhaps no coincidence that the specific way in which Joyce felt he was “called” to acquire his (father’s) name for himself was to introduce the proper noun “Joyce” into the existing corpus of knowledge that Lacan calls “university discourse,” where it could stand as a common noun among proper nouns. Jacques-Alain Miller nicely illustrates the function of this discourse, when he writes in the notes to Seminar 23 that “a passage from The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (p. 36-37) effectively defines enigma in reference to enunciation, in contradistinction to quotation which is defined in reference to the statement. The enigma is an enunciation that defers to the listener in order to become a statement; the quotation is a statement that settles the enigma of enunciation by means of the author’s proper name” (Lacan 2016, p. 212). In Other Side, Lacan gives the example of psychoanalysts’ own invocation of the name “Freud” (as well as “Marx,” whose name and body of work he argues has a similar function for Marxists as Freud’s do for analysts).


Points, and the Phallus

It is not difficult to link Lacan’s presentation of the symptom Joyce presents – his desire for his name to be written about for centuries at universities as a compensation for the missing signifier of paternity and mastery – to Lacan’s increasingly-common arguments in the years before the Sinthome seminar that the discourse of mastery has effectively been subverted by the discourse of the university. With the introduction of the Anglo-American “credit point” system in autumn 1968, education became adjusted to the demands of the market. Lacan’s words ring as strongly in 2020 as 1968: “The credit-point, the little piece of paper that they want to issue you, is precisely this. It is the sign of what knowledge will progressively become in this market that one calls the University” (Lacan 1968-1969, p. 39 [as quoted in Tomsic 2014, 212).

The introduction of these credit points (unites de valeur in French), though, represent for Lacan “a more fundamental shift in the relation between knowledge and power, which dates further back into history” (Tomsic 2014, p. 137). Almost as soon as Lacan introduced his four discourses in Other Side, he began to argue that the discourse of the master was already something of a relic from a bygone society:

“Something changed in the master’s discourse at a certain point in history. We are not going to break our backs finding out whether this was due to Luther, or Calvin, or some unknown traffic of ships around Genoa, or in the Mediterranean Sea, or anywhere else [Braudel], for the important point is that on a certain’ day, surplus-enjoyment became calculable, could be counted, totalized. This is where the accumulation of capital begins” (Lacan 2007, p. 177).

Lacan’s equivocation with regards to the signifier “point” – both in the case of pinning the “certain point in history” on a precise moment in a historical timeline, and in terms of the “credit-point,” the unites de valuer that stood for the result of the ostensibly radical post-May 1968 university reforms in France – is telling. In effect, the two quotes above attest to the idea that “points” represent a notion of identity that is commensurate with fixed, countable bits of matter. In the first case, Lacan attaches his favorite qualifier – “little” – with which he repeatedly refers to small bits of matter – most notably the phallus – throughout his oeuvre. “The phallus,” Lacan says at the beginning of The Sinthome, “is the conjunction between what I’ve called this parasite, which is the little scrap of a dick in question, and the function of speech. And it is in this respect that [Joyce’s] art is the true guarantor of his phallus” (Lacan 2016, p. 7). Approaching the end of the seminar, Lacan elucidates the importance of the distinction between “being” and “having” for psychoanalysis, this time without reference to the notion of the little piece of matter that is the phallus [3][4]. This modification of the being/having distinction – now, seemingly, existing sans phallus – can be apprehended in relation to his comments on the university discourse and capitalist accumulation if one conceives of the proverbial “point” as standing for that impossibility where one would “recogniz[e] one’s self in what one is.” It is perhaps insofar as women were said to “be the phallus” in previous works of Lacan, and that one cannot recognize one’s self in what one is, that Lacan can claim that The Woman does not exist, and assert her affinity to God, “the Other of the Other” (Lacan 2016, p. 108).

Immediately a question arises as to whether one can have what one is, and likewise, be what one has. One can imagine in the first case examples like the moment Lacan says Hamlet assumes his identity (“This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” [Lacan 2019, 267]) and contemporary political movements centered on the articulation of ‘identity.’ A radical ambiguity surrounds the fragility of the “I” that stands for the attempt toward positing a new master-signifier (S1) [5] that is not reduced to the status of just another signified element of discourse (S2) – another point among others. In the latter case, to “be what one has” evokes the accumulation of degrees from universities – the reduction of students to purely indebted subjects with only “points” to show for it [6] – as much as in the case of the accumulation of capital, where money as a general equivalent ultimately does not stand for the capacity to buy lots of things one could have as much enhancing the capacity of having, and being this very capacity itself.

The contrast between these two cases, the difficulties posed by the dissolution of a fixed point of identity implied in the latter case especially, and the resonances of these examples with the particular can help us to understand the motivation behind Lacan’s turn toward topology. Lacan explains that “topology indicates to us that there is a hole in the middle of a circle” – that is to say, there is a hole, or a lack – but the significance of this indication consists in the fact a hole’s cut across all unities “prevents the actual totalization of anything, thus destroying all identitarian positions…the unconscious appears at the edges of cuts made by separations that created desire in the first place…” (Lacan 2016, p. 125) (Ragland-Sullivan 1992, p. 61).

Relatedly, one of the people in attendance at Seminar 23 asks Lacan at the end of the section entitled “From the Unconscious to the Real,” if a point, insofar as it is defined as the intersection of three planes, can be said to be real. In addition to answering decisively in the negative (“the real does not entail the point as such”), Lacan expresses his gratitude for the question, adding that “this is a question that absolutely deserves to be asked.” The stakes of the question for Lacan are clearly implied in his answer: “The im-ply-cation of what I have been calling a Borromean link is that amid everything that is consistent in this link there is no common point” (Lacan 2016, p. 118-119). In reference to the aforementioned topology of a Borromean link between three rings representing the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real orders, respectively, Lacan proposes that “Joyce’s case corresponds to a way of making up for the knot’s coming undone” (Lacan 2016, p. 71). This is not to say that the knots do not remain undone – or that, in any event, we simply suppose that people’s functioning in reality means the three rings are linked – but demonstrates that the sinthome is that which can be supposed as supporting the unity of the three rings. This kind of “writing” (presumably, the supposing of the fourth sinthome ring to support the other three rings), Lacan claims, was “utterly essential to Joyce’s ego” (Lacan 2016, p. 127).

Just a few years earlier in Seminar XX, too, Lacan presents a similar argument that there is no “threefold point” that holds together a Borromean knot, because such a point is always already split in two. [7]  It is crucial to note that Lacan’s claim that there exists two different points evokes the topology of ellipses, which notably have two foci rather than one. [8]  How to deal with this irremediable split between two – substances, sexes, conscious and unconscious? In his second meditation, Rene Descartes sought to find “one firm and immovable point in order to move the entire earth from one place to another…that is certain and unshaken” (Descartes 1998, p. 24). In view of such a lofty aspiration, one might be forgiven for being surprised or disappointed to learn that the process of radical doubt that Descartes embarks upon in attempt to arrive at this “firm and immovable point” culminates in the transparently stupid hypothesis that two substances, mind (res cogitans) and body (res extensa) are mediated by God’s intervention that takes place within a third entity that connects them: a tiny walnut-like organ in the brain called the pineal gland. Even in his own time, Descartes’ ‘pineal hypothesis’ was usually regarded as an embarrassing aberration of an otherwise great philosopher’s thought. [9] It is as if, upon the realization that he could not directly resolve the question of the two substances’ non-relation provoked by the discovery of the cogito (which for Lacan names “the subject of the unconscious”), Descartes simply decided to add a third.

In terms of “instances of the letter in the unconscious” alone, the pineal gland cannot help but evoke Lacan’s own ‘penile hypothesis,’ that of the phallus as that which gives body to the Master-Signifier, as well as the non-relation between the sexes. Lacan’s “master” is not a figure that holds his position on the basis of any particular piece of knowledge or rationale. For Lacan, the phallus long represented the brute fact of the master’s existence. Like Descartes’ “Archimedean point,” Lacan’s Master-Signifier is the immovable point de capiton (quilting point) that both holds the master’s discourse together and sets it in motion – all the while representing a resolution to the forward movement of “analysis” (in the broadest sense) on the other hand. As such, though, the Archimedean point and the point de capiton are not just ordinary points in a theoretically infinite succession of points in space, for in their very exceptional nature as ‘un-moved movers’; they confer consistency and sens onto this very succession, from which certainty might be derived.


God, and Masters

In his much earlier seminar on the psychoses, Lacan argued that the entirety of Judaeo-Christian civilization can be characterized by “one simple principle, namely, that nature is incapable of deceiving us, that somewhere there is something that guarantees the truth of reality, which Descartes affirms in the form of his own nondeceptive god” that intervenes in the pineal gland, the belief in whom finally constitutes Descartes’ “Archimedean point.” To this position, Lacan contrasts “the normal, natural position, the more common position, that which appears in the minds of the very great majority of cultures, which consists in locating the guarantee of reality in the heavens, however one represents them to oneself” (Lacan 1993, p. 66).

And yet, it is for the reason that the notion of the phallus – like the pineal gland and Descartes’ nondeceptive god – is no longer thought to be able to give body or consistency to the succession from one point to another (or the relation between two sexes; or knowledge and truth) that the sinthome is supposed to be in a fixed place in relation to the topology of the three registers. In the face of grasping a unitary center point’s split into two foci from a (third) point of observation, Lacan can speak of Western civilization reaching its apogee in Joyce, who “cancell[ed his] subscription to the unconscious” (Lacan 2016, p. 146). Do we return, then, to the “normal, natural position” Lacan describes as taken for granted “the regular return of the stars, or of the planets, or of eclipses”? (Lacan 1993, p. 66). The issue with such an argument consists in the fact that the imaginary-fantasmic background of the “normal, natural” position – that of a “pivotal point (point-maitre),” or more literally, master-point – would seem to have been undermined in the passage to the non-Euclidian, “Copernican” universe.

The structure of this “cancellation” finds an important in analogue in the idea of love advanced by Alain Badiou – a (Lacanian) philosopher who notoriously claimed to “want to know nothing about psychoanalysis” [10] – which notably also proceeds with a logic of “points”:

“A point, [names] a particular moment around which an event establishes itself, where it must be re-played in some way, as if it were returning in a changed, displaced form, but one forcing you to “declare afresh.” A point, in effect, comes with the consequences of a construction of a truth, whether it be political, amorous, artistic, or scientific, suddenly compels you to opt for a radical choice, as if you were back at the beginning, when you accepted and declared the event…You could even say: you must (re-)make the point…Two cannot continue to experience each other in the world as they did before they were challenged on this point (Badiou 2009, p. 50-51).

In the above passage, Badiou talks about reinstating a lost point in a manner that is comparable to the idea of the search for a ‘symbolic’ pineal gland or compensating for the lack of a Master-Signifier. In another, though, a succession of multiple points comprises the trajectory of an “experience of the Two” in time. [11] Is the subject of psychoanalysis – the subject of modern science – then confined to the choice between submission to ‘arbitrary’ mastery and the unbearable eternity of repetition – or worse, being caught in a state of ambivalence between the two?


The Point, and Psychoanalyses

In concluding and attempting to respond to this problem, let us return once more to Descartes’ desire for a “certain and immovable point.” In both iterations of Badiou’s discussion of love, points represent one point among others in a multiplicity. Descartes’ “Archimedean point,” on the other hand, might be distinguished from other points in the sense that is not a “Euclidean” point like any other. While there is no point that is not Euclidean, one might add, apropos Lacan’s feminine logic of sexuation (Lacan 1998, p. 73-77): Euclidean points are not-All. Intuitively, it might seem odd to situate Descartes’ “Archimedean Point” and its support in the pineal gland, the early modern analogues to Lacan’s Master-Signifier and phallus, on the side of the “feminine” logic and jouissance, for the obvious reason of their association with “masculine” logic and phallic jouissance.

It is nonetheless the very obviousness or stupidity of this hypothesis – its “essentialism,” perhaps, in the sens that “esse” translate the copula “being” in Latin – that might offer us a opening toward a more profound logical (im)possibility (Lacan 1998, p. 31). Just as in Hegel’s maxim that “spirit is a bone,” the highest (“one firm and immovable point in order to move the entire earth from one place to another…that is certain and unshaken,” the master-signifier) can only be grasped in its passage through the lowest (the pineal gland, the phallus) in a necessary detour on the path to truth that is itself part of the truth. This lesson is also condensed in Lacan’s famous slogan apropos mastery and semblance, “les non-dupes errent”: those who do not work through or play with symbolic fictions – the phallus representing this fiction par excellence – are “duped,” and thus “erring,” in precisely the “masculine”/“phallic” sense of considering themselves to be exempt or excepted from the possibility of being-duped.

Lacan began his seminar on Joyce saying that “sinthome is an old way of spelling what was subsequently spelt symptome,” with no direct explanation of the “meaning” of these spellings or their origins seeming to follow (Lacan 2016, p. 3). Rather, Lacan, like Joyce, repeatedly puns on the “letter” of the words over and over. Oddly enough “for someone who plays strictly on language,” Joyce can be seen to reduce language to what it produces by way of effect, “when one does not analyze” this very effect (Lacan 2016, p. 146). What language produces here – and what Joyce presents – is the sinthome. Even stranger for psychoanalysis (a practice whose etymological roots lie in a Greek word meaning “loosen”), what Lacan presents is that which Joyce puts forth or nominates – along with his name – as impossible to analyze; or, a knot not-to-be loosened or analyzed.

Perhaps this is not a strange idea to have come from the same Lacan who wrote “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” but one could imagine that psychoanalysis itself would be surprised to see its name linked to this destiny. To invoke Lacan’s commentary on the occasion of his meeting Joyce at 17 and attending a reading of Ulysses at 20:

“Such are the happenstances that drive [my emphasis] us from pillar to post, and from which we shape our destiny, for we are the ones who weave it thus. We shape our own destiny from them because we speak. We believe we say what we want, but it’s what the others wanted, more particularly our family, qui nous parle” (Lacan 2016, p. 142).

It is fitting, then, that Lacan would claim that the entire set of traditions representing the “exception” (Lacan 1993, p. 65) of Judaeo-Christian civilization would effectively find its own phallus or pineal gland in Joyce – whose name, like Freud’s, signifies jouissance, the only substance recognized by psychoanalysis (Lacan 1998, p. 111). But insofar as psychoanalysis regards itself and the “exceptional” Judaeo-Christian tradition from which it was born as having a privileged knowledge into “the truth of jouissance” as the only substance, does it not succumb to the same “error” as Lacan’s “non-duped”? [12] Is it not that Lacan’s own symptom consists in this oscillation between point and nothingness, positivity or matter and void – what Lorenzo Chiesa describes as “‘stationary tension’ and real in-difference” (Chiesa 2016, p. 64)? What Lacan presents as his own sinthome, though, is that “the point” of psychoanalysis itself consists in overcoming this very oscillation – to conceive of the subject’s truth not only as a substantial point, but also as sinthome. [13]


Badiou, A. (2009) In Praise of Love (New York: The New Press).


Chiesa, L. (2016) The Not-Two: Logic and God in Lacan. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press)


Descartes, ​R. (1998) Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, Fourth Edition, (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company) [Originally published 1641].


Freud, S. (1937) “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” SE, 23, pp. 216-253; GW, 16, 59-99.


Lacan, J.:

–       (2019) Desire and its Interpretation (New York: Polity Press)

–       (2007) The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company)

–       (1993) The Psychoses (1955-1956) (New York: W. W. Norton & Company)

–       (2017) Seminar V: Formations of the Unconscious (New York: Polity Press).

–       (1998) Encore: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, TheLimits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973 (New York: W.W Norton & Company:).

–       (2016) The Sinthome: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII.  (New York: Polity Press)


Ragland-Sullivan, E. (1992) “The Paternal Metaphor: A Lacanian Theory of Language.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 46.180.1, LACAN, 1992), 49-92.


Tomsic, S. (2014) The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan (London: Verso).


[1]  “Why not conceive of the case of Joyce in the following terms – isn’t his desire to be an artist who would keep the whole world busy, or in any case as many people as possible, what compensates exactly for the fact that, let’s say, his father was never a father for him? Not only did he teach him nothing, he neglected pretty much everything, save for relying on the good Jesuit fathers, the Church diplomatic.” Lacan, The Sinthome, 72-73.


[2]  Google definition for “Mainspring”: “something that plays a principal part in motivating or maintaining a movement, process, or activity.”


[3]  The reference to “being” or “having” the phallus corresponding to feminine and masculine sexuation or identity, respectively, runs across Lacan’s work. See Seminars V, XX, or most others, for reference.


[4]  “One recognizes oneself only in what one has. One never recognizes one’s self in what one is. This is implicit in what I have been putting forward. It is implicit in the fact, which Freud acknowledged, that there is an unconscious. That one never recognizes oneself in what one is is the first step of psychoanalysis…” Lacan, The Sinthome, 105.


[5]  It is often noted that Lacan frequently described the master-signifier (S1) as a “quilting point” (point de capiton), in analogy with an upholstery button. It is less noted that in Seminar XVII, he laments as part of an aside: “I am not saying it was an excellent metaphor” Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 189.


[6]  See Tomsic’s analysis of Lacan’s comparison of university students to Ancient Greek helots in The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan, 136.


[7]  “It is remarkable that a figure as simple as that of the Borromean knot has not served as a point of departure – for topology…Consider…the Borromean knot – it is immediately clear that one can number three “spots” (endroits), put that word in quotes, where the rings that create the knot can become wedged together […] That assumes in each case that the other two spots get reduced to that one. Does that mean that there is only one? Certainly not. Though the expression “threefold point” is used, it cannot in any way satisfy the notion of a point. The point is not constituted here by the convergence of three lines, if nothing else because there are two different points – a right and a left.” Lacan, Encore: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973, 131-132.


[8]  “The Copernican Revolution is by no means a revolution. If the center of a sphere is assumed, in a discourse that is merely analogical, to constitute the pivotal point (point-maitre), the fact of changing this pivotal point, of having it be occupied by the earth or the sun, involves nothing that in itself subverts the signifier “center” intrinsically (de lui-meme) preserves. Man – what is designated by this term, which is nothing but that which makes (things) signify – was far from ever having been shaken by the discovery that the earth is not at the center. He had no problem substituting the sun for it […] the subversion, if it existed somewhere, at some time, was not that of having changed the point around which it circles (point de viree) – it is that of having replaced “it turns” with “it falls” […] that toward which it falls in Kepler’s work is a point of the ellipse that is called a focus, and in the symmetrical point there is nothing.” Lacan, Encore: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973,  42-43.


[9]  See Part V of Spinoza’s Ethics for one prominent example.


[10]  I was unable to find a direct source for this quote from Badiou, but I did find a reference to it in Jamieson Webster’s The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis, Chapter 3.


[11]  “Naturally, the moment of the miraculous encounter promises the eternity of love, though what I want to suggest is a concept of love that is less miraculous and more hard work, namely a construction of eternity within time, of the experience of the Two, point by point.” Badiou, In Praise of Love, 80-81.


[12]  Lorenzo Chiesa has elaborated an intricate position apropos of Descartes’ Evil Deceiver and Lacan’s “les non-dupes errent” that he believes fit to Lacan’s “dialectical materialism”: “persevering in convening the ‘evil genius’ only to act as if he were not there is the most drastic step it takes to exorcize ‘the good old God.’” (Chiesa, The Not-Two: Logic and God in Lacan, XVI). I consider this position and its affirmation of “the not-two” to be consistent with Lacan’s attention to the “psychotic delusion” of President Schreber and its association with a Spinozistic universe in The Psychoses (1955-1956) (66; 210). Indeed, a certain reading of Spinoza suggests that he less posits the existence of one substance in Nature than the non-existence of two substances. Chiesa’s affirmation of “the not-two” strikes me as entirely consistent with the similarly Spinozist affirmation of jouissance as the unique substance of psychoanalysis (the problems of which I highlight here). However, is Chiesa really justified in claiming, following Lacan in his comments just before his association of Schreber with Spinoza in The Psychoses, that “Descartes’ liquidation of the evil genius” is “unwarranted” on the basis of modern science’s “a priori presupposition that God is not deceiving us”? Does not Descartes experience a moment of real doubt – hysteria, even – before arriving at the cogito, and as such, doesn’t this moment make all of the difference? I take it that this difference also accounts for the further difference between Chiesa’s and Lacan’s positions on/in the passage from The Psychoses, on the one hand, and Lacan’s lamella myth and Slavoj Zizek’s notion of a moving “less than nothing” (which Chiesa opposes for its animistic implications) on the other. (Chiesa 2016, 60-75). I find myself closer to the position of Zizek’s avowed (Hegelian) Cartesianism here, but I also wonder if this moves my position away from dialectical materialism proper and toward dialectical idealism. The resolution of these problems would also seem imperative with regards to the “als ob/as if” question of Freud’s meta-psychology. I would welcome any response Chiesa might have!


[13]  This is, of course, a paraphrase of Hegel’s famous lines in the “Preface” to the Phenomenology of Spirit, “everything hangs on grasping and expressing the true not only as Substance, but also as Subject.”


Edward Dioguardi is a philosopher. He studied Philosophy at The New School for Social Research and studied International Relations, Political Economy, and Middle Eastern Studies at American University. He has also participated in the DC Lacanian Forum and published in collaboration with exmilitary ( His ongoing projects include polemics against “university discourse” (Lacan) and “the culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch) [].

Publication Date:

 February 4, 2021

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis