Psychoanalysis Cannot Be Illustrated


The concepts of psychoanalysis are functional and as such have no materiality, so they cannot be represented than than through mathemes (Lacan dixit), but not from the imaginary angle. Moreover, such an imaginarization participates in perversion, both in theory and in the clinic. Thus—to limit ourselves to a single example—the phallus (i.e., the phallic function operating under the adjunct concept of castration) is in no way the penis. If we confuse them, we move on to voyeurism and exhibitionism. Lacan, the exhibition presents this harmful character of the pathologization of analytic discourse.

Psychoanalytic discourse, psychoanalytic concepts, psychoanalytic writings or topology, and even more so the psychoanalytic act, are impossible to illustrate. Moreover, I think that no case study can really help to figure out what is a subject or the transference because they are grounded on an exchange. And an exchange could not be tangible. That’s why transference is ungraspable, just as speech is, and just as the unconscious in that it is dynamic. So the flux of signifiance needs to be transcribed into one or more template/s, i.e., one or more modeling/s that can report on the flux (among other things, because a template is also a pattern of what is to come, in particular the subject).  Here, the development of a topology is required.[1] Moreover, when I am asked to “clinically” exemplify what I am saying theoretically, I do not bend to this trend in the discourse, or, at worst, I turn what can be grasped in reality into something that can be figured out as the continuity between the  real and the symbolic (because it consists of a Whitehead knot).

I also recommend the reader refer to three other texts:[2]

(1) A text about my nerve-wracking reaction at the end of the exhibition, entitled “Heresy” (a pun with R.S.I.), because I consider that trying to illustrate Lacan’s theory is an heresy (18 February 2024);

(2) A more theoretical text, L’art et la psychanalyse, 19 February 2024;

(3) My last article is a meticulous commentary on the texts introducing each room of the exhibition  (and compiled in a booklet distributed to visitors), dated 24–28 February 2024, and entitled “Non, ce  n’est pas là le propos de Lacan” (No, that’s not what Lacan was saying).

Because this thorny issue really matters to me, a first Art and Psychoanalysis symposium will be hold in Tours in October of this year, which is organized by Lysimaque association (which I have  chaired since it was founded in 1982)  and specially on the initiative of Jean-Pierre Renaud. My interest in fine arts doesn’t start from today, a long time ago I had published Cahiers de lectures freudiennes (Lysimaque) and several texts in La Part de l’Œil (Brussels).




Let’s start with the word “encounter” that the author pinpoints just as I do. And  it’s not that trivial: at the end of his seminar The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis,[3] using the ancient Greek word (tuchè), Lacan makes a theory of encounter, especially with the French word  “malencontre” which means accidentally (dustuchia).

It is true that that the Freudian opening has been maintained and extended by Lacan with effects throughout culture, particularly in fine arts. (For example, Lacan brought up to date so many words; just one example: “obsolete” is no longer obsolete.) But it’s clear to me that the opening is being closed by the Millerian interpretations of Lacan’s discourse and, worse still, by the  supporters of J.-A. Miller. This is clearly demonstrated by the overuse of assertive simplifications and  misinterpretations in the official edition of Lacan’s seminar “text,” distant from the stenography and also the recordings. This is why my final text will be a comment on the exhibition’s introductory texts that I call “placards” (in French, the word means a figurative veneer), which (I suppose) shaped the choice of artworks.

The three “gaze regimes” that Bernard Marcadé considers clearly as the prelude to the exhibition are of course (1) the paintings that support Lacan’s discourse (Carpaccio’s “Saint George and the Dragon,” Holbein’s “The Ambassadors,” Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” the work of Balthus, Marcel  Duchamp, François Rouan… not to mention Courbet, Magritte, Zurbaran, etc.), in exactly the same  way as there is a Freud “museum”; (2) the point of view of visual artists on “Lacan’s thought “;[4]  (3) and actually a link between certain artworks and “Lacan’s thought” (Bernadac et al., p. 18). It’s true that “ça me regarde” in French (means both it looks at me and it concerns me) is essential for understanding how, as a subject, I am concerned by what I am in fact looking by myself, a situation of reversion established on a non-orientable space (as Lacan said, “aspheric” or non-spherical).

Actually, I have worked on this reversion in fine arts.[5] Particularly in two situations: (1) The analysis of the voice in the painting based on the work of Jakob Jordaens,[6] and (2) the analysis of triplicity in “Las Meninas.”[7]

I don’t think that what emerges from the complex of gazes (which can be considered as Borromean, why not?) is something like a tapestry in topology (see Velázquez on Arachné, Les Fileuses) because a tapestry brings out a motif distinct from the technique used to make it. Instead, I got the impression of a veneer designed to illustrate Lacan’s discourse (such as the passage from the signifier’s Phallus to penile representations—see Louise Bourgeois—which in my opinion are no more than a fetishised access to the phallus, or the sexual non-relation simply represented as dehiscence), to the detriment of Lacan’s support for the works or the “organic” links between art and psychoanalysis. When I say organic links, I consider only art worthy of its name (non-academic) and only psychoanalysis worthy of its name (neither mechanistic nor magisterial) that are grounded on their impredicativity.[8] So visual artworks, which do not go beyond discourse but merely put it into images, are only pale reflection (?) of what operates in a cure or a pass. That’s why I would go so far as to speak of facticities, as Lacan puts it at the end of his “Proposition du 9 octobre 1967 sur le psychanalyste de l’École” (in Lacan, 2001). In my opinion, “facticity” is taken from Descartes’s sixth Metaphysical Meditation and not from Heidegger’s seminar on ontology, which is based on Faktizität.

In the text that I comment on, the author speaks of weaving, which is what gives consistency to the cut or to the cuts of non-spherical topological objects in a topological structure. Among these cuts, there is the longitudinal cut, known as the median cut, in the form of a Jordan curve, constituting a Moebius strip.

The choices of theory underlying this exhibition are undoubtedly above all Millerian. For  example, Lacan, who died in 1981, was not a member of the World Association of Psychoanalysis  (founded in 1992). As announced, I will be writing a special commentary on the “placards” (veneers) “explaining”  the relation between Lacan’s theory and the artworks on display. “Television” is similarly a written text  that Lacan has “played” as if he were on stage (and I think that he was reading from a teleprompter) during his interview with Miller. To refer to the film director, Benoît Jacquot may harm psychoanalysis because he is accused by Judith Godrèche (and four other actresses) of “violent rape of minors under the age of  15.”[9]  And Gérard Miller’s indictment does not make the view of ordinary people favorable to the concept of “sexuality” in psychoanalysis.

About the gaze, I consider Lacan’s interest in “Las Meninas” justified. But it’s not just a matter of object a (the gaze), but of the whole structure. In my opinion, this painting is not made for an analysis of perspective (and Lacan’s perspective is extremely complex, to the point that Lacanians who have tried to go along with it get entangled in this complexity), but for a topological analysis, such as the one I made. So—to sum up—this painting (and even if Velázquez knew nothing about it, and neither did J. Jordaens, as far as I have researched) spreads out a  projective plane immersed in Boy’s surface and based on three half-twists in terms of

– the procreation of the royal couple,

– the political expectation of a male heir who could take the future of Spain into his own  hands,

– and, to support these two options, the twists in the painting (at the very least, the same  painting represented in reverse, not to mention the questions about the position of the royal couple  in the room).

Now I continue commenting on the concepts that the author of the article takes from the exhibition: these concepts are in no way representable. Thus I say that the object a is a transaction taken as an object—just as previously the passages from functions considered in intension to their materialization in terms of practicables that objectify them in extensions. Therefore, the object a can’t be reduced to its materializations: milk, breast, or feeding-bottle; shit, faeces, scybalum; a recordable voice; a gaze that can be captured photographically or in paint. A fortiori, the sadistic-anal object cannot be represented by droppings, supposedly provocative for the one who is seeing, and it’s not reliable to account for how the impredicativity implies such an object. Lacan’s aim is neither pornographic nor scatological.

And in the same vein: the Name of the Father, lalangue, the mirror stage, topology, jouissance, the absence of sexual rapport, masquerade, T̸he Woman (which does not exist), anatomy which is not destiny (to contradict Freud). The LGBT lobby has invaded Millerian positions, and the same thing happened to Jean Allouch.[10] And the psychoanalyst’s office is not psychoanalysis. Lacan sufficiently argued against what the Californians said about transference based on reality: “There is no transference of transference”  is one of Lacan’s impredicative formulas.[11]

The same reasoning can be made for each of the “illustrated” concepts: they are precisely  nothing more than concepts founded recursively on what “is not” (Lacan said “C’est justement de ce qui n’était pas, que ce qui se répète procède” which means, “It is precisely from what was not, that what is repeated proceeds”[12]) as required by an impredicative theory of the signifier’s  mode that contributes to their production (Lacan: “A signifier represents a subject for another signifier”[13]); and this is specifically Freud’s représentance, which is as inaccessible as any  function in intension.[14] For example, how can desire or jouissance, which are properly ungraspable even if markable[15] in facial expression, be expressed plastically?[16]

A broader (and more grounded) work on representation is absolutely necessary, and the fact that the représentance is imperatively formatted tends to fix it, which misses (or erases) the dynamic. A raw representation gives and says nothing—a shift is necessary, like the very ironic one Annette  Messager made for a time, concerning the feminine, death, love, sex… I’m also thinking of the photographs of Rita Renoir’s face,[17] which are far more erotically expressive than any full-body nude photograph.

The problem lies in the impredictavity of the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, and that’s why they are ungraspable just like the signifier (including and primarily binary) on which  these (functional) concepts are based:

– repetition, I repeat (!), proceeds from what happens from an initial absence; – the transference, as I said, is impredicative: there is no transference of the transference;[18]

– the drive is a matter of représentance, not very accessible, even if supported by a representation, and in a retrogredient way;

– the unconscious, structured as a language—and through the use of speech—the unconscious is  founded on the signifier (itself impredicative) and made up of impredicative logics rejected by canonical logic.

This is the same situation for Wajcman’s conception of art as an object. Of course artworks are objects (music, on the other hand, brings into play a unary signifiance that does not go as far as the signifieds), but fine arts objects—in my opinion—are nothing more than the consistency of what would otherwise be inaccessible: a dictionary does not mention signifiers, but words and meanings. Unlike Gérard Wajcman’s choice, I will not say the artwork object is non-interpretable, but it is an interpreting. Nor can it be an object a. Rather, the unconscious of the one who produces the object is revealed through the object. It raises the question of aesthetics. So we can go back surely to Kant and his third critique: Critique of Judgment.

If you decide to support only representation, you don’t bring something operative into focus as représentance does, and hence the series (signifiance → (signifier → signified)) or (S1→ (S2s).

None of this is accessible in the way that a function in intension can be in itself, neither representable nor figurable, etc.: in order to become graspable, the function in intension needs to pass through (or: its representation, Vertretung) an extension. And Lacan’s theory of the letter needs to be pushed at least to the littoral, and further to the passage to the signifier’s relation which supports the letter (“Lituraterre“). And it would be welcome to mention Freud’s representation complex in his On Aphasia.

Actually, we don’t have to divide up what appears to be as simultaneously and distinctly real, imaginary, and symbolic. Hence my choice to represent the Borromean knot as a tripod:

Figure 1

where the real is imaginary and symbolic, both imaginary symbolic and symbolic imaginary, the imaginary is really symbolic and symbolically real, the symbolic is imaginary real and really  imaginary.

To go along with the author of the article, we can certainly define three periods in Lacan’s teaching, depending on what he focuses on.

– The first concerns the imaginary and mirrors, supported by work on vectors and Markov chains.

– The second (from 1962) builds on the symbolic by using the topology of non-orientable  surfaces.

– The third (from 1972) concerns reality and knots.

Of course, there are many entanglements and things are not so clear-cut.

As I gave a seminar that lasted several years at the Académie des  Beaux-Arts in Brussels, I worked on painting and I could tell that fine arts are grounded on topology (from emptiness to fullness…)  but only if we consider what Lacan called for, to revise Kant’s transcendental aesthetics in order to bring the non-orientability of topological varieties into play.

Art and literature certainly say the same thing as psychoanalysis, and perhaps, as Lacan said, art and literature have centuries of effectuation in advance. Art condenses what psychoanalysis lays flat, literature stages or puts language to work with its own means, what psychoanalysis rearranges in its own devices. For example, Marguerite Duras or François Rouan. But just as there is no psychoanalysis applicable to art or literature, there is no art or literature applicable to  psychoanalysis. And it is certainly a question of bringing out (producing and emerging), a question of what psychoanalysis sets up, in and through art. Producing an articulation is a necessity. As Lacan conceives the theory of psychoanalysis only in terms of logic, its concepts as well as its practice, art can only be grasped (and acted upon in art) from the perspective of logic, which can remain  unconscious. And, as I consider that the unconscious is not a dumping ground, it is constituted by impredicative logics that consciousness rejects. As a result, art can only stand impredicatively. A predicative art is of no interest, just like predicative literature. In my opinion, 1st order logics are only supported by 2nd order logics, implementing logics of logics, functions of functions.

Ultimately, the relation between art and psychoanalysis is reversevily littoral. And a littoral cannot be directly grasped. Only the fields that are separated and supported by the littoral enable that.

Translated from the French by Abdou Belkacem


Allouch, J. (2001). Le sexe du Maître. Exils Éditions.


Ghrist, R., Holmes, P.J., & Sullivan, M.C. (1997). Knots and links in three-dimensional flows. Springer.


Bernadac, M. L., Marcadé, B., Wajcman, G., & Corona, P. (2024). Lacan, l’exposition. Quand l’art rencontre la psychanalyse [Catalogue]. Gallimard/Centre Pompidou-Metz.


Lacan, J. (1966). Écrits. Seuil.


Lacan, J. (2001). Autres écrits. Seuil.


Lew, R. (2003). La représentation de la voix : l’esquisse dans le tableau. In La représentation et l’objet [Dossier]. La Part de l’Œil, 19.


Lew, R. (2010). Les Ménines: peindre le ‘pur’ symbolique? L’art et la fonction symbolique [Dossier]. La Part de l’Œil, 25–26.


Lew, R. (2023). Pulsion de mort et pulsion de destruction. Lysimaque.


Lindemohr, P. & Horvat, F. (1962). J’aime le strip-tease. Rencontre.


[1] See Ghrist et al., 1997.


[2] For the three aforementioned texts, see:


[3] And Dimensions de la psychanalyse held a colloquium in September 2018, on the proposal of François Ardeven, La rencontre et le temps. Consequently, the same year, Convergencìa, Mouvement lacanien pour la psychanalyse freudienne, took it up for its colloquium. I have taken up elements of it in a book (Lew, 2023) in particular my intervention, “…rien à voir avec la rencontre” (quote taken from Lacan).


[4] We could write it as Lacan-thought, which suits well the Mao-Spontex (spontaneist) that J.-A. Miller was.


[5] On effectivity, we can refer to Hegel, Principles of the Philosophy of Right. “What is effective is rational and what is rational is  effective,” which Lacan takes to the real: “the real is rational.” See my paper at the Lysimaque Lacan Hegelian Colloquium, May 13–14, 2023: “Le réel est rationnel et le rationnel est réel.”


[6] Lew, 2003.


[7] Lew, 2010.


[8] I define impredicativity (as equivalent to recursivity) as the prerogative of a function that is based on what it is  supposed to produce. And I consider that the unconscious is made up of impredicative logics.


[9] See Le Monde and France info, e.g.:


[10] See Allouch, 2001.


[11] Lew, 2018.


[12] Lacan, 1966, p. 43.


[13] Precisely here, the impredicativity lies in the fact that the definiendum already appears in the definiens. This is a definition that does not rely on external criteria, and is therefore not ontological in the classical sense.


[14] A function in intension is a function that is considered solely as such, without passing through its values.


[15] See the “marker” in Wagner’s The Master Singers of Nüremberg.


[16] See the busts by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an 18th-century German-Austrian sculptor.


[17] In J’aime le strip-tease, by Limdemohr & Horvat (1962).


[18] See “Compte rendu du séminaire 1967–1968, L’acte psychanalytique, ” in Lacan, 2001, p. 382.


A psychiatrist by training, he has always worked as a psychoanalyst, both privately and in institutions including hospitals. He was medical director of the Medical-Psycho-Pedagogical Center of Ivry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne) for 35 years, and at the same time he developed his practice at the Esquirol Hospital in Saint-Maurice (formerly Charenton) for 47 years. He practices with children, adolescents and adults. Currently he works in a Medical-Educational Institute for young autistic people. He is interested in philosophy, logic, mathematics, physics, literature and art in their links with psychoanalysis. Since 1981 he has directed several seminars, the latest with the general theme “The commitment of psychoanalysis”. He created the journal Cahiers de lectures freudiennes as well as the Lysimaque Association in 1982, which continues today in the publishing of numerous books, as in the organization of conferences and seminars. With a few colleagues, he founded the Dimensions of Psychoanalysis association in 1994, which promotes various activities in collaboration with other associations, including different methods of training psychoanalysts (cartels, seminars, passes, etc.). Dimensions of psychoanalysis is a member of Convergencia, Lacanian Movement for Freudian Psychoanalysis, which brings together multiple Latin American and European psychoanalytic associations, without forgetting the Chengdu Psychoanalytic Center. He has written numerous articles, and regularly presents presentations each year in conferences and other possibly academic events. In 2014 he started publishing of his works (around twenty works to date, in the Organon collection of psychoanalysis of Lysimaque editions.).

Share This Article

European Journal of Psychoanalysis