Retracing the Unary Trait On Lacan’s Reading of Freud’s ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’

Intervention by Dany Nobus, 8 October 2021, 18,00 Italian hour (CET)

Retracing the Unary Trait: On Lacan’s Reading of Freud’s ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’


When it came to evaluating the quality of his own works, Freud was generally rather harsh and distinctly self-deprecating, insofar as he often shared with one or the other correspondent his profound disappointment with his own accomplishments, or sometimes (as in Civilization and Its Discontents) gave free rein to his personal misgivings within the body of the text itself.  ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’ is an exception to the Freudian rule, because after the short book was completed Freud did not hesitate to express his satisfaction with it, (self-)praising its composition as well as its arguments.  A century after the text was first published, Freud’s sense of contentment has been validated not only by its favourable reception both within and outside the psychoanalytic community, but also by the ongoing application of the ideas Freud presented in it within a wide range of disciplines in the human and social sciences.  In this lecture, I want to move away from the standard appreciation of Freud’s work in contemporary psycho-social studies, (psychoanalytic) political theory and sociology, in order to recalibrate the text and examine its significance for the clinical practice of psychoanalysis. After all, this is where Freud himself started his book—with what he designated as the achievements of ‘individual psychology’—yet over the years the clinical import of ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’ has generally been obfuscated by the emphasis on its importance for the revaluation of social issues.  In order to recover this lost clinical dimension of Freud’s 1921 volume, I shall return to the way in which the text was interpreted during the 1950s and 60s by Jacques Lacan, for whom the key point of Freud’s exposition is to be situated in the notion of ‘einziger Zug’ and its ramifications for our understanding of the principle of identification.  Apart from the fact that Lacan’s idiosyncratic reading—‘einziger Zug’ is effectively a ‘unary trait’ of Freud’s book in the most literal sense—will enable me to present some fundamental aspects of what psychoanalytic interpretation entails, within as well as outside the clinical setting, it will also prompt me to investigate the place and function of identification in Lacan’s theory of subjectivity and, most crucially, the meaning of identification in Lacan’s conception of the end (the direction and the finality) of the psychoanalytic treatment.


Dany Nobus

Brunel University London

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis