text: “A Lacanian Physics of Semblance” (C Muet)

from the NLS-Messager:


A Lacanian Physics of Semblance

Catherine Meut

Through a reading of Jacques-Alain Miller’s Course, “On the Nature of Semblants”, Catherine Meut discusses the reasons that lead Lacan to introduce the semblant into psychoanalysis as a category set in opposition to the real, while at the same time underlining that it is the condition of access to it. Thus, once it has been transferred from the real to being, the object a breaks with philosophy and stands out as this privileged semblant that, with an edge, touches the real of the sinthome. – M.-H.B.

In the first lesson of his course “On the Nature of Semblants”, Jacques-Alain Miller states that “the semblant is a category” invented by Lacan in the après coup of his Seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis and that it has a place alongside the three categories of R.S.I (1). He established that “as a category the semblant is antonymous to, the opposite of the real” and he adds: “Properly speaking this is the modern meaning of the semblant”. The semblant constitutes an essential theoretical perspective: “I have emphasised the term semblant, because it organises the conceptual ternary (R.S.I) that Lacan introduced into psychoanalysis in a different way” (2).

It is by a re-evaluation of semblants that he was able first to decant the category of the real from the sediment of being, from essentialism. With Lacan, J-A Miller reintroduced the inscription of semblants within nature (3), establishing what we could call a physics of semblants. From this point of view, the explicit reference to Lucretius supports a classical critique of metaphysics and constitutes a determining stage. For it is not only a question of reversing the hierarchy between essence and existence, but of isolating what amounts to the “gateway” to the later theory of knots in Lacan’s teaching.

First, this will be the introduction of the term “semblant” in the Seminar Encore on the basis of the schema that Lacan places at the head of Chapter VIII, entitled ‘Knowledge and truth’ (4). It represents “the framework in which the semblant presents itself in three forms, the semblant properly speaking, on the path from the symbolic to the real, truth and reality” (5). This framework “is necessary, if one wants to get out of what, even in psychoanalysis, seeps into it from philosophy, if one calls philosophy the discourse that puts being in the place of the real”. Putting being in the place of the real is “the illusion that one could reach a conclusion about what is through the symbolic, through the articulation of the signifying chain, through a there is [il y a]”.

In fact, the object a is in the place of the semblant (6). Its “true nature” is not of the real, even if it is on the way to the real that it is encountered. Lacan underlines in 1973 that it has a relation with being. Jacques-Alain Miller comments: “Transferring the object a from the real to being draws out its affinities with the semblant.”

“The semblant spares us the real.” This decisive formulation (7) takes up one of Lacan’s fundamental sayings: “Jouissance is questioned, evoked, tracked, and elaborated only on the basis of a semblant.” In adding that “the semblant is not vain illusion, the semblant operates,” J-A Miller incites us to draw out all the consequences for a practice in which the analytic act operates on the real of jouissance. He insists: “The opposition between the semblant and the real is the very spirit of psychoanalysis, which constitutes a return towards the real of sex” (8). It is in this spirit that we broach the category of the semblant with a clinic of the sinthome in which the semblant that operates will be the object a.

1. Lesson of the 20 November 1991.

2. Lesson of 20 May 1992.

3. J. Lacan, Seminar XVIII, D’un discourse qui ne serait pas du semblant, Paris, Seuil, 2006, Chapter 1.

4. J. Lacan, Seminar XX, Encore, Paris, Seuil, 1975, p.83.

5. Lesson of 22 January 1992.

6. Lesson of the 22 January and 26 February 1992.

7. Lesson of 18 December 1992.

8. Lesson of 25 March 1992.

Translated by Philip Dravers for NLS Messager

Original first circulated on ECF Debats


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