text: “From Contingency to the Sinthome” (M Hortensia Cardenas)

from the website of the Congress:

From Contingency to the Sinthome

Maria Hortensia Cardenas

Contingencies trace our destiny. Lacan specifys that it is on the basis of chance, because we speak, that we construct a thread of sense that we are subjected to. “Such are the chance happenings that push us one way and then the other and from which we make our destiny, for it is we who weave it that way”.[1]

Chance and Destiny

From Seminar XI onwards, Lacan tried to distinguish the real insofar as it is articulated with the bad encounter, which is situated at the level of the sexual. Lacan distinguishes the tuché as one of the modalities of the repetition that the unconscious devotes itself to. It is the unexpected encounter which seeks to repeat itself, a missed encounter with the real of trauma, with the inassimilable.[2]

The unconscious knows how to appear suddenly from the unexpected. Lacan puts it this way: “You are made from nothing but this, from these contingent manifestations, from these little discontinuities.”[3] The unexpected takes on a meaning with repetition, making an order and an effect of articulated meaning appear which will come to constitute the fabric of the unconscious.

Jacques-Alain Miller indicates that Lacan passes from the register of the symbolic to the real on the basis of mathematical logic and a stumbling upon the impossible.[4] The formula there is no sexual relation has sexual sense as its correlate, insofar as the non rapport is correlative to the encounter in the love relation. We see here the opposition between the necessity of the sexual non rapport and the encounter which is always contingent. The contingency of the encounter with jouissance becomes necessary and repeats itself in order to make-believe [faire semblant] that there is a relation.

As Jacques-Alain Miller has shown, in his last teaching, Lacan sought to link psychoanalysis to a real which would be proper to it and different from the real of science. The real of psychoanalysis is that of the there is no relation but also that of the modality of the encounter, of contingency. From the moment when we note that everything that establishes a relation between the sexes does so on the basis of contingency, it is possible to infer that this relation is not determined by a necessity. The accent is put on contingency and not on necessity.

The real intertwines with nothing because it is without meaning. We only weave threads and stories around the real. Thus, how can we circumscribe the real, how can we go beyond a discourse which would not be one of semblance and thus enable a detachment from jouissance? Free association brings signifying repetition to the fore, something which obliges to repetition. Analysis proceeds by a reduction of the necessary to the symbolic [???], a reduction of what makes-believe [faire semblant] based on knowledge, of what does not stop repeating itself. But it is also a reduction to the impossible, to what does not stop not being written.

Jouissance and Contingency

The unconscious is reducible to a knowledge, which permits it to be interpreted. In a first moment, interpretation aims at the meaning of the unconscious by producing effects of truth that have nothing to do with the real. In this way, it produces a reduction of the symptom. Interpretation is not limited to producing an effect of truth; it makes the enclosed jouissance resonate. In analysis, one notes that there is a hole based on what is contingent. One thus verifies that contingency appears at the base of the impossible that is the real. “What is of the order of the event, properly speaking, is what cannot happen: everything that is outside the circle of the possible. This is the exact sense that Lacan gave to contingency.”[5]

It is in the register of contingency that the experience of jouissance is situated. In analysis, one aims at the elucidation of the meaning taken on by contingency, the one expressed by way of repetition.  In his seminar, Le sinthome, Lacan indicates that we speak without knowing that we are spoken, without knowing the meaning that contingencies take on.[6] Everyone has their own “delirious” construction in response to the hole in knowledge about the sexual. In analysis the thread of meaning is woven, “organising, articulating, systematising the elements of chance that precede it”.[7]

Jacques-Alain Miler asks why a word from the Other can take on a decisive value for the subject.[8] He finds the answer beyond the signifying articulation, in the reference to the contingency of a particular history, to something which is encountered and stops not being written. Jacques-Alain Miller’s thesis is that everything that concerns jouissance in analysis (the modes of jouissance, the emergence of the particular mode of jouissance of a subject) is always of the order of contingency.[9] The encounter always determines the mode of jouissance which is singular for each person.

Repetition begins with the encounter with jouissance. Jouissance and contingency remain articulated in the encounter. The analyst’s operation consists in separating the necessary modality of the semblant of knowledge from the contingency which aims at the real. The reduction of contingency is the reduction to the trauma. In analysis one thus proceeds to the disinvestment of what is pathogenic.[10] The reduction of the contingency, of the encounter, is of the order of the possible, of the order of what, at a given moment, stops being written. So it can happen that suddenly, in the form of surprise, one captures in an instant what has the value of an unforeseen event. Thus, one seeks to make the semblants waver in order to awaken the desire extinguished by jouissance.

Lacan’s last teaching goes beyond the signifying structure, in other words, outside of the unconscious, outside meaning. Interpretation beyond meaning aims to undo the articulation of destiny. It is the way towards the sinthome, which “leads the subject back to the absolute elements of his contingent existence.”[11] With the sinthome, one is no longer concerned with resolving the enigma of jouissance; it is the encounter with the untreatable, with what of jouissance is irreducible, with what one can know no more about and what remains invariable. It is with the reduction to the sinthome that one arrives at the “I am that” in its most absolute difference, in what it has that is incomparable.

Analysis unknots the untreatable. Inscribed within the horizon of the possible is the pass, in which the analysand’s relation to his unconscious is exposed and in which one verifies the way a subject has been able to throw light on his particular mode of jouissance, the contingency of his mode of jouissance that has traced his destiny.


1- Jacques Lacan, Le Seminaire livre XXIII, Le Sinthome, (Paris : Seuil, 2005), p.162.

2- Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 54.

3- Jacques-Alain Miller, L’orientation lacanienne, « Les us du laps », course of 15/12/1999 unpublished.

4- Jacques-Alain Miller, L’orientation lacanienne, « Tout le monde est fou », course of 30/01/2008, unpublished.

5- Jacques-Alain Miller, « Introduction à l’érotique du temps », Revue La Cause freudienne n°56, (Paris : Navarin/Seuil, 2004), p. 63-85.

6- Jacques Lacan, Le sinthome, op.cit., p.162.

7- Jacques-Alain Miller, L’orientation lacanienne, « Choses de finesse en psychanalyse », course of 10/12/2008, unpublished.

8- Jacques-Alain Miller, L’orientation lacanienne, « Le Partenaire-Symptôme », course of 06/05/1998, unpublished.

9- Ibid.

10- Ibid.

11- Jacques Alain Miller, L’orientation lacanienne, « Choses de finesse en psychanalyse », course of 10/12/2008, unpublished.

Translated by Philip Dravers


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