Ethic 113

Ethic 113

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan


The object and the thing


I will end today with a little fable in which I would like you just to see an
example, albeit a paradoxical and demeaning one, that is yet significant for
what goes on in sublimation. Since we have remained today on the level of
the object and the Thing, I wanted to show you what it means to invent an
object for a special purpose that society may esteem, valorize, and approve.
I draw on my memories for this fable, that you can, if you like, place in
the psychological category of collecting. Someone who recently published a
work on collectors and those sales thanks to which collectors are presumed
to get rich, has long asked me to give him some ideas on the meaning of
collecting. I didn’t do it because I would have had to tell him to come to my
seminar for five or six years.


There’s a lot to say on the psychology of collecting. I am something of a
collector myself. And if some of you like to think that it is in imitation of
Freud, so be it. I believe my reasons are very different from his. I have seen
the remains of Freud’s collections on Anna Freud’s shelves. They seemed to
me to have to do with the fascination that the coexistence of [. . .]’ and of
Egyptian civilization exercised over him at the level of the signifier rather
than for the enlightened taste of what is called an object.


What is called an object in the domain of collecting should be strictly distinguished from the meaning of object in psychoanalysis. In analysis the object
is a point of imaginary fixation which gives satisfaction to a drive in any
register whatsoever. The object in collecting is something entirely different,
as I will show in the following example, which reduces collecting to its most
rudimentary form. For one usually imagines that a collection is composed of
a diversity of elements, but it is not necessarily true at all.


During that great period of penitence that our country went through under
Petain, in the time of “Work, Family, Homeland” and of belt-tightening, I
once went to visit my friend Jacques Prévert in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And I
saw there a collection of match boxes. Why the image has suddenly resurfaced
in my memory, I cannot tell.


It was the kind of collection that it was easy to afford at that time; it was
perhaps the only kind of collection possible. Only the match boxes appeared
as follows: they were all the same and were laid out in an extremely agreeable
way that involved each one being so close to the one next to it that the little
drawer was slightly displaced. As a result, they were all threaded together so
as to form a continuous ribbon that ran along the mantlepiece, climbed the
wall, extended to the molding, and climbed down again next to a door. I
don’t say that it went on to infinity, but it was extremely satisfying from an
ornamental point of view.


Yet I don’t think that that was the be all and end all of what was surprising
in this “collectionism,” nor the source of the satisfaction that the collector
himself found there. I believe that the shock of novelty of the effect realized
by this collection of empty match boxes – and this is the essential point –
was to reveal something that we do not perhaps pay enough attention to,
namely, that a box of matches is not simply an object, but that, in the form
of an Erscheinung, as it appeared in its truly imposing multiplicity, it may be
a Thing.

可是,我并不认为那就是最重要的目的,对于这种「收集狂」令人惊奇的东西,收集者在那找到的,也不是满足的来源。我相信,空洞火柴盒的这种收集,造成的这种效果的新奇的震撼,这才是基本的重点。这种新奇的震撼,是要揭露我们或许并没有充分注意的某种东西。换句话说,火柴盒不仅是一个客体,而是以一种Erscheinung 的形式,如同它出现,以它确实富丽的多重性,它可能是一个「物象」。

In other words, this arrangement demonstrated that a match box isn’t simply
something that has a certain utility, that it isn’t even a type in the Platonic
sense, an abstract match box, that the match box all by itself is a thing with
all its coherence of being. The wholly gratuitous, proliferating, superfluous,
and quasi absurd character of this collection pointed to its thingness as match
box. Thus the collector found his motive in this form of apprehension that
concerns less the match box than the Thing that subsists in a match box.


Whatever you do, however, you don’t find that in a random way in any
object whatsoever. For if you think about it, the match box appears to be a
mutant form of something that has so much importance for us that it can
occasionally take on a moral meaning; it is what we call a drawer. In this
case, the drawer was liberated and no longer fixed in the rounded fullness of
a chest, thus presenting itself with a copulatory force that the picture drawn
by Prévert’s composition was designed to make us perceive.


So now, that little fable of the revelation of the Thing beyond the object
shows you one of the most innocent forms of sublimation. Perhaps you can
even see something emerge in it that, goodness knows, society is able to find
satisfaction in.


If it is a satisfaction, it is in this case one that doesn’t ask anything of
January 20, 1960



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