In the first sentence of the preface to his ‘Rome Discourse’ Lacan wrote
that the ‘surrounding circumstances’ of his text ‘had some effect on it’
(Lacan 1977e[1953]:30). He ensuingly revealed how the French
psychoanalytic community had recently split following the creation of a
training institute, the official party line preventing him and his followers
from speaking at a formal gathering of francophone psychoanalysts in
Rome.8 According to Lacan the dissension had occurred when certain
members of the French group had tried to impose a series of rigid training
rules, yet a Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA)
makes clear that in reality the debate hinged on the incompatibility
between Lacan’s habit of conducting sessions of variable length and the
existing professional standards (Eissler 1954:267–290).


Lacan’s unruly
behaviour constituted a thorn in the side of many an IPA council member,
the more so that he had apparently promised to abide by the deontological
code without effectively doing so (ibid.: 276).


In his ‘Rome Discourse’ Lacan minimized the historical controversy
surrounding his idiosyncratic technique in favour of a sustained theoretical
defence of its application, yet the vehemence with which he endorsed
the variable-length session, against the formalism advocated by the
establishment, indicates the issue’s crucial importance within
contemporary psychoanalytic circles. Lacan’s principal argument in
support of variable-length sessions was that the analyst’s manipulation
of time functions as an interpretive intervention in so far as it punctuates
the analysand’s speech. In the first chapter of the ‘Rome Discourse’ he
put it as follows:


It is therefore, a beneficent punctuation, one which confers its
meaning on the subject’s discourse. This is why the adjournment
of a session—which according to present-day technique is simply
a chronometric break and, as such, a matter of indifference to the
thread of the discourse—plays the part of a metric beat which has
the full value of an actual intervention by the analyst for hastening
the concluding moments.
(Lacan 1977e[1953]:44)


Further in the text he added that analysands inevitably experience the
analyst’s suspension of the session as a punctuation of their discourse
(ibid.: 98). So if interpreting equals punctuating the analysand’s speech,
suspending the session will have effects similar to those induced by more
traditional forms of interpretation.


In Lacan’s view, professional
regulations about analytic time-keeping, such as ‘Every session lasts 50
minutes’, were just arbitrary rules imposed by anonymous authoritarian
bodies on both the analyst and the analysand, depriving the analyst of
the possibility to use the interpretive power of time in a responsible and
calculated fashion to the benefit of the analytic treatment.


with a preset working-time is worse than manipulating it, because in the
former case it is impossible to control the effects of the session’s
interruption on the analysand’s condition (ibid.: 99). Partly because Lacan
transformed an agreed professional standard into a flexible technical tool,
partly because his innovation was perceived as stretching the limits of
the analyst’s power over the patient, high representatives of the IPA
considered his practice unacceptable, and refused to give way on this
point when Lacan’s group applied for a new official recognition during
the early 1960s.9


Precision is not a liberating factor and conjecture does not pre-empt
rigour, Lacan argued (ibid.: 74, 98). No matter how rebellious to any type
of formalism, he believed that the analysts’ temporal interventions could
be presented in rigorous and unambiguous terms. For the development of
this new clinical formalization, Lacan took his lead from his own theory
of logical time, in which he had distinguished between the ‘instant of the
glance’, the ‘time for comprehending’, and the ‘moment of concluding’,
on the basis of an analysis of the sophism of the three prisoners (Lacan


Because each prisoner’s freedom is dependent upon the
reduction of the time for comprehending, after the instant of the glance,
Lacan averred that the analyst’s suspension of the session should always
be geared towards the precipitation of the moment of concluding and thus
towards the reduction of the time for comprehending (Lacan
1977e[1953]:48).11 This is why, in the above citation, he described the
value of an analytic intervention as hastening the concluding moments.
With their interpretations analysts need to ensure that the amount of time
analysands spend on understanding, brooding and plotting is reduced to a


These mental activities are considered counter-productive
because just as in the story of the three prisoners they bar the roads to
freedom.12 To put Lacan’s principle in more psychological terms: through
her interpretations, including the suspension of the session, the analyst
has to facilitate and accelerate decision-making processes in the analysand;
he has to urge the analysand to make decisions about his life in line with
his desire, despite the fact that he does not master all the knowledge
necessary to be sure that these decisions are right.13


In Lacan’s conception of the treatment, compressing the time for
comprehending facilitates the moment of concluding because it stimulates
‘the meditation of the subject [the analysand] towards deciding the
meaning [sens] to attach to the original event’ (ibid.: 48).14 A necessary
mediating factor between the analyst’s interventions and the analysand’s
conclusions, the crystallization of meaning is the first corollary of an
appropriate analytic interpretation.15 Lacan accordingly underlined that
psychoanalysis is ‘an action whose effects are entirely dependent on
meaning’ (ibid.: 33).


Yet, against all odds, he also intimated that this
dependency of the analytic effects on meaning does not imply that
analysts are expected to reveal the meaning of their analysands’ symptoms
through their interpretations. The content of the analyst’s interpretations
is not tailored to the meaning of what the analysand is suffering from.
When interpreting the analyst is not supposed to tell the patient what his
symptoms mean.


During the 1950s, Lacan stressed on numerous
occasions that symptoms are legible and need to be deciphered (Lacan
1977f [1955]:127, 133; 1977g[1957]:159–160; 1977h[1957–58]:184,
194), but this process of exegesis (Lacan 1977e[1953]:70) should not be
read as an activity whereby the analyst discovers or guesses the meaning
of the analysand’s symptoms and offers the results of his quest to the
patient.16 After all, were that to be a requirement it would be difficult to
see how the analyst’s suspension of the session could function as an
interpretation, since these scansions contain not a single meaningful detail
about the patient’s symptoms and life history.


The motive behind this precept revives the contentious relationship
between transference and suggestion I have discussed in the previous
chapter of this book. Despite his insistence on the importance of the
analyst’s exegesis of the patient’s formations of the unconscious Lacan
believed that detailing their meaning has an objectifying and alienating
effect on the analysand. If analysts were to disclose the meaning of the
analysands’ symptoms in their interpretations, they would convey
knowledge about the origin of these symptoms to their patients, implicitly
telling them that as analysts they are capable of understanding the
problems at hand. Long before the introduction of the supposed subject of knowing, Lacan criticized this interpretive style for its suggestive impact.


In Seminar I, for instance, he underscored that interpretation,
despite its being predicated upon the action of speech, should not count
as an intellectual activity (Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:274). He vilified Anna
Freud’s proposition to use interpretation as a means of educating the ego
for its hidden intellectualist tendencies, which can only be detrimental
to the advancement of the treatment (ibid.: 65–67).17 In ‘Variations of
the Standard Treatment’ he put it even more bluntly:

譬如,在第一研讨班,拉康强调:介入,尽管介入是根据言说的行动来陈述,介入不应该被认为是知识的活动。拉康抨击安娜 弗洛伊德的建议要使用解释,作为是教育自我的工具,以寻找它的隐藏的知识的倾向。这个建议是有害的,对于治疗的进展。在“标准治疗的变化“,拉康甚是更加坦直地表达:

This knowledge [of the analyst] has without doubt much increased
…but one must not pretend to have distanced oneself from an
intellectualist analysis in this way, unless one acknowledges that the
communication of this knowledge to the subject [the analysand] only
functions as a suggestion to which the criterion of truth is alien.
(Lacan 1966b[1955]:337)


After his conceptualization of the supposed subject of knowing, Lacan
repeated his admonition in the phrase that the analyst is never to identify
with this supposed subject of knowing (Lacan 1961–62: session of 22
November 1961; 1966–67: session of 21 June 1967).18


In a similar vein, Lacan disqualified all analytic attempts at
understanding the analysand’s problems. ‘To interpret and to imagine
one understands are not at all the same things. It is precisely the opposite’
(Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:73). Two years later, in Seminar III, he stated:
‘It’s always at the point where they [students] have understood, where
they have rushed in to fill the case in with understanding, that they have
missed the interpretation that it’s appropriate to make or not to make’
(Lacan 1993[1955–56]:22). An even more provocative assertion appeared
in Seminar IV, in the context of a discussion of Freud’s case of Little
Hans (Freud 1909b):


This observation [of Little Hans] unfolds entirely within the register
of misunderstanding. I will add that this is the case with all types
of creative interpretation between two subjects. This is the way
one has to expect interpretation to develop, it is the least abnormal
of all, and it is precisely in the gap of this misunderstanding that
something else will develop, that will have its fecundity.
(Lacan 1994[1956–57]:341)


Additional comments on the inherent dangers of understanding abound
in Lacan’s seminars from the 1960s and 1970s, and one of the reasons
why he eventually decided to dissolve his own school was that he believed
his pupils to be too convinced that they understood the meaning of his
words.19 As his work progressed, Lacan argued that apart from nurturing
suggestion and proceeding from the analyst’s own fantasies and
prejudices, understanding is a response to the analysand’s demands (to
be understood), whereas these demands need to be maintained (supported,
propped up) and questioned in their signifying structure (Lacan
1991b[1960–61]: 234–235; 1977i[1958]:255).


But how are analysts supposed to interpret then if they ought to avoid
offering meaning, producing knowledge and conveying understanding?
What is left of the classic definition of interpretation as an act of translation
or explanation that facilitates insight into a certain matter through the
revelation of meaning?20 Although he retained the notion of meaning to
represent the proper effect of analytic interpretations, Lacan rejected all
the standard approaches to interpretation and presented an alternative
based on Hindu linguistic philosophy and Zen Buddhism.


Through these two oriental traditions he discovered ‘resonance’ as a new feature of
speech. Due to this characteristic, speakers can say something without
effectively saying it on the level of the statement; they can induce ideas
in the mind of the listener which are the opposite of those included in the
text of the transferred message. This is how Lacan explained ‘resonance’
as an appropriate interpretive tool in his ‘Rome Discourse’:


There is…no doubt that the analyst can play on the power of the
symbol by evoking it in a carefully calculated fashion in the
semantic resonances of his remarks. This is surely the way for a
return to the use of symbolic effects in a renewed technique of
interpretation in analysis. In this regard we could take note of what
the Hindu tradition teaches about dhvani, in the sense that this
tradition stresses the property of speech by which it communicates
what it does not actually say. (Lacan 1977e[1953]:82)


According to Pandey’s Indian Aesthetics, a volume from which Lacan
distilled most of his information on Hindu linguistics, dhvani is the power
of words to invoke something else than what they literally say. Pandey’s
example, which Lacan dutifully copied, runs as follows (Pandey 1950:
219–220; Lacan 1977e[1953]:82).21 A young courting couple agrees to
meet in a secluded garden on the bank of a river.


Waiting for her boyfriend,
the girl notices how a religious man she knows is approaching their hideout.
For obvious she wants the man to disappear as quickly as
possible, yet she does not want to tell him off explicitly. Having decided to
drive him away without showing her true intentions, she says: ‘O religious
minded man! you can now roam freely over this place. For the dog, of
whom you were so afraid, has been killed today by the proud lion, who, as
you know very well, lives in the impervious thicket on the bank of Godavari’
(Pandey 1950:220).


If the man, after hearing the girl’s words, decides to
run off as fast as he can, it is, Pandey argues, ‘because of the negative
meaning understood by him in a positive statement’ (ibid.: 220). In Lacan’s
reading of this passage, the man flees because he hears something the
girl’s words do not actually say. She says ‘You can now roam freely’, but
he hears ‘I need to get out of this place as soon as possible’.


At the end of his ‘Rome Discourse’ (1977e[1953]:106–107) Lacan
adduced another, slightly different example of the resonances of speech
from the teachings of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, which he had
borrowed from T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land (1974[1922]).22 When the
threefold offspring of Praja-pati had completed their training in sacred
knowledge with their father, they wanted him to say something. To the
gods (deva) Praja-pati responded with the syllable ‘Da’ and when asked
whether they had understood the gods said: ‘Yes, we have understood.
You said to us “control yourselves” (damyata)’.

Upon which Praja-pati
said: ‘Yes, you have understood’. To the men (manusya), Praja-pati replied
with the same syllable ‘Da’ and they too said they had understood: ‘You
said to us “give” (datta). Praja-pati replied: ‘Yes, you have understood’.
Finally, Praja-pati told the demons (asurah) ‘Da’ and they said: ‘We
have understood. You said to us “be compassionate” (dayadhvam)’.
Prajapati said: ‘Yes, you have understood’ (Radhakrishnan 1953:289–291).

听完这话,普拉杰 帕帝说:「你们已经理解。」对这些人们,普拉杰 帕帝回答,用相同的音节,“达“。他们也说他们已经理解。「你对我们说”给予“。普拉杰 帕帝回答:「是的,你们已经理解。」最后,普拉杰 帕帝告诉恶魔”达“,他们说:「我们已经理解。你跟我们说,“要悲悯!」普拉杰 帕帝说:「是的,你们已经理解。」

Like the previous example, this story shows how the addressees understand something the speaker has not actually said. In addition it demonstrates how
each of the three groups attach a different meaning to the same signifier, in
a way that is presumably concomitant with their different status as gods,
men and demons. However, in this example it is unclear what the speaker
wants his listeners to understand. Whilst the girl on the river bank evidently
wanted the religious man to disappear, Praja-pati’s intention remains a
mystery. Or rather it seems that whatever the meaning his children attribute
to his words, he is happy to go along with it.23

就像先前的例子,这个故事显示,被对谈者理解某件言说者并没有实际说出的东西。除外,它证明这三个团体的每一个都附属一个不同的意义,给相同的能指。用的方式被认为是伴随着他们不同的地位,作为众神,作为人,与作为恶魔。可是,在这个例子里,并不清楚的是,言说者想要听者理解什么。虽然河流堤岸的女孩显而易见是想要宗教僧侣消失,普拉杰 帕帝的意图始终是个神秘。或者说,似乎,他的小孩归属于他的话语的意义,他很乐意同意那个意义。

Neither in his ‘Rome Discourse’ nor in any other spoken or written
intervention did Lacan detail the implications of this passage from the
Upanisads for psychoanalytic practice. None the less, it appears to me
that Praja-pati’s response is more indicative of Lacan’s take on the analytic
employment of the resonances of speech during the early 1950s than the
parable of the girl and the religious man. In Pandey’ s illustration of dhvani
the girl knows perfectly well which meaning she wants to imbue the
religious man with, and unless he is stupid he will not hesitate to run.

无论是在他的“罗马辞说“或是任何其他的口说或文字的介入,拉康都没有详细说明从”奥义书“的这个段落的暗示,作文精神分析的实践。仍然地,我觉得,普拉杰 帕帝的回应更加是指示著拉康的从事精神分析的运用言说的共鸣,在1950年代期间。而不是指示著女孩与宗教僧侣的寓言。在潘帖伊的插图版的dhvani,这位女孩完全知道她想要给予宗教僧侣的意义。除非他愚蠢,他将毫不犹豫地跑开。

The girl is betting on the proverb that a nod is as good as a wink to a blind
horse, and if it had turned out that the man needed more than a word to be
wise, it is likely that she would have had recourse to a less subtle tactic for
making him leave. The meaning she wants him to acknowledge is
unambiguous, despite the fact that her words cover this meaning with the
veils of courtesy and modesty. Put differently, she does not want to impose
herself, but her words are nevertheless extremely suggestive.


In Praja-pati’s words, the resonances are much more obscure, and he
does not seem to expect his listeners to read his ‘Da’ in a particular way.
One could argue that his eternal wisdom allows him to know that the
three categories of his offspring will hear his ‘Da exactly as he wants
them to hear it. But we do not know whether this is indeed the case.
Perhaps he was sure about the effects of his words, perhaps he had no
intentions whatsoever, perhaps he just wanted his children to gain
understanding, regardless of its nature and consequences. In this respect,
Praja-pati’s intervention is much less suggestive than the girl’s response
to the religious man.

用普拉杰 帕帝的话来说,共鸣是更加模糊。他似乎并没有期望他的听众阅读他的“达“,用特殊的方式。我们能够主张,他的永恒的智慧让他能够知道,他的三个范畴的后代,将会听见他的”达“,确实依照他想要他们听见的。但是,我们并不知道这是否确实就是这个情况。或许,他确的他的话语的影响。或许,他根本就没有意图。或许,他刚刚想要他的小孩获得理解,尽管它的特性与结果。在这方面,普拉杰 帕帝的介入比较没有那么暗示性,比起女孩的回答宗教僧侣。

On the one hand Praja-pati satisfies his children’s
demand to tell them something, but when he starts to talk he does not
really say anything. The meaning of what he says is fleeting; it remains
‘in abeyance’ until it is pinned down by his listeners. This procedure
tallies with the Zen technique Lacan evoked in the opening paragraphs
of Seminar I:

一方面,普拉杰 帕帝满足他的小孩的要求告诉他们某件事情。但是当他开始谈论时,他并没有确实说出任何东西。他说的内容的意义是瞬间的,意义始终处于“悬置“,直到被他的倾听者钉住。这个程序跟禅宗的技巧不谋而合。拉康在第一研讨班的开头的段落,引用的禅宗的技巧:

The master breaks the silence with anything—with a sarcastic remark,
with a kick-start. That is how a buddhist master conducts his search
for meaning, according to the technique of zen. It behoves the students
to find out for themselves the answer to their own questions.
(Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:1)


Although analytic treatment is by no means a relationship between master
and student, the fact that the Zen-master believes that the students possess
all the knowledge necessary to answer their questions relieves him of
the task to produce that knowledge in a suggestive, objectifying fashion,
bringing his interventions very close to those Lacan described as analytic
interpretations. In sum, the meaning of interpretation, as Lacan conceived
it during the early 1950s, is that it sets meaning in motion on the side of
the analysand whilst being in itself a meaningless intervention.


The consequence of this approach is that interpreting, as an activity
by which meaning is accorded to a certain event, takes place in the analysand rather than the analyst.24 As Freud put it at the end of ‘On
Beginning the Treatment’, the analyst ‘supplies the amounts of energies’
and ‘shows him [the patient] the paths along which he should direct
those energies’ (Freud 1913c:143), but that is as far as the analyst’s
interventions go. In Lacan’s outlook of the 1950s the analyst supplies a
signifier, which is by its very nature meaningless, and facilitates the
analysand’s (re)integration of that signifier into an already existing series
of signifiers (a circuit of knowledge).


Consequently, a new meaning will
arise, which should encourage the liberating ‘moment of concluding’.
In setting out the coordinates of this new interpretive style, Lacan
also attacked the positions of his contemporaries. Despite its prominence
within mainstream psychoanalysis, he repudiated the analyst’s
interpretation of the patient’s ego-resistance, because he was convinced
that it transformed the analytic process into an imaginary struggle between
two parties striving for recognition (Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:51).25 For
the same reason he rejected the analyst’s interpretation from ego to ego
in the here-and-now of the clinical setting.


Taking his lead from a paper
by Margaret Little on countertransference (Little 1951) in which she
reported the instance of an analyst interpreting the analysand’s present
state of mind (a mixture of anxiety, confusion and depression) by referring
it back to the analyst’s own current interests (‘You think that I, your
analyst, am jealous of you’), Lacan argued that the ‘analyst here believes
himself authorised to offer …an interpretation from ego to ego, or from
equal to equal…whose foundation and mechanism cannot in any way be
distinguished from that of projection’ (Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:32).26


Because they merely reflect the analyst’s presumptuous use of ‘inside
knowledge’, Lacan opposed even more vehemently all types of
interpretations that circumvent the analysand’s discourse. With biting
sarcasm he declared in ‘Variations of the Standard Treatment’ how it had
become ‘standard’ practice amongst analysts to seek out the analysand’s
truth by interpreting her gait, his grooming, her position on the couch, his
borborygmi, her way of shaking hands, etc. (Lacan 1966b[1955]:337).

因为他们仅是反映分析家的大胆的使用“内部的知识“。拉康甚至更加激烈地反对各种的解释,因为解释绕过分析者的辞说。尖刻嘲讽地,在”标准治疗的变化“,拉康宣称, 解释已经变成是标准的实践,在分析家当中,为了寻求分析者的真理,凭借解释她的态度,她的关注,她在躺椅上的立场,他的腹鸣音,她的握手的方式,等等。

As long as these behaviours operate beyond language, as long as analysands
do not give them a place within their discourse, the meaning ascribed to
them (resistance or compliance, denial or acceptance) simply mirrors the
analyst’s symptomatic use of his alleged clinical expertise. Finally, Lacan
also desacralized the popular idea of moving from ‘surface’ to ‘deep’
interpretations (Fenichel 1941[1938–39]:44–46). In his opinion, the
analysand’s speech is a multilayered surface showing traces of recent as
well as foregone conflicts on each level. Lacan did not believe one had to
remove the dust of everyday life in order to discover the repressed treasures.


He did not think the surface to be superficial, nor depth to be hidden beneath
the surface. This is why, in Seminar I, he advised his audience to take up
the study of geology: ‘My dear fellows, you wouldn’t believe what you
owe to geology. If it weren’t for geology, how could one end up thinking
that one could move, on the same level, from a recent to a much more
ancient layer?’ (Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:74).27


Lacan’s wrath was as much unleashed by the analysts’ interpretive tactics
as by the inappropriateness of their interpretations. For instance, in his
discussion of Little’s example, he admitted that the analyst’s interpretation
‘hadn’t failed to have some effect, since he [the analysand] had instantly
recovered his spirits’ (ibid.: 31).


The analysand had accepted the analyst’s
intervention, it had effectuated a radical change in his condition and the
analysis had continued for another year. Yet to Lacan the clinical impact
of the interpretation did not prove that it was correct or, better, that it was
a precise evaluation of the source of the analysand’s problems. Little herself
conceded in her article that the interpretation may have been accurate in
terms of the analyst’s feelings towards the patient, but that it did not capture
the essence of the patient’s grief, his acceptance of it having been fostered
by his identification with the analyst (Little 1951:32).


Having observed that inappropriate interventions can have amazing
clinical effects, Lacan re-read an influential study by Glover on ‘The
Therapeutic Effect of Inexact Interpretation’ (1931) in order to ascertain
the status of true, correct interpretations.28 The most important conclusion
he drew from Glover’s article is that an interpretation can be analytically
correct without conveying the factual reality of an analysand’s condition,
and vice versa.


In Little’s example, the analyst’s interpretation was
incorrect in spite of the fact that it may very well have been an adequate
representation of a present state of affairs. Conversely, Lacan assessed
Freud’s interpretations in the case of the Rat Man as factually inexact,
yet nevertheless correct with regard to the mental condition of his patient
and the overall progress of the treatment (Lacan 1977e[1953]:88;
1977i[1958]: 237).29


To decide whether an interpretation is correct one
should not judge its correspondence with a factual reality. Nor can the
correctness of an interpretation be inferred from its immediate benefits
for the analysand, whether the disappearance of the symptoms, a general
change of attitude, or the emergence of new plans for the future. Hence,
the truth value of an interpretation depends neither on its relationship
with reality, nor on its healing power, even less on the analysand’s
acceptance or refusal.


Volunteering to formulate a different criterion for assessing the truth
(correctness) of an analytic interpretation, and relying on Freud’s exposition
of the topic in ‘Constructions in Analysis’ (1937d), Lacan stated in Seminar
I: ‘I consider the proof of the correctness of an interpretation to lie in the
confirmatory material the subject supplies.


And even that needs to be put
more subtly’ (Lacan 1988b[1953–54]:31). In ‘The Direction of the
Treatment’ he subsequently confirmed the validity of his own interpretation
when writing that ‘it is not the conviction with which it is received that
matters, since the conviction will be found rather in the material that will
emerge as a result of the interpretation’ (Lacan 1977i[1958]:234). A more
‘subtle’ picture did not emerge until 1966, in Seminar XIV on The Logic of
the Fantasy (1966–67). Here Lacan argued that if an interpretation’s only
effect is the analysand’s production of more material it still falls under the
rubric of suggestion. For interpretations to be correct, he claimed, they
need to have an effect of truth (Lacan 1966–67: session of 14 December
1966; 1970–71: session of 13 January 1971).



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