New development 4, Thomas Schlesser

After the physicist Etienne Klein on the desire of the researcher and of science, Denis Podalydès on the paradox of the desire of the actor, and Catherine Millet on the one who showed her her pathway to literary writing, Irène Tu Ton, Cathy Barnier and Marc Strauss met with art historian, Thomas Schlesser, to continue these exchanges on “The paradoxes of desire”.

Thomas Schlesser is Director of the Hartung-Bergman foundation in Antibes, and author of several works on caricature and censorship, as well as the Réceptions de Courbet, fantasmes réalistes et paradoxes de la démocratie [Receptions of Courbet: realistic fantasies and paradoxes of democracy]. Here he gives us his version of the desire of the creator, illustrating in a surprising way what Lacan says to us about the “Thing” that spits.

Cameraman : Jean-René Duveau, editing Jean-René Duveau and Cathy Barnier

Prelude 17, Colette Soler

Desire caught by …

While I was busy with other things, I had the crazy thought that desire “caught by the tail” does not take us very far – apologies to Picasso from whom I have borrowed the phrase. Not much further than the bed, the space of the embrace. For whoever wishes to go further, it must be caught in a different way. Mais comment? [But how?] “Just like that: “mécomment”.[1] This “mécomment” calls up speech and its topology, and entirely refutes any attempt at organo-dynamism, past or present, that of Henri Ey or that of neuroconductivism. Organo-dynamism is precisely what takes man in general by his organism and thus desire in particular by the tail, believing that it is “by the organ that the Eternal feminine lures you upstairs” as Lacan says pricelessly. This organ was sung, even bellowed, in the staffrooms of Lacan’s time. Those were still good times for psychiatrists who, since then, have lost their organ, I mean their voice, and for all I know the staffrooms don’t sing much any more. This is because the new organo-dynamism, even worse than yesterday’s, does not sing nor does it concern itself with desire but rather with what keeps every organ and everyone in good order.

Psychoanalysis is alone in still caring about desire and we are proud of this. Only, to desire is to be in “imminence” of castration. Whence the alternation of phases between the pleasure of the quest that contributes so much to the feeling of life, and the anxiety that brings back the real. Who then will deserve the name of “desiring par excellence”? Not the neurotic in any case.

Translated by Susan Schwartz

[1] L’étourdit, Scilicet 4, p. 27. Translator’s note: “mais comment” and “mécomment” are homophones in French. “Mécomment” is not a word, although the prefix “” denotes the negative. The emphasis here seems to be on the nonsense of what is heard in what is said.

New development 3, Catherine Millet

After the physicist Etienne Klein with whom we have spoken about the desire of the researcher and of the desire at stake in science, and Denis Podalydès who evoked for us the avatars of his performance, we have met with Catherine Millet, writer and art critic.

Catherine Millet is the founder and director of the contemporary art review, Art Press, author of several works on contemporary art and is known by the wider public after the publication of her first book of autobiography, The Sexual Life of Catherine M, where she evokes her sexuality as a libertine woman, followed by another, Jealousy: The Other Life of Catherine M [Jour de souffrance], which describes the torments of jealousy – not the least of paradoxes … Is her shift from the pre-eminence of the gaze in her activity as art critic to the art of literary writing yet another?

Editing Thibault Dolhem and Cathy Barnier.

Prelude 16, Susan Schwartz

Of Desire and Death


In 1947 a beautiful young woman, considering herself an unworthy bride for her husband to be, jumped to her death from the 86th floor of the Empire State building. She landed, seemingly unbroken, on the roof of a parked car. A photo was published in Life magazine soon after, and the image was seen to represent “death’s violence and its composure” as she “reposes calmly in the grotesque bier her falling body punched into the top of the car”. The image was reproduced many times in different contexts including by Andy Warhol in “Suicide (Fallen Body)”, 1962.[1] It is in the tradition of the much-reproduced death mask of the beautiful, anonymous woman, L’inconnue de la Seine, who drowned, presumed suicide, in the late nineteenth century. The mask, with its enigmatic smile inspired art and literature; it was an erotic ideal of its time.[2]

In 1846, Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.[3] “Poetical”, because for him, a poem is only a poem to the extent that it excites; in its knotting of beauty, desire and melancholy, the death of a beautiful woman lures, fascinates but also disturbs. Why this effect? Lacan will say in Seminar VI, Desire and its Interpretation, “the object of the fantasy is the alterity, image and pathos, through which an other takes the place of what the subject has been deprived symbolically”: the phallus.[4] This provides the frame for his interpretation of the function of Ophelia in Hamlet, because for Hamlet, she is the conscious object of his fantasy and the “barometer” of his relation to his desire. Lacan speaks of her as “one of the most fascinating creations of the human imagination”,[5] one of the most captivating and most disturbing [les plus troubles].[6] For him she is a creature of flesh and blood whose suicide he terms “ambiguous”.[7] There is no easy relation between beauty, desire and death: the beautiful suicide has something of the uncanny about her, and something of the fetish too.

As phallus-girl, Ophelia is the object of Hamlet’s desire; as exteriorised phallus, signifying symbol of life, he rejects her and she is only reintegrated into the fantasy “at the price of mourning and death”.[8] In the death that produces a real hole she becomes the impossible object that reinstitutes her value as object in desire.[9]

For Lacan, Hamlet is the tragedy of desire and mourning, a mourning that demonstrates the closeness of the links between the registers of the real, the imaginary and the symbolic.[10] The relation of desire and death is paradoxical. Desire attaches the subject to life in its quest for more being, yet death is its condition: the corpsification the subject suffers as a consequence of its dependence on the signifier. “[D]esire is borne by death” says Lacan, and that is the one and only meaning of life.[11]

[3] Edgar Allen Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”:

[4] Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire, livre VI, Le désir et son interpretation, Paris, Éditions de la Martinière et Le Champ Freudien Éditeur, juin 2013, p. 370 (Lesson of 15.4.59). Translation in English by Cormac Gallagher can be found at:

[5] Ibid., p. 291 (Lesson of 4.3.59).

[6] Ibid., p. 357 (Lesson of 8.4.59).

[7] Ibid., p. 292 (Lesson of 4.3.59).

[8] Ibid., pp. 380, 382 (Lesson of 15.4.59).

[9] Ibid., pp. 396-97 (Lesson of 22.4.59).

[10] Ibid., p. 399 (Lesson of 22.4.59).

[11] Jacques Lacan, “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power”, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. B. Fink, New York and London, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006, pp. 536-37/642.

Prelude 15, Beatriz Zuluaga

Ethics of desire

In the dream it was evident that the girl had been many years in front of that infinite window trying to finish the bunch, and that she was in no rush because she knew that death was in the last grape
 Of love and other demons
Gabriel García Márquez


Continuing this sequence of Preludes that precedes our Meeting in July, it is a fact that in reflecting on the theme that will bring us together for the VIII Meeting of the SPFLF, several paths have been opened up, different ruptures in the horizon of desire that are articulated to that “undecidable” which constitutes the very core of psychoanalysis: the analytic act, the end of analysis, jouissance, love, the relation between the sexes, and of course the object cause, just to name a few. The Preludes, like Saint John’s finger, point to a beyond, invite us to push “against”, to avoid the “doxa”, betting on that which seems of no interest to humanity. Regarding this, Freud tries, from his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1915-17), Part II, “Wish-fulfilment”, about the dream, to transmit to his listeners the novelty of his discovery. But if the nightmare and the anxiety dream exist, where is the wish fulfillment Dr. Freud? Lay critics, Freud tells us, are keen to show him that displeasure is constantly knotted to oneiric activities, rather than the pleasure obtained from a desire denied in wakefulness. But behind the manifest content there is distortion and censorship; this is the novelty, Freud insists. Yet, what Freud showed the world, the novelty of his discovery that pointed to unsatisfied or impossible desire, heir of a mythical and unforgettable satisfaction, is of no interest to humanity. “Human beings, as you know, have an instinctive tendency to defend themselves from intellectual novelty.[1] There is no interest in the new, and even less is there a desire to know about what the real entails, Lacan will say later.

But in spite of this, the “paradoxes of desire have already reached a first elaboration in this sequence of Preludes; they foretell of a desire to say, or rather to half-say something about that real, product of our experience of knowledge. The real stalks our formation; not to take it into account could loosen the ties that allow this experience to be “distinguished from therapeutics, which is not only a distortion of psychoanalysis through relaxing its rigor.[2]

Lacan always warned us, “Knowledge is not made for humanity, for [humanity] does not desire it”.[3] Hence it is expected of the psychoanalyst to subtract himself, to know how to be that remainder of humanity. Concluding then: our true paradox is that of sustaining a desire which is neither articulable, nor nameable, for it only emerges in the paradoxes of the analytic act itself, in that space where we will gather together to make the bond of the School. Let us then hope for “satisfaction at the end” in the possible elaborations that will follow these Preludes, satisfaction that Lacan knots to the end of the experience for this “is no more than to have encountered that limit in which the problematic of desire is raised”.[4] This problematic is linked to our human condition, to a fundamental relation with death, for it confronts us with a tragic freedom, that of Oedipus, the one of having to face the consequences of having “known [sabido] about desire”.

The RV awaits us in Paris. We still have time to develop, to a-pproach, the theme that calls us. A RV that makes a new paradox, for in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis Lacan raises the question:what happens each time that the bell of desire rings for us? Well one does not approach it and for the best reasons”. Let us then go “against”, let us get closer to it, for we count on the desire that up to now has brought us together, despite the paradox implied in sustaining and speaking about the “undecidable”.

Translation by Gabriela Zorzutti


[1] Sigmund Freud, “Wish-Fulfilment”, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Lecture XIV, SE XV: 214.

[2] Jacques Lacan, “Proposition of 9 October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School”, trans. R. Grigg, Analysis 6, 1995, 1-13.

[3] Jacques Lacan, “Note italienne”, Autres Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, 308.

[4] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-60, trans. D. Potter, London, Routledge, 1992, 300.