Lacan | Seminar XI - Session 1

Excommunication: The Main Points

This post is part of a series of posts having to do with a reading of Lacan's Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, which was given in 1964. It was the first Seminar Lacan gave after his excommunication from the IPA.


There is a lot in this session/chapter of the seminar. What stands out as essential to me during this reading is three related threads. In this podcast, what I hope to do is explain these main points to you in a way that helps you engage in your own reading of the seminar.

I'm not going to go into a lot of depth here. Rather, I'm going to try to point out what stands out to me as noteworthy and comment on these things.

In this reading, four things really stood out to me:

  • The Fundamentals | The base of psychoanalytic practice.
  • Psychoanalysis is a praxis | Theory is a compass, but a compass is a tool for moving/acting. The compass is not the action itself.
  • Training/Formation of a psychoanalyst | Which is about desire.
  • Psychoanalysis as a clinical practice | For Lacan, at this moment, all the above points come back to clinical practice.

(1) The Fundamentals:

Ladies and gentlemen, In this lecture , I shall be talking to you about the funmentals of psycho-analysis (p. 1). [...] All this concerns the base, [...] of my teaching (p. 2).
I ask the question --What are the fundamentals, in the broad sense of the term, of psychoanalysis? Which amounts to saying --What grounds it as a practice? (p. 6).

In these quotes, there are a few terms I want to call your attention to:

  • The Fundamentals – of psychoanalysis
  • The Base – of Lacan's teaching
  • What grounds – psychoanalysis as a practice.

(2) Psychoanalytic Praxis:

I am, in the present circumstances, still asking [...] what is psychoanalysis? (p. 3).

I love that Lacan is asking himself this! I think this is a question everyone interested in psychoanalysis should always be asking, in particular those who are practicing analysts.

Soon after this, Lacan says that psychoanalysis is a praxis.

What is a praxis? [...] It is in the broadest term to designate a concerted human action, whatever it may be, which places man [a psychoanalyst] in a position to treat the real by [through] the symbolic. The fact that in doing so he encounters the imaginary to a greater or lesser degree is only of secondary importance here (p.6)

(3) The Formation/Training of Psychoanalysts:

To start off, I want to tell you about a distinction that exists in my head when I read this. The difference between training and formation.

  • Training is based on standards & rules, it has an end.
  • Formation is based on principles, it is ongoing.

On page 9 of the text, Lacan says that he wants to focus on what a training analysis seeks...

What is the analyst's desire?  

This question is italicized in the text, so I suspect Lacan emphasized it when he spoke. He follows asking this question by saying,

What must there be in the analyst's desire for it to operate in a corect way? (p. 9)
[T]he training analysis has no other purose than to bring the analyst to the point I designate in my algebra as the analyst's desire.

This is a huge point.

(4) All of this has to do with the clinical practice of psychoanalysis

Throughout all this chapter, I think there is an important claim being made, sometimes implicitly, but here I think Lacan makes it more explicit --while psychoanalysis can be studied as a theory, it was created to be a clinical practice.

Analysis is not a matter of discovering in a particular case the differential feature of the theory and in doing so believe that one is explaining why [someone's] daugher is silent [...] the point at issue is to get her to speak. [...] Analysis consists precisely in getting her to speak (p. 11).

After this, Lacan talks about how an understanding of theory is useful in this endeavor, but I think he is saying that psychoanalysis is the application of the theory to some sort of difficulty a person (a speaking subject) is having.

So it is not like theory is unimportant! It is important! But it is important because of how it can be used.

(5) The Four Fundamental Concepts (to be used)

[W]hat conceptual status must we gie to the four of the terms introduced by Freud as fundamental concepts, namely the unconscious, repetition, the transference and the drive? (p. 12).

And these are the concepts Lacan will be working through in this seminar.


Some Extra Stuff, with a Little Help From a Secondary Source:

Along with the content that I've presented above, what I believe are the main points of this session, as I read the seminar in this moment, there are many other things that are very interesting and worthy of attention.

Is Psychoanalysis a Science, Research, Religion?

Lacan raises this question on page 7 when he says:

I am here [...] to ask myself wehether psycho-analysis is a science, and to examine the question with you (p. 7).

Is Psychoanalysis a Form of Empirical Research:

I read this as another way of asking if psychoanalysis is a science. Empirical research is another way of describing the application of the scientific method.

Lacan says:

Someone will say, psycho-analysis is a form of research. [...] I am a bit suspicious of this term research.

From Bruce Fink's introduction to Reading Seminar XI:

Psychoanalysis is not a science. Not yet, at any rate, not in the sense in which "science" is currently understood. Unlike the "hard" sciences, it is a praxis constituted by certain aims, ends, and desires. Since the demise of alchemy, desire has been excluded from the sciences, despite the historian's and the biographer's keen awareness of the importance of the individual scientist's motives and personality (p. ix).

According to Fink, what Lacan provides is a rigorous examination of the aims of the psychoanalytic process, the process itself, and the theoretical components that are used as part of the process

Psychoanalysis is a practice, and as such requires a praxis whereby [practical] aims and theory constantly interact. This is what Lacan provides, and it is quite rare in the history of psychoanalysis: a sustained attempt to examine ever further the aims of analysis on the basis of advances in theory, and to develop ever further theorization on the basis of revised views of analysis' aims (p. x).

Is Psychoanalysis a Religion?

In asking if psychoanalysis is a religion, it seems to me (in my reading) that Lacan is saying:

  • For some, it is.
  • And Freud is the figure that has been elevated to the possession of the Messiah.
  • For those who see psychoanalysis as religion and Freud as the Messiah, psychoanalysis has become stuck and unable to change and progress, even though during his life, Freud made many changes to psychoanalysis .

Lacan is not in favor of haveing psychoanalysis being practiced as a sort of religion or stand-in for religion.

Lacan's Excommunication from the IPA

In 1963, a great deal of pressure was put on Lacan to change his practice or stop training analysts if he wanted to remain part of the French psychoanalytic institute, the Societe franraisede psychanalyse, of which he had been a member for many years. He refused, and Seminar XIisa product of that refusal [...] Seminar XI also represents a break: a break from Freud, which is by no means anti-Freudian in thrust -from the reliance on one of Freud's articles or books as the crux of each and every seminar, and from such great dependence on Freud's conceptualizations, Lacan allowing himself ever greater theoretical latitude thereafter-and a break from the association Freud had formed, the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) (p. xi).

Is Lacan qualified to teach about the Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis?

Lacan gets into this right away, on the very first page of the seminar, Lacan says:

I must introduce myself to you [...] because the circumstances are such that before dealing with this subject [the subject of the fundamentals of psycho-analysis] it might be approopriate to ask a preliminary question, namely: am I qualifed to do so? (p. 1).
My qualification for speaking to you on this subject amounts to this: for then years, I hedl what was called a seminar, addresed to psycho-analysts. As some of you may know, I withdrew from this role (to which I had in face devoted my life) as a result of events occuring within what is called a psycho-analytic association, and more specifically, within the associatio that had conferred this role [the role of one qualified to teach]. (p. 1).
It might be said that my qualification to undertake that same role elsewhere is not, by that token, impugned as such. However that may be, I consider the problem deferred for the time being. (p. 1).
  • What is so cool is how Lacan ends this. He just says he is going to defer giving an answer to the question, "Is Lacan qualified to teach this?" He let's those who were present (and those of us reading this all these years later) to determine for ourselves if he is qualified.
  • This is a beautiful intervention by Lacan.

Is Lacan a Freudian?

Jacques-Alain Miller has written a great thing, which appears in the Reading Seminar XI companion I've linked to below in the references. Miller says:

Lacan, who had never wanted to create his own school, did so, and he called it the Ecolefreudienne(Freudian School)to prove he was not a dissident. [...] he had no intention of following Jung's or Adler's path, and remained faithful to Freud (p. 6). [...] Lacan is looking for something in Freud's work of which Freud himself was unaware. Something which we may call "extimate," as it is so very intimate that Freud himself was not aware of it. So very intimate that this intimacy is estimate. It is an internal beyond (p. 8).

My reading of this is that Lacan is someone who takes Freud very seriously. He has learned what Freud thought, he has studied it in great detail. After (and I can't emphasize this enough – AFTER) he studied Freud, Lacan saw opportunities to take what Freud discovered and what he did with these discoveries and continue to keep them relevant through continued discovery and re-working of the theory of psychoanalysis.

If this is interesting to you, I would encourage you to read Miller's chapter in


Fink, B.

Lacan, J. (####)

Miller, J.A.

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