Part 1 “Fleetingly Improvised Men” – Lacan’s Seminar on the Psychoses

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Why does Lacan always refer to Schreber with the signifier of ‘President’? Freud simply called him Schreber. The chapter omitted from Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness on his early family life and his relationship with his father has recently been released following both Lacan’s and Freud’s reading of the Schreber case. In the text Soul Murder, which I have yet to read, we find that Schreber’s father was a specialist on early childhood development who may have tested radically controversial techniques on Schreber as a young boy. The significance of the new found knowledge of Schreber’s potentially repressed trauma induced from early childhood offers an entirely new idea of the cause of Schreber’s psychotic break. While I have not finished Lacan’s seminar where he formulates his theory of name-of-the-father as part of the explanation of Schreber’s break with reality, I am convinced that this new-found knowledge rattles much of preconceived psychoanalytic understanding of the cause of psychotic breakdowns.

In this post I want to share my thoughts and notes on Lacan’s Seminar on the Psychoses (1955 – 56) and work through some of the core concepts he puts forward. The seminar is noteworthy for the development of the idea that psychosis is the result of a linguistic relation to repression. It deals extensively with the Schreber case for which I will recommend that you look at the Wiki page if you don’t know about the case.

In short, the case if hugely significant for many reasons. For starters, Daniel Paul Schreber remained completely lucid throughout his entire psychotic break with reality and he wrote every vision that occurred to him. He published this in a book called Memoirs of My Nervous Illness the year that he was released from the insane asylum. I’ve been reading the book itself, and it is worth looking at. Schreber believed that he was experiencing religious visions and he desired to publish his works for theologians and others to make a contribution to myth and religion.

There are many aspects of the Schreber case that psychoanalysts are baffled by and the interpretations offered about his case are often vastly different from thinker to thinker. For example, Freud believed that the entire psychotic break was emblematic of a repressed homosexuality. Lacan points out that Freud’s reading of the Schreber case is flawed in its ascribing the cause of his breakdown to a repressed homosexuality. Lacan argues that Freud is right to point out that Schreber’s inability to have had kids was crucial in leading to his nervous breakdown, but he points out that Schreber would still be exhibiting the break (perhaps), but “the conflict, or the lack of a conflict leaves an empty place, and it’s in the empty place of the conflict that a reaction, a construction, a bringing into play of subjectivity, appears” (Lacan, 31).

The Key Differences between the Neurotic and the Psychotic:
What is refused in the symbolic returns in the real appears as a Lacanian koan, but its quite clear in this seminar. Lacan uses the example of Freud’s patient the Wolf Man who was able to re-tell his trauma in such a way that he refused the thing but was never dependent on it – it remained a perfectly repressed object, not causing any discordance in the register of the symbolic.


Here we must note the crucial difference between the neurotic’s repressed trauma to the psychotic’s. The difference hinges on the way the neurotic’s relation to the symbolic. The psychotic, when he speaks completely identifies with his ego along instrumental lines – whereas with the normal subject identification, the ego is always incomplete. The psychotic is unable to move out of the imaginary on the Graph of Desire. As soon as the subject’s hallucination appears in the real, the ego speaks on behalf of the subject in an objective manner. We might say that what is called for recognition on the symbolic plane is replaced by the imaginary (15).

Lacan asks what the structure of the being that speaks to the psychotic is, and we find that it is the person you identify with through an inverted alienation. The mirror stage helps us to understand the distinction between the neurotic and the psychotic as well (53 – 54).

Freud stresses that the relation to reality is fundamentally different in neurosis and in psychosis. Freud points out that when there is a rupture with reality in neurosis, this is psychical reality. This eliding of a part of the subject’s reality is actually a part of his id. The neurotic brings this reality back by giving it a particular meaning, which Lacan points out means – that it reemerges onto the plane of the symbolic. In psychosis, reality itself contains a hole that fantasy eventually fills up.

The return of the repressed and the big Other:
What is rejected returns from without. This is the function of projection in the psychotic: it is that which makes what has been caught up in the Verwerfung – what has been placed outside of the general symbolization structuring the subject – return from without (47).

When the big Other speaks it is not the reality in front of you that is speaking, it is a reality that is beyond reality. Whereas in true speech, the small other is that which you make yourself recognized before speech (51).

The delusion is expressed in the real means that the statement is addressed to the puppet of the other, to the other’s small other’s. There are two ways to address the big Other – to receive its message back to you in an inverted form or to point out the allusion of the ego within oneself, which always speaks as an allusion (52).

The other being truly excluded, what concerns the subject is actually said by the little other, by shadows of others. This is clear in Schreber’s case when he designates all human beings he encounters as fleetingly improvised men (53).

Freud points out in the Interpretation of Dreams that the major distinction between dream images and fantasies are due not to conscious/unconscious – but to ego/repressed relations. What is key is to understand that repression is structured like a linguistic phenomenon (63).

To be continued..

2 responses

  1. HNL

    I know that this is a blog, and that this posting is 4 years old, but it is awesome and I simply wish that your citation system was more clear so could more easily trace the original texts and ideas.

    1. Daniel Tutt

      Yes you know I have never really figured out the footnoting feature in WordPress. But since I write mostly to take a break from my more academic writing, the blog is a relief from all that – -more open form writing.

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