“The Neurotic’s Individual Myth” was given as a lecture at the Philosophical College of Paris, organized by Jean Wahl, late Professor at the Sorbonne. The text was distributed in 1953 without the approval of Dr. Lacan and without his corrections.
The desire of The Psychoanalytic Quarterly to publish a translation of this lecture led me to make the necessary corrections. The present version, which has been reviewed by the author, will take the place, then, of the revision which he announced in 1966 in his Écrits (French edition, p. 72, n. 1) and which was never carried out.
I ought to emphasize to the American reader that this presentation, which is more than twenty-five years old, should be regarded as the rudiments of later developments in the thought of Dr. Lacan: these are the first trials of a concept of structure in keeping with analytic discourse. –JACQUES-ALAIN MILLER
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I am going to discuss a subject which I must characterize as new and which, as such, is difficult.
The difficulty of this lecture is not especially intrinsic to it. It comes from the fact that it deals with something new which I became aware of both through my analytic experience and through my effort, in the course of teaching what is styled a seminar, to investigate the fundamental reality of analysis. To abstract this new element from that teaching and from that experience so that you can appreciate its implications involves quite special difficulties in a lecture.
That is why I ask your indulgence in advance if perhaps there seems to be some difficulty in your grasping, at least on first contact, the matter under discussion.
Psychoanalysis, I must recall by way of preface, is a discipline which, among the sciences, appears to us in a truly singular position. It is often said that psychoanalysis is not, strictly speaking, a science, which seems to imply by contrast that it is quite simply an art. That is erroneous if one takes it to mean that psychoanalysis is only a technique, an operational method, an aggregate of formulas. But it is not erroneous if you use this word art in the sense in which it was used in the Middle Ages to speak of the liberal arts—that series going from astronomy to dialectic by way of arithmetic, geometry, music, and grammar.
It is most assuredly difficult for us to comprehend today the function and implications of these so-called liberal arts in the lives and thought of the medieval masters. Nevertheless, it is certain that what characterizes these arts and distinguishes them from the sciences that are supposed to have emerged from them is the fact that they maintain in the foreground what might be called a fundamental relation to human proportion. At the present time, psychoanalysis is perhaps the only discipline comparable to those liberal arts, inasmuch as it preserves something of this proportional relation of man to himself—an internal relation, closed on itself, inexhaustible, cyclical, and implied pre-eminently in the use of speech.
It is in this respect that analytic experience is not definitively objectifiable. It always implies within itself the emergence of a truth that cannot be said, since what constitutes truth is speech, and then you would have in some way to say speech itself which is exactly what cannot be said in its function as speech.
Moreover, we see emerging from psychoanalysis certain methods which in themselves tend to objectify ways of acting on man, the human object. But these are only techniques derived from that fundamental art of psychoanalysis, inasmuch as it is constituted by that intersubjective relationship which, as I said, is inexhaustible since it is what makes us human. That, nevertheless, is what we are led to try to express in a form that conveys its essence, and that is why there exists at the heart of the analytic experience something that is properly called a myth.
Myth is what provides a discursive form for something that cannot be transmitted through the definition of truth, since the definition of truth must be self-referential and since it is only insofar as speech remains in process that it establishes truth. Speech cannot contain itself nor can it contain the movement toward truth as an objective truth. It can only express truth—and this, in a mythic mode. It is in this sense that one can say that the concretization in analytic theory of intersubjective relationship, that is, the Oedipus complex, has the value of a myth.