Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely

Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely

Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely

Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely


To read Lacan closely is to follow him to the letter, to take him literally, making the wager that he comes right out and says what he means in many cases, though much of his argument must be reconstructed through a line-by-line examination. And this is precisely what Bruce Fink does in this ambitious book, a fine analysis of Lacan's work on language and psychoanalytic treatment conducted on the basis of a very close reading of texts in his Icrits: A Selection. As a translator and renowned proponent of Lacan's works, Fink is an especially adept and congenial guide through the complexities of Lacanian literature and concepts. He devotes considerable space to notions that have been particularly prone to misunderstanding, notions such as "the sliding of the signified under the signifier,"or that have gone seemingly unnoticed, such as "the ego is the metonymy of desire." Fink also pays special attention to psychoanalytic concepts, like affect, that Lacan is sometimes thought to neglect, and to controversial concepts, like the phallus. From a parsing of Lacan's claim that "commenting on a text is like doing an analysis," to sustained readings of "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious," "The Direction of the Treatment," and "Subversion of the Subject" (with particular attention given to the workings of the Graph of Desire), Fink's book is a work of unmatched subtlety, depth, and detail, providing a valuable new perspective on one of the twentieth century's most important thinkers. Bruce Fink is a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst, analytic supervisor, and professor of psychology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He is the author of A Clinical Introduction to LacanianPsychoanalysis (1997) and The Lacanian Subject (1995). He has coedited three volumes on Lacan's seminars and is the translator of Lacan's Seminar XX, On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (1998), Icrits: A Selecti


People generally ask for advice only in order not to follow it; or, if they do follow it, to have someone to reproach for having given it.

—Alexandra Dumas, The Three Musketeers

Like all of Lacan's major papers, “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power” is an intervention in a debate, a debate among the different psychoanalytic societies of the time and the different practitioners and theoreticians over the correct way to train analysts and over the relevance of Freud's work. The most immediate backdrop to “The Direction of the Treatment” is a collection, published in 1956 by one of the most prestigious publishers in France, Presses Universitaires de France, entitled La psychanalyse d'aujourd'hui. Lacan takes this collection as a sort of slap in the face, as is witnessed by his comments on it in the opening chapters of Seminar IV. The collection opens with a preface by Ernest Jones, who lends it the stamp of International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) approval, and is edited by Sacha Nacht, a colleague of Lacan's at the Societe Psychanalytique de Paris. The contributions are by Nacht, Maurice Bouvet, and other of Lacan's colleagues, and here is what Lacan has to say about the book:

I refer [to this book in this paper] only because of the naive simplicity with which the tendency to degrade the direction of the treatment and the principles of its power in psychoanalysis is presented in it. Designed, no doubt, to circulate outside the psychoanalytic community, it serves as an . . .

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