Numéro 6 / septembre 2012

Two cases


If we know that for the psychotic subject the symbolic is real as a result of the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, it is no less true that the subject questions the formation of a primordial symbolization, a symbolization that must always be remade and reiterated in its dimension as code, which is to say deprived of signification. The psychotic subject can put this code to various uses that I will attempt to shed light on through two clinical examples that illustrate the applied psychoanalysis practiced at our institute.

Jay, or being on the Threshold of language

Making a trace 

It is noon and everyone has left the theater workshop to eat, pick children up from school, set the table, leave something in his room, etc... except for Jay, one of the workshop's young participants, who has just come on stage in a starring role. He installs himself in the car that another child has made out of cushions and, determined, tells me: "The races aren't over!" In an attempt to introduce a first punctuation in order to terminate the workshop, I tell him: "But yes they are! We already played that scene during the workshop." He replies: "I have to fill up the tank!" I am outside of the imaginary car. I wait and try to think of an intervention that would punctuate the workshop. He makes a driving face, then fills up the tank, then gets into a traffic jam, etc... I suggest the he go eat something in the restaurant, involving myself as little as possible in the imaginary scenario. My words do not exist for him. Jay stays in the imaginary car, inventing complications to make the scene last longer. Clumsily, no doubt, I exclaim in an urgent tone: "Listen, the car you're in has mechanical problems – you might get in an accident! Watch out! Watch out!" Once said, it's as good as done: the car crashes. In intervening thus I risk giving rise to another imaginary scenario. But Jay takes the cushions that represented the car and tells me that "we have to make a trace, a mark to say that this is where the accident happened." I add: "Do you mean a commemorative plaque?" He is perplexed: "What is commemorative?" I respond to him that "it's for remembering things that don't exist anymore." He seems interpellated. He then leaves the room, starts singing, and tells me: "that makes me think of a song: mes adieux a suis au regret..." ["my goodbyes forever, I'm lost in regret...]. The signifiers slide by without stopping for Jay; the signifier as message never finds a stopping point. Jay finds here nonetheless a minimal punctuation in the idea of making a trace, creating a symbol the meaning of which one senses is not to be questioned too much.


"He gets stuck in a role, in his stories. As soon as there is a signifying chain he is caught in it, identified completely with his character"; "all this is very real for Jay and we are immediately caught in his unstoppable scenarios"; these are so many sentences that define the difficulty of what Jay has to deal with in his scenarios which, if they ever finish, finish via an identification with an animal. He rolls up in a ball like a little rabbit, he flies like a bird, or plays like a hen. At these times he is capable of saying: "Sorry, I was in the middle of laying an egg..." He tells us what goes on at home: pets die agonizing deaths and have incurable diseases. But it is also in the dimension of what the other demands (exige) of him that these identifications with animals emerge. When we ask him to go to school or sit down to eat, i.e. when we ask him to change locations, he refuses our demands and transforms into a bird or a rabbit to hide under the table and avoid our gaze.

Jay is traversed by an imaginary that assigns him identifications that succeed each other in the form of identifications with animals or else stick him to the too-real signifiers of death or of the body become an object in the form of defecation. In such moments he finds no point of attachment in speech, no form of punctuation that could keep him from disappearing as a subject.

From then on his attempts to insert himself into the symbolic – through the dimension of the code more so than that of the message – are no doubt to be found between the lines. This phenomenon has made me more aware of what is going on.

Jay effectively places himself on the threshold of language: he interrupts the passage from one place to another by making himself the bouncer and asking for the password to go into the room; he puts his hand over our mouth as soon as we try to say hello to him. If we then start to speak with a colleague, he interferes: "Shut your mouth, be quiet, you talk too much!" How are we to refuse ourselves our own speech so that his might come to be without, however, leaving him all alone or supporting his moments spent outside of discourse, moments at which his morbid scenarios appear? What then are the operations that a schizophrenic subject could propose, a subject for whom the entire symbolic is real, i.e. nonexistent for him?

An inverted fort-da

Jay gives the impression that he is permanently dissatisfied. While riding bicycles, for example, nothing functions for him as it should: first the brakes don't work (they work fine in reality), then it's the dérailleur (he says that to go faster you have to go from 2 to 1 and not vice-versa), next it's the chain that makes a funny noise, etc... He regularly stops and blocks our passage. Last of all it's another child who goes too fast: Jay would like to be in front but nonetheless never passes. I finally decide not to stop anymore to validate these remarks. He follows painfully, walking next to his bike grumbling. If we slow down to his speed the effect is worse because a new problem comes up, which he addresses to us with his sulking demeanor and with a redundant interjection: "But you don't understand anything!" I respond to him that he effectively forces us to understand nothing. This conversation leaves us both perplexed. Do I understand nothing or, rather, ought I to understand nothing?

Once back at the institute, he manages to formulate it summarily: "it's too tiring. I was too thirsty and we should have taken a bottle of water". I take in his words, all the while assuring him that we'll think about all that next time and that maybe that was why the bike ride was so complicated for him. Nothing suggests to me that this is the reason for his apparent dissatisfaction. I have the feeling that this is the explanation that he has found to retroactively punctuate the activity. More than a simple remark, we have the feeling that this is the only way in which he manages to put an end to the activity. We are supposed to understand the message but we understand nothing, and a whole detour is necessary for him to formulate an explanation for us in a way that is completely simple and that insists more in its use of code or address than in its signification. Perhaps it is also necessary for Jay to assure himself that we don't understand anything at first. It is doubtlessly only under this condition that he can put himself in the situation of finding a minimal point of enunciation and thus a first form of alienation from the Other. Otherwise, Jay asks us to guess what he wants or addresses us by saying: "Come on, you know, guess", as if knowledge were initially placed in the Other, a placement which then puts him in the brutal position of no longer being able to speak.

These detours via the "you don't understand anything" are symbolic paths, since through them we are emptied – we do not want to give too much meaning to what already has too much meaning. We could say that, in a certain way, what this subject proposes is to operate a sort of inverted fort-da. The object cannot, in effect, be present because it has never been acknowledged as absent. Absence is quite fundamentally foreclosed for this child, since it is in the mode of the disappearance of the subject as opposed to that of the absence of objects or others that things are played out. The object exists too much: it is there and has not been rendered present as a representation in discourse. If the operation is inverted it is because the object is not negativized – Jay has constantly to deal with our too-present speech. We have to be quiet because we talk too much, at which point the object-voice is incarnated and replaces speech; during the bike ride he has to interfere with the trip, which might otherwise resemble a well-drawn itinerary without gaps. His speech demonstrates the necessity of going through a detour, an interference in the trip in order to introduce the negative.

Another small, singular language tool allows allows Jay to minimally insert the symbolic into the real in order to situate himself on the threshold of language.

The password and the term of endearment

If, on occasion, Jay is capable of blocking our entry into a room, he is equally capable of demanding that we give him a password in order to go in; he demands "the little word". In this situation, any word can take the place of the password; one word is metonymically substituted for another. In addition, I have noticed that he hails us all with nicknames, the terms of endearment that Lacan calls words of love: "My little princess", "My little flea", "Big potato", "how are you, chatterbox?", "how's it going, gluepot?", are so many words that designate each of us respectively. By the fact of naming us he no longer bars either our way or our speech... On the other hand, when we greet him by using his first name or when, in greeting him, we ask him a question that is too direct – if the other addresses to him a little phrase (such as the cashier who exclaimed "you can go on, my little rabbit") he might tell us, head down, "Hm... I don't like her calling me that, I'm not a little rabbit!" At these moments it is he who domesticates, who humanizes the other and not vice versa; the operation of designation only applies to the other. In its transcendental value it is in the sense of designating and thus separating himself from the thing that Jay uses the term of endearment or the password.

This is a first form of aufhebung. Since it can say what "is not", Lacan situates aufhebung on the side of repression. Here, on the contrary, nothing definitively appears that would assure Jay that he does not have those attributes that would allow him to judge that he is not a rabbit, especially when to this is added the fact that Jay occasionally "animalizes" himself.

In "Symbolic, Imaginary, Real", Lacan situates for us the place of the password and the term of endearment as an interhuman necessity: "One cannot deny that the password has the most precious virtues: it quite simply keeps you from being killed... In these two examples, the password and the term of endearment, language is particularly empty of signification. You can see best here what distinguishes the symbol from the sign, namely the interhuman function of the symbol – it is nothing other than a certain way of being recognized." In the "Rome Discourse" he adds: "And to move us from the pole of the word to that of speech, I will define the first as the meeting-point of the material most empty of meaning in the signifier with the most real effect in the symbolic, the place held by the password, under the double face of the nonsense to which it is reduced by custom and the truce that it brings to the radical inimity of man and his semblable. Zero point, no doubt, of the order of things, since nothing yet appears there, but which already contains all that man could expect of its virtue, since he who has the word avoids death"1.

He who has the word thus avoids death; for Jay, death is the message that never finishes, in the endless morbid stories that paralyze him. I do not think that this "zero point" is to be taken as a deficit but rather as a discovery at the threshold of language, here again as an inverted fort-da, where Jay makes a code usage to negativize the emergence of the message.

A place in the world: the servant

Recently Jay has found out how to insert this singular mode of entry into the field of the Other by introducing it into collective life. Jay discreetly serves the others at the table and waits on them, like in a restaurant; he responds to the demands that the other children make of him when there are objects missing from the table; he becomes a servant. An atypical servant since he addresses us at his leisure by our nicknames when he serves us, only this time inserted into polite formulas: "Here you are, my very dear potato!" He comes and goes between the kitchen and the dining room. He thus does not cut off our speech since he perceives what we are lacking straightaway, and can see himself designated as a servant with the accessories necessary towards that end: an apron and a chef's hat, accessories that hold his body just as much as his words. It is the first time that he allows himself to be called Jay.

All of the educators have since begun go along with the game of being served by him.

He has extended his range of service to all the locations of collective life. Indeed, we have occasionally observed him helping one of the educators to clean the floor that was dirtied by other children; on another occasion he created, with the help of an educator, a small store in a workshop room where he stayed behind the counter and took care of the register. Discreetly and without talking too much he installed the artistic creations of the other children on a table; he hoped only to use the small cash register to institute, very classically via the trading of money for the object, an exchange, a relationship less direct with the thing.

His singularity in apprehending the presence of the Other through the use of these detours can be situated through the function, this time specific and eminently codified, of the servant, the salesman, a function that gives him a place in the world, with a code usage that avoids confronting the message.


Celia is a 15-year-old schizophrenic.

Since her birth, Celia, the youngest of three children, has been described as being too well-behaved at home, "too calm", says her mother, "and always sad in photographs. People in the neighborhood end up forgetting that there's a third child." Despite her normal results in school up to the age of nine, Celia is described as being passive, immobile, and inhibited at school as well as at home. Celia's father is afflicted with polio, which frequently leads to a state of invalidity and requires periods of rest and muscular precautions that imply being regularly in bed.

Seven months before getting pregnant with Celia, her mother had a miscarriage; the couple seemed to be having conjugal conflicts that nothing could settle. The husband, under the effect of his wife's depression, accepted a pact with her: he would give her a third child under the condition that he would not have to take care of it. The mother showed herself to be "too mothering" with her daughter, and too alone with her as well. The father then plunged into a delusional activity of communicating with God via the paintings that he produced.

In addition to all this, Celia's mother is diabetic, and every year she undergoes treatment. Upon returning home after two weeks in the hospital, she told Celia, who was then nine years old, that she didn't recognize her. These words had the particular effect of placing Celia in a bottomless enigma, followed by the triggering of her psychosis. She began to think that her mother was not her real mother, that her mother was "red-haired and pregnant with a little boy." Celia became violent when her mother would not respond to her. This delusion of filiation was completed by body phenomena that occurred at the same time: she found her limbs oversized (her feet were too heavy, her hands were enormous, she was afraid that bathwater would get into her body through cuts, etc.)

At school, the other children noticed the emergence of strange behavior: she could no longer write in her notebook without going outside the lines and she got lost in the playground and on the way to school. The school psychologist noticed that all of her gestures were suspended in time and in space.

The absence of desire for this child, fed by the father's retreat and the mother's overmothering, attests to a torpor, a constant morbidity in the family that has resulted in Celia's immobilism.

"There was no one left"

When Celia's mother decided to separate from Celia during the week because of her troubles, Celia was, at first, overwhelmed by tears during the "empty" moments or while moving from one place to another at the institute. She screamed or demanded her mother. Then, little by little, her mother disappeared from her speech, opening up a void that caused great anguish for Celia during these hollow moments, moments such as reaching for the shelf to grab her pajamas, blocking herself from getting out of the car, or losing herself between two houses next to the institute, at which point she cried and demanded someone in an impersonal way: "There was no one left, I didn't see you anymore!" Who was she speaking to?

Our first treatment consisted in assuring her of an imaginary connection with the Other incarnated by the educators. Celia would leave to wash herself, for example, and then find herself frozen in the bathroom; it was necessary to guarantee that we would be with her for even the most domestic gestures, that we describe them to her, as if to help her become aware of them.

At the table she nibbles, cuts up her meal, or reheats it several times in the microwave because of her frequent immobilism; when she runs, she runs on her tiptoes. After taking a bath she dries herself for hours and exclaims: "I don't like washing my hair because I'm afraid it won't dry." She cannot visualize the action of time, of duration on her body. Celia is a subject outside of time.

One of the consequences of the signifying rupture in the articulation of the subject with desire constrains Celia to the "indefinite fragmenting of schizophrenic time"2. Indeed, the fragmenting of time and the fragmenting of the body are linked by their impossible marking in the symbolic.

Celia begins to question: "I don't see the end"

After two years of treatment, Celia was no longer in a state of continuous distress and she feels confident questioning or commenting on what happens around her. One holiday morning I asked her what her greatest wish for the day was, and her response was that "it would be to go to sleep in the bath until eternity." This phrase reveals the delusion that is always on the edge of re-irrupting, a sort of temptation that confronts her with time eternalizing itself in a ravaging way.

One day, after seeing a man in a wheelchair, she asked one of the educators: "He can't walk anymore because he slept too long?" From this moment on, Celia began to question herself and us about her body and thought often of her nephew who was learning how to walk: "How do you learn how to walk?", "Does it happen that some children never learn how to walk?" Indeed, if walking is always a compensated fall, Celia gives the impression of being on the fragile line between walking and falling down. Following a fall in the escalators, Celia deferred her tears until later: she was not wounded but wondered, after the fact: "am I going to die?"

To the imaginary solution of linking herself to the body of the educator she next added the treatment of linking herself to the code, i.e. on the schedules and timetables that she knew how to read and that reminded her of the day's division between school and her workshops. She participated in a writing workshop, slowing down over the rules of grammar and enumerating them inaudibly to herself before finishing by exclaiming: "After that there's the period and it's finished!" But she added that she couldn't write because she "didn't know the end." After a few moments she wrote a story in which the word "mommy" appeared several times and which she crossed out and continued to progress in her writing.

During the artistic workshops, Celia would not pick up her art supplies. We respected her immobilism. One evening she seemed to be squirming on her chair, so I asked her if she wanted to help me and another child make a mask. She responded: "Well, you know, I can't see the end!" What end is she talking about? The end of the project? The anxiety linked with imagining gestures that would never come to an end? The impossibility of representing duration?

I suggested that we finish off the mask with a thin coat of paint to varnish it. This task lasted five minutes, during which time she did not seem to me to be concentrated on the aesthetic element of what she was doing but rather on the summary activity of "varnishing" the mask. When she walked, she still held on to our arms and succeeded finally in telling me: "I'm not going to make it!" (je ne vais pas y arriver), a phrase which revealed a certain equivocacy: the "it" (y) in "to make it" represents her inability to lodge herself in either space or time. I gave her a visual point of reference for our walk: the steeple of the church 500 meters away from us. Celia saw her goal, her step became more assured, and she let go of my arm.

From that moment on, when dealing with Celia we worked from the hypothesis that we should assist her in "de-eternalizing" time, which she had indicated to us as her major point of anxiety. The signifier was frozen, and we noticed a nearly direct connection between catatonia and the holophrase.

Taking a language bath

After three years of treatment, Celia told me that she read stories to her mother, which was a new development. She would regularly go into a quiet room at the Courtil and sit down in an easy chair, in which she seemed to read. Her body was at rest. One night I sat down next to her and asked her what books she chose, to which she responded: "I read books that are short!" She liked to read out loud so I proposed that she read me a story. I noticed the ease and fluidity of her diction and rhythm. When her body is secure Celia is able to find another punctuation, that of the tonic accents that mark the beginning and the end of a sentence. She would read the sentence silently before reading it out loud. She seemed to want to be able to assure herself that there was an end, a punctuation. This work is still going on and her audience varies. Since then Celia has taken up writing in a workshop in which she writes haiku-length poems that are composed of a first name, two sentences, and a rhyme, for example: "Martine is happy (heureuse), she's going to the hairdresser's (la coiffeuse)!".

These poems are all outside of meaning. What seems to interest her is grammar, spelling, and rhymes. She makes corrections with a different-colored pen when she finds a mistake in her sentences. She also corrects the poems that I, another patient, and a foreign intern write for her in the nameless workshop. She has improvised this position of "corrector for the others" on her own. She leaves meaning alone but is passionate about our mistakes in punctuation and grammatical structure. The rhythm of this workshop obviously leaves room for slowness, and Celia has found a way to render her body immobile in order to offer herself, through this work outside of meaning, a mobile place in language and in the social bond.

Translated by Timothy Lachin



1Jacques Lacan, "Discours du congres de Rome et réponse aux interventions", in Autres écrits, Ed.du Seuil, Paris, 2001.

2Eric Laurent, « Le savoir inconscient et le temps », in La Cause freudienne, February 1994, p. 4.