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Juan-David Nasio

The Book of Love and

Thinking at the Limit with Freud and Lacan
Translated by David Pettigrew
and François Raffoul
The Book of Love and Pain
SUNY series in
Psychoanalysis and Culture

Henry Sussman, editor



Thinking at the Limit

with Freud and Lacan


Translated by
David Pettigrew and François Raffoul


Originally published as Le Livre de La Douleur et de L’Amour,
Éditions Payot and Rivages, 1996.

Published by
State University of New York Press, Albany

© 2004 State University of New York

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nasio, Juan-David.
[Livre de la douleur et de l’amour. English]
The book of love and pain : thinking at the limit with Freud and Lacan / Juan-David
Nasio ; translated by David Pettigrew and François Raffoul.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7914-5925-X (alk. paper) — ISBN 0-7914-5926-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Pain—Psychological aspects. 2. Psychoanalysis. I. Title.

BF515.N3713 2003

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Translators’ Acknowledgments vii

Translators’ Introduction 1

Clémence, or the Experience of Pain 9

Threshold 13

Psychical Pain, Pain of Love 19

Archipelago of Pain 41

Corporeal Pain: A Psychoanalytic Conception 49

Lessons on Pain 77

Excerpts from Freud and Lacan Concerning Psychical Pain 123

Excerpts from Freud Concerning Corporeal Pain 131

Notes 137

Index 141
Translators’ Acknowledgments

The translators would like to thank James Peltz, Editor of SUNY Press for his
support of this project from the earliest stages. Dr. J. Philip Smith, Vice Pres-
ident for Academic Affairs and Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen, Dean of the School
of Arts and Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) pro-
vided crucial support that sustained our work. Additional support was
received in the form of a Connecticut State University Research Grant. We
are also grateful to Joseph Solodow, Professor of Foreign Language, and
Camille Serchuk, Associate Professor of Art at SCSU, for their assistance
with a number of translation questions while the work was in progress. Impor-
tant assistance in the completion of the manuscript came from Andrea
Conque, and Troy Mellon, at Louisiana State University as well as James
Ryan in Berkeley, California. Many thanks as well to Meri Aserri. We are par-
ticularly grateful for the support of the French Ministry of Culture-Centre
National de Livre. Finally, we thank Dr. J.-D. Nasio for his support and advice
throughout the translation of the book.

Translators’ Introduction

I do not possess pain, it possesses me: I am pain.

—J.-D. Nasio

The treatment of pain

J.-D. Nasio’s The Book of Love and Pain1 engages the experience of pain in
psychoanalysis. It is a striking fact that there is no exclusive treatment
devoted to pain in the Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic literature,
given that psychical pain is the essential concern and even raison d’être of
psychoanalysis. To this extent, Nasio’s contribution in The Book of Love and
Pain fills a gaping void in psychoanalytic research and will play an important
role in our understanding of the human psyche. He elaborates the thematic
of pain through the psychoanalytic terms that he forged in more than three
decades of therapeutic practice. Dr. Nasio opens his reflection with the nar-
ration of a dramatic case, that of one of his patients, Clémence, a young
woman who lost her infant only a few days after giving birth. The extreme
character of this case will allow Nasio to present the most salient character-
istics of pain: the intertwining of body and psyche in the affect of pain, the
collapse of the ego in loss (accompanied by a desperate contraction on a
memory-image), the invasive and overwhelming presence of pain, and the
limits of sense and meaning.

Her body was the perfect incarnation of the emptied ego of a person in pain,
an ego that has collapsed, caught in the vivid memory of the lost child . . .
psychical pain is indeed the ultimate affect, the last contraction of a des-
perate ego that congeals so as not to sink in nothingness. (LP, 10)

Such an example is extreme because ultimately pain itself, according to

Nasio, is an extreme affect: pain is the “ultimate” affect, that is, the last pro-
tective dam against madness (“We know also that this pain is the last line
of defense against madness” [LP, 10]). Further, pain presents us with the


phenomenon of an affect that borders on senselessness, and one that resists

symbolization (Nasio thus speaks of a “pain made of stone”). With this
vignette, then, Dr. Nasio reveals the limits in attempting to think and treat
pain psychoanalytically, or even pain as a limit-phenomenon. The phenom-
enon of pain also threatens the analytic relationship: as the patient is over-
come so the psychoanalyst is thrown in crisis. Nasio writes compellingly:

Clémence was overwhelmed by the distress and I was unable to take on her
pain. I was destabilized by the impenetrable distress of the other. Speech
seemed useless to me and I was limited to echoing her throbbing scream. I
knew that pain permeates the one who listens, so that, at first, I had to be
the one who, by my presence alone—albeit silently—could dissipate the
suffering by receiving her irradiating cries. I knew that this impregnation
prior to language could precisely inspire in me the words needed to express
and finally allay the pain. (LP, 10)

The issue for the psychoanalyst remains that of “welcoming” this pain,
and attempting despite everything to give a meaning to what has none. To be
eased, pain must be taken as an “expression of something else,” made into a
symbol. This is for Nasio the role of the psychoanalyst: “[t]o attribute a sym-
bolic value to a pain that is in itself pure real, brutal emotion, hostile and for-
eign” (LP, 13). As we can see, this text engages the limit-character of human
suffering and therefore the limits of the ability of the analyst to “take on” the
pain and undergo the process required to alleviate it.
Nonetheless, Nasio would apply and concentrate psychoanalytical the-
ory and practice to provide an access to pain. Hence, he attempts to charac-
terize psychical pain, in its most general and preliminary sense, as a sudden
and unexpected separation from an object with which we have had an inti-
mate bond. The bond has been so intricate that it has constituted our very
selves. Therefore the loss of the object threatens the self, disrupts the rhythm
of life and requires the painful work of mourning and self-reconstruction.
Nasio undertakes a wide-ranging treatment—perhaps the first of its kind—of
those subtle and numerous connections, the diverse forms of separation that
are all manifestations of psychical pain.
Nasio shows that psychical pain is intertwined with love, insofar as pain is
pain of separation. Pain is always pain of love, “the affect that results from the bru-
tal rupture of a bond that connects me to the person or to the thing that I love” (LP,
19). He writes, “All these kinds of pain are in different degrees pain of brutal
amputation from a love-object, one with which we were so intensely and per-
manently bonded that it regulated the harmony of our psyche. There is pain only
against the background of love” (LP, 14, our emphasis). As a result of this brutal
rupture, a series of other pains follow, and the author addresses each of them in
the main sections of the text, including: the pain of mourning, the pain of reac-

tion, the pain of jouissance, unconscious pain, pain as an object of the drive,
pain as a form of sexuality, pain as a sadomasochistic fantasy, pain and the
scream, and the pain of silence. As it describes all these pains, The Book of Love
and Pain constitutes a model of a phenomenological treatment of pain.
In addition, Nasio addresses the psychical implications of corporeal pain,
exploring in a bold manner the psychical role in the activation of corporeal
pain. The author discusses, in this respect, the three moments of corporeal pain:
the wound, the trauma, and the reaction, treating of the rapid transformation of
the pain of the injury to a mental representation of that very injury. Nasio
emphasizes that the memory of this representation of corporeal pain is “engraved
in the depths of the unconscious,” an unconscious memory that is destined to
return, transfigured as a psychosomatic lesion. It is precisely this transformation
from the corporeal to the psychical that Nasio elaborates, noting that the
unconscious pain will return and “the subject will experience an inexplicable
pain that is without discernable organic cause. He or she will suffer without
knowing that the present pain is the active memory of a past pain” (LP, 57).
Dr. Nasio’s careful approach to psychical and corporeal pain is informed,
to be sure, by the legacy of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. In
the course of the text, he makes use, for example, of Freud’s neurological con-
ception of pain from “The Project for a Scientific Psychology” and undertakes
a reelaboration of the Lacanian categories of the symbolic, imaginary, and the
real in relation to pain. Yet The Book of Love and Pain is intended to be nei-
ther a strictly Freudian nor a Lacanian treatise. In fact, as Nasio remarks, “ana-
lytic literature is extremely limited on this topic. Freud and Lacan themselves
only rarely treated the theme of pain and never devoted an exclusive study to
it” (LP, 14). This book, then, is to a large extent an innovative and original
grappling with pain at its very limit. The text never simply proposes the sim-
ple or formulaic healing of such pain. Even though psychoanalysis offers the
promise of healing, it remains at a threshold that can only be approached, a
path that can only be taken, that cannot be predicted, or otherwise preor-
dained. Accordingly, Nasio does not shy away from those aspects of pain that
resist reason, that lead psychoanalytic theory into paradox, and even aporia.

The paradoxes of pain

We observe once more the extent to which pain slips between the
fingers and evades reason.
—J.-D. Nasio

As Nasio identifies pain as the phenomenon of the limit (as the experience
of the threshold, as the “imprecise” limit between the body and the psyche,

as limit between the ego and the other, as limit between the harmony and
disharmony of the psyche, etc.), his encounter with pain uncovers a series of
paradoxes that leave theoretical reason suspended between seemingly incom-
patible alternatives. Nasio is struck, in general terms, by the “insurmount-
able” paradox of a love that both constitutes us and yet renders us vulnera-
ble. He writes that “while being a constitutive condition of human nature,
love remains the incontrovertible premise of our suffering” (LP, 20).
Under the general context of this constitutive paradox of love, numer-
ous other paradoxes are encountered in analytic experience. Two examples
bear mention here.
For example, while stating at the outset that the prototypical pain is the
pain of separation, Nasio asserts that such a pain is made more intense, as it
were, by a second pain, which consists in reinvesting the image of the lost
loved one. The ego, in this first paradoxical situation, continues to love the
one who has been lost more than ever before, magnifying the image of the
loved one beyond all reasonable proportions, thus inducing an overexcitation
and an exhaustion of the ego: “[T]his effigy draws all the energy of the ego
and submits it to a violent aspiration that leaves it exhausted and incapable
of interest in the external world” (LP, 21). To be clear, the paradox is that the
pain does not lie in the loss but in the fact that we love the one who has been
lost as never before. “Here is what I take to be significant. Pain is not due to a
detachment but to an overinvestment” (LP, 119). It is an overinvestment of an
object “within,” because it is no longer without. This would be Nasio’s “orig-
inal contribution,” that the pain of mourning is not the pain of separation but
the pain of bond, that the pain is not that of an absence, but of an excessive
presence. Therefore, pain is the “affect that manifests the exhaustion of an ego
completely occupied with desperately cherishing the image of the loved one who has
been lost” (LP, 22). The true cause of this pain is not the loss of the loved per-
son, but the all-consuming maintenance of his or her image, indeed, our com-
plex fantasy of the person. One needs to recognize in psychical pain a twofold
dimension, in the sense that the ego reacts to the trauma of the loss in two
ways: on the one hand, there is what Nasio calls a “disinvestment,” an emp-
tying out of energy brought about by the loss of the other; on the other hand,
there is an “overinvestment,” a sort of polarization of psychic energy on a sin-
gle psychical image, that precisely of the lost other. Both events, the sudden
emptying out and the extreme concentration, are what is painful. The work
required is to re-harmonize the unbalance, or split, between the two phe-
nomena. As Nasio explains, “Mourning is nothing other than a very slow
redistribution of the psychical energy which was, until then, concentrated on
a single dominant representation which was foreign to the ego” (LP, 23).
A second paradox presented by Nasio’s work is found in the extent to
which the loved one is desired not because he or she allows our love to flour-

ish but because of the way the fantasy of the loved one guarantees a limit to
my love. For Nasio, while the fantasy of the loved one is “carried by the force
of desire,” it nonetheless “functions to stem and subdue” that very desire.
Nasio explains that “fantasy is protective because it shields us from the dan-
ger of an unlimited turbulence of desire or its equivalent, the chaos of the
drive” (LP, 29). In this way, the fantasy of the loved one contributes in a pro-
tective manner to the homeostasis of the unconscious system, a principle that
was central to Freud’s corpus from his earliest to his latest writings.
Further, Nasio specifies that his conception of such a protective status of
the fantasy of the loved one is a reinterpretation of both the Freudian con-
cept of repression and the Lacanian concept of the signifier of the Name-of-
the-Father. In the first case, repression would be protective in that it prevents
the overflow of the libidinal drive; in the second case, the signifier of the
Name-of-the-Father would ensure the consistency or the rhythm of the sys-
tem of signifiers. For Nasio, in the end, the fantasy of the loved one “protects
me from turmoil by limiting my jouissance.” He writes:

He or she protects me and leaves me unsatisfied. The symbolic loved one is,
in the end, a figure of repression and the most exemplary figure of the sig-
nifier of the Name-of-the-Father. (LP, 33)

These paradoxes of pain are precisely the challenge facing the analyst and
the patient in the analytic relation. As Nasio’s text undertakes a wide-ranging
taxonomy of the pain of separation, it also unveils the contradictions of pain and
the obstacles to its treatment. Indeed, one has the impression that the only path
the analyst must take is that of the paradox, or that the only step is one where
there is no path, with no way out. In this respect, Dr. Nasio introduces the fol-
lowing remarkable image: “With his patient consumed by pain, the analyst acts
like a dancer who, before the stumbling of his partner, keeps her from falling
and, without losing a beat, helps the couple regain their rhythm” (LP, 13).

Thinking pain at the limit

In itself, pain has no value and no signification . . . the psychoanalyst

is an intermediary who takes on the inassimilable pain of his or
her patient and transforms it into a pain that is symbolized.
—J.-D. Nasio

For Nasio, finally, a psychoanalyst is engaged in a practice that goes to the

limit with pain in order to situate him or herself to “take on” the pain for the
benefit of his or her patients. Dr. Nasio’s insights from such thinking at the

limit are found throughout the text, particularly in his suggestion that “one
should add pain to the list of the objects of the drive, and conceive of its detach-
ment from the body as a separation brought about by the phallic signifier”
(LP, 81). Through this logic, Nasio considers the conditions that allow us to
think and verify that pain is phallic, that is, that pain is an object that can be
consumed and that satisfies an essentially sexual desire. He elaborates this
insight in the lesson on sadomasochistic pain, where pain becomes the object
of the sadomasochistic drive.
Two other examples of his innovative thought—in particular in relation
to Lacan—bear mention here: local foreclosure and the position of semblance
(le semblant).

Local foreclosure

With local foreclosure the intensity of the love for the lost loved one leads to
a hallucination. The mourner rebels against the reality of the lack and refuses
to accept the definitive death of the loved one. Nasio asserts that this denial
“borders on madness but tempers pain.” The mourner believes he or she can
bring the deceased back to life. For the mourner, then, the hallucination con-
jures a new reality:

Through these hallucinations the mourner experiences the return of the

deceased with an unshakable certainty and transforms his or her sorrow with
a delirious conviction. We understand that the supremacy of love over
knowledge leads to the creation of a new reality—a hallucinated reality—
where the lost one returns in the form of a phantom. (LP, 24)

The affective overinvestment of the lost loved one, as we saw earlier,

provokes psychical pain. The pain is so intense and “so disproportionate to
the image of the lost object that the image is ultimately ejected from the ego”
(LP, 25). The image reappears outside the ego in the external world as a hal-
lucination or a fantasy. It is this expulsion and reappearance outside that indi-
cates what Nasio calls local foreclosure: “We will say that the representation
has been foreclosed, that is to say, over-invested, excluded and hallucinated”
(LP, 25). The dynamic or force of the rejection of the representation from the
ego leaves the ego deflated, exhausted, emptied.
One could say that with local foreclosure pain is thereby raised—or fore-
closed—to a new level. The phenomenon of local foreclosure also raises a
concern for the practitioner who needs to determine the degree of the exclu-
sion. Such a degree, to the extent that the exclusion shuts the representation
off from all other aspects of the psychical system, may border on psychosis.

Semblance (le semblant)

A second innovative aspect of Dr. Nasio’s thought in The Book of Love and
Pain centers around his appropriation of the Lacanian term semblance.
Given the paradoxes of pain that we have encountered, it is not surprising
that Nasio seeks to identify a medium in which the analyst may have
finally a direct “material encounter” with the patient’s pain. In the chap-
ter entitled “Pain and the Scream,” Nasio considers Lacan’s notion of sem-
blance and understands it as the material transmittal of pain. Nasio asso-
ciates the term with that of the “simulacra” of De Natura Rerum of
Lucretius. For Lucretius, the representations of an object carried, in a
sense, its very materiality.

What Lucretius tells us is that the simulacra are strange emanations from
objects, kinds of light membranes, detached from the surface of the bodies,
floating in the air, flying in all directions. He adds that these membranes are
sometimes images, and other times not, sometimes visible, but not always.
These are often impalpable images, strange exhalations and above all rapid
irradiations that emerge, spread and dissipate very quickly. (LP, 104–105)

In an analogous sense, for Nasio, the scream carries the materiality of

pain. The semblance of the scream is more than an abstract representative or
a symbol of pain. In the author’s interpretation, we find that as the scream
carries the pain, it reawakens the pain, produces the pain. Here we are led to
imagine that there can be an intimate connection through the materiality of
the scream between the one who emits the scream and the one who hears the
scream. Such a materiality would, for Nasio, support the intimate transferen-
tial relation between the analyst and the patient. Indeed, in an earlier text,
Five Lessons on the Psychoanalytic Theory of Jacques Lacan,2 Nasio addresses
semblance as a position the analyst adopts before the patient. It is a position
from which the analyst prepares not to interpret or explain the patient’s pain
but indeed to take on the pain, to be taken by that pain, to be caught up in
its visceral materiality. Such a position, which is, rather, a dynamic, cements
the bond of the transference and offers the possibility that the therapeutic
relation could restore the rhythm of the drives and reset the psychical
metronome, as it were.
The contribution of The Book of Love and Pain lies perhaps in nothing
other than the engagement with the very origin of psychoanalysis: pain. The
text offers the opportunity to enter into the psychoanalytic labyrinth of pain,
to enter into its paradoxical senses. It is Dr. Nasio who has perhaps the most
interesting suggestion about how one should receive the insights of the book.
He writes:

What use can we make of this psychoanalytic theory of pain that I am

advancing? I would dare to say quite simply: make no use of it. Leave it for
the moment. Let the theory simmer within us; operate without our knowl-
edge. If this theory of pain, as abstract as it may be, is really fertile, it will
perhaps change our manner of listening to the suffering patient or to our
own intimate suffering. (LP, 38)

With such a remark, Dr. Nasio remains, in our view, faithful to the intention
that gives particular value to his writings, that of fashioning a synthesis
between theory and practice in order always and only to take on the suffer-
ing of his patients. In so doing, Nasio also reveals pain as that limit with
which human beings are confronted and on the basis of which existence itself
unfolds in its paradoxical movement.


Paris, January 2002
Clémence, or the Experience of Pain

Love is an expectation, and pain the sudden and unforeseen rupture

of this expectation.
—J.-D. N.

Clémence3 was thirty-eight years old. She suffered from infertility and was
struggling to become pregnant. I saw her in analysis for three years. My mem-
ory is still fresh of the day when she told me that she was finally pregnant.
She exclaimed, “We have succeeded!” I had the feeling that I was sharing the
joy with a group of close friends who had worked together with Clémence so
that she could become pregnant. I also thought of her husband who was so
involved, as well as her gynecologist—a fertility specialist.
During the months that followed, our psychoanalytic sessions were
devoted, for the most part, to living through and speaking about the intense
period when a woman adjusts to becoming a mother. The day of delivery
arrived and Clémence brought a beautiful baby into the world. That very day,
she telephoned me filled with joy, to announce the birth of a son named Lau-
rent. I was very happy and I congratulated her warmly. Three days later I was
surprised to receive a second telephone call of an entirely different nature. In
a nearly inaudible voice, she told me: “I have lost my baby. He died this
morning in the nursery. No one knows why.” Upon hearing these horrible
words I was stupefied and could only say, “This is impossible! This is absurd!”
For some time Clémence did not contact me. Her absence did not sur-
prise me, because I am familiar with the experiences of those who are plunged
into such mourning, who are utterly crushed by the impact of a violent loss
and absolutely refuse contact with those who, before the event, were linked
to the one who has departed. I had even imagined that my patient was going
to interrupt her analysis because I was inevitably associated with her struggle
to become fertile, with the success of her pregnancy, with the happiness of
the birth and now with the atrocious pain of a brutal and incomprehensible
loss. She was probably going to decide not to continue her analytic work with


me and to resume it later with a different analyst. It was necessary, I thought,

for her world to change. However, things have turned out differently.
In fact, shortly after the tragic event, Clémence came back to see me. She
was exhausted and could not go anywhere by herself. She needed to be accom-
panied to the waiting room. When I welcomed her, I discovered a woman who
had been transformed by her distress. She was but an impersonal, debilitated
body, without any energy, only hanging on through the omnipresent images of
her baby when he was still alive. Her body was the perfect incarnation of the
emptied ego of a person in pain, an ego that had collapsed, caught in the vivid
memory of the lost child, a memory hammered by a haunting question: “What
did he die of? Why and how did he die? Why me?”*
We know that this state of extreme pain, a mixture of the ego being emp-
tied out and contracted in a memorial image, is the expression of a struggle
for life. We know also that this pain is the last line of defense against mad-
ness. We know that in the domain of human feelings, psychical pain is indeed
the ultimate affect, the last contraction of a desperate ego that congeals so as
not to sink in nothingness. During this entire period that immediately fol-
lowed the death of Laurent, I often heard Clémence speak of her fear of
becoming mad. And it is true that at certain moments she might have seemed
mad. At times, affliction of the mourner gives way to such an extreme exal-
tation that the all too clear and distinct images of the deceased are experi-
enced with the sharpness of a hallucination.
However, all of my knowledge about pain—I would like to clarify that at
that time I was already writing this book—did not protect me from the vio-
lent impact that I felt when I welcomed my patient immediately after the
tragedy. At that time, our bond was weakened: Clémence was overwhelmed
by the distress and I was unable to take on her pain. I was destabilized by the
impenetrable distress of the other. Speech seemed useless to me and I was lim-
ited to echoing her throbbing scream. I knew that pain permeates the one
who listens, so that, at first, I had to be the one who, by my presence alone—
albeit silently—could dissipate her suffering by receiving her irradiating cries.
I knew that this impregnation prior to language could precisely inspire in me
the words needed to express and finally allay the pain.
After a period of some months in the course of which I received Clé-
mence face to face, when my listening was limited at best to accompanying
the fluctuations of her distress, she lay down on the couch. It was then that

*Laurent died in the nursery in the middle of the night while Clémence was sleeping.
It was her obstetrician, the very same one who worked through the pregnancy and actu-
ally saw the birth, who informed her of the death the next morning without being able
to provide any reason. Today Clémence and her husband still do not know the exact
causes of the death of their son.

she was truly able to begin her work of mourning, a work marked by a partic-
ular session that I would like to recall here.
Clémence could not stand to hear the consoling words that in such cir-
cumstances are so naturally expressed by friends. “Do not concern yourself!
Think of getting pregnant again. You still have time. Have another baby and
you will see, you will forget!” These awkward words were unbearable for her
and they were driving her crazy. I understood the vehemence of her reaction
because these seemingly comforting sentences were in fact a call to forget—an
incitement to lose her dead child a second time. This was an incitement to
lose the child once more, no longer in reality but “in the heart.” As if
rebelling, Clémence cried to the world: “I have lost my child and I know that
he will not come back. I know he is no longer living but he continues to live
in me. And you want me to forget him! You want him to disappear a second
time!” To ask Clémence to forget her dead son by replacing him with another
before completing the mourning process could only do violence to her. It was
to ask her to no longer cherish the image of the baby that had disappeared,
thus to deprive her of the only means of healing the wound. Finally, it was to
ask her to renounce the preservation of her psychical equilibrium. The image
of the lost person must not be effaced, on the contrary it must prevail until the
moment when—thanks to mourning—the mourner succeeds in causing the
love for the deceased and the love for a new loved one to coexist. When this
coexistence of the old and the new is established in the unconscious we can
be certain that what is most important in the process of mourning is underway.
I no longer had all these theoretical considerations in mind when, in the
course of a session that took place some eight months after his death, I inter-
vened in a way that turned out to be decisive. Clémence lay on the couch and
spoke to me in the tone of someone who had just rediscovered a zest for life. I
was listening and concentrating intensely when, at the moment of an interven-
tion, I stated the following words, almost without knowing it: “If a second child
is born, I mean Laurent’s brother or sister. . . .” Even before I was able to com-
plete my sentence the patient interrupted me and, surprised, exclaimed: “This is
the first time I heard of Laurent’s brother or sister! I feel like an enormous weight
has been lifted.” A thought came to me that I shared immediately with my
patient: “Wherever Laurent is at this moment I am sure he will be happy to
know that one day you will give him a little brother or sister.” I was astonished
to have expressed spontaneously in so few words the basic aspect of my concep-
tion of mourning according to which the pain is diminished if the mourner
finally admits that the love for the new living person will never abolish the love
for the one who has disappeared. So for Clémence the future child will perhaps
never take the place of his older brother who is deceased. He will have his own
place, the one reserved for him by his desire, the desire of his parents, and his
destiny. And, simultaneously, Laurent will remain the irreplaceable first infant.

I decided to begin this book with a fragment of a cure—I should say with a
fragment of a life that brings two persons together: one who suffers and the
other who assumes the suffering. One, a mother overwhelmed by the cruel
loss of her first child whom she desired so much and who was lost so brutally,
and the other, a psychoanalyst who tries to give a meaning to a pain that, in
itself, has none. In itself, pain has no value and no signification. It is simply
there, made of flesh or of stone. Nevertheless, to ease it, we must understand
it as an expression of something else, detaching it from the real by trans-
forming it into a symbol. To attribute a symbolic value to pain that is in itself
the pure real, a brutal, hostile, and foreign emotion, remains in the end the
only therapeutic gesture that renders it bearable. Also, the psychoanalyst is
an intermediary who takes on the inassimilable pain of his or her patient and
transforms it into a pain that is symbolized.
But what is entailed in this process of giving meaning to pain and ren-
dering it symbolic? It does not entail a forced interpretation of its cause, nor
does it serve to console the patient, and even less to encourage him or her to
undergo its hardship as a formative experience to strengthen one’s character.
No, to give meaning to the pain of the other means for the psychoanalyst to
be attuned with it, to try to resonate with it, and in such a state to wait for
the time and the words to erode it. With his patient consumed by pain, the
analyst acts like a dancer who, before the stumbling of his partner, keeps her
from falling and, without losing a beat, helps the couple regain their rhythm.
To give a meaning to an unfathomable pain is, in the end, to provide a place
for it within the transference, where it can be shouted, cried, and used up by
the sheer accumulation of tears and words.
I would like, in these pages, to share what I have learned with you,
namely, that mental pain is not necessarily pathological, that it punctuates
our lives as we mature by way of successive pains. For the psychoanalyst it
appears clearly—thanks to the remarkable magnifying glass of transference—
that pain at the core of our being is the incontestable sign of the experience
of adversity. When pain occurs, we are no doubt in the process of crossing a


threshold, of undergoing a decisive experience. What experience? The expe-

rience of separation from an object, as it leaves us suddenly and definitively,
shatters us and causes us to reconstruct ourselves. Psychical pain is the pain
of separation when the separation is an uprooting and a loss of an object with
which we are so intimately bonded—a person we love, a material thing, a
value, or the integrity of our body—that the bond is constitutive of ourselves.
This shows the extent to which the unconscious is the subtle thread that
links the diverse and painful separations that punctuate our existence.
We are going to approach pain by considering the example of an afflic-
tion that affects us when we are struck by the death of a loved one. The
mourning of a loved one is indeed the most illustrative experience for under-
standing the nature and the mechanisms of mental pain. However, it would
be mistaken to believe that psychical pain is a feeling that is provoked exclu-
sively by the loss of a loved one. It could also be the pain of abandonment, as
when a loved one suddenly withdraws his or her love, of humiliation when we
are deeply wounded in our pride, and pain of mutilation when we lose a part
of our body. All these kinds of pain are, to different degrees, pains of brutal
amputation from a love-object, one to which we were so intensely and per-
manently bonded that it regulated the harmony of our psyche. There is pain
only against the background of love.
Psychical pain is an obscure feeling, difficult to define, and, when barely
grasped, it eludes reason. Its uncertain nature thus compels us to find the
most precise theory possible that explains the mechanism that causes it.
There is a challenge in attempting to grasp an affect that eludes thought. We
have noticed that analytic literature is extremely limited on this topic. Freud
and Lacan themselves only rarely treated the theme of pain and never
devoted an exclusive study to it.
I will thus attempt to introduce you to a metapsychology of pain. A
metapsychology is the only satisfying theoretical approach to explain the for-
mative mechanism of psychical pain in detail.
Before beginning, I would like to make some preliminary remarks and
state that pain—whether psychical or physical—is always a phenomenon of
the limit. Throughout these pages you will constantly see pain emerge at the
limit, whether it is the imprecise limit between the body and the psyche,
between the ego and the other, or above all between the regulated function-
ing of the psyche and its breakdown.
Another initial remark concerns the vocabulary that I will use in order
to distinguish psychical and corporeal pain. This distinction, although nec-
essary for the clarity of my discourse, is not rigorously founded. From the psy-
choanalytic point of view, there is no difference between psychical and phys-
ical pain. The reason is that pain is a mixed phenomenon, emerging at the
limit between the body and the psyche. When we will consider corporeal

pain, for example, one will notice that, apart from its strictly neurobiological
mechanisms, it is explained essentially by a psychical disturbance. Further-
more, the model of corporeal pain sketched by Freud at the beginning of his
work—which we will reconsider later—has surprisingly guided our concep-
tion of psychical pain.
Another terminological clarification concerns the difference between
the terms suffering and pain. Classically, these terms are distinguished in the
following manner: whereas pain refers to a local sensation caused by an
injury, suffering designates a general psychical and corporeal disturbance that
is provoked by a generally violent excitation. If pain is a sensation that is
quite determined and delimited, suffering remains on the contrary a vaguely
defined emotion. But this schematic distinction becomes useless as soon as
we rigorously clarify the formation of physical pain as well as the psychical
factor implicated therein. This is what we have tried to do by exploring the
suffering ego with the tools of Freudian metapsychology. Now the term suf-
fering will turn out to be too vague for the reader, while pain, on the contrary,
will seem precise and rigorous. Therefore, I have chosen to privilege the word
pain and give it the status of a psychoanalytic concept.
We would make one final preliminary comment. In order to situate our
approach better, I would like to propose a comprehensive vision of pain by
dividing it into three main categories. Above all, pain is an affect, the ulti-
mate affect, the last defense against madness and death. It is like a final strug-
gle that attests to life and to our power to regain ourselves. One does not die
from pain. As long as there is pain, we also have the available forces to fight
against it and continue living. It is this notion of pain-affect that we will
study in the first chapters.
The second category involves pain considered as a symptom, that is, as
the exterior and sensible manifestation of an unconscious and repressed
drive. Take the exemplary case of a pain in the body that reveals the exis-
tence of an unconscious suffering. I am referring to persistent hysterical
migraines, fluctuating according to affective situations, and without identifi-
able causes. We will say that the migraine is a symptom, that is, a painful sen-
sation that translates a repressed disturbance in the unconscious. In this
group I include all the pains qualified by current medicine as “psychogenic.”
If one consults one of the numerous recent medical publications devoted to
pain, one finds inevitably a contribution—generally very short—on “psy-
chogenic” pain. What does “psychogenic” mean? It designates the various
corporeal pains without an identifiable organic cause and to which one may
attribute, failing any better alternative, a psychical origin.
The third and final psychoanalytic category of pain refers to perversion.
This is pain as an object and aim of perverse, sadomasochistic sexual pleasure.
This theme is developed in two sections of the Lessons on Pain.

Concretely, we will proceed in the following manner: After addressing

psychical pain, strictly speaking, we will present our psychoanalytic concep-
tion of physical pain. But we must first identify the different stages of the for-
mation of any pain.
Whether it is a question of corporeal pain provoked by an injury of the
tissues, or a psychical pain provoked by the sudden rupture of an intimate
bond with a loved one, pain is born in the brief space of a moment. However,
we will see that the engendering of pain, while instantaneous, follows a com-
plex process. This process can be analyzed in three parts. It begins with a rup-
ture, continues with a psychical trauma that the rupture triggers, and culmi-
nates in a defensive reaction of the ego in order to protect itself from the
disturbance. A particular aspect of pain appears at each of these stages.
We have the following succession: a pain proper to the rupture, then a
pain inherent in the state of trauma, and finally a pain provoked by the
defense-reflex of the ego in response to the deep distress. Clearly, these three
pains are only, in reality, different aspects of one and the same pain, which is
formed instantaneously.
In our approach, whether we address psychical or corporeal pain, we will
take account of these three moments: the rupture, the trauma, and the defen-
sive reaction of the ego.
Here I would like to advance the main premise of our theory of pain: Our
premise is that pain is an affect that reflects the extreme variation of unconscious
tension in consciousness, variations that evade the pleasure principle.
A lived feeling is for us the conscious manifestation of the rhythmic
movement of our drives. All our feelings express variations of the intensity of
unconscious tensions in consciousness. I postulate that pain manifests, not
regular oscillations of tension, but an arrhythmia of the libidinal rate. But by
what path, do the drives become lived feelings? The ego succeeds in perceiv-
ing from within itself—in the Id—and with an extraordinary acuity, the vari-
ations of internal drives, in order to reflect them to the surface of conscious-
ness in the form of affect.
The ego, then, is an interpreter capable of reading the language of drives
within, and of translating it into the language of feelings without. It is as if
the ego possessed an organ capable of internal detection, that can capture
instinctual modulations and transpose them onto the screen of consciousness
in the form of emotions. When these modulations are moderate, they become
conscious as feelings of pleasure and unpleasure; when they are extreme, they
become painful.
Normally, psychical functioning is ruled by the pleasure principle that
regulates the intensity of the tension of the drives and renders them tolera-
ble. But if a brutal rupture with a loved one takes place, the tensions are
released and the principle that regulates pleasure no longer operates. As long

as the ego, turned inward, perceived the regular fluctuations of the libidinal
drives, it could feel both pleasurable and unpleasurable sensations. When the
ego perceives within itself the disturbance of the uncontrollable tensions, it
is pain that it feels. Although unpleasure and pain belong to the same cate-
gory of unpleasant feelings, we can distinguish them clearly and affirm:
unpleasure is not pain. While unpleasure expresses self-perception by the ego
of an elevated but modulated tension, pain expresses the self-perception of an
uncontrolled tension in a deeply distressed psyche. Unpleasure thus remains
a sensation that reflects in consciousness an increase of the tension of the
drive, an augmentation subject to the laws of the pleasure principle. On the
other hand, pain testifies to a profound deregulation of psychical life that
escapes the pleasure principle.
Therefore, in the course of the pages that follow, we will see pain as an
affect provoked not so much by the loss of the loved one—here I am think-
ing of psychical pain—but the ego’s self-perception of the internal turmoil
unleashed by that loss. Strictly speaking, pain is not pain of loss, but of the
chaos of drives in turmoil. In a word, painful feelings do not reflect the regu-
lar oscillations of the drives but a madness of the libidinal cadence.
Psychical Pain, Pain of Love

In contrast to corporeal pain caused by a wound, psychical pain takes place

without physical injury. The cause that triggers it is no longer located in
the flesh but in the bond between the one who loves and the object of his
or her love. When the cause was located in that protective envelope of the
ego that is the body, we called it corporeal pain. Now the cause is situated
outside the body in the immaterial space of a powerful bond of love and
pain is called psychical. Therefore, we can already propose the first defin-
ition of psychical pain or pain of love as the affect that results from the bru-
tal rupture of a bond that connects me to the person or to the thing that I love.*
This rupture—violent and sudden—immediately produces an internal
pain experienced as a ripping of the soul, as a mute scream bursting from
the entrails.
In fact, the severance of a bond of love provokes a state of shock similar
to one that is caused by violent physical aggression: the homeostasis of the
psychical system is broken and the pleasure principle is abolished. In a state
of shock, the ego manages in spite of everything—as in the case of corporeal
pain as well—to perceive its own upheaval, that is, to detect within itself the
panic of its libidinal tensions unleashed by the rupture. The perception of
this chaos translates immediately into consciousness through the vivid feel-
ing of an atrocious internal pain. We can propose a second definition of psy-
chical pain, considered this time from the metapsychological point of view,
and state: pain is the affect that expresses the conscious perception by the ego—
inner perception—of the state of shock, of libidinal disturbance (trauma), which is
not provoked by the rupture of the peripheral barrier of the ego as in the case of cor-
poreal pain, but by the sudden rupture of the bond that attaches us to the loved one.
Here, pain is the pain of trauma.

*We write “love,” but the object to which we are attached and whose sudden loss pro-
duces pain is an object that is hated and a source of anguish as much as it is an object
of love.


The more one loves the more one suffers

But what breaks the bond of love, what is so painful and plunges the ego into
distress? Freud responds without hesitation: it is the loss of the loved one, or
of his or her love. We will add: the brutal and irremediable loss of the loved
one. This is what occurs when death suddenly strikes someone who is close
to us—a parent or spouse, brother or sister child, or dear friend. The expres-
sion “loss of the loved one,” used by Freud in the last years of his life, appears
in two major writings: “Inhibition, Symptom and Anxiety,” and “Civilization
and Its Discontents.” I would like to note a passage from the latter text. Suf-
fering, he writes, comes from three sources: first “the superior power of
nature,” second, “the feebleness of our own bodies,” and third—the one that
interests us here—“the inadequacy of the regulations that adjust the mutual
relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society” (SE XXI,
86). For Freud the third source of suffering is more problematic that the oth-
ers. He examines, then, with considerable circumspection—one after the
other—the different ways of avoiding corporeal suffering and external aggres-
sion. But when he addresses the way to protect oneself against the suffering
that comes from the relation to others, what remedy does he find? A quite
simple one, apparently: loving one’s neighbor. Indeed, in order to protect
oneself against grief, some recommend a conception of life that takes love to
be the center and expect that all joy comes from loving and being loved. It is
true—Freud confirms—that “such a psychical attitude is familiar to us.”
What is more natural than loving in order to avoid conflict with the other?
Let us love, be loved, and we keep grief at bay. And nevertheless it is the
inverse that happens. It is here that Freud the clinician observes that we are
“dependent in a most dangerous way” in our love-object and we expose our-
selves to “extreme suffering if we lose it [the love-object] through unfaithful-
ness or death” (SE XXI, 101). I find these passages remarkable because they
state clearly the insurmountable paradox of love: while being a constitutive
condition of human nature, love remains the incontrovertible premise of our
suffering. The more one loves the more one suffers.
In the other essay, “Inhibition, Symptom and Anxiety,” we find the same
expression, “loss of the loved object,” when Freud distinguishes psychical
pain from anxiety. How are each of these affects differentiated? He proposes
the following parallel: while pain is the reaction to the actual loss of the loved
one, anxiety is the reaction to the threat of possible loss. While reconsidering
what we have developed until now, we can refine these Freudian definitions:
pain is the reaction to libidinal trauma [commotion] actually provoked by a
loss, while anxiety is the reaction to the threat of the possible trauma. But how
can what seems so obvious be explained? Why is the sudden loss of the loved
one or his or her love so painful for us? Who is the other who is so loved that

his or her unexpected disappearance is so painful for us? With what knot is
the loving bond woven such that its rupture is experienced as a loss? What is
a loss? What is the pain of love?

Losing the one that we love

Let us delay our response a moment and consider now the manner in which
the ego reacts to the trauma triggered by the loss of a loved one. We define
psychical pain as the affect that translates the ego’s self-perception of the
trauma it undergoes into consciousness. We had referred to it as the pain of
trauma. Now we say it is the pain produced when the ego defends itself against
the trauma. More precisely, psychical pain is the affect that translates the defensive
reaction of the ego into consciousness when, under the shock, it struggles to recover
itself. Pain is thus a reaction.
But what is this reaction? Faced with the upheaval of the drives caused
by the loss of the loved object, the ego rights itself. It appeals to all its vital
forces—to the point of exhaustion—and concentrates them on one point,
that of the psychical representation of the loved one who has been lost.
Henceforth, the ego is entirely consumed with keeping the mental image of
the one who has been lost alive (as if trying to desperately compensate for the
real absence of the lost other by magnifying its image). The ego is then almost
entirely identified with this sovereign image, and only lives by loving and, at
times, hating the effigy of an other who has been lost. This effigy draws all
the energy of the ego toward itself and submits it to a violent aspiration that
leaves it exhausted and incapable of interest in the external world. One can
see that I am describing again the same defensive posture of the ego that had
allowed us to explain the last stage of the genesis of corporeal pain (reactive
pain) when all the psychical energy bandaged the representation of the
wound (Fig. 1). Now the same energy flows and condenses in the representa-
tions of the loved one who has been lost. The pain of losing a loved one is
thus due to the gap that exists between an exhausted ego and the all too vivid
image of the one who has disappeared.
The reaction of the ego against the trauma triggered by the loss is
described in two movements: a sudden sucking up of the energy that empties
it—a movement of disinvestment—and the polarization of all this energy on a
single psychical image—a movement of overinvestment. Mental pain thus
results from a twofold defensive process: the ego suddenly disinvests the quasi-
totality of its representations in order to overinvest only the representation of
the loved one who is no longer. The sudden emptying of the ego is a phe-
nomenon that is as painful as a contraction into a point. The two movements
of the defense against trauma generate pain. But if the pain of disinvestment


hole Phantom
loved one

Emptying The image of the loved one

of the ego expelled from the ego returns in
the form of a hallucination

Explication of the Phenomenon of the “Phantom Limb”
and the Phantom “Loved One”
The psychical image of an amputated arm has been so overinvested that it is eventu-
ally projected outside the ego and perceived by the subject as a hallucinated arm. Its
expulsion leaves an in-drawing hole in the psyche through which the energy of the
ego rushes until it is completely empty. We think that this mechanism of the expul-
sion of the image of the lost object and its reappearance in the real explains the hal-
lucination of the phantom limb. This mechanism, which is nothing other than fore-
closure, would also explain the disorder of some mourners who hallucinate the
deceased and see him or her as if still alive. We call this phenomenon the hallucina-
tion of the phantom loved one. In both cases the lost object—the amputated arm or the
deceased—continues to live in reality for the ego.

takes the clinical form of a paralyzing inhibition, the pain of the overinvest-
ment is both gripping and oppressive. We will propose a new definition of psy-
chical pain as the affect that manifests the exhaustion of an ego completely occu-
pied with desperately cherishing the image of the lost loved one. The despondency and
the love are based in a pure pain.
We note that the representation of the person who has disappeared is so
strongly charged with affect—so overidealized—that, in the end, it not only
devours a part of the ego, but also becomes foreign to the rest of the ego, that
is, incompatible with those other representations that had been disinvested.

If we think now of the mourning that follows the death of a loved one we will
see that the process of mourning follows a movement that is inverse to that
of the defensive reaction of the ego. While that reaction consists in an over-
investment of the said representation the work of mourning is a progressive
disinvestment of that representation. To undergo mourning means in fact to
disinvest, little by little, from the saturated representation of the loved one
who has been lost in order to render it once again compatible with the whole
of the network of egoic representations. Mourning is nothing other than a
very slow redistribution of the psychical energy that was, until then, concen-
trated on a single dominant representation that was foreign to the ego.
We understand henceforth that if the work of disinvestment that must
follow the death of the other is not accomplished, and if the ego remains
frozen in a coagulated representation, mourning perpetuates itself in a
chronic state that paralyzes the life of the mourner for several years, indeed
for his or her entire existence. I am thinking of a particular analysand who,
having lost her mother at an early age and having suffered from an incom-
plete mourning, confided to me: “A part of her is desperately alive in me and
a part of me is forever dead with her.” These words, with a cruel lucidity,
reveal a person who is split and uprooted by a past and elusive pain. Let us
think here of the distorted faces and strangely tormented bodies that inhabit
the canvas of the painter of pain, Francis Bacon.

What causes pain is not to lose the loved one but to continue to
love him or her more strongly than ever, even though we know that
he or she is irremediably lost

We have, then, an ego that is disassociated between two states: one part con-
centrated and contracted in a point—that of the image of the departed other
with which it identifies almost totally—and the other part impoverished and
emptied. One recalls Clémence seized by the haunting images of her dead
baby and emptied of all her substance. However, there is another disassocia-
tion that is still more painful, another reason for the pain of loving. The ego
is split between its limitless love for the effigy of the lost object and the lucid
recognition of the real absence of that object. The splitting is no longer situ-
ated between contraction and emptying but between contraction—that is to
say, an excessive love for an image—and an acute recognition of the irreme-
diable character of that loss. The ego loves the object that continues to live
in the psyche; it loves it as it has never loved it and at the same time it knows
that this object will never come back. What causes pain is not the loss of the
person we love, but the fact that we continue to love more strongly than ever
someone whom we know to be irremediably lost. Love and knowledge are at

odds. The ego remains split between a love that keeps the loved one alive and
the knowledge of an incontestable absence. This rift between the living pres-
ence of the other in the ego and its real absence is a cleavage so unbearable
that we often want to reduce it not by moderating the love but by denying
the absence while rebelling against the reality of the lack and refusing to
accept the definitive death of the loved one.
Such a rebellion against fate, such a denial of the loss is sometimes so
tenacious that the mourner borders on madness. The refusal to admit the irre-
mediable character of the loss or, what amounts to the same thing, to admit
the incontestable character of the absence in reality, borders on madness but
tempers pain. When these moments of rebellion ease, pain reappears as
vividly as before. Faced with the sudden death of a loved one it frequently
happens that the mourner seeks for things and places associated with the
deceased and, at times, against all reason, imagines that he or she is able to
bring them back to life and find them again. I am thinking of a patient who
heard the steps of her dead husband climbing the stairs. Or even of a mother
who saw her recently deceased son very clearly at his desk. Through these
hallucinations the mourner experiences the return of the deceased with an
unshakable certainty and transforms his or her sorrow with a delirious con-
viction. We understand that the supremacy of love over knowledge leads to
the creation of a new reality—a hallucinated reality—where the lost one
returns in the form of a phantom.

The phantom of the lost loved one

In reference to the phenomenon of the phantom limb, well known by neurol-

ogists, we call this hallucination of the mourner the “phenomenon of the
phantom loved one.” But why the term phantom? Let us recall that the hal-
lucination of the phantom limb is a disorder that affects one who has had an
arm or a leg amputated. The person feels sensations coming from the missing
limb so vividly that it seems to still be there. In the same way the mourner
can perceive with all of his or her senses and absolute conviction the living
presence of the deceased. In order to understand this surprising similitude of
hallucinatory reactions in the face of losses of a very different nature—one an
arm and the other a person—we propose the following hypothesis. Let us
clarify first that the ego functions as a psychical mirror composed of a myriad
of images each reflecting some part of our body or some aspect of the persons
or things to which we are emotionally attached. When we lose an arm, for
example, or a loved one, the psychical image (or representation) of that lost
object we compensate for it through overinvestment. Now we saw that such
an affective overinvestment of the image generates pain. But the high degree

of this overinvestment will provoke something besides pain: it will involve

the hallucination of the lost thing reflected in the image. In fact, the hallu-
cination of the phantom sensations coming from the amputated arm or the
hallucination of the phantom presence of a missing husband, are to be
explained by an overinvestment that is so disproportionate to the image of
these lost object that this image is ultimately ejected from the ego. It is there,
outside the ego, in the real, that the representation reappears as a phantom.
We will say that the representation has been foreclosed, that is to say over-
invested, excluded, and hallucinated. The phenomenon of the phantom limb
or the phantom loved one can no longer be explained by a simple denial of
the loss of the loved object, whether an amputated arm or a deceased person,
but by the foreclosure of the mental representation of such an object (Fig. 1).
But the surprising affinity between the two phantom hallucinations
shows how the loved one is in truth an internal organ of the ego, as essential
as an arm or a leg. I can only hallucinate something essential, the loss of
which upsets the normal functioning of my psyche.
Specifically, we must now reconsider our inquiry into the particularity
of the loved one for whom we mourn. Indeed, among all those we love, who
are those rare persons that we hold to be irreplaceable and whose sudden loss
provokes pain? Who is the special one that can cause me to be what I am
and without whom I would no longer be the same? What place does he or
she occupy within my psyche so as to be so important for me? How do we
name this bond that attaches me to him or her? With all these questions, we
would like finally to identify the mysterious bond, that of love, that unites
us to the significant other. The responses to these questions lead to a new
definition of pain.

The loved one for whom I mourn is the one who satisfies me
partially, renders my insatisfaction tolerable and recenters my desire

To know who the significant other is, his or her essential role in the uncon-
scious, and the pain that his or her disappearance causes, we must return for
a moment to the ordinary functioning of the psychical system. We will con-
sider it now from a particular perspective. We know that the system is ruled
by the pleasure/unpleasure principle that establishes the premise according to
which the psyche is constantly subjected to a tension that it seeks to dis-
charge without ever doing so completely. While the permanent state of ten-
sion is called “unpleasure,” the incomplete and partial discharge of tension is
called “pleasure,” that is, partial pleasure. In its normal functioning, the psy-
che remains fundamentally subjected to unpleasure, that is, to an unpleasant
tension, since there is never a complete discharge. Let us alter our vocabulary

now and instead of using the words tension and unpleasure we will use the word
desire. Because what is desire, if not that very unpleasant tension in motion,
entirely oriented toward an ideal goal, that of reaching absolute pleasure, that
is, total discharge? Thus, we will say that the ordinary situation of the uncon-
scious system is defined by the tolerable state of insatisfaction of a desire4 that
is never totally realized. However, to state that psychical tension remains
always present, indeed distressful, that unpleasure dominates or that our
desires remain unsatisfied, in no way expresses a pessimistic vision of human-
ity. On the contrary, this statement amounts to declaring that throughout our
existence we will fortunately be in a state of lack. I say “fortunately,” because
this lack, this always futural gap that steers desire, is synonymous with life.
If we were to represent that part of insatisfaction that draws desire spa-
tially, we would not imagine it as a section of a straight road that we would
still have to take toward a mythical goal of a total jouissance. On the contrary,
insatisfaction is not the incomplete part of the trajectory of desire toward
absolute satisfaction. It is otherwise that I ask you to represent it. I suggest
that you imagine it in the form of a hole, a hole at the heart of our being and
around which our desire would revolve. The gap ahead is not in front of us
but in us. The trajectory of desire does not describe a straight line heading
toward the horizon but a spiral turning around a central void that draws and
animates the circular movement of desire. Consequently, to declare that our
desires are not satisfied means, in spatial terms, that they follow the centrifu-
gal movement of energy that circumscribes an irreducible lack.
We see now that the lack is not only a void that pulls in desire. It is also
an organizing pole of desire. Without lack—without this drawing core that is
insatisfaction—the circular dynamic of desire would spiral out of control and
there would be nothing left but pain. We can put it in a different way. If the
insatisfaction is present, but bearable, desire remains active and the psychic
system remains stable. If, on the contrary, the satisfaction is excessive, or if
the insatisfaction has no limit, desire loses its axis and pain surges. We find
again here the hypothesis that permeates our text. Namely, that pain
expresses the turbulence of the drives in the domain of the Id.
A certain degree of insatisfaction is thus vital for us in order to conserve
our psychical stability. But how is this essential lack preserved? Further, if
the lack is necessary how is it to be maintained within sustainable limits? It
is exactly here that our partner comes into play—the person we love—
because he or she plays the role of the unsatisfactory object of my desire and
thereby of the organizing pole of desire. It is as if the hole of the insatisfac-
tion within was occupied by the loved one without; as if the lack was finally
a vacant place successively occupied by the special persons or external
things that we hold to be irreplaceable and for whom we would mourn if
they were to perish.

However, how can it be accepted that my partner has this castrating

function of limiting my satisfaction? No doubt the restrictive role of the loved
one can be disconcerting, because normally we attribute to our partner the
power of satisfying our desires or providing our pleasure. We live in the illu-
sion, verified in part, that he or she gives us more than he or she takes. But
his or her function in our unconscious is quite different: it assures psychic sta-
bility for us through the insatisfaction that it produces and not the satisfac-
tion it provides. Our partner, the person we love, does not satisfy us because,
while exciting our desire, he or she cannot—if he or she is even capable of
it—and does not want to satisfy us fully. Being human, he or she cannot, and
being neurotic, he or she does not want to. That is to say, he or she is both
what excites my desire and the object that only satisfies it partially. He or she
knows how to excite me, provide me with a partial jouissance and, in that way,
leave me unsatisfied. Thus, he or she guarantees the insatisfaction that I need
in order to live and re-center my desire.
But apart from my amorous partner, are there other special objects that
can serve this function of re-centering my desire? Yes, as for example the
object that is love in itself, the love itself that my partner offers me, or even
the love that I give my own image nourished by the recognition of the other,
such as honor or a social position. The object of desire can also be my corpo-
real integrity, which I must preserve above all. It even happens that the
object is a material thing as personal as our body or as the native land or
ancestral home. All these are chosen objects and at the same time are so
internal, so intimate, so intrinsically organizing of the movement of our
desire, that we live without perceiving the how deeply they are anchored in
the unconscious. It is uniquely when we are threatened with losing them or
after having lost them that their absence reveals painfully the depth of their
roots. It is only in the deferred action, much later, that we will know if the
lost loved one, the thing or value was or was not special for us.
In effect, when faced with the threat of losing one of the objects that we
believe irreplaceable, it is anxiety that emerges and it emerges in the ego. If,
on the contrary, one of these objects disappears suddenly without prior warn-
ing, it is pain that emerges: and it emerges from the Id. I suffer pain in the Id
if: I lose the loved one brutally (mourning), his or her love (abandonment),
the love that I invest in the image of myself (humiliation), or even the
integrity of my body (mutilation). Mourning, abandonment, humiliation, muti-
lation are four circumstances that, if sudden, would trigger psychical pain or
the pain of love.
Let us remain with the exemplary case where the object of desire is the
loved one whose loss provokes the pain of mourning. But exactly what do we
lose when we lose the one that we love? More simply: who is the other that
we love?

Love is the fantasized presence of the loved one in my unconscious

If one presses me to say why I loved him I feel that it can only be
expressed by responding: Because it was him; because it was me.

These lines from Montaigne are from a very beautiful text on friendship writ-
ten shortly after the death of his dear friend, La Boétie. Among the many
friendships that he had, he singles out one that was unique and that linked
him in an indissociable way to his companion. It was a friendship so power-
ful that all the edges of their differences were blurred in a universal blend.
Hence, trying to respond to the question of the reasons for such an excep-
tional love for a special and recently deceased friend, Montaigne writes this
striking sentence full of beauty and reserve: “If one presses me to say why I
loved him I feel that it can only be expressed by responding: Because it was
him; because it was me.” Love thus remains an impenetrable mystery, that
one should not try to explain, but simply acknowledge.
Another writer adopts a similar reserve faced with the enigma of the
attachment to the special other. Indeed, in “Mourning and Melancholia,”
Freud speaks of love when speaking of death. He notes that the mourner
ignores the intrinsic value of the deceased loved one. The mourner knows
whom he has lost but not what he has lost by losing his loved one (cf. SE
XIV, 245). Thanks to the impersonal “what,” Freud emphasizes how the
person that we love the most is first a psychical agency, and how this
agency is different from the concrete person. The loved one is certainly a
person, but it is first and foremost that unconscious part of ourselves that
is ignored and that will collapse if the person dies. More recently, faced
with the mystery of this amorous bond, Lacan invented his “objet a”; for it
is precisely with the expression of objet a that he symbolized the mystery
without resolving it. The a is, in the final analysis, only a name to desig-
nate what we ignore, namely, the ungraspable presence of the loved one in
us, that thing that we lose when the loved one disappears from the exter-
nal reality.
This is the decisive question, a question as unresolved as it is unavoid-
able. In what does this “what” that is lost consist when we lose the other?
What is it that unites two persons such that one suffers so profoundly at the
sudden demise of the other? Our problem now is not one of pain but one of
love. It is love that interests us now because it is by delineating its nature
more clearly that we will arrive at a new psychoanalytic definition of pain.
Who, then, is the one that I love and believe to be unique and irre-
placeable? It is a complex being composed both of the living and actual per-
son who is in front of me and of its double within me.

In order to better understand how such a being becomes special to me,

let us analyze in two parts the process of love by which we transform an exter-
nal other into an internal other.

1. Imagine a person who seduces us, that is, who awakens and captures the
force of our desire.
2. Progressively we respond and attach ourselves to that person to the point
of incorporating him or her and making him or her part of ourselves.
Imperceptibly, we cover him or her over as ivy covers a stone wall. We
envelop him or her with a multitude of superimposed images, each
charged with love, hate, or anxiety and we crystallize him or her uncon-
sciously through a multitude of symbolic representations, each attached
to a specific aspect of that person that has touched us.5 We call a “fan-
tasy,” that fantasy of the loved one, all the ivy that has grown in my psy-
che, nourished by the crude sap of the thrust of desire, the entire collec-
tion of images and signifiers that link my being to the living person of
the loved one to the point of transforming it into a internal double. I
realize that generally this word fantasy is equivocal since it refers to the
vague idea of daydreaming or of consciously imagining a narrative. How-
ever the psychoanalytic concept of fantasy that we are discussing here in
order to better understand pain is especially precise. Fantasy is the name
we give to the unconscious jointure of the subject with the living person
of the loved one. This jointure, operating in my unconscious, is a com-
bination of images and signifiers vivified by the real force of desire that
the loved one provokes in me, that I provoke in him or her, and that
binds us.

But this fantasy of the loved one, although carried by the force of desire,
functions to stem and subdue this force. By containing this force and keeping
it from escaping, it prevents the desire from attaining absolute satisfaction. In
this way, fantasy guarantees insatisfaction and assures the homeostasis of the
unconscious system. We understand better now that the protective function
of the loved one is in fact the protective function of the fantasy of the loved
one. The fantasy is protective because it protects us from the danger of an
unlimited turbulence of desire or its equivalent, the chaos of the drive.
In short, the loved one has ceased to be merely an external agency and
lives also within us as a fantasized object that re-centers our desire by render-
ing it unsatisfied within tolerable limits. The person that we love the most
remains inevitably the person who leaves us the least satisfied. The insatis-
faction of desire is translated into the everyday reality of the couple by
unhappiness toward a loved one, a loved one who is not only for us the Other
of love but also the Other of our complaints, reproaches, and recriminations.

The loved one exists in two ways: on the one hand, he or she is outside
us, as an individual living in the world, and on the other hand, he or she is
inside us as a fantasized presence—imaginary, symbolic, and real—that regu-
lates the imperious flux of desire and structures the order of the unconscious.
Of these two presences—living and fantasized—it is the second that domi-
nates since our behavior, most of our judgments, and all the feelings we expe-
rience with respect to the loved one, are rigorously determined by the fantasy.
We only grasp the reality of the one we love through the transforming lens of
the fantasy.6 We only see, hear, feel, or touch him or her while enveloped in
the veil woven from the images born out of the complex fusion between his
or her image and our own image. It is a veil that is also woven from the
unconscious, symbolic representations that strictly delimit the context of our
bond of love.

The person of the loved one

We are going to immediately clarify the three modes of the real, symbolic,
and imaginary presence of the fantasized loved one in our unconscious. But
first let’s analyze clearly the meaning of the expression “person of the loved
one,” which we have used to designate the external existence of the loved
one. If it is true that the fantasized existence of the other is more important
than its external existence, it is no less true that the first draws from the sec-
ond and that my unconscious fantasy can only flourish if the other is living.
The living person of the loved one is indeed indispensable for me as a living
support on which the fantasized objects rests and flourishes. Without this sup-
port, the substrate of our life, our fantasy would flounder and the unconscious
system would lose its center of gravity. There would be, then, an immense
libidinal disorder involving distress and pain.
But why must the person of the loved one be living in order for there to
be a fantasy? First, because he or she is an active and desiring body, a source
of the excitations that stimulate my desire, a desire that fuels, in turn, the fan-
tasy. These excitations are the impact in me of the emanations of his or her
desire. Second, because the said person is a body in motion whose unique
allure will be projected within my psyche as an interiorized image reflecting
my own images. In this sense, the person of the loved one is absolutely nec-
essary for me because he or she is a shining constellation of sources of excita-
tion that fuel my desire and in addition to it, fuel the fantasy. It is also nec-
essary because it is the living silhouette from which the silhouette of the
other is imprinted in my unconscious.
But if the body of the loved one is for my fantasy an archipelago of sites
of excitation for my desire as well as the living support of my images, what am

I, myself and my body, for his or her fantasy? Certainly, the metaphor of the
ivy is quite evocative, since the ivy is a living plant that not only climbs and
creeps up the wall, but fastens its crampons in very particular places of the
wall, in its cracks and crevices. Similarly, my attachments to the loved one
who has become my fantasized object is a jointure that does not just happen
anywhere, but quite precisely in the erogenous orifices of the body: places
where he or she irradiates his or her desire and excites me without actually
satisfying me. And, reciprocally, it is in my body at the places of emission of
my own desire that his or her fantasy will attach itself. You will agree then
that my own fantasy forms a bond that is all the more powerful if, in turn, I
am the living person on whom his or her fantasy is constructed, if I become
the regulator of his or her insatisfaction. In other words, my fantasy will be a
knot that is much tighter if I am for the other what he or she is for me: the
fantasized loved one.
Consequently, we must realize that when we love we always love a hybrid
entity that is constituted both by the external person that we encounter out-
side and by his or her unconscious and fantasized presence within us. Recip-
rocally, we are for him or her the same mixed being made of flesh and uncon-
sciousness. This is why we speak of fantasy. It is to better understand that I
will only suffer from the disappearance of the one who has been for me what
I have been for him or her: the fantasized loved one.
Now, it is important that we clearly separate the three modes of the fan-
tasized presence of the loved one in order to better define the unknown
“what” that we lose when its person is lost.

The real presence of the loved one in my unconscious:

A force

The fantasized status of the loved one takes three different forms, then, that
correspond to the three Lacanian dimensions of the real, the symbolic, and
the imaginary. Of the three, it is the real presence of the other in the uncon-
scious that raises the most conceptual difficulties because the term real can
lead one to believe that it refers to the reality of the person of the loved one.
Now, “real” does not designate a person but that which, in a person, awakens
a force in my unconscious that causes me to be what I am and without which
I would no longer have any consistency. The real is at the same time the life
in the other and the force of life that animates and courses through his or her
body. It is quite difficult to distinguish clearly this force that emanates from
the body and from the unconscious of the loved one as long as he or she is
living and excites me, from that other force in me that arms my unconscious.
It is very difficult to the extent that these forces are in truth only one and the

same energetic column, a vital and impersonal axis that belongs to neither
one of the partners. It is also difficult because this unique force has no sym-
bol or representation that can signify it. This is the meaning of the Lacanian
concept of the “real.” The real is the unrepresentable, the energy that assures
both the psychic consistency of each partner and their common bond of love.
In short, if we must summarize what the real other is in one word, we would
say that it is the imperious and unknown force that gives consistency to our
bond and to our unconscious. The real other is not therefore the external per-
son of the other, but the part of a pure, impersonal energy that animates its
person. That part, which is also, since we are connected, my own impersonal
part, our shared real. However, for the real other to exist with the real force
that belongs to neither partner, it is necessary for the bodies of each partner
to be living and quivering with desire.

The symbolic presence of the loved other in my unconscious:

A rhythm

But if the real status of the loved one is to be a foreign force that connects the
two partners like a bridge of energy and arms the unconscious, the symbolic sta-
tus of the loved one is to be the rhythm of that force. Certainly one should not
conceive the pressure of desire as a blind and massive surge, but as a centripetal
movement, and with rhythm brought about by a somewhat regular succession
of increases and decreases of tension. Our desire is not a pure real but a force
that is regulated by a precise and definite rhythm that makes it singular. Now,
what is a rhythm if not a symbolic structure organized in a sequence of highs
and lows repeated at regular intervals? This rhythm is, in effect, the most prim-
itive symbolic expression of desire, indeed of life, since life, at the beginning, is
only a palpitating energy. The force of desire is real because it is in and of itself
unrepresentable, but the rhythmic variations of this force are symbolic because
they are, on the contrary, representable. They are representable as an alterna-
tion of strong and weak intensities, following a line of peaks and valleys.
Now, we can formulate the hypothesis that the symbolic presence of the
other in our unconscious is a rhythm, a harmonious accord between its power
to excite and my response, between its role as object and the insatisfaction
that I feel. If I believe that the loved one is irreplaceable, it is because my
desire has been progressively molded by the sinuous line of the vibrant flux
of his or her desire. He or she is believed to be irreplaceable because no other
can correspond so perfectly to the rhythm of my desire. It is as if the loved
one was, above all, a body that approaches slowly, positions itself, and adjusts
to the beat of my rhythm. It is as if the pulsations of his or her sensibility
dance to the same cadence of my own pulsations and that our bodies are

exciting one another. Thus, the cadence of his or her desire is harmonized
with my own cadence and each of the variations of his or her tension corre-
sponds as an echo to each of mine. Sometimes the encounter is soft and grad-
ual, at other times violent and immediate.
However, if it is true that the erogenous exchanges can be harmonious,
then the satisfactions that result from them always remain distinct, partial,
and discordant for each of the partners. Our exchanges accord but there is
discord in our satisfactions. They diverge because they occur at different
moments and uneven intensities. There is an accord in the excitation and
disharmony in the satisfaction.
One can see that the loved one is not simply the person in front of me,
nor a force, an excitation, or an object of insatisfaction; he or she is all of those
things at once condensed in the living rhythm of our bond of love. When he
or she is no longer there, when the radiance of his or her living and desiring
being is no longer there, and my desire is deprived of the excitations that he
or she could awaken so well, I certainly lose an infinity of riches but I lose,
more importantly, the framework of my desire, that is to say, its rhythm.
Thus, the symbolic presence of the loved one within my unconscious is
expressed by the cadence according to which the rhythm of my desire is reg-
ulated. In a word, the symbolic other is a rhythm or a measure or even the psy-
chical metronome that sets the tempo of my cadence of desire.
This manner we have of conceiving the symbolic status of the loved one
is a reinterpretation of the Freudian concept of repression, considered as the
barrier that prevents the overflow of libidinal drive. It is also a reinterpretation
of the Lacanian concept of the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father, considered
as the limit that enframes and gives consistency to the symbolic system.
Whether Freudian repression or the Lacanian signifier of the Name-of-the-
Father, it is always a matter of that which channels the forces of desire and orga-
nizes a system. Now precisely, the loved one, defined as a psychical metronome,
fulfills this symbolic function of constraining desire to follow the rhythm of our
bond. We will also say that the loved one, master of the measure imposed on
my desire, protects me from turmoil by limiting my jouissance.
He or she protects me and leaves me unsatisfied. The symbolic loved one
is, in the end, a figure of repression and the most exemplary figure of the sig-
nifier of the Name-of-the-Father.

The imaginary presence of the loved one in my unconscious:

An internal mirror

As a living body, the person of the loved one is not only a source of the exci-
tation of my desire, it is also—as we have said—the animated silhouette that

will be projected in my psyche in the form of an internal image. The body of

the other is duplicated by an internalized image. It is precisely this internal
image of the loved one in me that we identify as his or her imaginary pres-
ence in the unconscious.
The imaginary other is thus simply an image, but an image that has the
particularity of being itself a polished surface on which my own images are
permanently reflected. I capture my own images reflected in the mirror of the
internalized image of the loved one. This image has the ability to be simulta-
neously the image of the other and the mirror of my own images.
The image of my loved one that I have in the unconscious will only
shine brightly, only return my images, and only excite affects if it is supported
by the living body of the other. My loved one must be living so that the mir-
ror that doubles him or her in the unconscious can reflect images vivid
enough to produce feelings. The images acquire this vividness due to the
rhythmic and active force of desire directly linked to the life of the body of
the loved one. It is the force of the desire that charges the images with energy,
making them undulate like reflections on the surface of water, and making
them capable of creating feelings.
But what are the principal images of myself that this internal mirror
reflects? They are images that when perceived immediately produce an affect.
At times we perceive an exalted image of ourselves that reinforces our nar-
cissistic love. At other times we perceive a disappointing image that feeds our
self-hatred, and often an image of submission to and dependence upon the
loved one that provokes our anxiety.
I will make two more remarks to conclude on the imaginary status of the
loved other. The psychical mirror of the image of the loved one in my uncon-
scious must not be conceived of as the smooth surface of a lens, but as a mir-
ror broken up into small, mobile fragments of glass on which confused images
of the other and of myself are reflected. The advantage of such a kaleido-
scopic allegory is that it shows us that the unconscious image that we have of
the loved one is a fragmented mirror and that the images that are reflected
there are always partial and mobile. The disadvantage is that the metaphor
leads us to believe that the imaginary presence of the other would be com-
pletely visual, while we know that an image can also be olfactory, auditory,
tactile, or kinesthetic.
The second remark concerns the context of the unconscious image of
the loved one, that is to say, the way in which we imagine the loved one, no
longer according to our affects but our values. I am thinking of the various
ideals that we attribute to the person of the loved one without always know-
ing it. We anchor and develop our attachment by keeping these implicit
ideals in the background. These ideals are often exaggerated, indeed infan-
tile, and constantly readjusted by the limitations inherent in need (the

body), demand (neurosis), and desire of the other. Now, what are these ideals
that are situated at the intersection of the symbolic and the imaginary? Here
are the principal ones:

• My loved one must be unique and irreplaceable;

• He or she must remain invariable, that is to say, must never change unless
we ourselves change him or her;
• He or she must survive, unaltered, the passion of our devouring love or our
destructive hatred;
• He or she must depend on our love, allow us to possess him or her, and
always be available to satisfy our whims;
• But if he or she also remains submissive, he or she must however be able to
maintain his or her autonomy in order to avoid bothering me.

These ideals, comparable to those that guide the relation of the child with
its transitional object, characterize the neurosis of the lover and give us our
sense of his or her limits. Such excessive expectations can only intensify the
gap between the satisfaction desire dreams of and its effective insatisfaction.
This long detour was necessary in order to respond to our question about
the presence of the loved one in the unconscious and to understand that
which we really lose when he or she disappears. The loved one is above all a
fantasy that inhabits us, regulates the intensity of our desire (insatisfaction),
and structures us. It is not only a person, but a fantasy constructed with his or
her image, a mirror of our images (imaginary), affected by the force of desire
(real), structured by the rhythm of this force (symbolic), and supported by his
or her living body (also real), source of the excitation of our desire and the
object of our imaginary projections.
However, it is certainly necessary to understand that the fantasy is not
only the representation of what the loved one is within us, but also that
which bonds us inextricably to his or her living self. It is not only an intra-
subjective formation but also intersubjective. Let us put this in a different
way. The loved one is a part of us that we refer to as an “unconscious fantasy”;
but this part is not confined to the interior of our individuality, it extends
into the space of the in-between (entre-deux) and attaches us intimately to his
or her person. Reciprocally, the loved one is also inhabited by a fantasy that
represents us in his or her unconscious and attaches him or her to our person.
We can see how the fantasy is a psychical formation that is unique and shared
by two partners and how it was, until now, inadequate, however necessary, to
speak of the fantasy of the one and the fantasy of the other, to speak of “his”
or “her” unconscious or the unconscious of the “other.” This is what I want
to say: the fantasy and more generally the unconscious that it manifests is a

psychic structure, a complex edifice that stands, invisible, in the space of the
in-between and rests on foundations of living bodies of the partners. Conse-
quently, when we lose the person of the loved one, the fantasy collapses like
a building from which one has removed a pillar. It is then that pain appears.
To the question: What do we lose when we lose the one that we love?—
we respond—By losing the living body of the other, we lose one of the sources
that nourishes the force of desire without completely losing that force, a force
that remains indestructible and inexhaustible as long as we have life in us. We
also lose the animated silhouette that sustained the internal mirror that
reflects our images. But by losing the loved one we also lose the rhythm
according to which the real force of desire vibrates. To lose the rhythm is to
lose the symbolic other, the limit that gives the unconscious its consistency. By
losing the one that we love, we lose a source of nourishment, the object of our
imaginary projections, and the rhythm of our common desire. That is to say,
we lose the cohesion and texture of a fantasy indispensable to our structure.

The pain of the turmoil of the drives

The loss of one’s internal compass.

—Marcel Proust

We return now to our definitions of pain. We had said that corporeal pain was
produced by a wound situated at the periphery of our selves, that is to say, in
the body. But in the same way that one believes, wrongly, that the painful sen-
sation due to a wound of the arm is located in the arm, one also wrongly
believes that the psychical pain is due to the loss of the person of the loved
one. It is as if it was his or her absence that caused the pain. It is not the
absence of the other that causes the pain but the effects in me of the absence.
I do not suffer from the lack of the other. I suffer because the force of my desire
is deprived of the excitement provided by the sensibility of his or her living
body. It because the symbolic rhythm of this force is broken by the disappear-
ance of the tempo that his or her excitations caused; and also because the psy-
chical mirror that reflected my images collapsed, lacking the living support
that his or her body had become. The wound that provokes the psychical pain
is, then, not the physical disappearance of the loved one, but the internal tur-
moil engendered by the disarticulation of the fantasy of the loved one.
In the pages that preceded our considerations about the fantasized pres-
ence of the loved one, we defined pain as the reaction to the loss of the object
of love. Now we can be more specific and advance the idea that pain is a reac-
tion, not to some loss, but to the fracture of the fantasy that attached us to
the loved other. The true cause of pain is thus not the loss of the loved one,

that is to say, the removal of one of the pillars that supported the structure of
the fantasy, but the collapse of that structure. The loss is a triggering cause,
the collapse is the efficient cause. If we lose the loved one, the fantasy is
undone and the subject is then exposed without recourse to an ultimate ten-
sion of desire, a desire without a fantasy to support itself, an errant and
unhinged desire. To affirm that psychic pain results from the collapse of the
fantasy is to locate its source, not in the external event of an actual loss, but
in the subject’s confrontation with its own inner turmoil. Pain is here a dis-
tress imposed inexorably on me when I discover that my desire is bare, mad,
and object-less. We find, henceforth, in another form, one of the propositions
offered at the beginning of this chapter. We said that pain is the affect that
expresses the ego’s self-perception of the trauma that ravages it when it is
deprived of its loved one. Now that we recognize the destruction of the fan-
tasy as the major intersubjective event that follows the loss of the loved one,
we can affirm that pain expresses the brutal and immediate encounter between the
subject and its own panic-stricken desire.
It is at that moment of intense disturbance of the drives that our ego des-
perately tries to save the unity of a collapsing fantasy by concentrating all
available energy on a small part of the image of the lost other, a fragmentary
image that will become saturated with affect. It is at this point that pain,
which immediately surged from a tumultuous desire, intensifies instead of
being diminished. Some months later, once the work of mourning is under
way, the hypertrophy of this fragment of the image of the lost one diminishes,
and the pain associated with it eases progressively.
The moment of conclusion has arrived. Through the several hypotheses
I have offered, I wanted to take you on the same path that led me to modify
my initial point of view with respect to pain. I began from the common idea
that pain is a sensation of a wound and that the psychical pain is the wound
of the soul. That is the first idea. If one had asked me, “What is psychic
pain?” I would have responded without much thought: it is the confusion of
someone who, having lost a loved one, loses a part of him or herself. At this
point we can respond more accurately and say: pain is the confusion that we
experience when having lost a loved one we find ourselves faced with the most
extreme internal tension confronted by a mad desire within ourselves, a sort of
madness within that lies dormant in us as long as an external loss does not come to
unleash its fury.

Summary of the causes of psychical pain

Pain emerges from the loss of the person of the loved one.
Pain emerges from the fracture of the fantasy that connects me to the loved one.

Pain emerges from the disorder of the drives prevailing in the Id, consequent
to the rupture of the barrier of the fantasy.
Pain emerges from the hypertrophy of one of the fragmentary images of the
lost other.

A last word in the form of a question:What use can we make of this psy-
choanalytic theory of pain that I am advancing? I would dare to say quite sim-
ply: make no use of it. Leave it for the moment. Let the theory simmer within
us. Leave it to operate without our knowledge. If this theory of pain, as
abstract as it may be, is really fertile, it will perhaps change our manner of lis-
tening to the suffering patient or to our own intimate suffering.
Let us recall here the case of Clémence, where the psychoanalyst’s inter-
vention took place at the intersection of theory and the unconscious. In his
or her way of remaining open to suffering or coming to terms with it and
offering decisive words that transform the unbearable illness into symbolized
pain, the psychoanalyst has acted on the basis of his or her theoretical knowl-
edge but also with his or her unconscious. In this way, through his or her
knowledge of pain and his or her knowledge based on the transference, he or
she has eased the pain by giving it a context. He or she has taken the place
of the symbolic other who, in Clémence’s fantasy, articulated the rhythm of
her desire, that other that Clémence had lost by losing her child.
Faced with the pain of his or her patient, the analyst becomes a sym-
bolic other who imposes a rhythm on the disorder of the drives so as to
finally ease the pain.

A Chart Comparing Corporeal and Psychical Pain


A. The Loss of the B. Loss of Corporeal

Loved One Integrity
• The wound is located • The wound is located • We love his or her
in the body. incorrectly in the body like the most
external world: the loved other. Having an
• Pain is thought to be
loss of the person of arm amputated causes
in the body, but in fact
the loved one. In fact, the same atrocious
it is in the mind for a
it is located at the internal pain as the
painful feeling, and in
point where my most loss of the dearest
the ego for a painful
intimate feelings are loved one. This loss
attached to those of requires a true work of
• Pain appears to us as the loved one, where mourning that will
external and as some- my faltering internal teach us to love the
thing that can be image lacks the sup- new body that is
remedied. It comes port that was his or deprived of the leg.
over me as a momen- her person. And at the
• The wound that pro-
tary illness. point where my sym-
vokes corporeal pain is
bolic system fails, due
located at the site of
to the loss of the pivot
amputation, but what
that was the rhythm of
causes the psychical
our couple. The
pain is located in three
wound is in the col-
different levels similar
lapse of the fantasy.
to those that define
• Pain seems to us to be the loss of the loved
internal, absolute, irre- one: that of the feeling
mediable, and at times (the leg is part of my
even necessary. It is sensory whole), that of
within me as my vital the imaginary (the
substance. image of the absence
of the leg changes the
image of my body),
and that of the sym-
bolic (the psychical
order loses one of its
principal references
that is the integrity of
the body).
Archipelago of Pain

The unconscious is a conservator of pain. It does not forget.

Two kinds of psychical pain

There are two ways to react painfully to the loss of a loved one. When we are
prepared to see him or her go due to a terminal illness, for example, we expe-
rience his or her death with an infinite yet representable sadness. It is as if the
pain of mourning was named before appearing and as if the work of mourn-
ing was already begun before the death of the loved one. Therefore, although
unbearable, pain remains integrated within our ego and involved with it. If,
on the contrary, the loss of the loved one is sudden and unexpected, the pain
is brutal and upsets all references of space, time, and identity. It is unbearable
because it cannot be assimilated by the ego. If we were to designate which of
these two types of suffering really merit the name of pain, we would choose
the second. Pain always has an immediate and unpredictable nature.

How is psychical pain experienced in the body?

In the first moments, psychical pain is experienced as a devastating attack.

The body loses its armor and falls to the ground like a coat falls from its
hanger. The pain is, then, experienced as a physical sensation of disintegra-
tion and not explosion. It is a silent collapse of the body.
But the very first attempts to prevent such a collapse—which occur too
late—are the scream and speech.
The most primitive antidote against pain—on which humanity has
always depended—is the scream, when it can be emitted. Subsequent to the
scream there are words that resonate in the mind, and that try to establish a
bridge between the reality that was known before the loss and the unknown
reality that follows. Those words attempt to transform the diffuse pain of the
body into a pain collected in the psyche.


The true cause of pain is in the Id

Human beings have only themselves to fear or, perhaps it is better to say that
humans have only the Id to fear, the true source of pain.
The pain coming from the Id is a stranger with which we cohabitate but
that we do not assimilate. Pain is in us but it does not belong to us [La douleur
est en nous, mais elle n’est pas à nous].
The one who suffers confuses the triggering cause of his or her pain with
other causes. The one who suffers confuses the loss of the loved other with
the upheaval of the drive that the loss provokes. He or she believes that the
reason for the pain is the loss of the loved one, although the true cause is not
outside, but within the ego, in the depths where the Id reigns.
There is no pain without the ego, but pain is not in the ego, it is in the
Id. In order for there to be pain, three conditions are necessary: that the ego
recognizes the irremediable reality of the loss of the loved one; that it per-
ceives the upheaval of the drives in the Id—the true source of pain; and that
it translates this endoperception into a painful feeling.

Unconscious pain

Often the patient feels grief without knowing why he or she is sad nor what
loss he or she has suffered. In other cases, he or she is inhabited by pain with-
out even knowing that he or she is in pain. This is the case with the alcoholic
subject who ignores the deep pain that is at the source of his or her compul-
sive thirst. One drinks in order to intoxicate his or her ego and thus neutral-
ize the capacity to perceive the disturbances in the Id. The turmoil of the dri-
ves exists, but the ego that is anesthetized by alcohol does not translate them
into painful emotion. It is as if alcohol had the effect of neutralizing the func-
tion of the ego, translator of the language of the Id into the language of con-
scious feelings.

Micro-traumas and unconscious pain

A psychical trauma can be produced either by the brutal shock of the loss of
a loved one, or on the occasion of an innocuous event that adds to a long
series of microtraumas that are not felt by the subject. Each of these particu-
lar traumas provoke an imperceptible pain of which the subject is not con-
scious. The progressive accumulation of these multiple pains creates such a
state of tension that one needs but the spark of an innocuous event to release
the pain—heretofore contained—and to see it burst into conscious form. The

slightest triggering event can be either exterior or interior to the ego. Such a
memory or insignificant dream can appear so precise in these circumstances
that it release a savage flux of internal excitations that overflow and wound
the ego. That state is then experienced as a traumatic pain.

Who is the loved one?

The loved one is a stimulant for us, one who leads us to believe that he or she
can carry excitement to its maximum limit. He or she excites us, makes us
dream, and disappoints us. Our loved one is our lack. The loved one is not an
other, but a part of our selves that re-centers our desire.

The person of the loved one

The person of the loved one is like a coat hanger on which our drives hang,
drives that cover it with innumerable layers of affects.

The one I love is the one who limits me

The most remarkable representation of my loved one, the one that will be
overinvested with his or her disappearance, is the representation of that
which I cannot have, but also of that which I do not want to have: absolute
satisfaction. The loved one represents a limit, my limit. Not only, then, does
the loved one provide me with my image, assure the stability of my reality,
and make my dissatisfaction tolerable, but it also represents protection
against the excess of an absolute satisfaction I could not bear. In a word, the
special one [l’élu]—whom we call the loved one, but who can just as well be
hated, feared, or desired—represents my protective barrier against a jouissance
that I take to be dangerous although I know to be inaccessible. By its real,
imaginary, and symbolic presence, the special one is, outside, equivalent to
what repression is inside. This living barrier protects me against extreme
forms of jouissance and guarantees that my insatisfaction is tolerable and still
does not prevent me from dreaming of absolute jouissance. On the contrary,
my loved one nourishes my illusions and causes me to dream.
We understand, then, why we suffer when the loved one dies. With him
or her, the everyday and tolerable dissatisfactions of my desires disappear and
I become entirely dissatisfied, or, what amounts to the same thing, entirely
satisfied. What the death of the other involves, essentially, is the death of a
limit. Thus, the work of mourning is the reconstruction of a new limit.

My fantasy of the loved one

A fantasy is a complex assemblage of images and of signifiers laid out in a ring

turning around a hole of insatisfaction. The living person of the loved one
stands at the center of this hole.
The fantasy that I have of my loved one is the basis of my desire. If the
loved one dies the fantasy collapses and desire is thrown into a panic.
The fantasy that I nourish in relation to the loved other can be so inva-
sive and exclusive that it prevents me from establishing new bonds with new
intimate partners, that is, from creating new fantasies. An example of an
invasive fantasy is that of a young woman who, having been so deeply
attached to her father, has developed a fantasy so rigid such that it is impos-
sible for her to create a new bond of love with a man. Another example of an
invasive fantasy is that of an unyielding grudge against the person who humil-
iated us. The special person is, in this case, one who is hated and not loved.
There can be a fantasy of the loved one that is regulative of our uncon-
scious without corresponding to a particular person in reality. This is the case
of a pathological fantasy, often invasive, excessively developed and self-suffi-
cient. The most striking illustration of this is pathological mourning. The
mourner continues to fantasize about his or her dead loved one as if he or she
were alive. Or the case of erotomaniacal delirium, organized around a fantasy
developed in such a disproportionate manner that it causes a bond of love to
exist artificially, a bond develops in which the one who is delirious attributes
to him or herself the role of the loved one, with a stranger.

Pain is the certainty of the irreparable

When there is pain in reaction to a loss it is because the suffering subject

takes the loss to be irreversible. It matters little whether the loss is real or
imaginary, definitive or transitory; what matters is the absolute conviction
with which the subject believes the loss is irreparable. One woman can expe-
rience the departure of her lover with immense distress and take it as a defin-
itive abandonment while in reality it turns out to be temporary. Her pain is
born of the absolute certainty with which she interprets the absence of her
loved one as being an irremediable separation. There is, in this case, neither
reason nor doubt which tempers the belief, only certitude and pain. The pain
remains indissociable from the certainty and incompatible with doubt. Thus,
the painful feeling that accompanies the doubt is not pain, but anxiety. Anx-
iety takes root in the uncertainty of a dreaded danger while pain is the cer-
tainty of an evil that has already been realized.

The dead loved one is held to be irreplaceable

I say that the loved one is “held” to be and not that it is irreplaceable. It is
we who give him or her the status of being unique, both while alive and
immediately after its death. While he or she was alive we were guided by the
tacit conviction that he or she was our only possible loved one. If he or she
dies, this conviction is made explicit and becomes a painful certainty: no one
else can ever replace him or her. It is nevertheless true that with time, once
mourning has been completed, another person will come to occupy the place
of the loved one.

Love and pain

The ego is like a mirror where images of parts of our body or aspects of our loved
one are reflected. An excess of investment in one of these images signifies love
if the image facilitates the real thing that it reflects. However, the same excess
of investment signifies pain if the real basis of the investment leaves us.
The blind love that denies the reality of the loss, on the one hand, and
the lucid resignation that accepts it, on the other hand, are both extreme
modes that rip the ego and provoke pain. Psychical pain can be summarized
in a simple equation: an excessive love within us for a loved one who no
longer exists outside us.

Two modes of the pain of mourning

The pain of loving the one who has died while knowing him or her to be lost
forever is a pain that can occur at the very moment of the loss or else
reemerge episodically during the period of mourning. Although it is always
the same pain, it manifests itself in various ways: sudden and massive when
in immediate reaction to the loss, or episodic during the mourning. In order
to distinguish between these two manifestations it is necessary to propose our
conception of mourning.

Mourning is a process of a withdrawal of love [désamour] and the

pain of mourning is the insistence of love

Mourning is a long path that begins with the acute pain of the loss of a
loved one and declines with the serene acceptance of the reality of what

happened and of the definitive character of his or her absence. During this
process pain manifests itself as momentary episodes of grief. In order to
understand the nature of these painful episodes one must consider mourn-
ing as a slow work by which the ego patiently undoes what it had invested
in the urgency affected by the blow of the loss. Mourning works to slowly
undo what was precipitously formed. In fact, in order to protect itself from
the ravaging effects of the trauma, the ego overinvests the representation of
the loved one who has died. Now, during the period of mourning, the ego
undergoes the inverse path: little by little it disinvests the representation of
the loved one until that representation loses its vivacity and ceases to be a
foreign body—a source of pain for the ego. To disinvest the representation
mean to remove the excess of affect from it, to reposition it among other
representations and invest it differently. Thus, mourning can be defined as
a slow and painful process of the withdrawal of love from the deceased in
order to love him or her differently. For the sake of clarification, we would
say that in mourning the mourner does not forget the deceased or cease lov-
ing him or her but only tempers an excessive attachment that has resulted
from the brutal loss.
Now that we have defined mourning as a process of the withdrawal of
love we understand that pain occurs each time that there is a resurgence of
love. In mourning pain corresponds to the momentary reinvestment of an
image in the process of being disinvested. This is what happens when the
mourner accidentally encounters in reality some detail reminding him or her
of the loved one when he or she was alive. At the moment when the repre-
sentation of the deceased is reanimated by the force of memory and the sub-
ject must again bear the obvious irreversible loss, pain returns. There is pain
each time the image of the deceased is reanimated and, simultaneously, when
I recognize the incontestable death of the other. The episodes of pain that
punctuate mourning are thus the insistence of a tenacious love which does
not want to disappear.

Nostalgia is a mixture of love, pain, and jouissance:

I suffer from the absence of the loved one and I undergo jouissance by
offering him or her my pain

Although painful, the memory of the lost loved one can provoke the jouis-
sance of offering our pain like a homage to the deceased. Love, pain, and
jouissance are conflated in this case. Loving the other who has been lost cer-
tainly causes suffering, but this suffering can also allay the pain. It makes us
relive it.

Pathological mourning

In the case of pathological mourning, the affective overinvestment has per-

manently crystallized on the psychical representation of the loved one who
has been lost, as if we were attempting in vain to revive him or her. Patho-
logical mourning is love frozen around an image.

“I do not want my pain to stop!”

The manifestations of pain—despondency, screaming and tears—sustain it as

if the person who suffered was led by an unconscious desire—a desire that has
nothing to do with masochism—to live the experience of pain fully.
Those who suffer from having lost a loved one experience an atrocious
pain that they want nevertheless to endure. They want to suffer because their
pain is a homage to the dead, a proof of love. The pain is a jouissance one must
exhaust, a tension one must discharge by screams, tears, and contortions. It is
as if the person in pain says, “Leave me alone! Do not console me! Let me
alone with my pain!”

Anxiety is a reaction to the imaginary lack

Anxiety is the reaction to the menace of the loss of the object, that is, to the
idea that our loved one could be lacking. Thus, anxiety is associated with the
conscious representation of what could be the absence of the one we love. In
Lacanian terms we would write: anxiety surges when I imagine the lack; it is
a response to the imaginary lack.
There are three forms of anxiety: anxiety before the menace of losing of
the loved one, anxiety before the threat of losing of the loved organ (castra-
tion anxiety), and anxiety before the threat of losing of the love of our loved
one, like a punishment for a real or imaginary fault of which I accuse myself
(moral anxiety or guilt).

Comparative Table of Affects

Pain is a relation to the loss of a loved one, to the loss of his or her love,
to the loss of my corporeal integrity, or to the loss of the integrity of
my image.

Jealousy is a variant of psychical pain. It is the reaction to a supposed loss of

the love that the loved one gave me and that he or she then gave
to a rival. Jealousy is an affect that mixes with the pain of having
lost the love of the loved one, the integrity of my narcissistic
image, the hate of my rival and, finally my self-reproaches for not
having held my place.

Anxiety is a reaction to the threat of an eventual loss of the loved one or of

his or her love.

Guilt is a variant of anxiety. This is a reaction to the threat that the loved
one might withdraw their love from me, in the guise of a punishment
for a real or imaginary fault that I committed or could commit.

Narcissistic is a wound to the image of myself that I nourish.


Hate is a reaction to the wound to my image provoked by my loved one.

Hate is the mobilization of all my forces to attack the other’s own
image, a violence that rehabilitates the wounded image of myself
and gives me consistency: I hate, therefore I feel my existence.
Corporeal Pain:
A Psychoanalytic Conception

I do not possess pain, it possesses me: “I am pain.”

We think most often that physical pain is the exclusive concern of neuro-
physiology and only concerns the psyche if it has an effect on the personality
of the suffering man or woman. It is as if, on the one hand, there would be a
painful phenomenon that can be explained scientifically by the transmission
of the nociceptive message of pain within the nervous system, and, on the
other hand, the inevitable social and psychological consequences brought
about by a chronic pain. There would first be pain, and then its emotional
consequences. We know the importance for a practitioner—medical or psy-
choanalytic—of listening to not only the patient’s corporeal suffering but also
the psychological problems that the physical pain provokes. However, we
prefer here to occupy ourselves not with the repercussions of pain but with its
psychical origin. More precisely, we need to occupy ourselves with the psy-
chical factor that intervenes in the genesis of any corporeal pain.
Let us note that our interest in delimiting the psychical element of pain
is curiously shared by current research in neuroscience. I was surprised when
I discovered, for example, the doubts and questions of the scientists at the
International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) concerning the inci-
dence of psychical factors in the neurophysiology of pain. Without going as
far as a formal explanation, they hold the psychical factor to be one of the
principal causes of a painful emotion whose inner mechanism still remains
unexplored. They consider, in particular, that this unknown factor is respon-
sible for a quite atypical pain known as “psychogenic,” that is to say, a pain
whose origin is exclusively psychical. It is a question of a painful sensation
effectively felt by the subject but without any cause that would explain it.
Therefore, the official definition of pain proposed by the IASP betrays
various uncertainties with respect to the role of the psychical factor. I would
like to reproduce here the exact terms of this definition. Pain, it is said, would


be “a disagreeable sensorial and emotional experience associated with a real

or potential injury of the tissue or described in terms evoking such an injury.”
With these lines, we can appraise the ambiguity of the term pain. More than
a sensation, it is an emotion; an emotion that can emerge without the wound:
“an experience . . . described in terms evoking such a wound.” We see how this
definition recognizes the existence of a real pain, that is to say, one that is
concretely felt and deplored by the patient without necessarily the existence
of an organic wound that would justify it. In a word, the IASP recognizes that
pain could indeed only exist in the experience and the complaint that
expresses it.
We measure the scope of the field of pain, which goes well beyond a
strictly neurophysiological conception, and we understand why it is actually
necessary to open new furrows in psychoanalytic research in order to situate
the role the psyche plays in the determination of the painful event.
Now, if we want to know why our patients suffer and why we ourselves
suffer we must use the lens of metapsychology and descend to the heart of the
ego in order to discover there the psychogenesis of pain. We want to shed
light on the inner mechanisms of the unconscious representations to identify,
as best as possible, the fluctuations of psychical tensions and thereby under-
stand the irreducible incidence of the psyche in the birth of corporeal pain.
The practice of psychoanalysis teaches us that an intense pain always comes
from a severe disturbance in the ego, however momentary, and that once
anchored in the unconscious it will reappear, transfigured, in painful and
inexplicable events of everyday life.
We will study physical pain following the three stages of its genesis:
injury, trauma, and reaction. At the outset we will draw from the “Project for
a Scientific Psychology,” a text from 18957 that contains the seeds of the
major concepts of psychoanalysis. In these often very difficult pages Freud
tries to develop an energetic model of corporeal suffering. He will never, in
his rare considerations of the phenomenon of pain, be as precise or as rigor-
ous as he is in this text.
Before beginning our investigation, I must introduce here a terminolog-
ical remark relative to the word ego, a term that we will use in different ways
through the text. In order to hold firmly to the guiding thread of my discus-
sion, I will use the word ego as a malleable concept. It will designate different
functions and psychical states such as the ego-person, the body-ego, the con-
scious-ego, the endoperceptual ego-organ, the unconscious memory-ego, and
finally the ego-inhibitor. All of the meanings that we attribute to the concept
of the ego can be placed in two groups: in one group, “ego” refers to the “self-
hood” of a whole person distinct from other individuals; in the other group it
designates a particular agency of the psychical apparatus characterized by
the specific attributes and functions. These various meanings are in no way

arbitrary, each corresponds to a definition or a use of the term “ego” that was
proposed by Freud at some point in his work.
After this clarification of our vocabulary, we will address now how a pain
emerges in the body and how it is transformed into unconscious pain.

The pain of the injury

Let us consider the example of a serious burn on an arm. After a brief moment
of terror, when it is anesthetized by the trauma, the ego experiences the local
pain of a wound on the arm, and immediately experiences the indefinite and
penetrating pain of a severe internal trauma. The ego has two simultaneous
perceptions in this way: it perceives both a pain that it identifies [localise] as
an external injury and a state of internal disturbance that invades it. These
perceptions, while blended in the feeling of the same painful affect, are how-
ever quite distinct. Therefore, we are going to consider the pain produced by
the injury and then consider the one related to the internal shock. We will
then approach the third phase of the genesis of pain: the pain of the reaction.
In order to defend against the shock, the reactive ego augments its pain awk-
wardly and paradoxically instead of reducing it.
We begin with the pain of the injury. It is the affect experienced by the
ego when it suffers a damaging of the tissues that, from the energetic point
of view, appears as a brutal excitation that is imagined at the periphery.
Whether it damages the external envelope of the body or the internal
organs, any injury will be felt by the suffering ego as a peripheral attack. In
fact, the body is experienced by the ego as its vital and sensible periphery,
with the external world beyond it.8 Therefore, any corporeal injury, whether
a superficial skin wound or a deep myocardial necrosis, will remain in the
eyes of the suffering ego a peripheral incursion, an invariably surface injury.
Let us be more specific. However, in the case of a very dramatic accident the
ego is no longer disassociated from the body and no longer perceives it as a
peripheral protective envelope. In such moments when we are our devas-
tated body there is no longer a corporeal injury but it is our whole being that
is shattered.

The imaginary perception of the wound, pain, and their

mental representation

The perception of a painful excitation that is imagined to be at the periph-

ery—the case of the burn for example—immediately imprints the image of
the wounded place of the body in the ego. The painful sensation is therefore

revived by the birth of the mental representation of the wound. The subject
feels a stinging pain and simultaneously it visualizes a diffuse image of the
flesh and its arm. The perception of the wound is not only the grasp of a bru-
tal transformation of the state of the protective tissues; it also acts as a stamp
that fixes the mental representation of the wounded area in consciousness.
We call the representation that will play a decisive role in the third phase of
the painful process, “a representation of the wounded and pained place of
the body.”9
Now, this mental image of the wound born out of the perception of
the wound identifies and fixes the pain that is experienced. In feeling pain,
the person who was burned believes that his or her pain is entirely con-
tained within that wound and only emanates from the gaping hole in the
tissues. It is as if the source of suffering was reduced to the place of the burn
alone. The painful feeling is so specific and determined in the wound that
the damaged region seems autonomous and stands as a tyrannical out-
growth that is detached from the body and wears down and weakens the
ego. The sensory perception of the injury has formed the mental image of
the wound, which is accompanied not only by the impression that the seat
of the pain is in the damaged tissue and that the damaged tissue is on the
periphery, but also by the impression that the painful place, detached from
the body, has become a hostile growth. Surely, without the wound there
would not be pain, but the pain is not in the wound, it is in the ego,
entirely contained in an internal image in the ego—an image of the
wounded place.
To summarize, we can say that the ego is a sensible captor of changes in
the tissues, but a bad mapmaker. It not only locates any corporeal injury as a
peripheral wound but it is deceived when it believes that the source of the
pain is in the wound. The pain is not in the wound, it is in the brain, in the
case of the painful sensation, and in the underpinnings of the ego—in the
Id—in the case of the painful emotion. In a word, the pain of the wound car-
ries three aspects: real, symbolic, and imaginary.

Real: a somatic-sensorial perception of a violent excitation affecting the

organic tissues.
Symbolic: a sudden formation of a mental and conscious representation of the
place of the body where the injury took place.
Imaginary: since the body is experienced as a periphery, any wound will be
experienced as peripheral. The painful sensation, referred by the imagination
to be the wound, seems to emanate only from the wound and the wound
seems to institute itself as a second body.

The pain of the trauma

Let us consider now the pain of the trauma and clarify immediately that it
does not occur if the sensorial excitation is weak. The stimulation would be
powerful enough for it to trigger an internal trauma in addition to the dam-
age to the tissue.
We have said that the pain results from a twofold perception: one turned
toward the outside (external perception) in order to perceive the injury and
the painful sensation, and the other turned toward the inside (internal per-
ception) in order to perceive the severe psychical disturbance that ensues.
The first is named by scientists “somatic-sensorial,” and the second we call
“somatic-libidinal.” If we reconsider the burn, the subject perceives both the
pain emanating from the injured arm and the internal suffering that shakes
him or her. The pain of the injury pierces the subject at the edge of the body,
while the pain of the trauma consumes from within. It is as if the throbbing
sensation of the burning of the arm located at the periphery came first. “I
hurt” means that I circumscribe that pain and that, in a sense, I confront it.
But soon another pain rises from the depths of being, quite different, essen-
tial, and profound. I do not possess that pain, it possesses me: “I am pain.”
What, then, is that other suffering that takes over the ego and seals its mis-
fortune to its very depths? In order to respond, one must reread the theory of
physical pain elaborated in the “Project for a Scientific Psychology” and apply
it to the case of the burn. We will say that, while the heat of the flame attacks
the skin, it is immediately transformed into a current of internal energy that is
devastating and uncontrollable, plunging the ego into a state of traumatic
shock. A sudden and massive flux of energy erupts through the breach opened
in the protective barrier, an energy that submerges not the body, but the very
core of the psyche (memory neurons). The homeostasis of the psychical system
is thereby broken and its regulative principle—the pleasure principle—is tem-
porarily abolished (Fig. 2). It is at that point that the ego, although upset, is
able to perceive its own upheaval, that is to say, the panic of its libidinal ten-
sions. This singular perception by the ego of its own state of internal distur-
bance—a somatic-libidinal perception—creates the painful emotion.

The unconscious memory of pain

Pain is the last, immortal, fruit of youth.

—René Char

Just as the impact of the external and local excitation creates the image in
the ego of the wounded and painful zone, the violence of the trauma leaves

External aggression


of the
Massive surge
of energy



Pain results from an injury to the protective envelope of the ego and from a massive
surge of energy that attacks the memory neurones. The ego is represented in the sim-
plified form of a living vesicle.

its traces. There again it is a matter of the formation of an image, but a very
different one from the immediate and local one elaborated consciously at
the time of the wound. The internal trauma is so upsetting and painful that
its image remains imprinted not only in ordinary memory—which retrieves
the past as conscious memory—but engraved in the depths of the uncon-
scious, which is also memory, a quite different memory. In effect, the
unconscious harbors the past but does not reflect it to the surface of con-
sciousness. Thus, the pain of the trauma remains marked in the uncon-
scious, but its return will take other forms than the mere recollection of an
unfortunate episode. Certainly the person who has suffered a trauma can
recall the circumstances of the accident, recover the unbearable feelings
that he or she experienced, and live in the fear of a new attack, but there
are the other forms of the return of the trauma that he or she ignores. The

past pain will re-emerge in an unexpected manner elsewhere than in the

mind. Perhaps it will re-emerge in the flesh converted into another pain, or
incarnated in a psychosomatic injury, or even in consciousness, for exam-
ple, transfigured in another affect as oppressive as guilt, or even transformed
into an impulsive act. All these are eventualities by which the pain of the
past returns to the present without our identifying these returns as the
resurgences of a forgotten suffering. This is why we identify as unconscious
a former corporeal pain that has returned—as transfigured—to the present.
Registered in the unconscious it reappears in diverse ways that are imposed
on us without our knowledge. The subject repeats—Freud writes—but
without knowing that it is a repetition.
It is in this way that we distinguish clearly a first and very trying
painful experience from its later reproductions. The past experience of a
violent pain provoked by a real incident (such as a burn) is one thing, its
reappearance transfigured in a new sensation—a psychosomatic injury—
affect, or painful action, is another. While the pain of the past was pro-
voked by an external agent, the painful manifestations of today can be
provoked by an external or internal stimulation that is often insignificant
and imperceptible. We can state this more clearly. From the moment when
the first painful experience is registered in the psyche and reappears in an
unrecognizable form, it has the status of an unconscious pain. But how can
we explain the passage of a pain from an intensive corporeal pain to
unconscious pain?
We said that, at the time of the trauma, the violent surge of energy
reached the central core of the ego (Fig. 2). Now, it is precisely at the heart
of the ego that the traumatic experience is registered. In order to better show
this capacity of the ego to conserve the unconscious traces of the trials that
it undergoes, I must dwell here for a moment and briefly describe the consti-
tutive elements of the ego.
At the time of the Project, Freud imagined that the ego was composed
of two essential elements: an “energy” that circulates tending to discharge,
and neurons that carry it. One part of the energy comes from the exterior
and the other propagates in the interior in the intra and inter neuronal
space. The neurons are divided into three groups. One group, located at the
periphery of the ego, perceives the stimulations of the external world.10 A
second group, situated in the center of the ego—composed of “memory neu-
rones”—does not perceive but conserves the traces of important events.11
This is precisely the group that will become, in Freudian thought, “the sys-
tem unconscious.” In effect, the memory neuron is the conceptual ancestor
of the Freudian notion of unconscious representation. In the same way that
the psychical representation carries two disassociable elements, a figurative
content, called “representative” and the energy that invests it, the memory

neuron contains the mnemonic trace or image of a past event and the affect
that invests it. In these two cases we have both a representative content and
its affective investment.
Finally, the third neuronal group, like the first, carries out a perceptual
function directed not toward the external world but toward the inner world
to capture the fluctuations of internal energy. These perceptual neurons do
not only have the task of detecting the variations of psychical tension but
also of echoing them in consciousness as affects, whether agreeable, disagree-
able, or painful. They are agreeable when the rhythm of energetic flux is syn-
chronic, disagreeable when accelerated and asynchronic, and painful when
the rhythm is broken or in turmoil.
What must we retain of this synthetic tableau? First, that this fiction of
the ego imagined by Freud at the very beginning of the twentieth century
remains—with some minor variations—the matrix of psychical life such as
most psychoanalysts conceive of it today. A remarkable fiction indeed, judg-
ing by its echoes in the current scientific literature. Let us retain the concept
of the memory neuron that assists us in understanding the transformation of
corporeal pain into unconscious pain.

The passage from corporeal pain to unconscious pain

We have shown that the ego, upset by the massive eruption of an implacable
energy, nevertheless manages the self-perception of its internal disturbance,
and we have shown that the pain results from the translation of this self-per-
ception into consciousness. We have also said that the massive influx of exci-
tation, entered through the breach and the wound, penetrates to the central
group of “memory neurons.” The forceful passage of the energetic flux
involves two consequences: the inscription of a mnemonic image in some of
the neurons and an increased excitability of the neuronal system. The image
that will remain engraved in the neuron is that of a detail of the aggression
or the aggressive object. If we reconsider the example of the burn, it could be
an aspect of the fire that is retained, its crackling, its odor, its colors, or else
an element from the context of the accident. But this image, forever
inscribed in the ego by the disturbance, is very different from the one
imprinted by the wound. It is no longer a matter of the conscious representa-
tion of the site of the wound but of an image representing a particularity of
the accident, one, however, that is not perceived by consciousness.
The ego will keep the “photo” of a detail of the aggression in its memory,
a mnemonic image definitively associated with the pain of the experience.
However, the neuron that conserves this image remains extremely irritable.
It is ready to react to a potential excitation, susceptible to be led to discharge

its energy in the form of a new pain, wound, action, or painful affect. Freud
advanced the term facilitation (Bahnung) to designate this phenomenon of
the sensitizing of the memory neurons. The influx of energy has sensitized the
neurons to such an extent that weak excitations will suffice to reactivate
them and reanimate the image that they contain. These excitations will not
be as brutal as the burn, but imperceptible and fainter. Such stimulations
could be either external or internal. Thus, as soon as the mnemonic image of
the aggression is reactivated by one of the unnoticed excitations a new pain
can occur, for example, less violent than the first and located in a different
part of the body from the one affected by the initial accident. In this case, the
subject will experience an inexplicable pain that is without any discernable
organic cause. He or she will suffer without knowing that the present pain is
the active memory of a past pain.
I would like to dwell for a moment on this painful return because of its
clinical importance. This new pain—a frequent cause of medical consulta-
tion—often appears to the clinician as a physical suffering without organic
cause. We can imagine a doctor confronted with a patient complaining of
muscular, visceral, or tendon-related pain that cannot be explained. Perhaps
he or she will be content to attribute this pain to a vague psychological ori-
gin and diagnosis it as a psychogenic pain. Prudently, he or she will probably
prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, or perhaps a placebo. However, we are
convinced that his or her clinical attitude would be modified if he or she
admitted—as we propose in these pages—that the body is a screen on which
memories are projected and that the current somatic suffering of the patient
is the vivid resurgence of an earlier pain that had been forgotten. He or she
would invite the patient to speak about earlier traumatic shocks, whether
psychical or corporeal, that the patient could remember.
But we have said that the earlier pain could just as well reappear trans-
figured in another affect that is as painful as a feeling of guilt, transformed
into a psychosomatic injury or metamorphosed into an impulsive act. How do
we explain these avatars of pain?
It could happen that the flux of painful energy can strike other neurons
than those upon which the image of the aggression is inscribed: other neu-
rons, for example, that carry the traces of painful events that were experi-
enced but then forgotten by the subject. Consider the case of a person absent
from the bedside of his or her dying father and who has forgotten what, at the
time, was considered a moral failure. Let us suppose that this moral failure
remained engraved in a memory neuron. Later, on the occasion of a violent
corporeal pain the neuron of the memory of the moral failure will be facili-
tated, that is, sensitized so that a slight ulterior stimulation will suffice to
awaken an inexplicable feeling of guilt in the subject. The patient will feel
oppressed and guilty without understanding the reason for it. With this short

sequence, we see how the minor stimulation of a neuron, already sensitized by

the facilitation of pain, can engender an oppressing affect, and provoke an
injury of the tissue or even awaken an irresistible compulsion. Everything
depends on the representational content of the mnemonic image inscribed in
the reactivated neuron.

Our first pain

Until now we have established that a violent physical pain that has become
unconscious must necessarily resound in the life of the subject in the form of
painful incidents. However, a question presents itself here. If we admit that a
pain in the body can be the return of a former suffering that has become
unconscious, why not generalize and think that all our physical and psychi-
cal suffering result from an originary pain? And if that is the case, what would
that inaugural pain be? How far must one go back in time in order to grasp
the most primitive painful experience? We do not know. Is it an extreme suf-
fering experienced long ago; a first time at the dawn of life before being able
to scream? Perhaps we have been traumatized and that trauma perdures,
active in an odd memory. Can we situate it at the moment of birth, or earlier,
during the stirring of fetal life? Or should we imagine it with Freud, as the
pain of an archaic separation undergone even before the embryonic stage, at
a pre-individual phase, encoded in the memory of the species?12
Certainly, we do not know from what immemorial suffering we have
issued, but we can rest assured that it surges again with all physical or psy-
chical pains and transmits to each its specific quality as an unpleasant affect.
This primordial and intemporal pain constantly returns into the present in
order to communicate to all the other pains, the mark of intolerable displea-
sure that we experience when we are sick or afflicted.
But it is also the painful past experience that makes us experience each
of our pains in a unique and individual manner. The experience of a pain is
always the experience of my pain. Each suffers in his or her own way, what-
ever the cause of his or her suffering. Every time that a pain afflicts us,
whether it comes from the body or from the mind, it blends inextricably with
the earliest pain that lives within us. It is precisely this vivid resurgence of the
painful past that renders the pain of the moment my own. The pain that I feel
again is indeed my pain because it bears the most intimate seal of my past.
However, if the repetition is the basis of the painful affect, can we not con-
sider any affect—pleasant or unpleasant—as the reproduction of an originary
affect? According to Freud, in effect, emotion is not only what we feel in the
moment but is also the repetition of something felt long ago. An affect is
always the diminished return of a first intense emotion. The most unique

emotion that I can experience today, whether pleasant or unpleasant,

inevitably repeats an archaic emotion. If, for example, faced with an unbear-
able scene, I feel overwhelmed by repulsion, I will have the certainty that I
am experiencing a novel feeling as if I had never experienced it as such. Later,
once the violence of the impact is attenuated, I will recognize that I have
already felt a similar disgust. In a word: it is not a new affect, the affect is
always the fruit of a repetition.
But what intrinsically defines an affect? What is the core and vibrant
substance of a feeling that I am feeling at a given moment? We cannot
respond. Perhaps the in itself of the feeling is a pure, immediate, simple sen-
sation, that unknown real that we call energy. But this statement is insuffi-
cient for the delineation of the nature of an affect. Since we do not know
what it is, let us look at whence it comes: its origin. The genesis of an affect
is nothing other than an awakening of a past affect. Let us insist that any
affect is the repetition of a primordial emotional experience. It is certainly on
the basis of this eminently Freudian understanding that we are able to iden-
tify the affect with the Lacanian signifier. A signifier, said Lacan, is always the
repetition of another signifier. In that case, to say that the affect is a signifier
would be equivalent to saying that there is no affect without repetition.

Unconscious pain is not a sensation without consciousness, but a

process structured like a language

Over the course of these pages, the brutal sensation of a burn has been imper-
ceptibly transformed into an unconscious pain that cannot be grasped. By
wondering how a trauma leaves its traces in the unconscious and how these
reanimated traces are externalized, we were able to state that unconscious
pain is the memory of an earlier traumatic suffering. In spite of the rigor of
this definition, I want to dispel a final misunderstanding about the concept
of unconscious pain.
When we questioned the nature of a traumatic suffering that was so deep
and so archaic, yet so vivid, we were inclined through a mental reflex to
imagine it as an affective material palpitating at the core of our being. It is
true that by identifying the earlier trauma with unconscious pain we might
have led the reader to believe that this emotion was confined to a closed part
of the psyche. However, it would be a mistake to depict it in this way. Uncon-
scious pain cannot be reduced to the suffering of a moment, however trau-
matic, nor even be conceived as an enclave of hostile energy. It covers a
much larger concept designating an active process that begins with a very
intense somatic suffering provoked by an external aggression and ends with
another, awakened by a light excitation (generally internal). Put differently,

when the external aggression that provoked a traumatic pain leaves its traces
in the unconscious, it also produces a state of hypersensitivity such that a
mere spark can reawaken a new pain. In order to be more precise, we can say
that the unconscious pain does not designate a thing or a sensation apart
from consciousness but a circuit that, reactivated by a slight stimulation, dis-
charges itself into a painful manifestation.
Finally, the unconscious pain is an aptitude, an aptitude of the ego to
remember an earlier traumatic pain, but not as a conscious memory; uncon-
scious pain is the name we give to the unconscious memory of pain.13
What have we tried to understand thus far? Namely, that the psychical
origin of corporeal pain is always the revivification of a primordial pain.
Therefore, in the painful emotion we have both the unpleasant sensation of
today and the reawakening of a first pain. It is precisely this reawakening that
communicates to the unpleasant sensation of the moment its character as a
painful affect, and furthermore, as a specifically human affect. Pain is human
because it is unconscious memory. It is indeed the unconscious that human-
izes the painful affect because it gives life again to the former pain of a found-
ing trauma.
Before moving on, we can already draw the following conclusion: at each
stage of its genesis, corporeal pain is marked by the predominance of the psy-
chical factor. In fact, we have seen how the psyche successively forms the rep-
resentation of the body-injury (ego-consciousness), undergoes the impact of
the disturbance (ego-upheaval), self-perceives the upheaval that it produces
(ego-endoperceptor organ), and registers and restitutes the aforesaid distur-
bance (unconscious ego-memory).
The developments that follow will confirm the powerful action of the
psyche in the determination of the painful fact.

The pain of reaction

We have understood pain as being provoked by a wound (a burn of the arm)

and by the internal disturbance that follows. Then we have seen the pain of
the disturbance inscribed in the unconscious and becoming the source of sub-
sequent suffering.
We can approach now the third stage of the formation of pain. To that
end, let us return to the event of the burn, when the ego—submerged by the
sudden influx of an implacable energy—sees its homeostasis broken and the
pleasure principle neutralized. Now it is no longer a question of an over-
whelmed ego undergoing the aggression, but of an ego reacting to the aggres-
sion. But with the defensive surge, far from suppressing the pain, the ego will
suffer in another way. Rather than suffering from a submission to the pain, the

ego suffers from a protestation against pain. Corporeal pain is no longer due to
an injury and to the upheaval that goes with it, but from an immense effort of
the ego to fend off the upheaval. Physical pain becomes the expression of a
defensive effort rather than a simple manifestation of an injury of the tissues.
But what is this defense that causes suffering? The answer to this ques-
tion will be decisive for our later understanding of psychical pain. While the
ego is in a state of shock what does it do to defend itself? How does it react?
It performs a gesture that will increase the suffering; it tries desperately to
heal itself alone by carrying out a sort of self-bandaging. In response to the
injury the ego sends all the energy at its disposal to surround the wound in
order to fill the hole and stop the massive influx of excitations. It is this reac-
tive movement of energy—which Freud called “counter-investment” or
“counter-charge”—that is opposed to the brutal eruption of excitation caused
by the burn. However, this self-bandaging is not applied to the damaged tis-
sues of the wound, but on the psychical representation of that wound. And
the fact that the defensive counterinvestment does not concern the wound
itself but the representation of the wound reveals the incontestably psychical
nature of any corporeal pain. Why? Because the response to a physical injury
is not only physiological but is also and above all a displacement of energy
within the network of psychical representations that are constitutive of the
ego. The body is wounded and the ego tends to it by concerning itself with
the representation of the place of the injury (Fig. 3).
Each time that our body suffers a violent event, a psychical reaction is
triggered: the ego counterinvests the mental representation of the damaged
place. An astonishing consequence follows from this: the pain provoked by
the aggression is not diminished by this symbolic bandaging, rather intensi-
fied by it. This is the phenomenon of a painful and inadequate defense that I
want to explain now.
In what exactly does this defense consist and why is it painful? Further,
what role does the representation of the area of the wound play?
First, one must recall that the ego functions as a psychical mirror that
reflects, in a mosaic of images, parts of the body, or aspects of things or peo-
ple to which we are affectively and durably attached. We may then postulate
the following hypothesis: when we are deprived of the integrity of our body
or deprived of our object of attachment, when our physical integrity is at
stake, an affective excess of affective investment of the image of the wounded
place of the body occurs. When the presence of the object is at stake, an excess
of investment of the image of the lost object occurs. Such a compensatory
excess is translated into pain. In psychoanalysis, the overinvestment of the
psychical image of a point of our body is called “narcissistic overinvestment,”
and that of the image of a partial aspect of the object that is dear to us (the
loved one) is called “the overinvestment of the object.”



of all the energy
onto the
(overinvestment) Psychical
of the
wounded arm


The ego bandages the representation of the wound since it is unable to bandage the
real wound.

But whether what is in question is corporeal pain due to the excessive

investment of the representation of the injured place, or psychical pain due
to the excessive investment of the representation of the loved and lost
object, we are, in both cases, faced with the same phenomenon. The pain is
engendered by the excessive affective valorization of the representation in
us of the thing to which we were linked and of which we are now deprived;
whether it be a part of our body or the person that we loved. Corporeal pain
is therefore the sensible expression of a reactive overestimation of the rep-
resentation of the injured part of the body and psychical pain is the sensory
expression of an overestimation—just as reactive—of the representation of
the loved and lost object.
That being established, let us wonder once more how the ego attempts
to overcome the disturbance brought about by the wound. Upset, it reacts in
a survival mode by desperately grasping the psychical representation of the
wounded part. It is as if it wished to cure the wound, not by protecting the
damaged tissues, but by concentrating all of its available forces on the men-
tal image of the injured area; since it is unable to bandage the wound itself, the

ego bandages the symbol of the wound. In this way, to resist the disturbance it
throws itself frantically at the symbol of the affected place and clings to it
affectively with its entire being. It is precisely here that the pain appears; it
results from the desperate effort of the ego to free itself from the disturbance
by focusing exclusively on a symbol. We suffer because we panic in the face
of danger. What causes pain is thus a futile focus on the image of the wounded
body, an inadequate defensive attempt to address the disturbance, a local iso-
lated attempt that, for that very reason, is doomed to failure.
Certainly the question remains of knowing whether the ego could have
reacted differently, more intelligently and less vigorously. Perhaps a global
action would have been more efficacious and less painful than an isolated ges-
ture. But the ego cannot do otherwise. Its blind contraction into a single
point is a survival-reflex and is the only possible response so as not to despair
in the face of the disturbance. We must stress this again: it is in this final reac-
tion of the ego that pain originates.
But it is here that another question presents itself: why does a passionate
attachment to a symbol—I mean an excess of energetic charge investing a
representation—become painful? The answer is contained in one word:
“exclusion.” Yes, the mental representation of the injured organ is so charged
with energy and so heavy that it is isolated and excluded from the system of
the other structuring representations of the ego. The psychical cohesion then
disappears and the ego must now function with a structure that is destabilized
by the isolation of a representation within the system. Certainly the ego was
able to contain the disturbance but at the price of engendering a monstrous
affect that disturbs it from then on. It is thus, indeed, the polarization of all
psychical energy upon a single representation that has become excentered
that produces the pain. The corollary that rises from our assertion is simple.
We will state it in the following way: there is no corporeal pain without rep-
resentation. Far from tempering the pain, I intensify it by saturating the rep-
resentation of my wound with energy.
In this last stage, corporeal pain results from the reactive and passionate
attachment of the ego to the symbol of the injured place of the body. We can
put this more rigorously: the said symbol, overinvested with affect, crystallizes
as a foreign body and weighs upon and rends the fabric of the ego. It is this
tear of the internal fibers that provokes the pain.

Summary of the psychical causes of corporeal pain

Now if I ask why I have a pain in my arm when I am burned, I can respond by
employing the psychoanalytic vocabulary: apart from the neuro-biochemical
mechanisms that generate pain, there is above all a connection of psychical

causes, namely, the impression that my pain emanates from the burn; the self-
perception of the panic of my libidinal tensions; the revival of immemorial
pain; the mobilization of all of my forces on the mental representation of the
injured arm; and, finally, the isolation of this representation.

The representation of the wounded and painful part of the body

Let us emphasize that such a connection of causes inducing corporeal pain

evokes that which presides at the formation of the psychical pain. We see
that the logical schemas accounting for these two forms of pain are almost
identical. However, one of their differences resides in the imaginary contents
of the hypertrophic representation.14 Indeed, while for corporeal pain the rep-
resentation refers to a wounded body, psychical pain refers to an object that
has been loved and lost (a person, a thing, or a value). We will address at
length the issue of psychical pain, or the pain of loving, but for the moment
it is necessary for us to define more clearly the particular status of the repre-
sentation of the injured part of the body. It will then be easier for us to under-
stand the nature of the representation of the object loved and lost, a crucial
element in the genesis of the pain of love.
Let us ask now how the representation of the body is formed. What are
its imaginary and particularly its visual contents? Let us underline from the
start that the representation of the painful place did not exist before the
injury, but is formed at that very moment. I mean here that this representa-
tion has not always been there, but emerges with the sensory perception of
the wound and the impression that the pain is located in that place.
However, the image of the injured body is not only contemporaneous
with the injury, it also comes from multiple traces left in the unconscious by
older pains and others’ desires. It is also shaped by the present experience of
my body moving in space. This means that such an image of the painful place,
overinvested by the ego in its attempt to defend against the disturbance, is
based on a multitude of unconscious perceptions that have crystallized past
events, registered the impact left by the others’ desire, which today receive the
sensory vibrations of my living body. But if it is true that the representation
arises on the basis of all these factors, it is also true that its passage into con-
sciousness is ephemeral, it lasts however long the painful attack lasts.
But what is the imaginary content that is proper to the representation of
the injured place? Until now, we have referred to this representation as an
“image,” “symbol,” or “psychical representation of the area that is injured and
painful.” These terms are deceptive, because they suggest that the imaginary
content is a faithful image of the injured part of the body. But we know that
it is never an exact replica. The image of the painful place—whether con-

scious or not—never corresponds to real anatomy but instead to a fantasmatic

anatomy. No image of a corporeal region offers the strict reflection of the
body as it is. My perceptions always remain deformed representations of real-
ity, fantasies experienced by my body.
Thus, the imaginary content of the representation is integrated in a fan-
tasy that is already organized by our unconscious desires. The place of the
body affected by the injury always appears as inserted in the fantasmatic scene
of a dream and associated with the action of a fictive character.
In short, the representation of the painful area that issues from my past and
present impressions, fashioned by the impact of the bodies of the others, born
from the injury and destined to concentrate the uncontrolled influx of energy in
it, is the imprecise image of a fragment of a body at the center of a fantasmatic
scene. Although it can penetrate into the field of consciousness, this image
remains essentially unconscious. When it becomes conscious, its imaginary con-
tent frequently assumes a spatial configuration resulting from sensations that are
as visual as they are tactile. Thus, when the suffering subject visualizes the inter-
nal or external region of the body that is in pain it represents it in space. Trying
to describe its pain, it uses expressions such as: “I feel a heavy weight on me,” or,
“I feel a hot poker stick,” or “a lump in my throat,” “I feel a barbell,” or yet again,
“needles.” All these expressions show how the conscious image of the body in
pain is a spatial and imprecise metaphor of the painful sensation.
What must be kept in mind with respect to corporeal pain? Essentially,
that it is the affect felt by the ego when, wounded, disturbed, or remember-
ing a former pain, it makes the effort to overinvest the image of the injured
part. This defensive gesture tempers the disturbance but increases the pain.
Let us be clear about this: the state of disturbance hurts and the defense
against disturbance hurts even more. With respect to the pain proper to the
upheaval, we can add that this expresses the desperate effort of the ego to
save its integrity.

Questions and answers concerning corporeal pain

You have given us your conception of corporeal pain on the basis of Freudian the-
ory. But how can one rely on a century-old theory of pain when there are so many
new advances in the domain of the neurosciences today?

Psychoanalysis and neurosciences

First, the Freudian model of corporeal pain, as we saw, carries an indisputable

heuristic value since it helps us construct a rigorous theory of mental pain.

But beyond this aid, it has permitted me, above all, to identify the psychical
factor acting in the formation of any corporeal pain, whatever it may be. Let
us recall, in fact, the basic Freudian idea, which we have formulated in the
following way: there is pain sustained by the narcissistic overinvestment of
the representation of the injured place of the body. Such a hypothesis seems
so rich that I would not hesitate to propose it to neurologists who would seek
to unveil the inner mechanisms of pain. You see, we are no longer waiting for
current science to confirm earlier psychoanalytic elaborations. Quite to the
contrary, we invite future scientists to extend the thesis of the overinvest-
ment of the mental image of the affected part of the body. I am convinced
that this Freudian thesis of overinvestment will become a key concept for the
neurological research of pain in the future.
That said, your question provides me the opportunity to draw a chart
comparing Freudian concepts—particularly in the Project—with the
hypotheses of neuroscience. I will then comment upon the theory of pain
recently proposed by an eminent representative of the neurosciences, Anto-
nio R. Damasio.15
I will attempt, therefore, to highlight the themes that are surprisingly
common to psychoanalysis and the neurosciences. I think in particular of the
definition of memory, which we identify with the unconscious and which
neurologists explain in terms of images stored in the neurons. Another ques-
tion is that of the rhythm of the drives with regard to the rhythm of the prop-
agation of the nerve impulse. Finally, I will consider the relation between the
structural network of the ego and the spatial order of the neuronal system. As
you see, we have a good deal of work to do.
Let us address the problem of memory. What does neuroscience teach us?
It formulates hypotheses that are surprisingly similar to Freud’s first elabora-
tions concerning a memory that occurs at the cellular level in “memory neu-
rones” (SE I, 299–300). Today, some scientists, including Jean Pierre
Changeux, postulate the existence of mental images stored in the neurons
called “mental objects.”16 Others, such as Damasio, think that the mental
images, instead of being stored in the cells, stem from a proto-image that they
call a “potential representation.” The appearance of a painful memory, for
example, would result from the activation of a so-called potential representa-
tion; this representation is not the memory itself but the means of forming
the memory. In fact, the expression “potential representation” does not des-
ignate an intra-neuronal element but rather a very specific connection
between different neurons when awaiting reactivation.
But whether the neurons retain a stored image or whether they elaborate
it on the basis of a potential representation, these scientific hypotheses are
surprisingly similar to Freud’s early findings. You recall my remark about the
memory neurons that are capable of retaining the images of the hostile object

at the origin of a first pain. Recall our remark concerning the memory neu-
rons that are able to store the image of the aggressive object at the origin of
the first pain. We have said that the reactivation of the memory neurons by
a slight endogenic excitation provoked either the appearance of a pain simi-
lar to the initial pain or various manifestations in the spheres of thought or
action. These are manifestations the subject will undergo without under-
standing why.
I think also of another rapprochement that can be discerned between
Freud and contemporary scientists concerning precisely the “memory neu-
rones” and the biochemical transmission of the nerve impulses. In fact, we
know now that the painful feeling results, among other factors, from the
mediation of a protein called substance P (where P stands for pain). The
nociceptive message (of pain) is transmitted when the axon of a neuron
secretes the neurotransmitter P that enters into contact with the receptors
located in the dendrite of another neuron. Now we are surprised to see in the
“Project” the hypothesis of the existence of a similar chemical contact
between the “memory neurones” and another category of neurons called
“secreting neurons.” According to Freud, these neurons, having themselves
been stimulated by weak internal excitations, would release a substance that
generates pain. It is a substance that, once produced, would excite the mem-
ory neurons, revive the image of the hostile object, and reawaken the former
pain. In this way one can imagine that a weak endogenic excitation relayed
by a secreted substance is capable of reviving the memory neuron and caus-
ing a new pain to appear. I find Freud’s ideas absolutely surprising given the
time in which he proposed them (1895) and strikingly contemporary in rela-
tion to modern neuroscientific theories.

You have advanced the idea of an unconscious memory by relying on the concept of
“memory neurons.” Could you clarify the nature of these neurons and their rela-
tion to the unconscious?

Unconscious memory and the neurosciences

We can first recall that in the “Project” Freud conceived of the ego as a neu-
ronal network formed from two principal sources: the first, called “imperme-
able neurones” or “mnemic cells” are the neurons of memory, of which we
have already spoken. Their function is to register the excitation they
receive, to archive the photo left by the agent who provoked the excitation
(a photo of the hostile object for pain, a photo of the love object for plea-
sure). Finally, they remain sufficiently in play to be reactivated later by a sec-
ond excitation, however minimal. The function of the other neurons, which

are called “perceptual cells”—of which we will speak later—is to receive

excitation, but unlike the memory neurons they allow the influx of excita-
tion to pass through them without keeping any trace.
Now you just asked me about the relation between the memory neurons
and the unconscious. Or, in other words, you are asking me to justify my
claim that the neurons of memory are the conceptual ancestors of the
unconscious representations. I will respond simply by affirming that these
neurons, just like the representations, possess that particular capacity of con-
serving the past without necessarily allowing it to become conscious. It
forms a memory of the past that is not conscious. What is the unconscious
if not a memory? What is the unconscious if not a memory whose recollec-
tions are not actualized in consciousness but in our acts, our dreams, our
bodies, unbeknownst to it?
We can look again at the chart comparing psychoanalysis and neurobi-
ology by approaching now their second point of encounter. It concerns the
temporal variations of the propagation of the nerve signals, that is to say, the
rhythm of the transmission of the nerve impulse. Currently, the latest neuro-
scientific research on the nature of consciousness is focused precisely on the
problem of rhythm and the oscillations of inter and intra neuronal nerve
impulses. A scientist such as R. Llinàs defines consciousness as a harmonious
relation between the rhythm of the neuronal oscillations of the thalamus and
that of the neurons of the cerebral cortex.
Now, this concern of neurophysicians with the oscillations and rhythms
of nerve impulses leads us back to Freud and to the interest he had in the
rhythm of libidinal variations as well as to our own way of thinking of pain
as the conscious expression of the rupture of the libidinal cadence. It is true
that Freud only had a passing interest in rhythm, and only in two places.17
We would prefer to follow this path a bit farther and define all affect as
the conscious expression of the rhythmic variations of the drives. Therefore,
the feelings of pleasure or unpleasure would not be the expression of the level
of intensity of the drives (pleasure = low intensity; unpleasure = high inten-
sity), but rather the expression of oscillations of tensions, the alternate rising
and falling of tensions during a defined period. From this point of view, we
will say that pain is very different from pleasure or unpleasure. Why? Because
it does not express a particular rhythm, but the violent rupture of that rhythm;
this is the rupture of the cadence of the drive that, we recall, corresponds to
the turmoil of the tensions, to the breakdown of the pleasure/unpleasure prin-
ciple, and finally to the brusque cessation of the homeostasis of the economic
system of the ego.
Now this hypothesis that defines the affects as the surface expressions of
libidinal oscillations requires, in order to be complete, the intervention of an
intermediary agency. It is an agency that, on the one hand, detects the

rhythm of the drives within, and on the other hand, echoes it to the surface
of consciousness. What is the intermediary? It is the ego itself when it exer-
cises its twofold function of endopsychic detection and conscious translation.
You can see that the psychoanalytic concept of affect in general and pain
in particular cannot be understood without the notion of endopsychic per-
ception. This is a perception that, alone, allows us to account for the “radar”
function of the ego when it registers the libidinal cadence and translates it
into consciousness in the form of agreeable affects of pleasure, disagreeable
affects of displeasure or even pain. Freud had already hinted at this notion of
endopsychic perception of the ego when in the “Project,” while studying the
perceptual neurons (a group distinct from the memory neurons), he differen-
tiated two types. There are in effect two types of perceptual neurons. Those
that perceive the excitations coming from the periphery of the body and oth-
ers that capture the oscillations of internal tensions and transpose them into
consciousness as affects. The first only perceive external stimulations and the
others detect internal affects of these stimulations and translate them into
conscious affects.
Specifically, it is the latter group, the one that detects and translates,
that interests us. The neurons that detect the amplitude and cadencies of the
internal tensions play the role of a two-sided sensorial organ. On the one
hand, they capture the tension of the rhythm and on the other hand they
transforms these rhythms into diverse affects including pain. Thus, pain is an
affect felt consciously that expresses intolerable variations and sudden ruptures of
the rhythm of the drives.
Let us continue our dialogue with the neurosciences and address now the
third point shared in common. I had moved away from it to better explore a
theme that is important to me, that of rhythm in relation to some of my
major statements about pain. This third point concerns the incidence of the
topology of the neuronal network on the transmission of the nerve signals.
Today the neuroscientists have a growing interest in studying the spatial
arrangement of the neurons. Now, I could not help comparing the topology
of the neuronal network to the topology of the ego established by Freud in
1895 (SE I, 322–24). Once again, I was surprised to see how Freud’s early
writings contained the signs of modern scientific developments.
At that time, Freud conceived of the ego as a network of neurons orga-
nized in such a way that the flux of excitations running through it could,
according to the circumstances, be inhibited. He did not hesitate to claim
that “if an ego exists it must hinder the primary process of the psyche,” that
is, hinder the circulation of free energy. The function of the ego is to stem
energetic movement through a very precise spatial order: that of a lattice.
This lattice is arranged in such a way that a neuron that is overinvested with
energy can transfer part of its charge toward lateral neurons. The ego,

thereby organized in the network, lowers the intensity of the tension

because its architecture forces the energetic charge to fragment and be
diverted toward neighboring neurons. The system of ego neurons thus
becomes, through the singularity of its structure, a veritable organ of inhibi-
tion. How can we not see in this conception of the ego-inhibitor the germ
of the concept of repression? It is as if the first form of repression resided in
the ramified structure of the ego.
That said, we should not forget that inhibition has a definite role, that
of protecting the ego from an overflowing of excitation that would threaten
its integrity. Now, pain, considered as the most imperious of all the psychical
processes, is a particular state of high excitation that no inhibitor can check.
It is a process that is certainly upsetting and uncontrollable but that respects
nevertheless the integrity of the system. No doubt the painful affect breaks all
internal barriers without, however, destroying the ego. We find again the
limit character of pain that ignores the inhibition but does not damage the
ego’s capacity to react. Pain hurts but does not destroy.
To conclude, I would like to mention the theory of pain proposed by
Antonio R. Damasio. Apart from our differences, I nevertheless have found
certain points of analogy in his scientific work with our own psychoanalyti-
cal thinking. For example, Damasio distinguishes two parts in the perception
of pain: on the one hand, a somatic sensorial perception that comes from the
skin, from mucous or from the part of the organ where the wound is located—
this is the perception of a local change of the body—and on the other hand
the perception of a global disturbance of the body, an overall change.
It is this latter perception that would correspond to painful emotion.18
According to this author, the brain would form, from these perceptions, two
images of pain that would be superimposed at the moment of suffering: one a
somatic sensorial image (the image of a local place of the body) and the other
an emotional image (the image of the general and disturbed state of the
body). The ego—which according to Damasio is an inevitable concept in sci-
entific thought—would play the role of a third party, a sort of “meta-ego”
whose function is to perform the syntheses and adjustments between the two
images. Their juxtaposition produces a painful emotion.
I am surprised to find, stated in different terms, points similar to our first
two moments concerning the process of the formation of pain. In fact, you
will recall, we have distinguished three moments in the genesis of any pain:
the wound, the trauma, and finally the reaction. During the first moment,
pain results from the perception by the ego of the peripheral excitation inher-
ent in the wound; during the second moment, pain results from the percep-
tion, still by the ego, of the heightening of libidinal tensions. Now, Damasio’s
conception of the somatico-sensorial perception, and of the sensorial image
derived from it, evokes our conception of a perception of a wound and the

representation of a wounded body that results from it. The other perception
described by Damasio, whence comes the emotional quality, and that he
characterizes as a perception of a global disturbance of the body, recalls our
second moment of the formation of pain, namely, the ego’s self-perception of
the state of internal disturbance.
While Damasio speaks of the perception of the state of disturbance of the
body, we advance the idea of an internal and immediate apperception of the
sudden variations of the libidinal tensions or, more exactly, of the break of
the rhythm of the drives. It is as if, in order to take account of the painful
emotion, Damasio depended on the global perception of the body without
daring to imagine that it is not the body that is perceived but indeed the psy-
che. The difference between us can be summarized in the exchange. Dama-
sio would say, “Painful emotion emerges when the brain perceives the dis-
turbed state of the body.” I would respond that “pain emerges when the
distraught ego self-perceives the libidinal disturbance.”

Could you speak again about psychogenic pain? How are we to understand that a
pain is located in only one part of the body?

Psychogenic pain

Let us recall first that psychogenic pain is not a psychical pain but a corpo-
real suffering, minor or major, acute or chronic, the origin of which is psy-
chical (psychogenic means that it is of “psychical origin”). This is a somatic
pain experienced by the subject without any organic reason to justify it, and
to which one attributes—lacking a better alternative—a psychological cause
that is in general unknown. It is a matter of persistent physical pains, most
often erratic and deceptive. When they are attached to a specific place of the
body, their locality remains enigmatic. Generally, the patient describes his or
her pain in a self-indulgent manner, in a language rich in detail or at times
confused and evasive. But more important is the special relationship that the
patient maintains with his or her pain. The patient speaks of his or her suf-
fering as a capricious or demanding other that inhabits his or her body.
That said, before responding to your question on the place where the
pain appears, I must pose another question: “What are the psychical origins
of this psychogenic suffering experienced in the body without an identifiable
organic cause?” I propose three possible origins of psychogenic pain.
The first of the psychical causes capable of provoking a psychogenic pain
presupposes the idea of a body endowed with memory. You will recall our dis-
cussion in the beginning. A much earlier pain, intense and felt in a specific
place of the body, has left such traces in the unconscious that later an internal

or external excitation—a stressful situation, for example—can provoke a

lesser pain at the same place or in another area of the body. It is this second
pain, a somatic memory of a past pain, that will appear to the eyes of the clin-
ician as a physical affliction—quite real, but unjustifiable.
The second hypothesis of a psychical origin draws from the Freudian the-
ory that considers conversion hysteria as the leap from the psychical to the
somatic. A repressed drive leaps from the domain of the unconscious to that
of the body and becomes somatic pain. A past emotion, already forgotten but
still active in the unconscious as a drive, becomes, for example, an inexplic-
able muscle pain. But what part of the body will be chosen by the drive to
manifest itself as a painful sensation? It will locate itself precisely in the part
of the body associated long ago with an intense emotion, that emotion that
was the momentary emergence of an unconscious drive. The corporeal area
marked by such a emotion remains, then, imprinted in the unconscious like
an image.
Let us take the example of a young hysterical woman who suffers cramps
in the right thigh. We learned in the course of the cure that just before the
appearance of these pains, the patient, taking care of her sick father, seated
at this bedside, had rested the head of the father gently on her right thigh.
At that moment she had felt a strange embarrassment, a mixture of shame
and incestuous pleasure. This vignette shows very clearly the imperious
surge of an incestuous drive repressed by modesty (repression) and felt as
embarrassing. A similar emotion remained associated with this precise part
of the body, the right thigh: today a place of guilty desire, tomorrow a place
of physical pain.
What has taken place? The incestuous drive first surfaced in conscious-
ness as a feeling of embarrassment. It then returned to the unconscious, tak-
ing with it the image of the thigh, or more specifically, the tactile image of
the sensual contact between the skin of the thigh and the hair of the father.
Later, the drive reappeared as a painful contraction located in the very place
where the father’s head had rested. The erogenous and guilty sensation of
that moment has later become a painful sensation without apparent cause.
While the second origin of psychogenic pain—the conversion hysteria—
is explained by the transformation of a drive into a pain with any apparent
cause, the third psychical cause refers to another sort of relation between drive
and body.
Let’s take the example of the young woman and change it slightly to
illustrate our third point of discussion. Imagine that at the moment when her
father puts his head on her leg and she feels embarrassed, a cramp—as if by
chance—occurs in her shoulder. The embarrassment—the form adopted by
the incestuous drive for its appearance—coincides with the appearance of a
muscular ache in the shoulder.

Thus, we can say that the drive encounters by chance a banal pain.
Henceforth this accidental muscular pain affects the drive, and their fates are
forever intertwined. So, in our example, the drive affected by the pain in the
shoulder is changed later into a painful feeling situated in the shoulder with-
out any explainable cause. We can see how a repressed drive can convert
itself in a suffering body because it was wounded long ago, “stamped” by an
earlier organic pain, however minor it was. We will call this third mechanism
the somatic imprint of the drive. In other words, a banal pain, present in a cer-
tain place of the body and associated with the surge of a drive, has opened the
way for that drive to reappear later in the form of a unexplained painful sen-
sation in that same place of the body.
If we want now to compare the hysterical origin of psychogenic pain to
that other origin we have just discussed, we would suggest the following.
Whereas conversion hysteria, in its very definition, falls under the Freudian
concept of the “enigmatic leap from the psychical to the somatic,” from the
drive to the body, the third cause of the psychogenic pain falls under a more
general concept: a leap from the somatic to the psychical, then from the psy-
chical to the somatic. There is a leap from an organic pain to the drive and
from the drive to a “psychogenic pain.”19
Allow me a synthetic comment to conclude this point. Psychogenic pain
can be defined in three different ways. First, as the painful revival of a former
organic pain that has been forgotten: psychogenic pain is here the memory in
the body of a former pain. Next, it can be defined as the painful expression
of a repressed drive that previously affected a place in the body: this is the
case of conversion. Finally, it can be the case that psychogenic pain manifests
a drive that has itself been affected by a past organic pain: this is the case of
the somatic imprint. I think I have responded to your question concerning the
place where psychogenic pain chooses to appear. It can appear where a for-
mer pain—of which it is the memory—has appeared. It can also appear in the
place affected long ago by a drive or a place where the drive had been affected
by a previous pain.

You have defined unconscious pain as a chain of events beginning with a painful
trauma and ending in the reawakening of that trauma. But how can we speak of a
pain that would be both experienced and unconscious?

Unconscious pain

I prefer to respond to you by proposing a schema that clearly separates the

past from the present, that is to say, the past traumatic pain and its reappear-
ance in a present pain. I hope to show you that unconscious pain is different

from a nonconscious feeling. It is not an object in itself but a relation

between two objects or, more exactly, a relation between two events: one past
and the other present. Let us begin with the past.
In the past, a real incident happened in the course of which a hostile
object provoked a very intense pain (D1), even violent. We have referred to
it as the pain of disturbance.
An unconscious psychical representation then conserves the trace of the
aggressive object in the form of a photo, or a mnemonic image of the said
object. The representation formed in this way has two parts: an imaginary one,
a mnemonic image of the hostile object (more precisely of the detail of said
object), and another one, an energetic charge that renders the image vivid and
that we call the investment. The union of the image and its investment con-
stitutes the psychical representation per se. Beyond this clarification I have
taken the liberty of using the words image and representation interchangeably.
The pain (D1) was so upsetting that the trace of its event remained
extremely susceptible to new excitations or to new investments. The slight-
est impression could henceforth reactivate the trace. In a word, the striking
event of the pain or trauma has left two traces: the photo of the aggressor and
the susceptibility of that photo to a new investment, however minimal.
Let us move now to the present. Thus sensitized, the representation
receives a circumstantial investment, that is to say, a momentary and occa-
sional stimulation. As soon as the image is reactivated, a reflex discharge
takes place in the form of a new pain (D2). The subject who suffers today thus
experiences a pain (D2) without being able to establish any connection to
the initial painful incident.
It could also happen that the reactivation of the mnemonic image of the
hostile object produces, not a second pain, but other manifestations in every-
day life: dreams, unexplained behavior, or unusual affective states. What
causes the reactivation of the mnemonic image to manifest itself through a
pain rather than some other disturbance? This depends on the type of stimu-
lation that has reawakened the image or other associated secondary elements.
But consider this above all: the subject who experiences a pain at the
present time or who suffers disturbances in his or her everyday life has no
inkling of the temporal schema we have established. It is a schema that
begins with an initial pain that has been forgotten, proceeds to the reactiva-
tion of its unconscious trace, and ends in the experience of a pain or a dis-
turbance in everyday life.
Consequently, we call unconscious pain the entire process that is ignored
by the subject, having begun with a traumatic pain and culminating with the
current feeling of a painful experience. Unconscious pain is, finally, the name
we give to a circuit, imprinted by a pain we experience, reactivated by an occasional
excitation, and finally manifested by another pain that is felt. It is the entirety of

this circuit that can be reactivated—apart from our consciousness—that is

called unconscious pain. We see therefore that, in itself, unconscious pain is
not “a sensation without consciousness,” a pure, simple, and unknown sensa-
tion, as Maine de Biran stated, but an unknown chain of events that culmi-
nates in the pain we feel today.20 Certainly, unconscious pain only exists in
the concrete actuality of my present pain. If we want to be more exact, we
should modify our claim and state: unconscious pain only exists after the
appearance of the current pain. Why add “after”? Because I could only deduce
the existence of unconscious pain, retroactively, on the basis of the first
beginnings of my current pain. But this pain without a discernable cause pre-
sents me with an enigma. This is precisely its obscure nature that causes me
to return to the past and finally establish the events that determined it. What
is this return to the past if not the act of the one who listens to the enigma
of pain? This is what we want to explain. Unconscious pain only exists in the
deferred action of listening.

I thought about the model of conversion hysteria that you used to account for psy-
chogenic pain and I wonder if the most ordinary corporeal pains are not always in
part hysterical.

Pain, hysteria, and psychosis

Your question fits nicely in our analysis. I think, in fact, that all the pains that
affect us—from the most serious to the most banal—are to some extent hys-
terical. We could formulate this otherwise: organic pain originates, in part,
according to the mechanism of conversion hysteria. However, I sometimes
wonder about the affinity between the formation of a corporeal pain and the
genesis of a psychotic symptom. It is as if the advent of a corporeal pain
evoked the advent of hysteria and even that of a psychosis. In fact, the choice
between hysteria and psychosis depends on the way one conceives the fate of
the representation of the wounded body. You will recall one of the major
hypotheses concerning the genesis of pain: the overinvestment of the mental
image of the wounded and painful region of the body. The problem, precisely,
is of knowing how long the ego can bear this representation that has become
unbearable for it. We had suggested that the representation was excluded
from the group of the other representations of the ego; that is to say, it was
irreconcilable with the rest of the system. But the question that presents itself
concerns its degree of exclusion. Is it excluded while remaining connected to
other representations? Or is it excluded to the point of being rejected and
shunned by the ego, as if the ego tore this harmful part of itself from its
entrails and expelled it outside itself.

This line of questioning may seem abstract and purely speculative, but it
raises a major clinical problem for the practitioner. If the psychical represen-
tation was held apart while remaining in the system, corporeal pain would be
explained by a mechanism of conversion similar to that of hysteria. Pain
would thus be the somatic double of a symbolic element or, in other words,
the somatic expression of the representation of the wounded body. Following
this line of thought, we would take corporeal pain to be a hysterical symptom
or would even conclude that all physical suffering, in whatever form, is to
some extent hysterical. We could even state that the psychical part at the
basis of all organic pain is subject to the same law of conversion hysteria.
If, on the contrary, we follow another line of thought that takes the
exclusion of the representation of the wounded body to be a radical exclusion
from the ego, we would assimilate the mechanism of corporeal pain to fore-
closure, that is, a specific mechanism of psychosis. In that case, we should
draw another conclusion: all physical pain obeys the same laws of production
as psychotic hallucination.
Finally, what position should we adopt? We cannot decide. We observe
once more the extent to which pain slips between the fingers and evades rea-
son. And we see that it is situated not only at the limit of the body and the
soul, but also on the border between hysteria and psychosis.
Lessons on Pain

The pages that follow are the transcription of an oral seminar that was the
basis of this work. In spite of the stylistic differences between these lessons
and the preceding chapters, a single intention guides the entire book: to raise
pain to the rank of a psychoanalytic concept. In the course of these lessons,
influenced by Lacan’s theory, you will find a kind of thinking in progress,
which is not the transmission of an already established knowledge. Also, in
order to remain faithful to this spirit, I have preferred to maintain the oral
tone, the unavoidable detours and questions that inevitably punctuate the
paths of an elaboration. However, a clear hypothesis orients our entire pro-
ject: pain is one of the most exemplary figures of jouissance; jouissance here is
not understood in the sense of sexual pleasure, but as the maximal tension
that can be borne by the psyche. Thus, pain is the final stage of jouissance at
the limits of tolerance.

Lesson 1. Pain: The object of the sadomasochistic drive

Pain is one of the forms in which sexuality appears in transference

Let me outline the contour of our problem. Why should we study pain?
Where is the question of pain to be situated? I remind you, first, that we are
particularly attached to the thesis concerning the identification of the trans-
ference relation with the unconscious. We already advanced this idea some
time ago, and I have tried to maintain it ever since: it is our point of depar-
ture. One could even state that transference, like the unconscious, is struc-
tured like a language. This seems to me to be a novel proposition that opens
several fields of research. Specifically, I have had the opportunity to comment
upon a work devoted to transference, written by Merton Gill, a famous psy-
choanalyst in the United States. In that article, I made the following sugges-
tion to the author: in the final analysis, there is nothing more binding
between two people than the thread of signifiers that is common to both.
This implies that at different moments of the cure the analyst and the


analysand are capable of speaking without knowing what they are saying.
Nothing binds us more to others than responding to them without under-
standing the implications of this response. Such an intertwining of signifiers
binds us far more than any love or hate. Transference is therefore far more
powerful at the level of signifiers than at the level of affective relations.
Now, in such a transference structured like a signifying network, sexual-
ity emerges just as it does in the unconscious. Let us call this sexuality “jouis-
sance,” and ask ourselves how jouissance presents itself in the analytical situa-
tion. How does sexuality manifest itself in the analytical relation? Is love
sufficient? Is it enough to say, “there is a transference love,” to admit the pres-
ence of sexuality? These are the questions that lead to the issue of pain. I
believe, indeed, that pain is one of the ways sexuality—and even jouissance—
appears in the transference. This is what we are trying to investigate, uncover,
and understand. Now, between these general questions that aim at identifying
the various forms of jouissance in the transference (and, in particular, the ques-
tion of whether pain is one of these forms), there is the following intermedi-
ate link: I believe—this is my hypothesis—that all forms of jouissance within
the transference relation are dominated by the object. I call these different
forms of jouissance “formations of object a.” This unifying expression is a way
for me to seek a common logic. Thus, we investigate pain and are trying to
determine whether it corresponds to the logic proper to the formations of
object a, that is, whether the appearance of pain within the cure obeys the
same laws as those of the manifestations of jouissance in the transference.
It is therefore from this perspective that I will approach the theme of
pain. Recall that we already stressed the characteristic of pain as excitation.21
We referred to the Project, where we found the definition of corporeal pain as
a violent excitation erupting in the system that protects the psychical appa-
ratus against excitations (SE I, 322–24). The only important point to retain
here is that pain, considered as a traumatic excitation, does not belong to the
criteria of pleasure and unpleasure. Certainly, it is an unpleasant affect, but it
has a very different quality than unpleasure. We recall that the occurrence of
pain means that the pleasure/unpleasure principle that regulates the func-
tioning of our psyche has been abolished. We could thus claim that whenever
there is pain, we are beyond the pleasure principle.

Unconscious pain is a sexual satisfaction

We are now going to consider pain as an object. We can begin with two ques-
tions found in Freud’s work, although they were not very clearly formulated
by him. I would like these questions to be yours as well: “How can pain pro-
voke sexual satisfaction?” and, “How can pain be unconscious?”

Let us begin with the first question, and let the second one insert itself
in our discussion. We ask: “How can pain lead to sexual satisfaction?” Freud
provides an answer to this question with which we do not agree. He answers
by using the concept of facilitation, according to which a sexual excitation
arises from a bodily excitation. For our purpose, we could say that sexual exci-
tation is based on a painful sensation. Through various texts, Freud would
claim that physical pain, as an excitation exceeding a certain quantitative
threshold, can be the source of a perverse sexual pleasure. In fact, from a psy-
choanalytical perspective, all sexual pleasure is perverse since it takes place
at the margins of the physiological life of the body. Sexual pleasure is an
“excess” that is superimposed on the strict satisfaction of a need (or a disor-
der of the body): it is always a parasitic pleasure of the body. Thus, a physical
pain can very well give rise to an excitation and a satisfaction of a sexual
nature. This is the position held by Freud in two texts, “Three Essays on Sex-
uality” (SE VII, 123–43), and, twenty years later, “The Economic Problem of
Masochism” (SE XIX, 159–70). Elsewhere, in “Instincts and Their Vicissi-
tudes” (SE XIV, 117–40), Freud would take an opposite view, noting that it
is physical pain that exceeds and encroaches on the sexual domain. But
whether pain exceeds sexuality or sexuality exceeds pain, they are always
combined. Freud names this relationship “libidinal co-excitation.” This is
how he would answer your question: the libidinal co-excitation accounts for
the fact that one can find a perverse pleasure in a painful experience.
Such an answer, however, does not satisfy us; we must go farther. One
needs to raise a question that is not often asked: What is the genesis of sexu-
ality, from whence does it emerge? Freud’s answer and, later, Lacan’s are both
quite similar. Sexuality emerges in our relationship with the orifices of the
body, where there are edges, insufficiencies, palpitating lips, where the body
trembles, opens and closes. Sexuality emerges where the body vibrates and
opens in a gap that is not only orificial but also temporal. There is indeed a
temporal gap between the drive erupting through partial and disorganized
bursts and an immature ego that is not ready to manage these uncontrollable
excesses of desire. Freud says as much when he situates the ego prior to the
sexual drives it cannot manage and beyond these same drives, when the ego
imagines the body to be more mature than it is.
With Lacan, it is even more explicit insofar as he invents the well-
known mirror stage. What is at stake in such a stage is a discordance, a fun-
damental gap between a premature body and the anticipatory image of that
body that is already mature. There is, therefore, a temporal gap between an
incomplete body and its reflected image, one that is overly unified and elab-
orate. There is also a gap between a body that experiences the distressing
swarming of internal sensations, and its image that, before it, reflects it in a
unified and jubilant manner. Sexuality emerges in the discordance between

our immature body and an imaginary order that anticipates a maturity that
will never really be attained. It is in this gap between levels, between these
two planes of the body and of the image, that we can situate the place of the
emergence of the libido conceived of as a kind of hydraulic energy.
But the mirror stage still does not offer us the complete matrix of the
genesis of sexuality. What gives us this complete matrix is indeed discor-
dance, but not between an immature body and an image, not between a lack-
ing body and an anticipatory image, but between the desire of the child and
that of the mother. For psychoanalysis, the essential, almost axiomatic dis-
cordance consists in the fact that the desire of the child is absolutely inoper-
ative before the desire of the mother. One could almost say of these two
desires that one is impotent, and the other impossible. One could also state
that the impotence of the child’s desire—impotence of the physical means
that are necessary for the sexual act—faces the impossible, that is, inaccessi-
ble character of the mother’s desire. It is in this discordance experienced by
the child, between the impotence of his desire and the inaccessibility of the
desire of the Other that, at the phallic stage—at the stage of the Oedipus
complex—sexuality emerges. Let us change our terms, and instead of speak-
ing of “the emergence of sexuality,” let us say “the emergence of the phallus
as signifier.” On the basis of this fundamental discordance between an incom-
plete, premature desire—that of the child—and the intolerable and impossi-
ble desire of the mother, the phallus emerges as a signifier that indicates all
dissymetries between impotence and impossibility, or between the immature
condition and the imaginary illusion of a possible whole.

Pain: A new object of the drive

On the basis of this situation where one sees the phallus emerge into promi-
nence, psychoanalytical theory asserts that all objects that we characterize as
objects of the drive—the voice, the breast, the gaze, etc.—follow exactly the
same separation, the same detachment from the body as the phallus. In the
same way as the phallus emerged, the breast will also appear as the object of the
oral drive, the gaze as the object of the scopic drive, the voice as the object of
the invocating drive, and the feces as object of the anal drive. I would suggest
that pain is engendered in the same way and obeys the same conditions as the
emergence of all these objects. Let us however note that the phallus, in con-
trast to the objects of the drive—pain included—not only detaches itself from
the body, but above all constitutes itself as a signifier. The phallus is the only
object that can become a signifier. Let me clarify this. The breast—as object of
the oral drive—the gaze, etc., are certainly objects constituted in relation to the
castration complex, but none of them have the possibility of becoming a signi-

fier like the phallus. All are aborted phenomena that cannot become signifiers.
It is different with the penis. At the oedipal stage, in the relation between the
desire of the child and the desire of his mother, the penis is not an object that
is lost, but only threatened. This threat provokes such anxiety that the child is
forced to find a solution to this impasse. To remove the threat of the mutilation
of his organ, he must find the most humane solution: that of inventing a signi-
fier. To save his penis, he transforms it into a symbol. Now, the difference
between the penis and all other objects that are consumed by desire and
detachable from the body, is that the penis remains the only part of the body
that is capable of becoming a signifier. There cannot be a signifying breast, a
signifying voice, or signifying feces, for the simple reason that none of these
objects can be detached under a threat or in a state of anxiety. Thus, none of
these parts can accede to the rank of signifier. However, they will remain
attached to erogenous orifices and will become inoperative in the domain of
sexual desire. It is as if sexual desire was attracted to these objects, consumed
them, then disposed of them. The object of the drive—such as the pacifier or
even the mother’s nipple—is thus a disposable object: once it has been used by
our desires, we drop it and move to something else, to another object. This is
what Lacan would have called the “fall of object a.” The fate of the penis is
quite otherwise; it does not fall but on the contrary it is raised to the status of
the signifier of desire. Now, precisely when desire consumes an object and a
residue remains, the fall of this remainder follows the logic of sexual desire and
its signifier, the phallus. The relation of the child to the breast is a relation
dominated by desire: the child seeks the breast, consumes it, and finally aban-
dons it. We will say that weaning is a separation ruled by the phallic signifier
for the simple reason that the phallus is the signifier of desire. Let us note that
the attraction for the breast, from our perspective, is an expression of the sex-
ual desire of the infant, and that the pleasure of sucking is also sexual.
It is precisely this process of separation that we need to investigate, not
by treating of the breast or the gaze, but of pain. The idea I would like to pro-
pose is that one should add pain to the list of the objects of the drive, and conceive
of its detachment from the body as a separation brought about by the phallic
signifier. Now what are the conditions that allow us to think and verify that
pain is phallic, that is, that pain is an object that can be consumed? In other
words, how can we understand the fact that pain satisfies an essentially sex-
ual desire? There are three conditions that I would like to propose:

• The Other must be present for sexual desire to exist.

• For sexual desire to exist, there must be a motion of the drive following a
circular trajectory composed of three curves: the first, an active one, goes
toward the Other; the second, a passive one, comes from the Other; and
the third, also active, is directed at oneself.

• Finally, in order to claim that pain is an object of sexual satisfaction, it

must prove to be an object-hole. It is indeed this last condition that is the
most difficult to accept.

Is there an “eroticization” of pain?

In the Freudian concept of libidinal co-excitation, we have the explanation

of “eroticization of pain.” We know that a painful affect can be the source of
a sexual pleasure. But we can also understand this “eroticization” differently.
Let us imagine a fractured leg. The subject reacts immediately by investing
the painful bone injury narcissistically. Freud would have said that the ego
overinvests the painful spot in the body narcissistically.
More precisely, it overinvests the psychical representation of the
wounded and painful area. Freud does not say that there is a narcissistic over-
investment of the wounded place of the body, but of the mental representation
of that place. Now, what is the psychical representation of the painful spot?
It is nothing other than an isolated representation in the network of egoic
representations. I remind you that one of the definitions of the ego presents
it as a mental projection onto the surface of the body. The ego is, in effect, a
topical mental projection. That is to say, the narcissistically overinvested rep-
resentation is a mental image, a representation of a particular corporeal area.
Probably the affective and energetic overinvestment of the psychical image
of the wounded place can be understood as a libidinal overexcitation that is
equivalent to the perverse sexual pleasure “based on” a physiological func-
tion. From this point of view, a corporeal pain would necessarily involve a
certain eroticization. With respect to eroticization, I would like to cite a
beautiful passage from Freud. To explain eroticization as the overinvestment
of a representation, he uses the example of an erect penis. Freud writes: “Now,
the familiar prototype of an organ that is painfully tender, that is in some way
changed and that is not yet diseased in the ordinary sense, is the genital organ
in its states of excitation. In that condition it becomes congested with blood,
swollen and humected, and is at the seat of a multiplicity of sensations. Let
us now, taking any part of the body, describe its activity of sending sexually
exciting stimuli to the mind as its “erotogenicity” (SE XIV, 84).

Pain as object of the sadomasochistic fantasy

Let us return to our question: how can we accept the idea that pain provides
sexual satisfaction? We could have been content to respond that pain is a
phallic jouissance. But it happens that these new elements require us to recon-

sider things from the beginning. To identify pain with phallic jouissance
means that pain is a sexual jouissance engendered under the aegis of sexual
desire, and its signifier, the phallus. We should then find in the emergence of
pain the same oedipal context where the powerless desire of the child faces
the inaccessible desire of the mother. However, I already stressed that this
response did not satisfy us and was in no way helpful for our understanding of
the pain of melancholy or that of hysteria, for example. For a pain to be con-
sidered as sexual jouissance, there must be more than the reproduction of the
phallic situation: the three conditions that I just stated must be present.
Now, the three conditions are verified when we consider pain as the
object of the sadomasochistic drive. Without dwelling on the general concept
of drive, and before going to what I think is the heart of the matter, I would
simply like to make a few remarks about the sadomasochistic drive.
First, I say “sadomasochistic” drive and not “sadomasochistic perversions”;
indeed, drive is not perversion. The difference is clear: in the drive, the object
is present in a naked state, stripped of any semblance [semblant], while in the
perverse staging, what gives coherence and coordinates the perverse scenario is
precisely the semblance of the libidinal object. For example, the object of the
scopic drive is the gaze, but what counts in the perversion of the voyeur or the
exhibitionist is not the gaze in itself, but the form, the semblance of the gaze.
Now, what is the semblance of the gaze in the case of the voyeur? It is the mod-
esty of the other, the blushing of the little girl faced with the fact that someone
sees her nude. Or even the surprise, the shame, and the anger of the lovers dis-
covered while making love by someone in hiding. What the voyeur really seeks
to come upon is not the intimacy of the couple, but the moment when the sur-
prised partners will cover up in shame and react with violence. In this way,
then, in perversion it is not the object that matters but the semblance of the
object, that is to say, the effects that the object provokes and the situation it
creates. In the case of the drive, it is the object itself that matters. There is a
second difference between drive and perversion, namely, that in the latter case,
the object is petrified and crystallized in its semblance and the actors in the sce-
nario play stereotypical roles. For example, in sadomasochistic perversion, the
place of the subject can only be that of the agent or the victim; in voyeurism,
the pervert is the one who sees; in exhibitionism, the one who reveals. In the
case of the drive, the subject does not occupy a clearly defined place—one
should even say that the subject is not there, that there is no subject. The drive
is an egoless montage reduced to the bare form of a circuit that gravitates
around an object—whether it be the gaze, pain, or some other object. I there-
fore am speaking of sadomasochistic drive, and not of sadomasochistic perver-
sion. This, of course, is only a theoretical difference, but it will always be diffi-
cult to discern precisely whether it is drive or perversion that is in question. It
is already important that we clarified this distinction.

Now, pain in the sadomasochistic drive only appears after three stages.
Those three successive stages of the drive follow two of the four vicissitudes
of the drive. These vicissitudes are, one recalls: repression, sublimation, turn-
ing back on the person, and finally the reversal of aims. The two that inter-
est us here are the turning back, which concerns the source, and the reversal,
which concerns the aim. Following the way processes of reversal and turning
back take place, we will distinguish three stages: three stages that are defined
according to the grammatical forms of the verb indicating the action of the
drive. With respect to the sadomasochistic drive, the verb is “to torture,” and
the three stages are therefore: the active form (“to torture”), the passive form
(“to be tortured”), and the reflexive form (“to torture oneself”). Pain only
appears at the end of the three stages (Fig. 4).
The first stage of the sadomasochistic drive—“to torture”—corresponds
to the movement of a purely sadistic tendency, sadistic in the general sense
of the term. In this first active appearance of the drive, the aim is to torture
the Other, but without the intention of making him or her suffer, nor of
taking pleasure in the suffering. It is not a matter, strictly speaking, of pro-
voking pain in the Other. Freud makes an important remark, in this regard,
to which he returns often. Sadism of the first stage is an aggressive libidinal
tendency, to be sure, but without the intention of provoking a suffering. He
calls it the “drive to mastery,” that is to say, the drive to possess the object
without intending to hurt it. There is a will to conquer the Other and dom-

The pleasure of torturing the Other (sadism)

The pleasure of torturing the Other (aggressivity)

To torture oneself

1. T
3. EGO H


The pleasure of being tortured by the Other (masochism)


The four modes of the sado-masochistic drive:

1. to torture (aggressivity); 2. to be tortured (masochism);
3. to torture oneself; 4. to torture (sadism).

inate it without making it suffer. Freud gives the example of “sadistic” chil-
dren who destroy all they encounter without, however, seeking to provoke
pain. We can refer to this sadism—destructive but not malevolent—as
“original sadism.”
The second stage—“to be tortured—is that of turning back this sado-
aggressive tendency on oneself. It is in this turning back on the person that
the ego truly experiences pain and masochistically enjoys the experience.
This would be the pain and the pleasure provoked by the torture that the sup-
posedly sadistic Other would inflict on him or her. What Other? The ego
itself or, more precisely, a part of the ego. The ego splits in two: one part that
causes pain and the other that suffers and experiences jouissance from the
pain. I just said “ego,” although earlier I claimed that there was no subject in
the drive. We will nonetheless use this term during our explication and one
will see how the ego disappears as a subject.
The second stage is the masochistic stage. But it is necessary for me to
make a remark here. Freud significantly modified his conception of
masochism. In 1915, he formulated things as I have explained them, while in
1924, in the “Economic Problem in Masochism,” he added a further specifi-
cation. He thought it would be better to conceive of masochism as no longer
appearing after the sado-aggressive drive, but as already there, even before
that first stage. This is what Freud called “primary masochism.” But, I sug-
gest—so that we not confuse our paths—we set this remark aside and come
to the third stage, as described in metapsychology (SE XIV, 127–29).
The third stage is to “torture oneself”: “When once feeling pains has
become a masochistic aim, the sadistic aim of causing pain can arise also . . .”
(SE XIV, 128). In the third stage of “secondary sadism,” the tendency is to
make the Other suffer and to take pleasure in its pain. But Freud’s thinking is
not so simple. Until now, we have not discussed sexual pain. In this last stage
of sadism, properly speaking, the pleasure of making the Other suffer could
only be understood if we accept that the victim is first and foremost . . . the
ego itself. The humiliated other, beaten, humbled, or soiled, is the ego, as if
there had been a second return upon the self. In fact, the drive returns twice
on the ego: a first time, when it takes masochistic pleasure in being tortured
by the Other (second stage), and a second time, when it is a matter of expe-
riencing the same pain that the tortured Other experiences. The ego tortures
itself and hurts itself, in order to know what the tortured Other would expe-
rience. It is in this case that Freud uses the verb in its reflexive form: “to tor-
ture oneself.” One sees that the third stage of sadism, properly speaking,
involves two parts: that of hurting oneself and that of causing the Other to
experience the same painful feeling.
Let us dwell for a moment on this third stage, “to torture oneself.” When
I say “oneself,” I mean that it is the ego itself who is both victim and agent of

the torture. I ask that one not take this reasoning to be fancy theoretical
footwork: this is in fact a central notion from the clinical point of view. Why?
Because, if we accept this idea, we must draw several conclusions from it.
What, finally, does this stage of “self-torture” mean? Whether it is a matter of
pain that one inflicts without malevolent intention (first stage), or of a pain
that one submits to masochistically (second stage), or of a pain that one iden-
tifies with the Other subjected to sadism (third stage), we are always dealing
with a masochistic pain, that is to say, the pleasure of a pain suffered by the
ego. This is why Freud tells us that there is an identification of the ego with
the Other who suffers. In the context of the sadomasochistic drive, pain is
always felt by the ego, either because it suffers it, or because it identifies with
the one who suffers it. We can conclude that sexual jouissance, in the context
of the sadomasochistic drive, always remains a fundamentally masochistic
jouissance. Thus one should no longer speak of a “sadomasochistic” drive, but
only of a masochistic drive.
We must make a remark here. Even in the case of perversion properly
speaking, the sadist who tortures his or her partner also undergoes a
masochistic jouissance. Why? Because he or she acts following the will of an
Other. In other words, I can undergo jouissance masochistically as the victim
of a punishment, but can also undergo jouissance by being submitted to the
law or the will of a master. Since the sadist acts following the will of a
supreme master, he or she undergoes jouissance masochistically through his or
her servility.
These remarks are clinically important because they alter our psychoan-
alytic listening. I am not necessarily speaking of perverse patients, who rarely
seek analysis, and, if they do, do not stay long. The true pervert only seeks
consultation at certain moments of collapse and such moments last a very
short time. This is why it is so difficult to have a clinical experience with sub-
jects who act out perverse actions. Nevertheless, they teach us a lot about the
perverse fantasies of neurotics. Thus, when we receive a patient who presents
the symptoms of a perverse sadist, we try to make him or her understand that
the jouissance that permeates him or her is in fact a masochistic jouissance,
since it is the object of the will of the Other.
Let us come to our conclusion, namely, that pain only appears in the
third stage: causing oneself pain, torturing oneself; pain only appears when
the ego identifies with the other who suffers and, beyond that, with the one
who provokes the pain. As soon as the ego identifies with the masochistic
and sadistic Other, as soon as it assumes the two roles, it inscribes the char-
acters of the sadomasochistic fantasy on the scene of its psyche: a sadistic
superego and an ego that is always masochistic. In the case of hysteria, we
find the same duplication: recall Freud’s text “Hysterical Phantasies and
Their Relation to Bisexuality” (SE IX, 166). He describes the example of a

fantasy where the hysteric is both the violator of the young girl and the vio-
lated young girl. Freud drew this conclusion from a case of a patient who
mimicked a rapist with one hand, and mimicked the call for help of the vic-
tim, with the other hand. From this example, we understand that a fantasy
always implies an interchangeable double position: subject-violator and sub-
ject-violated, executioner and victim.
In the case of the sadomasochist, we find the same complexity: the ego
is the one who causes pain, who inflicts pain on itself, and the one who
endures the pain. What is important in each case is that the subject under-
goes jouissance masochistically. Why? For the simple reason—I insist—that
he or she undergoes jouissance from being, at one and the same time, the vic-
tim and the agent.
Let us summarize: as sexual jouissance, pain emerges precisely when the
ego abandons external reality to live through the characters of his or her fan-
tasy alone. A convergence and condensation appears between three terms:
the ego who suffers the pain, the sadistic ego who tortures itself (sadistic
superego), and pain itself. We therefore have three terms that are merged in
one element: the ego that undergoes jouissance from its own suffering. In sum,
we are faced with a convergence of Ego/Other/Pain, the three becoming one
and the same thing in the fantasy.
But in what does pain consist? Pain is the object around which the libid-
inal complex is organized and around which the libidinal circuit turns. Pain
is—this is how I defined it in my book L’Inconscient à venir 22—an in-between,
a body-interval. Pain detaches from the body and falls in the intermediary
space between the ego and the Other, between the ego who undergoes jouis-
sance from suffering and the one who undergoes jouissance from causing suf-
fering, or, more simply, pain falls between the masochistic ego and the sadis-
tic superego. We can certainly consider pain as an object with which the ego
identifies, but pain remains in itself an absent object around which the libid-
inal circuit turns. That is what is difficult to understand: apart from the fan-
tasy, we have no clinical representation of the drive, and even less of the
libidinal object. If you ask me where pain is located in the transference, one
would need to look into the sadomasochistic fantasy in the analytic relation
and imagine that pain—the libidinal object—has no substance. It is a pain-
hole, a pain-interval.

What do you think of the sadism of the tormenter?

There is a better word to designate the tormenter: the “torturer.” In the light
of our discussions, I would say that the sadism of the torturer is a masochistic
jouissance. What becomes of the torturer? His or her fate is to realize—at

times quickly, at times slowly—that he or she was only the miserable instru-
ment of someone else. When he or she tortured the victim, he or she ignored
the fact that he or she underwent jouissance masochistically from being the
instrument of a supreme master who commanded him or her. Beyond his or
her coldness and cruelty, the torturer is something of a monstrous puppet.
The pervert encounters the same limit when, for example, the masochist
realizes that the pain must not be too intense—for that would mean death—
or when the sadist realizes that he or she is nothing other than a puppet
guided by the hands of a master. It is at this point that he or she anguishes
before his or her own clown-like image. This confrontation of the pervert
with its own limit is called “the denial of castration.” Such an expression
means that the perverse subject recognizes that he is castrated while deny-
ing his limits and believing himself capable of going beyond them. Now, pre-
cisely, no speaking being can undergo jouissance fully. This is why masochis-
tic jouissance remains a partial jouissance in relation to an incommensurable
jouissance, that of the will of the Other. This is where the problem lies: the
notion of the Other functions as much for the pervert as it does for the psy-
chotic and the neurotic. For the neurotic, there is a jouissance of the Other,
but it is not, as it is for the pervert, the jouissance of a God or a Master. The
Other of the neurotic is a father who enjoys and possesses all women, it is a
fantasmatically perverse father. For the perverse subject, on the other hand,
the jouissance of the Other is the insatiable will of a master who commands
him or her. For the neurotic, the jouissance of the Other is the debauchery of
the father.
Before concluding, we can introduce the theme that will be developed in
the next lesson. I just stated that, in the drive, the object appears stripped of
any semblance, while in perversion, semblance occupies the center of the
perverse scenario. Now, the semblance that crystallizes in the sadomasochis-
tic scenario—the semblance of pain—is the scream. What is fetishized, what
is crystallized, that around which the perverse scene is arranged, is a scream
that simulates pain as well as pleasure. The simulacrum of pain, that is, its
fetishized feature, is the scream.

Lesson II. Pain in the negative therapeutic reaction

We find five libidinal trajectories represented in the schema in Fig. 5. Each

of them corresponds to an object of the drive. The first is the oral object, then
the anal, followed by the scopic object or gaze, the voice, and, finally, pain.
The two first libidinal trajectories correspond to the demand of the Other;
the first four correspond to the desire of the Other, and all of them—specific
pains—correspond to the jouissance of the Other. As a whole, we would say

Objects of the drive


of the

Pleasure of the
principle Glance Other

of the




Pain is a new object of the drive, when the drive is out of control and is no longer
ruled by the pleasure principle.

that all these libidinal trajectories are ruled by the pleasure principle, except
for pain, which supposes the neutralization of this principle.
We previously identified the three conditions that would allow us to
approach pain as an object of the sadomasochistic drive. Following the four
stages of the libidinal trajectories, we found that the ego, the Other, and

pain merged in one phenomenon: pain as an object of the drive. Now this
identification is called “fantasy.” More exactly, it is called masochistic fan-
tasy. I do not say “sadomasochistic fantasy,” but only masochistic. I will not
go back over what we have already established. As an object, pain only
appears at the source of the drive, after the double loop of the circling of
the libidinal trajectory, when the second little loop closes. Let us recall the
three stages of the libidinal motion: “to torture,” “to be tortured,” and “to
torture oneself.” It is when the second loop closes—“to torture oneself”—
that the ego identifies with the object-pain. It is at that point that pain is
finally constituted as an object of the drive, that is to say, as sexual pain.
But let us not forget that pain, as a libidinal object, is also a fantasmatic
pain, an object of fantasy. As a libidinal object, pain is a hole, an absence;
and as an object of fantasy, it is that same hole, but filled by the subject
(identification of the subject with the object). Now, whether as a vacant
hole or as a hole inhabited by the subject, whether as real or fantasmatic,
pain remains invariably unconscious, as unconscious as the “originary fan-
tasies” of which Freud spoke.
We thus propose to add pain to the list of libidinal objects (objects a). If
the breast is detached from the body, following the cut of the demand for the
Other, the feces detached following the cut of the demand of the Other, the
gaze following the cut of the desire of the Other, and the voice following the
cut of the desire of the Other, pain, on the contrary, is the ultimate object,
the ultimate fantasy. That fantasy does not face the demand or the desire of
the Other, but its jouissance. What does this mean? This means that pain is
the part that is sacrificed to avoid suffering, and to avoid confronting intol-
erable jouissance—even if this jouissance is an unrealizable threat.
The extreme and intolerable jouissance—the jouissance of the Other—
remains for the neurotic the background of all his or her fantasies, from the
primal scene until what concerns us now, the sadomasochistic fantasy. In the
case of the latter, in contrast to the other fantasies, this unimaginable and
unattainable suffering becomes imminent and perceptible. The most carica-
tured human figure by which the neurotic represents the Other in a
masochistic fantasy of flagellation, for example, is that of a perverse Other.
Now this Other laughs about my suffering, is cruel and severe, demands and
commands. What does he or she command of me? He or she commands that
I undergo jouissance and suffer, and undergo jouissance from my suffering.
“Undergo jouissance!” [Jouis] screams my perverse superego, “Undergo jouis-
sance from everything beyond your pain and beyond your very life. Experi-
ence death while still alive!” In relation to the absurdity of such an exhorta-
tion, the actual jouissance that I draw from the sadomasochistic fantasy—the
pain and the pleasure of feeling it—is only a “lukewarm satisfaction,” a very
restrained response to the unrealistic commands of a perverse superego. In a

word, pain is a dam against the jouissance of the Other in two ways: I undergo
jouissance from the pain in my flesh so as to avoid suffering the mad jouissance
of death. But I also suffer the pain of the whip in order to appease the per-
verse will of the Other.
Let us conclude that, for psychoanalysis and for psychoanalysis alone,
pain is a peculiar relief for two reasons: first, because pain is a suffering in
order to escape suffering, a partial suffering associated with a fantasy in order
to avoid an unlimited and dangerous suffering. This partial suffering is also a
peculiar relief, because this pain satisfies a strong need to be punished.

The strange need to be punished

What need? What is the nature of the imperious necessity requiring a pain to
appease it? This need is nothing other than an intrasubjective tension that
we call unconscious guilt. Guilt is that tension between the ego and the
superego, more precisely, an anxiety. Guilt is indeed an oppressing anxiety
that demands an urgent discharge and its immediate exteriorization. Now,
what better way to relieve the tension and the guilty anxiety than to be pun-
ished and hurt? This is why the pain that I feel in my masochistic fantasy is
a relief. This relief is all the more definitive if a part of dramatic reality is
added to my fantasy. It indeed happens that an accident, sickness, or death,
occurs at the right moment for us to endure a real pain, and thus justify the
guilt that was, until then, latent. It is as if unconscious guilt waited for mis-
fortune in order to be externalized and relieved.
There was a time in the history of psychoanalysis when a few of the first
psychoanalysts were quite preoccupied with this fantasmatic guilt, a guilty
and unconscious anxiety that is externalized in a pain, a pain that is sought
after and experienced as a relief. After the publication in 1923 of the essay
“The Ego and the Id” (SE XIX, 12–66), a few psychoanalysts such as Reik,
Tausk, Reich, and Alexander were concerned with the problem of how a pain
could offer relief. To the Freudian expression of “unconscious feeling of guilt,”
Reik would add the qualifier “painful,” and would invent the expression,
“painful feeling of guilt.” Tausk would speak of painful pleasure. In these
expressions, we see the superimposition of three emotional states. First, guilt,
which is an anxiety that can be described as painful (“painful feeling of
guilt”). Second, there is the pain felt in a fantasy or in reality following a
mishap. It is this pain that we believe to be the object of the drive. And
finally, the third emotional state, that of the pleasure experienced by the sub-
ject when he or she endures a pain—real or fantasmatic—that relieves the
tension of the anxiety of guilt. We call this pleasure of pain masochistic par-
tial jouissance. These matters are complicated by the fact that not only is the

subject capable of undergoing jouissance from the pain provoked by punish-

ment, but also from the distressful feeling that guilt itself represents. Freud
calls this pleasure of feeling guilty “moral masochism.”

The negative therapeutic reaction: A model for the formations of object a

There are many clinical forms of masochistic fantasy that transform the guilt
of anxiety into a relieving pain that brings jouissance. But the most important
one is the “negative therapeutic reaction.” This is a question that mobilized
analysts significantly in the 1940s and even in the 1920s. In what does the
negative therapeutic reaction consist? One finds that, against all expectation,
after the analysand has followed a sustained treatment and his or her condi-
tion has improved, suddenly his or her symptoms worsen. Why is this the case?
What accounts for the sudden occurrence of a relapse such that the patient is
worse than when he or she began treatment? Freud dismisses two possible rea-
sons. The first is narcissistic inaccessibility, that is, an excess of narcissism that
oftentimes leads the patient to confront the analyst and interrupt the cure.
The second reason, which he also dismisses, is what he calls the secondary
benefit of the sickness: the state of the analysand worsens in order to attract
both the attention and the love of the psychoanalyst. But none of these rea-
sons are satisfactory to explain these negative reactions, such as a relapse in
the therapy. Freud interprets the sudden worsening of the symptoms otherwise.
He believes that this relapse results from the (mute) unconscious need to be
punished. I mean “mute,” in the sense of a state of need without obvious indi-
cations that might be detected. But Freud’s hypothesis goes farther. He pro-
poses the striking idea that the unconscious need to concretely experience
pain, and thereby suppress the distress of the anxiety of guilt, is perhaps bor-
rowed from another person. Indeed, the subject would assume the guilt of
another, would feel its distress, and would assuage it by a curiously alleviating
suffering. Someone has given the patient an unconscious feeling of guilt, but
it is the patient who pays the price. Now, given the conditions of transference,
why not say that the unconscious feeling of guilt of the analysand has been
transmitted by the psychoanalyst? I do not say it is necessarily the analyst, but
neither do I exclude it. I wonder, and Lacan also wondered (in his commen-
tary on “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”) with respect to the stum-
bling block of castration—that is, the subject’s refusal to assume its femininity
for narcissistic reasons—whether it was not the way Freud had conducted the
therapy that led the patient to hide behind his narcissistic femininity and
interrupt the treatment? If we keep in mind the transference principle, I do
not see why we could not accept that the unconscious feeling of guilt comes
from the psychoanalyst. But let us not go farther for now.

This example of the negative therapeutic reaction led Freud to wonder

in what clinical form the unconscious feeling of guilt appears most often.
From reading “The Ego and the Id,” one has the impression that the clini-
cal context that corresponds to sadomasochistic fantasies would be obses-
sional neurosis. But Freud says no! The unconscious feeling of guilt does not
appear in obsessional neurosis; it can appear there, but this would not be its
distinguishing feature. The exemplary case for what concerns us here is hys-
teria and the hysterical states. Unconscious guilt hardly appears in obses-
sional neurosis because the obsessional subject is better prepared and has
more defenses. It is as if the obsessional was able to master and contain his
or her guilt, whereas the hysteric remains quite exposed. If we evoke, for
instance, the case of a suicide, we know that a suicide is more likely, for the
same reason, for a hysteric than an obsessional. We should also note that
the hypothesis of an unconscious guilt and an alleviating pain is already
clearly formulated in Freud’s letters to Fleiss.23 The first time Freud men-
tions Hamlet, he characterizes him precisely as a clinical case of the uncon-
scious feeling of guilt.
In sum, the negative therapeutic reaction is the clinical expression of a
sadomasochistic fantasy, or of a masochistic fantasy alone. But what is the
relation between a fantasy that we say is unconscious and its clinical mani-
festation? The problem I am concerned with is that of the “expression” or the
“externalization” of the unconscious. It is precisely this problem that led me
to propose the hypothesis of the formations of object a. Indeed, the negative
therapeutic reaction is certainly a phenomenon that can be easily observed,
and that both analyst and patient can notice without difficulty. However, the
unconscious guilt and the fantasmatic pain that alleviates it remain elusive. I
conclude from this that pain, however unconscious and imperceptible it may
be, returns to the subject as a clinical formation. A clinical formation, in the
eyes of the patient, seems to have no connection with the unconscious pain-
object (libidinal and fantasmatic object). The observation of both analyst
and analysand is that the symptom worsens. Yet, they establish no connec-
tion between this worsening and the underlying pain. When I say, “pain
returns to the subject,” I simply mean that pain is perceived, but in a dis-
guised manner. The object appears to the subject to be outside, like the per-
ception of a mishap with no connection with its true unconscious cause.

The leap of the libido from an unconscious fantasy to consciousness

Here, I must stop for a moment to outline a logic of the formations of object
a. I am thinking in particular of one of Freud’s texts, in which he tries to dis-
tinguish paranoia from schizophrenia. This essay—a few manuscript pages

sent to Jung around 1907—is an attempt to systematize various “vicissitudes

of the drive” and various “forms of repression.” These are his very words:
“vicissitudes of the drive,” and “forms of repression.” At that time, all the
analysts, whether in Vienna or Berlin, were concerned with the question of
narcissism, which was then the dominant theme. Freud himself wanted to
understand the mechanisms of various clinical structures with the aid of
metapsychology. Paranoia, schizophrenia, hysteria, hypochondria, and
melancholia were explained as movements of withdrawal of the libido.
According to Freud, the withdrawal of the libido varies according to the ego
to which the libido returns. The libido withdraws in different ways according
to the pathology of the ego. Recall that we have defined various kinds of egos
and emphasized the shattered ego—that of a schizophrenic—that is charac-
terized by an essentially autoerotic agency toward which the libido returns.
We also emphasized a hypotrophic and megalomaniacal ego as a model for
primary narcissism. I will not insist on this, but I will discuss Freud’s most
interesting remark when he proposes that, in paranoia, the libido leaves par-
tially the representation of the object and returns to the ego. Now, the fre-
quent error, when we say “withdrawal of the libido,” is to suppose that the
libido leaves the external world to return to the ego. But the libido does not
detach itself from the external world! The libido detaches itself from a psychical
representation of an external object, and this is an essential nuance. Why?
Because the movement of the libido is intrasubjective and not intersubjective:
it moves exclusively within the ego. Given that, for Freud, the representation
of the object is equivalent to a fantasy of desire, we shall say that the libido
leaves a fantasy partially and not the external reality. To what source does it
return? Let us put this question aside for the moment in order to consider a
second remark that seems important. Libido partially leaves the representa-
tion of the object, which is not the external world, and not the external
object, but rather, a fantasy. And the following proposition seems particularly
advantageous for our hypothesis concerning the formation of the object.
Freud advances this: the libido leaves the representation of the object, which,
unburdened of its libidinal investment, is transformed into a conscious per-
ception. Thus, the representation passes to a state of perception. And he
specifies—an essential remark—that when a representation is invested libid-
inally, it is a matter of an endogenous endopsychic perception. In other
words, the representation of the object, the fantasy of desire, or endogenous
perception, would be one and the same thing. However, when the endoge-
nous perception, that is, the representation, is freed of its investment, it
becomes a perception of an external object. Freud adds that in the case of
paranoia, the libido partially leaves the representation of the object, which
then becomes a conscious perception. Thus, the libido that had partially left
its representation, returns onto the ego and strongly invests its perceptual sur-

face, which is nothing other than consciousness. By investing consciousness

intensely, the libido renders every external perception excitable. It is with
this argument that Freud explained the phenomena of delusion and halluci-
nation. In other words, it is very interesting that hallucination and delirium
only emerge and constitute themselves following the leap of the libido: it
leaves the fantasy in order to invest consciousness exclusively.
I take this occasion to clarify my approach to Freud. My references to the
Freudian texts, although quite faithful and carefully articulated, are not
strictly literal. I read Freud in the movement of his thought into my own and
in the movement of the life of my patients. Thus, I can only give you my own
reading, or, more exactly, what in Freud nourishes my reflections.
I will now apply the same logic to our sadomasochistic fantasy and rec-
ognize in it the same internal displacement of the libido. In this way, we can
understand the mechanism of the formations of object a. Let us be clear: the
idea of the formation of object a came to me as an echo of the formations of
the unconscious. These are characterized by their strict conformity to the law
of signifying combination: each signifier of the formation of the unconscious
remains linked to the other signifiers metonymically (displacement) and
metaphorically (condensation). I will not go over this again because most of
you are familiar with the Lacanian logic of the signifier. On the contrary,
what we lack is an argument to explain the place of the object of the drive,
in a suicide, for example. We lacked a hypothesis to take account of pain in
the negative therapeutic reaction. Why? Because all the clinical phenomena
where the drive seems out of control [affolée], such as suicide, delirium, hal-
lucination, acting-out, or even the negative therapeutic reaction, are psychi-
cal formations that are self-sufficient and do not refer to anything else. We
already established the distinction between formations of the unconscious
and formations of the object in Les Yeux de Laure, but what I want you to con-
sider now—and Freud’s text gives us an argument that is helpful—is the rela-
tion between unconscious pain as either an object of the drive or as a fantas-
matic object, on the one hand, and the negative therapeutic reaction, on the
other hand. I will classify the negative therapeutic reaction in the same cat-
egory as a hallucination, a delirium, or an acting out. Because, in fact, these
formations are more than just clinical examples; they constitute psychical
formations that only refer to themselves and consist in the following: the
pain-object, to take up the negative therapeutic reaction again, is not only a
libidinal and fantasmatic object. The said reaction is also that which trans-
forms itself into a sudden worsening of the symptoms. Suddenly, my patient
takes ill, becomes aware of it, and I, the analyst, perceive it as well but nei-
ther of us understands what is going on. Acting out is the same sort of thing.
All these are psychical formations, returns of the libidinal object that, while
internal, appear to the subject as coming from without: the subject perceives

the guilt and the pain in the guise of a worsening of his or her symptoms.
Now, precisely, why not apply here the Freudian idea of the displacement of
the libido that withdraws from the fantasy in order to invest consciousness?
We would say that the masochistic fantasy is disinvested and reappears out-
side, transformed in a reality perceived as external. Unconscious guilt and
pain appear, then, in an external and disguised form. The negative therapeu-
tic reaction would be, then, the perceptible simulacra of these two uncon-
scious affects.
That being the case, there is a mask that pain adopts frequently, one that
is very different from clinical pathological formations: the scream and tears.
The scream and the tears are semblances that are the most attuned and clos-
est to that object that is unconscious pain.

Drive, fantasy, and perversion

I would like to discuss three problems, three questions derived from the fol-
lowing remark: all objects refer—more or less—to the jouissance of the Other,
but pain is its purest case, its most homogeneous exemplar. In other words,
the jouissance of the Other is an immense suffering experienced by the sub-
ject as a hypothetical danger. The mere idea of excessive jouissance causes
great fear. Now, pain is also a suffering, but a partial one, and reduced to the
boundaries of a fantasy. From this point of view, pain is the most evocative
representative of an inaccessible jouissance/suffering. This juxtaposition, how-
ever, raises three problems.
The first problem is that of masochism. How do we define masochism?
Masochism is a position from which the subject maintains a certain relation
with satisfaction, that is say, with sexual satisfaction, and even better, with
partial sexual satisfaction. Clearly, “sexual,” does not mean “genital,” but a
pleasure that is other than the pleasure procured by the satisfaction of a need.
Masochism consists in the following: the subject takes pleasure from being in
the place of the object with which the Other undergoes jouissance. We have
characterized the Other as a super-egoic pervert. It is, in effect, the two faces
of the superego that act, on the one hand, sadistically, and, on the other
hand, as a master who commands. Now, this definition of masochism can be
applied to all cases of fantasies that are constructed around various objects:
the breast, voice, and gaze. Each time that the subject takes the place of the
object in the fantasy, as a voice, the gaze, pain, or a breast, it adopts a
masochistic position. Structurally speaking, any fantasy is formed from the
subject’s identification with the object; consequently, any fantasy is basically
masochistic. Henceforth, the following question arises: how can we distin-
guish the properly masochistic fantasy from the other fantasies, in which the

subject adopts a masochistic position? We have already given the beginning

of a response by proposing that masochism is an identification of the subject
with the object, more precisely with the object of a perverse Other: the Sub-
ject undergoes jouissance from subjecting itself to the will of the Other.
The second problem is that of the erogenous zone. What is the erogenous
zone that corresponds specifically to the libidinal pain-object [l’objet pulsion-
nel douleur]? In “Three Essays on Sexuality” (SE VII, 201), Freud located it in
the skin. I believe that this is not sufficient, and that one should say instead:
it is the skin, but also the muscles, the muscle tone, to the extent that the
action of striking provokes pleasure, namely, the muscular pleasure of flagel-
lating the Other and of giving it a thrashing. But apart from the two eroge-
nous zones—skin and muscles—that specify pain, another aspect defines
masochism even more: screams and tears. The scream, as we stated, is the
most intimate semblance of the pain-object.
We will speak of the scream in the next chapter. At this point, I need to
raise a third problem. What difference is there between masochism such as
we have defined it in the fantasy—as being the object with which the Other
undergoes jouissance—that is, what difference is there between fantasmatic
masochism and the properly perverse masochism? Indeed, as we have indi-
cated previously, drive and fantasy are not perversions. Perversion is not fan-
tasy. What distinction can be established between fantasmatic pain, in all of
its clinical forms, and perverse pain?
There is a fundamental misunderstanding with respect to perversion.
One believes, because of a hasty description of perverse behavior, that per-
version only exists on the condition that there is an Other [l’Autre]. One does
not imagine a pervert without a partner. Now, from the structural point of
view, one must think the opposite, namely, that the other [autrui] in the sce-
nario of the perverse act only counts to the extent that he or she provides the
basis for a form. He or she is only important because he or she has a body with
a precise visual or auditory figure, and because he or she embodies a silhou-
ette that one can move in space and that one can manipulate. The perverse
world is a world without others, or rather a world in which the other is
reduced to the role of a soulless puppet in the service of a director. The per-
verse world is a lifeless world, inhabited by mimes and inert mannequins, full
of masks and costumes, movements and staged positions. In sum, it is a the-
atrical universe filled with forms and their combinations. If we wanted to
translate this cold and regulated presence of perversion into our analytic ter-
minology, we would say: perversion is the universe where repetition prevails,
and perverse action is a bizarre behavior designed to master repetition. At
times, the mannequin is the masochist who obeys the instructions of the
sadistic pervert; at other times it is the inverse: the mannequin is the sadist
who follows the instructions of the masochistic pervert.

You see now why the masochist is not, properly speaking, a slave, but a
master, a master “manipulator” of the forms and semblances of pain. The per-
vert is the master of the semblance; he or she discerns and isolates the sem-
blance, fetishizes and appropriates it. These are the three moments of the per-
verse operation: detachment of the semblance from the lived experience of
the partner, fetishization and appropriation. Now the semblance that the
masochist masters best is the scream. The pervert is the one who succeeds in
disassociating semblance from jouissance, or, better, the one who succeeds in
disassociating semblance from partial-pain jouissance, or, rather, the libidinal-
pain object. In other words, the pervert excels in the art of semblance, he or
she is the master of the scream.
The masochistic fantasy is exactly the opposite. While in the perverse
world, the Other is absolutely rejected outside, in the masochistic fantasy the
Other is absolutely assimilated. The Other is so present, so included, and so
absorbed by the ego, that the ego identifies with it. The other gives substance
to the fantasy. While the pervert separates semblance from jouissance, the
neurotic, on the contrary, blends semblance and jouissance in his or her fan-
tasy. If, as we have said, the world of the perversion remains the world of rep-
etition and of the fixed code of forms, then the world of fantasy is the world
of the possible: anything is possible in the fantasy since the subject makes the
Other play all the imaginary roles, and the subject plays them as well. This is
exactly how we must think clinically about the fantasy. When we work with
a patient and think of the fantasy, we must suppose that the subject is every-
where and takes every possible position.
I would like to speak of the scream and suggest this formula: the scream
is the semblance of pain. But before being a mask, the scream is a demand, a
call, the most primal and primitive call, and the most inarticulate. The
scream is already a statement, but an ultra-condensed statement, almost an
interjection. I asked a linguist recently if he understood the scream as an
interjection. He responded that some of his colleagues in fact considered it in
that way, and that some others considered it even more elementary than an
interjection. From the economic point of view, Freud considered the scream
as a release, a release of an excess energy. Given a high level of excitation
(which is nothing other than pain), the scream is a dissipation of energy. But
this release has a secondary function. The scream is a call directed toward two
recipients: first, toward the Other, and then toward oneself. The scream will
be considered as a theme in the next lesson.

Is there a relation between the direct perception of the exterior and the image?

There are two ways to respond to the question. This question is quite oppor-
tune because it allows me to clarify the logic of the formations of the object.

My first response borrows from Freud’s text, which we just discussed, and in
which he explains that an endopsychic perception can become an external
perception. One can consider, in effect, that the new investment of the con-
scious perception is an overly immediate apprehension of the external
object. It is as if the intermediary of an image was lacking. To offer a better
response, we could examine the relation between conscious perception, rep-
resentation of the object, endopsychic perception, and, finally, the image.
Freud, at the time, was not concerned with the image; the only image that
mattered to him was the ego ideal. The ego ideal was the ego to which the
libido returned.
The second response, which seems more accurate and more complete,
borrows from Lacan’s optical schema. It would be necessary to clarify that, in
the case of hallucination, delirium, or the negative therapeutic reaction, the
virtual image disappears. More precisely, the virtual image and the object it
reflects are disassociated. Normally, in the sadomasochistic fantasy, such as
we have described it, the Other is absolutely included, absorbed by the sub-
ject, and the subject by the object. Now, this absorption of the Other occurs
due to the virtual image that the Other reflects back to me and, particularly,
through the hole of the virtual image. What hole? The one Lacan calls (– φ)
or “imaginary phallus.” It is through the image reflected by the Other, and the
hole in this image, that I appropriate it. In fact, there is only a fantasy on this
condition: the imaginary dimension. In other words, one sees that when we
speak of the imaginary, it is not simply a matter of an image but of an image
with holes [trouée], pierced [trouée] by the imaginary phallus, that is to say,
affected by a missing part. What is missing in the image, that is, what is not
reflected there, if not the libido that invests the image? As energy, the libido
cannot have an image. It is not specular.
While the masochistic fantasy takes the form of the negative therapeu-
tic reaction, it is perceived without the mediation of a virtual image. In order
to use your adjective “direct,” there would be in fact a sort of “direct percep-
tion” of the external object that would constitute the primary operation of
the formations of the object. In other words, the formation of the object,
unlike the fantasy, is devoid of both a virtual and phallic image. There is no
imaginary mediation, whether in acting out, in hallucination, or, in the neg-
ative therapeutic reaction. Therefore, I concede that there is no imaginary;
but above all, that there is no virtual image with holes. What matters in the
image is not the image itself, but that it has holes, otherwise, it would not be
a sexualized image. Why insist on this? Because to state that an image has
holes means that it is the constitutive surface of a sexual fantasy. If there was
no (– φ), if the Other was a full image without holes, the scenario of the fan-
tasy would not be sexualized and, to speak in Freudian terms, there would be
no libido. Psychoanalytically speaking, the image only interests us to the
extent that it is invested with libido, that is to say, sexualized and with holes.

A response to a practitioner who asks for clarification concerning a

patient’s dream

It is difficult to publicly analyze a particular dream. When the analyst listens

to a patient narrate a dream, the analyst may have the impression that his or
her thoughts return from the outside. I hear a dream and it is a voice from out-
side that expresses my thoughts as if they were spoken out loud by someone
else. Your patient narrated his or her dream by describing a scene. But while
listening, you were, at that very moment, rewriting that scene as you rewrite
it now by asking your question, and as we all rewrite, inevitably, when recall-
ing our dreams. We all rewrite our dreams. Without going into the details of
the narrative as you reported it, I will make an observation. You should know,
first, that we are in a public context and not in a supervision. If we were, my
interventions would depend on the transference established with the analyst
who would have shared his or her analysand’s dream with me.
My first observation brought on by this dream refers to primary eroge-
nous masochism and its relation with the psychoanalyst. Let me explain. We
can recall a Lacanian saying on which we have often insisted, “The analyst is
in the place of the semblance of the object,” and thereby reconsider what we
said above. First, we could deduce from it that if the analyst were to be in the
place of the object, he or she could adopt a masochistic position. I am not
saying that in the analytic relation, one is a masochist and the other a sadist.
I simply mean that the position adopted by the analyst in the transference is
to take the position of an object, an object by which the Other undergoes
jouissance. But unlike the perverse masochist, the analyst finds him or herself
in a semblance that eludes him or her. The other day, when we spoke of the
smile of the analyst, we said that what mattered was to consider his or her
smile as the resonance of the speech of the analysand. It is that speech that
leads the practitioner to position him or herself in a certain manner. It is that
speech that causes him or her to take on the living mask of the smile. When
the analyst is silent or smiling, that is to say, when he or she adopts the posi-
tion of the semblance, it is not a question of pretending [faire semblant]—as
the hysteric would—nor of mastering the semblance—as the pervert would;
no, the analyst is subjected to the semblance that imposes itself upon him or
her. The analyst lends him or herself to it. The analyst fits into the semblance
as into a harness by mimicking the object.
This leads me to a last consideration regarding the masochistic aspect of
the work of the psychoanalyst: What is my satisfaction in the work that I do?
Why this question? I take, without knowing it, the place of the semblance of
the object but never that of the object itself. I could never be the object itself
so long as I am a human being, for the simple reason that to become the
object would amount to rendering oneself as inert as marble. The question

that the analyst must pose to him or herself fairly often—because it would
allow him or her to intervene better and to settle into the transference more
effectively—is the following: What is my share of the satisfaction in the
action I engage and that engages me?
There is a surprising citation from Freud that is pertinent here (SE
XIX, 56). Freud is interested in the function of the ego in its relation to the
Id and to reality. Thus, he is led to compare the function of the ego to that
of the psychoanalyst. Here is what he writes: “The ego offers itself . . . as a
libidinal object to the Id.” You can replace “ego” with “analyst” and say:
“The ego (analyst) offers itself as a libidinal object to the Id and aims at
attaching the Id’s libido to itself. It is not only a helper to the Id; it is also
a submissive slave who courts his master’s love. Whenever possible it tries
to remain on good terms with the Id; it pretends that the Id is showing obe-
dience to admonitions of reality; it masks the Id’s conflict with reality. In
its position midway between the Id and reality, it only too often yields to
the temptation to become sycophantic, opportunistic, and lying, like a
politician who sees the truth but wants to keep his place in popular favor.”
This is extraordinary because, in fact, the analyst can, in certain circum-
stances, allow him or herself to be tempted and, like the ego, become a liar,
opportunistic, or sycophantic.
I will conclude by reconsidering the theme of masochism on the basis of
this citation from Freud. He continues: “Toward the two classes of instincts
the ego’s attitude is not impartial. Through its work of identification and
sublimation it gives the death instincts in the Id assistance in gaining con-
trol over the libido. . . .” Then he reconsiders what we have read earlier. The
ego is the assistant of the Id but “runs the risk of becoming the object of the
death instincts and of itself perishing. In order to be able to help in this way
it has had itself to become filled with libido; it thus itself becomes the rep-
resentative of Eros and thenceforward desires to live and be loved.” In con-
clusion, he warns: “But since the ego’s work of sublimation results in a defu-
sion of the instincts and a liberation of the aggressive instincts in the
super-ego, its struggle against the libido exposes it (ego or analyst) to the
danger of maltreatment or death.” You will agree that these lines devoted to
the ego are eminently evocative of the action of the psychoanalyst, of his or
her joys and sorrows, and of the struggles and temptations to which he or she
remains vulnerable.

Lesson III. Pain and the scream

Freud considered pain to be an enigma. This is what he stated during a meet-

ing of the Psychoanalytic Society of Vienna in 1910 following a lecture on

masochism: “Our deficient explanation of the derivation of sadism and

masochism lies in our lack of knowledge concerning the nature of pain in
general, with its half-psychic and half-physiological determining conditions.
This enigmatic character [of pain] is very clear. . . .”24 Thus, Freud himself
encountered this mystery, which we would formulate in the following way:
What is this inassimilable pain, experienced as if it was not ours, and yet, the
place where what we are and what is most proper to us, is condensed? Further,
what is a pain that would not be recognized by the one who suffers? How can
one speak of a pain that is unconscious?
We are, thereby, confronted with a twofold difficulty: on the one hand,
to make these questions intelligible, that is to say, to state them in such a way
that they concern us personally, without being too abstract. On the other
hand, to understand how the psychoanalyst can apprehend in his or her work
an object—pain—that conceals itself from the senses and from thought. Per-
haps we must first use the concepts and then without hesitation immediately
forget them thereafter. This is how we will proceed in this section. We are
going to work with theory, but we will then attempt to apprehend pain in
another way.
We cannot discover the essence of intimate pain either immediately,
theoretically, or even clinically; it never presents itself in a manifest form. We
will encounter it, rather, by taking an unusual route, the very one that Freud
advised Lou Andréas Salomé to follow in a letter of May 24, 1916: “I know
that in writing I have to blind myself artificially in order to focus all the light
on one dark spot.”25 This is a remarkable sentence, which can be interpreted
in the following way: in order to see clearly, we must enclose ourselves in
darkness. We can offer yet another interpretation: the essence of pain is invis-
ible to us; let us push the paradox to its limit, and be led by what lies at the
heart of pain: the scream.

The scream is a motor discharge

The scream is so intimately linked to pain that most adjectives describing

it belong to the register of resonant space: one speaks of a “shrill scream,”
“an acute pain”; one speaks of an insistent scream, an insistent pain. But
what is a scream? Are we even sure that a scream is only a sound? We
encounter here the same difficulty that we did when we approached the
question of pain, and are faced with a new paradox that will constitute the
limit of our reflection.
Let us begin with what Freud teaches us about the scream. He particu-
larly speaks of it in the “Project” where he characterizes it, for the most part,
as a motor discharge, an outlet through which the intolerable accumulation

of excitations is dissipated. In other words, it is an outlet for pain. But let us

move beyond this idea, according to which the scream would be a simple
motor discharge and ask: Why not imagine the scream as a flux of energy
gushing through the hole of the mouth considered as an erogenous ring? If we
accept that the mouth is a libidinal orifice, we can consider that the flux of
energy that runs through its center is a force defined in relation to another
flux, to another force that runs along the lips. In other words, there would be
a relation between the energy that passes through the center of the hole and
the energy circulating around its edges. This relation between the scream and
the erogenous edges of the mouth—between the gushing flux of the hole and
the circulating flux on the border of the hole, between the surface (that is the
void of the hole) and the orificial edge—was established by Stockes’s theo-
rem in electromagnetic physics.26 With the aid of this theorem, we can con-
clude that the flux flowing through the hole is equal to the flux running along
the edge of the hole. Thus, there would be an equivalence between the
energy of the scream and the sexual pleasure of the erogenous lips.

The scream is an action that changes the environment

Let us return to Freud now. After having postulated that the scream is a
motor discharge, he immediately specifies that this definition is only a fic-
tion. In fact, if we think that the scream is an outlet for pain, that would
mean that any pain could be resolved by a scream; it would suffice to scream
in order to alleviate pain. Now, Freud emphasized that the motor discharge
does not resolve the tension. He also adds that if, on the one hand, you
place the scream in the mouth of the infant, and, on the other hand,
between the infant and its mother, you have introduced the reality princi-
ple. In what does this principle consist? Its function is to transform the
motor discharge into directed energy, into an indication of a reality that
allows the infant to situate itself in its environment. The infant screams in
an effort to modify its environment and to satisfy its need. The scream is
thus no longer a discharge because it serves a useful function and takes on
a definite meaning. Freud calls this modification of the environment, as
well as all the means employed by the infant to produce that change and
reduce its internal tensions, a “specific action.” The scream-discharge
becomes the specific scream-action. This is a very interesting remark for our
study concerning the concept of “acting out,” since Freud allows us to see
the scream as the first action of a speaking being. In this work, we must
articulate this scream-action in relation to the notion of the drive to mas-
tery [pulsion d’emprise] and further resituate the scream in the relation
between the drive to mastery and sadism as aggression.

The scream strikes the ears of the one who utters it and inscribes itself in
his or her memory

In what does the specificity of the scream consist? It is twofold. On the one
hand, the scream is an address to the Other, a call directed to the caretaker;
we will return to the function of the call at the end of this lesson. On the
other hand, the scream is also a sound perceived by the one who utters it.
Thus, the scream goes to the other, but as a sound it comes back to the ears
of the one who uttered it.
We will first consider the scream-sound that we hear before treating it as
a call to the Other. As a sound-discharge, the scream returns to the one who
utters it as a novel echo and is inscribed without his or her knowledge in the
system of memory neurons (“ϕ” neurones). The one who screams out receives
it as it returns and inscribes it in his or her memory. But of what is the scream
a memory? Let us defer this question for a moment and approach now the
“marking” function of the scream. The sound uttered by the one who suffers
does not only represent his or her pain, but it also confers on the agent—the
cause of the wound—its fundamentally dangerous and aggressive character.
The scream does more than represent pain and the agent who provokes it—
it indicates the intolerable character of one and the injurious character of the
other. This shows, indeed, that the essence of pain is realized in a scream. The
scream would not only be the semblance of pain but also the resonant sub-
stance giving pain its consistency as an unpleasant affect. This opens an
immense question. You will see that Freud goes even farther and makes a sup-
plementary leap, which we will follow.
But let us remain for a moment where we are now. I say that it is an
important conceptual development to say that the scream incarnates pain (as
opposed to simply representing it), communicates to it its nature as an unac-
ceptable affect, and sustains and founds it. This leads us to our thesis in the
last chapter, according to which the scream is the semblance of pain. I estab-
lished a relation between the scream as semblance of pain and the perverse
scenario in masochism. We defined the masochist as a master of the sem-
blance-scream, as someone who really knows how to scream. In this respect,
I associate the Lacanian notion of semblance with the “simulacra” of
Lucretius. In De Natura Rerum,27 he borrows the concept of the simulacrum
from his master Epicurus. I advise psychoanalysts to study it. They will see
that it is absolutely fascinating on a theoretical level, but not only that. I
advise them to read these pages of Lucretius on the simulacrum and then
undertake the work of listening to their patients.
What Lucretius tells us is that the simulacra are strange emanations from
objects, kinds of light membranes, detached from the surface of the bodies,
floating in the air, and flying in all directions. He adds that these membranes

are in some cases images, and others not; in some cases visible, but not
always. These are often impalpable images, strange exhalations, and, above
all, rapid irradiations that emerge, spread and dissipate very quickly. This text
of Lucretius would demand that we devote an entire seminar on the very cru-
cial concept of “semblance” in Lacan’s work by comparing it to the Epicurean
notion of simulacra. Such a seminar could be inspired by the following idea,
which is already sketched in Lucretius: that of a causal relation, almost phys-
ical, between the thing and its semblance, between pain and the scream.

The scream is an emanation of pain, but also the breath that enflames it

Let us return to our earlier hypothesis: the view that the scream is not only
a symbolic representative of pain, but that it also marks pain as well as the
agent that provokes it (and its harmful and noxious nature). In this respect,
Freud made an advance in his thinking. He tells us first that the scream is a
representative of pain, then that it gives the pain its distressing tone, and
above all—it is here that he makes the leap—he tells us that the scream is
capable of reawakening the pain. Until now, we stated the inverse: that pain
produced the scream. Now we are saying that the scream produces pain.
How is this the case? Here, we can respond to our question: Of what is the
scream a memory? As Pavlov’s bell is capable of arousing hunger and mak-
ing dogs salivate, the scream is just as capable of reawakening pain, as well
as the fear of seeing the cause of the attack reappear. Once uttered, the
scream remains associated, in memory, with the agent of the harm and with
the pain. Henceforth, each time that a sharp screaming strikes the ears of
the subject, whether a scream proffered by the other, or a new scream from
the subject itself, the pain reappears as a memory in the flesh. By hearing the
scream, the subject feels an inexplicable physical pain. The scream is thus
not only a figure of pain, it can also be, because it is a memory, an excitation
that leads to a painful sensation without an identifiable organic cause. It is
as if the sensation was a hallucinated pain. The sequence of our reasoning
would be as follows: the scream reflects pain, the scream refracts pain, and
then the scream triggers pain. It shows it, marks it, and engenders it as a hal-
lucinated production.
To read these pages of Freud in light of what Lacan has taught us, we rec-
ognize clearly two important articulations. The first is as follows: the relation
between the scream and the hallucinated pain is a perfect example of the
foundational relation between the signifier and the affect. Lacan has often
been reproached for his intellectualist privileging of the signifier to the detri-
ment of the affect. It suffices to read Freud with this reproach in mind to see
that he himself responds to such a charge. This is not an interpretation on my

part; it is present throughout the Freudian writings. In fact, the psychoana-

lytic definition of the affect repeats the Darwinian perspective. It was Darwin
who influenced Freud’s thesis that any affect is a repetition, the repetition of
a very old traumatic event. In this respect, an affect experienced today is the
reminiscence of a past experience. More precisely, it is a symbol of an origi-
nary trauma. The affect is thus a symbol or, better, a signifier. Why? Because
it is reproducible.
Our idea that the scream generates a hallucinated pain clearly illustrates
a very Lacanian principle, namely, that the signifier “takes place.” In effect,
it is not sufficient to say that a signifier represents the subject for another sig-
nifier, or that the signifier is different from the other signifiers that compose
the system; it is not enough to say that the signifier is only a signifier for other
signifiers. One must rather say that the signifier is what takes place and con-
stitutes the place. Therefore, the relation between the signifier and the affect
is that the signifier constitutes the affect and constitutes the place of the affect. Here
is a principle that is incontestably Lacanian.
The second connection that we establish between Lacan and the Project
refers to a passage where Freud proposes that the scream—once uttered as a
sound—is registered in memory and associated with the painful sensation
that was felt by the subject at that time and with the perception of the agent
who inflicted the wound. I utter the scream, I hear it, and it is inscribed in
my memory while bringing back the pain and its cause. Freud remarks else-
where that the same phenomenon takes place with language. The words
heard are the necessary pathways for thought to remain, thanks to the mem-
ory of language, a constantly active process. If there were no verbal produc-
tions in the space of sound, there would not be any trace of thought and, con-
sequently, thinking would not be possible.
This sonorous materiality of language, which renders it apt to inscribe
itself in our memory and preserve the dynamism of thought, reminds me of
the Lacanian conception of language, not as a symbolic system but as a phys-
ical and real organ. Allow me to elaborate on this point. When Deleuze and
Guattari advanced Artaud’s thesis of the “body without organs,” Lacan
replied that the psychotic is not deprived of organs, since he possesses one
fundamental organ with which he coexists as we all do: language. There is
here a conceptual twist, a change in perspective. We usually take language to
be a symbolic structure. This is quite right, and there is no going back on it.
As a network composed of different elements obeying a rigorous logic, lan-
guage indeed belongs to a symbolic order. But it is not exclusively symbolic,
it is also something real, a real that flies around us, as Lucretius wrote, with
respect to the simulacra. Furthermore, it is a real that flutters about con-
stantly in the analytic session, within the analytic chamber. Language is an
organ, not in the instrumental sense of an efficacious tool—as Chomsky

believes—but an organ that prolongs and extends the body. When I make
this statement, the myth of the lamelle, of the libido as lamelle, comes imme-
diately to mind. Such a libido radiates from the body like an emanation of its
vital force and goes beyond its limits. Rather than situating language in the
symbolic dimension alone, it is appropriate to conceive of it as a real sound
organ that extends our body indefinitely. If I emphasize this real aspect of lan-
guage, it is in order to show that language is not only a material utterance of
the subject, but is also stored in memory. This summarizes our comments with
respect to the scream as a physical, sonorous, and cumulative entity.

The scream is an appeal to the Other

Now we will approach the scream as an appeal to the Other. To begin, I

would like to read you an important passage from Freud. It is drawn from the
Project (SE I, 318). He speaks there of the scream and ends his paragraph in
the following way: “In this way this path of discharge acquires a secondary
function of the highest importance, that of communication. . . .” The scream-
discharge thus has a secondary function, that of encouraging the mutual
understanding between the infant and the mother. Freud continues with this
difficult proposition, “and the initial helplessness of human beings is the pri-
mal source of all moral motives.” But what is a scream if not the most authen-
tic expression of our powerlessness? Our screams always express our rage at
being subject to our limits and to our inability to overcome them. Thus, we
can say that, if the scream expresses the primordial powerlessness of being
human, it also expresses the primary source of all moral sentiments. But
what are these moral sentiments? In psychoanalysis, they carry a particular
name: the superego. Indeed, the source of the superego is this powerlessness
and the scream that incarnates it. Why? Because this primordial demand,
the most inarticulate of all pleas, this interjection that is the scream, this
ultra reduced statement, in short, this appeal with which the infant
announces its powerlessness, reaches the Other, the mother and in return,
provokes a caring response. What sort of response? First, one that consists in
interpreting the scream of the infant and giving it a meaning, and then,
above all, in naming for the infant that which the scream expresses. The
inarticulate scream of the infant is thus transformed, thanks to the articu-
lated voice of the Other, into speech. This speech is received by the infant
as an imperious voice that later becomes the inner voice of its own superego.
The scream directed at the Other thus becomes the inner scream of the
superego. Recall Freud’s insistence in emphasizing the acoustic origin of the
superego. With the scream, we are at the very root of the superego. The birth
of the superego is only possible within the relation with another that Freud

describes as mutual understanding. This understanding is, in fact, quite lim-

ited, since the infant only communicates with a single aspect of the Other.
Indeed, the Other appears to the infant in two different ways: as a being
that is accessible and familiar, but also as one that is unknown and inaccessi-
ble. I need to recall here the Freudian notion of the “perceptual complex of
the other person.” According to this notion, the mother or titular adult
appears to the eyes of the infant as an other [prochain] who lives, changes, and
moves, and, on the other hand, as one who, in spite of the coming and going,
always remains the same, inalterable. The perceptual complex has thus two
parts: one where the other changes, and the other where the other is stable
and immutable. The Other who changes appears as an other whose charac-
teristics mirror my own characteristics, whose gestures mirror my own ges-
tures, and so forth, in an interminable coming and going. In these permanent
reflections, there is a work of rememoration, for these gestures recall my own,
and when he or she is upset, his or her screams remind me of my own screams
that cause me to relive my first painful experiences. It is precisely in this con-
frontation with the changing face of the mother that Freud situates, not only
the origin of the superego, but also and especially the origin of judgment.

The scream is an appeal to the silence of the void

the other is the intolerable imminence of jouissance

—Jacques Lacan

However, we are equally interested in the other part of the “perceptual com-
plex of the other.” We are interested in the immutable and unknown face of
the Other. This Other appears, no longer as a similar human being, but as an
inaccessible Thing (das Ding), that thing that Lacan spoke of so often. The
Thing is the inassimilable part of the Other, an uncanny and unchanging
presence. This is the point that I would like to stress. The scream is situated
between the two parts of this complex of the other—between the perception
of the Other as a double helping me recognize myself and the perception of
the Other as an absolute and impenetrable Thing.
The scream gathers these two aspects of the Other in the form of scream
with two sides. One, which we have just established and that we accept most
easily: the child screams and the mother responds, the mother screams and
the child remembers his or her screams and pains. While the other side of the
scream, that which corresponds to the second part of the complex of the
other, is no longer communication with the Other but an appeal to the
Thing, a lightning flash that reveals it. One only needs an intense and vis-
ceral scream to perceive, at the core of the bond with the mother, the silent

immensity of das Ding, the absolute and inassimilable Thing. This Thing,
external to me, is however that which is most central and intimate for me,
since the Thing is nothing other than an absolute void, impersonal and com-
mon to the two partners who share a bond of love and desire. Lacan invents
the neologism “extimacy” [“extimité”] to refer to the Thing, both external and
intimate at the same time. This Thing, however, neither resonates nor
vibrates, it is silence, pure silence: I scream, he or she screams and it is the
silence of the Thing that bursts forth and imposes itself.
We began with the following question: How can one conceive of a pain
that is not felt? You see, it is not a question of physical pain nor of the pain
of the sadomasochistic fantasy that we studied earlier. Nor is it a question of
the various clinical forms that this pain takes, such as the negative therapeu-
tic reaction. Now I would like to go further, to push the paradox to its limits.
We considered the scream as a motor discharge and in this respect we were
on solid ground. Then we defined it as a scream-appeal and then as a sound
inscribed in memory. But now we are faced with a new threshold to cross,
faced with a completely different domain: a scream that appeals to the Thing
and makes silence emerge. We have twisted things a bit and found a paradox:
a scream that engenders silence and a pain that is not felt.
How can a scream that engenders silence be manifest? How can this frag-
ment of the real be visualized? We need a painted scream, the painting of a
scream. This evening, I brought a picture of a scream. There is only one
painter, and I would say only one painting, that has given me the feeling of
being in the presence of the scream I was seeking. It is a painting by Francis
Bacon, a well-known artist. It was painted in 1949 from the portrait of Pope
Innocent X, which was completed in 1650 by Velasquez during a trip that he
took to Italy. This work of Bacon, entitled Head IV, has been considered at
length in a remarkable book of interviews between the artist and the jour-
nalist David Sylvester.28 The painter evokes his relation to the scream. But let
us allow Bacon to speak before I tell you why this painting represents exactly
what I was looking for. David Sylvester is surprised that the painter had
painted a scream from a pope and asked him if there was a relation to the
father. Bacon responded that he never made the slightest connection
between the father and the pope, but that he always had been fascinated by
the smiling mouth painted by Velasquez, a mouth he had many times
attempted to reproduce in vain. One senses a mixture of regret and humility
in Bacon’s response when he confesses to have drawn a badly formed mouth
because he was unable to paint a smile, or expression of joy on the lips. Next,
he explains that in the end, he wanted to represent a screaming mouth
instead of a smiling mouth. But it is, above all, the rest of the interview that
interests me. He confides the following: “You could say that a scream is an
image of horror; in fact, I wanted to paint the scream rather than the horror.”

If you look well at the painting you will see that it gives the curious impres-
sion that no sound is coming from the open mouth, that no shrill scream
seems to form there. Something else is at issue. Don’t you feel with some
dread that this mute and deep scream is not a brutal expiration of the breath
but is in fact an inspiration—even more, a violent aspiration of the air shoot-
ing into the head and exploding it. Look at the head of this person. It is an
atomized skull as if the silence prevailing in this container were absorbed in
one breath by the gaping, aspirating mouth, of that strange pope.
What I describe was confirmed by a patient. At the time, I was taken by
it. I was preparing this lesson and seeking works representing a scream. In
fact, Bacon himself tells us that for him the most beautiful scream in a paint-
ing is that of Poussin in the “Massacre des Innocents” that one can see at the
Chantilly Museum. I went to see the painting but it did not cause the same
effect in me as it had in Bacon. At that same time, a session took place with
a patient who had the particular problem of not being able to stop screaming
and who suffered greatly from it. This symptom vanished after her pregnancy.
Here is the conversation I had with her: “You see,” she said, “I no longer
scream now, the police no longer come to the house in the middle of the
night.” “How do you explain it ?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she responded.
“But what did it mean to you, to scream?” “To scream? “ she responded. “Each
time that I wailed I felt the scream rise in my head and fill a void; as if I would
scream with my whole head, or, as if my whole head was a mouth. I do not
know.” Is this not the best and most sensitive description of the painting? It
is a mute scream, a scream of silence, an absorbing scream. It is not a scream
that exhales. It is a scream that inhales and empties space. Now, when I say
this word inhalation, I am thinking of the Freudian conception of melancholic
pain understood as an internal hemorrhage provoked by a violent inhalation
of air. Freud uses the expressions “valve,” and “sucking-pump,” to represent
the force that sucks and empties all libido. It is precisely the powerful suction
of the interior that is painful. Indeed, this silence, this scream drawn by
Bacon, is a scream that absorbs silence; this is just such a scream, it is a hem-
orrhage toward the inside.
I would not want to end without discussing what the introduction of a
painting in our seminar means to me. My gesture aims at something other
than a mere illustration of theoretical knowledge about the scream. It is more
than that. It is an indication of the position the analyst can assume in the
face of pain and the scream of his or her patients. We have a theory that only
has value, in my view, in that it makes us ask good questions. You could read
any number of texts, but the only important thing is that you ask the right
question. For me, the relation between theory and practice takes place in the
question. The analyst’s “know-how” is to know how to question. But, here,
we are elsewhere; we are in another register than that of knowing how to ask

good questions. Certainly, we have engaged pain and the scream theoreti-
cally; we have used concepts and we have posed good questions, such as:
What is a pain that is not felt? But I insist that the introduction of a paint-
ing in a seminar does not seek to illustrate what we know theoretically or
what we think we know. For psychical formations such as pain and the
scream, reflections and questions are not enough. Something else is needed:
to focus—“I have to blind myself artificially in order to focus all the light on
one dark spot,” and then see, that is to say, visualize the real, and nearly hal-
lucinate it. These words will seem surprising to those who have not worked
with patients. But I think the analysts who practice listening or the
analysands who have been through analysis understand me. It can happen
that practitioners are no longer satisfied at certain moments with their
knowledge and are led to visualize or hallucinate the fantasies that emerge in
the transference. When I heard my patient tell of the pain she suffered when
she was screaming, I must say I was surprised for, at the precise moment when
I had this painting in mind I was hearing the voice of someone who was
describing the very painting to me without ever having seen it. There is no
better way to tell you about the desire of the analyst.

Why did the artist paint the scream rather than the horror?

Recall Bacon’s reply. “You could say that a scream is an image of horror; in
fact, I wanted to paint the scream rather than the horror.” It is precisely
because the painter wanted to depict the scream rather than the horror that
the Thing is revealed. I believe that if he had wanted to represent horror, he
would have made a figurative painting of horror and we would have been
deprived of the emotion of an exceptional scream, a mute scream. He does
not paint horror, but the scream, and presents the horror in the form of an
absorbed silence.

Is the scream exclusively the expression of pain?

Certainly not. We all know how a scream can also express joy and many other
emotions. But I preferred to focus on the relation of the scream to pain. That
being the case, the question reminds me of a text by Hegel that he wrote when
he was very young; in fact, it is from his travel notes. He devoted a page to
pain where the scream is defined as the absolute expression of pain. Pain, he
added, expressed so purely by the scream, can curiously be appeased by another
scream. He gives the example of mourners who, at funerals, wail from the pain
of losing a loved one and he wonders how to explain the way in which this

wail—that, in the end, is nothing but a sublimated scream—can be a balm for

suffering. Now, the idea came to me while reading these notes that a rhythmic
relation must exist between the mute pain felt by the mourner and the com-
plaint of the other who gives voice to it. I think that it is this rhythmic accord
that exorcises pain. We have said that the scream represents pain, then, that
it does more than represent it, it gives it its substance, and finally, that it is
capable of engendering a hallucinated pain. And here we say that, with the
mourners, we discover that the scream can also alleviate pain.

Can the scream have a therapeutic function?

I will consider the example of autism and raise two problems. First, what func-
tion will the scream have in the treatment of an autistic child? Rest assured, I
am not saying that autistic children should scream; I am consciously wonder-
ing about the function of the scream from the perspective of articulated words.
Indeed, one could imagine that the autistic child who does not articulate a
word ought to begin by screaming, as we all do when we enter life with a
scream. My second remark touches on the problem of the relation of the
mouth to the scream with the autistic child or, rather, of the relation of the
mouth to words. In the course of a supervision, while the analyst was telling
me about the few syllables an autistic child was able to utter, it occurred to me
that, in the end, one should not try to make him pronounce words, but rather
position oneself as a therapist to elicit certain sounds, certain phonemes from
the child that would constitute a mouth. I suggest that an emerging sound
forms the mouth, creates the mouth. It is not the mouth that lends itself to the
sound, it is the sound that hollows the mouth and shapes it. Do you remem-
ber our earlier discussion on the relation between the scream as flux and the
flux around the lips? It would be necessary to study with respect to the autis-
tic this relation between the sound and the mouth, between the scream, the
phonemes, and the erogenous edges of the mouth. Why not think that, with
the autistic child, one should create an erogenous zone where it is lacking?
I return to what we said with respect to Bacon’s painting, where the
mouth seems to lack a third dimension. This is exactly the idea that we
should have of the mouth of an autistic child: to incite him to utter sounds
in order to create the erogenous hollow of a mouth with edges.

Lesson IV. The pain of mourning

I would like to address the theme of the pain of mourning. This form of pain
remains, as in the case of all others, a persisting enigma. There are two cita-

tions with which I would like to begin the lesson. The first is taken from
“Mourning and Melancholia,” a text that will be our principal reference.
While speaking of the work of mourning, Freud wrote: “Why this compro-
mise by which the command of reality is carried out piecemeal should be so
extraordinarily painful is not at all easy to explain in terms of economics” (SE
XIV, 245). Six years later, we read almost the same sentence in “Inhibition,
Symptom and Anxiety”: “In discussing the subject of mourning on a previous
occasion I found that there was one feature about it that remained quite
unexplained. This was its peculiar painfulness” (SE XX, 169). It seems to us
nevertheless obvious that the separation from the object is painful.

Normal mourning and pathological mourning

This is our question in this lesson: How is it that mourning is so difficult and
painful? Although we will not exhaust such a question, we will attempt at any
rate to address it. What is mourning? It is the reaction to the loss of a love-
object. This short sentence includes the two major axes of mourning that we
will consider in this lesson. The first concerns the very object of mourning.
What exactly is the love-object whose loss causes suffering? And, in the case
of the second, what is the nature of the reaction to this loss? In what does the
process of mourning consist?
We begin with the object. It is precisely with respect to the nature of the
object that Freud distinguishes normal mourning from pathological mourn-
ing, that is to say, normal mourning from melancholy. We will first distin-
guish between them, only to later qualify the distinction. We will do so
because in the course of his elaboration Freud himself abandoned the differ-
ence that he had established. Also, if we refer to Melanie Klein, for example,
we find that she considers the distinction between normal and pathological
mourning a matter of degree and not of structure. Finally, Lacan himself,
when speaking of mourning, at times speaks of it as if it there was only one
form of mourning—pathological mourning.
That being the case, what are the differences that Freud establishes? He
states that, while in normal mourning the loss is conscious, in pathological
mourning, the loss is radically unconscious. The melancholic can know whom
he or she has lost, but not what has been lost with the deceased person (cf.
SE XIV, 245). We note immediately that these sentences contain the entire
problematic of object a. We know whom we have lost but we do not know
what we have lost with the disappearance of the loved one. This is a first dis-
tinction, which, as you see, is not sufficient to distinguish normal mourning
from pathological mourning because one always finds this unconscious aspect
in all forms of mourning.

The second difference between normal and pathological mourning is

based on a clinical finding. We know that melancholy was one of the first
mental maladies identified and treated by medicine. The melancholic’s self-
reproaches are not always encountered in normal mourning. On the basis of
the observation that the complaints of the melancholic are not addressed to
the lost object, but at him or herself, Freud concludes with the celebrated
hypothesis that the melancholic ego identifies with the lost object. Inciden-
tally, it is because of the melancholic’s self-criticism that Freud, inspired by
Abraham, concludes that in fact these critiques are not genuine self-
reproaches. The critiques concern the object that has been incorporated into
the ego (Cf. SE XIV, 247). He proposes, then, a thesis that up to this point
has not been discussed: the ego of the melancholic incorporates the lost
object and identifies with it. Next, we see that the entire problem lies in the
definition of the love-object that is lost; an object that, moreover, is the basis
of the Lacanian notion of object a. However, this identification is not the
sole feature of melancholy. Consequently, it remains difficult to clearly dis-
tinguish between melancholia and normal mourning. Clinically speaking, we
know that self-reproach is not specific to the melancholic; certain obsessional
depressions are very frequently accompanied by self-contempt without being,
for that matter, a depressive psychosis. The thesis of an identification with
the lost object thus remains a very general thesis that is useful for melancho-
lia—whether pathological or normal.

The identification of the mourner with his or her lost loved one

But in what exactly does this identification consist? What does it mean that
the ego identifies with the object? This so-called narcissistic identification is
explained by a mechanism that interested Freud greatly between 1915 and
1917, namely, the withdrawal of the libido onto the ego. The entire libido of
the lover who cathected the object when it was alive would return to his or
her ego after the death of the loved one. This is the movement underlying
the narcissistic appropriation of the love-object that has disappeared. I situ-
ate the discovery of this mechanism of identification between 1915 and 1917,
but it was in fact since 1900 that Freud concerned himself with formalizing a
logic of the various modes of libido-withdrawal according to various clinical
structures. Whether in paranoia, melancholia, or hysteria, we invariably
observe a withdrawal of the libido. Recall that we already considered this
question. But now we will treat it from a different perspective.
If there is a withdrawal of the libido, we wonder whence and whither this
withdrawal occurs. Clearly, it moves from the object to the ego. But what is
this object that we refer to as loved and lost? Our immediate response: it is

not the deceased, but rather his or her representation or image in my uncon-
scious. It is thus not his or her person as such that was the object of my affec-
tive investment, but his or her mental representations in me. What repre-
sentations? The “representations of unconscious things” relative to the loved
one who is now gone. To return to our question, then, whence issues the
withdrawal of the libido? The response is as follows: the libido falls back onto
the ego from the representations of things that were related to the love-object
that was lost. Loved, that is to say, selected by a narcissistic choice. In other
words, the libido withdraws from the representations of the love-object in
order to arrive at a very precise part of the ego that Freud calls the “reality-
testing.” One might object that the ordeal is not a place. Clearly the ordeal
of reality is above all a function of the ego, a sort of screening by which the
ego differentiates internal perceptions from external perceptions. However,
this reality-testing operates in a quite limited area in the ego: the system of
conscious perception. I refer here to passages that I suppose are well-known;
in particular, I refer to the schema in chapter VII of “The Interpretation of
Dreams.” In this chapter, Freud makes the following remark: “perceptual
identity is established by the external world” (SE V, 566–67). But there is also
an internal reality-testing. Imagine the bark of a tree with two sides—an out-
side for the perception of external reality and an inside to perceive . . . what?
To capture the movements of the drives endopsychically and to reflect them
in consciousness as feelings. We have already used the term feeling in the sec-
ond lesson, when trying to identify “the unconscious feeling of guilt” pro-
duced by the endopsychic perception of incestuous desire.
We need to clarify this. The withdrawal of the libido onto the ego is in
fact a displacement within the ego itself. This shows how minimal the dis-
placement of the libido is. But it is precisely in these minimal movements
that the true work of mourning occurs.
Let us change the context for a moment to consider the same identifi-
cation with the love-object that is lost, but in a different form. Freud tells us
that mourning is the “reaction to the loss of a loved object” (SE XIV, 245).
I insist this is not just any object. One does not mourn a person that is indif-
ferent to us, but a person that we have chosen and loved intensely; “the
object choice has been effected on a narcissistic basis” (SE XIV, 249). But
what is the narcissistic object par excellence? I mean: what is the object that
has been privileged by a strictly narcissistic interest, then lost? What is the
paradigmatic object of mourning? The most narcissistic object for which we
mourn is the penis. In this respect one should read simultaneously “Mourn-
ing and Melancholia” (SE XIV, 239), and another short piece entitled “The
Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex” (SE XIX, 173–82). One will connect
immediately the mourning for a loved one with what can be considered as
the mourning for an organ that is also loved: the penis. This mourning is

well-known. It is as follows: faced with the threat of castration, the child

chooses to save his penile organ by renouncing his incestuous desire for his
mother. But he saves it in such a way that he loses it after all. He renders it
useless for incestuous desire. The penis is thus saved from the threat of cas-
tration, but it is lost as an organ to be used for forbidden desire. In brief, the
child preserves his penis as a part of his body, but loses it as a means and
agent of incestuous desire.
One can analyze this loss in two parts. First, it suppresses the organ in
order to raise it to the level of the signifier; it transforms the penis into the
phallic signifier. We will no longer therefore speak of the “penis,” but now only
of the “phallus.” Second, it is no longer a question of a suppression and ele-
vation—as in the case of Hegel’s Aufhebung—but a movement of identifica-
tion with the penis as a loved object. This is where we find, not the signifier,
but the phallic object. The phallus is here the imaginary phallic object of a
symbolic castration.
In short, the boy’s penis is lost in two ways: first, the child neutralizes his
organ and raises it to the level of the signifier—that is, he puts words in place
of his penis—and, unable to sleep with his mother, he declares his love for
her. Second, in what would be a second fate or a second loss, instead of invok-
ing signifiers, instead of symbolizing, the child puts himself in the place of the
object, that is to say, he identifies with the penile organ. It is from this iden-
tification that the imaginary phallic object will emerge. He does not have the
phallus: he is the phallus. These are the two fates of the penis: becoming a
phallic signifier, the symbol of sexual desire, or becoming the imaginary phal-
lic object of castration. The narcissistic identification at the core of mourn-
ing precisely concerns the second fate, that is, the fact of the identification
with the lost object. In his reflection on mourning, Freud uses this model of
the identification of the child with his penile organ, an identification that
leads to, I insist, the constitution of the imaginary phallic object.
It is at this point—we still need a link—that the formation of this imag-
inary phallic object is produced in the field of the Other, that is, within the
field of the castration of the Other. Why? Because the “castration of the
Other” means, simply, that the mother does not have everything that she
desires either; she is castrated and therefore desiring. The child makes him-
self an object in the hollow of the mother’s desire. Now we can better under-
stand Lacan’s beautiful comment in the seminar on Anxiety when he treats of
mourning: “We are in mourning for those for whom we have been, without
knowing it, the object they lacked.”29 I translate this as: “The imaginary phal-
lus.” We mourn for those—the few and the rare—for whom we have been the
support of their castration. Let us make a leap and say that we mourn those
for whom we have been object a. I anticipate the reader’s question: How can
one identify object a with the imaginary phallic object? In fact, I do not really

identify them, because the imaginary object of the castration of the Other is
only the guise, the imaginary mask, of object a. I cannot dwell on this point
and so I leave it in suspense for now, but indulge me in making this leap in
understanding Lacan’s sentence in the following way: “we mourn those for
whom we have been object a.” The death of the loved one shows us—during
a funeral, for instance, with the striking view of his or her inert body—that
we have been his or her lack, that we were the object of his or her desire. It
is as if before the other died, we had been his or her object without knowing
it and, after his or her death, we discover painfully that we had always been
the object and we will continue to be the object, for a time, the time of
mourning. In other words, it is something like a deferred revelation of a place
that we did not know we occupied in relation to our own desire and the desire
of the Other. This is what we can say about the process of identification with
the object : it is an identification that takes place, not only in mourning, but
well before the death of the loved one.
To conclude, we can state that when the other dies—who was my cho-
sen one and for whom I was the chosen one—I lose, not only the person, but
also the place of object a and of the imaginary object, a place that I occupied
for him or her.
But a question arises: what does it mean to lose one’s place as objet a and
as the imaginary object? And, in this respect, how is this loss related to
mourning? I will respond in two ways.
What is lost with the loss of the loved one is first of all my own image
that he or she gives me to cherish. What I lose, above all, is the love of myself
that the Other made possible; that is to say, what is lost is my ideal ego or,
more exactly, my ideal ego as linked to the person who has departed. I say
“person,” but who is he or she, really? Certainly, we can agree that with the
death of someone who is dear to us, I lose the ideal ego proper to our love
relation and to our desire. However, is that the only thing lost? I was the
object, to be sure, but who was he or she exactly? He or she was not my ideal
ego, but the real support of that ego. However, something else has vanished
with his or her death. What has vanished is not only my ideal ego, but the
living support provided by his or her person, namely, his or her smell, the
sound of his or her voice, the charm of his or her presence. What I lose by
losing my loved one is the drive, the drive of the body, or, more exactly, the
object of the drive that gave consistency to my image—ideal ego—and which
nurtured my love. This leads us to reread Lacan’s formula, “We mourn those
for whom we have been the object, that is to say, the lack.” We reformulate
it in the following way: “We mourn those who, in turn, have been the object
for us, as well as the lack, the drive/support of our ideal ego.”
Nevertheless, I cannot claim that, by losing my loved one, I lose the
drive, since I continue to live. Yes, I lose that voice, that object of the drive,

but the drive is displaced and transposed. I am thinking of Freud’s article “On
the Transformations of the Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Eroticism” (SE
XVII, 127–33), in which he teaches us that the objects of the drives are dis-
placed. Well, pain would be—this is my hypothesis—a transitional, provi-
sional object of drive, as if it was necessary for the subject, traumatized by the
death of the other, to continue to exercise its drive in spite of the inhibitions
proper to the mourning phase. In summary, between the voice that departs
and the one that perhaps will come, I insert pain. I propose to reflect on this
new aspect of the pain of mourning as the object of the drive.
Freud does not situate pain as being exclusively linked to loss, but to the
work of mourning. This is a subtle nuance that has great importance. He does
not ask why the loss is painful, but why the work of mourning is painful. It is
on this very subtle distinction that our inquiry will now focus.

The pain of mourning is not the pain of separation but the pain of love

Pain is generated and released in the activity of compromise and transaction

that is proper to the work of mourning. Why, Freud asks, is this transactional
activity that is governed by the reality principle—the mourner must separate
him or herself from the one who has died—so painful? In what does this work
consist? What is the work of mourning? It is a slow and laborious reconsider-
ation of each of the details of the bond that linked me to the loved object
that has been lost. In this work, each memory of the deceased is treated by
the ego in three ways. First, there is a focusing and a delimitation of each
memory and of each image associated with the lost object. Once the image is
clearly delineated, a disinvestment of that image takes place. The first oper-
ation: focus. Second operation: disinvestment. Third operation: the libido,
detached from the mental image of the other, is transferred onto a large part
of the ego. It is this movement, specifically, that produces the identification
with the object or, more exactly, with the image of the object. Let me empha-
size straightaway a very important aspect for what follows, namely, that the
focus on each of the unconscious representations of the object—which we
also call “memory,” or “image”—consists in an affective overinvestment. We
can thus enumerate the three stages of the work of mourning: overinvestment,
disinvestment, and finally, the transfer of the affect onto the whole of the ego,
that is to say, identification.
But how is pain involved here? When one reads “Mourning and Melan-
cholia,” one has the impression that the main task that the ego must accom-
plish in mourning is to detach itself from the memories connected to the
deceased, that is to say, to undertake an affective disinvestment. After this
reading, one would conclude that if there is pain it is due to the disassocia-

tion, separation, and dissolution of the bond. If we wanted to express this

process in classical Freudian terms, one would say that pain is engendered in
the displacement of investments that leave the representation of the object
in order to diffuse themselves in the ego as narcissistic investments.
Other authors, such as Melanie Klein, considered pain as being the result
of loss, properly speaking. This is the classical position of those who, having
studied the phenomenon of pain, determine that it is provoked by a wound
of the ego. According to this hypothesis, pain would be understood accord-
ing to a substantialist conception of the ego, an ego conceived of as a suffer-
ing body to the extent that the loss of the loved one tore away a part of him
or her. However, by rereading “Mourning and Melancholia” as we have just
done, one can note that pain is not directly linked to the loss, but to the work
of mourning, if we understand that the word mourning does not signify loss
but reaction to the loss.
Now, we find that in “Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety” (SE XX,
Addenda C), Freud at first seemed to tell us the contrary, but in the end con-
cluded with a compromise between his initial thesis in “Mourning and
Melancholia” and the apparently opposed thesis in Addenda C. In that little
text, he remarked first that “pain occurs in the first instance and as a regular
thing whenever a stimulus, that impinges on the periphery breaks through
the devices of the protective shield against stimuli and proceeds to act like a
continuous instinctual stimulus, against which muscular action, that is as a
rule effective because it withdraws the place that is being stimulated from the
stimulus, is powerless” (SE XX, 170). He adds, “But finally this definition of
pain does not count as pain of mourning.” How, then, can we correlate the
definition of corporeal pain with that of psychical pain, in particular, the pain
of mourning? He writes: “When there is physical pain, a high degree of what
may be termed narcissistic cathexis of the painful place occurs” (SE XX, 171).
One may note that it is not a matter of the representation of the object,
as was the case for mourning, but of the painful place of the body. Then,
comparing these two categories of pain (physical and psychical), he states,
“For the intense cathexis of longing that is concentrated on the missed or lost
object creates the same economic conditions as are created by the cathexis of
pain that is concentrated on the injured part of the body” (SE XX, 171). Here
is what I take to be significant: Pain is not due to a detachment but to an over-
investment. The representation of the object is just as much overinvested in
the pain of mourning as the representation of the painful place of the body is
in the case of corporeal pain. In a word, pain responds to a high concentra-
tion of libido on the psychical representation of an object that, in reality, has
been lost or wounded. One can see that the affective overinvestment of a rep-
resentation signifies a greater attachment to the internal psychical object
that is no longer outside.

Conclusion: The pain of mourning is not the pain of separation but the
pain of bond. This is what must be emphasized at this point. One must con-
sider that what causes pain is not the separation but the attachment to the lost
object, an attachment that is stronger than ever. Thus, in these three stages
that we have characterized just now, it seems that pain is engendered not
in the operation of detachment but in the focusing and overinvestment of
the psychical bond with the object. If with this thesis in mind you listen to
an analysand who speaks to you of a pain with which they have been
afflicted since the loss of a loved one, you will be no doubt surprised. You
will be surprised to find that the pain is not so much from the absence of
the loved other, but from having him or her present like never before. The
pain is not the pain of losing but of sealing too strongly the bonds with the
representation of the absent other. That said, let us note that Freud, a few
pages later, concludes that the cause of pain resides as much in detachment
as in overinvestment. We must conclude that Freud settles on an ambigu-
ous position, a solution, a compromise without revealing the true economic
dimension of pain.
I would like to consider a final question now. In his commentary on
Hamlet, Lacan formulated a fruitful hypothesis concerning the phenomenon
of mourning. Hamlet was not able to mourn for his assassinated father, for
most of the funeral rites were not respected. His mother, especially, did not
observe the necessary time between the death of her husband and her remar-
riage. Lacan refered to such rushed mourning, which led to Hamlet’s mad-
ness, as an “incomplete mourning” [non satisfait]. With another expression
borrowed from Freud, he also calls it a “hole in the real” (I should say, on the
basis of an expression from Freud, since it is an expression taken from the G
Manuscript [SE I, 205] that considers the pain of melancholia as an internal
hemorrhage). It would be like a brutal decompression of excitations that rush
through a hole in the psyche. In “Mourning and Melancholia,” he used again
the image of the in-drawing hole: “The complex of melancholia behaves like
an open wound, drawing to itself cathectic energies—from all directions, and
emptying the ego until it is totally impoverished” (SE XIV, 253). It is thus a
kind of suction of the internal energy.
But here is Lacan’s complete sentence that I would like to comment on:
“As a hole in the real, mourning is the inverse of psychotic foreclosure.”
While mourning would be a hole in the real, operating like the core of a
whirlpool (like an abyss around whose edges the symbolic system revolves),
foreclosure, for its part, undertakes the rejection of a signifier in a centrifugal
movement so that it falls into the real, thereby rejected from the system. In
other words, the sucking hole in the real of pathological mourning is the
inverse of the rejection of foreclosure. Let us note, however, that this oppo-
sition is only legitimate on the condition that one identifies foreclosure as a

movement of rejection. But I am not so certain that it is necessary to con-

ceive of the operation of foreclosure as an operation of exclusion. But this is
another question that I have treated elsewhere.

What relation do you establish between “foreclosure” and your thesis of

pain as an object of transitory drive?

If one suffers pain, it is because there is no foreclosure and the system of sig-
nifiers remains coherent and active.

Can one say that the pain of mourning is conscious as well as unconscious?

It is troubling to affirm that the pain of mourning is not only the one we feel
when our loved one has departed, but that it is also a suffering of which we
are not conscious. The expression “unconscious pain” immediately suggests a
contradiction in terms. This is the same difficulty Freud encountered when
studying “the unconscious feeling of guilt.” He advised us that it was difficult
to modify his expression, although he knew that the words feeling and uncon-
scious are contradictory. Without solving the problem, there is a concept that
can be useful to us, that of “endopsychical perception.” Both the unconscious
feeling and pain would result from the endopsychical perception of the move-
ment of the drives.

Does the work of mourning have an end?

Mourning, conceived of as a work, allows us to think that we have not lost

someone when he or she dies, but we lose them only after a long elaboration.
The stakes of mourning are the same as those of analysis. The last session is
never the end of an analysis, and one does not complete the mourning of the
analytic relation after having ended it. There is a whole work of mourning
that we could designate as “the decline of analysis,” or “the decline of the
analytic complex.” This decline implies a laborious process of reparations, of
various returns of the repressed, of symptoms and fluctuations in the life of
the subject, even including “acting out.” But one question remains: “When
does our work end?” Does it ever end? For women, according to Freud, it
never ends. The decline of the feminine Oedipus complex lasts an entire life-
time. Why? Because a woman is always becoming a woman. With respect to
a man, the boy completes his masculine identity with the menace of castra-
tion. It is the moment when the Oedipus Complex disappears. Clearly, there

is a period of latency that we should not forget, but the Oedipus complex cul-
minates with the anxiety of castration, then declines to be finally put to rest.
But the woman never escapes Oedipus. It is what gives her the possibility of
becoming woman. But mourning, perhaps, is just as interminable.

What difference can be established between normal and

pathological mourning?

The difference would be as follows: in normal mourning, the withdrawal of the

libido is progressively displaced onto another object. The libido leaves the rep-
resentation of the lost object gradually in order to invest the representation of
a new chosen object. In pathological mourning, the libido, once detached
from the lost object, is disseminated into the whole of the ego and crystallizes
in the form of a congealed identification with the image of the lost object.
Excerpts from Freud and Lacan
Concerning Psychical Pain

Freud and Lacan have rarely addressed the theme of pain and never devoted an
exclusive study to it. The citations that follow are drawn from short passages
from the works of these authors. The lines in italics are Dr. Nasio’s commentary.

What is physical pain?

For Freud, pain results from a sudden internal hemorrhage of psychical energy.

There may come about an in-drawing (as it were) in the psychical sphere,
which produces an affect of suction upon the adjoining amounts of excita-
tion. The associated neurons are obliged to give up their excitation which
produces pain. Uncoupling associations is always painful. There sets in an
impoverishment in excitation (in the free store of it)—an internal haemor-
rhage, as it were—which shows itself in the other instincts and functions.
This in-drawing operates inhibitingly, like a wound, in a manner analogous
to pain. . . . A quite similar impoverishment takes place owing to the exci-
tation running out, as it were, through a hole . . . in melancholia the hole
is in the psychical sphere. (SE I, 205–206)
[Melancholia is] a psychical inhibition with instinctual impoverishment
and pain concerning it. (SE I, 205)
The complex of melancholia behaves like an open wound, drawing to itself
cathectic energies . . . and emptying the ego until it is totally impoverished.
(SE XIV, 253)

We are never so badly protected against pain as when we are in love

dependent . . . on . . . his chosen love-object, [he] exposed himself to

extreme suffering if he should be rejected by that object or should lose it
through unfaithfulness or death. (SE XXI,101)


To lose the love of the loved one is also to lose the organizing center of my psyche.

If he loses the love of another person on whom he is dependent, he also

ceases to be protected from a variety of dangers. (SE XXI, 124)

Mourning and the pain of mourning

We only mourn for the person who has shared our fantasies. We have been the source
of his or her insatisfaction and he or she has been the source of our own insatisfaction.

If the object does not possess this great significance for the ego—a signifi-
cance reinforced by a thousand links—then, too, its loss will not be of the
kind to cause either mourning or melancholia. (SE XIV, 256)
The object for which we mourn was, without our knowledge, the object
which made itself, and which we made the basis of our castration. (Lacan,
1‘Angoisse, lecture of 16 January 1963)
We are mourning for someone about whom we can say: “I was his or her
lack.” We are mourning for people who we treated either well or badly,
without knowing that we fulfilled the function of being in the place of their
lack. (Ibid., 30 January 1963)

What is mourning? Mourning is a withdrawal of the affective investment of the psy-

chical representation of the object that was loved and lost. Mourning is a process of
the withdrawal of love [désamour]. It is a slow, meticulous and painful work. It can
last days, weeks, and months, or even a lifetime.

Its orders cannot be obeyed at once. They are carried out bit by bit, at great
expense of time and cathectic energy. (SE XIV, 245)
Each single one of the memories and expectations in which the libido is
bound to the object is brought up and hypercathected and detachment of
the libido is accomplished in respect of it. (SE XIV, 245)

The pain of mourning remains an incomprehensible phenomenon. Mourning is a

forced and painful movement of withdrawal from the one we have loved so much
and who is no longer. We are forced to detach ourselves, within ourselves, from the
loved one whom we have lost outside us.

Mourning over the loss of something that we have loved . . . seems so nat-
ural to the layman that he regards it as self-evident. But . . . mourning is a
great riddle.
We possess, as it seems, a certain amount of capacity for love—what
we call libido . . . directed towards our own ego. Later, though still at a

very early time, this libido is diverted from the ego onto objects, which are
thus in a sense taken into our ego. If the objects are destroyed or if they
are lost to us, our capacity for love (our libido) is once more liberated. . . .
But why is it that this detachment of libido from its objects should be such
a painful process is a mystery to us. . . . We only see that libido clings to
its objects and will not renounce those that are lost. . . . Such then is
mourning. (SE XIV, 306–307)

Mourning is a permanent struggle between a love that refuses to give up the lost
loved one, and a force that separates us from him or her.

One cannot terminate mourning, perhaps because it is truly an unconscious

love. (Les Premiers Psychanalystes [Paris: Gallimard, 1983] t. iv, 139)

In the course of mourning, the ego identifies with the image of the lost loved one:
the shadow of the object falls on the ego. This identification is a form of love.

If one has lost a love-object, the most obvious reaction is to identify one-
self with it, to replace it from within, as it were, by identification. (SE
XXIII, 193)

Psychical pain is the overinvestment of the mental representation of

the lost loved one

The transition from physical pain to mental pain corresponds to a change

from narcissistic cathexis to object cathexis. (SE XX, 171)

In mourning, pain blends with love and hate

In mourning, we are inhabited not only by pain but at times by hatred against the
deceased and also by the guilt of feeling hateful.

It not infrequently happens that the survivor is overwhelmed by tor-

menting doubts (to which we give the name “obsessive self-reproaches”)
as to whether she may not herself have been responsible for the death of
this cherished being through some act of carelessness or neglect. . . . It is
not that the mourner was really responsible for this death or was really
guilty of neglect, as the self-reproaches declare to be the case. Nonethe-
less there was something in her—a wish that was unconscious to her-
self—which would not have been dissatisfied by the occurrence of death.
(SE XIII, 60)

Just like melancholy, mourning is a struggle taking place in the arena of the uncon-
scious between a determined love for the image of the lost loved one and the hatred
that allows us to part from it. Unlike melancholy in mourning, the struggle can also
be felt consciously.

In melancholy, accordingly, countless separate struggles are carried on over

the object, in which hate and love contend with each other; the one seeks
to detach the libido from the object, the other to maintain the position of
the libido against the assault. . . . In mourning, too, the efforts to detach the
libido are made in this same system; but in it nothing hinders these
processes from proceeding along the normal path through the Pcs. to con-
sciousness. (SE XIV, 256–57)

The death drive is at work in mourning

We believe that the force which, in mourning, pushes us to part from the deceased is
one of the expressions of the death drive as we conceive it. Indeed, we propose that
the death drive is that internal force that tends to free us from all the hindrances to
the movement of life. The death drive conserves life. Therefore, mourning is a slow
process of vital separation from the deceased and of a regeneration of the entire ego.

Mourning occurs under the influence of reality-testing; for the latter func-
tion demands categorically from the bereaved person that he should sepa-
rate himself from the object, since it no longer exists. (SE XX, 172)
Mourning impels the ego to give up the object by declaring the object to
be dead . . . disparaging it, denigrating it, and even as it were killing it.
(SE XIV, 257)
This withdrawal of libido is not a process that can be accomplished in a
moment, but must certainly, as in mourning, be one in which the process is
long-drawn out and gradual. (SE XIV, 256)

The ultimate pain would be to undergo jouissance without limit

Pain is not to be unsatisfied but, on the contrary, it is to be delivered to a boundless

satisfaction. The insatisfaction of the drives restrained by repression is, in fact, less
painful than the absolute satisfaction that these drives would obtain if they were
stopped by censorship. Without the censorship of repression, we would know the ulti-
mate pain of an unlimited jouissance. Thus, repression protects us against the hypo-
thetical pain of the a dissolution of the person. This interpretation of Freud’s text can
be expressed in Lacanian terms: pain is the object of the jouissance of the Other.

A certain amount of protection against suffering is secured, in that non-sat-

isfaction is not so painfully felt in the case of instincts kept in dependence
as in the case of uninhibited ones. (SE XXI, 79)

The infant, anxiety and pain

Freud claims that the infant experiences anxiety and feels pain. In certain circum-
stances, the nursing child has the two affects confused because it cannot yet distin-
guish the temporary absence of the mother from her definitive disappearance. It con-
fuses the fact of losing sight of its mother with her real loss. At that moment, it
experiences a mixed feeling of anxiety and pain, It is only later—at around two
years of age—that the child is able to discern a temporary loss from a definitive loss,
that it can differentiate between anxiety and pain.

That it does have anxiety there can be no doubt; but the expression of its
face and its reaction of crying indicate that it is feeling pain as well. Certain
things seemed to be joined together in it which will later on be separated
out. It cannot distinguish between temporary absence and permanent loss.
As soon as it loses sight of its mother it behaves as if it were never going to
see her again; and repeated consoling experiences to the contrary are nec-
essary before it learns that her disappearance is usually followed by her reap-
pearance. (SE XX, 169)

A dangerous situation is different from a traumatic situation. While danger awak-

ens anxiety, trauma provokes pain.

The traumatic situation of missing the mother differs in one important

respect from the traumatic situation of birth. At birth no object existed and
so no object could be missed. Anxiety was the only reaction that occurred.
Since then repeated situations of satisfaction have created an object out of
the mother; and this object, whenever the infant feels a need, receives an
intense cathexis which might be described as a “longing” one. (SE XX, 170)

The anxiety of the woman: To lose the love of her loved one

In the fantasy of the woman, the most precious object—the phallus—is the love
coming from the loved one and not the loved one himself. Thus, specifically femi-
nine anxiety is the fear of losing love and being abandoned.

It is precisely in women that the danger-situation of loss of object seems

to have remained the most effective. All we need to do is make a slight

modification in our description of their determinant of anxiety, in the

sense that it is no longer a matter of feeling the want of, or actually losing
the object itself, but of losing the object’s love. (SE XX, 143)

To undergo jouissance from pain

For we have every reason to believe that sensations of pain, like other
unpleasurable sensations, trench upon sexual excitation and produce a plea-
surable condition, for the sake of which the subject will even willingly expe-
rience the unpleasure of pain. When once feeling pain has become a
masochistic aim, the sadistic pain of causing pain can arise also, retrogres-
sively; for while these pains are being inflicted on other people, they are
enjoyed masochistically by the subject through his identification of himself
with the suffering object. In both cases, of course, it is not the pain itself
which is enjoyed, but the accompanying sexual excitation. . . . The enjoy-
ment of pain would thus be an aim which was originally masochistic, but
which can become an instinctual aim in someone who is originally sadistic.
(SE XIV, 128–29)

The skin is the erogenous zone from which perverse pain emanates.

In scopophilia and exhibitionism the eye corresponds to an erotogenic zone;

while in the case of those components of the sexual instinct which involve
pain and cruelty the same role is assumed by the skin. (SE VII, 169)

Professor Freud observes . . . that one can only subscribe to the idea that the
organic substance of sadomasochism must necessarily be the surface of the
skin. (Les Premiers Psychanalystes, 6 November 1912, 139)

Ever since Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, it has been well known to

all educationalists that the painful stimulation of the skin of buttocks is
one of the erotogenic roots of the passive instinct of cruelty (masochism).
(SE VII, 193)

Pain and the scream

The scream expresses, above all, a present pain, but it returns to the ears of the one
who emits it and awakens the memory of earlier pains, and confers a hostile char-
acter to the object that hurts us.

If, for instance, he screams—[the scream] will awaken the memory of his
[the subject’s] own screaming and his own experiences of pain. (SE I, 331)

There are objects—perceptions—that make one scream, because they

arouse pain; . . . this association of a sound emphasizes that object as a hos-
tile one. (SE I, 366)

The pain of existence

Lacan identifies pain with the insatisfaction of desire, and calls it “pain of exis-
tence.” For Lacan, pain would not be the immediate reaction to a sudden loss, as
we have claimed in this book, but an indefinite state that lasts as long as life itself.
The two points of view, pain considered as a reaction and pain considered as a state,
are not incompatible but perfectly complementary.

It is this excentricity of desire with respect to any satisfaction that allows us

to understand . . . its profound affinity with pain. This means that desire
purely and simply borders . . . on the pain of existence. (Lacan, Les Formations
de l’inconscient, lesson of 9 April 1958)

The pain of existence is the pain of being submitted to the determination, the repe-
tition, indeed, the destiny, of the signifier.

This is a sort of pure feeling of existence, an existence which is, if you will,
indefinite. From within this existence a new existence always surges
anew. . . . Existence is apprehended and felt as something that by its very
nature can only end by re-surging elsewhere, and this precisely is accompa-
nied by an intolerable pain. (Lacan, Le désir et son interprétation, lesson of 10
December 1959)

Nothing is more intolerable than existence reduced to itself, to a concatenation, to

a chain of successive events that dominate and overwhelm me. This is where desire
to live vacillates.

The experience of this pain of existence when there is nothing else that
inhabits it but this very existence, and when everything in the excess of suf-
fering tends to abolish this ineradicable fact of the desire to live. . . . There
is nothing ultimately to existence but the pain of existence. (Lacan, Le désir
et son interprétation, lesson of 10 December 1959)

Unpleasure is desire, but not pain.

It remains for us, on this basis, to conceive of pleasure as necessarily perme-

ated with unpleasure and to distinguish in it what separates the pure and sim-
ple unpleasure—desire—from what we call pain. . . . To the extent that this
surface [the Möbius strip] is capable of crossing itself, in the prolongation of

this necessary intersection, it is at that point that we would situate the case
of narcissistic investment, the function of pain, otherwise logically properly
speaking in Freud’s text, where although admirably elucidated, it is unthink-
able. (Lacan, Problèmes cruciaux de la psychanalyse, lesson of 10 March 1965)

Pain and masochism

Masochism is the jouissance of being reduced to the object of the jouissance of

the Other.

[T]he height of masochistic jouissance does not lie the fact that it may or
may not support corporeal pain, but in that extreme singular fact . . . of
masochistic fantasmagory, that cancellation properly speaking, of the sub-
ject insofar as it makes itself a pure object. (Lacan, L’Identification, lesson of
28 March 1962)
Masochism, in effect, is defined precisely by the fact that the subject
assumes the position of an object in the radical sense we give to that word,
that is, that of a dejection or remainder of the subjective advent. (Lacan, La
Logique du fantasme, lesson of 10 March 1967)
There is no sadistic position which, in a certain way, is not accompanied—
in order to be called sadistic properly speaking—by a certain masochistic sat-
isfaction. (Lacan, Les Formations de l’inconscient, lesson of 2 February 1958)
Excerpts from Freud
Concerning Corporeal Pain

Corporeal pain

Freud thought that physical pain resulted from the violent eruption of great quan-
tities of energy that reach the heart of the ego where the memory neurones are
located, that is, at the level of the unconscious. Pain in the body is inscribed in
the unconscious.

The specific unpleasure of physical pain is probably the result of the pro-
tective shield having been broken through in a limited area. There is then
a continuous stream of excitations from the part of the periphery concerned
to the central apparatus of the mind. (SE XVIII, 30)

Pain consists in the irruption of Q’s into ψ. (SE I, 307) (TN. Q = large
quantities of energy, ψ = system of impermeable neurones)

Pain sets the φ as well as the ψ in motion, there is no obstacle to its con-
duction, it is the most imperative of all processes. (SE I, 307) (TN. φ = sys-
tem of permeable neurones)

Freud defined corporeal pain as a massive eruption of energy in the ego—like a bolt
of lightning—that suppresses all resistances and reaches the core of the memory neu-
rones where it leaves a trace.

Q [the quantity of energy] produces a facilitation, pain no doubt leaves per-

manent facilitations behind in ψ [memory neurons]—as though there had
been a stroke of lightning. (SE I, 307)

Corporeal pain means a serious disturbance of the ego and a paralysis of the plea-
sure principle, the guardian of our psychic equilibrium. Pain reaches beyond the
pleasure principle. It shocks the ego but does not destroy it.


Such an event as an external trauma is bound to provoke a disturbance on

a large scale in the functioning of the organism’s energy and to set in motion
every possible defensive measure. At the same time, the pleasure principle
is for the moment put out of action. (SE XVIII, 29)

Pain is a pseudo-drive

In the rare cases where Freud defined corporeal pain, he compared it to a drive. The
external and unusual aggression that provokes the pain evokes the internal and nor-
mal aggression of the drive. In both cases the excitation is constant.

We know very little about pain either. The only fact we are certain of is that
pain occurs in the first instance and as a regular thing whenever a stimulus
which impinges on the periphery breaks through the devices of the protec-
tive shield against stimuli and proceeds to act like a continuous instinctual
stimulus. (SE XX, 170)

The specific unpleasure of physical pain is probably the result of the pro-
tective shield having been broken through in a limited area. There is then
a continuous stream of excitations from the part of the periphery concerned
to the central apparatus of the mind. (SE XVIII, 30)

Corporeal pain is comparable to the drive. When the external aggression which has
provoked a pain leaves its traces in the unconscious, it becomes a constant internal
excitation which can reawaken the pain again at any time. Here again, drive and
pain are comparable due to the constant excitation of the source.

It may happen that an external stimulus becomes internalized—for exam-

ple, by eating into or destroying some bodily organ—so that a new source of
constant excitation and increase of tension arises. The stimulus thereby
acquires a far-reaching similarity to an instinct. We know that a case of this
sort is experienced by us as pain. (SE XIV, 146)

But, in truth, pain is not a drive. Their aims are different: pain is a red flag to stop
the affliction while the drive seeks pleasure. The defenses of the ego differ in both
cases: faced with the drive the ego opposes repression, faced with imperious pain it
remains powerless.

The aim of this pseudo-instinct, however, is simply the cessation of the

change in the organ and the unpleasure accompanying it. . . . Further, pain
is imperative; the only things to which it can yield are removed by some
toxic agent or the influence of mental distraction. (SE XIV, 146)

Pleasure and unpleasure express the rhythm of the drives. On the

contrary, pain (as we have defined it) is a rupture of this rhythm.

For a long time, Freud considered pleasure and unpleasure as the qualitative
expressions of a diminution or augmentation of psychical tension. In 1924, after
having determined that there were cases where the lowering of tension was unplea-
surable and where the raising of tension was pleasurable, he altered his criteria.
Thereafter, the sensations of pleasure and unpleasure no longer corresponded to
the intensity of tensions but to the rhythm of the variations of the tensions. It is this
new manner of viewing pleasure and unpleasure—not yet fully developed—which
led us to define pain as a rupture of the rhythm of the drives and to distinguish it
from unpleasure.

Pleasure and unpleasure, therefore, cannot be referred to an increase or

decrease of a quantity (which we describe as tension due to stimulus . . .). It
appears that they depend, not on this quantitative factor, but on some char-
acteristic of it which we can only describe as a qualitative one. . . . Perhaps
it is the rhythm, the temporal sequence of changes, rises and falls in the
quantity of stimulus. We do not know. (SE XIX, 160)

What is felt as pleasure or unpleasure is not the absolute height of this ten-
sion but something in the rhythm of the changes in them. (SE XXIII, 146)

The memory of pain

The past experience of a violent pain provoked by a real incident is one thing, its
revivification as a painful affect is another. While pain of the past has been provoked
by an external agent, the painful affect of today is provoked by an internal stimula-
tion, one that is often imperceptible.

In the case of an experience of pain it is evidently the irrupting Q (quantity

of energy) from outside; in the case of an affect it is the endogenous Q
released by facilitation. (SE I, 335)

The earlier traumatic pain has rendered the memory neurones so sensitive that the
slightest internal stimulation reactivates them and a new pain appears. Freud
called this new pain “affect” and the phenomenon of the sensitizing of the neu-
rones “facilitation.”

Pain passes along all pathways of discharge. . . . Pain no doubt leaves per-
manent facilitations behind in ψ [memory neurones]—as though there had
been a stroke of lightning. (SE I, 307)

Like any affect, a pain that is experienced is the memory of an earlier pain.

[Affects are] . . . reproductions of very early, perhaps even pre-individual

experiences, experiences of vital importance. (SE XX, 93)
Affective states have become incorporated in the mind as precipitates of
primeval traumatic experiences, and when a similar situation occurs they
are revived like mnemic symbols. (SE XX, 93)

Any pain is the memory of an earlier pain and any loss the
reproduction of a first loss that is already forgotten

The capacity to represent a corporeal lesion and to experience pain was acquired in
the course of different losses in childhood: birth, defecation, or weaning. These
experiences have taught the child that these essential things are missing. When the
boy comes to represent the loss of his penis to himself, an anxiety of loss occurs, an
anxiety that we know as “castration anxiety.”

[T]he child gets the idea of a narcissistic injury through a bodily loss from the
experience of losing his mother’s breast after nursing, from the daily surren-
der of feces, and indeed, even from his separation from the womb at birth.
Nevertheless, one ought not to speak of a castration complex until this idea
of a loss has become connected with the male genitals. (SE XIX, 144)
Sooner or later the child, who is so proud of his possession of a penis, has
the view of the genital region of the little girl, and cannot help being con-
vinced of the absence of the penis in a creature who is so like himself. With
this, the loss of his own penis becomes imaginable, and the threat of castra-
tion takes its deferred affect. (SE XIX, 175–76)

Unconscious pain

Freud defined unconscious pain as a link between an internal perception and an

external perception. The trace that a past pain has left in the unconscious can
become an internal excitation capable of triggering another pain. The earlier pain
was provoked by an external perception while the new pain is awakened by an inter-
nal perception.

In the same way that the tensions arising from physical needs can remain
unconscious, so also can pain—a thing intermediate between external and
internal perception, which behaves like an internal perception even when
its source is in the external world. (SE XIX, 22)

Corporeal pain is the overinvestment of the mental representation of

the injured part of the body

Physical pain . . . can be accounted for by there being a concentration of

cathexis on the psychical representative of the part of the body which is
giving pain. I think it is here that we shall find the point of analogy which
has made it possible to carry sensations of pain over to the mental sphere.
(SE XX, 171)

Corporeal pain is an excess of love for the injured organ to the

detriment of the other objects of love

The ego reacts to the trauma caused by a breaching of protective tissues in the fol-
lowing way. It garners all its available forces and, at the price of weakening itself,
it concentrates them (countercharges) on a single point, that of the wound, more
exactly, on the point of the psychical representation of the wound.

And how shall we expect the mind to react to this invasion? Cathectic
energy is summoned from all sides to provide sufficiently high cathexes of
energy in the environs of the breach. An “anti-cathexis” on a grand scale is
set up, for whose benefit all the other psychical systems are impoverished.
(SE XVIII, 30)

Pain is an affect that results from the overinvestment of the representation of the
injured organ and, simultaneously, from the disinvestment of the external world.

When there is psychical pain, a high degree of what may be termed narcis-
sistic cathexis of the painful place occurs. This cathexis continues to
increase and tends, as it were, to empty the ego. (SE XX, 171)

A person who is tormented by organic pain . . . gives up his interest in the

things of the external world, insofar as they do not concern his suffering. . . .
He also withdraws libidinal interest from his love-objects: so long as he suf-
fers, he ceases to love. (SE XIV, 82)

Pain shapes our ego and teaches us to discover our bodies

When we feel pain, we represent the body to ourselves and, in this way, we consti-
tute our ego. The ego emerges from all the sensorial perceptions and representations
that form in the psyche.

A person’s own body, and above all its surface, is a place from which both
external and internal perceptions may spring. . . . Pain, too, seems to play a
part in the process . . . we gain a new knowledge of our organs . . . [and] we
arrive at the idea of our body. (SE XIX, 25–26)

The ego is a surface in two ways: the mental image of the surface of the body and
the perceptual surface of the psychical apparatus.

The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego, it is not merely a surface entity,
but is itself the projection of a surface. (SE XIX, 26)

Psychogenic pain

Psychogenic pain is here the somatic expression of a drive inhibited by repression; in the
place of the repressed drive, a corporeal pain without organic cause appears. If repres-
sion had not stopped the drive, it would have expressed itself fully as a moral pain.

We may ask: “What is it that turns into physical pain here?” . . . A cautious
reply would be: “Something that might have become, and should have
become, mental pain.” (SE II, 167)
The mechanism was that of conversion: i.e. in place of the mental pains
which she avoided, physical pains made their appearance. (SE II, 166)

Corporeal pain can be a symptom, that is, the substitute satisfaction of a

repressed drive.

Let us take as an example a case of hysterical headache or lumbar pain.

Analysis shows us that, by condensation and displacement, it has become a
substitutive satisfaction for a whole number of libidinal phantasies or mem-
ories. (SE XXIV, 391)

Pain and jouissance

For Lacan, corporeal pain is the purest form of jouissance.

[F]or what I call jouissance, in the sense that it is experienced by the body,
is always a matter of tension, forcing, defense and maybe even exploit.
There is jouissance incontestably where pain begins to appear, and we know
that it is only with pain that an entire dimension of the organism—which
otherwise remains concealed—can be experienced. (Lacan, “Psychanalyse et
médecine,” in Lettres de l’école freudienne, no. 1 [1966])

1. Juan-David Nasio, The Book of Love and Pain: Thinking at the Limit with Freud
and Lacan, trans. David Pettigrew and François Raffoul (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 2003), herein as LP followed by the page number. The Book of Love
and Pain: Thinking at the Limit with Freud and Lacan is a translation of Juan-David
Nasio’s Le Livre de la Douleur et de I’Amour (Paris: Editions Payot et Rivages, 1996).
2. Five Lessons on the Psychoanalytic Theory of Jacques Lacan, trans. David Petti-
grew and François Raffoul (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998),
3. Is it necessary to recall that the narration of an experience that we have had,
although faithful, remains inevitably a fiction, a fiction of the writer?
4. A term we have already employed and that we will often find in what follows
is that of “drive” [pulsion]. In this chapter, we take “drive” and “desire” to be equiva-
lent. In spite of their differences, we prefer to use these two concepts interchangeably
by taking into account what is essential to each of them, that is, the fact that they des-
ignate movement within the unconscious, more exactly, any drive that has to dis-
charge and express itself.
5. We remember that it is one of these symbolic representations that is strongly
overinvested by the ego when it tries to contain a libidinal upheaval provoked by the
loss of a loved one. However, the use of the Lacanian term symbolic refers to the fol-
lowing. The symbolic dimension always has two parts, a network of elements—called
“signifiers” or “unconscious representations”—and a unique element, situated at the
periphery of the network, which constitutes both its limit and cohesion. Lacan names
this organizing principle of the network, the “signifier of the Name-of-the-Father.”
Now, as we will see, the special person has a double symbolic existence: as a network
and as a “one.” It is symbolic when we propose that its person is fixed in our uncon-
scious by a multitude of unconscious representations. It is a singular limit of the net-
work, as signifier of the Name-of-the-Father, when it guarantees the cohesion of my
psyche. We will see in a moment that the function of the limit corresponds to the
rhythm of the pulse of desire.
6. This deformed loop of the fantasm has been “fabricated” for a very long time,
from our very first vital trembling, from the first encounter with the special, primor-
dial Other, whether the mother or a titular adult figure.


7. “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” in Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition

of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London:
The Hogarth Press, 1974), herein cited as SE followed by the volume and page num-
ber as applicable. We see by rereading the “Project” that one of the most striking fea-
tures of this seminal text is its current relevance. This is a relevance that is confirmed
by recent hypotheses in the neurosciences on the transmittal of pain.

8. The body is experienced by the ego as a periphery that is either external

(skin, fluids) or internal (internal organs). To illustrate the relation between the ego
and the body, we can imagine that the ego is placed at the center of a space sur-
rounded by a Möbius strip. This circular strip would represent the body perceived by
the ego as an edge, which, alternately, offers its external side (visual and tactile sen-
sations) and its internal side (internal sensations).

9. For the sake of the clarity of my demonstration, I prefer to use the terms psy-
chical representations, image, and even symbol interchangeably. It is true that each of
these terms designates different psychoanalytic concepts, and nevertheless all take
account of the psychical presence of the other within the ego. The difference between
these concepts has been discussed extensively in l’Enseignement de 7 concepts cruciaux
de la psychanalyse (Paris: Payot, 1992), 143–87.

10. These peripheral cells, the function of which is to perceive excitations com-
ing from the external world, are covered with a superficial protective layer that Freud
calls “a protective barrier” against excitations. It is precisely this layer that is breached
by a painful injury.

11. In the Project, Freud defines the ego by focusing on the memory neurons. The
ego, he tells us, is a particular state of the memory neurones when, having been sen-
sitized by successive energy pulses (facilitation), they are subject to the regulation of
their excitability and to the quantity of energy that they contain. The ego is the name
for a regulative agency of the excitability of the memory neurones and of the charges
with which they are invested.

12. The neuroscientists do not hesitate to suppose, as Freud did, that human
beings would know pain due to a deep memory of the species. Damasio declares that
painful sensation follows “innate neuronal mechanisms” transmitted by the genetic
messages proper to human beings. Pain holds an important place in the genetically
coded survival strategies of the species. Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emo-
tion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1994).

13. Cf. infra, p. 54.

14. The imaginary contents of the representation, while mainly visual, are also
auditory, olfactory, tactile, etc.

15. Damasio, op. cit.

16. J. P. Changeux, “Les neurosciences,” in Bulletin de la société française de philoso-

phie (Paris: Armand Colin, 1982).

17. The reader will find the two passages in which Freud defines pleasure and
unpleasure according to the rhythm of the drives, on page 133.
18. Damasio, 296–306; 329–34.
19. Pierre Benoît already considered a possible reversal of the well-known
Freudian formula that takes conversion hysteria to be “a leap from the psychical to the
somatic.” Cf. his article “Le saut du psychique au somatique,” in Psychiatrie française, no.
5 (1985).
20. Maine de Biran, De l’aperception immédiate (Paris: Vrin, 1963), 89–106.
21. This lecture by J.-D. Nasio, not published here, presents in particular the
Freudian hypotheses from the Project concerning corporeal pain. These developments
have been reconsidered at length in the chapter on corporeal pain.
22. J.-D. Nasio, L’Inconscient à venir (Paris: Rivages, 1993).
23. SE I, letter 71, Oct 15, 1897, 263–66.
24. Herman Nunberg and Ernst Federn, eds., Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic
Society Volume I, 1908–1910, trans. M. Nunberg (New York: International Universi-
ties Press, Inc., 1967), 449.
25. Ernst Freud, ed., Letters of Sigmund Freud, trans. Tania and James Stern (New
York: Basic Books, 1960), 312.
26. Lacan refers to Stockes’s Theorem in “Position de l’Inconscient,” in Ecrits
(Paris: Le Seuil, 1966), 838–39.
27. Lucretius, “The Nature of Things,” in The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers.
The Complete Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, ed.
Whitney Oates (New York: Random House, 1940).
28. D. Sylvester, L’Art de l’impossible. Entretiens avec Bacon (Paris: Flammarion,
29. Lacan, L’Angoisse (unpublished seminar), lesson of 3 July 1963.

affect, 48, 58, 59; as painful, 70 disinvestment, 21, 23, 118

amputation, 39 drive, 26, 96; to mastery, 84, 103; and
analyst, 100, 110 pain, 132; turmoil of the, 36; the
anxiety, 47, 127; as reaction to the rhythm of the drive, 68–69; as sado-
imaginary lack, 47; three forms of, 47 masochistic, 77; as scopic, 80; vicissi-
Artaud, Antonin, 106 tudes of, 84

Bacon, Francis, 23, 109, 111 ego, the, 4, 19, 21, 45, 46, 50–53, 60,
Biran, Maine de, 75 63, 69, 75, 101; contraction of, 21; as
body, the, 4, 14, 19, 30, 51, 71, 79; and exhausted, 21; emptying of, 21; as
drive, 72; endowed with memory, 71; libidinal object for the Id, 101; as
as incomplete, 79; orifices of, 31 “meta-ego,” 70; protective envelope
breast, the, 80, 96; detached from the of, 54; as split 23, 24
body, 90; and the sexual desire of the emotion, 58; as archaic 59; as painful,
infant, 81 70, 71
“endopsychical perception,” 121
castration complex, 80
energy, 21, 34, 37, 53, 55, 56, 57, 59,
“castration of the Other,” 116
60, 61, 65, 66, 80, 98, 103; and lack,
cathexis, 119
26; and melancholia, 120; as psychi-
Changeux, Jean-Pierre, 66 cal, 23, and the scream, 98; as unrep-
consciousness, 16, 19, 21, 52, 54, 55, 68 resentable, 32
corporeal pain, 49, 55, 57, 61–62, “extimacy ” [“extimité”], 109
65–67, 131–136; and psychical pain
14; as wound, 39 facilitation [Bahnung], 57
“counter-investment,” 61 fantasy, 29, 30, 35, 43, 44, 90, 96; frac-
ture of, 36; of the loved one, 29; as
Damasio, Antonio R., 66, 70, 71 masochistic, 96; as sadomasochistic,
Darwin, Charles, 106 82, 90
death drive, the, 126 feminine Oedipus complex, the, 121
Deleuze, Gilles, 106 foreclosure, 25, 76, 120, 121
desire, dynamic of, 26, 27, 81; as force “formations of object a,” 78, 92, 93, 95
of, 29, 32; and insatisfaction 27, 29, Freud, Sigmund, 20, 50, 51, 55, 56, 58,
35; object of, 27; as object-less, 37 61, 66, 67, 69, 99, 105


gaze, the, 83, 88; semblance of, 83 masochism, 47, 85, 92, 96, 97, 100, 101,
Gill, Merton, 77 104, 130
guilt, 47, 48, 56, 57, 93; unconscious masochist, 97, 100; as master of the
feeling of, 92 semblance-scream, 104
melancholic, the, 114; self-reproaches
Hamlet, 120 of, 114
hate, 29, 48 memory, 68; and the unconscious, 68
humiliation, 48 memory neurons, 55–57, 66–67, 104
hysteria, 75–76 metapsychology, 15
mirror stage, 79
mourning, 23, 28,43, 45, 46, 113, 125;
identification, 114, 118
as incomplete, 120; as pain of love,
Id, the, 26, 42, 52, 101
118; as pathological, 44, 47, 120
imaginary, the, 30, 31, 35, 51, 52, 64,
mutilation, 27
65, 74
imaginary phallus, 99; as hole, 99
Name-of-the-Father, 33
in-between, the, 35
negative therapeutic reaction, 92, 93
neuron, 56
jealousy, 48 neurosciences, the, 65–66
jouissance, 4, 26, 33, 43, 46, 47, 77, 78, nostalgia, 46
83, 86, 88, 90, 91, 96; as absolute,
43; without limit, 126; as maximal object a, 28, 90; “fall of,” 81
tension, 77; of the Other, 89–90; of objects of the drive, 89
pain, 77; as partial, 27, 91; of the Oedipus Complex, 115, 121
transference, 78 other, the, 28, 32; as symbolic, 33, 36,
38; the body of, 34; unconscious of,
Klein, Melanie, 113, 119 35
Other, the, 29, 80, 89–90, 96, 107;
Lacan, Jacques, 59, 79, 99, 106, 116, demand of, 89; desire of, 88; as image
120 full of holes, 99; jouissance of, 88; and
lack, 26, 36 as imaginary, 47 sexual drive, 81; provoking pain in,
language, 106 84; will of, 97
libidinal cadence, 17 overinvestment, 21, 23, 62, 118
libidinal disturbance, 19
libido, 93, 94, 115; withdrawal of, 94, pain, 48, 101; of abandonment, 14; and
115 the certainty of the irreparable, 44;
local foreclosure, 6 corporeal, 49, 76, 89; as a form of
loss, 24, 36, 37, 44, 46; of the loved one sexuality, 3; of disinvestment 21; as
21; of the object, 23 enigma, 102; “eroticization” of, 82; of
love, 11, 19, 28, 31, 64, 67, 118; narcis- existence, 129; field of, 50; of humil-
sistic, 34; and suffering, 20 iation, 14; inner mechanisms of, 66;
loved one, 4, 14, 30, 43; fantasy of, 4; as of jouissance, 136; as limit-phenome-
guarantee of a limit, 4; imaginary non, 2, 4; as masochistic, 86; as
presence, 33; as lost, 24; as phantom, object of the drive, 80, 89; pleasure
25 of, 91; as pseudo-drive, 132; of
Lucretius, 17, 104 mourning, 113; in the negative ther-

apeutic reaction, 88; as primordial, appeal to the silence of the void,

60; psychical, 37, 41; psychogenic, 108; as emanation of pain, 105; as a
71–73; of reaction, 60–63; and the motor discharge, 102; and therapeu-
scream, 101; semblances of, 98; and tic function, 112
suffering 15; of trauma, 19; as “ulti- scream-action, 103
mate affect,” 1; as unconscious, 42, scream-discharge, 103
59–60, 73–75; unconscious memory semblance [le semblant], 7
of, 53–56 sexuality, 77, 78, 79, 80
penis, the, 81, 115; transformed into sexual pleasure, 15
phallic signifier, 116; as imaginary signifier, 59, 80, 106; as phallic, 81
phallic object of castration, 116 speech, 41
perversion, 96, 97 superego, the, 96, 107; and the scream,
phallus, the, 80 107
Phantom loved one, the, 22, 24, 25 Sylvester, David, 109
pleasure, 79; as sexual, 79 symbolic, the, 31, 35, 52
pleasure principle, the, 16, 17, 89, 131
primary masochism, 85 tension, 16, 17, 19, 26, 32, 33, 37, 42,
psyche, 14, 15, 17, 23, 25, 26, 29, 30, 68, 69, 91, 103; of jouissance, 47; as
31, 41, 49, 50, 53, 55, 60, 71, 77 libidinal, 53, 64, 70, 71; as maximal
psychical energy, 21, 23 77; as psychical, 56
psychical pain, 14, 16, 37, 41, 123–130; Thing, the, 108
distinguished from anxiety, 20; and torturer, the, 87; as self-torture, 86; and
love, 2 sadism, 87
psychosis, 4, 75–76 transference, 77, 78
psychogenic pain, 136 trauma, 19, 42, 46, 54; pain of, 19, 53,
real, the, 31, 32, 35, 52; as energy, 32; as
the unrepresentable, 32 unpleasure, 17, 25, 65, 68
repetition, 55, 58, 59, 97
repression, 33, 94, 98, 106 voice, the, 80, 88; as object of the drive,
rhythm, 13, 38; of the drive, 69, 133; as 117
symbolic, 32 Velasquez, Diego, 109

sadism, 84, 103; of the tormenter, 87 withdrawal of love [désamour], 45, 46,
sadomasochistic fantasy, 82 124
scream, the, 101, 128; as an action, 103; wound, 39, 50, 51, 60; mental represen-
as an address to the Other, 104; as an tation of, 52; perception of, 52; sym-
appeal to the Other, 107; as an bol of, 63