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(' The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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P. O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 5320 I
Telephone (414) 963-4141
Working Paper No.7
"Counting From 0 to 6:
Lacan and the Imaginary Order"
Ellie Ragland-Sul1ivan is Associate Professor of French at the U ni­
versity of Illinois at Chicago and the author of Rabelais and
Panw-ge: A Psychological Approach to Literary Character (1976). Her
book, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis, is forthcom­
ing from the Univ. of Illinois Press. She is currently at work on a
new book on post-structuralist poetics.
This wOl"king paper was originally presented at the conf"el'elu:e on
Lacan, held at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies em Apl'il
I;), 19H
l, and is fort h(,()lllillg ill T/u'J;\mmalo/htftllliulI Stutlit'.v,
Counting From O,to 6:
The Lacanian Imaginary Order
Lacan that the three dimensions of unconscious space
are mathematical instead of intuitive (1. Kant). Moreover, the un­
conscious can count up to 6 and not beyond. 1 My interpretation of
Lacan's theory requires a clarification of what I understand by the
Imaginary order, not only because the Imaginary fogs up the ter­
rain between conscious and unconscious realms, but also because
Lacan used Symbolic-order models when referring to unconscious
coullting: numher-settheory, Fregean mathematics, knot theory,
and so on. Yet. UllcollsdollS numbers are descriptive of realities con­
(:erning the human who is only in the Symbolic
order, while being excluded from that order.
Moreover, a
conscious "self' knowledge:' (,wma) is merely supposed.
rhe link between Symbolic pre-suppositions and unconscious
. knowledge (savoir) is what I have called an Imaginary text. Such a
"text" tries to wed the being of language to the non-being of objects
through conscious meanings (significations) which infer their own
asymmetrical double: meaning (sens) in the unconscious. If the
human subject is only re-presented in the Symbolic order of con­
scious life, but finds its Real in the unconscious, then, the
mediate Imaginary text cannot e dismissed. Indeed I find evidence
in the Imaginary "excluded ml die" of normative tendencies by
which individuals reify narcissism and seek to realize Desire: the
propensity to identify with images, with a species, with a name, with
a sexual gender myth, with others in bonding-type relations, with
one's own children, with a family line, and finally with some trans­
cendental principle such as God. Lacan taught that such a
obfuscates unconscious "truth," however, through the denials of
language and the misrecognition of the roots of identity. Lacan,
thus, criticized those analysts and ego psychologists who reify the
I maginary at the expense of knowledge of the unconscious. By nor­
lIIalizing SYIIIPIOiIlS, Ihey equal{' love, m<tlTiage, and parclliing as
impersonal categories of psychic health, thus mistaking the Imagi­
nary circle of fantasy for the unconscious Desire w hkh has already
made the Imaginary dissymmetrical.
Unconscious space· as conceived by Lacan is not innate (cf.
Kant). but is created by the effects of the outer world. I shall argue
that Lacan's six numbers mark the Real impact on humans of a
neurological and physiological prematuration at birth, followed by
compensatory mergers and subsequent psychic separa­
tion. In "The Linguistic Development of the Concept of Number,"
Ernst Cassirer wrote: "The number is inherent in perception, as
are space and time. Everything that exists in space lime also exists
in number."·' I hope to show instead that the number is inferred
the manner in which perception is structured, from which its uncon­
scious limitations are derived. Thus seen, number would not arise
as natural representation of the body or denote asymmetry 01' har­
mony between mother and child. Nor would it be a representation
of the stars or a link between biological realities and emotion."
Number would point, rather, to a dissymmetry in human knowl­
edge by which Lacan reinterpreted Frege's paradox. Even though
the unconscious subject is produced and unified by language, un­
conscious "letters" do not directly condition the relative order of
spoken discourse.
In my view, the six numbers would denote mirror-stage and
Oedipal structures. They are referents around which societies or­
ganize themselves, moving individuals along a blind signifying
chain where they represent themselves to one another as objects of
love or Desire. As representative signifiers, human subjects are
tethered to the object (alA), then, and not to a specific, totalized
ident.ity.7 Unconscious numbers become f((inctional operators of
the Imaginary signifier for identity which the as an
object in conscious life: object of its own unconscious constitution.
In 1966 Lacan said that just as language is constituted by a set of fi­
nite signifiers- ba, ta, pa, etc. - probably the process of integers is
only a special case of this relation between signifiers, the collection
of which constitutes the Other (A).8 That is, meaning is made by op­
positions, be it verbal or numerical. This brings us to Lacan's appli­
cation of Frege's discovery to the constitution of human mentality.
Frege uncovered a paradox: the fact that every natural number has
something before it, and something after it. This contradiction
stopped him from counting beyond 011, a recursive function being
implicit in his axiom.
Frege postulated that the 0, the number and the successor,
function in constituting the series of natural numbers (Miller, "Su­
ture," p. 27). When applied to a logic of the signifier, Frege's
· ...
philosophical mathematics show the conscious subject being pro­
duced as effect, rather than already there as cause. In its function­
ing, both anticipation and retroaction are always in play. In his essay
on "Suture," Jacques-Alain Miller defines "suture" as miscognition
based on repression; or the general relation of lack to the structure
of which lack is an element (p. 26). "Identity" is structured as a set
of mathematical units, and is not to be confused with personality
thought of as a unified or fixed singularity or enduring substance.
Miller explains that 0 is ,,!ssigned to the concept which is not identical
with itself, to the concept as the extension of itself: n + 1. 0 renders
lack visible and grounds "truth" which lies in the identical; that is
where the subject is a structure of repetition (pp. 30-31). For some­
thing to be re-peated in conscious life, it must have already been
stated elsewhere. This proposition sutures logical discourse (pp. 29­
30). Thus, a logic Of the signifier orders both human identity and
relations. And "suture" designates the relation" between the Real
and the Symbolic, naming the relation of the subject to the chain of
its discourse (p. 25).
I w()uld describe miscognition as the basis of an I magi nary text,
a spreading of the suture effect across a person's life story. The
source of such effect lies in the Real of the signifiers in the uncon­
scious which Lacan once called the caput mortuum ofthe autonomous
signifier, caput mortuum being an alchemical term for the residuum
after distillation. 1() This residue provides a doubling effect, doublure
meaning a kind oflining or understudy within the conscious subject.
Along these same lines, Lacan said any of a subject is im­
pure (Sem. II, p. 352). We Lacan rejected the
phenomenological idea that pure perception could exist in the Real,
and relocated it between the Real and the Symbolic. Moreover, per­
ception was equated with a structured Imaginary which lives out the
unconscious - albeit unawares - through fantasies equatable with
reality. In this sense, the Imaginary becomes the other's knowledge
(S2) in relation to which a subject gives linguistic substantivity to the
moi, to representations, and to the dead messages in the Other (A).
Lacan depicted the Imaginary function in adult life as mediat­
ing relations through the narcissistic captivation of the moi in iden­
tificatory fusions. Psychic development occurs in reference to others
- transference - and not by means of impersonal developmental or
biological mechanisms. If unconscious numbers mark diachronic
spaces in conscious life which denote the evolution ofidentificatory
(Imaginary) relations - through varied Symbolic interpretations ­
theoretical impasses in Lacan will become clearer: impasses such as
the hypothesis that the system oflanguage itself closes out "truthful"
unconscious knowledge and that the substitmive of Desire

conceal the character of their true functioll to fill up lack hy cre­
ating a closure which resembles fullness. I f indeed the Symbolic has
"defined" a subject even before his birth, then from its genesis sub­
jectivity does not exist in a direct rapport to the Real. Instead, it
exists in relation to a triumphant syntax which engenders a signify­
ing mark (Ecrits, 1966, p. 50). That is, the Symboli<: im poses its order
on the Real. Yet, it is not homophonic or transparent signitiers
which will reveal a link between the Symbolic and Real, but the
primitive symbolism which joins unconscious numbers in a struc­
tured sequence that relates to a binary symbol.
From a Kantian viewpoint, the conscious subject would be the
phenomenon (appearance) while the unconscious would contain das
Ding an sich (the noumenon) or the Real subject. 11 Kant's subject
leaves us suspended, however, between the Real and the pheno­
menal, leaving out the Imaginary realm which connects the two. But
the Imaginary infuses ambiguity, emotional content, and Desire
into concrete language, Lacan said, thus creating an inertia and con­
fusion in ordinary discourse (Sem. II, pp. 351, 353). When one
realizes that the Imaginary thrust involves the moi's efforts to verify
its own ideal ego (as a unity) despite the obstacle of the Other (A)
which always breaks up this moi propensity, as well as the refusals
of ego ideals (others) to lend permanent solidity tomoi fictions, one
sees why the Imaginary lends confusion. But insofar as the Imagi­
nary is structured by repetition, I'\gression, and transference, and
is resistant to change, then its mai'rrre'r of functioning becomes an
important focus for studying the effects of the unconscious on om­
sclous life.
Lacan said that the scope of the Symbolic within the um:on­
scious is organized by successive unities which delimit the subject as
a unity of meaning, or as a meaningful unity (Sem. II, p. 227). But
this Symbolic interprets the Real, thus structuring the Imaginary
where perception and reality reside. Here we can see the difference
between a radical order of the Symbolic (as in mathematical sym­
bols) and that of the Imaginary which derives from the Real of natu­
ral symbols (the stin, a tree, and so on). If we take the first moment
an infant perceives (sees or hears) as the start of a structuration of
perception, then we can make sense of Lacan's notion that the bi­
nary symbol is essential to unconscious counting. 0 represents an ab­
sence - a moment preceding repetition - but by its very notation im­
plies a presence: #1 (Sem. XX, p. 122). We are in the realm of
paradox. The game of the symbol presence or absence - organizes
this something which calls itself asubject. The issues of identity and
mental causation become a mediation between a chain of symbols
and the Real: is it going to be this or that (Sem. II, p. 226)? Although
ois introduced to figure the numbers that will follow, there is no
rational reason for a 0 designation, for a denotation of absence of
numbers. Even so the Phoenicians discovered 0 many centuries be­
fore Christ, thus determining that counting not be random (tri­
bal).12 In 1964, Lacan said that 0 denotes the presence of the
human subject which totalizes itself by taking on meaning in opposi­
tion to a preceding absence. Thus, the subject is a symbol that has
only its own existence and discourse for support, in reference to
nothing apparent (Sem. II, p. 350). From the. start oflife, the binary
symbol does, however, link the Symbolic order to something Real:
identification with a present or absent object. Such identification
creates the desire to bring forth a presence, or to expel it (Ausstossung
or Bejahung). But such choiCes are not based on any innate knowl­
edge, or even any "moral" capacity to distinguish good from bad.
Lacan said that the subject does not foment this game, but takes its
place there, playing the role which creates it as a set of probable re­
sults (Scm. II, p. 227). Froln this perspective, perception first exists
as an Imaginary geometrical optic because it intersects with Desire.
The Desl.·re which Lacan depifted in "AJakobson" ($­
a) has already begun to be conditioned..b¥-an Imaginary circle
offantasy (SI- -+ S2) (Sem. XX, p. 21). Later S2 will act as a seman­
tic retroaction on the signifier for language (S]) (J.-A. Miller,
"Another Lacan," p. 3).
In 1966, Lacan described unconscious numbers as inter­
mediary points between language and reality. As countable unities
or algorithms (1, 2, 3, etc.),natural numbers or integers can be de­
fined as anything complete in itself or whole (Struc. Con., p. 190).
In 1975, Lacan said that language can be compared to mathemes
insofar as both are structures (orders or unities) that transmit them­
selves integrally, or as composed of constituent parts making a
whole (Scm. XX, p. 100). Although Hume tried to prove that count­
ing is an empirical fact, Lacan stressed that Frege had disproved him
by making it clear that every integer is in itself a unit (n + 1). A unit,
paradoxically, is complete in itself because it infers a before and
after: "It is this question of the 'one more' that is the key to the
genesis of numbers" (Struc. Con., p. 191). In other words, nothing
contains everything.
When Lacan applied Frege's concept of number to the logic of
the signifier in the constitution of the human subject he stressed that
Man is engaged by his whole being in the procession of numbers,
differs from Imaginary representations. Linguists who claim
that cardinal numbers (I, 2, 3) appeared before ordinal ones
second, third) lend support to Lacan's application of Frege's succes­
sor concept to the constitution of mentality (Scm. I I, p. 354). The un­
conscious impinges on language - not because it is an assemblage
of words, hul.- because il is precisely structured (Slru(. (;0;/ ... p. IH7).
In 1966, Lacan said that by "structure" he meant "as a language":
that is, meaning is made by opposition, as well as by combination,
substitution, and referentiality (the law of signifier extended by the
laws of metaphor and metonymy).. What has already been deter­
mined is the # 1 of the mirror-stage illusion o(constancy; the #2 of
dissymmetry or division into conscious and repressed parts; and the
#3 of alternance or difference. Two denotes the subject who exists
only by repeating the one of a primordial sense of coherence to
which two gives a name. In 1955, Lacan had said that it is amazing
that Man integrates himself to something which already reigns by
its combinations even if that something is repressed (Sim. n,p. 354).
Yet, as a subject extends itself in time, it recognizes its own "logic"
in the automatism of repetitions (recognizes itself as a Real regular­
ity): "beyond the pleasure principle."
In 1975, Lacan said t ~ laJangue or the ecrits are mathematical
things (Sim. XX, p. 108). Mlthematical means that something has
structure (order), and something tharhas structure possesses mean­
ing.Indeed, one might say that from the moment the first symbol
is introjected, it is automatically given meaning: by opposing itself
to absence (no meaning), this symbol becomes a presence (a mean­
ing) which can then be repeated in the sense of being re-cognized.
From this perspective, we could infer an elemental structure in the
primordial, pre-discursive period prior to speech. We would then
not have to fall back on a hazy object-relations symbolism or an in­
explicable "moralism" to explain the origins of representationalism
as many have done. This primordial order would be characterized
by repetition and transformation. Charles Melman has suggested
that perhaps the genesis of One would be a unity whose counting
. begins with the lost object (in this case the death ofthe Rat Man's
f;lther).13 In another context, let us emphasize that as soon as the
natural symbol is recorded as a mental phenomenon, this symbol no
longer exists as a pure or Real object. It has been transformed into
a unifying lining of the subject to which all representations gradu­
But determinative laws in mental causality are those of the Sym­
bolic. Anterior to any declaration of chance, these laws differ from
those of the hard sciences where both chance and determinismman­
ifest an absence of precise meaning, as well as of intentionality.
Lacan's subject is formed as an intentional structure, ordered by the
meanings given to the experiences of mirror-stage desire for one­
ness - i.e., constancy or homeostasis - and the Oedipal injunction
to differentiation. As language is acquired, mirror-stage fixations
, "
are linked up to moi fictions, both of which are elaborated by the dy­
namic repressions which the Other infuses into conscious knowl­
edge. Lacan's determined subject is clearly not the Freudian ego
whose stages are thought to mature in relation to instinctual, imper­
sonal id "drives." Although the Lacanian subject is, of course, af­
fected by oral and anal stages, these are developed within the lan­
guage-specific context of a pre-mirror stage fusion, a mirror-stage
duality, and the ternary effects of Oedipal division. Thus, the Real
events which occur in the first three years of life are always sym­
bolized mentally in reference to objects, images, words, and the im­
pact ofeffect.
If Lacan's unconscious numbers mark the Real effects and
traumas occasioned by identificatory fusions and Oedipal separa­
tion, then 0 to 3 would denote topological fixations (analysis situs) of
which the myths and language of persons and cultures would be in­
terpretations. The subject would evolve during its first five years as
an ellipse, like the geometrical curve which moves obliquely to its
axis, not touching the base. But the sum of its distances from fixed
points (foci) would be c o ~ because mirror-stage and Oedipal
structures are recorded for all time, even though their meanings
vary throughout life. We know that Lacan located words and images
in the unconscious and found meaning within their liaisons, mean­
ing which is, nonetheless, opaque to conscious life. We also know
that by placing primary representations in a primordial uncon­
scious, and secondary ones between consciousness and perception,
Lacan created a bridge between a conscious sense of unconscious
knowledge and its actual truth. While secondary representations
refer to specific meanings, perhaps primary representations fall on
the side of the numerical structuration which Lacan placed in the
intersuqjective field of the Other, and described as opening onto the
plane of conscious language as a kind ofprimitive symbolism.
In Seminar One, Lacan described the intersubjective relation
as Imaginary, based on the processes commanded by structures in
the unconscious. Pointing out that the dual interplay of gazes in the
mirror stage follows Real rules, as in a game, he directed attention
to a paradox: game theory exists on a Symbolic plane, and is not
an Imaginary phenomenon.
One could interpret this to mean
that formalist (Symbolic) theories try to account for something Real
which is ineffable. If the Real can never be directly "said," we ma.y
best look for signs of unconscious counting in the gaps created by
a conjunction of Real effects and Symbolic meanings. For by infer­
ring metonymy as the structure of meaning, Lacan turned the
"meaning of meaning" debate on its head, postulating true savoir in
a topological unity of gaps. 15 At these points ofjoin, the moi acts as
"', .
an Imaginary animating the Symbolic subject, the je. They
coalesceina "conspiracy of silence" to give paradoxical witness to
anUr-structure: a localized unconscious knowledge. II follows, if
ala neVlt pas de soi, that there is. no pure game of chance involved
in the causation ofwhich a subject is the effect (Sem.. II, p. 226).
Insofar as an Imaginary text infuses unconscious meaning into
conscious life, the Imasinary itself stands as a privileged domain. In
that many Lacanian c\uwnentators have taken the Imaginary to
refer only to the alien imagos with which an infant initially iden­
tifies, they have reduced this order to the neurotic function of en­
gaging adults in the closure of narcissistic relations. Condemned to
the limitations of neurosis or child,like fantasy, the Imaginary is
seen as a phase to be transcended on the road to psychic awareness,
and freedom; My reading of Lacan's texts lends far greater scope
to the Imaginary. By connecting the unconscious to conscious life
through a variety of invisible joins, the Imaginary places affective
value on Symbolic order conventions and thereby infers a·
heterogeneity into discourse. As the purveyor of active, albeit re­
pressed, representations and identificatory "knowledge," the Imag­
inary judges people and experiences "intuitively," in light of invisi­
ble resonances. Like the m.oi, the Imaginary also functions to blot out
the unconscious knowledge to which its very existence gives silent
witness. Yet, even though there is no direct way to analyze the un­
conscious in the Imaginary, points ofjoin are ascertainable in repeti­
tions, transference, dynamic repressions, and in reference to sub­
The scope of the Imaginary would be much vaster than its sur­
face features of mere ego limitations which idealize, aggrandize,
and block off the unconscious. Through a kind of evocative disper­
sion of its own symbolicity into language, the m.oi also transcends its
limitations by projecting itself in a vacillating posture. Moreover,
there isa link between the m.oi and unconscious representations, a
primordial join of language to image. Lacancalled such a join the
place of the primordial Other. There one finds "symbols," redefined
by Lacan as the base units of all knowledge. Symbols reach all the
way back to primordial images, and to the localized signifiers Lacan
called "letters": !'eIre of body and being. Between oand eighteen
months, a primordial symbolization of the body predates any re­
cording .of perceptum. at the level of representational awareness,
These symbols are "translations" of natural phenomena or preva­
lent images: a breast; excrement, a gaze (ocular image), the voice
(auditory images). As an infant's visual perception gradually
widens, it includes all its surroundings. Natural symbols belong to
the Real, including such things as anelephant, the distinctions be­
" .
tween light and dark, and so on. Money, by contrast, is a purely sym­
bolic substitute for the natural symbol of exchange. And exchange
is a phenomenon which, not being easily quantified, demands sym­
bolic proof.
In the Other (A), one also finds the modus operandi by
symbols first make meaning, thus joining hands with the "law" of
the signifier. Since meaning is made by oppositions, signifiers (or
symbols) - the signifier already existing in the symbol- always come
in pairs (1 +). Lacan said that a kind of equivalence between sig­
nifiers permits us to point to the problem of the realism of the
number which deter\llin.>.s a subject as a value in the unconscious: a
plus or minus (Sem. xr.p. 227). The unconscious subject has no in­
herent "being," only a negative or positive value in relation to its own
constitution as an effect of mirror-stage identification and Oedipal
division. If a subject is anchored thus, then the Imaginary fictions
which interpret the resemble all knowledge and lan­
guage in having the structure of metaphor. That is, they substitute
or double for something else: the metonymy which makes them
J.-A. Miller wrote that a unity of the subject holds only insofar
as the number functions to represent its name, that is, insofar as the
is assimihtble to repetition ("Suture," p. 29). Stressing the
mathematical logic in play, Miller wrote elsewhere that the formula
SI- S2 does not mean that the subject can find a specific iden­
tity in the signifier, an absolute representation, his own true name.
The Other of the signifier provides no name for the subject of the
unconscious ("Another Lacan," p. 3). A propos, Lacan once wrote:
"A certificate tells me that I was born. I repudiate that certificate.
For I am not a poet but a poem. A poem that is being written, even
if it looks like a subject." 16
The unconscious of the subject is the subject of the uncon­
scious. But even prior to the formation of an unconscious in and by
language, a primitive structuration lies behind the words which will
later govern thought and action, making of thought a secondary
and unnatural producLFrom a Lacanian perspective, thought is
seen as a complex of relations which negotiate Desire, rather than
static consciousness of something. And such ideas can not be
equated with Idealist philosophy or Gnosticism because Laqm
showed a Real correlation between the structure of "identity" and
the logic by which a subject is structured in the first place. By placing
Freud's Vorstellungsrapresentanz between perception and conscious­
ness, Lacan proposed a link between Freudian Wahrnehmungszeichen
(perception marks) and language. Insofar as Vorstellungsrapresentanz
is portrayed as actively representing representations, they become
the means by which unconscious structure is dynamically imposed
on conscious life. Metonymically joined to the Other (A), such rep­
resentations thwart the Imaginarylmoi propensities to seek dosure.
They also evoke the "more than language" which dwells within lan­
guage. When linked to a semantics of unconscious numbers, dy­
namic representationalism is the means by which I!llaginary mate­
rial is carried along a probability curve that makes sense of repeti­
tion and Desire as the automatic organizing principles in identifica­
tory relations and within social institutions.
To date one of the most interesting accounts of Lacan's theory
of unconscious counting has appeared in Jacques Lawn: The Drath
of an Intellectual Hero by Stuart Schneiderman. 17 Using number set
theory, Schneiderman seeks to explain the idea that the combina­
tory power of number association orders the ambiguities of the un­
In number set theory, ordinal numbers- i.e., numbers
in a series expressing order or succession - give rise to each other.
Moreover, a print beyond zero is postulated: the nul set designated
as Y; (zero barred). The nul set is a modern invention, a kind ofshort­
hand for the idea that something precedes and grounds each natu­
ral number. In other words,although each number is in itself com­
plete, each set contains all the elements of the previous set. A nul
set, thus, grounds the next number which denotes the absence of
number: the O. This 0 is, in turn, bracketed - [0] - to distinguish
it from the nul set. The next number will be the first countable
number, either # 1 or 0 bracketed twice. Set theory continues by a
series ofever.:expanding bracketed zeroes (The Death, pp. 4-5).
Schneiderman describes the nul set as the empty grave. This set
is important, not because of its relationship to death, but because it
symbolizes the place against which we have to confront the dead.
The problem, Schneiderman continues, is that the empty grave is
a]so a subject: the nul set implies a mark or a bracketed zero. The
mark, like the unconscious symbol, presupposes a before. In conse­
quence, the human subject is always split between a mark and a void.
One becomes both the signifying mark of countability -the singular
subject - and also the number of unification or binding. Two is the
numerical prototype of all the dualisms spawned by the intersubjec­
tive relation: the ego and its object, you and me, mother and
inner and outer. Three refers to the Oedipal structure which ex­
tends childhood into adult life in terms of a person's early relation­
ship to the mother and father. #3 also symbolizes the Imaginary,
Symbolic, and Real, as well as the three intersections in the Borro­
mean knot.
But #4 is the trickiest, writes Schneiderman. Four comes into
play in the schema for intersubjectivity where one moves from
" .
Other to moi and toje, from je to other, and from other to moi. Lacan
also taught in Seminar Twenty that discourse was formed by the
movement of foUl' fundamental terms (S" S2, S, a) (p. 8). I would
add as well Lacan's four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis
the unconscious, repetition, transference and, "drive" (Desire)
and the four key signifiers in the unconscious (birth, procreation,
love, and death). Schneiderman also sees #4 as marking the place
of the symptom. That is, the telling of one's story is the unfolding
ofthe subject's quadrature. A symptom appears when the first three
numbers do not hold together, when a disturbance in Oedipal rela­
tions is brought into play. To my knowledge, Lacan did not analyze
numbers 5 and 6, although he did say in 1966 that after fifteen
years, he had taught his students to count up to #5 which is difficult,
#4 being easier (Stru. Con., p. 190). In light ofset theory, Schneider­
man has said that an analysis of numbers 5 and 6 would be so com­
plex as to require the use of mathematical symbols.
Although Schneiderman's discussion is an excellent Symbolic
order portrayal of the differentially calculable effects of the Lacan­
ian unconscious, I would suggest another theory of unconscious
counting. In set theory, each set contains everything from the previ­
ous set (a predecessor relation). But Frege's successor relation "is a
minimal logic in that within it are given those pieces only which are
necessary to assure it a progression reduced to a linear movement"
"Suture," p. 25). Prior to linguistic syntax, an identificatory
semantics the representation of reality by rooting
hunmn perception in a network of imagistic and phonetic material,
recorded as mental phenomena. The earliest perception of infants
is submerged in a meaning system where certain images are consti­
tuted for the "instincts" themselves. The first recorded "objects" are,
the oral and excremental ones, to which Lacan added the gazeand
the voice. These elemental images constitute the originary matrices
to which all other images will later become attached in "hallucina­
tory" representational chains. Language will later try to make sense
of this irretrievable period of chaos and boundarilessness. Words
will seek to make the primordial Real, Imaginary by humanizing it.
Lacan once described early corporeal images as belonging to an
unsymbolized Imaginary. Since the infant's perception is uncom­
prehending, early introjects resist symbolization. Still, this material
is not lost. It forms the beginnings of the symbolization of uncon­
scious Desire, and the kernel of a moi. Still, the welter of disas­
sociated relations introjected by the premature neonate is so frag­
mented and confusing that Lacan once located the source of the
"neath drive" in the first six months of human life,: Elsewhere he de­
this period as one of "primordial misery." But alongside the
, ,
delay in motor development, there is a human precociousness in t.he
maturation of visual perception. The eye, thus, plays a crucial role
in the functional anticipation of the development of mentality.Hl
The first structuring of perception is Imaginary, the subject being
a composite of the introjected images of culture. Not surprisingly,
Lacan taught that perception precedes impressions"and excites the
nervous system, not the reverse (Slim. II, p. 173). While Freud vacil­
lated for years about where to locate the perceptual-consdousness
system, Lacan placed perception on the side ofthe unconscious, and
located the perception-unconscious system within the Imaginary
order. .
Lacan once said that the Imaginary does not appear as a unified
perceptual order until adult life. One can, nonetheless, see this
order being woven together as a way to symbolize perception from
the start of life. Within such a framework, 0 would represent an
Imaginary conjunction of presence and absence (Symbolic and
Real) at a point 0 of Desire wherehuman need is subjected to condi­
tioning by the symbol and by effect. Between 0 and six months of
age, an infant identifies with primary objects, making 0 the number
connoting elemental fantasies. At this point, 0 infers the lack of non­
differentiated awareness. Just as this lack is a function of neurologi­
cal and physiological insufficiency, its "unconscious" feature has to
do with its irrecuperability. Perceptual fusions with body parts and
imagistic fragments create primordial unities, or "letters" of the
body. This experience ensures that human beings will not be able
to perceive their bodies in a complete fashion in later life I,
p. 200). The Imaginary 0 would refer, then, to the pre-mirrorstage
infant who experiences the world in bits and pieces, and to dif­
ferentiate such experience from its "self." This idea would make
sense of the fact that infants later discover their own fingers and toes
as part ofan originally unsuspected body unity.
The subjectivization of the subject begins with fantasies of the
Real (Sem. XI, p. 41). The Imaginary 0, thus,.denotesan irrecupera­
ble and unnameable primordial memory bank of being. The subject
is lined by maternal signifieds which are repressed as the prototypes
of objects of Desire. We might go so far as to suggest that primary­
process laws are not innate, but are themselves an effect of the con­
densations and displacements which create a metaphorical moi
whose poin t of reference is the metonymy of Otherness. 0 gives over
to an Imaginary 1 when the infant attains a sense of body unity by
mentally identifying with a Gestalt exterior to itself between six and
eighteen months of age.
From a developmental point of view,
perhaps an infant passes from a pre-mirror to a mirror stage he­
cause its motor control has increased. The infant has learned to sit
.' .
up and hold up its head. One would be the number of symbiosis,
denoting the assumption of a unified form and the psychic confu­
sion of being and body integrity. The infant learns to identify its
own body as a reflection derived from a mirror, and from the knowl­
edge that he is someone in the eyes of others. One is, therefore,
number representing the joyful awareness of having/being a "self."
I n the spirit of a pre-Castration the infant laughs at its
"self' in the mirror, or at the sight of its mother's face. Laughter at­
tests to repetition as re-cognition. The pleasure is a pleasure of
familiarity, of a mastery providing some cohesion to an originary
void in comprehension.
One is also the number of sorrow, for the identificatory illusion
of being a totality is false. This illusion marks the impossibility ofliv­
ing the life of the "self' as an other. The young object is, Lacan said,
abject. Words such as "alone" and "lonely" attest to the fact that
"one" does not always mean whole (The Interpretation ofLanguage, p.
328). The impossibility of an independently whole identity under­
lies the distinction Lacan made between an ideal ego - the primor­
dial rnoi and the ego ideals (others) in whose eyes people value
themselves throughollllife. Human conflict continually arises from
the fusion, in face of the reality of its repeated failure. One, then,
is the number of an intra-subjective split (fertle) and of interdepen­
dency. Thu& # I 's paradoxical reality is dialectical tension over the
momentary oases ofOneness.
Imaginarily speaking, #2 denotes the post-mirror phenome­
non of an inter&ubjective splitting of the subject (Freud's lchspaltung
and Lacan's refente). This split is internalized as repression. Some
term intervenes in order to teach the infant that it is other than
the objects with which it has identified. It seems likely that the mir­
ror stage ends around this time because the infant, able to walk, is
biologically ready to undertake life's next great challenge: to learn
the language which has pervaded its ethos since birth. The post-mir­
ror stage child learns that it is not only a unified organism, but also
a nameable unity. In 1966, Lacan said that #2 was important in
Freud's concept of Eros because Eros is a unifying power (Struc.
Con., p. 200). It also makes sense to base Eros in a language domain
light of Lacan's theory that language substitutes for the pain of
mirror-stage separation by its symbolic power to eVQke an absent ob­
Freud's Fot't! Da! model. Thus #2 would denote the linguistic
power of repetition and metaphor within an identificatory tr<yec­
tory, Paradoxically, #2 also points to the birth of the unconscious
Other (A) whose meanings are metonymical. Castration, then, is
both an effect of which the subject is the dissymmetrical r:esult, and
the means by which a primary repression of the symbol for separa­
tion - the phallic signifier - occurs. This split elevates Desire to tht'
level of"drive."
In Seminar Two, Lacan taught: "And it is not for nothing that
I make you play the game of odds or evens" (p.253). "It is with sym­
bolism; it is from this die which rolls that desire arises. I do not say
human desire, because when all is said and done, the man' who plays
with the die is captive of the desire thus put into play. He does not
know the origin of his desire, rolling with the symbol written on the
six sides" (p . 273). The Imaginary #2 becomes #3 along the chain
of events that take place between eighteen months and five or six
years of age. During this period, a grammar is acquired, the brain
lateralized, an identity assumed, and sexual difference learned. The
moi is solidified as a narcissistic structure from which differentiation
can be modulated.
During childhood and adolescence, #3 con­
notes the Oedipal gender myths which situate mother, father, and
child in familial and cultural concepts of masculinity and femininity.
Like Freud, Lacan found no gender distinction inscribed in the un­
conscious. But unlike Freud, Lacan suggested that gender myths
were linguistic fictions that interpret the impacl of loss of the
primordial mother at the father's behest. The Real impact of a pri­
mary splitting shatters the young child's sense of its own omnipo­
tence and psychic totality. #3 is on the side of Thanatos, that which
reveals limitations caused by the injection of prohibition and law
into symbiotic jouissance.
Grammar rules are firmly grounded at approximately the same
time a child begins to assimilate the fictions which describe its gen­
der as a specific sexual identity, thus linking language, gender, iden­
tity, Desire, and Law in an unconscious intentional bond. Whether
or not a child identifies with the Phallus will determine his or her
trajectory of love relations, as well as psychic sym ptoms. If masculin­
ity or femininity are, indeed, Symbolic interpretations ofthe effects
of mirror-stage separation and Oedipal splitting, then the fragility
and uncertainty surrounding issues of sexual identity are not so
mysterious. On the other hand, "normal" males generally mistake
having the penis with being the Phallus, while "normal" females
generally reverse the error.
In "On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of
Psychosis," Lacan referred to the identification by which a subject
assumes the Other's Desire in an Imaginary tripod where being the
Phallus and having the Phallus take on meaning only in the Symbolic
order (or in terms of the law ofthe signifier).22 That is, identity only
"means" in reference to the Name-of-the-Father. When a question
of lack is in play, "being" the Phallus and "having" it become con­
fused as mutually exclusive postures. Psychotics, for example, view
· .'
themselves as transsexual, neither masculine or feminine, or both.
The psychotic's deficit is a lack of the signifier for the N ame-of-the­
Father, a confusion at #3. Three, then, is the number of the mask
and of the moi ideology of sexual identity. It is also the number
around which ambivalent attitudes toward the Phallus coalesce. In­
sofar as the phallic signifier takes on the meaning of male privilege,
it evokes feelings of fear, reverence, envy, respect, and so on. And
by definition it "demands" its own subversion.
I.acan taught us that there is no pre-discursive reality (Shn. XX,
pp. 33-34). Language transforms all effects of images and words
which make an impact on consciousness prior to speech. Lacan also
said that the pre-Oedipal period cannot be pinned down in analytic
terms, although an ordering of pre-genital stages can be conceived
in analytic terms insofar as they are ordered in the retroaction of
the Oedipus complex (Ecrits, 1977, p. 197). My concept of an Imagi­
nary anticipatory/retroactive structuring of identity marked by
numbers 0 to 3 would only take on precise meaning, then, in refer­
ence to language and Oedipal Desire and Law. In a larger sense,
these numbers would prepare the stage - anticipatorily - for a ret­
roactive couming from 4 to 6 (7) as the adult subject represents him­
self in the Symbolic. The Imaginary text which I have hypothesized
would give "body" to Lacan's idea that memory is not an essence,
but a felt presence whose effects are Real. More specifically, one
wOllld always have recourse to the three signifiers of relation in the
Other which can be identified in the Oedipus complex: love,
procreation, and death.
Put in other terms, the human subject is constituted in refer­
ence to the energy generated by narcissism and Desire. In the mir­
ror stage, the infant has the illusion of being the other, and the sole
object of the other's regard. Desire is not for someone, but for fusion.
Once divided by repression, the subject must repeat something of
its being and Desire in order to constitute its status as a singular sub­
ject. In his Seminar on "The Purloined Letter," Lacan said that what
repeats itself derives from what was not: namely, a nameable sub­
ject (Ecrits I, p. 55). It is not quantitative physics which gives rise to
human energy but numbers with which humans always arrange
themselves so that a constant remains somewhere (Sem. XX, p. 101).
One constant is those things in which psychoanalysis can uncover
the identical, things of which one can be substituted for the other
without loss of truth (Miller, "Suture," p. 28). But between uncon­
scious truth and the subject representing itself in the Symbolic
stands an opaque Imaginary text which attests that repetition as the
repetition ofsymholic sameness is impossible (Strut. Con., p. 192).
From the mOlllell\. anything is represented to a tlIe
image is automatically a virtual imitation. Even the repetition of
one's body in a mirror is a distortion. Only in psychosis is the "as if'
tension resolved. Having foreclosed the signifier for Castration or
division, the psychotic stands ready to lose the cohesive unity at­
tained by the moi when it unconsciously identifies with a Name (of
a father). Once the moi metaphor disperses into its component parts,
the je of grammatical speech loses its unifying anchor and dissolves
into pseudo-speech. Having fallen back onto the Imaginary 0 and
# I of namelessness, the psychotic identifies. with hollow Other im­
ages, verbal fragmentations, and the universal ilames of the great
and powerful.
From an Imaginary perspective, numbers 4, 5, and 6 would be
seen as a logical progression (synchronically speaking); a symmetri­
cal inversion of numbers 3,2, and 1. From a diachronic viewpoint,
numbers 4, 5, and 6 denote a mathematical recursion, or a shadow
extension of mirror-stage and Oedipal experiences into adult life.
But by inversion I do not mean that 4, 5, and 6 repeat 3, 2., and I
in any one-to-one way. Desire infers lack; the number always points
to the number preceding and the one following. All the same, a nor­
mative evolution from chililhood to adult life means that at numbers
4,5, and 6, individuals change their Imaginary positions on an Oed­
ipal triangle. In the pursuit of reifying narcissism and realizing De­
sire, these numbers would denote a trajectory of Desire, lived Imagi­
narily (cf. Schema R).23 Four to six delineate a way of knowing one­
self without having to know, a way to carryon Plato's hunt for
knowledge without ending in death. In this sense, there would be
no "beyond the Oedipus com plex" at the level of "self' knowledge.
Within my purview, #4 would be the number of exogamy.
While #3 would denote a process of individuation away from the
primordial Other, #4 would mark a distance from the family itself.
#3 would mark an intrasubjective effort, while #4 would emphasize
intersubjectivity. Four would entail an adult reshaping or extension
of the Oedipal structuration fixed in childhood, through a type of
marital bonding. At #4, males and females validate their sexual
identities within society, in reference to the moi fictions solidified at
#3. At #4, individuals play outthe sexual difference not inscribed
in the unconscious as a genital drive around the masculine or
feminine masquerade. That relational couplings are not automati­
cally harmonious and stable, reflects the arbitrariness of the con­
stitution of identity around a cultural gender distinction, as well as
the power of the unconscious over the subject. At the point of oscil­
lation between 3 and 4, young adults implicitly admit that psychic
"maturation" occurs by a mediation of Desire and narcissism, always
in reference to others.
In the "Discours de Rome," Lacan said that a subjective logic
orients marriage ties in its effects - a logic predicated on the mirror­
stage and Oedipal structures and the relations they express. In a
larger sense, an Imaginary #4 would be the symptom of any soci­
ety's interpretation of sexual identity. Different cultural practices
would reveal the historical moment and mythology in question.
Courtly love, for example, would play upon the love signifier, while
Catholicism has always insisted upon the signifier for procreation.
Whatever the individual or cultural context, #'s 3 and 4 mark a gap
between the drive for sexual (re-)union and the fact that the true
partner ofeach individual is not the other, but the Other (A).
In the sexual arena, Woman is generally confused with the
primordial ambiguities surrounding numbers 0, 1, and 2. In gender
myths, Woman comes to represent a principle of ineffability and so
is identified both with sameness and loss, that is, with the uncon­
scious. Insofar as the first loss is the loss of a fantasy of psychic
wholeness, the Castration trauma is Imaginarily interpreted by as­
signing a positive meaning to the principle opposing sameness: i.e.,
to what differs from woman. Insofar as difference is inscribed in the
as a phallic signifier, this signifier which initiates sep­
aration, individuation, and speech becomes confused with gain.
What males gain is an Imaginary birthright to represent the public
domain as authoritative spokespersons. We are on Lacan's terrain
of assigning plus or minus values to the masculine or feminine. Dif­
ference is associated with gain, and is, therefore, registered on the
plus side oflaw, freedom, and prestige. Conversely, the primordial
Other sex is experienced in relation to the effects ofloss, in part ob­
jects and sensations that go beyond the sayable. It is in this sense that
I understand any minus value attached to Woman: she who is not
all (Sem. XX, p. 68).
In his "Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexual­
" Lacan asked. why marriage holds out even in the decline of
One might amplify Lacan's speculations that woman
as lack is transcendent to the order of the contract propagated by
work. If Woman stands for lack only insofar as she is not inscribed
in the unconscious in any totalized sense, it follows that Lacan
viewed analysands as people in search of Woman (Miller, "Another
Lacan," p. 2). Let us suggest here that exogamous relations seek to
recreate the mirror-stage illusion of wholeness the One - when in
reality they repeat the disharmony and dissymmetry caused by Cas­
My interpretation of #4 finds theoretical support in Lacan's
picture oflhe human as being in internal exclusion to its own
the moi (heing) would reside on the slope of fixation
., \
- the dit or ecrit - its paroles and signifieds would punctuate the dis­
course of theje where signifiers of Desire appear enigmatically 011
the slope of the dire or the non-etre of Otherness (Sem. XX, pp. 108­
09). This split between the conscious subject of being and saying,
grounded somewhere between narcissism and Desire, sends the
subject in search of some miraculous encounter with the lost or ab­
sent object of Desire with whom it identifies in Imaginary fantasy
(Stmc. Con., p. 194; Sem. XX, p. 114). Thus, at #4, individuals seek
to know who they are as the object of the Other's Desire. Bul. instead
of easily answering this question, each person must continually re­
constitute the moi within love relations and human relations in an
effort to compensate for the loss that the Other (A) is. J.-A. Miller
has said that insofar as object a is a constant supplement to lack, the
constancy itself gives the illusion of synthesis. 25 Thus, there is con­
fusion between the ideal ego, its ego ideals, and the moi's confusion
between being a subject for others, and an object of the Other's De­
Pre-mirror, mirror stage, and Oedipal effects would situate
cognitive development within an affective logic of identificatory fu­
sions and substitutive Desires. And every person will develop these
fantasies and myths within a set of probable choices, mocking the
Existentialist project of infinite "self' possibilities. Interpretations
of Real and universal experiences would, therefore, represent limi­
tations in the development of mentality, and on the human capacity
for processing identificatory information. The way #4evolves will
determine whether an Imaginary #5 or 6 will ensue. Imaginarily
speaking, #5 would be the number of maternity or paternity in
which lhechildhood Oedipal triangle develops in inverted form ill '
adult life. A child, viewed as the parental Phallus or desired object,
becomes a mirror of familial narcissism whose reflection is thrown
back and forth.
Parents both perpetuate their own narcissistic identity ques­
tions in relation to theirchHdren, and impose Desire on them. De­
sire isboth inflicted and nurtured. #5 would mark the point at
which societal and familial myths can be studied in the present, al­
though their origin lies in the past. At #5, one finds the identifica­
tory importance of naming, and the value a father accords his own
name in paternity, but also what maternity means to the mother. We
recall Juliet Mitchell's idea that hysteria is the Oedipal illness which
questions motherhood, and vice versa.
Not.only does the child
bring repressed parental Desire into play, it also acts as a divisive
force within the marital symbiosis, thus reifying Imaginary Castra­
tion (#2). Thus, in a larger sense, parental relations with a child
catalyze unresolved Oedipal issues.
, .
Number six would denote the Imaginary experience of giving
value to posterity or lineage. It refers to an immortality to be gained
by perpetuating identity and name within family lines. At #6, one
finds the human effort to thwart death, to mollify the intimations
of mortality left in the wake of Oedipal division. #6 reveals that in­
cest is not the greatest taboo, but death and loss.Tribal practices of
ancestor worship, or even the cannibal consumption of the arices­
toral dead, reveal an unconscious "drive" to perpetuate phallic
power in an Imaginary denial of death. Thus, at #6 one findsthe
epic passions surrounding legacies, wills, and the power rights of el­
ders. Eastern countries have historically attenuated individual
"freeplay" at #'s 4 and 5 by requiring excessive worship of elders,
thus constructing social practices around the death signifier. In this
way, the elderly are protected from loneliness and abandonment.
The reverse problem exists in Western countries today where the
old are disenfranchised and institutionalized. In narcissistic
societies where exogamous freedom is highly valued, grandparents
and grandchildren are separated by parental divorce. The sense of
well-being arising from group interconnectedness is lost. We might
even suggest that senility could be linked to a loss of prestige and
a slackening of Desire. If the moi does not have to continually recon­
stitute itself in the Symbolic (public) domain, would there not be a
retiring into an Imaginary flux? Would it not be logical that memory
would focus on more distant objects and events?
Whatever cultural practice is in view, #6 ma\ a physical fad­
ing toward death. Kathleen Woodward has spoken of a mirror-stage
of old age, decrepitude, and narcissism.
However narcissism is
reified at this stage of life, the posterity bond reveals a sense of fam­
ily connectedness which has nothing to ,do with "blood." Mirror­
stage myths (# I) of Oneness become a part of family history. And
as long as relative distance from each other is ensured, Desire loses
t he force ofimmediacy within extended family relations. Narcissism
becomes a mirror of family Desire as each member is either en­
hanced or denigrated by the aura surrounding other family mem-
At first glance, my interpretation of #'s 4 to 6 might seem to
resemble r ~ r i k Erikson's "life cycle" theory which Lacan so
crit.icized (Sim. I I, p. 179). But I intend no allegory of developmen­
tal stages. Numbers 4 to t) would reveal, instead, the power of Oedi­
pal Desire and repetition to organize adult life by placing the suqject
in a "truthful," but elliptical position to itself. Nor do I consider
these numbers to be a numerology. One must enter the order of 0
to 6, as I have portrayed it, from either 0 or 6, keeping in mind that
it is a necessary sequence. By applying Fregean mathematics to this
.) II
ordered set, one immediately infers a recursive logic (all elements
being established within an order of 011). Furtbermore, hecause this
oto 6 sequence is linear, the numbers will I1Qt enter into any com­
binatory relationship such as addition or subtraction. Rather, these
numbers serve to establish position: the position of the unconscious
in making an object of thesubject. Thus, the mirror stage can be ret­
roactively ordered (counted) at #2, and so on, every positioIl heing
subsumed in the Fregean formula of 0, number, successor. This, in­
deed, is a primitive counting which works like a language. At #6,
the Symbolic would cease to establish a link to unconscious numbers
because there is no Other of the Other.
Lacan adduced two examples to point to the importance of 6
and 7 in daily life. Jehovah distinguished himself from his sway over
the six days ofthe week by adding a seventh day. That is, #7 denotes
the capacity to count up t06 and infer one more number beyond.
Second, Lacan said that the Babylonian counting system remained
confused until they "arbitrarily" made the system sexigesimal: 6 x
10 (Sem. XX, p. l22). Before that, they had followed the Indo-Euro­
pean custom, which based its counting on the number 10 (the
number of human fingers). We also remember that the earliest as­
tronomers, the Chaldeans, divided the circle into 360 degrees (6 x
6 x 10) and defined a right angle by 90 degrees (60 + 30). Perhaps
all these uses of #6 make sense of7 as the number of magic, the mys­
terious, mystical, divine, and ineffable. If the impossible #7 were to
denote the Lacanian Other, one would find fading effects there,
and pure Desire or lack. In tbe Other, we would isolate tht' source
of ethics a still perplexing problem to theologians and philoso­
phers - by referring to the axes ()f mirror-stage Desire and Oedipal
Law. Here we could also infer the elusiveness of the primordial
feminine, and the fragility of the privileged status accorded the mas­
culine. We would also ascertain the importance of repression and
closure of the unconscious in establishing the social and personal
limits that make life organizable. One might also comprehend the
regularity with which humans worship gods, placing the principle
of the unknown outside themselves instead of within (Cf. Slim. XX,
From another perspective, 7 might be called the number of
analysis. Insofar as 7 is only an inferred number, this would tally
with Lacan's saying that although the iJcrits or dits are mathematical,
analysis is not a mathematical thing (SeiTt. XX, p. 105). Both the
analyst who does not know what troubles the analysand, and the
analysand who is unconscious of what he or she does know, dwell
in the realm of ineffability. By leading the analysand to subtract the
Other from a conscious illusion of "self" totality, the analyst can
It; ~ , Ie
open the pathway to unconscious Desire where analysands have
made the world Imaginarily symmetrical to their own thought (Sem.
XX, p. 115). The task is not small. Modern "scientific" society has
abolished any tacit admission of denial and repression from its dis­
course, thus negating the God-like power of unconscious knowl­
edge. One remembers the eleventh-century ontological proof of
God's existence: "id quo maius concipi non potest" (that than which
greater can be conceived). If the Lacanian Other (A) is that than
which no greater can he conceived, it makes sense that it would con­
tain both the power ofheaven and helL
To fully grasp the idea that Oedipal effects continue to govern
life through adolescence and adulthood, one must return to Freud's
first realist notion of fixation: the inscription of representational
contents persists unaltered in the unconscious. Lacan tied this idea
to language through the analogy of mathematical topology, and
hypothesized a strict equivalence between psychic structure and to­
pology (Sern. XX, p. 14). In 1964, Lacan said: "Nothing actually can
be based on chance - calculation of possibilities, strategies - which
does not imply at its starting point a limited structuration of the situ­
ation, and that in terms of signifiers" (Sem. XI, p. 40). Let us suggest
that the six unconscious numbers, which make meaning by opposi­
tion (like signit1ers), function on a 0 to 3/4 to 7 recursive model be­
cause unconscious counting is also a function of elements in a to­
pological space, space being the means by which a combinatory
function can occur.
James Glogowski has suggested that unconscious number is the
most primitive valence of meaning. It would operate initially on the
border of the Real, but would only be recognized by a subject at age
three years. Children begin to count up to and beyond ten only at
age three. Before this age, Glogowski suggests that number may be
merely a reflection of the perception of the infant body in the world
the Fort! Da! alternance of presence and absence. My concept of
an Imaginary number 3 would mark the entrance of the register of
the other. The integration of two structures by a third would not be
a bad description of topology.28 Generally speaking, however, to­
pology is the mathematical realm that studies properties of a
geometric figure which do not vary when the figure is transformed.
Could it be that topology developed as an effect of unconscious
counting, of the unconscious being prior? In any case, topology
takes one away from a limited sense of number - only one order of
the Real- and gives a range of numbers: a space. We are back to
J.-A. Miller's statement that the subject seen as objeet takes its mean-
from its difference to the thing integrated to th.e Real, by its
spatio-temporallocalization ("Suture," p. 27). Lacan described the
as "on ill
(Shn. I I, p. 227).
The combinatory logic which Lacan found to be immanent in
the original symbolism of the marriage tie may well be the pivotal
moment when the topological gaps ofchildhood determine whether
(or not) a subject will inscribe himself in the SYtbOlic order (Ecrits,
1977, p. 66). At this moment, the three princi e one-dimensional
numbers in the unconscious reappear at jun tures between Real
event, Imaginary symbol, and Symbolic signifier as functions sym­
bolized by the "letters" ~ a, and S(4\) (Scm. XX, p. 31). But whatever
the combinatory interplay, the three principle functions are fixed.
Lacan once said that the fixed and neutral value of certain numbers
(e.g., 1729 will always be the sum oftwo cubes) can be equated with
the fixed and neutral value of the signifiers of language (Shn. II, p.
328). Once subjectivized and misrecognized by moi fictions, as well
as by the totalizing effect of the system oflanguage, unconscious sig­
nifiers lose any transparency of meaning, although the ways in
which people describe themselves invoke a moment of uncon­
sciously articulated structuration. thus implying that there is no
pure game of chance (Ie hasard, Willkilr) as far as origins go (Srm. I I,
p. 226). Only in the Real does one find the arbitrary (coincidencl>,
In support of my interpretation of Lacan'sidea that the uncon­
scious can count, I shall cite a classic article written by the Harvard
psychologist George A. Miller in the 19508. Miller listed the limits
on "absolutejudgment" (the moment before confusion or "channel
capacity" takes over in the human capacity for processing informa­
being connected to the numbers 5, 6, or 7. Number 7 is
on human capacities in relation to one-dimensional judg­
ments. We can hear hundreds of musical notes, but only remember
6 or 7 tones. We use thousands of words, but only identify binary
and tertiary distinctions in phonemes. We can identify scores of
faces, but only remember 60r 7 dots at a time when they are flashed
on a screen. 29 Other examples come to mind. We have named seven
colors in the spectrum, derived from three primary ones. Seven is
also the number of generations after which, according to Levi­
Strauss, the kinship prohibitions against spouses (incest) lapse, as
does proscriptive mourning. The reader will doubtless also be re­
minded of conventions such as the seven deadly sins, the seven car­
dinal and theological virtues, the seven-headed Hydra, the seven
circles of Heaven, the seven wonders of the world, the seven seas,
seven continents, seven sisters or Pleiades, etc. Although Miller re­
fused to reach a final conclusion, he speculated that "perhaps there
is something deep and profound behind all these sevens, something
. . \'
just calling out for us to discover it" (p. 97).
The connection between Miller's experiments and Lacan's
theory is obvious. I have argued that Lacan's numbers denote Real
points of psychic juncture which derive from a mirror-stage and
Oedipal structuring of mentality. In a book entitled Thematic Origins
ofScientific Thought, the physicist Gerald Holton has argued that cer­
tain symbolic structures are at the base of diverse and apparently
dismnnected theories. Pointing to a homogeneous manner of func­
tioning behind heterogeneous facets, Holton terms such manner of
function a "three-dimensional 'space'" or proposition space.;lO The
idea of a three-dimensional space brings to mind Lacan's enigmatic
statement that "the unconscious can count to six because it cannot
find the number two again, except via the three of revelation" (Shn.
XX, p. (22). This statement might be interpreted to mean that a per­
son's name (#2) takes on its full meaning in reference to a sexual
identity (#3) or the place of the Phallus in the Other (A). Thus, 0
to 3 represent what is written in childhood: the conditions ofjouis­
sance which will delimit adult life, these conditions being the "neces­
sary which never stops writing itself' (Sem. XX, p. (17).
Lacan said that what generally "writes itself is an ordinary des­
tiny" (Ecrits, 1966 p. 57). In an ordinary destiny, others playa pacify­
ing role, establishing a libidinal normativity and a cultural normativ­
ity bound up from the dawn of history with the imago of the
In fact, Lacan's use of knot theory visually depicts this
idea. Lacan described a knot as a fact which represents the various
points at which a subject has access to the Real. Even though knots
denote impasses of the impossible -joins of the invisible to the Real
they also belong to the Real. Generally speaking, knots symbolize
the multiple cuts and intersections which occur in the Other (A) to
form the human subject. The knot in the figure 8, for example, de­
notes the effect of the phallic signifier (the father's imago) in dividing
the human subject. But knots themselves have nothing to do with
the space they cut into a surface. Such space, as in the Borromean
knot, is not really three-dimensional - an idea based on the transla­
tion of our bodies into a solid volume (Sem. XX, p. 120-21). Instead,
Lacan pointed us toward the three directions of space as distin­
guished by Descartes's coordinates.
Lacan's "proposition space," then, is not based on the literalism
.of physical realities, but on the knots deriving from mirror-stage
and Oedipal structures. The Borromean knot creates three dimen­
sions in one feU swoop: a trinity. Paradoxically, when a line (or
piece of thread) is cut into two, its surface appears to be cut into a
space of three because of the intersecting knots (Sem. XX, p. 1(0).
It is interesting to note that one counts seven spaces within the Bor­
romean circles, suggesting n + ,1.
Perhaps the Borromean knot
depicts the Imaginary intersected by the Symbolic, whose impact is
Real. Analytically speaking, the space structured around the joins
of these orders would be inferred into discourse as a topology of
fixed messages and past effects in the Other (A) which operate lan­
guage and perception, ensuring that it be neither linear nor purely
Although the Borromean knot coincides at six points, all of
these can be unraveled, leaving a round piece of string with only one
knot. This knot, with the numerical value of 0, would represent the
privileged phallic signifier.This signifier, also called thetranscen­
dental signified, is that around which personal and social meaning
is organized. Its Real effects come into play in analysis because the
signifying knots preceding and followjJlg it must be interpreted in
reference to it. Thus, within my schema of six Imaginary numbers,
the phallic signifier would stand in the middle of a set of meaningful
ensembles, each in itself a complete constellation implying the one
preceding or following it. Lacan's unconscious numbers would not,
from my perspective, be invented. Insofar as they denote Real
events which are interpreted by Symbolic codes to produce an Imag­
inary homogeneous (one-dimensional) kind of identificatory
"thought," these numbers are not unlike Levi-Strauss's mathemati­
cal tools. They too would offer a way to formalize some rules under­
lying apparently erratic phenomena.
In conclusion, we face one of Lacan's majestic and difficult in­
sights. Structure is both anticipatory and retroactive; static and dy­
namic; pre-discursive and discursive. Structure operates on differ­
ent levels, transforming conscious life and language by infusing un­
conscious elements and invisible effects into it. One path to the
"truths" in the unconscious lies in the discovery that Imaginary
myths are distorted interpretations of the Other's Desire, that of
which the analysand is unaware (Sem. II, p. 353). The task of the
an:2ist is to teach the analysand to separate one from the other, and
this deconstructing the Imaginary discourse oflove,jealousy, ag­
gre siveness, Desire, and soon. The result will reveal a fundamental
disorder in human representations, rather than any neat evolution
of sexual stages (Sem. II, pp. 209-10). The Imaginary contains disas­
sociated sets of relations (pertaining to six unconscious numbers)
where the unconscious, the perceptual, the visual, and the verbal are
equated (Sem. II, p. 147). These relations reveal structure which
goes all the way from the effects ofia langue to intimations ofmortal­
ity. From this perspective, the Symbolic constitution of the subject
will always resurface into conscious life, organized around six
pivotal unconscious numbers. These numbers, which are real, uni­
, ,
versal, and natural, are to be found, I submit, in the domain of
Imaginary realism.
1. Le Seminaire deJacques Lacan, Livre XX: Encore (1972-73), text estab­
lished by Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975), p. 122.
2. Jacques-Alain Miller, "Suture (elements of the logic of the sig­
nifier)," Screen, 18, No.4 (Winter 1977178), pp. 24-34.
3. Le Seminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre II: Le mOl dans la tMorie de Freud
et dans La technique de la psychanalyse (1954-55), text established by Jacques­
Alain Miller (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1978), p. 353.
4. Ernst Cassirer, "The Linguistic Development of the Concept of
Number," in his The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (New Haven: Yale Univ.
Press, 1953), quoted in Theodore Thass-Thienemann, The Interpretation
Languagf, Vol. I: Undentanding the Symbolic Meaning of Language (New
York: Jason Aronson, 1973), p. 325.
5. Cassirer, p. 333. Cf. also Wilfred R. Biol1, Sevl'7! (New
YOI'k: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1!l77),p.105.
6. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan. Jacques Lawn & tlte· Pltilo.lI!phy
Psychoa:na(ysis, forthcoming in 1984 from the Univ. of Illiriois Press, cf.
chapter 4.
7. Jacques-Alain Miller, "Anot.her Lacan," Lacan Study Notes, A Nl'wsh,t­
tn·, 1, No. :1 (Feb. 1984), p. 3.
8. Jacques Lacan, "Of Structure as an lnmixing of an Otherness Pre­
requisite to any Subject Whatever," in The Structuralist Controversy, eds.
Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
Press, 1975), p. 193.
9. Although he does not refer to the Lacanian logic of the signifier in
relation to repetition and "truth," W. R. Bion seems close to it when he
says: "A thing cannot exist in the mind alone: nor can a thing exist unless
at the same time there is a corresponding no-thing/' in Seven Servants, p.
10. Jacques Lacan, "Le Seminaire sur La LeUrI.' Votee (1966), in Ecrits
(Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1966), p. 56.
II. I.e Shninaire de Ja.cques Lacan, Livre VllI, L'Ethique, unpublished,
Decemher 23, 1959,
12. Pel'S(mal telephone conversation with James Glogowski, March'
13. Charles Melman, "On Obsessional Neurosis," trans. Stuart
Schneiderman, in Returning to Freud: Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of
Lacan, ed. Stuart S<:hneiderman (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), p.
14. Lf S de.lacques Lacan, Livrf I: Les techniques de Freud
(195:\-54), lexI established by Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Editions du
Seuil, 1975), p. 249.
I:). /,1' Sftnin(/in' dl'.Il11:ql/.l'S 1,1/('(U/., til"./' ,'Ii I: / ,I'S Ifllllln' (01/(1'/1/,\/11111/(//1/1' /I
tmJ.X (19()4). text established by Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Editions ell!
Seuil, 1973). pp. 165, 181.
I H. Jacques Lacan, Tlte Four Fundamental Concepts o{ Psyc!to-A'U/('Isis,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978). p. viii.
17. Stuart Schneiderman, Jacques Laean: The Death of an Intellectual
Hero (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 2-8.
18. Jacques Lacan, "The function and field of speech and language in
psychoanalysis" (1953), in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Alan Sheridan (New
York: W. W. Norton&Co., Inc., 1977), p. 59. Cf. footnote 33, p. 108.
19. Jacques Lacan, "Propos sur la causalite psychique," p, 186.
20. In their book Laean and Language: A Reader's Guide to Ecrits
York: International Universities Press, 1982), John P. Muller and William
J. Richardson point out that Lacan changes his early statements that the
mirror stage originates at six months, postulating eight months in "Some
Reflections on the Ego," International Journal ofPsychoanalysis, 34 ( 1953), p.
14. .
21. James Glogowski, "Concepts of Literary Analysis," unpublished
ms., p.14.
22. Jacques Lacan, "On a question preliminary t.o any possihle treal­
ment of psychosis," in Emts, p. 207.
23. Lacan, "On a question preliminary to any possible trealment ......
p. 207. Cf. the Schema R where Symbolic and Imaginary triangles coalesce
to denote ego ideal (Infant), signifier of primordial (Mother), posi­
tion of the Name-of-the-Father (Phallic image), p. 196.
24. Jacques Lacan, "Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine
Sexuality" (1958), in Feminine Sexuality: .Jacques Lacan lind the Fw/t'
Freudienne, ed.Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (New York: W. W. Nor­
ton & Co, 1983), p. 98.
25. Jacques-Alain Miller, "Teachings of the Case Presentation," in Re­
turning to Freud, p. 51.
26. Juliet Mitchell, "The Question of Femininity and the Theory of
Psychoanalysis," oral presentation at SUNY-Buffalo, Nov. 11, 1983.
27. Kathleen Woodward, "Instant Repulsion: Decrepitude, The Mir­
ror Stage, and The Literary Imagination," The Kenyon Review, 5, No.4 (Fall
1983), pp. 43-66. .
28. Personal correspondence. James Glogowski. pp. 2-3 of a letter
dated March 19,1984.
29. George A. Miller, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus
Two: Some Limits on 'our Capacity for P1'Oeessing Information," The
Psychological Review, 63, No.2 (March 1956), pp. 81-97.
30. Gerald Holton, Thematic Origins of ScientiFic Thought (Cambridge:
Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), pp.
31. Jacques Lacan, "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis" (1948), in Sheri­
dan, Ec1its, p. 22.
32. Jacques Lacan, "Ronds de Ficelle," in Seminaire XX, p. 119. cr. the
example of Figure 9:
33. Jean-Marie Benoist, La Revolution Structurale (Paris: Denoell
Gonthier, 1980), p. 330.