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From the correspondence Lacan Joyce
Oscar Zentner

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What is the neutrality of the analyst?
If not exactly this, the subversion
of sense, that is a kind of aspiration,
not towards the real, but by the real
Jacques Lacan

Mors aut honorabilis vita
James Joyce

On the one hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday I gave in Melbourne the reasons for, as well as my thoughts on, my debt to Joyce.2 Following on from that, in the land of Ire, and in Dublin, his city, I wonder if we can miss the irony that it is only over Joyce's dead body that we are today here as analysts.

Joyce's works were designed to create aspiring Theseuses who, contrary to the myth, will remain in the Joycean labyrinth under the spell of his enigmas. My wager instead will be elsewhere. I will examine the Joyce effect that psychoanalysis has suffered as a result of his writings.

The rigorous decomposition - not of language in Joyce but of lalangue beyond the sensical of the symbolic unconscious - served Lacan to formulate the unsuccess that knows.3 Furthermore, Joyce presented Lacan with another challenge: if the unconscious was structured like a language and not like lalangue, strictly speaking, Joyce was never unsubscribed from the unconscious,4 rather he was unsubscribed from the unconscious … of the others.5 What Joyce certainly did not subscribe to altogether was to his lalangue, and this might clarify the lack of empathy6 from the other.7

The early pain of Joyce regarding his mother tongue (lalangue)8 would be later stressed further in the epiphany to his friend Jolas: Après mot le déluge.9 This epiphany, like The Fall, conveys the fact that once the subject speaks he can only expect exile. Joyce's self-imposed exile underscored by geography and foreign languages makes more poignant the suffering expressed earlier in A Portrait. However, Stephen's pain10 is not lacking suffering and this is very different from Lol V Stein,11 the character of Marguerite Duras, for whom there is pain, but one can hardly say that in her there is suffering, as Lacan hastens to write.12 Lol V Stein is a subject of opaque subjectivity. Lacan admires Duras' description. She was another one able to describe what he taught, neither undergoing an analysis nor attending his seminars. And for us, following what we wrote in The Exile of James Joyce - après le mot le déluge, this demonstrates the difference between Lol V Stein as described by Duras, and Joyce's Stephen13 for whom there is little doubt that suffering and pain are intertwined. Otherwise how is it possible to make a differential diagnosis between a paranoid with inspired writings: schizography,14 from the writings of an artist?

From this perspective, neither Lacan's encounter with the interrogation posed by the creative work of Joyce,15 nor his difficulty in exacting Joyce's subscription to the unconscious, can be overstated.

To be clear, that difficulty in defining the status of being or not being 'subscribed` to the unconscious, goes beyond the unfound and unsustainable thesis of being 'unsubscribed`. It rather refers to Lacan's difficulty to respond the challenge presented by Joyce's work to his own conceptualization of the unconscious. This situation was maintained until the moment in which Joyce's work leads Lacan to conceptualised the Unconscious as a multi-transliteralization.16

Among the multiple consequences of the encounter with the work of Joyce it should be included the chain-writing and the Lacanian Bo-knot of three were repaired and perfected by the Joycean Bo-knot of four with its sinthome, ego, or name of the father. This repairing, I proposed appears to be unavoidable in the speaking being. From the moment the Joycean-Lacanian unconscious was conceptualised as that one mistake, the efficient cause that the unconscious was became transformed into a defective effect.17 Ultimately Joyce the symptom helped Lacan's passage from the objective Borromean of three to knot the subjective Père Borromean18 of four.

Though this jouissance can be shared,19 it does not lend itself either as transmission20 or as knowledge.21 That Lacan wanted to glean a knowledge from it was confirmed by his unrelenting search and interrogation to those who, Sollers22 among others, without an analysis knew how to make do with their symptom a sinthome.23

It is because of this that I was forced to the conclusion that Joyce the sinthome24 renders the analyst irrelevant.25 Henceforth to be post-Joycean is also to know this. This irrelevancy of the analyst becomes clearer once examined the following two unpublished letters.26

On 2 November 1939 Lacan wrote to Joyce:

Docteur Jacques Lacan
3 rue de Lille
Paris VI

Dear Mr Joyce,

Thank you very much for sending me your ex Work in Progress now published as Finnegans Wake. You are right, I would have never guessed its name.

Your judgement of psychoanalysis is rather harsh, though you have put forward certain compelling arguments. But this is a delicate time for me. Since 1938 I am myself a Training Analyst with The Psychoanalytic Society of Paris. The intrinsic institutional politics27 involved in this move are indeed very boring and probably no different from the other church, the Roman Catholic Church. Still, as you may appreciate, this is a personal letter and in it I can be more open with my thoughts than I would be otherwise.

I finished reading Finnengans Wake last night. It took me a good five weeks in which I closed myself off from the external world in the company of many dictionaries, expecting rather naively that they were going to help me understand your book. I can tell you that I read it word by word, but I will not pretend that it made any sense to me whatsoever. Nevertheless, your jouissance in writing is palpable. Would this confirm the truth of T S Eliot's, that True poetry reaches us before being understood? I find this in your Finnegans Wake.

You know, my friends, Dali, Picasso and the entire surrealist group, they are kindergarten children when compared with the enigmas in your book. Your book is an enunciation in which the enunciated cannot be found,28 it is an enigma made book. I plan to use it in due time, in future teachings. I was taken by your definition of what a letter is. As you so well said, it is a litter.29 However, if so, did you publish to show that while the letter kills, the spirit vivifies? Thus to re-create literature in order to finish it off would be the logical conclusion following on from your alliteration of letter into litter.30

Finnegans Wake is a magnificent and rare yield of your thorough knowledge of Freud's Traumdeutung. Yet, in your F W there is no dreamer other than the dream itself. I wonder; is this a confusion between Freud and Jung?

As you might know, Freud was in Paris on his way to London a while ago. I didn't go to see him in part due to the effect of reading your Work in Progress in The Little Review. I was hesitant to see him because I would have taken issue on the same points you raised, and these questions were still a bit premature with me.

Your criticism that we psychoanalysts still apply the old pressure of suggestion and paternal authority irrespective of what we might otherwise state, is disquieting. Actually, I have near at hand the paragraph in question. I will quote it: Be who, farther potential? And so wider but we grisly old Sykos who have done our unsmiling bit on 'alices, when they were yung and easily freudened, in the procuring room and what oracular comepression we have had apply to them! …31 These words put me ill at ease. They compelled me to jot down a couple of interrogations in my notebook:

What does it mean to understand, moreover when one has a métier that I have qualified as a swindle …32

Our practice is a swindle: we take advantage making people blink, dazzling them with make-believe words, affected words, what you33 designated as puffed-up words.34

In brief, I agree with you, but not without some qualification and conflict. Undeniably, you enjoy a freedom that I do not have, at least for the time being. Moreover, after I read you, I was impelled to re-read Freud's works on hysteria. I was left wondering, where did those marvellous women, Anna O, Emmy von N, those hysterics of the past go? Were they replaced by the psychoanalytic foolishness? Re-reading them, I came across Freud's Aristotelian Proton Pseudos35 but Greek conjures immediate respect and the deadly meaning of Freud's phrase is neglected. Well, as it happens, this is exactly what I wrote in French in my notebook: our practice is an escroquerie.

I cannot say anything of this in public for a long time to come. Perhaps the only person I could have told this besides you has already left Paris for New York. I am talking of Rudolph* Lowenstein, my ex-analyst of seven years, a Bloom very much like your character in Ulysses, but he would have hit the roof! Nonetheless, I can hardly complain of his good intentions, and he, being a Bloom, probably ignores that hell is paved with good intentions. But that is another kettle of fish.

Freud himself couldn't have said that he was educating swindlers. The most he said was of the necessity for the analysts to be literate, educated, cultivated, well informed and well read, and he did not have much success. This is why I maintain that analysis from the ethical point of view is unsustainable and I certainly feel ill at ease with this because I, like anyone else, have a Superego.36 However, I arrived to these conclusions after undergoing an analysis, and I wonder how you did it without having had an analysis at all.

Yours truly, Dr Jacques Lacan.

PS: * Reality has the structure of fiction. Isn't it funny that Rudolph carries the given name of the father of your character Bloom in the Ulysses?

Joyce replies on 27 December 1940.

Kronenhalle Hotel
Raemistrasse 24
Zurich 37

Monsieur le Docteur Jacques Lacan,

Please excuse my delayed answer but your letter reached me through the good offices of friends in Paris a few days ago. I am still looking to settle in Zurich where we arrived in the middle of this horrible chaos.

I will refrain from commenting on psychoanalysis, yet I would not like to think that anyone finds pedagogical intentions in my Finnegans Wake, psychoanalytic or otherwise. In any case, if you choose to pursue it, you will prove F W right up to the hilt: Psychos, yung and old, have been thoroughly and truly freudened forever!38

I am a scavenger of language and memories, and I wrote my latest book with jouissance, it is true, and with the full intention of having realised the dream of any writer; to have an ideal reader suffering from centuries of insomnia. Those readers, I firmly believe, will stem from academia, but concerning your ilk it would be very funny indeed if they were to be queuing after the academics! I wonder if they will do it à la Gogarty ,39 that is, psychoanalysts among the literati and literati among psychoanalysts.

What astounded me most of your letter was your wondering about how I made do without having had an analysis at all. I rejected in the twenties the underhand invitation to be experimented upon by Herr Professor Jung. I addressed your question long ago. I did it thanks to not having had an analysis! Yes. I did it with the only arms I will allow myself to use - silence, exile and cunning. You will find the reference in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Yours sincerely, James Joyce.

If at times I may have given the impression of having demonstrated the Joyce effect harshly, irreverently or worse pour épater le bourgeois, just recall the two quotes with which I began this paper. With these quotes I introduced clearly from the beginning what you were about to hear; the sensical as well as the mores are mutually excluded from psychoanalytic work. Indeed the psychoanalytic cure also excludes the suggestion or imposition of synthesis, rather than analysis, under the aegis of the common good.

Dear audience, this and more is the subversion produced by the Joyce effect, an effect that affected Lacan's theoretical tenets, and therefore, psychoanalysis. The post Joycean question, beyond making semblance of taking it on board is whether we can take the Joyce effect, or not.40


1 Read at The Symposium Lacan-Joyce, under the title The Joyce Effect, Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland, 2005

2. Zentner, O. The Exile of James Joyce - après le mot le déluge. Acheronta 19 Revista de Psychoanalysis, and in The Letter - Lacanian Perspective on Psychoanalysis, Vol 31-32, Editor Carol Owens, Dublin, Ireland, 2004, p 175.

3. Lacan, J. L'insu que sait de l'une bévue s'aile à mourre, 1976/77, Ornicar? 12/13.

4. Unless we circumscribed ourselves to repeat with Lacan that there is only unconscious when one addresses an analyst. In any case Lacan's infelicitous expression of 'unsubscribed from the unconscious' seems to contradict his own thesis by identifying the unconscious with lalangue and not with language.

5. Lacan, J. Le sinthome I. In Joyce avec Lacan, Bibliothèque des Analytica, Navarin Editeur, 1987, p 24-25.

6. Zentner, O. Borges and The Fantasm of Reality, In Borges' own words "… seventeen years to write a book that none will ever read". Papers of The Freudian School of Melbourne, Vol 21.

7. Lacan, J. Ibid.

8. Lacan's affirmation of Joyce's lalangue as Gaelic and not English is rather debateable.

9. Zentner, O. Ibid.

10. Joyce, J. "The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language". A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Modern Classics, Great Britain, 1975, p189.

11. Lacan, J. Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras, du ravissement de Lol V Stein. Cahiers Renaud-Barrault, Gallimard, Paris, 1965, N° 52, p 7-15.

12. Lacan, J. "Où l'on voit que le chiffre est à nouer autrement car pour le saisir, il faut se compter trois". Ibid.

13. Zentner, O. "It is from the seminar Joyce the symptom onwards that the cipher is knotted in another way, it is necessary to count up to four-five; Real, Symbolic, Imaginary, and the division between Sinthome and Symbol (psychic reality, name of the father)". Knotting the cipher otherwise than counting oneself three. Unpublished

13. J Lévy-Valensi, Pierre Migault and Jacques Lacan. Problems of written language in a paranoiac with paranoid delusional elements (schizography). Medical-Psychological Society, 12.11.1931. Les Annales Médico-Psychologiques, 1931 Vol II, p 508-522. Source: Pas-tout Lacan, Ecole lacanienne de psychanalyse.


15 Though with a different outcome, it is not unthinkable, that Lacan's Sinthome might have been inspired by Groddeck for whom illness was akin to creative work.

15 Though with a different outcome, it is not unthinkable, that Lacan's Sinthome might have been inspired by Groddeck for whom illness was akin to creative work.

16 Zentner, O. The exile of James Joyce - après le mot le deluge.

17. This appears to confirm, as Lacan used to say, that only a Jesuit might not believe in God, if God is the ultimate efficient cause.

18. Lacan, J. Joyce le symptôme I. Joyce avec Lacan, Bibliothèque des Analytica, Navarin Editeur, 1987, p 28.

19. As it is proved by the multitude of Joyceans.

20. Zentner, O. The Exile of James Joyce - après le mot le déluge. Ibid.

21. Zentner, O. Of Psychoanalysis - what is transmitted is not taught. Papers of The Freudian School of Melbourne, 1992, p 55.

22. Sollers, P. "There is nothing to know about Joyce because his writing always knows more, a whole lot more, than the 'him' that can be seen by another person. Difficult to admit? Impossible. Impossible to dissipate this final fetishist illusion, to allow that a body is not the source of what it writes but its instrument. [ …] The symptom is there: all the writers who over the last hundred years have pulled 'literature' into an irreversible crisis have not looked after their own publication except Joyce…" Joyce and Co. Communication to the Fifth International James Joyce Symposium held in Paris, June 1975.

23. Lacan put this question forward to Sollers, who gave a vivid account of it, saying among other things, that "Lacan used to take too many liberties". Lacan le pas aimé, intervention at Jean Allouch's seminar in L'école normale supérieure, Paris, 14 February 2003.

24. In Joyce the sinthome implies the jouissance of making do with lalangue that as a plus will resonate in language re-structuring his unconscious.

25 . We have still a long way to go before being capable of outlining the full change and the implication that took place in psychoanalysis, since the transliteralization of the unconscious. However, and beyond any shadow of doubt, the analyst 'pre-transliteralization' becomes irrelevant due to the Joyce effect.

26. The originals of these two letters are at my residence, 78 Mont Albert Road, Canterbury 3123, Australia and those of fiction at the second floor of the Zentral Bibliothek Zurich, Die handschriftenhbteizungen, Zahringerplatz 6, Switzerland.

27. Thanks to the intervention of Edouard Pichon, Lacan is finally nominated Training Analyst in 1938. His six and a half year analysis with Lowenstein had finished in an impasse.

28. In actual fact, Lacan used this very same expression many years later in his seminar on Joyce le sinthome.

29. Lacan, J. Le séminaire sur la lettre volée. Ecrits, Le champ freudien, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1966, p 25.

30. Zentner, O. Ibid.

31. Joyce, J. Finnegans Wake, Faber & Faber, 1982, Great Britain, p115.

32 . Lacan, J. Conclusion des journées de Lille. Transcription, Lettres de L' école freudienne de Paris, 22, p 499.

33. That is, James Joyce.

34. On 26 February 1977, Jacques Lacan spoke in Brussels (Notes taken by I Gilson and J Cornet. Transcribed by J Cornet). Source Pas-tout Lacan, L'école lacanienne de psychanalyse.

35 Zentner, O. Inconsciente e interpretación, Revista de Psicoanálisis. Asociación Argentina, Vol LXI, No 3, July-September 2004, Buenos Aires, p 687.

36. Lacan, J. Ibid.

37. On 29 December 1940, Joyce established quarters in Pension Delphin, Muhlebachstrasse 67, Zurich.

38. Zentner, O. Winnicott avec Khan. Seminar given at the Escuela Freudiana de Buenos Aires, 2000.

39 Oliver St John Gogarty, surgeon, writer, senator, with whom Joyce shared for a short period MartelloTower, Dublin. Mentioned by Joyce in the Ulysses as Buck Mulligan.

40 . To know and not to act is not to know, Neo-Confucian school.

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