François Ansermet – The cutting edge of psychoanalysis


Let’s refresh the role of concepts in psychoanalysis. As Lacan questions it: “What are formulas relating to in psychoanalysis?” Are there already analytical concepts established? How are we to understand the almost religious maintenance of the terms proposed by Freud to structure the analytic experience?” (1).

Everything must indeed be constantly revisited. Psychoanalysis is not a system (2), on the contrary, it is open, unfinished, just like the unconscious. Looking to the future, it can also be taught both by the clinic and from the related fields with which it is perpetuated and renewed, in otherness and in affinity. In this context, a fundamental concept is also what we cannot grasp, the Unbegriff, as Lacan points out precisely about the unconscious, the One of the Unbewusst : “Let’s say that the limit of the Unbewusste is  the Unbegriff, not a non-concept, but a concept of lack “(3).

What happens to the fundamental concepts in the current evolution of analytic practice, facing the movements at play in society, in politics – if we admit that the unconscious is politic – and why not also face the challenges of Science? The unconscious, in this context, is fundamentally a work in progress: a becoming that surprises even those who reject it.

For example, when science attempts to seize it and grasp the very elusive. Science is primarily a symbolic practice that pretends to cover the real with its formulas. But the evidence that science encounters is that there is always a rest: the more science thinks it is treating the real, the more it participates in producing it – not the real in terms of science, but the real in terms of psychoanalysis with Lacan. It is the surprise of psychoanalysis, of its cutting edge, that makes it necessary for science, to make it go beyond the paradigms in which it tangles up.

The unconscious holds there a central place, precisely because the unconscious comes from discontinuity: a discontinuity on which sciences, especially life sciences, stumble on – a limit they cannot overcome, until put into crisis. They must face the evidence of the paradoxical determination of a discontinuity, which is characteristic of the concept of the unconscious: “Discontinuity, then, is the essential form in which the unconscious first appears to us as a phenomenon – discontinuity, in which something is manifested as a vacillation “(4).

To be determined not to be, such is the point where an unexpected encounter of neurosciences with psychoanalysis is played out. Psychoanalysis can bring to sciences a radical criticism of their founding principles. Life sciences are too taken by the vision of a linear and continuous causality that does not allow them to go towards new paradigms that could answer the discontinuity, the incidence of the tuché, of the real in terms of psychoanalysis with Lacan, that is to say, of “a real that may well not be determined” (5). Perhaps it is still time to make it clear that “there is a cause only in something that isn’t quite right.” (6). It remains to take up the bet.

Translated by Lorena Hojman Davis

(1) Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book XI, The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis, New York-London, W.W. Norton & Company 1978, p.33 on

(2) Sigmund Freud, “Psychoanalysis and Theory of Libido”, 1924, In: Results, Ideas, Problems II, PUF, Paris, 1985, p.72

(3) Jacques Lacan, op. cit., p. 59

(4) Ibid., P. 58

(5) Ibid., P. 51

(6) Ibid., P. 51

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