Discourse of the analyst

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In psychoanalytic treatment

The task of the analyst throughout the treatment is to make it impossible for the analysand to be sure that he knows what the analyst wants from him; the analyst must make sure that his desire "remains an x" for the analysand.[1]

In this way the analyst's supposed desire becomes the driving force of the analytic process, since it keeps the analysand working, trying to discover what the analyst wants from him.

"The desire of the analyst is ultimately that which operates in psychoanalysis."[2]

By presenting the analysand with an enigmatic desire, the analyst occupies the position of the Other, of whom the subject asks "Che vuoi?" ("What do you want from me?"), with the result that the subject's fundamental fantasy emerges in the transference.


First, Lacanian psychoanalysis demands that the analyst thwart the patient’s efforts to know what the analyst wants from the patient.


The position of the analyst in Lacan's account of the discourse of the analyst.

In Lacanian theory the analyst stands in the place of "object a", or object cause of desire.

This is an imaginary object that both sets desire in motion and represents its impossibility as the excess or deficit produced by coming under the Symbolic.

Fink writes,

The analyst plays the part of pure desirousness (pure desiring subject), and interrogates the subject

in his or her division [i.e., between the conscious and unconscious]. . . . The patient in a sense

“coughs up” a master signifier that has not yet been brought into relation with any other signifier.[3]


In the dialogues, Socrates is essentially in the position of the object a, barren, bringing forth what is, in effect, the signifier of the subject.

Socrates can be read as the pure desiring subject.

Indeed, this is the force of Lacan’s (1991) account of Alcibaides, Socrates’s enamored student.

Lacan says that Socrates refuses Alcibaides because "for [Socrates] there is nothing in himself worthy of love. His essence was that of ouden, emptiness, hollowness."[4]

Like the proper response of the analyst, Socrates does not reciprocate, thus maintaining his emptiness.

In both Socrates and Lacan, there are two critical dimensions of their position, the fundamental role of the desire of the analyst in propelling the patient’s treatment and the ethical position of the analyst.

First, Lacanian psychoanalysis demands that the analyst thwart the patient’s efforts to know what the analyst wants from the patient.

Lacan writes,

It is in as much as the analyst’s desire, which remains an x, tends in a direction that is the exact

opposite of identification, that the crossing of the plane of identification is possible, through the

mediation of the separation of the subject in experience.[5]

Socrates is keenly aware of this, as well.

He does not enjoin his patients to simply take up his opinions and make them their own; he rejects this identificatory maneuver and maintains his own ignorance.

“I know nothing.”

This does not mean, of course, that analysts do not know anything.

Both Lacan and Socrates were immersed in the intellectual, political, and cultural tides of their days, and Lacan maintains that analysts should strive to become experts in these matters.[6]

It is not, however, that the analyst simply feigns to know nothing.

Lacan writes, "From a certain point of view, the analyst is not fully aware what he is doing in psychoanalysis."[7]

Contrary to the illusion of transparent reflexivity, part of this action remains hidden even to the analyst (Lacan, 1986/ 1992, p. 291).

This is markedly different from the conventional image of the technical expert, the professional.

It is by positing the desire of the analyst as enigmatic, as the desire of the Other, that the operative Lacanian question, Che vuoi? What does the Other want from me? allows the analysand, or patient, towork on and through his or her fantasy.

Yet it is the analyst that brings forth this truth of the subject.

This is also an important qualification to the posttraditionalism “wholesale reflexivity” (Giddens, 1990). In analytic discourse, some element always remains beyond knowledge; the self never becomes fully transparent to consciousness but is inevitably enigmatic, resisting representation.

The second dimension is the analyst’s ethical position.

For Lacan, analysts must become barren before they can be the cause of others’ barrenness; that is, analysts must go through analysis that aims to reconstitute their conscious relation to their desire.

The uniqueness of the Lacanian pass, or the completion of training analysis, embodies precisely the Socratic spirit.

Completion of training to be an analyst is not a matter of fulfilling a set of established requirements or of sitting for a series of exams.

This is merely connaissance or factual knowledge.

The pass asks the passant to testify to his or her experience in analysis as it reaches its logical terminus and to articulate some sort of symbolic knowledge, or savoir.

For Socrates, we learn of his “labors” with Diotima that taught him the philosophy of love in the Symposium.[8]

The analyst must come to resist functions of his ego, to resist patient identification, to allowthe patient’s own unique truth to emerge, or to rephrase, to allow the patient to identify with a (an empty) truth that is the ground of the subject’s being.

This is a truth that resides beyond knowledge.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 274
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 854
  3. Fink, Bruce. 1998. p. 37
  4. Cited in Salecl. 1998. p. 28
  5. Lacan, Jacques. 1973/1981. p. 274
  6. Evans, 1996, p. 198.
  7. Lacan, Jacques. 1986/1992. p. 291
  8. 201d; see also Lacan, 1975/1999, p. 67