Hypertranslation: Lacan Seminar XIX, 8 December 1971

Lacan remarks upon the title of the seminar: … ou pire, which nicely translates into English as “… or worse.” He remarks, emphatically, that it is not … ou le pire [or the worst] (which introduces the definite article “the” or le into the title). In English the distinction is much more obvious because the only translation would end up being: “or the worst” — where it is no longer “worse.” In the French, in both cases, the word is pire, but in English the shift is marked by a different word. The adverb would, in this case, change to a possible noun or an adjective. But Lacan specifies that pire must remain an adverb if it is going to be used the way he intends it to be used in the seminar.

An adverb is a modifier that qualifies a verb by adding a place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. So if the verb is “run,” then the adverb would modify the “running” to include perhaps a manner of running: “I ran worse.” Yet, in the title the adverb is “disjoined,” because the verb in question is missing and replaced, curiously, by an elipsis: “…”


There is something about the missing verb that Lacan wants to highlight. He indicates right away that it relates to the fact that “this is the only way to say something with the aid of language.” It is not clear what he means here. Perhaps he means that one can only say something by replacing what can not be said. The “empty place” is important because that is where language enters: “the remark that this empty place is the only way to catch hold of something [das Ding?] by means of language allows us to precisely penetrate the nature of language.” It now becomes clearer: it is only when there is an empty place within language that we catch hold of the thing in the real, which implies, conversely, that when language apparently corresponds to the thing it actually misses its mark.

Lacan then turns to logic and makes a truly fascinating claim: “as soon as logic first succeeded in facing up to something that sustains a reference to truth, it produced the notion of the variable.” This gives us a better appreciation, I think, for Badiou’s insistence — and perhaps also Lacan’s at times — that mathematical logic has a privileged grasp on the real. In any case, the variable is precisely this stand-in for the concept. Lacan moves on to discuss more specifically the apparent variable. We should remark that the “apparent variable” refers quite directly to the work of Giuseppe Peano, the founder of mathematical logic. I was not able to find anything further about “apparent variables,” except that they were marked by an “x” to discuss an “empty place.”

Lacan also points out that the only way it can work is if we use the same “x,” the same signifier, in every place where this empty place exists: “only in this way can language get to something, and this is why I employed the formula – There is no such thing as metalanguage.” I need to break this passage down:

  • the empty place in language is given a special signifier “x”
  • this special signifier must be used, as a rule, in all cases where the empty place occurs
  • it is only by using the signifier “x” in all cases where language fails that language can in fact touch hold of some-thing

It is the final stage of the argument that I can not connect: this is why there is no such thing as metalanguage. Perhaps some insight will be forthcoming. Could it be the following:

  • if there were a metalanguage — a language that could ‘say it all,’ so to speak — then from what place would it speak? Naturally, it would be from somewhere outside of the ’empty place,’ and yet this is what it can not do — it is tethered to the empty place. Only the signifier ‘x’ is truthful, only it corresponds to something in the real.

Lacan continues by suggesting that metalanguage implies that there is “one” language. But language is never “one”: “Since I am saying it in language, this would already be sufficient affirmation that there is one language from which I can say so. And yet this is clearly not the case.”

Okay, I want to take another step forward: “whenever logic is at issue, it is necessary to create the fiction of metalanguage.” Within the study of logic a metalanguage is said to consist of an “object language,” which is the language being studied by the meta- language. So metalanguage constructs a division between itself and the object language that it seeks to study. Discourse, on the contrary, is “common,” such that there can be no division between language as such and the objects it seeks to study. This is what Lacan means when he writes: “There is no such thing as metalanguage denies that this division can be upheld.” Moreover, it produces, through its division, paradoxically, the fact that language has an empty place, that it is itself divided: “that there can be any discordance in language is foreclosed by this formula.”

Lacan’s next claim is that logic does not permit the possibility of eliding a verb, so logic can not deal with the title of his seminar: ” … or worse.” Lacan said: “eliding the verb by means of three dots is the one thing that may not be done in language once it is being examined in logic.” The next argument is very complicated for me because I am not trained in philosophical/mathematical logic: “when you try to turn a proposition into a function, the verb becomes a function, and you form an argument from what lies around it. So, by emptying out the verb, I’m turning it into an argument, that is to say, I’m turning it into substance. It’s not saying per se, it’s one fact of saying.” I hope that the pages that following help to explain this a bit more.

There is the proposition: there is no such thing as sexual relation. If you try to say anything else, that is, if you say anything positive about the sexual relation it will be worse in the sense that it will not be as truthful. If the proposition is truthful, as Lacan claims it is, then the only way to actually say it is to half-say it in language — like the “x,” I suppose, which is still a signifier.

Lacan then makes what seems to me to be a really funny joke: “So, what I’m saying is that, all in all, what the other half says is worse. How much simpler things would be if there were no worse!” He is indicating that this fact of saying regarding the “x” is related quite fundamentally to sexuation and sexual object choice.

The proposition is as follows: there is no sexual relation indicates that the truth is that sex does not define any relation in speaking beings (parletre). This seems to me to be a positive affirmation on the sexual relationship. It leads to be consider two propositions Lacan has made in his career:

  1. love is what makes up for the lack of a sexual relation
  2. love is giving what you don’t have

In the first case, love fills the empty space of language and of sexual reality. In the second case, love speaks through the empty place. The one is a negative proposition on the side of language (and truthful for that reason) and the other is an affirmative one on the side of truth itself. Giving what you don’t have is entirely without signification. These are the two positions open to the speaking being with regards to truth.

The “small difference” — I have not heard this expression before except in the concept of Freud’s narcissism of small differences, where, now, it takes on a new resonance — has something to do with the small difference of the “organ,” which, finally, is the signifier. The signifier is precisely this “x” which stands in place of the concavity (I borrow Frege’s expression) within language. Indeed, it is at this point in the seminar that Lacan turns toward Frege’s work on “assertions” and “judgment strokes.” It is the “not-all,” hitherto discussed by Lacan in previous seminars, that takes on a new meaning in view of logic: the “not-all” is situated there within the ditch, the concavity, of the statement (beyond the judgment stroke).

Aristotle began by introducing to us the word “all” within logic. This is most famously discussed in “Aristotle’s Square”:


Lacan’s claim is that “it was with the all that the empty place I was speaking about earlier was established.” For Frege, the “all” was situated there in the concavity, as an “x,” an argument.

Lacan’s addition is to suggest that the “not-all” is not a “universal” that has been denied. It is also not a “none.” It is something closer to Aristotle’s “some,” but also a bit different: “not all women are …”

Okay, but the “not-all” is rejected, as if by necessity, for all “speaking beings.” They reject it through all sorts of identifications. Here we can see that the concavity, the “x,” is filled over by an imaginary substance. But the distinction for speaking beings is not constructed by themselves, they are dinstinguished: “it is not they who distinguish themselves. One distinguishes them.” It is interesting that Lacan chose here the word “one” as determinative of their distinction. The “one” is the small difference that distinguishes the sexes.

The one pre-exists the little boy and little girl, in, for example, the parents who address the children by the distinction of the one. Children are therefore recognized by their parents and by their society by way of a linguistic construction, by the signifier, of an “x,” which is, really, just a small difference.

Lacan makes some very interesting remarks concerning the “transexual’s passion:” the transexual wants to be rid of the signifier itself. The transexual suffers because of an error: he perceives the signifier to be the real thing. It is a common error. The transexual wants to “free himself from the error.” Lacan seems to reserve some praise, in fact, for the transexual for recognizing the error as such. However, the transexual can not see that he must be signified within sexual discourse: “he is wrong in just one respect, in wanting to force, by means of surgery, sexual discourse which, qua impossible, is the point of passage to the real.” It seems that the transexual is incapable of seeing the signifier as already an error and takes it for more than it actually is — and so he wants to remove the signifier from the real, without realizing that the signifier was never in the real to begin with (it was a place holder for the real).

I’m going to try to decipher this in my own words. I believe that Lacan is claiming that the transexual sees the error in the real instead of the symbolic. Consequently, the transexual attempts to remove the signifier from the real — remove the signified — without realizing that it was never there to begin with except as an error. The neurotic, on the other hand, fears that it was never there to begin with and so keeps attempting to posture as the signified.


Lacan seems to spend a considerable amount of time critiquing the pscyhoanalyst’s discourse. It is probably the case that he is not necessarily critiquing his psychoanalysis, insofar as by “his” I do not mean involving his ego. He mentions that women “amputate” psychoanalytic discourse, and that psychoanalyst’s “stay lashed to a mast,” in the phallic sense. I think Lacan is getting at the point that women are without the textual reference, to some degree. He is moving toward the point that women are “not all” with respect to psychoanalytic language, and that, moreover, psychoanaltic discourse was probably too much phallic in orientation, tied to the logic of the “All.”


Lacan begins to introduce a “new logic.” I am under the impression that this “new logic” is what will lead toward Lacan’s more famous chart of sexuation. The new logic is founded upon the assumption of the “not-all”: “The new logic is to be constructed from what occurs on account of the following having been posited at the outset. Nothing of what occurs due to the instance of language can in any case whatsoever give rise to any formulation of relation that would be satisfactory.”

Lacan seems to be interested in pushing in two directions. On the one hand, there is the direction of the negative proposition, if I understand correctly: “what imposes a limit on language in its apprehension of the real.” On the other hand, there is something very interesting about the other half (affirmative proposition): “the aspect of the real that lies in the fact of having determined language.”

I map these in two ways:

  1. love is what makes up for the lack of sexual relation == what imposes a limit on language in its apprehension of the real
  2. love is giving what you don’t have == the aspect of the real that lies in the fact of having determined language

And why? I am avoiding the accent on love, which is a very complicated area in Lacan’s work, and focusing rather on the relationship of love to lack / hole. Already in this class there is the mention of a “hole in language,” which, I think is relevant given the point that Lacan seems to be making about the real as (1) a limit on language and (2) the real as the foundation of language.

It seems to me that Lacan is demonstrating again that he always had both dimensions into consideration (maybe this is why his teaching is a “third way” as he implies in this class) when he discussed the real. However, there are certain popular theorists out there who will give you the flattened version of the Lacanian real.

Lacan is here interested in “three” registers:

  1. the “not-all” — which is a “function of jouissance,” which implies that it is in the real.
  2. modality: as I understand it, in philosophy, “modality” refers to how things could have been, could be, or must be. Aristotle introduces the following categories of modality: “possible” versus “impossible,” “necessary” versus “contingent.” Lacan believes that these need to be tossed away. Lacan wants to address something which “can not be able not to.”
  3. negation.

Finally, Lacan wants us to realize that his function, written in the symbolic, “phi(x)” concerns the speaking being and it affirms that the sexual relation is always a question. Moreover, Lacan’s claim is that the sexual relation determines everything by way of discourse.






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