Hypertranslation: LACAN SEMINAR XIX, 9 February 1972

Lacan gives a nice new phrase for what he discussed in the last class: “la lettre d’amur,” which is a homophone of “d’amour.” It sounds as though he is discussing the love letter but he is in fact discussing the love wall. The love letter is written, therefore, on the wall of discourse.


Lacan suggests that a love letter might read: “I ask you to refuse me my offering.” He goes on to claim that this is a “true” love letter, to “refuse my offering.”

From this I deduce, without reading further yet, that the “refuse” is the objet a, which is offering precisely as a rejection to the analysand by the analyst in the analytic discourse (a–>$). However, it carries for me also a biblical sense shared by the Abrahamic faiths and commented upon at length by Kierkegaard in his Fear and Trembling. It was Isaac, Abraham’s cherished son, who asked his father why he had no offering to God at Mount Mariah. And then comes Abraham’s response: “God himself will provide the offering, my son.” Abraham, rather than to tell a lie, opts to speak in a way that can not be understood.

These words — “I ask you to refuse me [me, the Ego] my offering [a posession, a having]” — also appear, in some form, within the Chinese script written on the board.

But Lacan adds one more part: “… because this isn’t it.” The “it” from this sentence alludes, it seems, to the Freudian “id.”

“I ask you to refuse me my offering … because this isn’t it” seems to me to have a similar structure — though I know not what to name that structure — as “love is giving what you don’t have … to somebody who doesn’t want it.” 

Except here it is inverted:

  • “I ask you to refuse me my offering” is subjective genitive of “somebody who doesn’t want it.” In this case you are asking somebody not to want what you are offering.
  • “… because this isn’t it” is objective genitive of “giving what you don’t have.” When you give what you don’t have you are giving what isn’t “it.”

So what makes this inverted? It is the fact of the demand. “I ask you to..” takes place at the level of demand, whereas “love is giving what you don’t have” is rather a response to the demand.

In any case, I return to the text.

Lacan tries to make a play on the French word “serious” as being related to the arithmetic “series,” or “serial,” which, as we know from previous classes, is used to understand the logic of the signifying chain (particularly through Frege’s work): “[s]erial is the sequence of integers …”

Lacan points to the problem: what “transfers” from “0 to 1”? He hints at something here, I think, when he says: “this is the goal I set myself […] …or worse.” He claims that he is still pursuing this question – as if to remind us – but then quickly turns to a lecture recently given by Jakobson. Jakobson points to the work of a Danish philosopher named Boetius de Dacia. The key concept here is “suppositiones,” which Lacan claims has something to do with the “supposition” of the subject by the signifier: “the subject that is radically supposed.”

de Dacia was a medieval semiotician. I tried to find something about de Dacia and this “suppositiones” and all I could find was something written in Latin, which I translated as: “it is by accepting these two suppositions [which two? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it matters that it is two] there is knowledge.” This certainly seems important, but I can not say for certain anything else about de Dacia. Dacia, incidentally, was accused of Averroism, which is, as I understand it, an attempt to make Aristotle’s philosophy work for Arab and Islam societies. I am learning more about Averroes lately because I have a colleague, a sociologist and social theorist, who has been pointing at his work for me (ibn Rushd). Lacan then makes a quick claim: “it would not be altogether accurate to say that the two things are related” (the thesis of the supposition and the philosophical association with Averroism). But why?

Could it be that Averroism does in fact introduce something new about this “supposition”? I think that Lacan was onto something — something that Miller’s work points in the direction of — namely that the movement from Jewish Atheism (Freud) through to Catholic/Christian Atheism (Lacan) has as its natural completion the movement to Islamic Atheism (…). This isn’t necessarily the worst of possibilities.

In any case, Lacan quickly claims that the “slip of the tongue” is a “serious matter,” which brings us back to its place in the “serial” chain of signifiers. It is a matter of the “series,” then. That is why it is “serious,” and why it must be taken seriously.


Lacan discusses communication as a “ternary” relationship – and uses this to offer a drawing where there is sender (S) and receiver (R) and the code, as the third, the mediator, that which must be deciphered for the two to reach an understanding, at the apex:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.11.22 PM

The “code” is also the “message.” So, there is a sender, a receiver, and a message. There are a few paragraphs here that I simply did not understand. Lacan claims something about how the verb is also essential to the schema — how? Why? It is as if he is claiming that the ternary diagram is incomplete because it does not account for the verb’s function.

So – what is the function of a verb? Lacan returns to his opening expression: “I ask you to refuse me my offering because that’s not it.”

The verb is “to ask.” “I” is the Sender, ask is the Code, and “You” is the Receiver. Is this correct? Lacan says that “I” is “x” and “You” is “y” in the formula:

F (x,y)

F = “I ask you”

Ask (I, You)

Or, if I may put it in the triangle:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.21.59 PM

To me, diagramming it in this way exposes the extent to which this relates to Lacan’s very early “Schema L.”

Lacan continues: “I ask you … to refuse to …” we can see here that there are two functions. The second verb function, “to refuse,” is actually nested inside of the first verb function, “to ask.” Thus:

F 1(x, y, F2(x, y …

F1 = “to ask”

F2 = “to refuse”

…and “x” and “y” remain “Subject” and “object,” “I” and “You.”

Lacan’s next move is a bit obscure. He indicates that to “end here,” that is, to end after “I ask you to refuse to me,” is to introduce Phi. I’m not sure why:

F(x,y f(x,y, Phi(x,y)))

What could it mean? My immediate thought is the following: whatever the noun is of this sentence (e.g., “I ask you to refuse me MY OFFERING”) is phallic. It is a possession, indicated by “my” and it is some-thing. So this makes it the phallus that one is potentially offering. Therefore:

F1 = “to ask”

F2 = “to refuse”

Phi = “whatever it is that one has,” the “phallic possession”

x = “I”

y = “you”

I don’t exactly have it right, but it looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.35.00 PM

I would appreciate a proper version of this image, if anybody can produce it. My attempt was done in haste and is obviously limited.

Lacan then claims that this formula is a “knot” and it introduces us to the “objet a.” Thus, is the objet a not found there in the “its not it” addendum: “I ask you to refuse me my offering because its not it.” The phallus, then, is a giving of “x” to “y” but “its not it,” which means that it occurs on the condition of the introduction of “objet a” in the final (x,y) of the Phi(x,y)? I need more clarity on this and I hope some of you will chime in.


Lacan unexpected opens the next part of his class with the famous Wittgenstein quotation — the anti-philosophical quotation par excellence, according to Badiou — “whereof one cannot speak, therefore one must remain silent.”

Lacan claims that “whereof one cannot speak” == “this isn’t it.” Thus, I see this as related to the “real,” and the following seems to be true:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.50.05 PM

This implies that Lacan’s statement has the sentence clauses switched. Wittgenstein begins with that which one cannot speak about and deduces that one must remain silent about it. Lacan begins with a demand to refuse to remain silent about what isn’t the phallus: I demand that you refuse the phallus as an offering because that isn’t the objet petit a.

We begin with the statement: “I ask you .. to…” It seems to me that the “to” is the moment that links us into the next function, the next, “f2(x,y),” and, therefore, I suspend this first function and denote it as “1” as in the following:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 3.56.16 PM

This brings us to the next stage, “2,” or, rather, the next function, “f2(x,y)”: “refuse me my offering” … which is produces the “objet a” in the place of “i” as “this isn’t it.” [I should point out that my diagram is in fact a simplified version of Lacan’s diagram]

43225765_1899462280145788_4037740549296357376_n (1)

Lacan then claims that he will take this up in a more accurate diagram: “I ask you to refuse me my offering” becomes “I demand you to refuse,” or “I ask you to refuse ….

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.06.00 PM

The “I” moves toward the “you” and then up to the “R” for “refuse” (or real) and, through the dotted line, “demand.” If I trace this path, or vectorize it, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.09.41 PM

I think that this shows more clearly how the following logic closely aligns itself to the early teachings, once again, for “schema L.”

But, next, we have two tetrahedrons. On the one hand, there is the aforementioned tetrahedron “I ask you to refuse.” On the other hand, there is the “refuse my offering to you.”

DEMAND: “I ask you to refuse …” [Asking]

SUPPLY: “refuse my offering …” [Offering]

And Lacan points to the distance that separates “DEMAND” from “SUPPLY.”  In other words, there is a distance between what is asked, or the “asking,” and what is offered, or the “offering.”

And in a remarkable diagram — truly remarkable — Lacan draws an unfinished pentagram and names it the “diagram of the double tetrad”:


The two circuits of DEMAND [asking] and SUPPLY [offering] overlap here to demonstrate the lack of a relationship between them [“…because that isn’t it”]. I believe it is the missing vector that would/could have been traced from “D” to “S” that is meant to show the real, that which one must not speak of, or, put better …

Lacan said: “it is impossible to sustain the relation between asking and refusing, between refusing and offering.” That he used the word “impossible” is very important for me because it gives credibility to the claim I have been advancing: that all of this has something to do with the real.

Lacan wanted to begin to close the class by insisting that “my offering is perhaps not at all what I am offering you.” What one offers, rather, is the very fact of offering as such. It is not the content of what one offers but rather the fact of offering itself. This is where we often get things wrong, then. I ask you to refuse the content of my offering because that’s not it. I take this very simply: if I offer you a gift and that gift is a chocolate bar, then, you should not see the offering as the chocolate but rather: it is the act of offering, the verb itself, that one should see.

To offer is not to “give” purely at the level of a verb. It is also not to “take,” purely at the level of the verb.

One offers only so that one will reciprocate. 

This, after all the work we’ve done in this class, resonates almost as an axiom. One offers something only so that something will be reciprocated – one gives only to receive. This means that one loves — offers love — only to receive love in return.

And Lacan makes a gesture toward the work of Bataille and his colleagues when he says: “this is precisely why the potlatch exists.”

So – it is not what I am offering but rather the fact of offering as such. 

In language, if we remove one of the functions — the demand — then the offering, as a function, ceases to have meaning.

F1(x,y F2(x, y .. ))

If F1 disappears, because F2 is nested within that functional imperative, it will cease to exist. Thus, one can only offer because there was a demand. The supply exists here only because of the demand.

And then Lacan introduces the Borromean knot. He claims that it was given to him like a ring slid on his finger, which means, in other words, that it is the crowning jewel of his work. I can sense the pride and excitement with which he shares it with his audience. He says: “there you go,” and offers it to us.

The rest of this part I am going to skip discussing only because it has become fairly commonplace knowledge on Lacan and I do not see much new here.

Lacan claims only that Demand, Refusal, and Supply form the three strands of the knot, and all of them are operative. You can’t have any two without the third — this is the Borromean property: if you cut any one from the chain then all of them fall apart from one another. I have elsewhere referred to this as the property of Borromean dependence.

One wonders if Demand = Imaginary, Refusal = Real, and Supply = Symbolic. It is not clear that these align so easily, afterall.

Lacan’s provocative final words for this class: “I once quipped, ironically — with supply, the analyst creates demand. But the demand that he satisfies is the recognition of the fundamental fact that what is being asked for, this isn’t it.

This was a truly extraordinary class.


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