Psychoanalysis, to the Letter                                     



You will see how language is perfected when it knows how to play with writing.”

Jacques Lacan, Book XX Seminar, Encore, Paris, Seuil, 1975, p. 35.

The letter designates, it names.

Introduced by Lacan, the letter, whether in “The Purloined Letter” or in “Lituraterre”, had been articulated to the real unconscious. The Lacanian aphorism: “the unconscious is a language”, structured metaphorically and metonymically, became insistent, and posed a new question: “The question is not so much why the unconscious that is there, articulated at ground level, remains excluded for the subject, not assumed — but why it appears in the Real” 1973, J. Lacan, Autres, Paris, Le Seuil, 2001.

In the RSI seminar, Lacan supposed the presence of a Real in Freud’s work, repressed in the Symbolic, and a jouissance induced by the ex-sistence of something, a phallic jouissance, “it is in the hole-creating Real that jouissance ex-sists” (Lacan, 1974b, p.15).

And later he would specify that “the unconscious is the Real (...) the Real insofar as it has a hole”. The Real is punctured by the Symbolic because it is the signifier itself that creates a hole, the Real is nothing but a dimension of the human experience that escapes symbolization and linguistic representation.

In “Joyce the symptom”, Lacan takes up the Freudian conception in order to clarify the term “speaking being”, leading to the Real. Speech is an unconscious structured by language and by the body that experiences jouissance, “The Real is what ex-sists to meaning, as I define it by the effect of the Lalangue” (Lacan, 1975a, p. 51).

The letter, as a component of the signifier, is itself a symbolic unit that carries multiple and changing meanings. It is an element of language that can be perceived, heard, and interpreted.

Léla Chikhani writes in Lalangue et la Lettre Déchet (2020): “Beyond utterances, the body is the voice of the Other, and carries its desire and with the letter, the body assumes a voice. Lalangue is primarily the resonance of a voice that is rooted in the body and roots the subject.” She continues “Lalangue is thus outside the norm, pact and desire and is found in the singularity of jouissance. Lalangue of speech is trace, sound, resonance, letter, word before speech. One lalangue of the One body makes all the Other Ones.

But the letter is not limited to its physical materiality; it is also invested by a psychological and symbolic dimension. Thus, the letter can act as a revelator of unconscious processes and repressed desires. This letter forms writing, and the latter leaves a trace.

The letter, as a signifier, is also linked to the issue of symbolic castration. Lacan asserts that the recognition of the “dead letter” and its limitations is an essential step in psychological development, marking the loss of the illusion of a total and complete meaning. This recognition allows the individual to engage in a process of symbolization and the construction of meaning, but not without the remainder, not without a flaw that the object a covers.

Our Study Day will be dedicated to deepening our understanding of how the subject and language - sound, voice and signifier, which impact us - are mutually constituted and articulated. It invites us to reflect on the close links between the letter, language, the unconscious and psychoanalysis, in a renewed perspective for clinical practice and psychoanalysis today. 

The Scientific Commission