Excusez-moi! Pardon my French...

Sit venia verbo is a Latin phrase employed by Freud in the ‘Wolf Man’ case, and highlighted by Lacan in his Rome discourse presentation. If you’ll permit me, I’ll read the passage from ‘The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis’:

Freud plainly stressed this when, unable to avoid a conjunction of opposing terms in the expression “unconscious thought”, he gave it the necessary support with the invocation: sit venia verbo. Thus we obey him by casting the blame, in effect, onto the Word, but onto the Word realised in discourse that darts from mouth to mouth, conferring on the act of the subject who receives its message the meaning that makes this act an act of his history and gives it its truth.

In the chapter headed ‘Anal Erotism and the Castration Complex’ in ‘From the History of an Infantile Neurosis’, Freud discusses what Lacan terms analytic symbolism as opposed to analogical thinking. Freud is reviewing the patient’s presentation, specifically what passes for an exchange of gifts in the history of the subject. He writes,

The handing over of faeces for the sake of someone else becomes a prototype of castration; it is the first occasion upon which an individual parts with a piece of his own body in order to gain the favour of some other person whom he loves. So that a person’s love of his own penis, which is in other respects narcissistic, is not without an element of anal erotism. ‘Faeces’, ‘baby’ and ‘penis’ thus form a unity, an unconscious concept (sit venia verbo) – the concept, namely, of ‘a little one’ that can become separated from one’s body.

An invocation is forsaken to call upon a higher authority for the support necessary to produce expression, in this case, the incompatible combination of the words “unconscious thought”. Lacan begins his exposition by invoking Freud. Lacan’s work is predicated on the work of Freud before him. Lacan, arguably, is the antithesis of Freud, in the Hegelian tradition of dialectical reasoning. Freud was ante-Lacan, insofar as Freud was before Lacan’s time, and for Lacan, Freud was before his time as the founder of psychoanalysis. Our ISLP Cartel this year launched on foot of Paul Verhaeghe’s work, specifically his commentary on Lacan’s ‘Discours de Rome’. He stakes out the three aims of his talk, that is, the historical context in which Lacan delivered his paper in 1953, the substance of the presentation itself, and the revision thereof ten years later in preparation for the publication of his Écrits. Following Lacan’s example, Verhaeghe is accentuating the importance of what has gone before and what is yet to come in situating the speaking subject currently.

Sit venia verbo translates literally as “forgive the word”. What follows is an examination of the invocation and what it implies for psychoanalytic practice. Language is inherited from our forefathers. In the beginning was the word, from the Gospel according to St. John, as referenced by Lacan. He considers Freud’s remarks on Goethe’s reversal of word and deed, the act bringing forth the word, but refuses it by return. The speech act is predicated on language as a sounding-board, a feed-back loop that expands the range of language. Speech performs its function of nourishing the field of language. This is the regenerative circular economy of speaking. It continually replenishes language. Language is both the necessary support for, and remains of, expression. The first point to emphasise is that the word is fore-given in advance and speaking advances language. This leads on to language as an inheritance. Latin is no longer a language in everyday parlance, yet informs modern day languages still. Living languages are the inheritance of dead languages before them. Native speakers hold no right or title to the language per se. The word is not a deed owned by the inheritor. The beneficiary does not have sole ownership of the words bequeathed him. Ergo, he does not speak in his own words. Instead, he has a responsibility to pass on the word himself, with interest. Why then the appeal for forgiveness on behalf of the forsaken word? Why should the word take the blame for a poor performance by a bad actor? It is speech after all that performs, and is performed by the agent, or patient, as actor. Bad language is at times employed to get the point across with theatrical effect, but there are no right or wrong words. The blame games start when the speaker begins to think that he is in the right. A certain penitence is at stake where certainty is concerned. Certainly, that is what Lacan is staking out, and not without due regard for the words of common prayer, wherein;

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.

The three-fold sin of thought, of word and of deed are on the register as a conviction in knowledge. The convict is the speaking subject and he has only himself to blame. His own deliberate fault is on the side of knowing. Cormac Gallagher’s reading of The Psychoanalytic Act in 1967-1968 opens with the declaration; “To set out my stall right away, I would say that my understanding is that what Lacan is trying to do is to tip the balance away from psychoanalysis as science towards psychoanalysis as logic”. What he articulates is the necessity of a “leap of faith” away from the securities of the subject supposed to know to the shifting ground of quantification theory. He says, “There is a vital step that they have still to be persuaded to take if they are to assume their role as ‘instruments of revelation’ rather than subjects of knowledge”. Somewhat surprisingly, Gallagher’s reading of Lacan is that the subject supposed to know remains a subject of knowledge, for all his education to the contrary. The problem for Lacan, and Freud before him, is the analyst’s formation. The trajectory of training promises entitlement and authority, which only facilitates the pretence of performing psychoanalysis. Both looked to distance themselves from the direction that psychoanalysis was taking in their time, a direction which they both took to be negligent, weak and faulty, as it placed the emphasis on the analyst as author with the title deeds to knowledge, when the opposite is true. The leap of faith is an invocation to return to the shifting ground of linguistic fieldwork. The psychoanalytic act is to marvel at the logic of language, and believe in the power of words as a talking cure. This action goes beyond a performance of mimicry and mastery, of verbosity and erudition, to an act of speaking well, with respect to words. It is an action that speaks louder than words in wonder of the Word.

Freud writes in ‘The Question of Lay Analysis’ that the psychoanalytic clinic is sui generis, a singular discipline wherein it is “impossible to treat a patient without learning something new”. In his ‘conversation with an impartial person’, he argues against psychoanalysis as exclusively the vocation of the medical establishment. Instead, he would see the analyst as a “secular pastoral worker”, au fait with such branches of knowledge, as he calls them, as the “history of civilisation, mythology, the psychology of religion and the science of literature”. To this, Lacan adds weight to “rhetoric, dialectic, grammar, and poetics”. Psychoanalysis is here distinguished as a clinic of language, in contradistinction to speech and language therapy. The pastoral worker returns the speaking subject time and again to the field of language to turn words over anew. As ‘instruments of revelation’, the clinician forgives the word so to speak for the sake of the subject. The lasting words can be Lacan’s from seminar eleven:

Is agriculture a science? Some people will say yes, some people no. I offer this example only to suggest to you that you should make some distinction between agriculture defined by an object and agriculture defined, if you’ll forgive me, by a field – between agriculture and agronomy.