Essays on the new

Tale-telling and the open

By Paola Mieli

Lacan has given us one of the most evocative definitions we have of analysis: “Analysis is not a mere reconstituting of the past, nor does it have pre-established norms, it is neither epos, nor an ethos. If one were to compare it to something, it would be to a tale [un récit], such that the tale itself would be the meeting-place of what the tale is about.” (Lacan, 1959). A tale coinciding with its own coming into being.

Analysis coincides with the creation of a place, of a time-space dictated by an utterance that guides both the task of the analysand and the act of the analyst, the result of an attention suspended between letter and sense.

The symptom always calls into question a certain knowledge; transferential space is marked out from an already existing knowledge that forms actuality, present time. The field of knowledge that emerges between analysand and analyst fills out in tempo with signifying articulation. That fact that “Psyche is extended; knows nothing of it” (Freud, 1941) may also be conceived of as the progressive unfurling of this knowing in the repetition of the signifying chain, the construction in actu of the subject’s story. It is precisely in this sense that the past is articulated in forward motion.

What one can expect from an analysis at its outset, at the moment of a demand for analysis, doesn’t necessarily correspond with what one finds, doesn’t necessarily correspond with the voyage one has thought of undertaking. “Contrary to all expectation and all intention” one may find oneself in Pompei, like Norbert Hanold in Jensen’s Gradiva (Freud, 1907), that is, in the place of a knowledge already-there (déjà là) one wasn’t aware of having, which prompts a new scenario. The text needed a space in which it could unfurl and be read, where it could be written.

Most of the time the appearance of pre-existing knowledge has the character of surprise. For Norbert Hanold, it involves a fainting spell, it is vertigo on the brink of the abyss. It is the shaking of the delusion (Wahn), a shattering of illusion (Illusion).

Freud remarks that delusion and illusion have the character of a construction, of a belief that presents desire as fulfilled. They have the form of a narration, where each element follows a logic governed by secondary elaboration, destined to make sense at all costs, as long as there be sense. It is the terrain of ‘all is known,’ of a clinging to the ideal, of phallic consolation. The terrain of theory, of an exhaustive vision of the world.

There are a number of ways to indicate the transformation that marks the course of an analysis, one can speak of the fall of the subject supposed to know, of the traversing of the fantasm, of the encounter with the lack in being, of identification with the symptom, and so forth—all so many ways to attempt to evoke the subversion of the subject intrinsic to the analytic act. A change of position that contains the experience of disillusion characteristic of the analytic process, of the staging of this tale that coincides with the encounter of which it tells. Of this version of subjective truth.

The disillusion is dis-illusion, the falling away of illusion, the collapse of a belief, an emptying out of sense. It is the crumbling away of various representations of oneself in the world and of the world itself, it is apperceiving, incredulously, that the landscape one has been admiring out of the window is nothing but a painting of the world propped up against the window – as De Chirico and Magritte depict so well.

The passage from illusion to disillusion is marked most of the time by a sense of depression, by the shedding of beliefs. It is the dismissal of figures on which the ego bases its own identifications, its own claims. A mourning ensues. By the same token it is a way of freeing oneself of sense, freeing oneself of the shadow of the ideal and of its object. It is a progressive separation from the ideal and the object. It is a breath, a widening of the horizon. Thus there is an unexpected, an un-written, space.

“You mean the fact of someone having to die so as to come alive”, as Zoe asks (Freud, 1907). Which, among other things, calls into question the work of the death drive in repetition, in the forms of recollection, as well as its presence, amalgamated with the libido, in the transference. It becomes a matter of plucking the fixity and magnetism of the death drive out from recollection; of wresting from sadness its false morality [fausse morale], as Lacan calls it. And thus of being able to allow oneself to forget, which revives libido. There will have been places one can no longer live in, irretrievable places.

The divergence between ideal and object will shake the fixity of the object relation, the persistence of the same forms of phallic jouissance. The coalescence inherent in objects of the drive will serve as a vehicle for another transitivity, for a new economy of the drive to be achieved; will allow for an opening up to different forms of jouissance, the experience of the one and the other. A journey toward the real; and toward elevating the object to the dignity of the Thing.

Disillusion allows for the finding in the present of the innermost signification, if I may put it this way, of the word illusion. Illusion belongs to the family of words deriving from ludere: illusio, originally, is joking, pleasantry, mockery, irony. It has a touch of derision to it, perhaps even of the ‘fuck you.’ Being able to smile at the weight of life, at the individual myth one has just finished mapping out. Creating space there where it doesn’t exist, which is exactly the nature of the Witz. And of transmission.

One could say that dis-illusion in analysis progressively marks the passage from the position of having illusions to that of being an illusionist – from the position of someone who clings to belief to that of someone who plays with belief. A magician of representation, the illusionist shows what is most illusory about the world’s stage, shows the veil that separates the real – and the veil behind the veil; he makes belief the raw material for new productions, new landscapes in history. He deploys his know-how with the image.

What can be expected is a thinning out of expectations, the setting up of a new dialectic between expectation and surprise, marking the horizon of the open (Weite). One can come to expect expertise in the transiting between belief and the real, between a register of sense and one of nonsense, and the out of sense (hors sens): the possibility of assisting without horror the instant between the no longer and the not yet that characterizes subjective evanescence and the suspension of representation. An acceptance of the ephemeral that is also an inhabiting of the present.

Analysis is not a mere reconstituting of the past, nor does it have pre-established norms, it is neither epos, nor an ethos. If one were to compare it to something, it would be to a tale [un récit], such that the tale itself would be the meeting-place of what the tale is about. (Lacan, 1959).


Lacan J., (1959) Le Désir et son interpretation, Le séminaire, Livre VI, unpublished.

Freud S., Findings, Ideas, Problems, (1941[1938),The Standard Edition, Vol. XXIII, London, The Hogarth Press, 1964, p.299.

------., Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva, The Standard Edition, Vol. IX, (1907 [1906]), London, The Hogarth Press, 1959, p. 15.