The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Jacques Lacan. Edited by
Jacques-Alain Miller. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W.
Norton, 1978, 290 pp.
[Reviewed by Robert M. Cutler (http://www.robertcutler.org) in Political Psychology,
vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1980): 83-84.]
This is a difficult, significant book. It is difficult because it is a transcription
of lectures by a Frenchman who was trying to speak Freud's native language to a French
audience. Lacan's French resembles German because he is a radical psychoanalyst, one
who wishes to return to the roots in Freud, to reformulate Freud's insights, to
reemphasize the unconscious is a field of psychoanalytic concern. The unconscious is
one of the four fundamental concepts referred to in the title. The others are
repetition, the transference, and the drive.
These lectures are probably chosen for translation because they were originally
delivered, in 1964 at the École pratique des Haute Études in Paris, to an audience less
specialized in Lacan was used to addressing. He had just lost his seminar for
psychoanalyst's by reason of being expelled -- "ex-
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communicated," as he puts it -- from the French Psychoanalytic Association. At one
point Lacan apologizes for seeming obscure: "I believe that obscurity is characteristic
of our field." Contributing to this appearance are Lacan's symbology, his classical
literary and mythological references, his minute textual exegesis of Freud. His entire
method, it sometimes seems, is metaphorical; and in that sense too he leads one on a
radical return to Freud.
The nature of Lacan's lectures demands that they be reread, sometimes more than once,
to be understood. This is not the fault of the translator, who, limiting his
punctuation to the comma, the full stop, the dash, and the paragraph, has done an
admirable job with a mere shorthand transcription. It is, rather, the virtue of Lacan,
who demands thereby that what he has to offer be mulled over, internalized, and
digested. It is worth the effort. Those whose appetites are whetted need not wait for
more volumes to be translated from the French series of the Éditions du Seuil. Norton
has already published also in English a thick selection of seminal texts, called