Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”


Jacques Lacan



1. Preliminary Analytic Principles


The Meaning of the Signifier


Symbolic, Imaginary, Real


“The Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real are useful in giving its meaning to a particularly pure symbolic experience, that of analysis.”

“The symbolic order is simultaneously non-being and insisting to be, that is what Freud has in mind when he talks about the death instinct as being what is most fundamental: a symbolic order in travail, in the process of coming, insisting in being realised.”


The Schema L, systematized in La lettre volée (Écrits, 1966), is elaborated thus:


A four-term structure maps the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic as replacing the second Freudian topography: ego/id/superego.


Two diagonals intersect:

The imaginary rapport links a (the ego) to a' (the other);

The line going from A (the Other) to S (the subject, the Freudian id) is interrupted by the first one.


The Other is the place of language where subjectivity is constituted; it is the place of primal speech linked to the Father; it is the place of the absolute Other, the mother in the demand. The Other makes the subject without him knowing it.


Freud had written: “Wo Es war, soll Ich warden.  Lacan regards the Es as the subject. The “It” speaks or doesn't. At the end of analysis, it is It who must be called on to speak, and to enter in relation with real Others. Where S was, there the Ich (ego) should be.



Jouissance and the Borromean Knot









(Chain of meaning; unity of the One; jouissance and the real)


JA:                     Jouissance of the Other

a:                        surplus jouissance

J-Phi:                    Jouissance of the Phallus


Any break in one of the rings means that the other rings will fall off: indicates psychosis




2. The Seminar


With Critical Theory in general, but with Lacan in particular, we learn to read according to structural relations and substitutions and not according merely to content.  The text signifies something other than itself but nothing constrains its referent absolutely.     



1. The two scenes


FREUD (OEDIPUS)              LACAN (SOCIALISATION) and Jouissance











The jouissance of the It is expelled from the experience of the ego.  The Subject is inhabited by the Signifier.  So, from the point of view of psychoanalysis the question always concerns the possibility of interpretation, the production of a significant unity (represented by the body = text, subject, corpus, ensemble, structure, etc.). 


The “Scenes” represent “the order based on the Law”


Scene A                                                         Scene B

King (blindness)                                 Police (Prefect)

Queen                                                             Minister

Minister                                                              Dupin


The jambs of the fireplace and the “immense female body”



1. The irrelevance of the content of the letter

2. The letter circulates as in a postal system

3. The addressee and addressor (the structure of the letter)

4. The letter as an object in the story

5. The story (narrative) as letter (“The Purloined Letter”)

6. The story as an object

7. Literature and Psychoanalysis: meaning (sens) and un-readability


Scene C