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  • Freud’s Jewish Science and Lacan’s Sinthome
  • David Metzger

In chapter nine of Seminar XVII, Lacan writes that the position of the analyst cannot be separated from Jewish history (158). More particularly, the invention of analytic discourse is part and parcel of a Hebraic tradition—represented by the Book of Hosea—in which one’s god underscores the fact that even if everyone is speaking (let’s say about sexual knowledge) this does not mean everyone is saying something. One of the defining moves of a Jewish Science, in this specific frame of reference, would be to situate the knowledge, “There is no Other,” precisely where other intellectual and religious traditions establish their rapport with the divine as “I am your Other.” In the first section of this essay, “Belief and The Clinical Structures,” we will observe how Lacan situates this “There is no Other” in terms of hysteria, obsession, psychosis, and perversion. We will also see how the confirmation of these clinical structures leads Lacan to conceive of unconscious fantasy as something constrained not by the Other but by what he called the “sinthome.” Sections two and three of the essay (“God and Discourse, the example of Aquinas”; “God and Sinthome, the example of Descartes”) chart a similar development in the theological arguments of Thomas Aquinas and René Descartes. In “Moses and Monotheism: Is there a Jewish cogito?” (the final section of the essay), we will see how Lacan’s specific delineation of the sinthome can be traced to Freud’s own hope for a “Jewish Science,” his desire to construct “something” that might shoulder the weight of Jewish fantasy.

I. Belief and the Clinical Structures

In terms of analytic practice, we might more specifically render Other as Other Sex, leaving us to consider the position of analyst as the “There is no Other Sex,” where other [End Page 149] discourses might find “I am your Other Sex.” 1 For this reason, Ellie Ragland, in her most recent book, Essays on the Pleasures of Death (1995), proposes a precise relation between “belief” and the “structures” delineated in the Lacanian clinic:

The neurotic [is] an atheist or an agnostic, a disbeliever in God who tries to evade the problems of the Other while holding on to the Other’s desire. The pervert [is] a true atheist, one who has no symbolic father at all, only the gaze of the real father. The psychotic, the only true believer, believes in the gods who inhabit the field of the real, speaking in omniscient voices and casting looks that scald. Belief shows that we necessarily think we have innate language or innate knowledge precisely because we ‘have’ a structural deficiency we must deny


What precisely is this structural deficiency? Is it what one might term “the unconscious”? Not really. The unconscious, in this light, might be viewed as an answer to questions the human subject does not altogether understand. In their most overt forms, these questions concern one’s particular orientation within a field of signifiers Lacan termed “The Other.” For the hysteric this question is “Am I a Man or Am I a Woman?” and for the obsessional it is “Am I Alive or Am I Dead?” The unconscious tirelessly responds to these questions:

The Name(s) of the Father __ __ __ a

The desire of the Mother

In some sense, this response is not much of an answer. In fact, the response of the unconscious might only be another question. Much like the computer from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1989)—if I may use an example from popular culture—the unconscious provides an answer that is in need of interpretation. “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything,” one of Adams’ characters asks. “42” the computer responds (120). The major difference between the unconscious, as Lacan understood it, and Adams’ fictional computer is that the unconscious has something up [End Page 150] its sleeve; it wears our hearts on its sleeve, one might say. In other words, the unconscious proposes that the object a, the “There is no Other” sustained by the laws of interpretation, is itself an answer. If we are...

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