Published : Vies et legends de Jacques Lacan (1981) Catherine Clément, Editions Bernard Grasset

Translated by Arthur Goldhammer : Columbia University Press 1983


Translator’s Introduction pvii – see below
Listen, Woodcutter, Stay Your Saw a While p1 – see below
1. Love’s Pleasures p5
2. The Ladies’ Way p53
3. No Caviar for the Butcher p103
4. The Game of Hopscotch and the Four Corners p149
The Firebird p197
Notes p205
The works of Jacques Lacan p217
Index p221

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Listen, Woodcutter, Stay Your Saw a While – Catherine Clément


You think I came to play with you, but in fact I came to turn the game upside down. You think I’m cheating because you think I’m in the game—you don’t see that I’m not. You thought you had me and I jumped you, but I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m always getting away from you, but I don’t do it on purpose. You don’t look for me where I am when I’m there, and you don’t watch where I’m going. I win hands down every time, and if I lose it’s only for a little change of pace. Like a flame crazy about itself, I creep and then I leap and then I subside into ashes, from which I shall rise again when I please. I die knowing that I shall live again. And yet in dying I bleed; but you don’t see the blood; and when I was bleeding you didn’t see it.

Le Génie et les fumisteries du Divin


In 1899, Freud, who was about to publish ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and knew that it would become the fundamental work of psychoanalysis, decided to date the book 1900, anticipating by a few months the advent of the new century, our own. In the fol­lowing year Jacques Lacan was born in France. He is thus almost as old as the century. [Lacan died in October 1981, shortly after this book was first published in French—trans|.

One day, at the age of seventy-nine, he decided to dissolve his school of psychoanalysis, which he prided himself on having founded. This aging figure had become the centre of a fierce in­trigue, notable for the distress it caused his disciples. He was by now one of the most illustrious of French psychoanalysts. Be­hind him was a solid body of work and teaching; he had made a name for himself. He was loved by some, hated by others. But his disciples were worried: what would become of them once the master was gone? In their agitated enthusiasm they became con­servative idolators of Lacan’s theory, jealous to defend his mi­nutest utterance, as if the poor man did not have the right to make any statement that was not pure gold. In muffled tones they deplored the onset of old age, signs of whose ravages were beginning to appear. Until one day the old man shook them all off with one furious shudder, scattering the swarm of hangers­ on that buzzed around him as one might chase away flies. The general public took a lively interest in the affair, though most people knew very little about Lacan, beyond his name, and understood nothing of a theory whose secrecy was jealously pro­tected in the most traditional way, by shrouding it in esoteric language. Perhaps they sensed in some vague way that what was going on was a life and death struggle, a battle for survival.

And in a way it was just that. Lacan was fighting for his life. He shed his old skin as he had done on many previous occasions. But he held on to what was essential: his glory, whose lustre he would not allow to be diminished by those who called him “old.” And his work, which was being dispensed piecemeal by those who repeated his dicta badly and too often, who had been heap­ing discredit on his teachings for some time. I felt like saying to all of them, to all who had been sneering at the old man, what Ronsard said long ago to the woodcutter in the forest of Gastine:

Those are not trees you’re cutting down:
Don’t you see the blood trickling
From the nymphs who lived beneath the bark?

A thinker cannot be put to death. He survives his idolators. Not because he is the master and they are the disciples—no, not that. What could possibly be more deadly than all those disciples dedicated to immortalizing Lacan, who repeatedly told them that he was not their master and wanted no part of their adoration?

A thinker cannot be put to death if he has really done his job of thinking. No matter how his life comes to an end, whether by old age, accident, suicide, madness, or crime, his thought will have lived and will go on living. In spite of his disciples, in spite of itself.

‘Lives and Legends of Jacques Lacan’: my intention was to write a sacrilegious work, to write of Lacan as if his old age were no longer an issue, to go beyond the life and death of the man and treat him as I always experienced him, as a shaman, a sorcerer possessed by a poetic inspiration—which he was at least as much as he was the unbending founder of a new psychoanalytic theory (there can be no doubt that he was this too). I hoped to anticipate history, writing, not without affection, in a style that would run the gamut of tenses from past to future. I wanted to speak of Lacan in the past—the simple past as it is sometimes called; in

the pluperfect—more than perfect; in the imperfect, so aptly named; and in the future anterior, which fulfils destiny while leaving open the possibility of the future. Lacan the shaman flirted with immortality: there are intimations of immortality in his thought, one of the most powerful and misunderstood intellec­tual achievements of our time. Lately, the misunderstanding of that achievement has been compounded by the fact that Lacan’s thought, now fashionable, has been reduced to jargon, turned into a parody of itself.

‘Lives and Legends of Jacques Lacan’—let me end this introduction with the last line of Ronsard’s poem, which also deserves a place in the story of Lacan:

The substance remains and the form is lost.

TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION : 1983 : Arthur Goldhammer, pvii-viii

In French this book is written in a brisk, colloquial style. In­ complete sentences of the sort common in everyday conversation abound, as do allusions to events familiar to Frenchmen, or at any rate to Parisians attuned to the vicissitudes of intellectual and political life. I have tried to retain the colloquial flavour, as far as English permits. I have also tried to explain, succinctly, allusions that might be lost on the reader unfamiliar with French politics and intellectual fashions. I felt, too, that it was necessary, even at the risk of seeming leaden and humorless, to explain the many French puns and word-plays that come up in the course of the discussion.

This brings me to a further problem of translation. The work of Jacques Lacan is fairly well known in this country, and some of it has been translated into English, most notably the selection from Ecrits, translated by Alan Sheridan and published by Nor­ton. Normally, where such a standard translation exists, I would use it in rendering citations from Lacan’s work into English. Here, however, while drawing heavily on Mr. Sheridan’s excellent work, I have preferred to give my own translations of many pas­sages. For the reader interested in comparing my translations with the existing ones, I have given page references to the original French edition of Ecrits as well as to the Norton translation whenever possible.
Readers of Lacan in English translation will know that it is customary to leave certain terms untranslated: jouissance, mécon­naissance, objet-petit-a, and so forth. It is my understanding that Lacan wished this convention to be observed. I have gone along with this practice, though not without misgivings, except in the case of jouissance. Ms. Clément uses the word in one place to refer to orgasm, in another to refer to religious ecstasy. Lacan was not the first to link the two; Bernini’s statue of Saint Theresa translates the metaphor into stone. Nevertheless, to obscure the fact that the French word has two distinct connotations would only mystify the English reader, and I have dotted the i’s where I thought it necessary to do so.