1) Jacques Lacan’s use of communicating vases

13th January 1960, p91 of Dennis Porter’s translation, Routledge (1992), see Seminar VII The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960) : from 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan, on this site /4 Jacques Lacan (19591118 or Index of Jacques Lacan’s texts) Quote :

Since the problem of sublimation is situated for us in the field of the Triebe, I would like first to look for a moment at a passage taken from the ‘Introductory Lectures’, that is to say a work that has been translated as ‘Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’. It is on page 358, Volume XI, of the ‘Gesammelte Werke’ (Standard Edition, Vol XV, p345 : pfl p389) :

‘Therefore, we have to take into consideration the fact that the drives [Triebe], the pusating sexual excitements, are extraordinarily plastic. They may appear in each others’ places. One of them may accumulate the intensity of the others. When the satisfaction of one is denied by reality, the satisfaction of another may offer total compensation. They behave in relation to each other like a network, like communicating channels that are filled with water.’

We can see there the metaphor that is no doubt at the origin of that surrealist work which is called ‘Communicating Vases’. [See note below]

Freud goes on, and I paraphrase, “They behave, therefore, in that way; and this is true in spite of the fact that they may have fallen under the domination or the supremacy of the ‘Genitalprimat’. Thus, the latter must not be thought to be so easy to gather into a single ‘Vorstellung’, representation.”

Freud warns us in this passage – and there are plenty of others – that even when the whole ‘Netz der Triebe’ has fallen beneath the ‘Genitalprimat’, it is not so easy to conceive of the latter structurally as a unitary ‘Vorststellung’, a resolution of contradictions.

We know only too well that that in no way eliminates the communicating of fleeting, plastic character, as Freud himself puts it, of the economy of the ‘Triebregungen’. In short, as I have been teaching you for years, that structure commits the human libido to the subject, commits it to slipping into the play of words, to being subjugated by the structure of the world of signs, which is the single universal and dominant ‘Primat’. And the sign, as Peirce put it, is that which is in the place of something else for someone else.

Note : Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was the founder of American pragmatism (after about 1905 called by Peirce “pragmaticism” in order to differentiate his views from those of William James, John Dewey, and others, which were being labelled “pragmatism”), a theorist of logic, language, communication, and the general theory of signs (which was often called by Peirce “semeiotic”), an extraordinarily prolific logician (mathematical and general), and a developer of an evolutionary, psycho-physically monistic metaphysical system.

2) Jacques Lacan’s reference to Freud

-Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality : 1905d : Sigmund Freud

SE VII p123-245. Published bilingual at www.Freud2Lacan.com /homepage (THREE ESSAYS ON SEXUALITY (Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie))

p62 of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality : 1905 : Sigmund Freud : Essay I The Sexual Aberrations : Part 2 Deviations in respect of the sexual aim : Section A Anatomical Extensions : Penguin Freud Library pfl Volume 7 On Sexuality. [p1189] (A) ANATOMICAL EXTENSIONS


It is only in the rarest instances that the psychical valuation that is set on the sexual object, as being the goal of the sexual instinct, stops short at its genitals. The appreciation extends to the whole body of the sexual object and tends to involve every sensation derived from it. The same overvaluation spreads over into the psychological sphere: the subject becomes, as it were, intellectually infatuated (that is, his powers of judgement are weakened) by the mental achievements and perfections of the sexual object and he submits to the latter’s judgements with credulity. Thus the credulity of love becomes in important, if not the most fundamental, source of authority.[1]

This sexual overvaluation is something that cannot be easily reconciled with a restriction of the sexual aim to union of the actual genitals and it helps to turn activities connected with other parts of the body into sexual aims.[2]

The significance of the factor of sexual overvaluation can be best studied in men, for their erotic life alone has become accessible to research. That of women – partly owing to the stunting effect of civilized conditions and partly owing to their conventional secretiveness and insincerity – is still veiled in an impenetrable obscurity.[3] [1] In this connection I cannot help recalling the credulous submissive less shown by a hypnotized subject towards his hypnotist. This leads one to suspect that the essence of hypnosis lies in an unconscious fixation of the subject’s libido to the figure of the hypnotist, through the medium of the masochistic components of the sexual instinct. [Added 1910:] Ferenczi (1909) has brought this characteristic of suggestibility into relation with the ‘parental complex’.

[2] It must be pointed out, however, that sexual overvaluation is not developed in the case of every mechanism of object-choice. We shall become acquainted later on with another and more direct explanation of the sexual role assumed by the other parts of the body. The factor of ‘craving for stimulation’ has been put forward by Noche and Bloch as an explanation of the extension of sexual interest to parts of the body other than the genitals; but it does not seem to me to deserve such an important place. The various channels along which the libido passes are related to each other from the very first like inter-communicating pipes, and we must take the phenomenon of collateral flow into account.

[3] [Footnote added 1920:] In typical cases women fail to exhibit any sexual overvaluation towards men; but they scarcely ever fail to do so towards their own children.

– Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis : 1915-1917 (Published 1916-1917) : Sigmund Freud

SE XV & XVI, Available on the internet

P389 of Lecture XXII (22) Some thoughts on Development and Regression – Aetiology from Part III General Theory of the Neuroses (1917 [1916-1917]), Volume 1 Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, Penguin Freud Library pfl [p2656] [This is Strachey’s translation and has significant differences to the translation in Jacques Lacan’s text given above.]

In further pursuing the discussion of this thesis, are we to consider the nature of the frustration or the peculiar character of those who are affected by it? It is extremely seldom, after all, that frustration is universal and absolute. In order to operate pathogenically it must no doubt affect the mode of satisfaction which alone the subject desires, of which alone he is capable. There are in general very many ways of tolerating deprivation of libidinal satisfaction without falling ill as a result. In the first place, we know people who are able to put up with a deprivation of this kind without being injured: they are not happy, they suffer from longing, but they do not fall ill. Next, we must bear in mind that the sexual instinctual impulses in particular are extraordinarily plastic, if I may so express it. One of them can take the place of another, one of them can take over another’s intensity; if the satisfaction of one of them is frustrated by reality, the satisfaction of another can afford complete compensation. They are related to one another like a network of intercommunicating channels filled with a liquid; and this is so in spite of their being subject to the primacy of the genitals – a state of affairs that is not at all easily combined in a single picture. Further, the component instincts of sexuality, as well as the sexual current which is compounded from them, exhibit a large capacity for changing their object, for taking another in its place – and one, therefore, that is more easily attainable. This displaceability and readiness to accept a substitute must operate powerfully against the pathogenic effect of a frustration. Among these protective processes against falling ill owing to deprivation there is one which has gained special cultural significance. It consists in the sexual trend abandoning its aim of obtaining a component or a reproductive pleasure and taking on another which is related genetically to the abandoned one but is itself no longer sexual and must be described as social. We call this process ‘sublimation’, in accordance with the general estimate that places social aims higher than the sexual ones, which are at bottom self-interested. Sublimation is, incidentally, only a special case of the way in which sexual trends are attached to other, non-sexual ones. We shall have to discuss it again in another connection.

Note on the work ‘Communicating Vases’

Surrealism and Psychoanalysis

Begun as an investigation of poetic images and language, their sources, their nature, and specific features, surrealism is a movement of ideas, of artistic creation and action based explicitly on Freudian discoveries, which were used to develop an original theory of language and creativity. In later years it adopted Hegelian dialectics and Marxist-Leninist historical materialism. The “social and martial cataclysm” (Breton, 1934) provoked a revolt by an entire generation.

The movement was founded in Paris in 1924 by French poet André Breton, with the support of a group of poets and painters. The presence of Max Ernst, from Germany, Man Ray, from the United States, and Joan Miró, a Catalan, gave the group its international flavor. Surrealism’s goal was to “change life” (Arthur Rimbaud) by freeing humanity from the constraints of mental or social censorship as well as economic oppression: “Poetry is made by everyone. Not by one” (Lautréamont).

The project made little sense to Freud, who refused his patronage (Freud to Breton, 1933e [1932]; to Zweig, July 20, 1938 (1960a [1873-1939])). Breton visited Freud in Vienna in 1921 and corresponded with him in 1932 about The Interpretation of Dreams. In 1937 he asked him to contribute to a planned anthology (Trajectoire du rêve, 1938). Freud answered: “A collection of dreams without their associations, without understanding the circumstances in which someone dreamed, doesn’t mean anything to me, and I have a hard time understanding what it might mean to others” (Breton, 1938, I).

These associations were generally omitted by the surrealists when they narrated their dreams. They appear in André Breton’s The Communicating Vases (1932), but there the author, denying the “dream navel” for the sake of Marxist-Leninist materialism, felt he could use them to bring into focus all his dream thoughts. He claimed, contrary to Freud, that the dream was a creator, an instigator to action, and capable of dialectically resolving the contradiction between desire and reality. Surrealism ignored therapy.

Extract downloaded in 2013 from http://www.enotes.com/surrealism-psychoanalysis-reference/surrealism-psychoanalysis

Further information:

See this site /m) Seminar VII, Jacques Lacan (1 A Lacanian Clinic/ C Cartel or group work)