Sperber Hans (1912) Über den Einfluss sexueller Momente auf Entstehung und Entwicklung der Sprache – On the influence of Sexual Factors on the Origin and Development of Language, Imago I.

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Cited by Jacques Lacan

Seminar VII Ethics (1959-1960) : from 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan

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Seminar VII 9th March 1960, p163 of Dennis Porter’s translation :

I am now going to ask Madame Hubert to speak. She will be talking to you about a text that is frequently referred to in analytic literature, namely, Sperber’s article entitled “On the Influence of Sexual Factors on the Origin and Development of Language,” but it also touches on all kinds of problems relative to what we have to say about sublimation.

In his article on the theory of symbolism – an article on which I wrote a commentary in our journal but which, I have heard, is not particularly accessible to a reader – Jones expressly singles out the Sperber article. If, he says, Sperber’s theory is true, if we must consider certain forms of primitive work, agricultural work, in particular, the relations between man and the earth, as the equivalent of the sexual act, features whose traces are, as it were, retained in the meaning we give that primitive relation, then can this be explained by the process of symbolization? Jones says no. In other words, given the conception he has of the function of the symbol, he considers that what is involved is by no means a symbolic transposition, neither can it be registered as a sublimation effect. The sublimation effect is to be taken in its liberality, in its authenticity. The copulation between the ploughman and the earth is not a symbolization but the equivalent of a symbolic copulation.

It is worth taking the time to reflect on that, and in my article I draw certain consequences to which I will return. Sperber’s text appeared in the first issue of Imago, and it is perhaps even more difficult to find than the others. But so that it may receive its due, Mrs. Hubert has been good enough to concentrate on it, and she will tell us today what it contains.

Related Texts

The Theory of Symbolism : 29th January 1916 : Ernest Jones : See LW.org/January 1916 or https://web.archive.org/web/20220903135307/https:/lacanianworks.net/?p=8384

In Memory of Ernest Jones – On His Theory of Symbolism : January to March 1959 : Jacques Lacan, published in La Psychanalyse VI (1960): p1-20, See Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan at www.LacanianWorks.org /4 Jacques Lacan (19660101) or https://web.archive.org/web/20220704002143/https://lacanianworks.net/1966/01/ecrits-1966-jacques-lacan/

Intervention, during Seminar VII, on Hans Sperber’s “On the Influence of Sexual Factors on the Origin and Development of Language” (as commented on by Ernest Jones) and sublimation (in French only) : 9th March 1960 : Mme Hubert : See LW.org/March 1960 or https://web.archive.org/web/20220903135307/https:/lacanianworks.net/?p=1538

Notes, Seminar VII 9th March 1960 (p164) : Missing intervention by Mme Hubert : Reading Group of 19th October 2013 : 19th October 2013 : Julia Evans : See LW.org/Octob er 2013 or https://web.archive.org/web/20221209135017/https:/lacanianworks.net/?p=1550

– Seminar VII 16th March 1960 : p167-169 of Dennis Porter’s translation :

An excerpt p167 – I will not engage in a serious critique of the text, for I hope that after several years of following my teaching here, most of you have found something irritating in the way in which Sperber proceeds. Though his goal is undoubtedly interesting, his mode of demonstration has its weaknesses. To refer to the fact that words with an original sexual meaning started to take on a series of meanings increasingly remote from their primitive meaning, as a way of prov- ing the common sexual origin in a sublimated form of fundamental human activities, is to adopt an approach whose demonstrable value seems to me to be eminently refutable from the point of view of common sense.

That words whose meaning was originally sexual spread out so as to overlay meanings that are very remote doesn’t mean as a consequence that the whole field of meaning is overlaid in that way. That doesn’t mean that all the language we use is in the end reducible to the key words it contains, words whose valorization is considerably facilitated by the fact that one accepts as proven what is, in fact, most questionable, namely, the notion of a root or radical, and what in human language would be its constitutive link to sense.

P168 (excerpt) : But if it were only a question of showing how in the normal diachronic development of linguistic usage sexual references are used in a certain metaphorical sense – that is, if I were only concerned with providing another example of certain aberrations of psychoanalytic speculation – I wouldn’t have presented you with the Sperber text. If it is still interesting, it is because of what is to be found on its horizon, something that isn’t demonstrated there, but which in its intention it strives for, and that is the radical relation- ship that exists between the first instrumental relations, the earliest techniques, the principal actions of agriculture, such as that of opening the belly of the earth, or again the principal actions in the making of a vase that I have previously emphasized, and something very precise, namely, not so much the sexual act as the female sexual organ.

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