Formations of the UnconsciousThe Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book V
Formations of the Unconscious
The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book V
Translated by Russell Grigg
When I decided to explore the question of <i>Witz</i>, or wit, with you this year, I undertook a small enquiry. It will come as no surprise at all that I began by questioning a poet. This is a poet who introduces the dimension of an especially playful wit that runs through his work, as much in his prose as in more poetic forms, and which he brings into play even when he happens to be talking about mathematics, for he is also a mathematician. I am referring to Raymond Queneau. While we were exchanging our first remarks on the matter he told me a joke. It’s a joke about exams, about the university entrance exams, if you like.

We have a candidate and we have an examiner.

– “Tell me”, says the examiner, “about the battle of Marengo.”

The candidate pauses for a moment, with a dreamy air. “The battle of Marengo...? Bodies everywhere! It’s terrible... Wounded everywhere! It’s horrible...”

“But”, says the examiner, “Can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?”

The candidate thinks for a moment, then replies, “A horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.”

The examiner, surprised, seeks to test him a little further and says, “In that case, can you tell me about the battle of Fontenoy?”

“Oh!” says the candidate, “a horse rears up on its hind legs and whinnies.”

The examiner, strategically, asked the candidate to talk about the battle of Trafalgar.

The candidate replies, “Dead everywhere! A blood bath.... Wounded everywhere! Hundreds of them....”

 “But my good man, can’t you tell me anything more precise about this battle?”

“A horse...”  “Excuse me, I would have you note that the battle of Trafalgar is a naval battle.”

“Whoah! Whoah!” says the candidate. “Back up, Neddy!” The value of this joke is, to my mind, that it enables us to decompose, I believe, what is at stake in a witticism.

(Extract from Chapter VI)
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  • June 2017 (hb)
    August 2020 (pb)
  • 400 pages
  • 160 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
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Table of Contents
Translator’s Note


The Freudian structures of wit

I. The Famillionaire

II. The Fat-millionaire

III. The Miglionaire

IV. The Golden Calf

V. A Bit-of-Sense and the Step-of-Sense

VI. Whoah, Neddy!

VII. Une Femme de Non-Recevoir, or : A Flat Refusal


VIII. Foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father

IX. The Paternal Metaphor

X. The Three Moments of the Oedipus Complex (I)

XI. The Three Moments of the Oedipus Complex (II)

XII. From Image to Signifier Ð in Pleasure and in Reality

XIII. Fantasy, Beyond the Pleasure Principle


XIV. Desire and Jouissance

XV. The Girl and the Phallus

XVI. Insignias of the Ideal

XVII. The Formulas of Desire

XVIII. Symptoms and Their Masks

XIX. Signifier, Bar and Phallus

The dialectic of desire and demand in the clinical study and treatment of the neuroses

XX. The Dream by the Butcher’s Beautiful Wife

XXI. The ‘Still Waters Run Deep’ Dreams

XXII. The Other’s Desire

XXIII. The Obsessional and his Desire

XXIV. Transference and Suggestion

XXV. The Signification of the Phallus in the Treatment

XXVI. The Circuits of Desire

XXVII. Exiting via the Symptom

XXVIII. You Are the One You Hate


The Graph of Desire

Explanation of the Schemas

Editor’s Note

Translator’s Endnotes


About the Author
Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was one of the twentieth–century's most influential thinkers. His many works include Écrits, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis and the many other volumes of The Seminar.
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