Not des Lebens

Not des Lebens
Bernard Seynhaeve

In his “Preface to the English edition of Seminar XI,” Lacan articulates two signifiers to try to define what would be the end of the analytic cure. Articulating “emergency cases” and “satisfaction” is not altogether evident.

In order to try to get us to grasp what is involved in this articulation, Jacques-Alain Miller relies on a Lacan reference in Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis to put the accent on the push, the “it presses”, “it urges”, the “will”, the “I want” that can be perceived in the need for satisfaction. In this seminar, Lacan specifies that it is the will to live, a signifier taken up by Freud. “What one finds in das Ding,” says Lacan, “is the true secret. [...] If Freud speaks of the reality principle, it is in order to reveal to us that from a certain point of view it is always defeated; it only manages to affirm itself at the margin. And this is so by reason of a kind of pressure that one might say, if things didn’t in fact go much further, Freud calls, not ‘the vital needs’[...] but die Not des Lebens, in the German text. An infinitely stronger phrase. Something that wishes. ‘Need’ and not ‘needs’. Pressure, urgency. The state of Not is the state of emergency in life.” [1]

In this text, Freud had already articulated urgency and satisfaction, the satisfaction that goes beyond the satisfaction of needs and which is what he defines as the urgency of life: “The principle of inertia is, however, broken through from the first owing to another circumstance. With an [increasing] complexity of the interior [of the organism], the nervous system receives stimuli from the somatic element itself – endogenous stimuli – which have equally to be discharged. These have their origin in the cells of the body and give rise to the major needs: hunger, respiration, sexuality. From these the organism cannot withdraw as it does from external stimuli; it cannot employ their Q for flight from the stimulus. They only cease subject to particular conditions, which must be realised in the external world (cf, for instance, the need for nourishment.) In order to accomplish such an action (which deserves to be named ‘specific’), an effort is required which is independent of endogenous and in general greater, since the individual is being subjected to conditions which may be described as the exigencies of life [Not des Lebens].” [2]

Translated by Janet Haney

[1] Lacan, Jacques, Seminar 7, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis [1959-60], London, Routledge, 1992, p. 46.
[2] Freud, Sigmund, “Project for a Scientific Psychology” [1895], SE1, p. 297.