The Navel of the Dream by Anne Lysy


Extract of Anne Lysy’s speech in Gand, International Day of the Kring, « Weg van het onbewuste ? » / « With or without the unconscious », december, 13, 2016.

Let’s take a look at how Lacan read the navel of the dream1 in Freud’s work.

I’ll go straight to the heart of the subject by referring to the improvised response that Lacan gave in 1975 to a question from his colleague, Marcel Ritter2, on the navel of the dream: Could we not see Lacan’s “real” in this Unerkannt and, if so, perhaps a “real of the drive”?

This 1975 talk was part of Lacan’s later teachings, including other conferences from the same period where one sees similar formulations (in Geneva, Nice, and in the United States).

Lacan starts by linking the navel with primal repression. He assimilates Unerkannt with Urverdrängt: there is a repression that is never lifted, something found “at the root of language” that can never be said. It is a hole – an inherent hole in the symbolic. The Un of Unerkannt is the Un of Unmöglich, the “impossible” that Lacan portrays with the help of a double negative: “that which never stops not being written”. “That which makes the consistency of the unconscious – in fact, strictly speaking, that which makes the real – is a point of opacity. It is a point of the impassable, of the impossible” that characterizes the human being not as the masterpiece of creation, but as “the seat of another particular Unerkennung  (…) an impossibility of knowing what regards sex.”

He continues in a surprising way to make an analogy between the hole of the symbolic and the bodily hole of the drive.

The navel is a corporeal knot, a particular hole of the drive that for nine months served to transmit life, and then was closed forever. The navel is a scar, a stigma. It’s the “point where the thread comes out” to which the speaking being no longer has access. Lacan makes it clear how much the “speaking being (parlêtre) finds itself excluded from its own origin”.

The speaking being is born of a particular belly, notes Lacan. Similarly, in the United States he said that it is not the same to have had one’s mom and not the neighbor’s mom3. The language that a child receives is very particular because it carries with it the trace of the parents’ desire. And in Geneva4, Lacan said that the unconscious is made up of these marks: “The unconscious is the way that the subject had of being impregnated (…) by language.”5 The human being has an unconscious with a navel, said Lacan to Ritter: the opaque point in one’s original relation to language, that remains elusive and out of reach if not for the displaced and metaphorical linguistic knottings of the dream.

In this analogy of the holes, I recognize the equivalence between the unconscious and the drive that Jacques-Alain Miller emphasized in Rio: they have a “common origin, which is the effect of speech in the body”6.

Translated by Pamela King

1Cf. Freud, Sigmund, “The Interpretation of Dreams” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 5, 1900-1901, Vintage, London, 2001, p. 525.

2Lacan, Jacques, “Réponse de Jacques Lacan à une question de Marcel Ritter, 26 janvier 1975”, Lettres de l’EFP n°18, 1976 ; & Miller, Jacques-Alain, “Notice de fil en aiguille”, § 17,  L’Unerkannt , The Seminair , Book XXIII, Le sinthome, Paris, Seuil, 2005, pp. 238-39.

3 Lacan, Jacques, “Conférences et entretiens dans des universités nord-américaines” (Nov.- Dec. 1975), Scilicet 6/7, Seuil, Paris, 1976, p. 45.

4 Lacan, Jacques, “Conférence à Genève sur le symptôme” (4 Octobre 1975), Le Bloc-notes de la psychanalyse n° 5, 1985, pp. 5-23.

5 Ibid., p. 11.

6 Miller, Jacques-Alain, “Habeas Corpus”, conference given during the WAP Congress in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, transl. A. R. Price,