Richard Abibon

Chinese Characters, Transference, and Writing of the Dream

Speech at the international symposium of psychoanalysis, Chengdu, China, 17/04/02

translated by Jane C. Lamb-Ruiz

First Dream


I arrived at the home of one of my analysands, to ask him for a stick to kindle the fire. [What is a kindling match?] It looks like the Creuse (where I lived some years ago); it is a farm isolated in the country, at the end of a road, as my home was at the time, with a sharp descent. It's night, there's some snow, it's cold. I go down a snowy dirt path, leaving the car above. I then go up the steep path which reaches the door. Everything is closed including the shutters; nothing filters through. I knock. Apparently no one is there. Indeed, there is no answer. As I'm going to leave (reversal), I notice very fine rays of light under the door and through the shutters. They appear at intervals, as if it were beating (drive). And there, it's as if Ididn’t want to see, because I'm afraid that he’s coming to open the door, and I run away very fast. As I go back up the road covered with snow, I hasten to find the car, and I get my keys out. I'm afraid that he might open [j’ai peur qu’il n’ouvre..] (discordant negation) and that he will fire a gun at me (drive).


Second Dream


One of my analysands runs (drive) along a double railroad track that has catenaries along it to get back pieces of one of the lines (commercial) to add them to his own, which is missing. They are small triangular pieces, made of grey metal, like the metal of posts and the cables, which are used as reinforcing connectors [point de caption]between the electric line and its cable support. He is running like that because he is a researcher and because he absolutely requires the line to work.

The dream is the fulfillment of a desire, that is, a writing of what cannot be said


There are two types of movement:


1.         I flee being afraid that the analysand might open the door and fire at me

2.         An analysand jumps up and runs to get back a missing piece


I hypothesize that what I cannot say, in each of these cures, my dream tries to write. The movements which are written on the screen of the dream are movements of writing, writing of the drive. The drive is a circuit: there's a lack of saying that impels writing, a lack in the writing which impels saying, since this lack is in the piece which articulates the transference between such-and-such a person and myself, such-and-such analysand and myself. This piece could write the relation and it can be a metal triangle as well as a rifle. In the case of the metal piece, it is a question of filling a hole, and in the case of the rifle it's a question of opening one, be it in the house or in the body. In both cases there's failure: the writing writes an attempt, but it by-passes the object: the triangle of metal isn't found, the gunshot isn't fired.


The drive is exactly that: that which impels moving forward in speaking or writing, it is to find oneself opposite an irrational, an unmasterable, an incommensurable. One finds it during the day, for example, in a session with such-and-such an analysand, and one puts it aside; it is repressed. The dream takes it over in turn to try to write that which couldn’t be said.


That which doesn't cease not being written either is the transference, namely the relation (rapport) between the analysand and the analyst, which is a sexual relation: “to fire a shot" "to jump" are in French the slang equivalents to "making love," to implement a sexual relation which is, of course, impossible, because it is forbidden. It is not because it is allowed elsewhere that it finds a possibility of registration [inscription?]. The fact that it is forbidden in the analysis is the only allows one to become aware of it: it is impossible to find a writing of the sexual rapport.

Writing of the dream, Chinese writing


Freud compared the dream figures to hieroglyphs. The question is: can one compare them to Chinese characters? As with hieroglyphs, Chinese characters sometimes consist of an abstract part and of a part indicating the pronunciation. They make the connection between thing-representations and word-representations. The part which indicates the sound doesn't obviously “resemble” the sound; rather, it represents it, it indicates it. The abstract part sometimes resembles it, as in "man", "big" or "tree", but most frequently bears no resemblance at all to it. The often-given explanation is that, originally, all the characters resembled reality, and that the evolution of handwriting brought about a change to nothing recognizable. This is a conception against which Lacan rose repeatedly, because it has to do with the very conception of writing as such.


Writing first of all writing of a differential trait--a unary trait--since a single trait suffices to distinguish one letter from another letter. In "The Purloined Letter", Lacan demonstrates perfectly that the encoding of a random series doesn't result in anything which resembles the series, but on the contrary, generates something new which is the very structure of writing as such, not insofar as it describes reality, but that it generates a reality. It gives rise to possible paths, the laws of succession of the terms which will constitute what we shall call a reality, whereas the forbidden paths will constitute what Lacan called the Real: the Real is the impossible. It is this Real encountered during the day that returns at night in the dream, or later in a symptom, slip of the tongue or bungled act, to find a way to be taken care of in writing, there where speech passes into silence.


Lacan had demonstrated it using figures and of letters; which can give rise to confusion with the letters of the Latin alphabet, insofar as they represent sounds. In Lacan’s demonstration, they don’t represent sounds, but are clearly letters in the lacanian sense of the term.


In the dream of Irma’s injection, at the beginning of Traumdeutung, there is another example of the letter demoted from its value of representation of sound. It's the formula of trimethylamine, that, as with all chemical formulae, is written with Latin letters. But these, by the conventions of chemistry, do not represent sounds, but things, namely elements: H is hydrogen, O, oxygen, N, nitrogen, etc. and in Freud's dream, they're again demoted from this place, because, since they represent one of the constituents of sexual chemistry according to Fliess, Freud,’s friend, they come to represent, in Freud's dream, the sexual act as such, which according to the thought of the time, Irma lacked and would have made her feel better. As Freud puts it, this dream is a dream about getting rid of guilt: if it’s because she doesn't fuck, it's not my fault. That corroborates what I deduced from my own dreams: transference as an impossible sexual relation.


If the formula of trimethylamine writes the sexual act, and in this sense it is far from being a Japanse etching, it does not depict a sexual act at all, it is even very far from it. It is very far from the words which one uses to speak about the sexual act, it is very removed from things sexual. It only offers this representation, for Freud, at that moment, only because Fliess distinguished this chemical product as a component of the sexual act, and because Fliess is somebody important to Freud. In other words, the libido distinguishes Fliess for Freud among all the set of men, it's a first differential trait. Then Fliess distinguishes this chemical product among all the others, it's a second differential trait. I add also a third, that which distinguishes Irma among all Freud’s patients, maybe because he needs to rid himself of guilt, especially with her, maybe also because he loves her more. The first case is about Freud’s narcissistic libido, the second case would be about object libido: but, as he said himself, the one doesn't go without the other, there are two libidos, but it's the same. When one likes/loves an object, it's to support oneself narcissistically by this love, and it's this love, this libido, which makes a hole, I prefer to say “hole making” (the act of making the hole, and not the resulting hole itself), which distinguishes the formula of trimethylamine, give it relief [Tr: as in scuplture]in relation to all the others. One recalls that Freud sees it printed in front of him in bold type; there’s nothing like it to highlight a fragment of text, to confer on it supplementary value. Whether this goes beyond or whether it hollows out is the same thing, it means that “holemaking” is at work, that there's a supplementary dimension at work.


This supposes that one has a theory of the dimension; I propose one, which is worth what it is worth; if worth nothing, it will be necessary to change it. This theory is going to allow us to redo Lacan’s demonstration about the Letter, without going by the letter which also serves to retranscribe the sounds. I'm going to go by the letter through the questions that are posed by the writing of the Borromean knot. Is it by chance? 9/2/72 (“Ou pire…”:"Or worse…"), Lacan puts a series of Chinese characters on the blackboard, and says nothing about them. But in the course of the session, he draws for the first time the borromean knot, saying that that came to him "as a ring on his finger ". The first Chinese character drawn by Lacan had been that of speech,          which I shall break into components as follows:












The mouth, although square, which could be read "4", although "4" is written as follows:      But it can be read, including for a Westerner, as "closed line", i.e. a “Jordan curve”. If one leaves aside the point, there remains a closed curve with four corners and a three reversed, which I would allow myself to read: three closed curves with four corners, i.e., three rounds which make four.


In other words, the writing of speech, in Chinese, can be read “Borromean knot."



The Borromean knot, the writing of the drive















Here is the diagram of the drive that Lacan had brought to Seminar XI. [1] As one notes, the route "pressure-objective" is not closed in the indicated hole as would a link of a chain. Rather, it loops into and out of the hole, as if a round were merely being placed upon another round, the "route" being of comparable to the "edge". The push and goal indeed meet up  like the 3rd time of the drive joined the first in Freud’s second writing in "The Drives and Their Vissicitudes" [2]. Let us give to this 2nd round the task of representing for us the thing-representation of Freud (Sachvorstellung), since it goes around the object. The other round, or  hole, will thus be for us the word-representation (Wortvorstellung).

This is a simplification.

It would be more exact to write the surface as the Thing-representation, and the writing as the word-representation.

See further “la bourse ou la vie”










When the subject is grasped by it, it is like a 3rd round which would hold together the thing-representation and word-representation. Lacan points out in Seminar XI, it is only in the 3rd time of Freud’s writing that "a new subject" appears. It is the act of speaking like “trouure,” the subject as the effect of speech. And this is how the act of speaking is the fulfillment of a desire when it is recognized, i.e. when the thing-representation which had taken the place of the object comes to be said in the analysis of a dream, a parapraxis, a slip of the tongue, or a symptom. Freud indicates to us that what is lacking with the thing-representations in reaching consciousness, is the word-representations. The subject is affected, and this “trouure” [holemaking] of the énonciation [speech as act] that the Borromean knot writes is the affect insofar as it is a representative of the representation (Vorstellungsrepresentanz).


The Borromean knot thus presents itself as a writing of speech, in the same manner as does a Chinese character: it writes it, and if speech is the articulation of differentiated sounds, this writing does not ressemble speech at all. The Borromean knot and Chinese character "speech" (such as I have interpreted it) instead write the concept of a dialectic between writing and speech, between thing-representation (writing which can possibly be read aloud) and word-representation (énonciation which can possibly be written).  The writing of speech can be done by signs representing sounds (in Chinese as in European languages) or by signs representing the thing (in Chinese, or in the writing which is a dream, a parapraxis, lapsus or symptom).


Some representations are registered in the preconscious: the link between the thing-representation and the word-representation is preserved. They are immediately available to consciousness, i.e. the moment of énonciation. Others are registered in the unconscious: the relation of the thing-representation with the word-representation is broken. It forms a "false knotting" (that is Freud’s expression "falsche Verknüpfung") between a thing-representation and another word-representation ("horse", the animal of anxiety of Little Hans, is the  word which will represent the thing "father" who hides beneath). It may also be that it forms no other knotting, i.e., no other trouure [holemaking], and the subject finds himself facing pure anxiety "without representation": a thing without trouure.


The moment of parole is instantaneous: the sound spoken vanishes immediately, whether uttered by the subject or an Other. Sometimes traces remain, i.e. inscriptions in the memory, some accessible, others not. Freud tells us that the representations registered in the unconscious are not devoid of a dynamic. They continue to knot and unknot themselves. What does this mean? Lacan gave us a response in "The Purloined Letter" [4]: writing generates a reality, psychic reality, i.e. a system of routes (aim) with its possible paths and its impossible paths (Real), that Freud had outlined in the "Outline", while speaking, himself, of the pathways of impulse through neurons. The subject, when he reads the writings of this reality, does not recognize them as his own productions. He does not recognize himself in this mirror that the writing of a dream, a slip of the tongue, a symptom holds out to him: "It is not me, it’s the Other."


The Other works for him, in the underground of the dreams. Lacan starts with a series of chances, the random appearances of + and of -. At each occurrence, one has one chance out of two of seeing one or the other appear. That is all that one can say about it. But if one encodes the + or – in succession, i.e. by taking account of what emerges before and after, by grouping the occurrences in groups of three named by a letter (here, this concerns a figure taken as a letter: "+++, ---" = "1"; "+ - +, - + -" = "3," "+--, --+, ++-, - + +" = "2") one discovers a system of law of successions of the "1,2,3" which were not in the initial chain, but which have been generated by encoding, by the writing itself.


Thus it is demonstrated that it is the writing which determines the laws of that which it writes, and not the initial "real", about which one readily sees after-the-fact that it could only itself have been posed by a writing. What is + and - , if not a writing? The question of the origin and transcendence is resolved in this observation, that the beginning is found in the end, as the dragon which bites his own tail, like the 3rd time of the drive which, with Freud, rejoins the first, by means of a fourth utterance:




                                                                                                            = « to show itself»





We have the outline of a machine [5], the machine of the symbolic, in which three modalities of the phallic function F articulate 4 objects (the Subject $, the barred Other, and the object in its double registration: thing-representation and word-representation). These three modalities are, at least in the European languages: active, passive, reflexive. The ça (Id), the place of the drives is nothing other than a grammar. On the mathematical level, one recognizes Klein group therein.

The writing of the Borromean knot gives us another demonstration of the laws of functioning of this machine.


The act of writing generates


From the same Borromean knot, made with circles of string, one can obtain at least 4 writings, that is, 4 flattened-out designations.

































If I put down on paper so as to read the clockwise left (square at the upper left quadrant), and if I turn it, I obtain the clockwise right (lower right quadrant). I could also have put it down as in the counter-clockwise right (upper right quadrant), and by turning it, I would have obtained the counter-clockwise left (lower left quadrant). I can pass from the counter-clockwise to the clockwise back through a circle, instead of turning three circles at the same time as I had done until now; but at the same time, I'm obliged to pass from a “right” writing to a "left” writing. If I abandon the circles of string for writing in ink, I obtain the same modification by turning the page, and by observing my writing transparently through it: counter-clockwise right becomes clockwise left. If I consider the clockwise left in a mirror, by placing myself behind it with regard to the mirror, the latter will show me the writing of a counter-clockwise left (objective mirror).

But, if instead of turning over the sheet, or turning over the knot altogether, I turn the sheet upside down (or I turn the knot upside down) from bottom to top, from the clockwise right, I obtain the clockwise left, that is, the same writing as that of the reversed knot. The writing of this function on both diagonals of the square above thus presents an ambiguity. It doesn't allow us to distinguish the reversed from the turned upside down. It’s the same problem with the writing of the three in Chinese.






















However, it is of prime importance to be able to write this distinction: not to do so would mean confusing the words and the things, which is the Freudian definition of psychosis [6]. It’s the same problem in the dream (or the other formations of the unconscious), which Freud had never stopped considering as similar to psychosis. By writing a formation of the unconscious, I write what I cannot say, by confusing the turned upside down and the reversed. That is why, even a slip of the tongue, is to be read, as a symptom, or a dream. But it is through reading aloud, for somebody who hears, that the distinction between word-representation and thing-representation is made.


In both dreams that I quoted, the word-representation "to fire at", and "to jump" became a thing-representation. It is no longer a metaphor of the sexual act, it became the thing itself: not the sexual act, which is repressed, but the thing primitively knotted in the word in ordinary language. I lack a "kindling log" in the first dream, and a metal triangle is missing for my analysand in the second. I miss something, that is, a distinctive trait which would allow me to rediscover the metaphor under the thing, and to make the separation between words and things and thus find a writing of transference.


To find this trait is the work of the analyst, his function so defining - I propose this formula today - to be the analysand of one’s relation to one’s analysand. And, in this particular case, to avoid fleeing --because in the first dream, I flee — or the useless as well as ineffective acrobatics [TR: also sexual] --because in the second dream, he jumps, but it is indeed I who makes him jump, because it is I who dream. Briefly, it's a question of limiting the resistance, about which Lacan said enough to us: that it was only the analyst’s resistance.


To be the analyst of one’s relaton to one’s analysand is a quadratic function, a redoubling of the analytic function held by the analysand himself. Indeed, a distinctive trait is going to allow us to make a cut between the reversed and the turned upside down, and as there are 4 writings of the knot, we will pass to 8.


To differentiate our 4 writings we have taken into account the following three attributes (or dimensions):

- Gyre: intension between two extensions: counterclockwise and clockwise (dimension g)

- Chirality: intension between two extensions: right and left (dimension x)

- Centration: intension between two extensions: upper and under (dimension z), which writes in fact by an original dimension specific to the writing, generated by the writing: the centration (dimension c), between centripetal and centrifugal.


None of these dimensions has any outward sense except from a certain point of view, which, determining from where one considers the object, determines a certain writing. Every passage from a  writing to an other writing, from one point of view to the other, can be considered as a passage through speech. Of this passage nothing can be registered, because it is pure movement, and because speech vanishes as soon as it is spoken. It rejoins the various writings which we've just met, the mnemic traces. To do an analysis consists of [faire le tour] going around to all the points of view.


The writing of the Borromean knot (and not the Borromean knot in itself) thus generates a space in three dimensions, and these three dimensions aren't those of perceptible space.


However, in the same way as speech is written by a thing-representation which certainly isn't speech, in the same way the third dimension is written in the Borromean knot by the centration. This concerns an original "dimension" which is read in the tension between the centrifugal and the centripetal:









Centrifugal extension













In this case, the notion of the on top/under local dimension disappears, in the same way as in the Chinese writing: there is nothing more than traits in their left-right and top-bottom relations, the two dimensions of the page. Careful, however: don't confuse top-bottom in the page and the on top-under, which one can possibly find on the front-reverse side. The on top-under as such disappeared in the writing: it is represented by an original dimension, the centration.


From a certain point of view, one can say that the centration represents the 3rd dimension lost in the act of writing. Does it look like the 3rd dimension of which we have an intuition? If we reinforce the writing of the centration by arrows, as above, it's clear that that has nothing to do with " on top-under ". Furthermore, arrows aren't even necessary.






















Centrifugal: "the right circle is under the bottom circle" (the subject is under the influence of the thing)


Centripetal: "the left circle (which was the right circle before turning) is on the bottom circle" (the subject is on the thing-represetation: it grasps it in saying). This indication which is reversed "on" or "under" is in fact a pure fiction: on the page, the three circles are obviously at the same level. It is the distribution on the surface of the solutions of continuity in the strands which allows this location, by agreement: the strand presenting solutions of continuity will be said "below". It is as the bold type found in trimethylamine: it “stood out in relief", but it's because the ink occupies a surface more vast. In the writing of the knot, the "on top-under" dimension became a dimension writing itself with the surface.


Please note in passing that this reading of the knot is possible on the condition of making local cuts which couple two circles in opposition to a third. The reversed writing of the Chinese "3" is in effect read as "1 + 2"!


The three operations that we have located thus far (global reversal Ro, of a circle r, objective mirror mo) relied upon three dimensions of the knot space (x, c, g). None of them inverts the top and the bottom (the dimension y ). In other words, every passage from one writing to the other modifies the relation between thing-representation and word-representation only within the framework of the "on top-under" dimension (except the reversal of the circle, r). I suggest considering these transformations as the passage of the preconscious into the conscious. The confusion of words and things indeed takes place within the framework of consciousness. This passage can be made only in thought (r, which doesn't modify the word-thing relation, and which is therefore only a modification of the writing by the writing), or by speech (diagonal of the objective reversal Ro, which can be accomplished in two times, one time of reflection r, followed by a time of speech, or the opposite).


The top-bottom dimension (y) appears as a letter in authority, a dimension embedded in the surface. For this letter to reach its recipient--the subject—it is necessary to make it efficient by a cut that is not only going to reveal, but to create the unconscious. It will be the cut of the interpretation, for which a single trait is enough: it is enough to mark the bottom circle, for example, to distinguish it from the top circle. Thus turning upside down is distinguished from reversal, at the moment where 8 writings of the knot appear, clarifying the split of the subject.


Zone de Texte: paroleZone de Texte: paroleZone de Texte: paroleZone de Texte: parole

























We have thus created a four-dimensional space (x, y, c, g), the space of  psychic reality; we generated it through a writing on writing. This quadratic writing, as the function of the analyst, I suggest hearing it as the passage in the zero dimension, that of intension, that is the differential hole between the poles of the extensions. This way, it is the functional zero of “interpretative speech,” there where the analyst counts for nothing, there where speech, going beyond the blocking of meanings (the objects-writings), encounters the functionality of the signifierness. Counting for nothing, that is, not preventing, by one’s own resistances of analyst, that the analysand interpret: reducing them to zero by the interpretation of one’s analyst's position in the transference.






Zone de Texte: paroleZone de Texte:        writing





















That is why I speak to you about my dreams, and not about the dreams of my analysands. By speaking about these dreams to you, I make this reversal by which I refuse to make of them the objects of my speech. I thus follow the way opened by Freud in the Traumdeutung by speaking about his own dreams. I put speech, signifierness back on track by taking into consideration that the only subject speaking at the moment, is I myself, which situates me in the place of an analysand. And this subject, he [it] must not hold aside the fact of his [its] point of view, the only one about which he [it] can speak with knowingly.




I've already spoken about the objective mirror (Mo) as one of the possible transcriptions of the writing of the knot. I also called it subjective reversal (Rs) for reasons which I shan't develop here. The different operations about which I spoke can be theorized as the articulations of 4 objects circulating in 4 places which one can locate around a vertical mirror A, by following the three times (which make 4) of Freud's drive. The 4 objects are: subject, Other, and object divided into thing-representation--below, "object" - and word-representation. This last one is the "image" of the object, that is, its representation given by the Other, the mirror A. We aren't in optics, but in a metaphor of language. The 4 places are: that of the subject who makes the action, of the object which undergoes it (thing: x, c, g), the act as such (the function), the product of the action (image: word). Every operation produces an internal split between the dimensions: there's always one (and only one) which fails to be inverted. This dimension behaves in every case as a letter as authority, remains, symptom, announcing the creation of the 4th dimension. The word-representation will remain always powerless to say everything about the thing. There will be always a remainder, l’objet a, cause of desire, necessary to the fulfillment of the function of the division.












a) to gazed at oneself  a sexual member


objective mirror om,

subjective reversal Rs

the subject sees the lower part of the knot object

and in the mirror, it’s above.

Passivity:  the mirror produces the image for the subject



b) to gaze at oneself  foreign object


front of the mirror Ma,

reversal of a circle, r.

Activity:  the subject must reverse itself

to see the object in one time,

and at a 2nd time its image.


g) own object being gazed at by person foreign to one,


a) 2nd [bis] sexual member being gazed

at by the person himself


objective reversal Ro , subjective mirror sm

reflexivity: the subject identifies with his image in the Other

by reversing himself in the mirror: he makes himself seen by the Other


turning upside down r , that is,

introduction of a new mirror, horizontal, m,

which shows the split of the subject, of the object,

of the Other,

by unfolding of the 4 places. It [subject] sees,

thanks to this new Other, its position

of making itself be gazed at as phallus (fémininity) or

to make his phallus be gazed at (masculinity),

by identifying, with the image in the mirror,

with the lack in the Other, that is, with the function of representation [Tr: representance].


The horizontal mirror could indeed be present earlier on; as noticed from experience, it gave no image. In order to see one’s image, when one is standing on such a mirror, it is necessary to pass through an Other (m) with which one identifies to imagine one’s own reversed image, as one is able to see on the image of the Other; or one bends forward (r) twice, which brings us back to the previous conditions of the vertical mirror. That which one is not able (does not want) to see and which is revealed by the horizontal mirror, is exactly the sexual part of the body.


From this sexual division which inaugurates the split of the subject, the circuit of the drive resumes at a), to take the new, y dimension into acocunt. That is why Freud writes it twice.


This unique trait, devoid of meaning, which allowed the split of the psychic apparatus and the revelation-creation of the unconscious, would it be the point  about which I didn’t know

what to do in the Chinese writing of speech? At first, novice that I was, I had written it thus







in a letter sent to our friend Huo Datong, who immediately corrected it for me:             







[1] Lacan, Seminar XI, „The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis“, 13/5/64, Seuil, p.163.

[1] Freud, GW, X, « Triebe und Triebschicksale » p. 222

[1] Freud, GW X « Das Unbewub te », p. 300

[1] Lacan, in «Ecrits»  Seuil, 1966. « The Seminar on the Purloined Letter », 1956, p. 11 à 61.

[1] I have rewritten in the manner of a matheme the writing of Freud GW, X, « Triebe und Triebschicksale » p. 222.

[1] Freud, GW X « Das Unbewub te », p. 302.


Translator notes:

1.„c-clockwise“ is „counter-clockwise“