Lacanian Nucleus of Repression & The Élaboration of the ‘Prägung’

Art by Fucile Shreber Baja

Jacques Lacan, in his seminal work of The Nucleus of Repression, discusses the moment in the élaboration which is always present in an enigmatic way in analysis i.e., wherein the positive effect of interpretation in the transference episode is truly possible. Once this imaginary element becomes “non-integrated”, then the “suppressed, repressed” image arises followed by the appearance of anxiety which the subject witnesses. Lacan emphasizes the decisive or mutative value of this “fertile moment” because a right interpretation is required at that precise moment during the analysis. The subject’s desires at that particular moment fluctuate between being present and inconceivable and hence, it is the only occasion where the subject can make sense of the interpretation effectively.

Lacan illustrates the Wolfman case, wherein the subject has a character or narcissistic neurosis which makes the subject develop resistance to treatment. This theoretical dilemma was initially raised by Freud in Infantile Neurosis which is the title of the Wolfman in German. After-all, Lacan was known for interpreting Freud’s textual work in order to convey its inherent meanings and implications. The Wolfman case seems crucial in understanding the theory of trauma which Lacan uses as an example to unfold the theory of repression. He identifies the specter of repression in a traumatic event i.e., the event where the subject as a child accidentally catches the parents in a copulatory position. This issue of locating this “fertile moment” is also famously known as the topographical problem in Freudian terms. Lacan cleverly uses Freud’s estimated date of copulation, to reveal the dual symbolism of the subject’s birthday which also falls on Christmas Day. He locates the prägung i.e., the striking of repression in the subject’s anticipation of the Christmas day and the Birthday to further assert that “this anxiety-dream is the first manifestation of the traumatic significance of what a moment ago I called the imaginary break-in”. According to Freud, this prägung is located in the non-repressed unconscious. The prägung is the originating traumatic event that occurs within a non-repressed unconscious which is strictly limited to the domain of the imaginary. It reemerges during the course of the patient’s progress into a symbolic world. This first symbolic integration i.e., the prägung lets the “trauma” come right after the retroactive effect and induces a repressing action which is the detachment of the real world and the integration into the symbolic world.

Lacan states that repression only occurs to the extent that the events of the early years of the subject are in history sufficiently turbulent which in Freud’s words “it is in as much the subjective drama is integrated into a myth which has an extended, almost universal value, that the subject brings himself into being.” And that is why Infantile Neurosis is exactly the same as Psychoanalysis i.e., it plays the same role as psychoanalysis, namely, it accomplishes the reintegration of the past, and it brings into the play of symbols i.e., the prägung itself, which here only is attained through an effect that is retroactive. As a result of the development of the primary symbolic integration, the imaginary plane takes on its status as trauma. Hence, there lies no difference between this moment and the symbolic repression, except the only one which is that the subject has no one around to give him his cue, and that is how the “repression begins, having constituted its original nucleus”.

In the second part of the seminal article, Jacques Lacan asserts that the return of the repressed and repressed is one and the same thing. Repression occurs in an individualistic manner when the thought is separated from the feeling. It is the signifier that is repressed, as “nothing is ever, nothing can ever be repressed, except signifying elements. It is in Freud, the word signifier is all that is missing” (Lacan, Book VI). When the intellectual function is separated from the affective process, the signifier arises. The signifier is the primary organizing element of the unconscious. He states that every successful symbolic integration involves a sort of normal forgetting i.e., a forgetting without the return of the repressed. He connects Heideggerian notions to the “successful repression” which he claims is to be taken as a therapist’s term for “the most profound forgetting”. Lacan refers to Balint’s claim on the subject’s ego and further asserts that the ego achieves more feats when it is made to compete with itself i.e., through exercise or analysis, the analyst and the subject hold the power to “structure the ego” which will through practice become more strengthened over time and would be able to tolerate “greater excitations” because this exercise or analysis highly facilitates the subject to self-master his own ego. According to Lacan, this ego is an imaginary function of the “speaking subject” i.e., the subject succeeds the objective analysis as a result of verbal communication within the analysis- which will make the subject present itself distinctly. An example could be that of a scientist who is only a mirror image or support to the objectal scientific world, “the ego acquires the status of a mirage, as the residue, it is only one element in the objectal relations of the subject”.

In the third part of the Seminal Article, Lacan examines the procedure of therapy and the source of therapeutic action in the analysis. He identifies the essential function (which is the process of symbolic integration of the subject’s past history) as a function that relates to the super-ego wherein the analyst occupies a significant position. Lacan proceeds to trace the origins of the super-ego in the Freudian theory and illustrates that the super-ego emerged as a form of censorship, whose aim is to deceive through lying. The subject’s symbolic world is split by this agency into two parts, a) the accessible part i.e., which is recognized and as b) the inaccessible part i.e., which is forbidden. Lacan puts the super-ego within a tension which can be reduced down to what Freud explained as “purely instinctual principles”. In contrast, Lacan also entertains the idea where the unconscious of the subject is just “a schism of the symbolic system” i.e., a restriction or alienation which is influenced by the symbolic system and where the super-ego is an analogous schism as it occurs “for the subject”. He illustrates this with an example of his patient whose aversion of the Koranic law becomes lodged in his symptoms. The subject discovers the most significant relationship to the universe of symbolism when it is organized. Hence, it is when the traumatic elements are compressed in an image that has previously never been integrated- when the synthesis of the subject’s history appears, “his history is unified by the law, by his symbolic universe”, which is subjective and therefore, distinct for everyone. Lacan recognizes this trait of reducing the law as “inadmissible, unintegrable character” with this “blind, repetitive agency” as the definition of the term super-ego. Lacan also highlights Freud’s work of the Oedipus complex and claims that it is the most uniform point of intersection i.e., it is the minimum requirement in the existential sense of the term (i.e., of the individual’s personal education and tradition).

In conclusion, the moment when all the significant objects of the subject’s cycle have appeared and all his imaginary history is completed i.e., when the anxiety-provoking desires of the subject have been identified and reintegrated or when the desires which were initially present in O (innocence period) shifts to Ó (after integration into the imaginary period) and again to O (through analysis) represents a completed web of symbols – is the fundamental outcome most required by the analysis itself. Lacan ends this seminal article by suggesting that there is enigma around the adjournment of the analysis itself i.e., it is unknown when the analysis is supposed to be adjourned because it depends on “the analyst’s education in humanity”. A man usually tends to resolve conflicts in accordance with conduct or group morale which makes the man incapable of “broaching these grand themes”.


Lacan, J. (1988). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I, Freud’s Papers on Techniques 1953-1954. W.W. Norton & Company, pp.187-199.

Lacan, J. (1988). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VI, Desire and its Interpretation. W.W. Norton & Company.


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