In 1969 Jacques Lacan, after the rector of the École Normale Supérieure removed to him the Dussane room, begins, on November 26, a seminar “The reverse of psychoanalysis” in the amphitheater of the Faculty of Law. This year seals the beginning of the formalization of what will be known as the “theory of the four discourses”. In effect, the French psychoanalyst develops in this seminar the notion of discourse and elaborates a discursive typology. But, also, in this year, France is the protagonist of the birth of two works that resonate in the history of language sciences: The archeology of the knowing, by Michel Foucault, and “Analyze automatique du discours”, by Michel Pêcheux. Three different perspectives question, at the same time, what could be thought of as the same object: the discourse bursts vigorously into the French intellectual scene.
Already since 1968, Jacques Lacan begins a reflection on the notion of discourse in his seminars. This does not mean that previously this term did not appear in the theoretical development of the French psychoanalyst; on the contrary, it appears in innumerable occasions, but with a broad sense, without a precise formalization.
It is in Seminary XVI (1968) in which the discourse begins to recover importance in the word of Lacan.
It is interesting to highlight the title of this seminar: “From one to the other”. In this sense, the name of the seminar in which something about the discourse begins to explore marks a relationship. According to him it is the subject who receives of other the message in an inverted way. This relationship, from one Other to the other, in truth, anticipate the centrality that the idea of a union acquired in the conformation of discourse.
For Lacan, discourse exceeds the word. In this way, the discourse cannot be homologated to the statement, to what was actually said, to the message.
The following year, in 1969, in his seminar entitled “The reverse of psychoanalysis”, Lacan takes up the notion of discourse and develops it with greater precision. Here, Lacan defines this concept in various ways. A difference from the previous seminar, in these classes characterizes it as a “structure”. However, he reiterates that the discourse exceeds the word, “can survive very well without words”.
For there to be discourse, language is necessary first. It is through language that these stable relationships are installed that configure it. The idea of an instrument does not imply the vision that the subject uses it freely. On the contrary, according to the psychoanalyst, “we are their employees. Language employs us, and for that reason it enjoys”.
The discourses present a particularity: they are not made of words and, therefore, appeal to transcend the content that is propagated in the communication.
The discourses embody a fundamental relationship from which a particular social bond is derived. Each discourse determine a different social bond; tie that does not really refer to the relationship between the subject and the other. This level of abstraction proposed by Lacan is of the formal order as far as his concern is centered on the links between the elements that make up the discourses and not on the content.
Discourse is an object to build (Courtine, 1981). According to Orlandi (1987), while the text is a unit of analysis, it is a unit of significance in relation to a situation, discourse is a theoretical and methodological concept, so its limits cannot be established precisely. Returning to the Lacanian thought, it is a device that exceeds the materiality of the sentences it groups.
This object to build, the discourse, takes shape through the sense. It is in this way, the meaning, whose matrix is born in the articulation with their formation and with the Other. This link, a discourse with meaning, does not escape, in Lacanian terms, to the imaginary record. Indeed, in Seminary XXII (1974-1975), the psychoanalyst locates the sense between the imaginary and the symbolic: the meaning is with which the imaginary responds to the symbolic. Record that the imaginary has the function of providing consistency, giving the illusion of complete autonomy. Hence the process of discursive construction is inscribed within an imaginary that restricts not only the content of the statements but also the modalities that these statements adopt.
This relationship between the imaginary and the discourse is visible in the elaboration of certain discursive typologies. The meaning that crystallizes in the typologies that classify discourses according to the fields of the knowing (medical discourse, literary discourse, scientific discourse, etc.), or according to the institutions (political discourse, religious discourse, legal discourse, etc.), or according to the sectors of social activity (administrative discourse, for example), it stabilizes the dynamic discursive movement and gives it an illusion of homogeneity. These typologies are, in truth, abstract constructions, which start from distinctions conceived a priori and, therefore, do not know the place of the constitutive failure of the discourses. They are presented as already given, as autonomous, external and previous categories to the statement.
Lacanian teaching has allowed to revalue the category of speaker, intentional and voluntary, on which the notion of subject has shifted, to which it has been extended to his words.