Subject Supposed to Know


For my reading group we are trying to understand Lacan’s understanding of transference, and how his conception of transference differs from Freud based on Dora, Seminar XI, and Ecrits. Transference can perhaps be best understood as the client assigning a role for the analyst to occupy, and in turn the client reacts to the role in which they have positioned themselves in the transferential matrix. Here’s an example. A male client constantly experienced his mother as being withholding or neglectful when he was a child. The client begins viewing his female therapist in this light. He often acts out in therapy, and he is prone to throwing hysterical fits that often leads to prolonged sobbing. Repetition is a key element to transference. The client repeats previous experiences with his analyst, and if the analyst does not fall prey to assuming the role of caring mOther then the client might accuse the analyst of being indifferent and neglectful. Of course, the client is not consciously repeating these same object relations; rather these interactions arise spontaneously during the course of analysis. Many practitioners likewise attempt to understand how they themselves re-experience their clients based on their previous relationships (i.e. countertransference), but Lacan viewed countertransference as being nothing more than the sum total of prejudices and biases of the analyst. He would discourage all of those he trained to try and remain a blank slate, and to only analyze their own reactions on their own time.

In Seminar XI, Lacan argued that whenever the subject who is supposed to know (SSK) exists then so will transference. The typical neurotic patient will grant the analyst his trust, and thus allow him to assume this position. Furthermore, as soon as the analyst is the positioned as the SSK, “he is also supposed to set in search of unconscious desire” (Four Fundamental Concepts, 235). Here’s prolonged explanation on the discourse of the analyst ( There’s a feedback loop that drives analysis at the beginning, which also facilitates the development of transference. The client comes into analysis assuming that analyst has some sort of understanding of his symptoms. Of course, this is untrue. Psychoanalysts aren’t mediums. This belief of the client is the very thing that drives the analysis. The client interprets everything the analyst says as information from the SSK, which in turn he re-interprets. This is the actual way the analyst begins to develop an understanding of the client. The analyst listens to the client’s discourse attending to the minor breaks and interpretations that can guide the analyst to the truth of the client’s speech.

Ideally, the client comes to recognize that the analyst is not the Big Other that is she does not have the key to making sense of his symptoms. In fact, this is a major goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The client must come to realize that they are responsible for speaking their desires and understanding their speech, and that nothing else (Father, America, God) can save them. In this structure, the analyst does not permit the client to substitute another master signifier for the non-existent Big Other. Adam Miller quite nicely summarizes the final aim of Lacanian analysis, “Rather, the goal is to relate the analysand to their own desire as something other than an object to be satisfied and dispensed with, as something whose “bite” ought to be valued and received as such and in its own right as the gift that it is.” (

If this was unclear, consider one more example. Numerous studies have shown the incredible effects of placebos. The efficacy of the placebo is explained by the importance of the medical doctor assuming the position of the SSK. The doctor’s patients deify him as have some sort of bearer absolute knowledge, and the patients will often benefit even when the doctor misdiagnosed the sickness (i.e. prescribed the wrong medicine, but positive effects resulted).


One Response to “Subject Supposed to Know”

  1. Lacan on the Cartesian God « JRidenour Says:

    […] Elsewhere I’ve mused about the relationship that Lacan discusses between transference in psychotherapy and the subject supposed to know. I imagine most of my readers are aware that in the Meditations Descartes assumes his perceptions and conclusions are correct because God is all knowing, infinite being who would not deceive him. I think one can also catch glimpses of the Cartesian God when people insist that although right now things might not make sense, ultimately God is using everything for his higher purpose. As opposed to merely embracing the contingency of life, they posit some belief in this sovereign God who ultimately has a plan underlying history. But isn’t this Cartesian God as the subject supposed to know the God that Jesus is divested of while suffering on the cross? Another example where the Cartesian God rears his ugly head is when people question the goodness of God and someone counters the point by saying that whatever God does it is good because by definition He is goodness. This is obviously the irrational, terrifying God of Job who emerges from the tornado to brag about His power. He is beyond reproach. It also opens itself up to all sorts of abuses (re: the pope’s current fiasco/infallibility claims). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Female Sexuation, God, and CumFalse HumilityViral Marketing – Secrets RevealedDear students […]

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