The Freudian Thing and the Ethics of Speech

Daniel Wilson


In his 1891 On Aphasia Freud defines the “thing” in the terms of J.S. Mill’s empiricist phenomenology as a set of sensory impressions that is linked both to language and to immediate sensory experience. These distinctions structure the Project for a Scientific Psychology and reappear in “The Unconscious,” where Freud writes that the unconscious is a scene of experience that is linked to, but continues to insist in excess of, language. While Lacan opposes das Ding to Freud’s definition, in “The Unconscious,” of the “unconscious Vorstellungen” as “the presentation of the thing alone,” this essay argues that Freud’s definition of the unconscious points to a scene of experience disorganized by language, that is censored by the passage through the mirror stage, and about which the Other knows nothing. The essay ends by looking at several texts by Tito Mukhopadhyay, who is autistic. Mukhopadhyay describes his autism in terms of a decision to not pass through the mirror stage, which left him exposed to a scene of experience disorganized by the desire carried on the Other’s voice. In his eventual decision to enter into language and write of his experience, Mukhopadhyay’s writings locate an ethics of speech that, rather than censor the unconscious presentation of the thing by linking it to a prohibited Oedipal object, makes a space within the discourse of the Other for a universal dimension of human experience.

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