kochOne of the things that absolutely fascinates me about discourse, and, in particular, Lacan’s theory of discourse is that it has a fractal nature that seems to iterate itself at all levels. Thus, to the same degree that you can have interpersonal or speaker to speaker relations that have the same formal structure outlined by Lacan with many different contents, you can have entire social structures that are organized around these formal relationships. And indeed, there’s a strange way in which the appearance of one discourse structure somehow generates the appearance of all the other discourse structures. For those interested in a brief introduction to Lacan’s theory of discourse you can consult my article on discourse theory here, beginning with page 40. Formally we can see why the other three discourses emerge “a priori” wherever there is the appearance of one discourse. If this is the case, then it is by virtue of the fact that discourses form what mathematicians call a group. That is, through a simple clockwise permutation, you are able to generate the other three discourses simply by rotating the symbols in each position one position forward. 180px-MadisThus, if you begin with the discourse of the master, you are able to generate the discourse of the hysteric, the analyst, and the university through a simple clockwise rotation of the terms in each of your initial positions:

Unidis For those unacquainted with Lacan’s discourse theory, look carefully at the succession of these four discourses, you will note that beginning with the discourse of the master and then shifting to the discourse of the hysteric, then moving to the discourse of the analyst, and finishing with the discourse of the university, the relations among the terms remains invariant. The terms change their position in each of the four positions they can occupy, but with respect to one another they always maintain a constant position. In this particular universe of discourse (again, see my article for the concept of a “universe of discourse”, which you won’t find in Lacan, but which is a logical extension of his own thought regarding discourse), for example, a can never appear, to put it metaphorically, before the term S2. Consequently, given one discourse, you already have the other three.

As Deleuze put it speaking in the context of Levi-Strauss, “In whatever manner language is acquired, the elements of language must have been given all together, all at once, since they do not exist independently of their possible differential relations” (Logic of Sense, Handsome Continuum Edition, 58). So too with Lacan’s discourse structures. Even if each discourse were to appear diachronically in the order of history in such a way that the others were absent or not present in the social order, nonetheless these other discourses would be virtually there or would exist virtually, simply “awaiting” their opportunity to manifest themselves. What is remarkable, however, is that the discourses don’t seem to arise sequentially with the establishment of a single discourse. Rather, the moment one discourse is instituted you get the sudden actualization of the other three discourses within that universe of discourse.

Take the discourse of the master. What is it that the discourse of the master does? Does it master, dominate, control? No, not really. If you refer back to the discourse of the master you note that on the upper portion of the discourse there is a relation between S1 and S2. S2 refers to the battery of signifiers. We might think of this as a disorganized, chaotic mass of signifiers that float about willy nilly, almost at random. What the discourse of the master does is provide a master-signifier, loosely something like what Derrida referred to as a “transcendental signifier”, that organizes this chaotic mass of signifiers into a unified structure. Thus, for example, when Kant formulated the position of “transcendental idealism” he was situated in the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he provided a signifier that unified philosophy in a particular way, generating a coherent structure or organization. Similarly, when an activist characterizes a series of conflicts as a revolution, he is occupying the position of the discourse of the master insofar as he is unifying a mass of disconnected acts and events under a single signifier that render them capable of generating a sense or an organization.

read on!


In response to my post “Deleuze and Guattari avec Lacan“, Reid asks “What is the Borromean Clinic?” I confess that I am working through this myself, so I do not have a completely adequate answer. In many respects, this is the most and dense and difficult period of Lacan’s teaching, but it is also a period where he completely exceeds what he had developed in prior years, developing both an entirely new diagnostic system and new possibilities for the end of analysis.

In his Borromean period, Lacan shifts to a topology of the subject based on the borromean knot:


The first thing to notice with this curious knot is that no two of the rings are directly tied together as in the case of a Hopf chain:


Consequently, in the borromean knot, if any one of the rings are severed the other two rings fall away as well. In short, the consistence of the borromean knot arises only from the knotting of the three and the manner in which the strings pass over and under one another in the proper way. Lacan equated each of the three rings with one of his three orders– the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary (RSI) –corresponding to the order of ex-sistence (the real) or that which exists outside the symbolic, the order of the hole or lack introduced into being (the symbolic), and the order of consistency (the imaginary). However, it will be noted that each of the rings overlaps with the others forming points of intersection with the other rings like a Venn diagram:


Consequently, we can think the different orders together getting various combinations between the elements. Thus, for example, there can be a hole in the real, just as there is an ex-sistence in the symbolic (the letter as opposed to the signifier). Likewise, there can be a consistence in the symbolic (meaning), just as there can be a hole in the imaginary. And so on. As I said, I am still working through this myself, so I have not yet worked out the implications of all this.

Read on

There is perhaps a tendency to think the symptom as a sort of tick. You are before your symptom whenever you have a repetitive twitch, perpetually fail in some repeated endeavor, can’t help saying a particular word, and so on. Yet perhaps a better way of thinking the symptom is as a way of receiving or even welcoming the Other. As Lacan liked to emphasize, the words of the Other always carry a certain surplus. “You’re telling me this, but what is it that you really mean?” Were there words an act of seduction, an act of aggression, an act of rejection, an act of indifference? This person here is talking to me, but what is the desire behind their talk. To say the symptom is a way of receiving the Other is to say that the symptom fills out this anxiety provoking void. A friend recently pointed out to me that I often take comments addressed to me in a hostile manner, interpreting them as criticisms or attacks, rather than as elaborations of what I’ve said building on that thought and exploring it. This would be a sort of symptom, a way of welcoming the Other. Of course, in welcoming the Other in this way the Other doesn’t feel very welcome. Indeed, the symptom drives the Other off, beats them down.

The aim of analysis is a sort of fundamental re-orientation of the symptom; a transfiguration of the co-ordinates within which you experience the symptom. The symptom allows for infinite variation, but it produces the monotony of the same. Like an algebraic function– F(x) = 2x –we plug in the values of x (all the Others we encounter), and we get an infinite series, but they are all variations of the same pattern: for 2 we get 4, for 3 we get 6, for 4 we get eight. Always the same welcome of the Other fit into the function without the Other ever arriving.

What would it really mean to welcome the Other? Lacan says that the analyst’s desire is an impure desire: that it desires absolute difference… That difference that composes the analysand. Of course, judging by the case studies we hear at Clinical Days and psychoanalytic interpretations in the world of theory, this is seldom achieved. But all the same… What would it mean to truly welcome the Other? What would it mean to hear beyond the symptom or the frame? I think of all the voices that have fallen silent in the last two years. Bloggers that grew quiet. Conversations that fell off. Blogs that went cold. All of these encounters gone. Did I not welcome beyond my symptom? Did I murder the difference of alterity? What would it mean to encounter in such a way that your difference is not effaced or absorbed, while truly welcoming the stranger, the Nebensmensch? What would it mean to escape the logic of Territory.

In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan remarks that no one is interested in another person’s symptom. This moment marks a substantial transition from Lacan’s earlier work, a transition that he’d been approaching for a number of years. In earlier seminars, following on the wake of the famous Rome Discourse, Lacan had argued that the symptom could be entirely resolved at the level of the signifier through interpretation. This position was not unlike that of the early Freud, who believed that the neurotics symptom could be entirely eradicated through interpretation. However, just as Freud eventually encountered the death drive or the compulsion to repeat, so too would Lacan discover that there’s something that resists over the course of analysis, a remainder that can’t be eradicated. In some circumstances, the so-called “negative therapeutic reaction” would take place, and analysis would suddenly take a left-turn for the worse, characterized by extreme hostility towards the analyst. In other cases, the analysand would leave analysis only to have the symptom flare up once again with all the force and drama that it had possessed prior to analysis. Or, as Freud had worried in his late essay Analysis Terminable and Interminable, the work of analysis could go on infinitely, with analysand and analyst (it’s always the analysand that does the majority of interpreting in genuine analysis) endlessly interpreting new slips of the tongue, symptoms, dreams, etc.

Lacan would discover this as well– crushing the happy dream of analysis in confronting an analysis that goes on for years, even decades –leading him to rethink the end of analysis. In Seminar 22, RSI, Lacan will present two options: Either the analysand believes in the symptom (in which case analysis has failed), or the analysand identifies with the symptom. If the first option marks a failure of analysis, then this is because it marks a residue of transference that has not fallen away over the course of analysis. To believe in the symptom is to believe that there is a final signifier, a last interpretant. Yet this is equivalent to believing that the Other exists, that there is an answer to the symptom that could tell us what we are once and for all. On the other hand, identification with the symptom would consist, perhaps, of two things: 1) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that says “I am that”, and 2) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that identifies with the process by which symptoms are produced, with the nonsense and the activity of meaning making that is called for in this nonsense. In other words, the late Lacan has carried out a separation of the symptom from the field of meaning, from the field of the Other, which is what will lead him to create the new concept of “sinthome” as a sort of symptom purified of all meaning with respect to the Other, a pure process, such as what we find in the literature of Joyce. I identify with this nonsense at the heart of my being. This is the Lacan that will begin to focus on writing and the letter, in contrast to the signifier and the signified. It is the literality of the letter as opposed to the play of the signifier, and it is a literality that promises the subtraction of a mute jouissance of the letter, no longer caught up in the web of the Other. For more on this, I refer readers to the extraordinary collection of essays edited by Luke Thurston in Re-Inventing the Symptom.

If no one is interested in the symptom of another, then this is because the sinthome is nonsensical, a silent jouissance, a jouissance that has been subtracted from the field of meaning and the Other. Sinthome is symptom that has become drive. I find it impossible to be interested in Joyce, for even when I’m interested in Joyce, I am interested in myself. The jouissance of the letter embodied in Joyce’s text functions as a rorschach for my own symptom, which is why interpretations of Joyce are always the pet projects of their authors. One might say something similar of Lacan’s reading of Freud or any reading of Lacan. The beauty of any reading of Lacan is that one is singularly responsible for what Lacan will have been. In this regard, Lacan’s writing performatively enacts his theory of “oracular interpretation”– interpretations that can be taken in a variety of different ways –making the reader, like the analysand, responsible for what they find in the text.

It is this inability to maintain interest in any other’s symptom that leads me to surprise when I read Spurious’ diary today. There, in an uncharacteristic vein, Lars writes,

Do you see – I’ve cursed myself now, and this will be a bad post, I will have confided too much and at too great a length and should lead it home now, like a horse by its nose. Home: you have been out, and now it’s time to come home; the Law opens to enclose you. The Law welcomes you back.

Such an astonishing thing to say! I suspect that there’s an element of seduction or challenge in such remarks, perhaps even a wish. These fragments that Spurious has been writing lately have less the feel of illumination, than walking into the room of someone you hardly know, a room filled with all sorts of random, yet ordinary things, and wondering what they are all about. In other words, in their very act of confiding, they seem to confide nothing, but only multiply questions. A few months ago, on a beautiful post written by Blah-feme, Lars had responded to some remarks I had made that were quite obviously attempting to display some intellectual muscle (as Blah-feme rightly pointed out over at his blog where I posted the same comment). There I wrote,

What I find myself wondering is how we can get at this materiality at all or how we can even speak of it. It always seems to escape. I believe I referenced Hegel’s account of sense-certainty over at your blog. As I’m sure you’re aware– and please forgive my obsessive spelling out of details or “tutorial style”, I have a tendency to go into too much detail in responding to anything, as my blog amply demonstrates, not out of any attribution of ignorance –the opening of the Phenomenology begins with sense-certainty or the sensuous-immediacy of the things itself as the ground of knowledge (and clearly you’re not talking of knowledge but the thing itself). However, the moment I attempt to *say* this sensuous-immediacy, I find it slips away in the universals of language. I say “this” thing here, but “this” can just as easily be used for something else. I try to fix it with “now”, “here”, “I”, etc., but I find myself in the same dilemma each time. I am thus unable to say sensuous immediacy but always feel to the formal and universal. The materiality thus seems to perpetually elude our attempt to indicate it, always slipping elsewhere. Doesn’t precisely the same thing happen in the case of voice? I agree that all of the features you describe (in this and your more recent post) are central to the uncanny phenomenon of voice, yet they slip away in one and the same moment I try to articulate them.

Returning to my pet example of the trauma of the paternal voice that shatters the calm and pleasant world of the young child, this same child, when an analysand years later, tries to articulate the materiality, the trauma, the uncanniness, of those ringing knocks at his bedroom door, or the muffled, stern voice behind the wood, yet encounters himself as frustrated and defeated, unable to quite explain it or convey it. The materiality perpetually eludes him yet it is also perpetually there. How do we escape this Hegelian deadlock?

Very interesting stuff and beautiful writing.

To which Lars responded,

How, as Sinthome puts it, to write about the singular, or (from the perspective of ‘Sense Certainity’ for Hegel) the immediate without losing the materiality of the voice? By allowing that materiality to carry through into writing – to emphasise, in language, its musical aspects – sonority, rhythm – as it repeats (in Kierkegaard’s sense) the thickness of the voice. Without this repetition, there is always the risk of an arid formalism, an endemic problem to philosophy and to philosophical discussions of the voice, of art etc.

I think Blah-Feme is right to suggest that engagement with specific voices is necessary. And I think Blah-Feme is also right to invoke the materiality of the voice in a language that thickens itself.

I will not say that Lars is trying to write the specific, the singular, but rather that his writing is specific. It is for this reason that there can be little or no interest in Lars’ writing, though that writing might generate a good deal of interest (here I hope someone gets the double entendre, the homonym). It is a writing that has no small amount of “sinthome” in it.

All of this, I think, poses, in very vague form, a philosophical question I’ve been revolving about: How is it possible for an analyst to be a philosopher? Lacan, of course, is legendary for his critiques of philosophy. For Lacan philosophy is a discourse of the imaginary, an attempt to totalize the world, a discipline that disavows the constitutive split of the subject. Yet when Lars evokes “specific voices”– so many of which we find here: Spurious, Blah-feme, Jodi Dean, Yusef, Glen, the Yak, N.Pepperell, K-Punk, $, IT, and so on –there is already a challenge to thought, for a specific voice is precisely that which evades the determination of the conceptual. A few months ago I wrote a post asking whether or not Badiou could be called a materialist. There the argument was that something is added to a mathematical space when it is materially instantiated, and this seems lost in Badiou’s onto-logy. The issue is the same with philosophy in general. In the analytic setting you are concerned with the specific voice of the analysand, sans conceptuality… With it’s pure materiality, it’s saying, and its having been said. Lacanian concepts do not appear in the analytic setting, unless the analysand evokes them. Indeed, it’s not unusual to undergo an entire analysis without being told whether you’re obsessional, hysteric, psychotic, perverse, phobic, etc. All of this is irrelevant to the analysand’s act of saying and to what the analysand says. Yet philosophy, it seems, institutes the regime of the exchangable and the equivalent through its formation of the concept. It effaces the singularity of the event of saying so as to institute that which might be comparable in the said. It seems to me that this is one reason that philosophy must always be at odds with literature, for literature sings the psalm of the remainder, of the materiality of the voice and the event, or of that which cannot be exchanged under the umbrella of a concept. A literary event can only be a spur for thought. What is always lost in philosophy is the event. Is it possible for philosophy to preserve the event?