THE LETTER 36 (Spring 2006) pages 52-61
This paper is based on the seminar Les non-dupes errent. It is a very interesting seminar because during it, Lacan visibly grapples with the concepts of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Although he goes on to further revise some of his concepts in subsequent seminars this paper is largely based on his position at that particular time. I am going to try to convey a sense of why Lacan was preoccupied with the Borromean knot, why he kept returning to it and why he insisted on it. Although at this time Lacan is developing a theoretical concept, his work is always and ever based on the work in the clinic as he says himself in Seminar XL Psychoanalysis is the theorisation of a praxis, not the practice of a theory.
I remember learning when I was first introduced to computers that the operating system could never diagnose its own problems, because it had to use the same mechanism requiring a diagnosis in order to diagnose, and this is not considered possible. This bears an anology to our situation as humans: we are determined by language and we try to explain ourselves using language. But language fails, because in choosing to enter the world of language, there is a lot we have to leave behind. This leads to us being split subjects, with language never quite functioning the way we want. Indeed as subjects we believe language has meaning, and that it is a form of communication from one to another. Lacan says:
…The signifier is a sign, that is only addressed to another sign; [that] the signifier, is what makes a sign to a sign, and that is why it is the signifier. That has nothing to do with communication to someone other, it determines a subject, it has as an effect a subject. …