Editorial Issue 51


This 51st issue of the The Letter was put together by editor Tony Hughes who is currently ill and continues the project begun in issue 41 of introducing English-speaking students of Jacques Lacan to a reading of L’étourdit. It also presents the work of three authors – Monica Errity, Mary O’Connor and Brian Robertson – on earlier, more approachable aspects of his work.

Even today, more than 40 years after its completion on July 14th 1972, L’étourdit is regarded by many French psychoanalysts as incomprehensible and even, as one of his most able commentators put it to me recently, as an ‘unworthy showpiece’ at the end of a brilliant career. But for Christian Fierens it constitutes the summit of Lacan’s teaching and it was the publication of his ‘reading’ of the text in 2002 that has allowed access to it for a generation of Irish students. Fierens has recently published a second reading of L’étourdit and this will doubtless find a place in this journal in due course.

But the publication here of a translation of the first two chapters of his 2002 commentary requires an explanation since it is out of synch with the text to which it refers. From Spring 2010 until Summer 2012 the bi-lingual text of L’étourdit was accompanied by the relevant section of Fierens’ commentary. However when the first part was published in Summer 2009 only the introduction to Fierens work was available. Readers will therefore be required to use a little ingenuity as they attempt to use the resources of the commentary to unravel the unbelievable complexities of the text. Is it worth the effort? The arcane references to set theory and topology, predicative and modal logic, the ab-sense of the sexual relationship and the notall make the text resistant to all but the most resilient readers.

But  Lacan’s  argument  that  these  apparently  theoretical  abstractions  are drawn from his clinical presentations and re-presentations at one of the most prestigious psychiatric hospitals in Paris is enough to stimulate practicing analysts to at least make the effort to see how they can illuminate their own relationships with the troubled people with whom they work and who are their most important teachers.

Two of the following articles are the product of work carried out in a cartel on Lacan’s conception of the real and presented at an inter-cartel meeting in June 2013.

Monica Errity presents the fruits of her exploration of tyche and automaton, Aristotelian terms for chance and randomness, used by Lacan to illustrate his argument that the real is at the heart of what is normally called chance. Tyche she tells us was so important for ancient Greeks ‘that it became personified in the goddess Tyche who came to symbolise the fate and fortune of rulers and through them their cities’. These age-old notions take on a new abruptness as I write this in the immediate aftermath of the horrific intrusion of the real into the lives of those caught up in the Santiago de Compostella train disaster: ‘the absence of a helmsman might cause the loss of a ship’.

While Aristotle’s rational discussion of the four causes has influenced millennia of thinkers, it is little known that he thought that it was worth considering the popular view that chance is a cause that is ‘opaque to the human mind, because it is divine and too supernatural for us to understand’. However, he finally concludes that the reason why chance appears opaque is because its causes are indeterminate so that in the final analysis nothing comes about by chance.

In Lacan’s triad of symbolic, imaginary and real the first two elements are relatively easy to illustrate and understand. But from its first presentation in 1953 he struggled to answer questions by Serge Leclaire about the nature of the real. Monica Errity’s exploration of tyche and automaton in Aristotle points readers in the direction that Lacan hopes will allow some response to an ancient and still fundamental question: ‘is the real knowable?’

Mary O’Connor traces the history of Lacan’s commentary on Edgar Allan Poe’s Purloined Letter, which is given pride of place in his Ecrits, and in particular that of the Introduction and the Presentation of the following written in 1966. She argues that the ‘matheme’, which was first explicitly mentioned in L’étourdit, had been anticipated by the mathematical formalisations he had used to emphasise the primacy of the symbolic in the seminars of 1955.

She concisely articulates Lacan’s contention that the rules derived from the tossing of a coin demonstrate the fundamental alternative of presence and absence – heads or tails – which bring out ‘the essential link between memory and law’. Thus the repetition automatism (or compulsion to repeat) central to Beyond the pleasure principle is a symbolic process that works in silence beyond the conscious control of the speaking subject – ‘the neurotic’s unconscious does not forget him’.

These complex mathematical gymnastics have seldom been presented so clearly and succinctly making this article a valuable tool for anyone wanting to approach what Lacan saw as a central plank in his re-reading of Freud’s discovery of psychoanalysis.

Brian Robertson, a doctoral student at what for centuries was known as the Catholic University of Louvain – now Leuven – has contributed an academically useful and at times clinically insightful review of Lacan’s re- reading of Freud’s theories on sado-masochism. Over against the ‘insoluble knot of enjoyment and anxiety’ found in ‘genitalized forms of desire’ the pervert is more or less ‘at home’ in his search for sexual enjoyment. This seems to me relevant not only for an understanding of the ‘sexually perverted masochist visiting an S&M club’ but for the far more prevalent phenomena of domestic violence where the sadist seeks out the anxiety of his victim and the victim is able to roll with the punches of love’s agony to an extent that remains a puzzle to the outside observer.

Robertson introduces us to the long-running controversy among psychoanalysts and philosophers about Freud’s sometimes inconsistent views on sado-masochism and is especially conversant with the French literature on the subject. But curiously, for a contributor to the Letter, he seems to be unaware of Professor Bill Richardson’s magisterial translation of Kant and Sade – as well as Tony Hughes’ Scholion – and of the 1990’s translation of the seminar on Anxiety and its revision in 2005 available in www.Lacaninireland.com.

Nevertheless this is a valuable discussion of a subject that is highly relevant to our contemporary world and its changing sexual mores and deserves to be carefully read and widely debated.

Cormac Gallagher

THE LETTER 51 Autumn 2012, pages 1-22.

Here are two morsels of the psychoanalytic discourse (…ou pire):

(1) ‘That one might be saying remains forgotten behind the said in what is understood’.

2) ‘This statement which appears to be assertive since it is produced in a universal form, is in fact modal, existential as such: as is testifiedby the subjunctive by which its subject is modulated.’ (5d; 449)

These two sentences or these two morsels plunge us into double presentation, into the representation of one (1) for and in the other (2) and this re-presentation will lead us to the barred subject and to the o-object.

The first morsel speaks about saying as impersonal process. This saying where the persons are not yet determined is not directly available: it is forgotten behind the said. Is it enough then to obliterate the said for saying to supervene? Would it be enough to efface the statement for the mystery of enunciating to appear? No: there are not too many saids, turns said, d’étourdit: the understudy (doublure) is welcome so that the said can be understood. The difference between the said and what is understood, between the presentation and representation, will reveal saying: even if it is forgotten behind the said, it only comes about because there is something understood. [From a technical point of view, the abbreviation of the said, the ‘short sessions’ will only be justified in as much as they produce an ‘understood’].

THE LETTER 51 Autumn 2012, pages 23-44.

The signifier(S1) represents the subject ($) for another signifier(S2). In the master discourse the signifie, taken as a semblance (S1), can be used for something quite other, quite Other (S2). The master discourse is stabilized in the relationship between S1 and S2. It develops the meaning-relationship. As a practice of free association, a practice of the signifie, should analysis be polarised towards the meaning-relationship? Does analysis consist in separating out such a relationship from the remarks of the analysand? In this way free association would always culminate in a significant relationship: ‘Whatever you might say, it will always end up by cross-checking with itself’.

To be sure, the signifier of the master discourse is at stake in analysis. Nevertheless the meaning-relationship remains incapable of treating the manifestations of the unconscious, which never cease to surprise and to astonish. How overcome this incapacity proper to the master discourse, if not by reversing this discourse, in other words by pushing it towards its own powerlessness? It would therefore be a matter of accentuating, not the meaning-relationship, but the impossibility between S1 and S2: S2 is radically Other than S1. The relationship between S1 and S2 leads to sense, as it has been separated out in the preceding chapter. The difference, the impossibility  between S1 and S2 deviates from sense: it is ab-sense.

THE LETTER 51 Autumn 2012, pages 45-68.

As early as his Three Essays, Freud accounted for sadism and masochism in terms of two, mirrored (or dialectically opposed) articulations of the self-same aggressive drives. More recently, attention has been drawn to various elements at work in the two perversions that fail to fit within Freud’s dialectical model. Gilles Deleuze, for example, has criticized Freud’s conception of sado-masochism as an artificial clinical entity and has insisted upon introducing a strict dissociation between the two perversions. This paper aims to rearticulate the relation between the two perversions by means of a close reading of Lacan’s Anxiety Seminar. Instead of dismissing Freud’s account, or attempting to move beyond it, this paper shows how Lacan returns to Freud in order to reformulate a more comprehensive, structuralist reading of sado-masochism. As the paper demonstrates, it is only when sadism and masochism are taken together that they allow us to seize hold of the ‘twisted’ knot of anguished enjoyment that inhabits the heart of human desire. The paper also offers a detailed account of the ‘zig-zag’ schemas of sadism and masochism that Lacan elaborates both in his Anxiety Seminar and in his article Kant avec Sade.

Keywords: volonté de jouissance, anxiety, law, fetishism, perverse velleity

In the Three Essays, Freud accounts for sadism and masochism in relation to an element of physical and moral aggressivity at work in sexual desire, or what he refers to as ‘an intimate connection between cruelty and the sexual instinct’.  While sadism, as he claims, consists in a desire to subjugate and control the sexual object, overcoming the resistance of the [latter] by means other than the process of wooing’, masochism thrives off of suffering physical pain and humiliation at the hands of the sexual object.  The basic idea underlying Freud’s account is the notion that the sadist’s desire for cruelty offers a mirrored (or dialectical) reflectionof the masochist’s desire for pain

THE LETTER 51 Autumn 2012, pages 69-73.

In his introduction to the Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”  Lacan attempts to show how the real lies at the heart of that which, ordinarily, would be deemed to have happened by chance. Again in his discussion of the phenomenon of repetition in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, he highlights that it is the real which lies behind Freud’s notion of repetition automatism, noting that, ‘what is repeated  is always something that occurs…as if by chance.’ Throughout his discussion of the relation between the real and chance Lacan draws on two Aristotelian terms, tyche and automaton. On Lacan’s recommendation,2 this paper aims to revisit these terms as they appear in Aristotle’s Physics, in order to throw some light on Lacan’s use of them in his understanding of the relation between the real and chance.

Keywords: Aristotle; tyche; automaton; chance; the real.

The importance of the concept of chance in the lives of the ancient Greeks is indicated by the preponderance of words relating to chance such as; tyche (chance or fortune), automaton (randomness), kata symbebekos (things which happen incidentally), eudaimonia (flourishing)and kairos (opportune moment). Of these, the notion of tyche which encompassed many aspects of fortune – chance, fate, both good and bad luck and even achievement, success and wealth, seems to have played a prominent role.  Indeed, the belief in the power of tyche was so important for ancient Greeks that it became personifiedin the figureof the goddess Tyche who came to symbolize the fate and fortune of rulers and through them their cities.

THE LETTER 51 Autumn 2012, pages 75-80.

Lacan’s introduction to the seminar on the Purloined Letter is couched in a mathematical language which can be a little intimidating. This paper attempts to sift through some of the outer layers of his ‘matheme’ so that the treasure of its kernel is not ignored.

Keywords: Repetition automatism, memory, symbolic order, language, law, signifying chain, unconscious 

In 1966, when Lacan had been persuaded, rather reluctantly, to publish some of his writings, he presented the works in chronological order, spanning over thirty years from a comment on his thesis of 1932 to an extract from Seminar XIII, dated December 1st 1965. The exception to this order, which Lacan placed as a prologue to the Écrits, is an extract from the Seminar of 1954-1955. During that year he chose The Purloined Letter to reiterate his teaching that it is ‘the symbolic order that is constitutive for the subject’ and to demonstrate ‘the major determination the subject receives from the itinerary of a signifie’. …

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