THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 19-26
Ever since 1991 when I gave a paper at a conference in Paris on he Sinthome, I have (sporadically) been reading and puzzling over this seminar. I am struck each time by its odd focus. As Lacan himself says, his original plan had been to speak of the three and the four, and it would seem that the convergence of this theme with certain structural features of Finnegans Wake was what led him to re-orient the seminar. The resulting engagement with the work of Joyce is markedly different from any of his previous engagements with literature or indeed with writing.
As a young psychiatrist, in 1931 he had carried out a close stylistic and linguistic analysis of the ‘inspired’ writings of a twenty-eight year old psychotic woman. In the 1950s not only did he provide his audience with a much more detailed textual reading of Schreber’s Memoirs than had Freud, he also devoted three great literary seminars to a groundbreaking exploration of tragedy via three texts, Hamlet, Antigone and ClaudeVs trilogy respectively.
Picking up the Sinthome, the expectant reader finds no real engagement with Joycean texts as such. It would seem that the term ‘writing’ is unhitched from ‘the written’ which is presumably a valid enough stance. In its unhitched state in this seminar, it refers primarily to the activity of writing, to the function of writing as symptom. Is this an original insight? This was my starting point for the paper which follows.