Monday, January 31, 2011

Entangled in Lacan’s Humor: Misreading Ecrits as a “Letter to Letter” Discourse

“The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud”

In “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud,” Lacan modifies Saussure’s linguistic sign (signifier and signified) and calls it an algorithm upon which he builds his theory about the place of letter (the place of the subject in the relationship between language and speech).

Elaborating on Hegel’s master slave dialectic, “The Subversion of the Subject or the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious” sketches Lacan’s analysis of the ways in which desire shapes the subject’s attainment of self-consciousness.

When reading “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” Bruce Fink commented that the text “opens with a astonishing rhetorical opacity (…) the first sentence is utterly inscrutable” (Fink, 63) Fink has examined the rhetorical opacity of Lacan’s style suggesting that it is the analysand’s discourse which aim is to train the reader to listen to the obscurity of his discourse. Having read “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” my sense is that through his almost inaccessible language, Lacan is striving to create a readership of analyst and literary critics who are able to decipher any ecrits/writtens/texts from a position of a subject supposed to be confused (to paraphrase Lacan sujet suppose etre confus). Lacan opens "The Instance of the Letter" by warning the reader that his writing could not be put in a straight jacket:

“Writing is in fact distinguished by a prevalence of the text in the sense that we will see this factor of discourse take on here - which allows for the kind of tightening up that must, to my taste, leave the reader no other way out than the way in, which I prefer to be difficult. This, then, will not be a writing in my sense of the term” (413).

These two sentences come after the opening paragraph of “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious” and function as a paragraph which situates the position of the reader vis a vis “the prevalence of Lacan’s text” and vis a vis the fictive discourse of the analysand. As an analysand, Lacan uses the figures of speech that characterize the signifying elements of the unconscious to resist the limitations of the Psychoanalytic rhetoric of his time.The italic word text, which one may replace by "ecrits," points out to the reader and suggests that it is the home in which Lacan and the fictive character of the analysand will train the reader to follow their rhetorical moves. The dash that separates writing "the prevalence of the text" from its characteristic as a “tightening up of discourse” functions as an illusory hole from which Lacan or the analysand traps his reader or listener. This illusory hole or "cut," to speak in Lacan's term, accomodates the joke deployed by Lacan to trap the reader in his letter to letter text. Once the reader leaps into the dash/hole and gets trapped by the letter to letter joke, she experiences the sarcastic restriction of having to misread Lacan word by word. As such, assuming that she should read Lacan literally, the reader becomes entangled in Lacan’s obscure rhetoric.

Though Bruce Fink has observed that “Lacan seems to be suggesting that, in writing, he can close up all the holes in his discourse, leaving only one point of entry, only one hole or orifice, so to speak; the reader can either enter and leave by the same opening or not enter or leave at all” (65), my sense is that once the reader falls into the hole of Lacan’s rhetoric, there is no way out. As a result, she is deprived from the freedom of dwelling in Lacan’ s text, as the latter would want her to. In order to free herself from the trap in which her misreading of Lacan's joke has drawn her, the reader has to accept letting herself walk on Lacan’s steps. That is to say the reader must be able to figure out the "structural conditions that define the order of the signifier's constitutive encroachments"(418). As such, the second sentence "This, then, will not be a writing in my sense of the term” functions as a complementary clause that complete the "encroachment"of Lacan's discourse. The commas after "this" effects the link by which the joke of the first sentence hooks onto the comma after "then" to unveil the true meaning of the joke.

In my reading of Freud’s case histories, I observed that Freud accommodates the reader and enables her to inhabit the place of the analyst and to listen to the discourse of the analysand. However, with Lacan, one has to follow the steps he elucidates in order to understand the analysand. Like the analysand, Lacan confuses the reader in order to make her work through his text. By confusing the reader and allowing her to embrace his ironic letter to letter adventure, Lacan gives room to literary critics’ claims about the death of the author. Lacan performs but at the same time resits this disappearance by repeatedly reappearing and taking authority on what he is saying. Though Lacan lets the reader hear that he is reading Freud to the letter, he also reduces freudian conceptualization to his own. As such, Lacan methodically silences Freud to let his voice resurface in the ears of the reader.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jacques Lacan, My Teaching

Bruce Fink, Lacanian Technique in “The Direction of the Treatment”
In the first chapter of Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely, Bruce fink tries to shed light on Lacan’s technical writing by laying out Lacan’s thesis of the ego as imagery and his warnings against misinterpreting transference and countertransference

Jacques Lacan, My Teaching

My Teaching is a collection of three lectures (Place, Origin and End of My Teaching, It’s Nature and Its End, So, you will Have Heard Lacan) that sketch Lacan’s theory of subjectivity which finds its essence in the Freudian discovery of the operations of the unconscious and the structure of language.

“So when I talk about a hole in truth, it is not, naturally, a crude metaphor“ (My Teaching, 22)

This sentence is the beginning of a short paragraph comprised of three sentences that conclude Lacan’s analysis of the place of sexuality in psychoanalysis. The sentence begins with the coordinating conjunction “so” which connects Lacan’s observation on the previous page that “sexuality makes a whole in the truth” with his qualification of that metaphor. The clause “so when I talk about a hole in truth” seems to be independent, but it is dependent on the previous paragraph as it sums up Lacan’s strategy of dislocating and relocating sexuality in psychoanalysis. The coordinator “so” does not only enable Lacan to reposition his statement about sexuality as “a hole in the truth,” but it also produces the effect of a whiff. The latter enables Lacan to determine with authority the role and place of sexuality in psychoanalytic theory. Though Lacan has already told the reader “the hole in truth is the domain where no one (…) knows what to do about what is true” (21) he insists that “a whole in truth” is not any metaphor. Therefore, the sentence implies the key concept of being able to talk about the metaphor, “a hole in truth”/sexuality in a symbolic/metaphoric way. As a result, in Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, sexuality is an element in the structure of language that might be a word or part of a word that refers to a network of other elements (or words) within it. As an element of language, sexuality, and “a hole in truth” constitute the microscopic glass through which psychoanalysis deciphers and interprets the truth about the subject as it is produced in language.

At different moments in Place, Origin and End of My Teaching, Lacan juxtaposes language with truth. While discussing the origin of his teaching, he states: “It is because there is language there is truth (…) truth begins to be established only once language exists” (29). Lacan has observed that he task of a psychoanalyst becomes not so much to get his patients to lie on the couch and reveal their secrets, which to a greater or lesser extent, the analyst will seek to divine, but rather to allow them to produce signifying material (truth) through speaking freely. This procedure will reveal a meaning or signification that might be surprising, new or alien to them. Lacan’s theory avoids the performative contradiction that the content of his theory conflicts with the position of the subject of theory because it takes the signifier as the starting point that generates meaning, and therefore it reverses the relation between the signifier and the signified. What constitutes the person and its identity can now be read as a text, and the author is not the subject, but the trajectory of the signifiers that represent the desire of those who occupy the place of the Other for the subject.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sigmund Freud, "Three Case Histories

In Three Case Histories, Freud uses the case study genre to present his theory of reading and interpreting the complex language of the unconscious.
 “Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis”(Rat Man Case) as well as “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (Wolf Man Case) develops techniques of interpreting obsessional neurosis by weaving the patients’ stories and explanations with the analyst’s own speculations.

In “Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria” (Dora), Freud analyzes the impact of analyst-analysand emotions on analysis by developing the concepts of transference and counter transference.

Freud’s case histories raise some interesting questions about the ways in which language is represented through the patients'discourse.  At the opening of Dora, freud remarks: “to begin with a complete and rounded case history would be to place the reader in quite different conditions from those of the medical observer from the very first” (Psychology of Love, 12). The use of the conditional “would be” in the sentence creates a space from which Freud invites his reader to inhabit the context of the communication between the analyst (Freud) and the analysand (patients in the different case studies). As such, like the analyst, the reader has to work through the meaning of the story she/he is attending, listening to, and reading. In another Instance in the Rat Man case, Freud reiterates to the reader the necessity to move into the patient’s field of communication in order to be able to decipher the complex language of obsessions. He contends, “the reader must not expect to hear at once what light I have to throw upon the patient’s strange and senseless obsessions about the rats. The true technique of psychoanalysis requires the physician to suppress his curiosity and leaves the patient complete freedom in choosing the order in which topic shall succeed each other during the treatment” (33).  From the first sentence to the second one, the reader is integrated into the narrative and becomes substitute to the physician; the practice of reading becomes a meditation on the process of interpretation. As such, one may ask how is the discourse between Freud, the Rat Man and the reader framed ? How do the three of them inhabit the territory of the case history, with its persuasive power, claim to knowledge, and “openness” to subsequent interpretation?

As the Rat Man’s case history begins with detailed accounts of the first seven sessions in the Rat Man's treatment, Freud breaks off his narration, and introduces analytic sections on the patient's obsessional ideas; the cause of his illness; the father complex; and the solution of the rat idea, which is actually resolved in a long footnote. In the second "Theoretical" section of "the case history,” the topic is obsession or “compulsive ideas.” The evolutionary angle of the Rat Man case becomes then a movement from circumstantial record, through analytic summary, to generalized analysis. The main narrative device in the opening section is the patient's speech, related to the reader as it was presumably spoken to the analyst. As a result, the Rat Man’s case history establishes the field of communication between the analyst/ reader and analysand as a reading practice that foregrounds self reference. The latter gives room to displacement-the metonomy between reader and patient- which enables analyst/ reader and patient to work through patient’s memories and figure out their symbolic significations. As such Analyst/reader and patient play the role of signifiers. 

From reading Freud's Case Histories, i have come to realize that as a reader, my ability to understand and interpret psychoanalytic theory is to take the place of the analyst. Though Freud suggests it but does not seem to allow it, my task as a reader is to produce a subsequent analysis of Freud's interpretation of his patients' language.