The Cyclops & The Gnomon

Louis Armand


This is the tune of our catch, played by the picture of Nobody.
[Shakespeare, Tempest, First Folio III.ii.125-6]

1. The Freudian Thing

In a series of seminars conducted between 1949 and 1960, Lacan increasingly comes to identify language with the structure of the Freudian unconscious and consciousness with materiality. The proximity of these sets of terms to one another can hardly be gratuitous, other than in the sense they commit to the dictum of Heideggerean ontology–that is, "to be for nothing." And for nothing, also, to speculate upon the significance of what remains to be expressed in this seemingly inverse, "dialectical" relation between language and materiality.

How then to speak of a materiality of language (the chain of "materially unstable elements that constitute language"); that is to say of a certain "thing" (in) language–the quintessentially "Freudian thing"? This, the title of a lecture delivered by Lacan in Vienna on the 7th of November, 1955, poses this "thing" in a particular relation to an experience of recursion or détournement, alluded to in the full title of the lecture published in the Écrits, "La chose freudienne, ou Sens du retour à Freud en psychanalyse."

But what, firstly, is the meaning of this return to Freud in psychoanalysis, so announced by the avatar of the Freudian Reformation? Is this not, in some insistent way, the disguised venture of a certain return of the repressed? (A return whose compulsion hence acquires a significance not belied in the expectation that it may yet speak for itself.) And is it not by means of precisely such a retour that the Oedipalised drama of Freud's text, and the relentless pantomime of its analysis at the hands of Lacan, achieves a perverse apotheosis as the very adversary of analytic meaning itself–that is, the Freudian thing.

"The meaning of a return to Freud," says Lacan, "is a return to the meaning of Freud."1 And by this chiasmatic sleight of hand Lacan nevertheless arrives at the underside of an otherwise innocuous statement: "one has only to remember that Freud's discovery puts truth into question, and there is no one who is not personally concerned with the truth."2 Or: the meaning of this retour is the discovery of Freud? And in this translation between "the meaning of a return" and "the meaning of Freud"–translation only ever gets as far as the father, as Lacan says elsewhere, vis-à-vis the symptomatic ambiguity of a certain perversion (version vers le Père). And farther, as we may say: between the meaning of "Freud" and the meaning of this retour. That is, the meaning of this return of Freud under the nom-d'analyse "Lacan"? What, then, is this "Freudian thing" if not in some sense also the play-thing of the fort/da repetition-ritual of psychoanalysis' subjection to the signifier of "Freud"?

"The meaning of a return to Freud ... one has only to remember that Freud's discovery puts truth into question, and there is no one who is not personally concerned with the truth." The vigilence of memory: one has only to remember, as in analysis itself, the primal scene, the discovery of the father in flagrante delicto, as it were, whence the truth is put into question. And what follows: "It must seem rather odd that I should fling this word in your faces–a word almost of ill repute [ce mot qui passe presque pour mal famé]." (In no short time it will be in the face of Freud himself that Lacan will fling this word of ill repute, returning it to the one whose discovery has placed it in question. Whence the question of the address: to whom is Lacan addressing "himself" in this lecture on Freud?)

The "spectography" of a certain Freud whose meaning, in truth, puts the truth in question. A counter-truth, perhaps, which (it follows) is the concern, precisely, of no one. Nemo, OUTIS which is the "antonym" by which Ulysses-Odyssues not only blinds the Cyclops to its adversary's true identity, but by which language "itself" is blinded with regards to its subject: no one has done this to me. The figure of the double negative, as in Nietzsche defining a particular relation of subjectivity to "thing" or rather no-thing: the event of this relation as what recurs in the counterwise becoming-subject of the thing which is demanded by the invention of an ego–which likewise necessitates a subject as such, a subjectum, the "intersubjectivity" of Lacan's schema (L) whose determination is contradiction rather than interdiction, since it stands in place not of what cannot or will not be said, but of what, in spite of everything, speaks (that is, in spite of, or for, nothing). That is to say say, a certain acte gratuit.

And it is by means of a comparably gratuitous retour (of a certain word of ill repute flung in the face of the mon-ocular giant) that analysis "itself" is literally blinded–its adversary vanishing into the malevolent non-presence of the "thing." That thing about which it is impossible to speak (the truth, in any case) without, in a very real sense, being struck dumb. A dumbshow which, if the truth be told, returns upon the exquisite corpse of the analytical scene–the rest, as Hamlet says, is silence. Blinded, traduced in the passage of its own discovery–this symbolic castration takes effect in the seemingly paradoxical fact that some-thing has been returned.

Il n'est personne que ne soit personellement concerné par la vérité ... no one who is not personally concerned with what Freud's discovery has put in question. Freud's return: la retour à Freud (Le sense d'un retour à Freud, c'est un retour au sens de Freud). This meaning of Freud which is his discovery–the discovery, the return, of what is at once designated and put in question by the name "Freud." And the no one who "there is" but who nevertheless stands outside the question under which truth is placed (and by virtue of which it obtains its ill repute?)–a question, as Lacan effectively states, which is nevertheless addressed to all [addressé à tous].

"Freud" whose meaning places truth in question–whose discovery, whose retour–addressed to all and with which no one will avoid being personally concerned … "Freud" who places in question the truth no one will evade being concerned with. This "Freud" (addressé à tous) communiqué à quiconque, that (not who) is conveyed to anyone (one has only to remember), in the form of a "repetition automatism (Wiederholungszwang)" (the symptomatic form of the return of the repressed)?

Between what is of concern, what is addressed and what is communicated here? This "envoy" of or from Freud–by means of a series of metonymic recursions: the return to Freud, the meaning of Freud, the meaning of what "Freud said" (the words in Freud's mouth), Freud's "discovery," the truth it places under question, etc. ... Communicated to anyone because addressed to all and hence lacking concern for no one ("It concerns each individual" or rather each "one" [chacun y sera intéressé]). This curious equivocation of address which is in no sense obviated by the impression, indirectly conveyed, that these things already belong "to Freud" and must in truth be returned, as Lacan says elsewhere, to their proper owner.

2. D or the Memory of No One

An envoy postmarked retour à Freud. Which can never be received, of course, nor can it have been supposed to be. Unless by some sleight of hand, the so-called signatory impersonating the assumed legatee … "The truth of the letter from Freud's hand."3 Is it also to say, the legate of Freud, by metonymy Freud's (right) hand, his proxy? The truth of Freud which both takes the place of it (Freud) and makes it (Freud) into a thing: the "Freudian thing"–Là où fut ça, il me faut advenir (wo Es war, soll Ich werden)? And between the agency of this letter and the facteur or contrafacteur of its truth, there remains … a certain cipher, a no-man, which is also to say, a gnomon ("un dessein si funiste"–the one who knows where the corpse is hid?)–who stands, so to speak, as the figure of the analytic scene par excellence.

Which leads Derrida to ask the obvious question: "What happens in the psychoanalytic deciphering of a text when the latter, the deciphered itself, already explicates itself? When it says more about itself than does the deciphering (a debt acknowledged by Freud more than once)? And especially when the deciphered text inscribes in itself additionally the scene of the deciphering? When the deciphered text deploys more force in placing onstage and setting adrift the analytic process itself, up to its very last word, for example, the truth?"4

And beyond the "acknowledged" debt, what happens when this deciphered text itself is named "Freud"? Whence the "addition," the gesture of supplementarity directed back at itself in that particular form of détournement which affects itself only by means of a pair of inverted commas–in truth, a pretence to speech, as the original counterpart of citation, repetition, reference … As in Edgar Alan Poe's story of the purloined letter, something is being openly concealed here beneath our very eyes. A stolen letter, turned inside-out … and its recovery or recuperation, by means of the simple deception of re-addressing the reversed envelope to oneself … This is the substance, in effect, of Lacan's Séminar sur ´La lettre voléeª (1956) and of Derrida's analysis of Lacan, Le Facteur de la vérité (1975).

"This story," Derrida says, "is certainly that of a letter, of the theft and displacement of a signifier. But what the ‘Seminar' treats is only the content of this story, what is justifiably called its history, what is recounted in the account, the internal and narrated face of the narration. Not the narration itself. The ‘Seminar's' interest in the agency of the signifier in its letter seizes upon this agency to the extent that it constitutes, precisely, on the first approach, the exemplary content, the meaning, the written of Poe's fiction, as opposed to its writing, its signifier, and its narrating form. The displacement of the signifier, therefore, is analyzed as a signified, as the recounted object of a short story."5

This supplemental reversioning which gives the signifier back (to itself) as signified–between certain repetitions (as we might say) of Freud, of the fort/da régime of the pleasure principle that the repetition itself names vis-à-vis the "retour à Freud" and its reappearance here in the guise of a narrative unveiling of its own cipher or symptom by means of an inverse mirror apparatus–being the histoire of Poe's story or rather the story of its narration under the sign of "Dupin," that is "Freud" … The countless rehearsals of this story and the sites of its analysis may also give allegorical expression to the sense that what is at stake here is a certain knowledge of what something means to be concealed between instances of a détournement …?

And so, while Lacan conspicuously temporises the fact that Poe's voleur performs a double reversal of the letter by faking a broken seal on the envelope's obverse, fashioned from his own cipher (an almost identical gesture to Lacan's in the lecture on Freud), Derrida conspicuously redoubles the stakes by fashioning the cipher itself after his own analytic persona (as though to implicate Lacan himself, or rather his name, in the coupure implied by the letter D–not as the truncated genitive du of Dupin, but as the privative which points towards a certain lac … as a metonymic recursion between what "belongs" to psychoanalysis and what is appropriated to it under the ciphered proper name of Freud/Lacan).

This D-cipherment, between the Minister D and Dupin, between Lacan and Derrida (and a third party: the ghost of "Freud")–as though to say, he who plays the dupe, laughs last … As Lacan knows, despite appearances to the contrary, this letter is in effect addressed to no one, and it is this no one who (being the true signatory) alone assumes receipt of it: the dupe is doubled, and the lesson, or rather the letter, as Lacan insists it should, ends up in the hands of its proper recipient …

The lesson of this seminar is intended to maintain that these imaginary incidences, far from representing the essence of our experience, reveal only what in it remains inconsistent unless they are related to the symbolic chain which binds and orientates them. … We have decided to illustrate for you today … that it is the symbolic order which is constitutive for the subject–by demonstrating in a story the decisive orientation which the subject receives from the itinerary of a signifier.6

An illustration of imaginary instances–being the subject in the intransitivity of its orientation towards or by the signifier … which remains inconsistent if not inconscient (in truth indifferent) unless related (by whom, by what?) to the "Symbolic order" (under whose compulsive sign it, the subject, indeed "makes something of itself"–of its "ineffable and stupid existence," as Lacan says elsewhere (the Schéma L)–as the Es which stands as counterpart to the S of the signifier whose itinerary binds, or rather chains, it to an essence which it far from represents … diffuses, rather, in the deferral of an illustration, a demonstration, a story, wherein this "subject's" decisive orientation is received from those imaginary instances which, only if they are related to the symbolic, describe the itinerary of the "signifier" … that is, as traces of a previous circuit of détournement "avant la lettre").

It is by means, then, of what amounts to an acte gratuit that the Symbolic obtains its determination of the subject only through a particular relation to the Imaginary (by way of the ineffability and insistence of the Real, viz. Sartre?). In this way Lacan divides Poe's story into a number of basic complimentary scenes7 structured according to a narrative montage operating a seam between visuality and verbal substance, hinging upon Dupin's citation from Crebillon inscribed "in place of the letter," as it were. The play of the signifier (the letter) is doubled, for Lacan, in a certain drama of the gaze–beginning with what "we shall straightaway designate the primal scene," a glance which sees "no-thing":

… three moments, structuring three glances, borne by three subjects, incarnated each time by different characters.
The first is a glance that sees nothing: the King and the police.
The second, a glance which sees that the first sees nothing and deludes itself as to the secrecy of what it hides: the Queen, then the Minister.
The third sees that the first two glances leave what should be hidden exposed to whoever would seize it: the Minister, and finally Dupin. …
Given the intersubjective modulus of the repetitive action, it remains to recognize in it a repetition automatism in the sense that interests us in Freud's text.8

In this way the materiality of the letter as "signifier" is linked to the unconsciousness of the glance (what Derrida terms the "vigilance de l'inconscient")9 in the form of a visual "prosthesis," a projection or extension of the eye as that phenomenal aspect of the body invisible to the subject (l'objet petit a), but which nevertheless leaves a trace or series of traces (une série de contiguïties matérielle).10 Here resides the affective counterpart of the gaze as "locus" of the other, that is, of the lack of intersubjectivity symbolised in the condition of a certain blindness (as in Duchamp, the King and Queen surrounded by swift nudes, marking a tactical blindness in the game of the letter):

On n'arrivera certes jamais à une sorte de symmetric ou de réciprocité; ce mirage de la réappropriation par le destinataire de ce qui lui arrive est un fantasme, mais ce n'est pas une raison pour abondonner le destinataire à la passivité …11

It remains to recognise that while this letter may yet be made to speak for itself, it also comes to symbolise what, in this drama of speculation, prescience and hindsight, must "see for itself"–in the place of seeing, which determines "it" according to an overwhelmingly visual paradigm as both a no-thing and a signifier of nothing; exposes nothing that is hidden (a false blind)–a species of thing, precisely, which no one sees and is only recognised (as Lacan says) in what is left over from this "seeing-not-seeing" … That is, the spectrality of the gaze, the very "thing" which returns the subject's glance to it, as a glance which sees nothing but which is seen–in which perception enters upon the subject as though in the form of an "intersubjective modulus" (percipere, cogitare) which is nevertheless predicated upon some (contradictory) thing … according to which "it remains to recognise in it a repetition automatism …"

The intersubjectivity of a between-two-egos as the modulus of the signifier (its repetition automatism)–effectively, the neutrality of a "third person" (it) of this determination of the gaze, or the structuring lacuna of a speculative or spectral dialectics: "For the signifier is a unit in its very uniqueness, being by nature the symbol only of an absence. … What is hidden is never but what is missing from its place … for it can literally be said that something is missing from its place only of what can change it: the symbolic. For the real, whatever upheaval we subject it to, is always in its place; it carries it glued to its heel, ignorant of what might exile it from it."12 (Derrida: "Un spectre, c'est à la fois visible et invisible, à la fois phénoménal et non phenomenal: une trace qui marque d'avance le present de son absence.")13 And so, "the sender … receives from the receiver his own message in reverse form … What the ‘purloined letter,' nay, the ‘letter in sufferance,' means is that a letter always arrives at its destination."14 As Lacan says, the Real is precisely the lack of intersubjectivity.

In this way, what "begins" with language always comes back to language "from the moment" it is language ("it"–Es–because nothing makes sense, as Lacan says, until you put a sign on it, until it is symptomatised: "the boundary between the object and being" is a "symptom")–which in no way affects the assumption of a "dominion" of the Symbolic over the Imaginary and Real. The place of the letter, of its "return," at which the signifier appears as its "lack," is itself part of the symbolic organisation which binds over the Symbolic itself to the "preclusion" of the Real (as the counterpart in the Imaginary configuration of the subject to the affective self-evidence of the Symbolic vis-à-vis the itinerary of the signifier as the subject's decisive orientation). In "L'Ordre symbolique," the signifier is thus "devoted to ambiguity" as that form of truth hollowed out of the Real: it has no "proper meaning" other than in hollowing out "reality" (by affecting a form of blind, or mask of meaning). A signifier, like a spectre, is not a signifier except insofar as one believes in it.15 For this very reason, however, it thereby opens the dialectic of truth and being (subjectivity) as that which, because it says what it is not (no-thing), can say what is.16 De revolutionibus orbitum litteralium.17

Within this elaborate decipherment of Poe's text (in the name of Freud, under the name of Lacan), there is a "retour" which remains the work of no one–a détournement between the ciphered meaning of a letter and its discovered duplicity, or rather triplicity, by which Lacan hands Freud's letter back to him, and gets his in return … This facteur de la vérité who, in the guise of no one, places truth itself in question–and by what else than through the questionable proposition of its "return" in the promiscuous circulation of a counterfeit and ambiguous cipher which must ultimately stand for psychoanalysis itself (as the duplicity of discovery)?

"This letter," as Derrida argues, "apparently, has no proprietor. It is apparently the property of no one. It has no proper meaning, no proper content, apparently, that bears on its itinerary. Structurally, then, it is volante and volée. And this theft/flight would not occur if the letter had a meaning, or at least if it were constituted by the content of its meaning, if it limited itself to being meaningful and to being determined by the legibility of this meaning: ‘And the mobilization of the elegant society whose frolics we are following would as well have no meaning if the letter itself were content with having one' (S., p. 56)."18

The lettre volée–the eponymous non-subject of Poe's text, which is also a retour à la lettre … the letter of the law, as it were, of "Freud" (le nom du Père). This letter that "speaks" (the subject's material extensivity into the world?). And, to bring this detour to the point, that is, of a certain "retour" or Wiederkehr of this letter which at the same time takes flight from the one who would possess it, finally, who would steal from it precisely that which will get it (the subject) nowhere (not even back to the starting point) … appearing and vanishing again like a ghost of itself, a mere cipher, point de capiton between the subject that would seem to speak and that which says it will not? Derrida: "… the circuit [of the letter] can always not finish. Here dissemination threatens the law of the signifier and of castration as the contract of truth. It broaches, breaches ... the unity of the signifier, that is, of the phallus."19

Just as in the apocryphal return of the ghost in Nicolas Abraham's "sixth act" of Hamlet ("The Phantom of Hamlet or The Sixth Act, preceded by The Intermission of ‘Truth'"),20 in which psychoanalysis itself appears on stage in the guise of the father, as though to reinforce the order "remember me"–one has only to remember … Recalling that, like the lettre volée, the "content" of memory, the unconscious (das Unbewusste) is also a palimpsest, a writing apparatus or Wunderblock (bloc magique) in which the materiality of the cipher is itself a rebus or symptom, if not yet a thing21 … A sign that is lacking (the analyst plays dead "cadaverising his position")22 and the so-called subject that is made to "speak" as though to fill the space left in or by the analytic apparatus–in the gap between the ghost's invocation and the actor's "silence," between D and the attestation of Dupin ("copied into the middle of a blank sheet") … which is to say, the remainder–what is left over in what returns in the neutrality of the analyst/narrator (it is by means of the letter, of a subjection to the letter which thereby "speaks," that this D has been caused to expose itself, himself): the truth is, in the register of the signifier, "not there"–the rest is silence, "un dessein si funiste."23

3. The Discourse of the Other

A. "La chose parle d'elle-même"–this is the third in a long series of section headings which structure the detour from the assumed subject of "The Freudian Thing." It is immediately followed by the words: "But the truth in Freud's mouth takes the said beast by the horns."24 Without proceeding to further quotation (to the gift of the secret of psychoanalysis)–what is the purpose of this strange locution?

It is not enough to put words in Freud's mouth, one must put the very truth there. And like Theseus, this metaphorised truth takes the said beast by the horns (it is perhaps in the nature of such beasts to be taken by the horns). Freud's mouth which, by taking, "puts in question" [the truth]? The question in which truth takes the beast by the horns? And what is this beast if not the horned paternal monstrum waiting also at the end of these sentences?

This thing which–in spite of everything–apparently speaks for itself. And the words, the truth put in the blind oracle's mouth, though questionable, speaking directly to the question, "mute" therefore, addressing each, every, all–in whom its meaning unnervingly returns, a form of resuscitation (even of the dead?), in the truth it itself puts into question, whose putting into question is the truth of its discovery–in flagrante delicto–its truth, which speaks for itself, speaks itself …

And the word "or" between the title "The Freudian Thing" and the subtitle "the meaning of the return to Freud in psychoanalysis" (by means of psychoanalysis?). What is this thing, the Freudian thing or? The adjective Freudian which mimes the truth-of-Freud, returns to put the truth in Freud's mouth, articulating it, as a form of duplicity or lability. Whereby this doubly questionable truth (psychoanalysis itself?) takes the beast "Freud" by the horns?

Like a blind or castrated Cyclops, the spectre of Freud is made to give the lie to the beast that truth has taken by the horns. The very horns taken by truth in the spectral mouth of "Freud." To take truth in one's mouth, does it mean one must also be fed the lie along with it? Or as Ulysses knew, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. This thing which gives its question in advance of it. Which broaches no return. The secret cunning of its apparatus, like a labyrinth or odyssey: a thing fabled of no one, and which lacks nothing in the telling which could not be retold or re-embroidered under any other name? A thing made to act as though it were a subject–"some thing which thinks"–being the very image of a reflexivity between the font of truth & the nature of the beast …

B. Echoing Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter, Lacan–in a passage preceding the section of his lecture on Freud entitled "The Discourse of the Other"25–asks: what is the difference between the Ego and a writing desk? (The Ego and Poe's Raven?) "I am quite willing," says Lacan, "to accept that the Ego, and not the desk, is the seat of perceptions but in doing so it reflects the essence of the objects it perceives and not its own, insofar as consciousness is its privilege, since these perceptions are very largely unconscious."26

And so, as it may seem, we should perhaps speak of the unconsciousness of the signifier, to which "I" as subject is subjected, in the Lacanian schema, in that consciousness engenders what we might call (belying the signifier's assumed symmetricality, between like and same, as Levinas says, or as and is; simile and metaphor) "the bastard forms of phenomenology"–those things which are not its own but which nevertheless seem to mirror its essential inertia at the level of so-called perception (the Ego's opaqueness to reflection):

we perceive the desk and give it meaning, and as much trouble goes into doing so, perhaps, as into the making of the thing.27

Retreating, or retracing here the detour of pronominal extension, the generalised counterpart of subjectivity–this "we" who give meaning as though in place of the Real, the Other-locus in its "annunciation" of the significatory act (the Freudian thing that speaks for itself?) … a usurpation that "allows" the subject to play out the divine role (casting itself in inverted form), in which "inertia" is raised to consciousness–the very making of the thing, as one says the making of a man ("what a piece of work is man"). It is in the mirror, as Lacan says, that the Ego is first born as an idea, and it is in the echo of the symbolic voice that it gains its identity.

What, then, is here made to speak? This discourse of the other vis-à-vis the Freudian unconscious … between subject and counter-subject (signifier) and its abnegation in the inertia of the "discourse" of the Real? That is to say, perhaps, its subjection as what (re)turns the subject (into) a thing–this thing which "thinks" (is made to think, subjected as it is to a discourse whose "symbolisation" in the miraculous embodiment of the signifier belies the inertial moment which renders this "reflexive apparatus" as nothing more than a work of mechanical iteration or iterability …). The locus of a détournement which is the very "essence" of its inertia, being the impossible signifier of the thing-in-itself?–i.e. the desk, or "Freud"? "… it did not have its say. For the simple reason that it was itself a word; it was I as grammatical subject."28

The Other is, therefore, the locus in which is constituted the I who speaks … that which is said by one being ahead of the reply, the other deciding to hear it whether the one has or has not spoken. But this locus also extends as far into the subject as the laws of speech, that is to say, well beyond the discourse that takes its orders from the Ego, as we have known ever since Freud discovered its unconscious fields and the laws that structure it.29

It was I. A numenology or nomenology of the Ego-Other? Là où était ça, le je (le jeu?) doit être. Or: "Somewhere in the Other, It knows."30

4. Gnomon

To speculate upon the relationship between "materiality" and "discursivity"–as in "the materiality of language"–this quintessential Freudian "thing"? That which (inanimate, a-subjective) no longer describes the relation of the Symbolic and Imaginary vis-à-vis Lacan, but rather a certain encounter of the Real, as what gives the Symbolic-Imaginary relation its possibility. That is to say, the materiality of that which becomes language by way of a semantic détournement: this paltry "thing" which is posed as speaking, returning upon itself in the formulation of a language which "acts" (the assumed agency of a subject or psychological entity)–as the "reflexive" shift from substantive to verb (transitive, intransitive).31 A question, as Lacan says, of having confused the symbolic relation in language as being some thing, as the "surface effect" of consciousness–which, to occur, produces "what is called an image."32 And in the image resides the illusion not only of the subject's unity, as such, but also of an "image of alienation" in the inertial object of reflexive consciousness that is taken, in spite of the subject, as a "thing" (albeit an illusory thing, but a thing no less–a no-thing: the question of language having always been bound to the question of how thinking itself becomes "sensible").33 One should not forget that, in order to be what it is, the image must always stand in place of some other-thing, which is not or cannot be presented in itself or against the field of the Imaginary–that is, which cannot be signified … marking not only the supplementarity and metaphoricity of the "imaginary," but also that language always points to the Real. Hence:

It is in the disintegration of the imaginary unity constituted by the ego that the subject finds the signifying material for his symptoms.34

It is in this phantasm of a base materiality, as we may call it, that resides the alienation "affect" of the mirror dialectic in Lacan's theory of language acquisition–the invention of the subject as the individual's entry into the Symbolic, by way of the Imaginary. Before the "dialectic of identification" there remains, nevertheless, some "thing." Some matter whose organisation, although programmed in advance (as it were), has neither function nor meaning in this hypothetically pre-subjective (pre-Symbolic) world. Le sens est ce par quoi répond quelquechose qui est autre que le symbolique, qui est … l'imaginaire. "Meaning is that by which something other than the Symbolic responds, which is … imaginary."35 Somehow this thing which neither acts nor can be made to act is "given"–not to the subject, but as we may infer by way of the subject.

It would be a mistake to say that this thing, therefore, does not work. It may be that it is all that works.

This does not mean that it requires work: that it is a matter of labour–applied to language, to its matter. Although one may talk of forging, in such and such a manner, as in Joyce, it is not such a labour that makes language "speak" (as though rendering up its secret), but rather this labour, this belabouring, which speaks in language. As in the early Marx, this labour is without belonging–"its" product is what relates in us this not-belonging, the alienation effect of what, for potentially ironic reasons, is termed the "commodity." That is, the alienation effect of language, of its materiality which is precisely what, in spite of any expense of labour, cannot be made to speak–cannot, in other words, be reduced to (a) property (of what is given, a priori? as that which belongs, in the ontology of presence, "to the subject," or Dasein as Heidegger says).

And this may equally apply to the matter of consciousness and of the "thingness" of that which gives reflexivity its apparent possibility as a turning of or towards the self (an object of what species of labour?). As Lacan argues, "The philosopher does seem to start with an indisputable given when he takes as his starting point the transparency of consciousness to itself. If there is consciousness of something it cannot be, we are told, that this consciousness does not itself grasp itself as such. Nothing can be experienced without the subject being able to be aware of itself within this experience in a kind of immediate reflection."36

Beyond the metaphor of transparency of consciousness, what is it that allows this subject-thing to stand out from the experience within which it is contained and communicate, as it were, its presence to the "subject" as the object (and may we also say agent) of immediate reflection–that is, its reflection as such? But also, and more incisively, is it not precisely here, between the immediate and its reflection that "nothing can be experienced without the subject"? And may we also say that this no-thing can only be experienced "without the subject" (because "aware of itself within this experience"–that is, the experience of nothing, of which it is irremediably a part)?

In Sartre, and consequently Lacan, this "experience of nothing" by means of a (missed) "encounter" with a certain base materiality in the world ("the retorsive aggressivity" of its echo), gives rise to an effect of objectification (of the subject) at the same time as it transposes onto the world a consciousness vis-à-vis the gaze or regard (as a metonymic recursion between the subject's "being seen" and the "eye")–translating the well-abused Berkeleyan dictum esse est percipi, "to be is to be perceived," in the inflected manner of Descartes, i.e. to be thought. And by means of this regard, the subject is not only approved, as it were, but proved against what amounts to a universal indifference "towards it." As Wittgenstein has it in the Tractatus, "from nothing in the field of sight can it be concluded that it is seen from an eye" (nichts im Gesichtfeld lässt darauf schliessen, dass es von einem Auge gesehen wird).37 Or again, "that which mirrors itself in language, language cannot represent ..." (Was sich in der Sprache ausdrückt, können wir nicht durch sie ausdrücken)38:

Here we see that solipsism strictly carried out coincides with pure realism. The I in solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.

Hier sieht man, dass der Solipsismus, streng durchgeführt, mit dem reinen Realismus zusammenfällt. Das Ich des Solipsismus schrumft zum ausdehnungslosen Punkt zusammen, und es bleibt die ihm koordinierte Realität.39

This is what Wittgenstein refers to as a "non-psychological I" (nicht-psychologisch vom Ich),40 the imaginary representation of the subject "in language" (so to say). The solipsistic mechanism of consciousness which is nevertheless beyond the Cartesian subject's grasp, is neither initiated nor determined by it, and cannot be represented to itself other than by means of tautology. That is to say, by means of logical propositions41:

Objects I can only name. Signs represent them. I can only speak of them. I cannot assert them. A proposition can only say how a thing is, not what it is.

Die Gegenstände kann ich nur nennen. Zeichen vertreten sie. Ich kann nur von ihnen sprechen, sie aussprechen kann ich nicht. Ein Satz kann nur sagen, wie ein Ding ist, nicht was es ist.42

This imaginary representation, it would seem, stands as a (specular?) counterpart to the relation of "how a thing is" and the nature of propositions, or what they say. An unlikely proposition. Or, is it possible, an unlikely thing? And while these things are unlike–must be unlike–nevertheless the one reflects, in a sense, (on) how the other is without necessary recourse to the Cartesian ergo. That is because the relation is implicit, if not consequential, that "I think I am." And that is how it is–as, regardless of how this "I" postures itself, it takes the position of being in advance of what "it is," and thereby gives something like an expression to the paradox of the mirror stage wherein reflection precedes the proposition of the subject. Or, as Merleau-Ponty contends (by way, merely, of provocation?): "man can speak in the same way that an electric bulb can become incandescent."43

Which leads us to question the effective distinction between (as in Saussure) a so-called language of mental concepts (reflections) and (no-)things. And by this same principle, between signifiers and things (the subject of signification which is a no-thing). If one were to pursue this detour further, it may be that coming upon itself–as though by surprise–it might discover the implication of the dictum "every signified is always already a signifier"–having less to do with supposed signifying chains or the free play of signification, than with a metonymic recursion between apparent "discursivity" and materiality (la pensé dans la parole or parole-pensée).

This peculiar assumption (or resumption) of a linguistic animus which mysteriously compasses the signifier's relation to a "signified," a verbal (or imaginary) expression of its other (its prosthetic extension towards the world, counterpart of a "verbal substance")–by means of an undisclosed mechanism of "linguistic anteriority" (as Merleau-Ponty says, "the relation of the subject to the term into which he projects himself").44 What remains missing is a determination of this animus, this ghost in the linguistic mechanism operating the great chain of signifying substitution (the ego of "iterability")–according to the formula in principio erat verbum.

It is at this juncture that Lacan's conjecture regarding the machine (symbolic activity) bears directly upon the question of signification per se. In other words, what is "left in the machine," in the mirror apparatus between signifier and signified, or S/s? Could it be, after all, the solution to the mystery of perpetual motion? Or is this too merely a play of desire–of the subject-dialectic as the perpetuum mobile projected in its own firmament?45

Implicitly, modern man thinks that everything which has happened in the universe since its origin came about so as to converge on this thing which thinks ... which is this privileged vantage-point called consciousness.46

In this rationalist cosmology, which has nothing rational about it other than a certain gratuitous reflexivity (the imposition of human thought upon the universe at large–being some-thing which, grasped as it is, reflexively, amounts to a no-thing, a mere dilation of reflexive consciousness or mirror-effect), there remains the question of what, for the sake of argument, we might call ontological or rather semantic inertia–of language "at rest" (its "non-signifying" condition)–and of an ergonomics, of language in flux (its "signifying" condition). That is, the reconciliation of universal matter with universal mind, according to the old philosophical dualism. But each of these is a convenient fiction, as likewise a "pure materiality" of language, or a "pure play" of signification–if it is not to be a counter-play also, a movement of entropy, which draws the subject ever nearer to a mechanistic catastrophe–the détournement of all ontico-linguistic insistences to the contrary of nothingness, as the repetitional nullity (Angst) which nevertheless seems to affirm that language is some "thing." And it is to this "thing" that the subject tends, not as subjectification to the signifier, but as its subjectification in the signifier to that "thing" of which it cannot speak and in whose place it is compelled "to respond to or for it," as Derrida says ... On the verge, that is, of a determination of language not (only) as some-thing in the universe, but as its universe–that is, as a species of category which does not represent but rather constitutes the ungraspable, the in-excess of itself, a categorical impossibility, a no-thing.

This subjectification as the limit of the subject's universe or "world" ("the limits of my language are the limits of my world," as Wittgenstein says) consists both in the inertial immanence of materiality and the perpetual forethrow of signification. Signifying materiality operates in the inequivalence of these two conditions: such that we might speak of a generative inequivalence which underwrites all signifying relations. This inequivalence–difference, repetition, détournement–retains a mechanistic character. As in Lacan, reflexivity requires a mechanism, into which the ego is projected (it is a projection, projected by no-thing). This projection is contingent, determined, facilitated, conditioned or programmed by the inequivalence (of a hyphen?) from which it gains its seeming dialectic formulation.

Or, as we might say, it is a universe which takes the place of the image of consciousness, as it were–of a projection into consciousness of the world–whereby we may also say that "the birth of meaning is never finalised" (as Merleau-Ponty does),47 in that "no language detaches itself entirely from the precariousness of the mute forms of expression, nor reabsorbs its own contingency, nor consumes itself to make the things themselves appear."48 The subject is not a gesta Dei–is not the realisation of a consciousness in the world, divine or otherwise–but the condition of a "predication" of which consciousness is the indirect propositional form.

* Parts of this text originally appeared in Rhizomes 6.

1. Jacques Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridon (New York: Norton, 1977) 117.

2. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 118

3. Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Facteur de la Vérité," The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987) n45. "‘True speech' is the speech authenticated by the other in faith sworn or given. The other makes speech adequate to itself–and no longer to the object–by sending back the message in inverted form, by making it true, by henceforth identifying the subject with itself, by ‘stating that it is the same.' Adequation–as authentification–must pass through intersubjectivity. Speech ‘is therefore an act, and as such supposes a subject. But it is not enough to say that in this act the subject supposes another subject, for it is much rather that the subject is founded in this act as being the other, but in that paradoxical unity of the one and the other, by whose means, as has been shown above, the one depends upon the other in order to become identical to itself. Thus one can say that speech manifests itself not only as a communication in which the subject, in order to await that the other make his message true, is going to project the message in inverted form, but also as a communication in which this message transforms the subject by stating that it is the same. As is apparent in every given pledge, in which declarations like "you are my wife," or "you are my master," signify "I am your husband," "I am your disciple." Speech therefore appears all the more truly speech in that its truth is less founded in what is called adequation to the thing: true speech, thereby, is opposed paradoxically to true discourse, their truth being distinguished by the fact that the former constitutes the subjects' acknowledgment of their Beings in that they have an interest in them, while the later is constituted by the knowledge of the real, to the extent that the subject aims for it in objects. But each of the truths distinguished here is changed by intersecting with the other in its path.' Écrits I, 351 (Variantes de la cure-type). In this intersecting, ‘true speech' always appears as more true than ‘true discourse,' which always presupposes the order of true speech, the order of the intersubjective contract, of symbolic exchange, and therefore of the debt. ‘But true speech, in questioning true discourse about what it signifies, will find that signification always refers to signification, there being no thing that can be shown otherwise than with a sign, and henceforth will show true discourse to be doomed to error.' Écrits I, 352. The ultimate adequation of the truth as true speech therefore has the form of making quits (l'acquittement), the ‘strange adequation … which finds its response in the symbolic debt for which the subject as subject of speech is responsible.' Écrits, 144. These are the final words of "The Freudian Thing." Adequation to the thing (true discourse) therefore has its foundation in the adequation of speech to itself (true speech), that is to the thing itself: in other words of the Freudian thing to itself: ‘The thing speaks of itself' (Écrits, 121), and it says: ‘I, the truth, speak.' The thing is the truth: as cause, both of itself and of the things of which true discourse speaks. These propositions are less new, particularly in relation to the Rome Report, to Variantes de la cure-type, and to the texts of the same period, than their author says: ‘This is to introduce the effects of truth as cause at a quite different point, and to impose a revision of the process of causality–the first stage of which would seem to be to recognize the inherent nature of the heterogeneity of these effects.5' Écrits, 127. (The footnote: ‘5. This rewritten paragraph antedates a line of thought that I have since explored further (1966).' Écrits, 145.) ‘True speech' (adequate to itself, conforming to its essence, destined to be quits of a debt which in the last analysis binds it only to itself) therefore permits the contract which permits the subject ‘to become identical to itself.' Therefore it reconstitutes the ground of Cartesian certainty: the transformation of the truth into certainty, subjectification (the determination of the Being of beings as subject). and intersubjectification (the chain Descartes-Hegel-Husserl). This chain ceaselessly captures, in the Écrits. Heideggerian motions which would appear, rigorously speaking, to be allergic to it, and would appear to have ‘destructive' effects on it. For the moment, let us abandon these kinds of questions–the most decisive ones–that Lacan's discourse never articulates."

4. Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987) 414. Cf. Jacques Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, De quoi demain … (Paris: Galilée, 2001) 281-2: "Parmi les gestes qui m'ont convaincu, séduit en verite, il y a cette indispensable audace de la pensée, ce que je n'hésite pas à appeler son courage: cela consiste ici à écrire, inscrire, signer, au nom d'un savoir sans alibi (et donc le plus ´positifª), des ´fictionsª théoriques. On reconnaît ainsi deux chose à la fois: d'une part, l'irréductible nécessité du stratagème, de la transaction, de la négociation dans le savoir, dans le théorème, dans la position de la verité, dans sa demonstration, dans son ´faire savoirª ou dans son ´donner à entendre,ª et, d'autre part, la dette de toute position théorique (mais aussi bien juridique, éthique, politique), envers un pouvoir performatif structuré par la fiction, par une invention figurale. Car la convention qui garantit tout performatif inscrit en elle-même le credit accordé à une fiction."

5. Derrida, The Post Card, 427-8.

6. Lacan, "Séminaire sur ´La lettre voléeª," Écrits I, 28-9.

7. Lacan, "Séminaire sur ´La lettre voléeª," 30.

8. Lacan, "Séminaire sur ´La lettre voléeª," 32.

9. Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stieger, Échographies de la télévision (Paris: Galilée, 1996) 151.

10. Derrida and Stieger, Échographies de la télévision, 146.

11. Derrida and Stieger, Échographies de la télévision, 69.

12. Lacan, "Séminaire sur ´La lettre voléeª," 39-40.

13. Derrida and Stieger, Échographies de la télévision, 131.

14. Lacan, "Séminaire sur ´La lettre voléeª," 52-3.

15. Lacan, Séminar I.xix.264.

16. Lacan, "L'Ordre symbolique," Séminar I.xviii. Cf. Séminar II.xv.215

17. Lacan, Radiophonie, cited Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Titre de la lettre: lecture de Lacan (Paris: Galilée, 1973).

18. Derrida, The Post Card, 422-3.

19. Derrida, The Post Card, 444.

20. Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel: Renewals of Psychoanalysis, Volume 1, ed., trans., and intro. Nicholas T. Rand (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994). Cf. Marie-Ange Depierre, "Hamlet: ou des pas fantomatiques dans un espace littéraire en anamorphose," Paroles fantomatiques et cryptes textuelles (Paris: Éditions Champ Vallon, 1993). Cf. also Jacques Derrida, "Moi–la psychanalyse," Psyché: Inventions de l'autre (Paris: Galilée, 1987) 145-158.

21. cf Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 141: "To touch on the symbolic nature of memory it is enough to have studied once […] the simplest symbolic sequence, that of a linear series of signs connoting the alternative presence and absence of something, each being chosen at random by whatever pure or impure mode adopted. One then elaborates this sequence in the simplest way, that is, by noting it in the ternary sequences of a new series, and one will see the appearance of the syntactical laws that impose on each term of this series certain exclusions of possibility until the compensations demanded by its antecedents has been lifted."

22. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 140.

23. In his 1998 essay on Blanchot, Demeure, Derrida poses the question of the possibility of attestation, of "who keeps witness for the witness" (Blanchot), and consequently of "what attests to the absence of attestation." These questions raise the spectre of a fundamental dilemma of ethics, one elsewhere expressed in the "figure" of Bentham's panopticon and Nietzsche's Götzendämmerung, but above all in the "discovery" of the Freudean unconscious and the structure of attestation in the post-Cartesian subject, vis-à-vis what Lacan, following Sartre, came to term the regard or gaze (of the Other)–the optical metaphor extending the idea of a signifying materiality in the mechanics of subjection or subjectification. Cf. Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, The Instant of My Death/Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).

24. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 121.

25. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 135.

26. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 134.

27. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 134.

28. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 136.

29. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 141.

30. Lacan, Séminaire XX.vii.81.

31. The question not of the subject's grasp on "reality' but of reality's grasp on the subject. The mirror play which both enforces and obfuscates the significance of the Lacanian Real in relation to its opposite figure, in so-called "reality."

32. Lacan, "A Materialist Definition of Consciousness," Écrits, 49.

33. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 138: "the decisive signification of the alienation that constitutes the Urbild of the ego appears in the relation of exclusion that hen structures the dual relation of ego to ego."

34. Lacan, "The Freudian Thing," Écrits, 137.

35. Lacan, Ornicar? (1975): 91.

36. Lacan, "A Materialist Definition of Consciousness," Écrits, 45-6.

37. Ludwig Wittegenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1922) 5.633.

38. Wittegenstein, Tractatus, 4.121.

39. Wittegenstein, Tractatus, 5.64.

40. Wittegenstein, Tractatus, 5.641.

41. Wittegenstein, Tractatus, 6.1.

42. Wittegenstein, Tractatus, 3.221.

43. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, La phénoménologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945) 204.

44. Merleau-Ponty, La phénoménologie, 203.

45. It is not a question of accounting for a materiality irreducible to "linguistic grids." Such an accountability is a philosophical chimera–an aftereffect of reduction, of the quasi-reduction of a certain hermeneutics (its prima materia, supposedly).

46. Lacan, "A Materialist Definition of Consciousness," Écrits, 48.

47. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960) 52.

48.Merleau-Ponty, Signes, 98.