In this article, I will underline some simple concepts in Lacan's reading of Poe. These concepts are so simple and so tightly connected to the practice of psychoanalysis that secondary literature tradition seems to have lost the essential dimension of Lacan's comments. Thus my claim is that these well-worn zones of Lacan's corpus are not so well worn at all. In order to do justice to the technique of psychoanalysis and to explain its singularity in contrast to all the other therapies (from drugs to different "psycho-social" therapies) we have to return to the basic questions behind Lacan's statements on the arrival of the letter at its destination and the necessity to eat one's Dasein.
First, I will concentrate on the destination of letter. What Lacan writes about it is, in fact, a re-articulation of the basic and fundamental "golden" rule of Freudian psychoanalysis: say whatever comes to your mind right nowand only it. In his discourse on Poe and the letter, Lacan is formulating what psychoanalysis as a practice is. The institutional background for this articulation is his criticism of the IPAand ego psychology. The conceptual background is formed by Lacan's own ISR-triad. The pure signifier he talks and writes about is that of the main subject of psychoanalysis: the signifier for a neurotic analysand.
Secondly, I will pick up the question of eating one's Dasein. I do not think that a reference to Heidegger is enough here: the concept of Dasein is not self-evident in Heidegger and definitely not in Lacan. Thus this enigmatic statement has to be re-opened in order to see the importance of the arrival of letter. My claim is that, in "Le séminaire sur 'La Lettre volée,'" there are two dimensions in regard to the tasting of Dasein: 1) a kind of therapeutic imperative according to which the letter should re-arrive at its destination and 2) a kind of descriptive statement which grounds, if we may say so, psychoanalysis and according to which the letter always arrives at its destination. Finally, the arrival of the letter may be described as the hour of truth at the mealtime of Dasein.
What it comes to the basic orientation of this paper, we have to remember that throughout his career Lacan was interested in the fundamentals of psychoanalysis. Those fundamentals are difficult to catch and thus they are easily missed. It is true that a lot happened in Lacan's thinking after his reading of Poe, but it is equally true that this reading stands on its own, that is, beyond our anachronistic perspective it has its message which is valid and even more acute today than ever.
2. The Letter and its Destination
I will not introduce Lacan's discussions on Poe, for some basic knowledge on them and on the commentaries evoked by them is the presupposition for this article. Instead, I jump straight to the matters themselves. On the page 38 of Écrits, Lacan writes that "[…] elle [la lettre] devait rentrer dans l'ordre de la Loi" (Lacan 1966, 38) and, on the page 41, that "une lettre arrive toujours à destination" (ibid., 41). Besides, he lets us understand that the destination of the letter is the order of the Law. Thus we have three claims:
1) The destination of the letter is the order of the Law.
2) The letter should re-arrive at this order.
3) The letter arrives at this order.
First, here the Law can be understood as a translation of Greek logos. Thus the Law includes language, culture and articulation. The destination of the letter as a pure signifier is its arrival at an articulation. This expresses the essence of the process of speaking cure. In other words, the first claim is the axiom on which psychoanalysis is built: human psyche is "built" so that the letter as if strives to arrive at an articulation.
Secondly, that the letter should re-arrive at an articulation expresses a practical, clinical imperative: if we want this peculiar process of speaking to become a cure, the letter should re-arrive into language. Thus this statement expresses the therapeutic dimension of speaking cure. In other words, it describes psychoanalysis as a therapeutic practice. It is this dimension that articulates the effective operation of psychoanalytic process. It also hints that the letter is of the order of articulation, for the letter should re-arrive at it: the letters effective in neurosis have their roots in the order of the Law.
Thirdly, that the letter arrives at an articulation expressesthe basic belief of psychoanalysis. This belief differentiates psychoanalysis from all the other therapeutic actions. This claim is and can be based only on experience. In practice, it means that when an analysand begins his or her analysis, s/he may wonder what to say. The answer is given by Freud's golden rule according to whichon the couchone should say whatever comes to ones mind. Behind this rule, there is a presupposition that whatever is essential and important will be said, in other words, that the letter arrives at its destination. The third claim articulates the ground of psychoanalysis, the ground that separates it from all the other discourses. Thus it expresses the singularity of psychoanalysis. It is only by analyzing this presuppositionthis descriptive axiom for the existence of psychoanalysis that we can really articulate the dynamics of psychoanalytic process.
The importance of Lacan's third claim has to be underlined: without it, there is no psychoanalysis. In all kinds of short and cognitive therapies, one focuses one's attention on something that is identified during the first meetings: this is or these are the problem/s we will concentrate on. Such an approach narrows down the area that is spoken about. Freud's golden rule moves against all such narrowing. The practical result of Freud's rule is that the analysand is in analysis 24 hours a day. In other words, s/he knows that whatever s/he thinks, does and feels (or does not think, do or feel) may come to his mind on the couch. Everything that takes place (or does not take place) will, perhaps, be spoken about. The result (and the presupposition) isparadoxically?that finally the letter arrives at the order of the Law that articulates the very scene of analysand's being. It is because an analysand has to follow Freud's golden rule (built on the axiom that the letter always arrives at its destination) that, in a way, everything is effected by the order of the Law (and thus the letter always arrives at its destination).
This does not mean that everything or the whole truth would be articulated or understood, on the contrary. The letter as a pure signifier cannot be understood nor reduced to meanings. The comparison to Lacan's reading of Hamlet helps us to see the essential here. A murder is an act that cannot be reasoned throughout. We cannot articulate a murder totally. A neurotic is exactly the one who cannot accept this, who cannot take the fatal phallus into his/her hands, in other words, who has difficulties in eating his/her Dasein (and who wouldn't?). In the terms of Seminar VII this means sublimation: we elevate an object (from the order of the Law) into the dignity of the Thing (not to be understood). In the terms of Seminar VIII, this means the grave YES! to life until its last minute. In the seventies, Lacan articulates this with the concept of sinthome. All this does not mean that there would not have been changes or development in Lacan's thinking, but that in order to do justice to his concepts we have to find out what is beyond the horizon of each articulation, that is, what Lacan is working with, what bothers him and what thread is running through the changes of his views and concepts.
Summa summarum, we can re-articulate Lacan's claims by saying that the singularity of psychoanalysis is to be find in the process that presupposes 1) the arrival of the letter at the order of the Law/language, 2) the therapeutic effects of this arrival and 3) that what is unarticulatable belongs for a being called human to the articulated. All this involves a strange (and even paradoxical), but important maxim that can be based only on experience and that is, in a way, a cause for itself: follow the presupposition that everything that matters will be said and everything that matters will be said.
3. Eat Your Dasein?
Dasein is a normal German word used frequently by many philosophers (for example Kant and Hegel). However, it is clear that after Heidegger this concept is usually connected to his thinking and Lacan's other references to Heidegger stress this connection. Thus we can suppose that by using the word Dasein Lacan refers to Heidegger. However, Heidegger did not write or speak about eating one's Dasein. Thus, by itself, a reference to Heidegger does not explain anything. We have to re-ask what is the taste of Dasein and how it is connected to the process of psychoanalysis. Of course, our point of view is anachronistic and we cannot help of thinking of, for example, Lacan's readings (full of references to Heidegger) of Shakespeare, Sophocles and Claudel in 1959-1961. However, the essential must not be missed: the key point is the process of psychoanalysis and thus, for example, the argument against all kind of ego psychology.
Despite this, a couple of things have to be said about Heidegger's Dasein. First, the concept of Dasein is built on the difference between the Being of beings and beings. It is das Man who mixes the Being of beings with beings, whereas Dasein is pure in this sense. For example in his reading of Antigone in 1942, Heidegger calls Antigone herself the purest poem, das reinste Gedicht selbst, because she does not mix the Being of beings with beingsarticulated by Creon's law (Heidegger 1942, 149). In a similar way, in his Seminar VII, Lacan finds pure desire in Antigone: she does not mix the Thing with goods.
Another thing that has to be kept in mind in regard to Heidegger's Dasein is its special relation to its own death. This relation is characterized by a strange dimension of time, namely that of not-yet (for Lacan, this is essentially the dimension of metonymy and, thus, of desire). It is Dasein's relationwithout ratioto its own death that brings it to the borderline of the finite and the infinite. By realizing its death, a human being realizes itself as a finite being in face of the infinite. Similarly, desire (by itself infinite because of the introduction of and to language) traverses the finite world as the beam of infinity. It is because we desire that we have difficultiesnamely, the impossibilityof finding a proper place in our finite world.
The third thing to be emphasized is the dimension that differentiates both Heidegger and Lacan from all the religious traditions (for which, of course, the question of infinity is familiar as well). To be sure, Heidegger had some difficulties in articulating this (as did Lacan in the beginning of the fifties). Because of the lack of space, I concentrate on what interests me most here, namely on Lacan's articulations that dwell around this problem. In the Seminar VI and in the graph of desire, it is expressed especially with the markings $ ◊ D, S (
A) and $ ◊ a. In the Seminar VII and after that, especially in the Seminar XI, the concept of drive is essential here. I cannot deal with these markings and concepts in this article, but I want to indicate the on-going questioning in Lacan's discourse: whereas desire introduces the impossibility on the borderline of the finite and the infinite, drive brings (as do $ ◊ D, S ( A) and
$ ◊ a) with it the problem of singularity as the singularity of practical, political, biological etc.and especially, for Lacan, sexualliving and dying being.
Thus, the question remains how the eating of Dasein is connected to the arrival of the letter at the order of the Law. In order to answer this, we must shortly wonder this arrival business. What does it mean to arrive at the order of the Law? In the traditional Lacanian terms it means castration, that is, subjecting oneself to the symbolic order and, thus, the split inflicted on human being by the symbolic. However, when a letter arrives at the order of the Law, it is not split (Lacan is very clear here). What does this mean? I refer again to an easier example, that of Hamlet. You cannot split a murder: you do it and you do not do it. It is a question of action. In a similar way, if you write a love letter, by tearing it into pieces you do not have many love letters, only one torn into pieces. It is exactly this that freezes us, the neurotics, namely that the letter is not split. That the letter is not split splits us. Into the symbolic, the letter brings with it what is not symbolic. This is what Lacan calls its pureness. It is the question that a neurotic subject poses on his/her being and cannot answer nor stand it.
I give two other examples, that of Polynices' body in the Seminar VII and that of Pensée's desire in the Seminar VIII. In regard to Polynices' body, Antigone would hardly be satisfied if Creon would be ready to bury a partfor example the headof Polynices' body. It is not enough for the funerals to bury a part of a body: we bury it all or we have not buried it at all. In a similar way, Pensée says YES! to life until its last minute, not to some part of it, not to this-but-not-that-minute. Either we live or not. Again, this is the problem that freezes a neurotic subject, for there is no guarantee for the success of our acts. We hang on to the desire of the Other Mother, won't you help me! in order to guarantee our life and death.
Now, it has become easier to approach the question of eating one's Dasein. When we are asked to eat our Dasein, we are asked to enter this singularity where, on the one hand, the infinity implied by desire and, on the other hand, the finiteness implied by our body, life and death meet. It is this meeting that we neurotics tend to miss: like Hamlet, we are there too early or too late. It is difficult for us to catch the hour of truth. Thus, as a last point, I would like to note a couple of things about this difficult conceptthe truthin regard to the arrival of letter and the taste of Dasein.
4. The Hour of Truth
The infinity of desire and the finitude of body become tied together in the meanness of articulations. If you say aloudas you do on the couch your being, it seems easily quite miserable: it can hardly ever stand a comparison to what we would have wanted it to be. We betray our desire quite often. It is this mean dimension of articulation/law to which we expose ourselvesour being-herein psycho-analysis.
The hour of truth implies that the letterwhich cannot be dividedmust enter into articulation (the order of the Law based on divisions, that is, on the structures of differences) without being melted into it. In the terms of Seminar VII, little by little we learnthat is, experiencethat the goods we are after are not the Thing. This is the presupposition for the clinical effect of speaking cure: it creates the separation from the (m)Other. By saying aloud the things that have articulated our life (and death), we find out that they are not what we are after, that they are just changeable goods, represented by the Other in order to incorporate us into its system. We are part of it, but we are also something else and it is this “something else” that both bothers/haunts us (our “symptoms”/ sinthomes) and liberates (cures) us. This separation-liberation takes place on the couch on which everything has to be said and everything cannot be said. It is this big difference between ‘has to' and ‘cannot' that is implied by the therapeutic imperative of the arrival of the letter.
The descriptive side of the arrival of the letter informs us of the experience-based success of psychoanalytic process and its relationship to the hour of truth: the letter will arrive at an articulation and because of this the truth will be said. However, this truth has its non-said side (alētheia implies its lētheia) which is its presupposition. In terms of eating one's Dasein, this means thattherapeuticallyyou must eat your Dasein at the hour of truth andaccording to psychoanalytic experienceyou will do it. Needless to say, the taste of Dasein is singular.
Heiddeger, Martin, (1942) Hölderlins Hymne ”Der Ister”, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 1984, Gesamtausgabe, Band 53
Lacan, Jacques (1966) Écrits, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1966
(VII) Le Séminaire - Livre VII: L'éthique de la psychanalyse, 1959-60, Éditions du Seuil, 1986, établi par Jacques-Alain Miller
(VIII) Le Séminaire - Livre VIII: Le transfert, 1960-61, Éditions du Seuil, 1991, établi par Jacques-Alain Miller