Quest for recognition – It’s Christmas – Time to Beat El Caga Tió!?
Kenosis and Someone else’s heart’s desire Or: Just plain keeping up with the Joneses
The knock of the knot – Breast Cancer with Lacanian Angles Curves Flatness
What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine – but don’t you want it more than I do?
One of Lacan’s most well-known expressions is “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other”? (Seminar XI, p.235). Foremost this desire is essentially a desire for recognition, or for this ‘Other’ to acknowledge us and our efforts. This dependence on the other for recognition not only structures our desires but it is our drives which essentially propel us toward trying to achieve these desires. Second, desire is for the thing that we suppose the Other desires, which is to say, the thing that the Other lacks. Yet we never know precisely what the Others’ desire is. Here we see keeping up with the Joneses’ accomplishments and acquisitions. We see the green eyed monster. The cowardly yellow belly of narrow-eyed jealousy. But the goal-post is never a static. Thus desire is a process of constantly questioning what exactly the Other has or desires to have. Our quest is to find an answer.
“The object of man’s desire, and we are not the first to say this, is essentially an object desired by someone else. One object can become equivalent to another, owing to the effect produced by this intermediary, in making it possible for objects to be exchanged and compared. Thus we are led to see our objects (ourselves and eachother) as identifiable egos, having unity, permanence, and substantiality; this implies and element of inertia, so that the recognition of objects and of the ego itself must be subjected to constant revision in an endless dialectical process.”
In Lacan, Some reflections on the Ego, 34 Int’l J. of Psychoanalysis 11, 12 (1953)
In 1955 Lacan drew a distinction between the little other (“the other”) with a lower case ‘o’ and the big Other (“the Other”). Later he uses ‘A’, upper case for French Autre, and ‘a’ lower case ‘a’ for French autre, for the little other. The little other is a reflection and projection of our EGO, our ideal-I which is situated within the imaginary order. Of course the “I” only exists in relation with a you. The big Other with a capital ‘O’ may refer to a person in an enigmatic dimension. Though more commonly, it refers to our cultural ideals and upbringing, codes of human convention that pre-exist an individual. Lacan locates this alterity within language and the law. This Other is the locus in which speech is constituted and goes beyond conscious control, (SIII, 274) we are bound by the tools of language and influenced by our global cultural inheritance which is demarcated by the location and era in which we live. “The unconscious is the discourse of the Other” (Ec, 16). The big Other is the symbolic and encompasses cultural subtleties of meaning for each of us. It is the mother, who in the beginning first takes the position of the big Other for the infant. She hears the first cries and translates them towards a meaningfulness. Meaning is built through the treasury of signifiers that are constituted by the Other.
So we know that the other signifier is never alone. The stomach of the Other, the big Other, is full of them. This stomach is like some monstrous Trojan horse that provides the foundations for the fantasy of a totality-knowledge [savoir-totalité]. It is, however, clear that its function entails that something comes and strikes at it from without, otherwise nothing will ever emerge from it. For language to resonate the body must remain sensitive to it. (Seminar XXIII, lesson of 18 November, 1975, 4).
This strikes a cord and a bark of sound is logged as metaphor. In Catalunya a custom at Yule Tide is the Caga Tió or Tió de Nadal. As a folkloric substitute or addition to Santa Claus the Caga Tió is almost the Trojan Horse of Christmas gifts. Although traditionally presents are shared on January 6th, Día de los Santos Reyes or los Reyes Magos, when the three wise men or three kings of the Orient finally arrived at the stable in Bethlehem. The Caga Tió is unveiled for the lead up to Christmas and its ritualistic nurturing begins on the 9th of December. This is just after the “puente” or mini break – the bridging days between December 6th El Día de la Constitución and December 8th el día de la Inmaculada Concepción – the day of Immaculate Conception.
The Tió de Nadal is a Christmas log that stands like a pet often on four legs, with a wide smiley face painted at one end. It wears a festive red Catalan barretina hat and is covered by a warm but mysterious matching red blanket. From December 9th until Christmas Eve the Christmas Log is brought food and milk each night. As it is fed so its volume grows. Extra logs are clandestinely placed under its blanket until the evening of December 24th Nochebuena or Christmas Day.
At this time the fully “grown” log is given centre stage and the children gather around. Underneath the logs have mysteriously and secretly been replaced by Christmas gifts. To build the excitement and continue the delay in receiving his wares the children sing songs culminating in the “Caga Tió” song. Meanwhile they are encouraged to vigorously beat the Caga Tió with a sturdy stick until the blanket is slightly stripped away revealing the edges of the “pooped out” presents. The song finishes with a crescendo of “Caga Tió!” (Tió meaning uncle and cagar meaning “to defacate,”) and the little gifts of sweets, nougat (turrón), fruits, figs (higos) or wrapped-up treats (regalos) are revealed. The log has been beaten to sh**. Sometimes the children leave the room to pray or chant for the Tió to deliver more presents. Naturally this gives the adults a perfect opportunity to slip some more under the blanket. When all the presents have been pooped and retrieved, the Caga Tió has completed his task.
To assist the adults in terminating the delivery of delicious poopiness to the eager youngsters, an unappetising salted sardine, garlic clove and onion are often the last to be uncovered. The Christmas Log may then be joined with the Christmas Tree (árbol de Navidad) which itself may conceal more gifts for the family on Christmas day or on the Day of the Kings. Of course these gifts may well get swapped around because children rarely want what they’re given – they’ll always hanker over someone else’s heart’s desire.
This image of waiting followed by pain as a sacrificial step toward a fulfilment has a sado-masochistic structure aligning with a deferral of satisfaction. The repetition of investment and expenditure acts as kenosis, a need to fill what is empty by repeatedly replacing what is lost. One needs to feel an emptiness in order to be driven to fill up. Waiting is an appeasement of the anticipatory promise of more, suspending fulfilment. The excitement is in the wait not the receiving. The children believe in an expectation of something more if only they wait long enough and indeed pray. Momentarily, prayers, chants or wishes fill the gap and subdue the lack. By extending their wait the big moment is put off and their pleasure is further deferred. Almost a metaphor for The Wait. The momentous wait for the ultimate “coming”…. Or going in this case!
The knock of the knot – Breast Cancer with Lacanian Angles Curves Flatness
Instead of the shared human experience of nuanced words and creative art, games and individualistic gadgets have filled the void with their repetitive usage by addictive button pressing, promising the reward and comfort of more of the same: enter candy-crush, FB, The Witcher, soda-stream, Nespresso, coke dispensers! Cue gadgets to pine for, to choose, to contemplate, to buy, to replace with a new shiny upgrade until the consumer, consumed by them, feels inadequate and so the cycle begins again! The repetitive want for something else, the choosing, the contemplating, the hankering, the buying. As our senses are dulled, art itself appears marginalised. The letter and lick of a stamp is replaced by emoticons, jargon and moving screen-savers. Have you backed up, saved, locked your work with encryption?
This “Jouissance en toc” (Lacan 2007, p.188) is a shoddy, phony or pseudo jouissance where the world is replete with gadgets and where words have often become the poor cousin, a goggled doppelganger, unoriginal parroted wort-vorstellungen, (word-presentations), texted shorthand – or fasthand. Here language per se has become tone-deaf. Even an exploration of the pre-conscious-conscious mind, a contemplation of sachvorstellungen, (“thing-presentations”) is suffocated by the rush of time and hand to mouth immediacy of products that placate and comatose. Žižek writes about the “unfathomable excess” of the Other that has provided products deprived of their malignant “exciting” properties: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol…virtual sex as sex without sex. Political correctness has led us to “tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.” In this way the “traumatic Kernel” of the Other is left aside. We engage with a representation or choose to disengage and perhaps read a “re-blogged blog” of a blog.
With more political correctness we have policed our own minds. Our days are so filled with the need to use and pursue ‘stuff’ that perhaps our clogged vocabularies are taking a back seat. We have less foot-room to move in. Our words are constricted by keyboard character limits. Our minds have a limited excess-baggage allowance. Our time gives less permission for musing upon that gap of the unthought: before thoughts are born. Lacan deemed writing un appui à la pensée, a support for thought. Musing is a powerful ally, where words are mightier than the sword, double edged sharp or blunt. The pen is the staff of Moses which when let to slip becomes the snake. A lapus calami, or slip of the pen! Language is beautiful, cathartic. And what is “la langue” (the tongue or code) without “lalangue”, without that special dimension of onomatopoeia, metaphor, metonym that raises signifiers from an initial trace into an energy drive: the recipe for jouissance.
In psychoanalysis “knowledge is under construction” (Lacan S.XX1) and the psychoanalyst risks getting entangled in the Lacanian Borromean knot because the separation of langue with lalangue is impossible. For the speaker, analysand, or parlêtre, the tanglement of ‘jouissance-saturated’ meanderings of lalangue are the essence of the symptom. Lalangue resists an immediacy of meaning – it challenges by evading the communication of a simple symbolic representation. In the symptomatic moments of lalangue, language becomes owned by idiosyncrasy. It entertains the speaker and listener, the writer and/or the reader by provoking an enjoyment.
Milner in (Arrivé, 1992) states: “Thus everything seems simple: lalangue is real, langage is imaginary, langue is symbolic. And yet everything is very complicated: in the literal sense, for we are dealing with layers piled one upon another” (1983, p.40). In “Rome’s ‘ Speech” Lacan places the problematic of the unconscious in a concept defined by the rules of “langage” stating `the unconscious is the speech of others’. Is this not how the representations of our world come home to haunt us? And isn’t it part of our humanity to share our personal representations and some still get a kick out of the marks we make. Badiou (2009, p.133) references Miller’s vanishing entity or the inconsistent totality:
It is only when the mark disappears that its place appears, and therefore the mark as such. Is this enough to justify our saying that it attains its being only in its disappearance – that it takes hold only on the border of its lack – in a flash? (…) the being of the mark just like that of lack, “exists” only in the in-between, incorporeal, ungraspable, or in the difference between the one and the other, in the movement, in the passage, and it is always either too early or too late. (…) This process – this entity – presents itself as untotalizable – or a contradictory totality, which is to say, a totality with its contradiction, or with its non-integrable element, multiplicity irreducible to a unity. (…) The mark (…) doesn’t consist (it is inconsistent,) it persists, insists, it is a process. 26
Milner, et., al, (2015, p.33) in For the Love of Language and at the risk of pressing the point for too long,
“linguistics is never sad, that adjective which in French suggests the pathetic, the depressing. For linguistics has its thrill peculiar to it. That every true linguist knows, and if it cannot be transmitted directly to another, it can be read, can be reactivated, for those who are able and persistent enough to decipher it, in the formal intricacies of linguistic argumentation, whenever they successfully touch the real, whenever lalangue yields to the linguist a glimpse of the knowledge of language.”
Nevertheless, whether it be through the word or the gadget, Lacan’s symbolic order is our “translator” it is our cultural lens with which we understand and communicate in our subjective world. Its effect is first felt as our principle carer interprets our wants and needs. In those early years the presence, the gaze, the “attachment” and often telepathic servitude of our carer, the nebenmensch, is slowly exchanged for the efficacy of words over mollycoddling acts and pacifying gadgets. The satisfaction – that dwells in the first primary object, the first jouissance, Fink’s J1, derived from the archetypal infant-carer – is cut. Here a distinction is necessary between the jouissance of the body that can be summed up in the expression enjoying oneself and phallic jouissance, that of the “speaking being” as epitomised by lalangue in the previous section. It is not weaning but the teaching of language dependent on the first words that serve to sever the infant’s intense libidinal investment obstructing its object cathexis and stifling the symbiotic mother-child relationship. This castration from the mother brings about the primordial state of loss as the harmony of the infant is being fractured by the introduction of language. Lacan insists that the phallus is a signifier. It is not an image or bodily organ but a metaphor for power, particularly the power of language. Once the individual immerses in it, they become cut-off or castrated.
It may be poignant to reiterate here that it is not that “the pen is a metaphorical penis” (Showalter, 1981, p187, in Jeftić, 2011)) rather the pen is the metaphor for language, in the sense that it wields the power: power of marketing, writing, discourse and communication. This phallic jouissance, jouissance of the word, Fink’s J2, is born in childbirth to create the first hommelette Lacan, Seminar, XI, , p. 197-198.. Jeftić, (2011) explains this as “the dual nature of the ego that is broken into two halves like the egg, to the m(O)ther, the symbol of creation and new discourse. The main sense of jouissance is not only the pure, simple pleasure, it is also the surplus of pleasure that arised from the prohibition.” Jeftić in Epiphany: Journal of Transdisciplinary Studies,Vol. 4, No. 1, (2011, p.69). Later the borromeanknocker will return to Lacan’s concept of “hommelette” or little man, in an attempt to unpick an understanding of the lamella.
The realm of language as the “law” cuts subjects off from immediate bodily (somatic) experience because now all relations are mediated by words and representations. Frustratingly word-representations can never perfectly depict the first hand somatic experience, there is always a short-fall. Castration is complete when the child recognizes lack in the mother. Her maternal omnipotence is annulled as the infant realises s/he is not the focus of the mother’s desire. The paternal “No” Non (No) and Nom (Name) introduces “the law” of prohibition – (parents have lives, work, friendships, commitments and not least a need for privacy/intimacy) indicating that the life of the couple is off limits and out of bounds to the infant who is faced with a multitude of signifiers to assimilate. These signifiers stem from the wider world or authority of the “big Other” introducing public convention and the communal property of a multitude of signifieds. Signifieds as representations that lead us further into the symbolic: representations of representations of representations yet strangely to rarely become lost in translation.
The prohibiting function is upheld by Lacan’s “name of the father” a symbolic father as an authoritative figure recognised as being of either gender but taking a dominant patriarchal role. This “law of the father” is where boundaries are created and negotiated through speech, pivoting around power, command and abeyance. Lacan’s idea that sexual difference is not biologically innate but established through language and law is not framed as social constructionism rather indicative of: individual identity, social bonds and the instable drives that attach us to people. As transgenderism becomes more polemic the phallo-centric dominatrix of ideals reinforce the power of certain groups. On acquiring language and entering the symbolic order, an individual is seen and constructed as language as well as by language, they may take a phallic power role: that of historical masculinity with a sense of having the phallus of power e.g. Margaret Thatcher. Or they may take the more seemingly submissive reclining feminine role of being the phallus: the one who attracts, dazzles, who draws the power bearer, becoming the flower for the honey bee, or the queen for its workers, master to its follower(s), who live to serve.
Even without considering this added Lacanian “sexuation” in our commune with others, it is never possible to be wholly understood. We can never be certain that our explanations reach the nub, or hit the mark: the bullseye. There is always a void, a gap between oneself and another self. The symbolic order opens an awareness of a constantly nagging absence. That je ne se quoi of something missing: the memory of that first perfect cathexis with the mother or the word that misinterprets vorstellung, that just misses the lived experience. This hole in our lives creates our drive, our search toward adequately finding a shape that fits the missing gap. Our desire is in the pursuit of an objet a, this something to want, to hanker over and yearn for, to aim for. And it is the steadying of the aim that propels us forward not the accuracy of hitting the bullseye. Zizek reiterates how Drive “knows” that the shortest way to attain its aim is to circulate around its goal-object.
(Zizek states, “One should bear in mind here Lacan’s well-known distinction between the aim and the goal of drive: while the goal is the object around which drive circulates, its (true) aim is the endless continuation of this circulation as such.”)
In Seminar XVii, 33 Lacan alludes to our accumulation of signifying chains, our veritably bulging cornucopia of meanings. And this of course pre-dating our google thesauraus of words or creative commons of images in flickr. Lacan muses on the quantity of signifiers. It seems helpful here to view the topographic illustration of Freud’s View of the Human Mind as a Mental Iceberg. Indeed we may make comparisons with the iceberg concept of culture and Ernest Hemingway’s belief that the truth in writing is not evident from the surface story because the depths lie below the surface. Lacan considered the unconscious to be “structured like a language” and perhaps the complexity of this notion requires an extra moment – because language is responsible for smothering of the subject as it disappears in an aphanasis behind the signifier. However can I ever describe what I wish to evoke! Once freed from me it is out-there – set loose to be read or heard however inadequately.
The objet a – jouissance as the misencounter – the journey not the destination!
The knock of the knot – Breast Cancer with Lacanian Angles Curves Flatness
From diaries, to jottings, poetry, stories, and essays, I write. These next chapters are written in this strange time afforded by my “affliction” by breast cancer. I write to unveil my interpretations from readings of Lacan. My aim is to attach my embryonic understanding of Lacan to the depths I feel around me and deepen them. I hope to spread my love for Lacan and hope that my connection is valid. As I write, I read and as I read my ideas gain clarity. I feel Lacan. I don’t of course get it all, who does, but sometimes I think I’m most certainly on his trail. Of course there will be cross references but I hope to create something more refreshing than just another interpretation! Be my guest: enjoy my symptom!
Those who write – Write. It isn’t true that you have to be published to be a writer. It isn’t as easy as that. Wordsworth wrote about the evanescence of “it” and how finding what to write (and more so how to write) is part of the disciple’s process. Yes, process over product, because every decision, every path, every choice made is a direction taken. Yet the closer “it” gets the further away “it” feels, the epitome of the lost object. Less about discipline and more about repetition – albeit unsatisfying, unsated (and insatiable), unaired, and unappreciable: a repetition in and of a solitude. By teetering on the edge, the rim, the boundary, the writer ruminates into a void, viewing the lack in contemplation of the never ending journey without finding its destination. Wondering lonely as a cloud – wonder, wander and the mystery of where, what, why in the objet “a” that is never fully met, a misencounter: always as “Alice” might say, just a hare’s brea(d)th away.
In the first instance writing is for whom? Do I write for myself? Yes, it is a compulsive need, a part of me. Founded upon a chromosome, my own genetic imprint, established over generations, millennia even. Life is not lived in a vacuum. How can we communicate without a common language, a recognised base? Our natures are not without nurture. The past creates the future and forms who we are. There is a connection to all who have lived. Who are we without others, an other, the Other?
Our cultural scripts and schemas are termed by Lacan “the Other” and we use these to navigate the mine field that is self presentation and societal interpretation. At certain times this has more importance: how we speak, sit, eat, interject, flatter others and accept their compliments has more meaning in (for example) the work place than with friends. Presentation and representation are they two sides of the same coin? To speak or not to speak? That is the question. Ecclesiastes states, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Who is to judge when to do what? How can we guarantee that what we say is what we mean or what is heard is what is meant?
Unlike speech, writing requires no immediate response and the act of writing sits on a spectrum of spontaneity: is there not just plenty of time to hone and perfect, before an editor or publisher’s print? Imagine repeated marks on paper, the obsessive’s act of committing thoughts in an inventory. The filling of an industrial size wastepaper basket: a skip that preceded the press of a word-processor’s backspace. That’s a lot of effaced papyrus if the first go isn’t “it” – if it is premature, incomplete, not good enough. Let’s skip once more, let’s press again. After contemplation, writing begins with a possible
surge or drip (ha ha) from the faucet… out of nothing when nothing is something then into nothing or something again… it forms in a coherence that has been (s)welling and is planted upon a blank medium. The cave wall, the screen, the sheet, the tablet is the container for getting one’s inside thoughts outside. Organically nurturing and tending the tendrils of the subject which extends – growing and taking-on the spectres from their inside-out Klein-bottle personas.
Writing is propelled by drive. The propulsion of a “konstante kraft” (Lacan Seminar XI) this propulsion creates a jouissance as a somatic force on the psyche which works to tie the social-symbolic (the big ‘Other’) and the corporeal ego. Here the lost object – the object of desire – is left with no alternative but to press forward: it just goes as Lacan says, “without any perspective of ever ending the march or of reaching the goal.” In this sense the drive as jouissance is the essence of being in the doing but never arriving. It doesn’t provide calm, nor satiety because only driving is possible. Desire is not jouissance but instead jouissance is the push to keep on desiring. In 1964 Lacan said that the drive does not reach its object to culminate in satisfaction, to the contrary the drive permits no halting at any position attained. This insatiability of the drive is what makes it memorable and transgressive. As it moves through the historical, both phantasy and pleasure are blocks that serve to slow it down. An immersed dedication to an art or act of creativity forms a jouissance, for Hegel it results in a transcendence or a sublimation that transforms libidinal energies toward higher artistic or cultural realms.
The need, the reason, the push to write is guided by this drive. Words are merely a by-product, a Lacanian symptom, the concrete evidence of the journey, like the smoke wafting from a lit cigar, slowly taken in from lips to lungs. Where does drive originate from? Where is it born? In 2013, Bazan and Detandt published an article on the physiology of jouissance from a psychoanalytic perspective. This article is fascinating and well worth a read, it does however venture beyond the parameters of complexity set by the borromeanknocker. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3818686/.
In 1915, Freud’s model of the drive was as an impetus to relieve tension, (disequilibrium arising due to a biological need or lack). Relief was seen to be achieved through internal alterations that restore tension by bodily stimulation or an expression of emotions: screaming, laughing, crying, movement that leads to relief (muscular, sexual, sensory). Bazan and Detandt draw attention to the person’s bodily experience and their past history of actions that lead to a compulsion to seek relief and attain pleasure in the tension release. Bazan and Detandt propose that “In Freud’s model of the drive pleasure is what results form the release of tension…while jouissance is the (benefit gained from) the motor tension underlying the action which was (once) adequate in bringing relief to the drive.” Their focus is on the use of the body, its mobilization to action. They quote from Marie (2004, p.27) who says “Jouissance … is very close to l’agieren” which is to act out, operate or perform. Jouissance becomes an action that previously led to satisfaction even though that satisfaction has become faded or even painful or detrimental. Freud (1895, p319, 326-27) outlined hallucinatory memory traces of previous satisfactions jumbled with suppressed mnemic images that surface and are made conscious and like dreams they mix with external perceptions. Our biochemistry, our subconscious, our drive, it eggs us on to repeat, to re-experience to revisit actions that just might lead to satisfaction but over time become part and parcel of who we are.
The compulsion to write is then, for some, a journey of jouissance, the act in which words are brought to the surface mixing up the now and the then. Like a stream oozing from a rock, creativity creates rivulets of new thought from old. It carves its neurological route, using well worn semantic webs with sparks where original connections link with antiquity. A journey once paved by pebbles, perhaps surrounded by grassy banks, ushering from its birth place, growing, spreading and disappearing from view. The ideas meld as an author’s labour of leaves, leaves its trace.
In writing thoughts and sensations are left behind as words flow. Lacan states in Seminar XX, 110/121, “Writing is a trace in which an effect of language can be read.” This trace is neither linear nor chronological. Meaning is reaped from the past into the now but the present is always in movement. The sensation of the trace burrows into the flesh fusing with the intellect. Derrida states, “This trace relates no less to what is called the future than what is called the past and it constitutes what is called the present by the very relation to what it is not.” This is Derridian différence: a differing and deferring of presence, or a continuous play of absence and presence. It is the epitome of representation in writing and image. The trace is in essence both the mark of the future and the past in a present moment which is neither. The trace is the “essence of Being” that haunts language (Derrida 1982, p.126).
We see, hear, feel and use all our senses as the essence of thought is transformed. Every meaning is communicated through signifiers. These may engage our senses in personal or universal meaning. As each signifier acts upon the body, new signifiers are unveiled in a signifying chain. So how much of the original idea is conveyed? To ‘mean’ anything, a signifier must presuppose a signified already and always outside it. This for Derrida is the “transcendental signified” which belongs to a universal realm of language. Its sense is suspended until it is brought to life alongside a chain of signifiers and meaning is made apparent along the way, (ch ch ch changes), although what is said and what is received may need clarification.
Turtle is understood when it is associated with related words to define it: interpreted as a slow-coach, a shy person, someone or something somehow reptilian, or perhaps a floppy necked jersey. Writing as a trace for Derrida is the “absence of the presence” a bricolage of weaved elements combining phoneme and grapheme that heads towards meaning, “whilst half of the sign is always not there and the another half not that.”
In the way of Barnard and Fink (2012 p.19), borromeanknocker endeavours to throw some Lacanian light upon “manifestations of a certain ‘cross-sightedness’ reading between the signifier and the letter, articulation and writing, and truth and being.” The body is sensitive to the effect of language as a Lacanian “echo in the body” its resonance is palpable, felt within the modalities of the senses. Whether words are received through the ears or eyes the signifiers and their chains pull on emotions provoking a reaction: humour and laughter, sadness and tears, nostalgia and reminiscence. Tastes and smells are evocative as they take the present and place it back in time. Before a sentence is completed signifiers can send the recipient off at a tangent where meaning is no longer universal but seeps out, escaping from a personal past.
The Lacanian relationship between the signifier and signified delves into an awakening of the unconscious where meaning is variable according to the surrounding structure. It is not as reciprocal as “two sides of a sheet of paper” as Saussure would have it. Saussure’s mutually interdependent relationship of the “sound pattern” where an “image acoustique” relates writing to speech for communicative transparency, or as Derrida (1976, 43) says for Saussure a “sign of a sign” is necessary but not sufficient. The name David Bowie doesn’t simply (re)conjure a static image of the artist. The signifier is the physical somatic form taken by the sign as it enters through the senses. Jakobson (1963b, 111; 1984b, 98) describes it as the external perceptible part of the sign. The memories evoked by the word Bowie may conjure a pungent smoky seventies concert hall, the laughter of particular people, tickets for events, heartfelt emotional ties related to decades past, or last weekend’s beers in the pub. Acts and objects have no intrinsic meaning until they are invested somatically in memory. Items “out there” become in-corporate “in here” as words spoken or printed on the page take their effect. A signifier without the signified is called by Lacan the “pure signifier” and this is what happens if the word Bowie or Midge Ure mean nothing to you? Lacan, (1955, 6:185) with reference to Freud’s indestructible unconscious, states:
“Every real signifier is as such a signifier that signifies nothing. The more the signifier signifies nothing, the more indestructible it is”.
Soler (2014, p.63) Discusses Lacan’s “pastiching” of James Joyce, how he “undermines orthography with dysorthography” Hissecroibeau is Il se croit beau – he thinks himself beautiful. Acoustically similar l’escabeau means stepladder. Stepladder creates connections in the mind and links with other Joycean references. It is left to the reader to dissect it for personal and Joycean meaning: smacking of a certain narcissism: climb up to me, find me in the heavens, look at me up here – looking at you down there. Soler goes on to suggest est-ce cas beau? Or is this case beautiful? Is the outer body our idea of an Adonis? Or es-ce cabot? Is it a mutt? A mongrel, a cross-breed with no pedigree. Lacan writes, S.K…. beau. He playfully reduces speech to phonemes, ES-K B-OE.
T h e S t e p L a d d e r ( e s c a b e a u ) a n d t h e S i n t h o m e Pierre-Gilles Guéguen
In my research for the borromeanknocker I later stumbled upon an article “The step ladder (escabeau) and the Sinthome” written by Pierre-Gilles Guéguen translated by Julia Richards. It is part of a flyer showing contributions toward the 10th congress of the world association of psychoanalysis in the 21st century entitled: the speaking body – on the unconscious.
Pierre-Gilles Guéguen draws our attention to Lacan’s uses of the Joycean metaphor of the step ladder. Our step ladder enables us to imagine our bodily selves, to revel in our projections of that ideal-I, but our lives are lived in the social world of “being” and our appearances are all representations contingent upon language. Here our focus is on the trace of words and the pleasure derived from certain deviancy, of deviations and derivations in discourse.
Unconscious knowledge imprisoned and repressed in language (langue/langage) is expressible and has a vehicle in writing and indeed in speech. In psychoanalysis trace from words uttered by the analysand can be pondered and re-assigned their signifiers.
In Seminar III, p.167 Lacan says:
“…the trace, the footprint in the sand, the sign about which Robinson Crusoe makes no mistake. Here sign and object (Crusoe) separate. The trace, in its negative aspect, draws the natural sign to a limit at which it becomes evanescent. The distinction between sign and object is quite clear here, since the trace is precisely what the object leaves behind once it has gone off somewhere else. Objectively there is no need for any subject to recognise a sign for it to be there – a trace exists even if there is nobody to look at it.”