Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Of Structure as an Inmixing"

Jacques Lacan, Structuralist Controversy

*Disclaimer* I actually found this a little hard to follow, particularly at the end. So if anyone wants to hop in and clarify, I'd be grateful.

The essay is largely a rumination by Lacan on being misunderstood, followed by a Q&A session that was an exercise in being misunderstood. So, first misconception:

1) When Lacan says the unconscious is language, he means the unconscious is an assemblage of words.

Correction: In Freud, it becomes clear that words are the way we seek to handle the unconscious. Not simply the meaning of words, but their “flesh.” Words are “the material of the unconscious.” To say that the unconscious is structured as a language is to say that it is precisely structured. It is not to say that language can be in any way reduced to an abstract meta-language, because even the concept of a meta-language must be mediated through ordinary language. All of these misconceptions are due to his students.

2) Misconception 2: the unconscious is an ur-subject, something primal preparing the way for thought, which consciousness will eventually shed light on, then you’ve missed the difficulty.
Correction: The unconscious is really a barrier of sorts, which thinks thoughts that escape your vigilance. The unconscious does raise the question of the subject. In French, the subject cannot be identified with the pronoun. For example, in the sentence, “it rains,” il pleut, the subject is not part of the sentence/statement. Something thinks, but the unconscious troubles our understanding of what it is that thinks.

The subject must be sought as a lost object. The lost object is the support of the subject.

3) Misconception 3: Lacan’s use of the word structure can somehow be confused with that of the phenomenologists and other thinkers who claim that unity is the most important aspect of structure. zB., phenomenology begins with the assumption of intentional unity.

Correction: That only makes sense in an organism, not in terms of the mind. Life, looked at as a man, is something constantly going astray, and the idea of imposing any unifying structure seems absurd and false.

The best understanding of unity is that of counting. (note: this part gets a little obscure to me. Ben, any clarification?) You only need one repetition to constitute a subject. But repetition works by the creation of a mark that obliterates difference. (Counting replaces the heterogeneous objects with the homogeneous signifier). So each repetition evokes the lost object, precisely as it helps obliterate it.

And then I have no idea how we transition to the idea of jouissance. There's also some fairly useless discussion, where Lacan is accused and defended against the charge of obscurity.

1 comment:

  1. Since I was called out by name, here's a pathetic attempt: I believe that when Lacan speaks of two, he is talking about two developmental stages. One is pre-Symbolic, when we have only a fleeting grasp on words and are connected to reality by the pleasure principle; the other is Symbolic, when we "enter language" and come under the spell of the signifier, which is no longer related to signified as it was in the first stage, but rather to other signifiers. In this transition, all of our objects are repeated: breast as object of direct pleasure is repeated as breast as object with all the connotations of language and investments of jouissance. In this gap between the two objects (the two breasts!), that is, in the repression of the difference between the two objects, in the repression of their otherness, the subject is born. This is why Lacan speaks of the disjunction between pleasure and enjoyment (jouissance) at the end: they represent two orientations to objects, one more "primordial," the other a repetition.