Interpretation is not open to all meanings

Let us move on. In an article, to which I have already referred in order to correct what seemed to me its dangers, an attempt has been made, in an effort that is not without merit, to give form to certain notions I have introduced concerning the structure of language inherent in the unconscious. What emerged was a formula that consists, in short, in translating the formula that I gave of the metaphor. This formula was essential and usable, since it manifests the dimension in which the unconscious appears, in as much as the operation of signifying condensation is fundamental to it.


Of course, signifying condensation, with its metaphorical effect, can be observed quite openly in any poetic metaphor. That is why I took my example from Booze Endormi. Go back to my article, L’Instance de Ia Iettre dans I’inconscient, published in La Psychoanalyze. Of all poems, I have taken the one that, in French, may be said to echo in more people’s memories than any other. Who did not learn when a child to recite endormi! It isn’t a bad example to be used by analysts, especially at the point I introduced it, that is to say, when introducing at the same time the paternal metaphor.


I won’t go over again what I said, but my reason for introducing it now is obviously to show you what is contributed to the creation of meaning by the fact of designating the character who is in question, Booz —in that position both of divine father and instrument of God—by the metaphor—Sa gerbe
n’était pas avare ni haineuse (‘His sheaf was neither miserly nor spiteful’). The dimension of meaning opened up by this metaphor is nothing less than what appears to us in the final image, that of the golden sickle carelessly thrown into the field of stars. It is the very dimension hidden in this poem. More hidden than you think, because it is not enough to refer to the sickle which Jupiter used to flood the world with the blood of Chronos.


The dimension of castration that is involved here is, in the Biblical perspective, of a quite different order, and is at work there, present with all the echoes of history, including Booz’s invocations to the Lord—Comment surgira-t-il de moi, vieil homme, une descendance? (How will there ever be offspring for such an old man as I.)


I don’t know whether you have noticed—you would have been much more capable of doing so if this year I had done the seminar I intended doing on the Names-of-the-Father—but the Lord with the unpronounceable name is precisely he who sends children to barren women and old men. The fundamentally transbiological character of paternity, introduced by the tradition of the destiny of the chosen people, has something that is originally repressed there, and which always re-emerges in the ambiguity of lameness, the impediment and the symptom, of non-encounter, dustuchia, with the meaning that remains hidden.


This is a dimension that we find again and again and which, if we wish to formalize it, as the author I referred to just now tried to do, deserves to be handled with more prudence than is in fact the case—relying, in a way, on the formalism of fraction that results from marking the link that exists between the signifier and the signified by an intermediary bar. It is not absolutely illegitimate to consider that, at certain moments, this bar marks, in the relation of the signifier to the signified,
the indication of a value that is strictly what is expressed in its use as fraction in the mathematical sense of the term. But, of course, it is not the only use.


There is between the signifier and the signified, another relation which is that of the effect of meaning. Precisely at the point at which it is a question, in metaphor, of marking the effect of meaning, one can absolutely not, therefore, without taking certain precautions, and in as bold a way as has been done, manipulate this bar in a fractional transformation— which one could do if it were a question of a relation of proportion.


When it is a question of fractions, one may transform the product X into a four-storeyed formula, as in the following: It was thought to be very clever to do this with metaphor, arguing from the following— to that which carries the weight, in the unconscious, of an articulation of the last signifier to embody the metaphor with the new meaning created by its use, should correspond some kind of pinning out, from one to the other, of two sigriifiers in the unconscious.


Such a formula is quite definitely unsatisfactory. First, because one ought to know that there can be no relations between the signifier and itself; the peculiarity of the signifier being the fact that it is unable to itself; without producing some error in logic.



To be convinced of this, one has only to refer to the antinomies that have intervened as soon as an attempt has been made to produce an exhaustive logical formulation of mathematics. The catalogue of catalogues that do not contain themselves is obviously not the same catalogue that does not contain
itself—when it is the one that is introduced in the definition and when it is the one that will be inscribed in the catalogue.


It is so much easier to realize that what is happening is that a substitutive signifier has been put in the place of another signifier to constitute the effect of metaphor. It refers the signifier that it has usurped elsewhere. If, in fact, one wished to preserve the possibility of a handling of a fractional type, one
would place the signifier that has disappeared, the repressed signifier, below the principal bar, in the denominator, unterdrllckt.


Consequently, it is false to say, as has been said, that interpretation is open to all meanings under the pretext that it is a question only of the connection of a signifier to a signifier, and consequently of an uncontrollable connection. Interpretation is not open to any meaning. This would be to concede to those who rise up against the character of uncertainty in analytic interpretation that, in effect, all interpretations are possible, which is patently absurd. The fact that I have said that the effect of interpretation is to isolate in the subject a kernel, a kern, to use Freud’s own term, of non-sense, does not mean that interpretation is in itself nonsense.


Interpretation is a signification that is not just any signification. It comes here in the place of the s and reverses the relation by which the signifier has the effect, in language, of the signified. It has the effect of bringing out an irreducible signifier. One must interpret at the level of the s, which is not open to all
meanings, which cannot be just anything, which is a signification, though no doubt only an approximate one.


What is there is rich and complex, when it is a question of the unconscious of the subject, and intended to bring out irreducible, nonsensical— composed of non-meanings— signifying elements. In this same article, Leclaire’s work illustrates particularly well the crossing of significant interpretation towards signifying non-sense, when he proposes, on the subject of his obsessional neurotic patient, the so-called Poordjeli formula, which links the two syllables of the word licorne (unicorn), thus enabling him to introduce into his sequence a whole chain in which his desire is animated. Indeed, you will see in what he will publish later that things go much further still.


Interpretation is not open to all meanings. It is not just any interpretation. It is a significant interpretation, one that must not be missed. This does not mean that it is not this signification that is essential to the advent of the subject. What is essential is that he should see, beyond this signification, to what signifier —to what irreducible, traumatic, non-meaning—he is, as a subject, subjected.


This enables us to conceive what is materialized in the experience. I would ask you to take up one of Freud’s great psycho-analytic cases, the greatest of all, the most sensational —because one sees in it, more clearly than anywhere else, where the problem of the conversion of phantasy and reality
converge, namely, in something irreducible, non-sensical, that functions as an originally repressed signifier—I mean the case of the Wolf Man. In The Wolf Man, I would say, to give you the thread that will guide you through your reading, that the sudden appearance of the wolves in the window in the dream plays the function of the s, as representative of the loss of the subject.


It is not only that the subject is fascinated by the sight of these wolves, which number seven, and which, in fact, in his drawing of them perched on the tree number only five. It is that their fascinated gaze is the subject


What does the whole case show? It shows that at each stage in the life of the subject, something always arrived to reshape the value of the determining index represented by this original signifier. Thus the dialectic of the subject’s desire as constituting itself from the desire of the Other is correctly grasped.
Remember the adventure of the father, the sister, the mother and the servant-woman Groucha. So many different stages that enrich the unconscious desire of the subject with something that is to be put, as signification constituted in the relation to the desire of the Other, in the numerator.


Note what happens then. I would ask you to consider the logical necessity of that moment in which the subject as X can be constituted only from the Urverdrdngung, from the necessary fall of this first signifier. He is constituted around the UrverdrJngung, but he cannot substitute anything for it as such— since this would require the representation of one signifier for another, whereas here there is only one, the first. In this X, we must consider two sides—that constituent moment that sees the collapse of significance, which we articulate in a place in its function at the level of the unconscious, but also the return effect, which operates from this relation that may be conceived on the basis of the fraction. It must be introduced only with prudence, but it is well indicated for us by the effects of language.


Everyone knows that if zero appears in the denominator, the value of the fraction no longer has meaning, but assumes by convention what mathematicians call an infinite value. In a way, this is one of the stages in the constitution of the subject.


In so far as the primary signifier is pure non-sense, it becomes the bearer of the infinitization of the value of the subject, not open to all meanings, but abolishing them all, which is different. This explains why I have been unable to deal with the relation of alienation without introducing the word freedom. What, in effect, grounds, in the meaning and radical non-meaning of the subject, the function of freedom, is strictly speaking this signifier that kills all meanings.


This is why it is untrue to say that the signifier in the unconscious is open to all meanings. It constitutes the subject in his freedom in relation to all meanings, but this does not mean that it is not determined in it. For, in the numerator, in the place of the zero, the things that are inscribed are significations, dialectized significations in the relation of the desire of the Other, and they give a particular value to the relation of the subject to the unconscious.


It will be important, in what will follow in my seminar next year, to show how the experience of analysis forces us to seek a kind of formalization such that the mediation of this infinity of the subject with the finiteness of desire may occur only through the intervention of what Kant, on his entry into the gravitation of what is called philosophical thinking, introduced with so much freshness in the term negative quantities.


The freshness is important here, of course, because there is a difference between forcing philosophers to reflect on the fact that minus one ( — i) is not zero and the fact that people soon lose interest in such talk and cease to listen. Nevertheless—and this is the only use of the reference to philosophical articulation —men survive only by being at each moment so forgetful of all their conquests, I am speaking of their subjective conquests.


Of course, from the moment they forget them, they are nevertheless conquered, but it is rather they who are conquered by the effects of these conquests. And the fact of being conquered by something that one does not know sometimes has formidable consequences, the first of which is confusion.
Negative quantity, then, is the term that we shall find to designate one of the supports of what is called the castration complex, namely, the negative effect in which the phallus object enters into it. This is no more than a foretaste, but I thought it worth saying.



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