Lacan 302

Lacan 302
The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud

The Meaning of the Letter

As my title suggests, beyond this ‘speech’, what the psychoanalytic experience discovers in the unconscious is the whole structure of language.
Thus from the outset I have alerted informed minds to the extent to which the notion that the unconscious is merely the seat of the instincts will have to be rethought.
But how are we to take this ‘letter’ here? Quite simply, literally.
By ‘letter’ I designate that material support that concrete discourse borrows from language.
This simple definition assumes that language is not to be confused with the various psychical and somatic functions that serve it in the speaking subject – primarily because language and its structure exist prior to the moment at which each subject at a certain point in his mental development makes his entry into it.
Let us note, then, that aphasias, although caused by purely anatomical lesions in the cerebral apparatus that supplies the mental centre for these functions, prove, on the whole, to distribute their deficits between the two sides of the signifying effect of what we call here ‘the letter’ in the creation of signification. A point that will be clarified later.
Thus the subject, too, if he can appear to be the slave of language is all the more so of a discourse in the universal movement in which his place is already inscribed at birth, if only by virtue of his proper name.
Reference to the experience of the community, or to the substance of this discourse, settles nothing. For this experience assumes its essential dimension in the tradition that this discourse itself establishes. This tradition, long before the drama of history is inscribed in it, lays down the elementary structures of culture. And these very structures reveal an ordering of possible exchanges which, even if unconscious, is inconceivable outside the permutations authorized by language.
With the result that the ethnographic duality of nature and culture is giving way to a ternary conception of the human condition – nature, society, and culture – the last term of which could well be reduced to language, or that which essentially distinguishes human society from natural societies.
But I shall not make of this distinction either a point or a point of departure, leaving to its own obscurity the question of the original relations between the signifier and labor. I shall be content, for my little jab at the general function of praxis in the genesis of history, to point out that the very society that wished to restore, along with the privileges of the producer, the causal hierarchy of the relations between production and the ideological superstructure to their full political rights, has none the less failed to give birth to an esperanto in which the relations of language to socialist realities would have rendered any literary formalism radically impossible.
For my part, I shall trust only those assumptions that have already proven their value by virtue of the fact that language through them has attained the status of an object of scientific investigation.
For it is by virtue of this fact that linguistics is seen to occupy the key position in this domain, and the reclassification of the sciences and a regrouping of them around it signals, as is usually the case, a revolution in knowledge; only the necessities of communication made me inscribe it at the head of this volume under the title ‘the sciences of man’ – despite the confusion that is thereby covered over.
To pinpoint the emergence of linguistic science we may say that, as in the case of all sciences in the modern sense, it is contained in the constitutive moment of an algorithm that is its foundation. This algorithm is the following:
which is read as: the signifier over the signified, ‘over’ corresponding to the bar separating the two stages.
This sign should be attributed to Ferdinand de Saussure although it is not found in exactly this form in any of the numerous schemas, which none the less express it, to be found in the printed version of his lectures of the years I906-7, I908-9, and I9I0-11, which the piety of a group of his disciples caused to be published under the title, Cours de linguistique génerale, a work of prime importance for the transmission of a teaching worthy of the name, that is, that one can come to terms with only in its own terms.
這個符號應該歸功於佛帝蘭、索緒爾,雖然被運用到無數的模式時,形式略有些差異。索緒爾在I906-7 年, I908-9年, 及 I9I0-11年的出版的著作上,都還是用這個符號表達。他的一些忠實的門徒將這些著作出版,書名為「語言學教程」。這是一本非常重要的著作,對於學術的影響名聲卓著,簡言之,我們無論如何推崇,亦不為過。
That is why it is legitimate for us to give him credit for the formulation S/s by which, in spite of the differences among schools, the beginning of modern linguistics can be recognized.
The thematics of this science is henceforth suspended, in effect, at the primordial position of the signifier and the signified as being distinct orders separated initially by a barrier resisting signification. And that is what was to make possible an exact study of the connections proper to the signifier, and of the extent of their function in the genesis of the signified.

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