语言的神秘 3

语言的神秘 3

From Absolute Maste

In other words, the signification of a term is only the “summary” of its value19—that is, of the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships between it and its surrounding terms (think of the dictionary, which enumerates words vertically according to their similarity and combines them horizontally with other words to specify their uses). Hence this conclusion: “In language, there are only differences without positive terms.”10


It is easy to see that these two hypotheses are ultimately incompatible. Indeed, even when we admit that the theory of arbitrariness is not simply a new form of conventionalism,21 the fact remains that to speak of an “arbitrary” relation between the signifier and the signified is the same as to admit, if only negatively, that the first represents the second. By the same token, this inevitably means reviving the idea that there is a signified independent of the signifier that represents it, just when we are asserting that they form a unity as inseparable as the two sides of a sheet of paper.22

It is precisely this mirage—of a signified independent of the signifier—that the hypothesis of value dispels. Indeed, it is through pure abstraction that Saussure can say that the signified “beef” is here pronounced /bi:f/, there /boef/ or /oks/, as if this “concept” had existed before Babel, independently of the dispersion of national/maternal langues. In reality, for the speakers of a given langue, as Benveniste had already noted in 1939, there is no difference between the signifier /bi:f/ and the signified “beef”: “Between the signifier and the signified, the connection is not arbitrary; on the contrary, it is necessary. The concept (the ‘signified’) bceuf [beef] is perforce identical in my [French] consciousness with the sound sequence (the ‘signifier’) bof.. .. There is such a close symbiosis between them that the concept of bceuf is like the soul of the sound image bof”23 In other words, there is strict adherence between the signifier and the signified, and if this is so, it is because, in accord with the theory of value, they vary in concert within a linguistic system with which they are in solidarity (hence the despair of translators, who know only too well that /beef/ will never have exactly the same meaning as /bi:f/, even if they both refer to the same thing).

价值的假设驱散的确实就是这个幻景—独立于能指的所指的幻景。的确,通过这个浓缩,索绪尔能够说,所指的「牛肉」在此被发音为“bif”,在那里,被发音为“boef”或“oks”,好像这个观念在巴比塔之前就存在,独立于民族母语的扩散。事实上,对于特定语言的言说者,如同本温尼斯在1939年已经注意到,在能指“bif”与所指“beef”之间,并没有差异。在能指与所指之间,这个连接并非任意性;相反地,它是必然性。这个观念(所指boeuf (beef)在我的法国的意识里,必然跟声音的系列(能指bof)相一致。它们之间并有一个如此紧密的共生关系,以致boeuf的这个观念,就像是声音意象bof的灵魂。换句话说,能指与所指之间,有严格的坚持。假如情况是这样,那是因为跟价值的理论一致,它们会有所变化,以符合它们团结一致的语言的系统。(因此,翻译者的绝望,他清楚地知道,“beef”跟“bif”将不会拥有完全相同的意义,即使它们两者都提到相同的东西。

Signification, therefore, does not reside in the representation of a signified by a signifier, even an “arbitrary” one. If we follow the hypothesis of value, the meaning of a sign is always (to use Peirce’s vocabulary, quoted by Jakobson) in another sign that “interprets” the first: “The function of such an interpretant is performed by another sign or set of signs that occur together with a given sign, or might occur instead of it.”24 Even more precisely, the signified is inseparable from the signifier, whose differential destiny it shares. As Lacan says, there is no signified “day” before the signifying opposition that places day against the background of night’s absence, and vice versa (1981,169—170), no signified “man” without the signifying polarity that differentiates him from “woman” (1981,223-224, 282—283). And so it turns out that we can never lay our hands on the signified of a signifier except in another signifier, and so on. This is illustrated, in “The Agency of the Letter,” by the incongruous rewriting (1977a, 151/499) of the Saussurian schema of the sign:




The two doors, indistinguishable in reality\ receive their imponderable “meaning”—”the imperative … of urinary segregation” (1977a, 151/500)—from the pure difference in places between the two signifiers “Ladies” and “Gentlemen.”


By the same token, if the signified of a signifier is itself a signifier, what can the distinction between signifier and signified (advanced by the Saussurian doctrine of arbitrariness) correspond to it? As Benveniste noted in 1939, this distinction is actually only the relic, within a theory allergic to it, of a representationalist problematic of the sign. Therefore, Benveniste amends, arbitrariness concerns only the relation of the sign to the thing designated, and not the relation of the signifier to the signified, which itself is necessary and indissoluble. The signifier is not the “arbitrary” representative of the signified, for the latter is nothing without the former, except through mirage or illusion. “Meaning” is “an internal component of linguistic form,”25 and therefore the signified is not to be sought anywhere but in the relations among signifiers.


We can see what Benveniste’s rectification implies: it methodically reduces the theory of signification to a theory of value, and by the same token, as Jean-Claude Milner opportunely remarks, it justifies the notion “that in order to designate any system structured like a language [let us correct this Lacanian slippage: like a langue]y one adopts a single term—for example, ‘the signifier.’ “2*

我们能够看出,本温尼斯特的修正暗示着:它系统地将意义的理论,简化成为价值的理论。同样地,如同詹、克劳得 米纳贴切的评论,它证实这个观念:为了指明任何像语言一样结构的系统,(让我们改正拉康学派的口误:像语意一般的结构),我们採有单一的术语—譬如,「能指」。

Now, as we know, this is the side taken by Lacan, who on this point merely draws the strict conclusions of the theory of value. Indeed, if the sign represents nothing—neither the referent nor even the signified—then there is nothing to sink one’s teeth into but the signifier. Only the signifier survives the deluge (as Blanchot says) that swallows up every “signifiable” (1977, 288/692). As for the concept of the “sign,” it is totally abandoned; witness the double and significant destiny that it meets in Lacan. Either it is criticized as what the signifier is not—that is, “what represents something for someone” (1970, 65), a definition borrowed from Peirce but implicitly entailing that of the Saussurian sign—or it is simply identified with the concept of the signifier (“The signifier is a sign that refers to another sign”; 1981, 188).


Therefore, the stakes are clear enough in this methodical reduction of sign to the signifier alone. For Lacan, it is a question of emptying the linguistic sign of every representative function, in order to invest it with the role previously imparted to speech: the role of producing (presenting) nothing, from nothing. There is, Lacan repeats after Levi-Strauss,27 an “autonomy” of the signifier relative to the signified (1981, 223; 1970, 55), in the sense that the signifier “does not depend on the signification . . . but is its source” (1981, 282). This formula summarizes very well the double demonstration to which Lacan yields whenever he presents his doctrine of the signifier (see, for example, the first section of “The Agency of the Letter,” which is entirely constructed on the following pattern):



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