Lacan TheAbsolute Master

Already this means that the “signifier,” separated from the signified, is no longer the Saussurian linguists’ signifier; the latter, we should emphasize, cannot be equivocal. To concede that it could be equivocal would be to annul the very principle of the sign’s diacritical “value,” as Benveniste firmly points out with respect to the hypothesis of Abel and Freud on the “antithetical meaning of primal words”: “It is thus a priori improbable . .. that. . . languages (langues) … escape the ‘principle of contradiction.'”32 If poly-semia exists, it can only be a polysemia regulated within the lexical order of the langue.


From this perspective, the langue of the linguists—which, as we too often forget, is an object constructed in theory—is farther from natural languages than from those artificial languages that Lacan regularly criticizes for their wish to get rid of signifying equivocation (“If artificial languages are stupid, it is because they are constructed on the basis of signification”; 1981, 65; see also 1975c, 22-23, an^ I973a> 4> 47-48).


There is no linguistics of the pun (or there is only a “linguistery”), for puns, like oneiric “portmanteau” words, the neologisms of delirium, and poetic metaphors, transgress the differences coded into langue (Lacan was later to express this by creating the conceptual pun lalangue, which concept, he said, cannot be reduced to what linguistic science can know; 1975c, 126-127).33 In the eyes of linguists, all the phenomena of equivocality which Lacan alleges as support for his theory of the “duplicity” of signifier and signified, have nothing to do with linguistics but rather with (as Benveniste once more observes) a stylistics (or a rhetoric) of discourse.34 Indeed, only at this level, that of spoken language,35 can the “signifier” (if it still is one) “float” freely enough to create a new meaning.


As for Lacan’s citing the fact that “under the same signifier there are, down the ages, slippages of signification, proving that we cannot establish a one-to-one correspondence between the two systems” (1981, 135), this does not at all “prove” that the signified slides under the signifier in the order of synchrony. That the adjective atterre first meant “set upon the earth” (mis a terre) and then, through progressive homophonic contamination, came to mean “struck with terror” (“frappede terreur”) (SV, 13 November 1957) may afford a glimpse into how langue evolves diachronically.


Nevertheless, the linguists would say, only through a retrospective illusion can we conclude, as Lacan does, that the signifier is separated from the signified by “a bar that resists signification.” According to the era considered, atterre signifies either “set upon the earth” or “struck with terror,” and this is all that structural linguistics can and wants to know. Again, for linguists, the fact that the signified is an effect of the signifier does not at all mean that the signifier could signify any old thing (or, what amounts to the same thing, nothing at all); on the contrary, it means that they adhere so closely that they can be separated only through an abstraction.

可是,语言学家将会说,仅有经历一个回顾的幻景,我们才能够如同拉康那样,获得这个结论:能指跟所指,被抗拒意义的这条横杠隔开。依照被考虑到时代,atterre 意涵著,要就是「攻击大地」,要不就是「受到恐惧侵袭」。这就是结构语言学能够而且想要知道的一切。而且,对于语言学家,所指是能指的结果的这个事实,丝毫没有意味著,能指能够意指著任何旧的东西(或相当等于相同的东西,根本就没有);相反地,它意味着,它们如此密切地坚持,以致于它们仅有凭借抽离,才能够分开。

Must we conclude, then (as Jean-Francois Lyotard does in Dis-cours, figure), that Lacan’s emphasis on the bar between signifier and signified surreptitiously reintroduces the problem of meaning, in its classical “thickness” or “depth,” within a theory of signification and value that specifically suspends it?36 In a way, we must, since Lacan actually does revive the mirage of a signified independent of the signifier (and we will see why in a moment). But he does this, it seems to me, the better to present the evanescence of this mirage. On this point, Lacan does not challenge the principle of structural linguistics, even if he does apply it unduly, as Lyotard justly notes, to the realm of discursive speech. In Lacan, meaning is certainly maintained apart from the signifier, but only as a void, a vanishing point, or, as Merleau-Ponty also says with respect to Saussure, as “the idea in the Kantian sense.”37 Indeed, that there is a “bar that resists signification” does not at all mean that there is some opaque signified hidden “behind” or “under” signifiers. On the contrary, it means that the signified, precisely because it is an effect of the signifies perpetually “slips” and “flows” under the signifier (1977a, 153-154/502; 1981,135, 296-297), like ungraspable water.

我们因此必须下此结论(如同詹-法兰克 李歐塔所为):拉康对于能指与所指之间的这条横杠的强调,秘密地重新介绍意义的难题,在它的古典的「厚度」或「深度」,在意义与明确悬置意义的价值的理论里?在某方面,我们必须下此结论,因为拉康实际上复活所指独立于能指之外的幻景,(等一下,我们将会看出为什么)。但是我觉得,他这样做,最好是呈现这个幻景的逐渐消失。对于这一点,拉康并没有挑战结构语言学的原则,即使他不合宜地运用它,如同李欧塔公平地注意到,运用它到辞说的言说的领域。在拉康,意义确实被维持于能指之外,但是仅是作为一个空无,一个消失点。或如同梅洛庞帝也这样说,关于索绪尔,作为具有「康德意涵的观念」。的确,有一条抗拒意义的横杠,丝毫没有意味著,有某个模糊的所指隐藏在能指点{背后}或「底下」。相反地,它意味着,确实是因为所指是能指的结果,所指在能指之下,永久地「滑动」与「流动」,就像是无法掌握的水(1977a,153-154)。

Hence, Lacan explains, the impossibility of establishing a one-to-one correspondence between the “tide” of signifiers and the “tide” of signifieds, as the Saussurian schema of the two “floating realms”38 had suggested (1981, 135, 295-303; 1977a, 154/ 502-503):



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