Lacan TheAbsolute Master

It is well known that this schema’s purpose, in Saussure, was to illustrate the simultaneous segmentation of otherwise “amorphous*’ masses of “sounds” and “thoughts,” Thus it involves a sort of syn-chronic “cross section” intended to illustrate, in quasi-mythical form, the strictly nontemporal principle of any languex either there is discontinuity (there are “discrete” unities) or there is only an un-differentiated continuity where nothing makes sense.


Lacan, very significantly, sees in this the figuration of an uninterrupted sentence. More precisely, he connects the Saussurian schema to the linear combination of signifiers on the syntagmatic axis, which is itself surreptitiously applied to the “diachrony [of] discourse” (1981, 66; my emphasis)39—a way of putting the aforesaid “amorphous” masses into movement and introducing the idea of “an incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier” (1977a, 154/ 502). Indeed, what happens if I add one signifier after another, to form a sentence (a “signifying chain,” in Lacan’s vocabulary, inspired here by Hjelmslev)?


According to Lacan, no signifier will have any definite signified before being combined with other signifiers, until the point where a period retroactively and provisionally seals the meaning of the sentence (1981, 303, 338; 1977a, 153-154/502-503, 304/806)—as we see if we successively consider the signifying unities that compose the present sentence (“Ac)cording/to/Lacan/… /./”/). Whence Lacan’s conclusion: “We can say… that none of [the elements of the chain of the signifier] ‘consists* in the signification of which it is at the moment capable” (1977a, 153/502).


The operative phrase here, certainly, is “at the moment.” Lacan means to say that there is no synchronic correspondence between signifier and signified because the meaning of a signifier is always yet to come in another punctuating signifier (baptized S2 in Lacanian “algebra”), which in turn, and so on: “The signifier, by its very nature, always anticipates meaning by unfolding its dimension before it” (1977a, 153/502; my emphasis).


We can understand this only if we concede a sort of intentionality of the signifier (or of the subject?), akin to the “signifying intention” spoken of by Merleau-Ponty: “The reason why a language finally intends to say and does say (veut dire et dit) something is not that each sign is the vehicle for a signification that allegedly belongs to it, but that all the signs together allude to a signification which is always in abeyance when they are considered singly, and which I go beyond them toward, without their ever containing it.”40


This empty intentionality, never filled, is what Lacan calls “metonymy” (inspired by Jakobson’s article on aphasia41), successively (and dangerously) identifying it with (i) the “word-to-word” of syntagmatic combination (1977a, 156/506); (2) metonymy in the rhetorical sense (1977a, 156/505); (3) the Freudian mechanism of “displacement” (1977a, 160/511), which, however, refers in Freud only to affective “emphasis”; and (4) desire as a perpetual “desire for something else” (1977a, 166/518). Hence this “formula” for metonymy: f(S . . . S’)S s S(—)s, which is read in the following way: The function of the metonymic connection of the signifier is congruent (more or less: =) with the maintenance of the bar that prevents the signifier from ever corresponding to its elusive signified except “at infinity.”

这个空洞的意图,从来没有被填满,就是拉康所谓的「换喻」(受到雅克慎探讨主体消失的启发),连续地,而且危险地,将它认同是句法组合的「字对字」的这个“我”(1977a,156/506);在修饰学的意义的换喻。弗洛依德的「替换」的机制(1977a,160-511)。可是,在弗洛依德,它仅是提到情感的「强调」,欲望作为是「对于某件其他东西的」永恒的欲望。因此,换喻的这个公式:f(S . . . S’)S s S(—)s, 被阅读如下:能指的换喻的连接的功能,对应于(相当等于: =)这条横杠的维持,阻止能指不要对应用它的躲闪的所指,除了处于「永恒」。

In short, the more you speak, the less you know what you mean to say (or desire), for the signification retroactively produced by the “punctuation” that pins one signifier to another always runs behind the signifying production itself. In a word, the signified fluctuates and “slips” indefinitely as a function of the signifiers, insofar as none of them manages to furnish the “last word” of meaning (and when that happens, Lacan says, we are in the realm of psychosis; cf. 1981, 30-31, 219—220). We can illustrate this point with the following (algorithmic?) diagram:
Sl,S2, S3.. .Sn


Sl,S2, S3.. .Sn

Better yet, we can use a sort of eternal cascade as illustration (since Lacan also speaks of “stages” with respect to the two elements of the “algorithm,” presupposing that the signifier falls regularly to the level of the signified, in order to “toss a cobblestone into the pond of the signified”; 1970, 68):42





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