Agency of the Letter



Jackson, Jr.

Another Scene

University of California, Santa Cruz

Agency of the Letter in the Unconcious,

Or Reason Since Freud


Part Two
Part Three
Agency Part Two Agency Part Three

The agency of the letter in the unconscious

or reason since Freud

Jacques Lacan

[Écrits Translated
Alan Sheridan (New York and London: Norton, 1977 146-159]

‚Of Children in Swaddling
Clothes O cities of the sea, I bchold in you your citizcns, women as well
as men tightly bound with stout bonds around their arms and legs by folk
who will not understand your language; and you will only be able to give
vent to your griefs and sense of loss of liberty by making tearful complaints,
and sighs, and lamentations one to another; for those who bind you will
not understand your language nor will you understand them.‘

da Vinci

Although the nature of this contribution was deterrnined
by the theme of the third volume of La Psychanalyse, I owe to what will
be found there to insert it at a point somewhere between writing (l’écrit)
and speech – it will be half-way between the two.

is distingiushed by a prevalence of the text in the sense that this factor
of discourse will assume in this essay a factor that makes possible the
kind of tightening up that I like in order to leave the reader no other
way out than the way in, which I prefer to be difficult. In that sense,
then, this will not be writing. Because I always try to provide my seminars
each time with some. thing new, I have refrained so far from giving such
a text, with one exception, which is not particularly outstanding in the
context of the series, and which I refer to at all only for the general
level of its argument. For the urgency that I now take as a pretext for
leaving aside such an aim only masks the difficulty that, in trying to
maintain it at the level at which I ought to present my teaching here,
I might push it too far from speech, whose very different techniques are
essential to the formative effect I seek.

?That is why I have taken the expedient offered me by
the invitation to lecture to the philosophy group of the Fédération
des étudiants ès lettres

to produce an adaptation suitable to what I have to say: its necessary
generality matches the exceptional character of the audience, but its sole
object encounters the collusion of their common training, a literary one,
to which my title pays homage. Indeed, how could we forget that to the
end of his days Freud constantly maintained that such a training was the
prime requisite in
the formation of analysts
, and that he designated the eternal universitas
as the ideal place for its institution. Thus my recourse
(in rewriting) to the movement of the (spoken) discourse, restored to its
vitality, by showing whom I meant it for, marks even more clearly those
for whom it
is not intended
. I mean that it is not intended for those who, for
any reason whatever, in psychoanalysis, allow their discipline to avail
itself of some false identity – a fault of habit, but its effect on the
mind is such that the true identity may appear as simply one alibi among
others, a sort of refined reduplication whose implications will not be
lost on the most subtle minds.

So one observes with a certain curiosity the beginnings
of a new direction concerning symbolization and language in the International
Journal of Psychoanalysis
, with a great many sticky fingers leafing
through the pages of Sapir and Jespersen. These exercises are still somewhat
unpractised, but it is above all the tone that is lacking. A certain „seriousness“
as one enters the domain of veracity cannot fail to raise a smile. And
how could a psychoanalyst of today not realize that speech is the key to
that truth, when his whole experience must find in speech alone its instrument,
its context, its material, and even the background noise of its uncertainties.

I 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
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,

By ‚letter‘ I designate that materia1 support that concrete
discourse borrows from language.

This simple definition assumes that language is not to
be confused with the various psychical
and somatic
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
in the creation of
. 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

To Part Two

Karatani Kojin on Foucault and Lacan

and Lacan Seminar

and Paranoia

Timothy Leuers’s fantastic Lacanian
Links Site

part of his inspirational


Another Scene

and Psychoanalysis





love is a stranger

Jackson, Jr.

Semiotics and Psychoanalysis

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