spguide12.html

LIT 101

Semiotics
and Psychoanalysis


http://www.anotherscene.com/sempsych/

Earl Jackson, Jr.

talkingcure2000@aol.com

Fall 2002

Study Guide Twelve Part One.

Hi Earl,

Iím Corella, your student in Lit 101, and Iím
having


trouble with Lacanís unconscious(ha!), more exactly,

with its function as explained in Silverman. Silverman

describes Lacanís unconscious as split off from
drives


and undifferentiated needs and as defined through its

signifying activities, which operate in the same

Symbolic register as the preconscious and conscious

(page 166), in which case, what exactly is the

function of the unconscious in Lacanís psychical

topography? Iím at a loss, because in Freudís
model,


the unconscious is the register in which repressed

needs and wishes are signified, right? If Lacanís

unconscious is split-off from these, Iím unclear
as to


what it does or why its even there. Does it function

to signify censored desire rather than need? Or stated

another way, if it is desire that is being expressed

in the unconscious does that mean that the Symbolic

register has full hold over the unconscious, I mean

that the unconscious is censored by virtue of its

being linguistic? That desire is being structured and

censored before the preconscious even has a chance to

do its work? I mean, it makes perfect sense that the

unconscious would be structured and operate as a

language, as described by Lacan in the ìAgency
of the


Letter,î but even in that essay, I had trouble

conceptualizing the full extent of the repercussions

of the total psychical landscape removed from any

expression of need apart from desire, because if need

doesnít exist unmediated in the unconscious, where

exactly does it exist for the subject, or does it

simply no longer exist, or exist only as desire? On an

unrelated note, Silvermanís explanation of Lacanís

explanation of the female subject as being somehow

closer to the real than the male subject by virtue of

her ìlack of lackî deeply troubling, doesnít
the


subjectís entrance into the Symbolic effect a
break


with the Real, and if women enter the Symbolic on any

level, how can they be any more close to the Real than

a man? Silverman goes on to question the validity of

Lacanís theory, but I want to make sure that Iím
not


misreading whatís being said, in terms of Lacanís

woman. I hope Iím just misreading whatís
being said,


because its hard to imagine someone as smart as Lacan

saying something as stupid as what I think Iím

reading.

Your student,

Corella

 ejvenust.jpg


 

Dear Corella, 

What a great question, and so well
articulated!


 You have thrown a new light
on the problem of the Lacanian unconscious and its relation to subjectivity
per se. And you have located a complex of problems in the explanation provided
in the text at hand. I am going to try to untangle those and answer you
within that process. . This will take a while and we’ll take a couple detours
too. Picture the nuts and the bandages tossed by the
Stalker
.

 

Corella Earl
. .  . what exactly is the

function of the unconscious in Lacanís psychical

topography? Iím at a loss, because in Freudís
model,


the unconscious is the register in which repressed

needs and wishes are signified, right?
You’re
on the right track, but I’m going to be a little picky here, for the sake
of laying foundations upon which can build. The repressed wishes are not
„signified“ in the unconscious but reside in the unconscious. From there
they exert their influence on consciousness. These wishes are „signified“
in dreams, neurotic symptoms, parapraxes, etc. This also true for the Lacanian
unconscious, although I completely understand why you are asking this from
the reading of Silverman’s Chapter Four. I also think it’s important to
be very constrained about terms like „need“. What would an unconscious
„need“ be? I am going to reserve „need“ for actual biological needs of
the organism, in other words, I will associate „needs“ quite exclusively
the instincts. 
To
clarify the conception of the unconscious as the repressed that nevertheless
„gets signified,“ I  quote below a passage from „The Function of 
and Field of  Speech and language in Psychoanalysis.“ [Ecrits.
Trans. Alan Sheridan. London and New York: Norton, 1977 30-113] In this
passage, the unconscious is what is discovered during the work of analysis,
through the ways in which it is already being signified. Here we go
:
The unconscious
is that chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by
a falsehood: it is the censored chapter. But the truth can be rediscovered;
usually it has already been written down elsewhere. Namely:

–in monuments:
this is my body. That is to say, the hysterical nucleus of a neurosis in
which the  hysterical symptom reveals the structure of a language,
and is deciphered like an inscription which, once recovered, can without
serious loss be destroyed;


–in archival
documents: these are my childhood memories, just as impenetrable as are
such documents when I do not know their provenance;


–in semantic
evolution: this corresponds to the stock of words and acceptations of my
own particular vocabulary, as it does to my style of life and to my character;


— in traditions
too, and even in legends which, in a heroicized form, bear my history;


— and, lastly,
in the traces that are inevitably preserved by the distortions necessitated
by the linking of the adulterated chapter to the chapters surrounding it,
and whose meaning will be re-established by my exegesis.


[Lacan, „Function“
50]

Corella Earl
Silverman describes Lacanís unconscious as split
off from drives and undifferentiated needs and as defined through its signifying
activities, which operate in the same Symbolic register as the preconscious
and conscious


(Silverman 166),
You
really have entered tricky territory here. And I’m glad you did. 
One aspect of the mystery I can clear up pretty easily: why the unconscious
is split off from the needs. If we remember to associate needs exclusively
with the instincts, even our handy infant sucking its thumb demonstrates
this severance from need. The infant sucking its thumb is enjoying the
hallucinated memory of the pleasure of sucking at the breast, and is using
that hallucination as a replacement for the satisfaction of hunger that
the milk would bring about if it were ingested. Thus this pleasure is independent
of needs, cut off from it. 
Why
the Lacanian unconscious is split off from the drives is a bit more puzzling. 
But  instead of trying to answer it directly at this point, I think
it better to look at two terms whose meanings might help us answer, and
as long as their technical meanings are not clear, we cannot answer. I
mean  „need“ and „drive.“  And given that we are entering into
an entire system of Lacanian thought, I want to keep drive to one side
[but definitely in the picture] and situate „need“ with its two companions,
„demand“ and „desire.“
For
now let’s accept a provisional definition of drive. A drive is a pressure
toward some kind of satisfaction, that articulates itself according to
the characteristics of particular physiological organs. The thumb-sucking
infant exhibits the oral drive. In the Three Essays, Freud’s three stages
of sexual development can be seen as three different bodily organizations
of a drive: oral, anal, and genital. Lacan adds more drives, such as the
scopic, the evocative, etc.
The
erotogenic zones of the body are the areas which will organize a drive.
And each of these zones are experienced as
„the
result of  a cut expressed in the anatomical mark of a margin or border
– lips, . . . the rim of the anus, the tip of the penis, the vagina, the
slit formed by the eyelids . . . 


(Lacan, „Subversion
of the Subject in the Dialectic of Desire“ [Ecrits 314-315.]
To return to the infant: although
the act of thumb-sucking wins the infant an independence from the external
world and the original object of the instinct, the mode of self-administered
satisfaction is still physical, and is determined by the mode of the original
object and contact. In other words, the contact with the real breast, determines
the way in which a fantasy substitute can be effected: it requires another
corporeal object to be inserted in the mouth.
t Now we’re going to get a little
fancier. Suppose everytime the infant cries its mother inserts her breast
into its mouth. At least some of these times the infant is crying from
hunger and the breast is the necessary answer to that cry. But even in
those times the infant is only aware of an increase in unpleasant stimulus.
it doesn’t „know“ it is „hungry.“ It doesn’t know a „need“ at all. The
introduction of the breast at these times teaches the infant that that’s
what it needs. Including some times that is not what it needed, it becomes
what it needed. At other times the infant’s cry may be out of anxiiety,
or its cold, etc. The introduction of the breast is a response to the cry,
and thus a response to the demand, but may not be meeeting the actual need.
Or complexly, it may be meeting the biological need, but not the infant’s
demand for attention. But the pattern of meeting all demands/needs with
a feeding can impress itself into the unconscious of the infant and model
modes of behavior in later life, which is an easy explanation for certain
kinds of oral fixations and eating disorders.


 

 

i
There are several
speculative conclusions I would like to draw out of the above:


The hungry infant that sucks its
thumb is responding to a drive, a demand for satisfaction. The thumb becomes
the object of that demand, within this oral drive. The oral drive is an
expression of a fantasy that has broken off from the real need, but models
itself upon the instinctual acts of fulfilling that need. In one sense
the thumbsucking is completely fantasmatic and autonomous. In another it
is corporeal and dependent upon the other: its form depends upon the original
contact with the breast. By the same token, someone with an oral fixation
as an adult – a chain smoker, or gum chewer, or compulsive eater, 
is demonstrating how a drive can be corporealized and its corporeal form
determined by the intervention of the Other in rearing the infant. This
is why we can call some drives an inscription in the body of a demand from
the other. This explains why an individual chooses certain kinds of hysterical
symptoms for example. This distinguishes the biophysiological body from
the psychically cognized body, but also keeps them enjoined.
We usually discuss Demand from
the perspective of the subject, and I will do this now. Let’s go back to
the infant getting the breast when that wasn’t what  it was asking
for, or it might be, but not just for nutrition and pacification but for
full contact with the mother. When the breast meets the biological need
but not the demand for love/recognition there occurs another rupture. It
can be experienced within the site of the disappointment as a lack in that
object, a lack in the Other. But this is also because whatever the subject
expected from the Other was in order fill the lack in the subject. This
economy is what underlies Lacan’s formulation:


„Desire is
neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the
difference that results from the substraction of the first from the second“

(Lacan, „The Signification of the Phallus [Ecrits 287]/
Earl
Corella Earl
Does  [the Lacanian unconscious] function

to signify censored desire rather than need?
I think I’ve taken care of the
notion of „censored need“ or „unconscious need“ in the first part of my
answer above.
Or stated

another way, if it is desire that is being expressed

in the unconscious does that mean that the Symbolic

register has full hold over the unconscious, I mean

that the unconscious is censored by virtue of its

being linguistic? 
  Whether or
not it’s „desire“ in the unconscious {and whether or not it’s „being expressed“
there} is not the real issue here. What is at issue is the Symbolic, and
here you are absolutely right. The accession into the Symbolic inaugurates
the unconscious.  The second half of the sentence is somewhat trickier
to get a handle on „the unconscious is censored by virtue of its being
linguistic.“ The unconscious is „structured like a language.“ 
Keep the emphasis on „like.“ It is NOT a language, and thus not „linguistic“
– if I understand what you mean by that adjective [in fact, please explain
what you mean if what I say here doesn’t answer your question.] Furthermore,
something that is „linguistic“ is not necessarily censored otherwise we
wouldn’t be having this conversation ;-).

That desire is being structured and

censored before the preconscious even 

has a chance to

do its work? 
I’m not sure what you mean here.
The unconscious is constituted by repression. That first repression occurs
before other agencies can censor. The preconscious censors the material
flowing in from the unconscious, but the material in the unconscious is
there because of repression, not censorship. Censoring is the defense against
the repressed material entering consciousness. What you’re doing is totally
on track, but I’m going to throw out a little cautionary reminder that
we’re discussion Lacan’s unconscious, so keep that in mind. Here I don’t
see any conflict between what we’re trying to construct and consideration
of the preconscious, but  as a rule of thumb always keep a eye on
which conceptual territory you’re in, and which lexicon you’re using for
example, it would not do in a discussion of semiotics to try to map Saussure’s
signifier/signified pair onto the tri-relative complex of Peirce’s sign-event.
I mean, it makes perfect sense that the

unconscious would be structured and operate as a

language, as described by Lacan in the ìAgency
of the


Letter,î but even in that essay, I had trouble

conceptualizing the full extent of the repercussions

of the total psychical landscape removed from any

expression of need apart from desire, because if need

doesnít exist unmediated in the unconscious, where

exactly does it exist for the subject, or does it

simply no longer exist, or exist only as desire?
Need absolutely does not exist
in the unconscious- in mediated, unmediated, or mentholated form. The unconscious
is entirely under the sway of the pleasure principle. It has no purchase
on needs, instincts, the reality principle, or self-preservation.


Need exists of course, but notice
how external to the psychical mechanism is. Karen
Carpenter’s
need to eat, for example, was the same need any organism
has for nutrition. Her anorexia,
however, was something else, with its own logic, its own laws, its own
geological inscriptions of the concatenations of demand and desire.
Corella Earl
On an

unrelated note, Silverman’s explanation of Lacanís

explanation of the female subject as being somehow

closer to the real than the male subject by virtue of

her „lack of lack“ deeply troubling, doesnít the

subjectís entrance into the Symbolic effect a
break


with the Real, and if women enter the Symbolic on any

level, how can they be any more close to the Real than

a man? Silverman goes on to question the validity of

Lacanís theory, but I want to make sure that Iím
not


misreading what’s being said, in terms of Lacanís

woman. I hope Iím just misreading whatís
being said,


because its hard to imagine someone as smart as Lacan

saying something as stupid as what I think Iím

reading.
I’m
afraid to some extent Lacan did say something as stupid as you think you
are reading. But this is in his late, and extremely arcane Seminar XX,
Encore. His language in this is so hermetically associative, that statements
like the one Silverman is imputing to Lacan here seem to be more organically
a part of this peculiar semi-private semiosis and as such, does not really
impose itself on Lacanian thought over all. I know I sound like an apologist
for Lacan here. I’m far from that. It simply that the  association
with women and the real is a passing fancy within this albeit reckless
free-for-all. My dismissal of this Seminar would get me barred from several
enclaves of Lacanian groups, but I don’t belong to them anyway. Regardless
of its haute couture pedigree, this idea of Woman being closer to the Real
harkens back to all the other tired old associations of women and the material
and fleshly as opposed to the spirituality and transcendence of the male. 
Lacan should know better than this.


Great
job, Corella, and you sure kept me working.


I’m
not exactly done yet either, but I’ll have come back to this.
Part
Two will be written Shortly.  I have to go to Berkeley this morning
but I will be back soon.


Best,

Earl


Guideff One-A Guide Two Guide Three Guide Four Guide Five Guide Six
Guide 

One-B
Online
Resources for Semiotics
Online
Resources for Writing Systems
The
Midquarter
The Syllabus Model
Student Work
Donald
Anderson on Habit Change
Final Exam On Fabula
and Sjuzhet 
Guide Seven Guide Eight Guide Nine
Guide Twelve Imaginary
Exercise Three
.
Guide Eleven
Imaginary
Exercise Two
.
Guide Ten Imaginary
Exercise One