Symptoms, Names, and Places

Metaphor always seems to have a place of privilege within (psychoanalytic) semiotics. For Lacan it was the logical process or function which made novel meanings possible. Thus, Lacan claimed that metaphor crosses the bar from signifier to signified, in a sense. The symptom is therefore a metaphor precisely because it is the subject’s innovative solution to the problem of the unconscious.
 
We should not presume that symptoms are always bad. There are many, many, good symptoms. The problem for us is one of distinguishing between the so-called good symptoms and the so-called bad symptoms.
 
Badiou, in his own way, claimed that the successor function of Frege’s logic of arithmetic produces meaning but only so that it can secure the finite count of numbers. This is a ‘bad’ symptom, because it is always possible to invent a new number, an n+1, but that new invention will nonetheless further introduce displacement into the signifying chain without radically altering it. So it is a fake invention, in a sense. It is a ‘false’ change, to use Badiou’s phrase.
 
In fact, there may be some truth to this because as numbers grow exponentially their “value” also becomes less influential within the chain. I am here using Saussure’s definition of “value,” which implies that a signifier is valuable only in relation to other signifiers. As new signifiers are introduced into the system the value of all the old signifiers changes.
 
Okay, so symptoms are great inventions but they can be burdensome. But my claim is that some symptoms are more burdensome than others. This is actually how many clinicians think about work with certain types of psychotics. Some delusions are much more easier to live with than others, and so it is about selecting the ‘good’ ones and abandoning the ‘bad’ ones.
 
For example, the Oedipal metaphor, that is, the function which inaugurates the neurotic into the system of signifiers is not, ultimately, a burden. In fact, we are lucky, those of us, to have passed through such a burden, aren’t we?
 
But the problem is that some desires appear as symptoms, clever as they are – and this, perhaps, is their only novelty. They perpetuate the chain of metonymic displacements and secure the impossibility of passing the bar (S/s). This is what in politics we refer to as “modest reform.” The system reforms ever so slightly, with minimal value, precisely so that the metonymic displacement of capitalist expansion may continue as it always has continued.
 
But here we arrive at something very interesting. What about the number “111”? Is that, in the count of numbers, a novel number? It is an act of displacement and repetition and it secures the function of desire in at least three ways: (1) it continues the count of n+1, (2) it repurposes a previous invention, namely the number 1, and (3) it repeats the placement of 1. It does not seem to cross the bar (S/s).
 
The third point seems important. After the number 9, novel symptoms seem to disappear for Badiou. But they do not. After the number 9 another novelty becomes invented which is no longer the invention of “names” or signifiers within a chain. After the number 9 “places” are invented. Or, perhaps they are reinvented in a new way. For example, perhaps the inaugurating oedipal metaphor is not only a novelty of the nom-du-pere but also the novelty of inventing a place in the world for signifiers. Thus, in the movement from the real of {0} to the imaginary of “1” there is not only a name or system of signifiers invented, but places are also invented.
 
The place-value system of numbers was invented as early as 300BC, and probably even much earlier
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