A question for you: who gave Lacan the pen at the beginning of the seminar?

Lacan makes a tri-fold distinction on writing:

  1. There is the written, as in, for example, written notes produced for teaching. Lacan is clear that he does not write something down in order to prepare for his lectures. At least, he does does not do it in order to spare himself strain or risk. If he did, he maintains, it would only produce bad results. It is actually better to not prepare anything written, in this respect. The writing that he does for his seminars is not therefore the sort of writing that one would consider to be “preparation.” It is something different – something that relates to “findings.”
  2. The written for “print” is altogether different again.
  3. Finally, there is the written [is it proper to write “the”?] as the return of the repressed. This is truly Lacan’s “idea of the written.”

Lacan attempts next to provide some clarity regarding a confusion, indeed it was a confusion I made for a long time (I blame Derrida): the signifier is not a letter. I made this claim many years ago during one of my personal analysis and I was quickly corrected by my analyst. That moment stays with me. However, the signifier “touches me most” as a letter, that is, as a signifier that comes back; one that comes back because it has been repressed. Thus, in L’instance de la lettre Lacan does indeed imagine the signifier as a letter.

So – what does this mean? It means that the so-called signified is nothing but here the turning back of a signifier. The signified is beneath the bar, then, because it is in a sense repressed. The letter is nothing but the imprint of the repressed signifier as an artifact, or, in other words, as an apparent signified.

Lacan points to Aristotle’s Prior Analytics, wherein he uses letters rather than “terms” (i.e., “A belongs to every B,” and so on). I can see how this relates to the previous class from Lacan on the variable, or, on the Fregean “x.”

The letter is here related to the little piece of the real, objet a, because “it comes to mark out a place” using a signifier that is just “lying around” (like a scrap sound-image). This is how the letter first manifests itself, then. Lacan is pointing in a way to a theory of the origin of language, of signification, as it emerges out of the real from the scraps that are just lying around to be used. These scraps are no doubt transmitted from the Other and picked up by the subject to express the want or desire as objet a.

Lacan opens up a question: how does the signifier transform into a letter?: “there has to be a kind of transmutation that occurs, from signifier to letter, when the signifier isn’t there, when it’s gone off course, when its scarpered.”

What I take from this is the following: the “transmutation” when, paradoxically, the signifier is no longer there, when it is lacking, when, so to speak, it runs away; this is when the letter stands in its place.

To put it in classical psychoanalytic mythical terms: it is when the mother runs away that the letter comes to stand in for her absence, and, therefore, comes to express her presence.

But when it comes to the letter one can not just write anything. This is why the field of mathematics is important, claims Lacan, and why, moreover, the “matheme” is a “pivotal point” of all teaching. It is because it anchors together a discourse, provides it with its meaning, and, moreover, reduces everything else to “banter.” I think Lacan might have meant to say “babble” here, but I can not be sure.


Lacan goes on at length about doltishness. the “Matheme” is doltish, and so too is, in a way, the letter. We can find doltishness in Atistotle’s Metaphysics, and we should allow ourselves doltishness in our political system. There is perhaps a separation of meaning within texts written out of doltishness. One can read Metaphysics in this way: “evidently they are capable of reading the text with a certain way of barring themselves off from the meaning, and when you look at the text, well, you are beset by doubts.”

An axiom, of sorts: “doltishness is a mark of proof when it comes to authenticity” … “There is nothing more authentic than doltishness.”

Lacan reminds us of the etymology of the word “authentic,” which means, to my mind, “authorized,” or, relating to the “author” (not far from being a homophone for other in French).

The essential function of doltishness is to “fill in everything that has been left gaping wide by the fact that there can be no such hing as sexual relation […].”

Doltishness is therefore related to the function of a letter. The letter comes after the sexual relation has been left separated, when the signifier ‘runs way.’


Lacan turns to the blackboard and writes the symbol for “phi” and the variable “x.”

Phi(x) [I am writing it my own way here because I can not write the symbol easily]

The Phi, letter, is what poses a barrier to the sexual relation.

A distinction seems to be made: sexual jouissance and jouissance: “for the speaking being, sexual jouissance opens the door to jouissance.” So jouissance is not always sexual, then. This is a Lacanian invention, it seems to me, and a way of moving beyond Freud.

Jouissance is always “of a body.” It is “the embracing, the clutching, the fragmenting of the body.” And this is “the most regular mode of jouissance.”

So jouissance always has some relation to the body. This is also a nice new move for Lacan.

The “x” in the formula is a variable, yes, but it is also a signifier – and, since the signifier is related to the subject for another signifier, we can claim that the is the place of the subject within the phallic function above. Lacan said: “each of you here can be a signifier, precisely at the slender level at which you exist as sexuated.”

The “x” is a signifier, but it is also the “hole in the signifier.” It is not that “x” is man and “y” is woman, then, because that would give them the same status as a variable, as a signifier. There must be something about the difference included in the discussion, then.

There are some “x-es” which are subject to the phallic “for all,” that is phi(x). And lacan writes this in his set notation:


Phi(x) may now also be referred to as the “function of castration.” Thus, when referring to masculine sexuation, A(x)Phi(x) refers to the fact that all men as castrated.

Lacan makes a casual observation: why is it that the popular expression is “be a man,” indefinite article? Whereas, for women, the expression has more to do with “the woman,” as a group. We do not hear very often, then, “be man,” or “be a woman.”

When man passing through the phallic function, as a consequence of castration, he no longer has access to the rich repository of signifiers. They have been limited. Given any x, that is, given any man, this functions.

Next, “there exists at least one for whom castration does not function.” Lacan claims that this is the place of God. There exists god, claims Lacan. It is on the basis of there exists at least one that “all the rest can function.” The myth is that the father does not get castrated.

Lacan closes the seminar by quickly introducing the feminine terms, without naming them as feminine sexuation.

/Ex “there exists not”

/Ex /Phi(x) “without the exception of this signifier position” … “it is not true that castration dominates everything.”




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