Hypertranslation: LACAN SEMINAR XIX, 3 February 1972

What is a “quadripode”? It means, quite simply, “four legs.”

We know that a discourse has four legs to stand upon — and that any fewer legs will make it difficult for the discourse to sit up on its own.

Lacan claims that you can sit on them, the discourses. And it has something to do with the four discourses. But then Lacan claims something very interesting: the four discourses are only discovered because of the emergence of the discourse of the analyst. Thus, it is the analytic discourse that discovered the preceding discourses.

And then Lacan claims that he has arranged the courses via topology. Well, this is new, as far as I can tell, I do not believe he specified that the discourses are arranged topologically before this point. The topology of the discourses is based on a simple monad, which has “no more than” four points.

There are four vertices and four surfaces. And these vertices are equidistant.

Lacan makes a humorous remark: there are two ways to sit on a monad of this sort, both are uncomfortable. The one has the tip up, and the other has the tip on the base. Well, these are two possibilities for the formation of a social link: “this is where we have to begin for everything that is involved in what constitutes a type of social base that is supported by what is called a discourse.” I should say here that the social base is precisely the discourse, since, topologically, they bare the same structure. The social link is always an uncomfortable one, and yet, as Lacan puts it, we’ve gotten used to it for so long that we hardly notice how uncomfortable the social bond really is.

So this “monad” is, then, tetrahedral.

There is a property of the tetrahedral that Lacan wants to draw attention to: if you “vectorize” the edges, which means, in topology, to give them a direction, then you have to presume that not one of those edges will be the privileged vertex. Privileging a vertex involves permitting all of the vectors (edges) to point toward it. So we have introduced here some rule: “nowhere shall there be a convergence of 3 vectors that depart from the same vertex.”

For the tetrahedron, then, this implies that there will be four vertices:

  1. Vertex “A” will have 2 incoming vectors and 1 outgoing vector
  2. Vertex “B” will have 2 incoming vectors and 1 outgoing vector
  3. Vertex “C” will have 1 incoming vector and 2 outgoing vectors
  4. Vertex “D” will have 1 incoming vector and 2 outgoing vectors

I have drawn the corresponding tetrahedron, after applying the rules:

As you can see from the image above, I tried this for myself. It is true – all tetrahedrons that follow these rules for vectorization will be equivalent. Next, Lacan claims that if you remove one of the edges (and thus, one of the vectors) then you will have the “formula” for the four discourses. This is the “template” or the “key” for the discourses. Now, here Lacan does not at all state why he removed one of the edges. Is it because the other edge is actually always obscured (indicated by the dotted line)? I have no idea. It seems like a move that requires some explanation – but he does not provide any whatsoever.

At each vertex there is the following:

  • Semblance (2 incoming, 1 outgoing)
  • Jouissance (2 incoming, 1 outgoing)
  • Surplus Jouissance (1 incoming, 1 outgoing; the other outgoing is obscured)
  • Truth (2 outgoing; the 1 incoming is obscured)

This, claims Lacan, is the fundamental topology for discourse — for speech.

Lacan claims again that the analyst discourse discovered, in a sense, the other discourses. He extends this now: the analyst’s discourse is the “support” of the other discourses, it is the “supposed” discourse.

Lacan asks the question: where does meaning come from? And then he opens a different topic.

The analytic discourse is related to the science known as linguistics, on the condition that linguists never discuss the origin of language itself. Lacan claims that this has something to do with his position that the unconscious is structured like a language. I recall Freud once writing, somewhere, that the unconscious is eternal (picked up later by Althusser to discuss ideology). Maybe this is the connection that Lacan is trying to make.

Lacan is interested in the function of speech. Speech, claims Lacan, is “the only form of action that posits itself as truth.” Speech speaks as a fact, and all facts are determined by the unfolding of speech. Moreover, speech speaks all my itself.

Speech functions even when there is no fact though. Speech may assumes certain facts of saying, but that does not imply that all of speech is itself made up of facts. For example, speech that commands, prays, insults, etc, doesn’t necessarily constitute for itself a fact.

When a man gets aroused by a woman he does so by “taking her as the phallus,” Phi(x).

Okay, so speech doesn’t just denote facts, but it can denote facts. It can not denote things. But Lacan adds: it can denote things once every so often, “by chance.”

Jouissance in discourse is “phallic jouissance” but not at all “sexual jouissance.” The “poles” of discourse are arranged so that on the one side there is “semblance” and on the other “jouissance,” and in the middle a gap separates the relation of semblance to jouissance. There is no harmonious conjunction of man and woman. Man has a relation with Phi rather than with the other (woman).

Homosexuals, claims Lacan, have better, firmer, and more frequent hard-ons — and this is because they take the other for what it is: Phi. (this is my understanding of Lacan’s argument; I am not sure it is correct).

The analyst discourse needed the university discourse. And not only that, the analytic discourse arises out of extreme urgency. Now, something new for me is said: the discourse of the master, of the analyst, of the university, and so on, indicate the object of the discourse. It is the discourse *about* the master, *about* the analyst. In the case of the analytic discourse: it is discourse about the analyst as objet petit a (that is what the analyst is made into as an object by the analysand). The objet petit a is an object in the analyst discourse of semblance.

The speaking-being doesn’t know what determines his discourse: it is the objet a. This is what divides him as a subject and gives way to desire. The objet a is produced by discourse as the cause of desire.

The objet a is also a metonymic object. This is because, I believe, it keeps sustaining the chain of signifiers. We can see this clearly in the movement of the empty set within the logic of succession (see Badiou). When the succession is interrupted, when it becomes less coherent, then the objet a becomes revealed for what it is. I like how Lacan put this because it relates perhaps also to capitalist discourse: “until it [discourse] stumbles and peters out.” This is what later Lacan calls “burn out” in capitalist discourse.

God is here described as the one who disrupts the pleasure of others (each of us, little ones). The Epicureans, according to Lacan, tried to find a method to avoid being disrupted in their pleasure — but it failed. The stoics tried to go the other way: to obtain divine pleasure/jouissance. But that fails too. The natural environment is such that one can’t get any jouissance. No jouissance — but you do get some pleasure. It is this pleasure that grounds the primary process.

Leonardo de Vinci says to “look at the wall.” Lacan finds a profound truth in this statement. On the wall there may be stains and obscure figures. These stains are the basis for figuration, for art. I recall as a child an art game that I would frequently play. I would ask somebody to make a bundle of lines or obscure shapes on a page and then I would transform that mess into a figure: a bird, a dragon, a tree, etc. This is, of course, to transform the stain into Phi.

“The stain in question is figuration itself.”

Everything that is written reinforces the wall, claims Lacan. This is why the “love letter” is ultimately writing on the wall. Love, in french, sounds like “wall.”

What is beyond the wall? Beyond the wall is the real, the impossible. It is the impossibility of reaching the real beyond the wall.

The emergence of the One: it is related to S1, since the master signifier is the first signifier. But there is the problem: can there be a master signifier (any more than a master discourse) without an S2? You first need 2 for there to be 1. The one comes from the two: nought (zero) and 1 make two.

Language and speech are before the wall. The discourse of science has found a way to construct itself behind the wall: in the impossible, in the real. Science proposes that meaning can not approach the real. It is impossible to give meaning to algebra or topology. This is why it is behind the wall.

Discourses (language, speech)  ||WALL||      Science (Topology, Algebra)

A signified always comes from a signifier in another discourse.

Knowledge: “it is the numbers that know” (I think he is referencing Frege’s arithmetic logic).

Castration is the means of adapting to survive. The analyst’s knowledge is “an ocean of false learning” because learning has no meaning (which implies, here, that it is behind the wall, in the zone of science), and that any meaning of discourse is partial because it is sustained by another discourse. I recall here the wonderful motto of Trent University: “nunc cognosco ex parte.”

The knowledge, S2, of the analyst is in the position of truth, then, since truth is in the real: and it is always partial, always castrated, always half-said between the wall of another language/discourse and truth. On the other hand, the analyst digs up scraps of knowledge — bits of knowledge — from the analysand’s unconscious.


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