“Sinthome as Autopoiesis, or the Unique Poetics of the Subject”
[Based on the oral presentation; the longer version is available by request]
I begin by arguing that language is The-Place- of- the-Father/Master, that it is there to be subverted by the subject.
Rather than being the seat of instincts, the unconscious, for Lacan, is the place of language, it is a structure that exists prior to the entry of each subject into it. “Standard language”—composed of a system of rules (semantics, morphology, grammar, syntax, phonetics, and prosody)—is there to begin with as the Place-of-the-Father or Master in Lacanian terms. The poetic function, one of the six functions of linguistic messages, focuses on the message, on the code itself, and is the result of the play with the rules of language (according to Roman Jakobson, Jan Mukarovski and others of the Prague School). Most importantly for my purposes here, the poetic function is possible because there is standard language, with its rules, to begin with. That is, the poetic function is the result of playful, subverting uses of standard language and its rules in order to achieve something else than mere referential communication. The poetic function is there “To signify something quite other than what it says”: it can persuade, shock, move (to tears) and move (to action). The question is what’s the role of the poetic function in analysis.
In Le sinthome, Lacan moves away from the diadic semiotics of de Saussure and mentions (quite nonchalantly) Charles Sanders Peirce to advance a tridimensional, relational signifying process that can be applied to the registers of the Symbolic, Imaginary and Real. In short Peirce considers the sign (representation), the object (reference), and the interpretant (interpretative, inferential frames), each element subdivided in three; he adds for example, three types of inferences based on firstness (for a unique instance), secondness (for a comparable situation), and thirdness (mediating between first and second); and three types of perception (by induction, deduction and abduction). Although Lacan does not specify how this semiotic system may be applied in analysis, it is important to note that this relational signifying process emerges from and against a relationship to the Other--in this case to the authoritative order of “The-Place-of-the-Father.” But language is not only the structure that pre-dates and limits the subject (in a predatory mode); it also affords the poetic function or the playing ground for the forging of the subject, viz., the uniqueness of the Subject.
Analysis like Poetry does something by means of equivoques. The multi-channeled equivoques that may be heard during analysis (e.g., slippages that result from words that sound similar but mean very different things) should not to be viewed just as noise but as significant. Indeed, as the subject breaks the rules of language, The-Place-of-the Father becomes The- Place-of-the-Letter, of lalangue, of the un-precedented signifier, of the concrete discourse that gives material support to the subject’s sinthome—to the subject’s contingent uniqueness. Somewhere in TS Lacan suggests that the specific incarnated poetics of the Borromean knot is what characterizes the uniqueness of individuals: "The knot is to Lacan what the verse is to Mallarme,” adds Michel Bousseyroux in his Lacan the Borromean.
To characterize this specific incarnated poetics of the Borromean knot, I draw an analogy between the poetic function and the idea of autopoiesis. Notably, the ancient Greek word poïesis is derived from the verb "to make"; and “auto” captures the idea that an action transforms the world by reconciling the thought (intention) of the person, matter, and time, with the world. This is how I correlate the unique self-making capacity of autopoiesis in the creation of one’s unique hole/whole (or sinthome) in Lacanian terms.
I propose to consider the sinthome or fourth knot as the inscription of three autopoietic embodied Borromean knots. And I ask, could this inscription be viewed as a performative poetics of the sinthome—of the parl-être of the real unconscious?
If the sinthome is the result of autopoiesis, it suggests that it both builds on and transgresses The-Name-of-the Father (and the constraints established by the various structuring rules of the social and symbolic orders). When talking about embodied poiesis, Lacan mentions G. Vico’s poetic wisdom, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Lewis Carroll’s nonsense portmanteau poetry, and I add, from the Caribbean context, Rastafarian talk. Indeed, equivoques in the form of puns, tropes, and figures of speech not only seduce; they destabilize; they breakthrough, they cut, they do something! Lacan asks, “Can one really see these as mere figures of speech?, when it is the figures themselves that are the active principle of the rhetoric in the discourse of the Analysand.” All those who have read Lacan’s lectures may recognize how Lacan himself inscribes new ideas with equivoques, when he plays with portmanteau words such as MOT-ERIALITY by recruiting the ambiguities of trans-linguistic homophonies between MOT and MATERILAITY. Rastafarian talk, for those who know about this Jamaican religion of resistance, also inscribes its anti-establishment activist ideology and shapes the consciousness of its followers by inventing a new language composed of portmanteau words such as “poli-tricks” instead of politics, “over-stand” instead of understand, and “outer-national” instead of international.
In conclusion, I want to ask about the clinical significance of viewing the sinthome in terms of a performative poetics that transgresses the Place-of-the-Father. Colette Soler once asked, “what should the analysist know?” – or what kind of knowledge is required by psychoanalysis? The answer I suggest here is: the analyst should be able to recognize the analysand’s unique sinthome as an incarnated autopoiesis of the real unconscious and act on it.
Works of Lacan mentioned and to be mentioned
ILU – Lacan, -“The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud” (1957) (L'instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient, delivered by Lacan on May 9, 1957 was later published in Lacan's Écrits, 1966
HMD – Lacan (translation by Peter Connor), "Homage to Marguerite Duras: on Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein," In Marguerite Duras, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1987.
LS –Lacan, Le symptôme (1976-1977)
XVII –Lacan, The Seminar , Book XVII: Psychoanalysis Upside Down/The Reverse Side of Psychoanalysis 1969-1970
AL--Lacan, "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud." Écrits: a Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock, 1977. 146-178.
- Roman Jakobson poetic function
- Hymes Breakthrough into performance
- Austin how to do things with words
- K. Burke a rhetoric of motives
- Varela and Maturana, Autopoiesis
On my list
- Speaking Desires can be Dangerous: The Poetics of the Unconscious
- Michel Bousseyroux , convener of “Poéthique de la psychanalyse”
samedi 13 mai 2017, école de psychanalyse des forums du champ lacanien
-pôle 9 ouest-