Into the Real

In Lacan’s earlier work he was fond of saying that the signifier represents the subject for – “pour” – another signifier. In his later work – specifically in Seminar 24 on the poetics and mathematics of the unconscious, Lacan altered this to state that the signifier represents the subject “aupres de” – in contrast to, apart from, in lieu of – another signifier. This slight but dramatic shift in language indicates the shift in Lacan’s thinking: away from the symbolic and imaginary and towards a stress on the real and the pure letter or a-signifying semiotic.

While the structuralist theory of the signifier over the bar of the signified (S2/S1) helped him to formulate his ideas of the psyche, he recognized that psychoanalysts themselves were in danger of reinstalling an imaginary signified in the form of the unconscious under the conscious (CS/UC) or another form of theoretical necessity. In his late work he shifted from linguistic and structuralist signification to the pure difference of relation found in such modern areas as set theory, topology, abstract expressionism, and concrete poetry.

In fact what is always under the bar is the primordially repressed and unquestioned foundation of the law, the symbolic, the battery of signifiers. For the subject or analysand this has the form of the phantasm or object a, but it is no less the case in science, religion, and philosophy on a social scale. In general this is the realm of the imaginary which is why we can write it as S/I. In this way we can see what is missing: the real.

The question of signification that the analysand must resolve – the question of being signified by and for the other – requires an exit from signification itself, an exit from the S/I relation. This cannot take place so long as the analyst is interpreting – whatever the theoretical perspective. What we must see is that the signifier/signified relation including its bar – the symbolic/imaginary operation – is put into place as an act in each instance, whether collective or individuated, albeit unconsciously.

There is knowledge in the real but it is by carving it out through this symbolic-imaginary operation that it is fixed. It is a fiction – or “fixion” – of the real. In other words there is no truth to be found in the real but a truth to be founded in the real. This is why Lacan said – quoting Picasso – “I don’t seek I find.” We may better say “I don’t seek I found.”