‘The irreducibility of a form of transmission’ : a case study

by Julia Evans on March 15, 2018

The following was presented to the Earl’s Court Clinical Group : (Bruno de Florence, Greg Hynds, Julia Evans , Owen Hewitson at their meeting on Thursday 15th March, 2018.

‘The function of residue that the conjugal family supports (and thereby maintains) in the evolution of societies highlights the irreducibility of a form of transmission – one that is of a different order than that of life considered as the satisfaction of needs – but one that has a subjective constitution, implying a relationship to a desire that is not anonymous.’

: From Note on the Child: October 1969: Jacques Lacan : See here :  as published in Autres Écrits : 2001 : Jacques Lacan : See here

I was checking the Earl’s Court Collectives[i]’ translation of Seminar IV : 5th December 1956[ii] whilst travelling to accompany my father in the last few days of his life. Two passages leapt out at me:

… if we do not essentially admit as possible the perpetual slippages of the signified under the signifier and of the signifier over the signified, that nothing of analytic experience can be explained except by this fundamental schema in which what is signifier of something can at any moment become signifier of something else and in which everything that presents itself in the longing, the inclination, the libido of the subject, is always marked by the trace of a signifier.

As far as we’re concerned, there is nothing other than this. There is perhaps something else in the drive and in longing that is not at all marked by the trace of the signifier, but we have no access to this. Nothing is accessible to us except marked by this trace of the signifier. The signifier, in short, introduces nothing into natural movement, into desire, or – in the particularly expressive English term which refers to this primitive expression of appetite – into demand [exigence] which is not marked by the specific laws of the signifier.

&

We saw the year before last what it was for us and what it is, precisely, in the thought and the teaching of Freud. This Holy Spirit[iii] is the coming into the world, the entry into the world, of signifiers. What is this? It is very clearly what Freud brings us with the term ‘death instinct’. It is this limit of the signified which is never attained by any living being, which is never attained at all, except in some probably mythical exceptional cases, since we only encounter it in the last writings of a certain philosophical experience which is nonetheless something found virtually at the limits of man’s reflection on life itself, which allows him to glimpse death as its limit, as the absolute condition – unsurpassable, as Heidegger puts it – of his existence.

In any case, the existence in the world of man’s possible overall relations with the signifier, at any rate, is very precisely tied to this possibility of the elimination, the bracketing, of all that is experienced.

So what connection did I make to my father’s life after his stroke?

Two days before I read the above passages and one day after my father’s stroke, I was present at a doctor’s examination of my father. His stroke had damaged his left side causing some paralysis, affected his speech and probably knocked out the muscles controlling his digestive tract – his stomach was distended as if the alimentary canal was blocked. Whilst the doctor took Dad’s blood pressure,

Dad looked at the windows and said he could see a film. When he repeated this, I asked what it was about. He looked intently and then stated ’Nothing’. Shortly afterwards, his speech became coherent and he said, ‘this year 2018 they are stopping the transport of animals in crates’. I said, ‘oh you heard that on the news, so you are more up to date than I’. He nodded.

I think Dad was giving me the position of being ensnared in a cage, as what he is letting go. I have now failed to find any reference to this change in animal transportation in an internet search.

I did not realise the significance of his statement at the time. I now link it

– to his mother releasing him from incarceration in Spalding Workhouse when he was 13 (See Farmhouse Aches, Workhouse Pains by Gerald Green (Horton), 2005),

– the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans on the Japanese shortening the war which enabled him as an active air crew member to survive

– and during his passive years in residential care, he enjoyed repeatedly watching that escape film – ‘The Sound of Music’.

So it is more probable that my father’s gift to me was the essence of his walk towards death – of letting go.

So what was he letting go?

From researching the reference to Holy Spirit in Seminar IV : 5th December 1956, the following emerged (see end note below):

Seminar I : 23rd June 1954 : p253 of John Forrester’s translation gives the only reference to Holy : Both instances deal with things that disappear in history, but which, at the same time, still remain present, absent.

Seminar II : 29th June 1955 :  p326 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : If this speech received, by the subject didn’t exist, this speech which bears on the symbolic level, there would be no conflict with the imaginary, and each of us would purely and simply follow his inclination. Experience shows us that nothing of the sort happens. Freud never renounced an essential dualism as constitutive of the subject. This means nothing other than these intersections. I would like to pursue them.

The symbolic order is simultaneously non-being and insisting to be, that is what Freud has in mind when he talks about the death instinct as being what is most fundamental – a symbolic order in travail, in the process of coming, insisting on being realised. [end quote]

I suspect he was letting go of the symbolic order in travail, his trap, which insists on being realised.

Further

Following Dad’s death, Jacques Lacan’s comments on Antigone’s action make much more sense to me. Seminar VII : 8th June 1960 : p271 of Dennis Porter’s translation : But tragic heroes are always isolated, they are always beyond established limits, always in an exposed position and, as a result, separated in one way of another from the structure.

Dad lived within the structure and his memories of his war service, when he was in an exposed position in a war plane built of ply wood without an escape hatch which would take both airman and parachute, were always of his relationships with fellow crew members and briefing sessions and only once when he was beyond the established limits. He hitched a lift on the way back from an illicit night out in the local town. He told the lift giver how bored and anxious the crew was and the difficulties with their captain and pilot. The driver turned out to be the camp’s Commanding Officer. They had a change of pilot and were put on the next raid. He was never isolated, the residential home where he lived for his last five years, were bereft and upset when he died.

Dad was not a tragic hero, he was part of the structure. I suggest it is this cage he is letting go.

Seminar IV : 5th December 1956 (again)

p6 of Earl’s Court Collectives’ Translation (see endnotes): This Holy Spirit is the coming into the world, the entry into the world, of signifiers. What is this? It is very clearly what Freud brings us with the term ‘death instinct’. It is this limit of the signified which is never attained by any living being, which is never attained at all, … which is nonetheless something found virtually at the limits of man’s reflection on life itself, which allows him to glimpse death as its limit, as the absolute condition – unsurpassable, as Heidegger puts it – of his existence.

& Further

Mark Fisher, a member of the New Lacanian School’s registered cartel working on ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, presented a poem by John Donne ‘Negative Love’ set to music by John Adams[iv] at our February meeting. I think there is much in the work of this cartel which is relevant to what may be emerging here – this remain preliminary! In particular, Mark mentioned the concept of a good death, and will be exploring John Donne’s relation to this, among other strands, at our March meeting.

 

I understand Dad’s gift to me, on his final, rapid journey to his death, as being part of his process of a good death. He shared with me his glimpse of death as the limit of his life.

He had fully grasped what had been given him, and put it to work. When he let go, he had achieved all he had set himself. A good death, indeed.

 

Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London

 

FURTHER TEXTS

By Julia Evans here

By Bruno de Florence here

By Greg Hynds here

By Owen Hewitson here

Of the clinic : here

From other LW working groups : here

Text presented to Clinical Group meetings

Reading the Recommendations : London, 1st April 2017 (Open Meeting) : by Greg Hynds : Information here

What makes the initial interventions by an analyst work? : 1st April 2017 (Open Meeting) : by Julia Evans : Information here

Commentary on Maurice Bouvet’s case of Obsessional Neurosis (Seminar IV) : a reconstruction of the case by Julia Evans  on 15th June 2017 or here

Commentary on Maurice Bouvet’s description of Object Relations Theory (Seminar IV) or here  by Julia Evans  on 27th July 2017

The Yerodia Case : 27th July 2017 : Owen Hewitson : is available here

Comments on the Yerodia Case : A preliminary engagement with ‘Psychoanalytic Violence: An Essay in Indifference in Ethical Matters’ by Dany Nobus by Julia Evans on 30th July 2017 or here

Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Social Bond : acting as a 1-subject, outside of ideals : 5th November 2017 (London) by Bruno de Florence on November 5, 2017 or here

The analyst’s position : Thursday 26th October 2017 by Julia Evans on October 26, 2017 or here

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ENDNOTES

[i] Members of the Earl’s Court Collective are Greg Hynds, Jesse Cohn, 

Julia Evans (www.lacanianworks.net), Alma Buholzer. For further information on their work, see Translation Working Group here

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[ii] For translations & notes, see Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan or here

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[iii] References to Holy & Holy Spirit :

Seminar I : 23rd June 1954 : p253 of John Forrester’s translation gives the only reference to Holy : See Seminar I: Freud’s papers on technique: 1953-1954 : begins on 18th November 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here

Top of p253 : Both instances deal with things that disappear in history, but which, at the same time, still remain present, absent.

P252 : BEIRNAERT: Which should not be spatialised. I say in the soul in opposition to the material. Then he moves on to the next word. It is nihil, that is nothing. Adeodatus says - Clearly, this is what does not exist. Saint Augustine makes the objection that what does not exist cannot possibly be something. So the second word is not a sign, because it does not signify something. And it is by mistake that they had agreed that every word is a sign, or that every sign is a sign of something. Adeodatus is perplexed, because if we have nothing to signify, it is madness to speak. So, there must be something to that.

Aug. [St Augustus] – ‘Instead of saying that nihil signifies something which is nothing, shall we say that this word signifies a certain state in the soul when, failing to perceive a thing the soul nevertheless finds, or thinks it finds, that such a thing does not exist’?


Hence, what is signified here is the state in the soul consequent upon an absence of something which could be there.

Lacan : The value of this first part lies quite precisely in having shown that it is impossible to deal with language by referring the sign to the thing term by term. It is informative for us, as long as we don’t forget that negativity had not been developed in Saint Augustine’s time. And you see that, not withstanding, by dint of signs, or of things – we are here to try to find out which it is – he falters on the nihil in this beautiful line. It is not an entirely accidental choice. Certainly Freud knew Virgil very well, and this line, which evokes the Troy that has disappeared, has a strange resonance with the fact that, when Freud, in Civilisation and its Discontents, wants to define the unconscious, he talks of the [p253] monuments of the Rome that had once been. Both instances deal with things that disappear in history, but which, at the same time, still remain present, absent. ‘

BEIRNAERT; Augustine then moves on to the third term, which is ex. Here, his disciple gives him another word to explain what it signifies. It is the word de, a term of separation from a thing in which the object is found, from which it is derived. After which Augustine remarks that he has explained words with words - ex by de, one very well known word by other very well known ones. Then he urges him to move beyond the plane he presently occupies.

Aug. –‘I would like you to show me, if you can, those very things of which these words are the signs.


BEIRNAERT; He uses rampart [‘paries’] as his example.

Aug. - Can you point it out to me in such a way that I will see the very thing whose sign this three-syllable word is. You would be showing it to me without the use of words.

BEIRNAERT; Then there’s an account of gesture language. Augustine asks his disciple if he has paid attention to the deaf, who communicate with each other by gesture. And he shows that, in this language, it is not only visible things which are shown, but also sounds, tastes, etc.

  1. MANNONI: This reminds me of the little game we played at Guitrancourt, on Sunday. And in the theatre, also, actors make themselves understood and put on plays without speech, with dancing.

Lacan: Your allusion is, in fact, very instructive. You’re referring to a little game in which one of two teams has to get the other to guess, as quickly as possible, a word supplied in secret by the organiser of the game. Exactly what Saint Augustine is reminding us of in this passage becomes clear in this game. Because what is being talked about here is not so much the dialectic of gesture as the dialectic of pointing. That he uses as his example rampart should not surprise us, since he is going to come up more against the rampart of language than against the real rampart. He thus goes on to remark that it is not only things which can be designated, but also qualities. If every pointing, is a sign, it is an ambiguous sign. Because if the rampart is pointed out to you, how are you to know that it really is the rampart, and not, for example, its rough quality, or its green, grey, etc? In the same way, in the little game we played the other day, someone having to express ivy went and got some ivy. He was told – You are cheating. That was wrong. The person brought three ivy leaves. That could designate the colour green, or the Holy Trinity, and lots of other things.

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Or Seminar II : 29th June 1955 :  p326 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here

If this speech received, by the subject didn’t exist, this speech which bears on the symbolic level, there would be no conflict with the imaginary, and each of us would purely and simply follow his inclination. Experience shows us that nothing of the sort happens. Freud never renounced an essential dualism as constitutive of the subject. This means nothing other than these intersections. I would like to pursue them.

The symbolic order is simultaneously non-being and insisting to be, that is what Freud has in mind when he talks about the death instinct as being what is most fundamental – a symbolic order in travail, in the process of coming, insisting on being realised.

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Or Seminar III : 6th June 1956   : p243 of Russell Grigg’s translation : See Seminar III: The Psychoses: 1955-1956: from 16th November 1955: Jacques Lacan or here

The power of the signifier, the effectiveness of this word fear, has been to transform the zeal at the beginning, with everything that is ambiguous, doubtful, always liable to be reversed, that this word conveys, into the faithfulness of the end. This transmutation is of the order of the signifier as such. No accumulation, no superimposition, no summation of meanings, is sufficient to justify it. The entire progress of this scene, which would otherwise be worthy of the Deuxieme Bureau* resides in the transmutation of the situation through the intervention of the signifier.

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[iv] NEGATIVE LOVE.
by John Donne

I NEVER stoop’d so low, as they
Which on an eye, cheek, lip, can prey ;
Seldom to them which soar no higher
Than virtue, or the mind to admire.
For sense and understanding may
Know what gives fuel to their fire ;
My love, though silly, is more brave ;
For may I miss, whene’er I crave,
If I know yet what I would have.

If that be simply perfectest,
Which can by no way be express’d
But negatives, my love is so.
To all, which all love, I say no.
If any who deciphers best,
What we know not—ourselves—can know,
Let him teach me that nothing. This
As yet my ease and comfort is,
Though I speed not, I cannot miss.

Presented by Mark Fisher as set to music by John Adams :

– BBC Radio 3 – BBC Proms, 2017, Prom 1: First Night of the BBC … www.bbc.co.uk

John Adams‘ Harmonium , from the first nightof the 2017 Proms. It’s performed by the BBC Proms Youth Choir, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner.

– John Adams – Harmonium – BBC Proms 2017 – YouTube : ▶ 34:10 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LytizCfS4IM : 1 Aug 2017 –

Performance from the First Night of the BBC Proms 2017.