Dan Eckstein

"The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud." Écrits: A
Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Main Point's of Lacan's Argument:

1.) Each signified has attached to it an unreliable set of signifiers. For example the picture of the door could have either signifier, Ladies or Gentlemen, and thus the signified (because of the formula S/s) is "equal" in a mathematical sense to 1, and thus Signifier/1 = signifier, so the signified's "value" is determined by the signifier. Any given signified has a spectrum of signifiers, which float in freedom until someone attaches it.

2.) Language, in its only "true" and pure sense, exists as a pre-symbolic entity in the Id, the unconscious psyche. At contact with the outside world, specifically the "mirror" stage the ego develops and thus language begins to become constructed by signifiers (which we've already decided are unreliable) this takes place as a sort of mimesis of "real" language (in itself equal to reality) in which letters are the 1st set of signifiers, then phonemes, then words, then sentence structure or syntax. Thus by the time spoken, or written, language is fully achieved there is a distinct and unbridgeable separation from the "real," precognitive language.
3.) Because "language" as we know it develops parallel to the development of the mind-self (through the creation of ego and super-ego), linguistic recognition is inextricably linked with identity, which takes us back to the signified door with the signifiers of Ladies and Gentlemen, for the gender-identified female the signified door is equal to its signifier "Ladies" and likewise the gender-identified male equates it with "Gentlemen."

This brings us to perhaps the most important part of Lacan's argument, the significance of the unconscious in language. According to Lacan, the two frequently employed linguistic devices of metonymy and metaphor function in written and spoken language, specifically artistic writing (poetry) in much the same way that dreams function. Metonymy, which substitutes a logical signifier for the signified in a sentence (such as: The White House announced today…), represents the lack, the desire to fill an unfulfilled wish, hence the substitution. Metonymy, for Lacan, is equivalent to Freud's "displacement" and "is represented as the most appropriate means used by the unconscious to foil censorship" (Lacan 150). Metaphor, is the symptom of a neurosis, the substituted signifier in a metaphor represents some fetishistic association of the speaker/writer. Thus Lacan sees language as a dream, as a projection of the unconscious mind (or as he would put it, the projection of the Other on the other). By using Lacanian psychoanalysis to examine texts, we can get at the Other, by identifying the lack and the symptom and getting to their root.

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