english

THE SIGNIFIER

Ghiath el-Marzouk

 

1 - Preliminary

This article will discuss the entity of the signifier as a physical, and therefore observable, medium whose ultimate goal is to destinedly represent the subject, given his/her ominously overpowering attributes (hesitation, division, and alienation) at the level of language. The article will begin the discussion with Lacan’s concept of the primordial signifier, whose assimilation operates in accordance with the ascriptions of the paternal metaphor, since its phallic signification seems to predetermine all types of significations of (later) signifiers along the continual path of sense production. It will, thence, re-evoke the spatial distinction between extra-linguistic signifiers (which cast out their significations without language) and intra-linguistic signifiers (that emit their significations within language), and will concentrate on probing the latter signifiers. Thus, upon positing de Saussure’s dichotomy ‘signifier-signified’ and its specific implications, the dichotomy to which Lacan attaches great importance from the viewpoint of his psychoanalysis, the emphasis will be placed on the unnoticed essential similarity between de Saussure’s account of the signifier as an acoustic image and Freud’s account of the word as a sound-image, thereby stressing the very long linguistic history behind the dichotomy. De Saussure’s further dichotomy, ‘syntagmatic-paradigmatic’, the dichotomy to which Lacan attaches greater importance, will also be elucidated, so as to illuminate de Saussure’s contention that the signifier acquires its signification only by means of its syntagmatic and/or paradigmatic relationships with other signifiers, given his view of language as a differential system of signs. In addition, within the ‘structural’ opposition between de Saussure’s and Lacan’s logical positioning of the signifier vis-à-vis the signified, the ‘conceptual’ opposition between their psychical positioning of the signifier will be underlined: while de Saussure regards the signifier as a psychically destructible term which signifies ‘something’, Lacan considers it a psychically indestructible element that signifies ‘nothing’ in the real order. Then, within Lacan’s view of language as a differential system of signifiers, his contention that the signifier represents the subject for another signifier will be explained, hence his notion of the signifying chain, and his assertion that meaning is always in a state of flux. Since the signifying chain follows the ‘logics’ of metonymy (syntagmatically) and metaphor (paradigmatically), both figures of speech, which are inspired by de Saussure’s still further dichotomy, ‘diachronic-synchronic’, will be accounted for with reference to Jakobson’s postulation of the two discrete axes in language processing (viz. the combinatorial axis and the substitutive axis) and their ‘one-sided’ repercussions in language aphasia. Furthermore, reference will also be made to the essential disagreement between Lacan and Jakobson over the exact parallelism of both metonymy and metaphor with Freud’s two terms (viz. displacement and condensation) in the context of the dream-work specifically. Then, de Saussure’s still further dichotomy, langue-parole, the dichotomy to which Lacan attaches the greatest importance, will be illustrated in terms of the distinction that Lacan makes between languea language’ and langage ‘language’ to establish his own dichotomy langage-parole instead, thereby coining the neologism lalangue which points to the incommunicable aspects of language. His main incentive is to adduce the fact that it is langage (rather than langue) that represents the unconscious mode of language –unlike parole which exemplifies its conscious mode, hence the subject’s division between langage and parole as an ominous attribute. Finally, within his conjunction of Freud’s approach to the psyche and de Saussure’s approach to language, Lacan’s most celebrated maxim, viz. “the unconscious is structured like a language”, will be discussed with reference to its origin in Freud’s approach and his theorization on the dream-work as well.

2 - Exposition

As discussed in a previous article (cf. el-Marzouk, 2008), the personal subject, contrary to the impersonal subject and the undefined (or anonymous) subject, is inherently hesitant and immanently divided or split between two opposite modes of representing his/her being in reality: the affirmative mode of his/her ‘personal’ ego in the statement (the present conscious I) at the one extreme, and the negative mode of his/her ‘personal’ ego in the enunciation (the absent unconscious I) at the other extreme. For this reason, Lacan is inclined to characterize the ‘shifter’ (the person uttering I) with what he calls, the ‘indexical signifier’ (rather than the ‘indexical symbol’ in Jakobson’s sense) so as to underline another important distinction between the enunciation (as a set of indices) and the statement (as a set of signifiers), given his conceptual reversal of the index in contradistinction with the signifier, and not with the symbol per se. Recall that, from a semiotic perspective, the index seeks to establish a contiguous relationship with its referent (in which case it alludes to Peirce’s idea of the sign), and that the symbol, on the contrary, tends to constitute a discontiguous relationship with its referent (in which case it refers to de Saussure’s notion of the sign). The initial motive for Lacan’s conceptual reversal of the index vis-à-vis the signifier is, thus, to emphasize a further significant distinction between the function of the symptom in medicine as an index of the physical disease in question and the function of the symptom in psychoanalysis as a signifier of the psychical illness under consideration (i.e. the symptomatic signifier itself) (cf. Lacan, 1966a:129; 1966b:348; see, also, el-Marzouk, 2009, note 2). But Lacan’s principal incentive is to contend that the extent of hesitation and division is determined by the extent of speech activity: the subject is hesitant and divided between the conscious I and the unconscious I “only insofar as he/[she] speaks”(Lacan, 1966a:269; 1966b:530), thereby contending that the continuity of the existential factor is conditioned by the discontinuity of the ‘tongue action’: “the subject designates his/[her] being by barring everything he/[she] signifies” (Lacan, 1966a:288; 1966b:581). This contention denotes nothing less than the fact that the subject is perpetually alienated and estranged at the level of language, too, an alienation and an estrangement that are destinedly imputed to the psychical transformation whereby the ego originally ‘identifies’ itself with an alter ego (Lacan, 1955-6:23). As such, the ‘indexical signifier’ (or simply signifier) would betray the subject’s unfortunate attributions (viz. hesitation, division, and alienation) in the same way examples of the parapraxis betray his/her true intentionality, such as, slips of the tongue, the ear, the pen, etc. This means that the subject’s entertained true intentions are nothing but the hidden or pent-up true judgements (as opposed to the revealed or spelled-out false judgements), the two types of judgements which were discussed in (el-Marzouk, 2008) and explained further in (el-Marzouk, 2009). Consequently, the subject does not seem to exist as a discrete individual who is integral and clear-cut at the level of language, but appears to exist as an indiscrete dividuum who is ambivalent and circumscribed with an arcane wilderness in spheres where he/she cannot possibly be, a subject whose hidden or pent-up secrets are exposed beyond his/her will by the signifier, by the very fact that the signifier represents him/her whenever he/she speaks a word or signifies an idea or a thing.

Clearly, therefore, the existential representation by the signifier, in this manner, indicates that the (speaking or signifying) subject has, undoubtedly, assimilated (the signification of) the signifier in spheres where he/she can possibly be. Yet it is the signifier as a physical medium per se which  eventually seeks to represent him/her as an indiscrete and ambivalent dividuum, an ‘individual’ who is basically neurotic because of his/her very capacity for processing what is known as, the primordial signifier –unlike the psychotic ‘individual’ who simply does not have, in this case, the ability to process the same primordial signifier. According to Lacan, in this context, the processing (i.e. assimilation) of the primordial signifier seems to operate in accordance with the associations of the parental function (or the ascriptions of the paternal metaphor), the function or metaphor which entails the substitution of the Name-of-the-Father, as a masculine nominal order, for the Mother’s Desire, as a feminine conational order, a mere transition to the (pristine) location that is “first symbolized by the operation of the mother’s absence [from the feminine conational order]” (Lacan, 1966a:200; 1966b:456). In such a perspective, the processing of the primordial signifier, viz. the Name-of-the-Father (or Nom-du-Père), would certainly point to the assimilation of the ethicality of the father’s tabooing function against the incestual ties whose firstlings may arise during the Oedipal period: an assimilation that is, in effect, comparable to the appropriation of the morality of the identified’s prohibitive authority against the same ties, as discussed in a previous article (cf. el-Marzouk, 2007). For this very reason, all sorts of signification that are exemplified by (later) signifiers along the continual path of sense production would be predetermined by the phallic signification of the primordial signifier, whether these significations are explicit/literal or implicit/figurative. If the processing of the primordial signifier is not foreclosed (that is, if it is assimilated by the subject), then the resultant clinical structure is proof of the disturbances of neurosis in the ‘normal’ psychopathological situation, where phallic signification is present in the psychical apparatus. If, however, the processing of the same primordial signifier is foreclosed (that is, if it is not assimilated by the subject), then the resultant clinical structure is evidence of the disturbances of psychosis in the ‘abnormal’ psychopathological situation, where phallic signification is absent from the psychical apparatus itself. Thus, the prior anchoring of a disposition to neurosis, in the ‘normal’ psychopathological situation, would be no more than a psychoanalytic expression that amounts to the nascent rooting of an attribute of alienation at the level of language, and would thence reflect the incipient moment of existence at which the subject enters into the symbolic order, an entrance which is instigated, so it seems, by the masculine symbolization of paternal nominality or by the establishment of the (nominal) symbolic father on the basis of his/her assimilation of the primordial signifier. Given that the false judgements are by-products of ambiguous and illusory measures (on the forced part of the present ego), and that the true judgements are by-products of unambiguous and non-illusory measures (on the unforced part of the absent ego/id), the personal subject’s division between the conscious I (in the statement) and the unconscious I (in the enunciation) can now be translated into his/her division between the world of signifieds in the imaginary order and the world of signifiers in the symbolic order, respectively, with the contradicting and resisting nature of the real order, in between, stamping the decreed impossibility of true articulation, as an accomplished fact, due to both the spuriousness of all the signifieds and the negativity of all the signifiers.[1]

To refresh the memory once more, mention has already been made of three distinctive types of the signifier throughout the exposition in two previous articles, viz. the specular signifier, the symptomatic signifier, and the aporetic signifier (cf. el-Marzouk, 2007; 2009, note 2). The specular signifier, firstly, may allude to the imago which is initially introjected under the effect of imaginary identification (that is, ‘identification with the imago itself’) in the mirror stage, where the most primal assimilation of reflexive self-realization seems to be jubilantly established by the human infant (or the subject) –unlike the situation with the animal infant (or the non-subject), whose basic absorption of its own image does not appear to meet with its approval (cf. el-Marzouk, 2007). Moreover, this primal assimilation of reflexive self-realization constitutes the nucleus of the (underdeveloped) ideal ego to act as an ideal imago and to be, later, ‘irrigated’ under the influence of imaginary projection, which, in turn, forms the nucleus of the (more developed) ego-ideal to behave as an ideal signifier and to be, then, nurtured under the effect of symbolic introjection (cf. el-Marzouk, 2008, note 4). Thus, the imago itself seeks to inject its ‘signification’ into the specular signifier, so to speak, in the ‘normal’ course of (early) ego development. The symptomatic signifier, secondly, may refer to the single character-trait which the identifier (or the subject) assimilates from the identified (or the object) in the intervening inversion of the Oedipus complex, as is the case with the little girl who was voluntarily reproducing her mother’s excruciating cough, or the case with young Dora who was ‘involuntarily’ imitating her father’s tormenting (catarrhal) cough. This single character-trait (or nur einen einzigen Zug) is considered to be a signifier which has its signified in virtue of being an element of a differential signifying system, a signifier that is then introjected under the influence of symbolic identification to ultimately denote ‘identification with the symptom’ in the post-mirror stage –in contradistinction with ‘identification with the imago’ (see, also, el-Marzouk, 2007). Hence, the symptom manifests itself as a single character-trait which tends to exert its ‘signification’ on the symptomatic signifier but in the ‘abnormal’ course of (later) ego development. The aporetic signifier, thirdly, may point to either of the two suspended motions in the assertiveness of anticipated certainty (viz. disjunctive hesitation and conjunctive hesitation), the motions which would enable the subject to know an unknown self-attribution in the presence of the other subjects (typically, two in number) who certainly exhibit the same attribution, on the one hand, and in the absence of an already known equal number of subjects who supposedly display a different attribution, on the other. These two suspended motions are represented as two of the premises of the logical problem that is posited as a new sophism, and are exemplified by the three prisoners with their three fastened white disks (which are selected from five identical disks differing only in colour, the other two disks being black). Therefore, either suspended motion aims at imposing its ‘signification’ on the aporetic signifier to be ingested as a blind spot (in the optic sense), since the subject’s true deduction of his/her own white disk is based on what he/she does not see in reality (the two black disks) rather than on what he/she actually sees (the two white disks) (see, also, el-Marzouk, 2009).

It now becomes clear that all such three types of the signifier (the specular signifier, the symptomatic signifier, and the aporetic signifier) tend to psychically operate, so it seems, outside the domain of language associations (whether the signifier is incorporated as a self-centered imago or a single character-trait (the cough) or a suspended motion of hesitation). For this reason, alone, the three types of the signifier were classified under what was then called ‘extra-linguistic signifiers’ (cf. el-Marzouk, 2009, note 2), particularly when the linguistic space comes out as a threshold for symbolizing the inner world, the threshold whereby a part of libidinal manifestation is associated with a counterpart of ego manifestation and extends further to the level of ‘object-representation’ (that is, the psychical representation of the outer world). Yet the process of ‘semantically’ assimilating each of such extra-linguistic signifiers does not derive its tools from a threshold that is completely dissociated from the threshold of linguistic symbolization in itself, given the afore-said overlapping nature of the three fundamental orders (or registers) in the process of mental functioning (see, also, note 1). In contrast with extra-linguistic signifiers, therefore, what may now be calledintra-linguistic signifiers’ would suggest any of the signifiers that seek to psychically operate, whatever the operation may be, inside the domain of language associations, such as, the signifiers that are structurally represented in the forms of nominals, pronominals, verbals, adverbials, adjectivals, and so forth, with the primordial signifier referred to above exhibiting itself (with its phallic signification) as the ‘mythical’ forefather of intra-linguistic signifiers in their entirety.[2] This spatial difference between the signifiers brings to light the famous dichotomy ‘signified-signifier’ (or signifié-signifiant), the dichotomy which de Saussure puts forward within his structuralist method, and to which Lacan attaches great importance within his psychoanalytic method, but with the express conceptual reversal of the dichotomy, as will be seen presently. According to de Saussure, in this connection, (human) language is a continuum in itself, a continuum which reflects a differential system of linguistic signs, where each sign is based on two contrasting cardinal components: the abstract or perceptual component that defines the signified, at the one extreme, and the concrete or sensory component that specifies the signifier, at the other. De Saussure’s view of the signifier (being defined by the concrete or sensory component) is that it is, first of all, an ‘acoustic image’, an image which constitutes an arbitrary relationship with the signified (being specified by the abstract or perceptual component). He is, thereby, refuting all the conjectural theories put forward by the philologists before the rise of (modern) linguistics, the theories which tried to explain the origin of language, as a human phenomenon, in terms of the systematically onomatopoeic bond between the signifier and the signified. For instance, there is nothing, in the least, that can be discerned as systematically onomatopoeic from the French word fouet ‘whip’ or from the Latin word fagus ‘beech-tree’, even though the former as an exemplary signifier was derived in the twelfth century from the latter as an exemplary signifier, too (de Saussure, 1916:66f.). As such, de Saussure’s conception of the signifier, from this angle, is well comparable with Freud’s conception of the word at the level of word-presentation, a level whereby “the sound-image stands for the word” in the same way “the visual [images] stand for the object” at the level of object-representation (Freud, 1915b:221, emphasis added; see, also, el-Marzouk, 2007, note 3). This indicates that the relationship between the word as a sound-image (cf. the signifier as an acoustic image) and its meaning as mental image (cf. its signified as a noetic image) is also fortuitous (cf. arbitrary). For this very reason, it might be said, in Freud’s words, that “the ego wears a ‘cap of hearing’ [or Hörkappe]” and, what is more, “it [the ego] might be said to wear it awry” (Freud, 1923b:363; emphasis added). If Lacan himself were aware of this remarkable similarity between de Saussure and Freud, a similarity which undoubtedly would not be lost upon someone of Lacan’s extremely meticulous and voracious reading, then the figurative expression would show, as it were, that the afore-said conscious I in the statement (the ‘person uttering I’) would not be making a false judgement upon declaring: I said that Lacan may be a synthesis of Freud and de Saussure. Notwithstanding, of course, that Freud’s theorization on word-presentation dates back to the early days of writing The Interpretation of Dreams (cf. Freud, 1900:403, 690f.) or even to an earlier letter Freud sent to his friend, the otolaryngologist Fliess, in1896 (cf. Freud, 1887-1902, Letter 52). Consequently, with the traditional dichotomy ‘form-content’ (or ‘expression-substance’) and its ‘contingency’ (or ‘conventionality’) in mind, it is clear that the seemingly modern dichotomy ‘signifier-signified’ (or ‘sound-meaning’) and its ‘arbitrariness’ (or ‘fortuity’) can neither be ascribed to de Saussure nor to Freud exclusively, since the raison d’être which underlies the dichotomy is as ancient as the philosophical reflection on language itself.

What seems to be characterized as original in de Saussure’s structuralist method, however, is that the signified (or meaning) is not generally derived a priori from a given ‘reality’ (be it human or divine), a reality that dons the garb of experience and then sets out to demonstrate its existence outside language as a continuum, but rather the signified (or meaning) is especially engendered (or rather generated) inside language as a purely differential system with its formalism and formality, a sheer system of terms that do nothing but differ from each other. In de Saussure’s oft-quoted words: “In language there are only differences without positive terms” (de Saussure, 1916:120, original emphasis). Given the arbitrary (fortuitous) relationship between the signifier (or sound) and the signified (or meaning), any series of tangible instances of the signifier are, therefore, the linguistic entities which may be considered positive terms, so it appears, by dint of their potential natural orderliness. For this reason, the originality of de Saussure’s structuralist method can also be perceived from his contention that the signifier does not establish a given relationship of any sort with the signified primarily by virtue of the arbitrary or fortuitous nature of the relationship, even if the signified manifests itself as the psychical counterpart of the referent. The signifier, on the contrary, is inclined to exhibit its positivity through the relationship (or relationships) it constitutes with other signifiers, and not with the signified, within the differential system of language: the associational constitution, from this perspective, tends to incarnate explicitly what is termed, the ‘syntagmatic characteristic’ and/or embody implicitly its antithetical one, viz. the ‘paradigmatic characteristic’ (cf. de Saussure, 1916:124f.). This associational constitution discloses the further famous dichotomy ‘syntagmatic-paradigmatic’, the dichotomy which de Saussure also puts forward within his structuralist method, and to which Lacan attaches greater importance within his psychoanalytic method. Accordingly, de Saussure’s sense of the signifier as an ‘acoustic image’ (or a ‘sound-image’ in Freud’s sense) would now be perceived as a term which acquires its signification (or its ‘signified’) only in terms of the syntagmatic and/or paradigmatic relationships it establishes with other signifiers, since what is called ‘reality’ in any human language is, in fact, nothing else than a construct that is prefabricated by a skillful hand, one of the many skillful hands of the language which is implemented to describe this ‘reality’. At the one extreme, the syntagmatic mode of signification is seen as a mode that functions horizontally within a finite series of differential tie-ups among contiguous signifiers and their explicit incarnation. For instance, in the sentence (The pauper wrote a book in his hut.), the (animate) nominal the pauper would be related forward to the (voluntary) verbal wrote which follows it, the (inanimate) nominal a book would be related backward to the (voluntary) verbal wrote which precedes it, and so on. At the other extreme, the paradigmatic mode of signification is viewed as a mode which operates vertically within a (potentially) infinite series of differential tie-ups among discontiguous signifiers, instead. For example, in the above sentence, the (animate) nominal the pauper acquires its signification (or its ‘signified’) in virtue of its phonemic contrast with other discontiguous signifiers and their implicit embodiment, signifiers which belong the same categorization in the totality of the language system. Thus, the first signifier (S1) is the (animate) nominal the pauper not the president or the dog, S2 is the (voluntary) verbal wrote not the (compulsory) verbal enacted or the (survival) verbal crunched, S3 is the (inanimate) nominal a book not a law or a bone, and so forth. This (potentially) infinite series continues until it reaches that expressive level where the specific signification of the sentence in question is realized in its entirety, and until the sentence manifests itself in semantic contradistinction with (The president enacted a law in his palace.) or (The dog crunched a bone in its kennel.) or, ultimately, any other sentence conveying to the hearer (or the reader) the idea of doing something in a place that belongs to the doer of the activity (technical details are left aside, for ease of exposition).

From the syntagmatic-paradigmatic dichotomy, therefore, it can be seen that de Saussure, within his structuralist method, proffers a symmetrically significant standing to both the signifier and the signified in a kind of perpetual or timeless presence (Signified/Signifier). In this case, there is no logical difference between the two entities as long as this form of presence is not worn out by the course of time, and inasmuch as the arbitrary or fortuitous relationship between them represents a mutual interdependence and an unfragmentable unification, as it is now to be understood. Thus, with the express ‘structural’ reversal of such symmetrically significant standing, Lacan, within his psychoanalytic method, stresses the priority of the signifier and its logical ascendancy over the signified in a sort of non-perpetual presence or, rather, timeful absence (Signifier/signified). He is, thereby, deliberately accentuating an immovable barrier between the two entities, on the one hand, and subsequently disintegrating their interdependence and fragmenting their unification, on the other. As such, there is a logical difference between the two entities as long as the form of ‘presence’ in question is worn out by the course of time, and inasmuch as the arbitrary or fortuitous relationship between them is governed by a historical coincidence that is superseded by another historical coincidence. From this viewpoint, Lacan seeks to liberate the signifier, so it appears, from any fixed or fixated form of bondage with the signified, as is the case with the linguistic sign referred to above, since the signified, being an abstract component in itself, is nothing more that a mere sample of the many by-products of the signifier, the signifier which acts as the physical component of transmission in the totality of the language system. With this sharp structural opposition between de Saussure’s and Lacan’s logical positioning of the signifier vis-à-vis the signified, the underlying conceptual opposition between their psychical positioning of the latter entity (the signifier) can now be discerned more transparently: while the Saussurean signifier manifests itself as a psychically destructible term because it signifies something at every moment of articulation, the Lacanian signifier exhibits itself as a psychically indestructible element because it signifies nothing at the moment of articulation, given the destined impossibility of true articulation in the real order itself, as mentioned earlier (see note 1). Hence, in Lacan’s words: “Every real signifier is, as such, a signifier that signifies nothing. The more the signifier signifies nothing, the more indestructible it is” (Lacan, 1955-6:185; emphasis added). If, however, the signifier signifies something which directly reflects its real intentionality, then this signification does nothing but coincide with what the subject’s true desire signifies at the unconscious level (the absent unconscious I), and thence does nothing but remain as one of his/her ensconced enigmas at the conscious level (the present conscious I). Yet this ensconced or invisible puzzle can well be extrapolated, albeit with extreme difficulty, from particular manifestations of unconsciousness, such as dreams, parapraxes, jokes, symptoms, and the like (not to speak of the predeterminism of the wishful or conative signification in question by the phallic signification that is associated with the primordial signifier, as discussed above (see, also, note 2)). It appears, therefore, that de Saussure’s account of language as a differential system is now subjected to a form of ideational reduction in Lacan’s account, and thus the differential system is reduced to the entity of the signifier per se rather than to the entity of the sign as a combination of the signifier and the signified. This means that the entity of the signifier seeks to represent the subject’s being for another signifier within an endless ‘signifying chain’ –unlike the entity of the sign which intends to represent something for someone. Lacan avers: “Any node in which signs are concentrated, in so far as they represent something, may be taken for a someone. What must be stressed at the outset is that a signifier is that which represents a subject for another signifier” (Lacan, 1964:207). What is more, this endless signifying chain of signifiers manifests itself as a direct expression of the constant absence (or, rather, constant lack) of any stable or fixed signification at the conscious level, on the one hand, and as an indirect expression of the perpetual insatiation of the subject’s true desire at the unconscious level, on the other. Such perpetual insatiation and constant lack would indicate nothing but Lacan’s dogged assertion which dates back to more than two and a half millennia, the assertion that meaning is always in a state of flux (Lacan, 1956-7:288f.).[3] Therefore, with the exception of proper names, which do not tend to change or alter their ‘meanings’ at any moment of articulation, the endless signifying chain of signifiers would seem to display a vague proclivity towards what is known as ‘language processing’ in accordance with the ‘logics’ of metonymy and metaphor, thus following the logics of syntagmas and paradigmas in de Saussure’s sense, respectively.

As for the ‘logic’ of metonymy, at the one extreme, this figure of speech (or trope) operates syntagmatically (or horizontally) in order to conjoin a set of two (or more) unconscious signifiers which may be explicitly dissimilar, with the resultant conjunction process abiding by the laws of syntagmatic (or horizontal) contiguity. Along with the effect of the endless signifying chain of signifiers referred to above, the ‘logic’ of metonymy, according to Lacan, seeks to represent a ‘non-recurrent’ synchronic movement from one unconscious signifier to another incessantly, thereby indicating that signification (which is predetermined by the phallic signification of the primordial signifier) would, by all means, be unremittingly procrastinated. Given that the structure of (true) desire is, in and of itself, a metonymic structure at the level of unconsciousness (see Lacan’s oft-quoted injunction that “desire is a metonymy” (Lacan, 1966a:175; 1966b:439)), it is evident, therefore, that the sense of the perpetual insatiation of the subject’s (true) desire mentioned above would correspond with the sense of the unremitting procrastination of signification, which is indicated by the synchronic movement at the same level. As a figure of speech (or trope) in any human language, the ‘logic’ of metonymy (which is derived from the Greek metaonoma ‘name alteration’) points to the ‘altering’ or ‘changing’ procedure whereby the habitual name of a given animate or inanimate object is substituted for the habitual name of another animate or inanimate object that is related to it, provided that the substitute embodies a particular attribution and the substituted incarnates a general attribution in the unmarked situation (for example, The Sail stands for the general ‘ship’; The Stage stands for the general ‘theatre’; and so on). In this unmarked situation, therefore, metonymy is well comparable to synecdoche, a further figure of speech (or trope) which implies the same ‘altering’ or ‘changing’ procedure, except that the substitute reveals a partial attribution and the substituted betrays a total attribution or vice versa (for instance, thirty head stands for ‘thirty cattle’, the army stands for ‘a soldier’, and so forth). Hence, the laws of syntagmatic (or horizontal) contiguity can be grasped more perspicuously, especially with respect to what is prescribed by the structure of (true) desire: just as The Sail, with its particular attribution, establishes a metonymic relationship with ‘the ship’, with its general attribution (that is, the two objects are apparently contiguous but explicitly dissimilar), so, too, the structure of (true) desire would dictate that one unconscious signifier constitute a metonymic rapport with another without (the two) being necessarily contingent upon any phonemic or semantic similitude. This would mean, in other words, that the ‘metonymic’ characterization which is attributed to the structure of (true) desire does necessitate the absence of any stable or fixed connection that is predictable between the substance of desire (i.e. the desiring substance) and the object of desire (i.e. the desired object) –unlike the connection between the needing substance of need and its needed object, a connection that is stable and fixed and is well predictable, in this case, simply because it is left to the ‘mercy’ of a purely biological determinism. In consequence, the term metonymy, with its characteristics of explicit dissimilarity and its laws of syntagmatic (or horizontal) contiguity, would appear to be, in Lacan’s writings, nothing else than an alternative term to Freud’s concept of ‘displacement’ in the context of the dream-work specifically. As such, displacement manifests itself as a mechanism whereby a certain oneiric image tends to symbolize another oneiric image which does follow it, even though the two oneiric images in question are quite remote from each other (cf. Freud, 1900:414f.; 1915-7:208f., etc.).

As for the ‘logic’ of metaphor, at the other extreme, this figure of speech (or trope) functions paradigmatically (or vertically), so as to combine a set of two (or more) unconscious signifiers that may be implicitly similar instead, with the resultant combination process complying, in this case, with the laws of paradigmatic (or vertical) discontiguity. Thus, in contrast with the conjunction process of metonymic association, the process which conjoins unconscious signifiers within a single endless signifying chain (hence the apparent flow of syntagmatic (or horizontal) relationships), the combination process of metaphoric association combines one unconscious signifier in one endless signifying chain with another unconscious signifier in another endless signifying chain (hence the manifest overflow of paradigmatic (or vertical) relationships). This indicates that the ‘logic’ of metaphor, according to Lacan, tends to represent a diachronic movement, this time, a recurrent movement which proceeds from one unconscious signifier (with its already metonymic attribution) to another unconscious signifier (with its already metonymic attribution, too). The former unconscious signifier appears to succumb to repression (viz. secondary repression) and disappears from the ‘conscious’ sight, while the latter unconscious  signifier seems to return again and don the garb of a psychopathological symptom at a later phase. Given that the structure of the symptom is, in and of itself, a metaphoric structure the level of the unconscious (see Lacan’s injunction that “the symptom is a metaphor” (Lacan, 1966a:175; 1966b:439)), it is clear, then, that such a recurrent diachronic movement would ultimately reflect the seemingly intermittent repetition of the magnitudes of the parental function (or the degrees of the paternal metaphor), as discussed earlier. This seemingly intermittent repetition would reflect, in turn, the recurrence of a past psychopathological symptom that is semantically reducible to the limit of the phallic signification of the primordial signifier, the mythical forefather of all signifiers, as seen (see, also, note 2). As a figure of speech (or trope) in any human language, the ‘logic’ of metaphor (which is derived from the Greek metaphora ‘transference’) refers to the ‘transference’ procedure whereby a given animate or inanimate object is substituted for, or employed in place of, another animate or inanimate object that is connected with it, provided that  this connection is based on an implicit resemblance between the substitute and the substituted in the unmarked situation (for example, Juliet is the sun; he is a lion; and so on). In this unmarked situation, therefore, metaphor is well analogous with simile, a further figure of speech (or trope) which implies the selfsame ‘transference’ procedure, except that the resemblance between the substitute and the substituted is explicitly marked by the use of the ‘comparative’ adverbials as or like (for instance, Juliet is like the sun; he is like a lion; and so forth). Hence, the laws of paradigmatic (or vertical) discontiguity can be discerned more transparently with respect to what is prescribed by the structure of the symptom: just as Juliet, with its animateness, establishes a metaphoric relationship with the sun, with its inanimateness (that is, the two objects are explicitly discontiguous but implicitly similar), so, too, the structure of the symptom dictates that one unconscious signifier constitute a metaphoric rapport with another unconscious signifier which is repressed (i.e. it functions in absentia) –unlike the case with the metonymic rapport between any set of two (or more) unconscious signifiers which are apparently contiguous but explicitly dissimilar, the rapport that would operate in praesentia instead. Consequently, the term metaphor, with its characteristics of implicit similarity and its laws of paradigmatic (or vertical) discontiguity, would also seem to be, in Lacan’s writings, nothing more than an alternative term to Freud’s concept of ‘condensation’ in the context of the dream-work specifically. As such, condensation exhibits itself as a mechanism whereby two (or more) simple oneiric images are combined, oneiric images which converge in the conjuring up of something of an animate or inanimate object, and are therefore fused and cohered into a single composite oneiric image (cf. Freud, 1900:383f.; 1915-7:205f., etc.).

Cleary, therefore, the ‘logic’ of metonymy (with its syntagmas) and the ‘logic’ of metaphor (with its paradigmas) are diametrically opposed logics in language processing. As such, the new dichotomy ‘metonymy-metaphor’, which is basically inspired by de Saussure’s further prominent dichotomy ‘synchronic-diachronic’, as seen, proves to be the most significant dichotomy in the Lacanian psychoanalytic method, especially with regard to the (mental) associational functionings of unconscious signifiers. De Saussure’s dichotomy (as well as its structuralist entailment) has already inspired Jakobson, in the same manner, upon the latter’s assumption that there exist two distinctive compositional axes in language processing, viz. the combinatorial axis and the substitutive axis: at the one extreme, the combinatorial axis operates syntagmatically (or horizontally) in accord with the afore-said characteristics of dissimilarity and laws of contiguity; and at the other extreme, and the substitutive axis functions paradigmatically (or vertically) in terms of the afore-mentioned characteristics of similarity and laws of discontiguity (cf. Jakobson, 1956). Thus, in the normal case of language processing, the ‘undivided’ speaker (who is, in Lacan, a divided subject in the ‘normal’ clinical structure of neurosis) tends to implement sets of metonymies under the combinatorial axis, on the one hand, and tends to employ sets of metaphors under the substitutive axis, on the other hand. Such normality of language processing, insofar as the two compositional axes imply specifically, is incarnated as an inevitable consequence of what Bergson calls the ‘inexpressible’ (or l’inexprimable) in the sense that human language, in any form of expression, is in fact unable to express the objects of intuition in precise and adequate terms, for which reason one is instigated to use various figures of speech (or tropes) like metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, simile, etc. (cf. Bergson, 1934:205). In the abnormal case of language processing, on the other hand, particularly in the development of what is called, language aphasia, Jakobson observes that either of the two compositional axes is functionally debilitated, thus leading to the prevalence of the other (and not necessarily to the reinforcement of its functioning): the aphasiac who suffers from a dissimilarity-contiguity disorder is apt to use metaphors (or their analogues, similes) predominantly via the substitutive axis, and the aphasiac who suffers from a similarity-discontiguity disorder is liable to use metonymies (or their analogues, synecdoches) predominantly via the combinatorial axis (cf. Jakobson, 1956:239f.). It is, thence, inviting to suggest that these two types of aphasic disorders may be classified under what Freud terms, the first-order aphasia (or verbal aphasia), where “only the associations between the separate elements of the word-presentation are disturbed”. This is because the first-order aphasia is so distinguished from what he terms, the second-order aphasia (or asymbolic aphasia), where “the association between the word-presentation and the object-presentation is disturbed”, not to speak, naturally, of his last (modified) term, the third-order aphasia (or agnostic aphasia), in which the disturbance appears to occur in the association between the object and its presentation, or perhaps between the word and its presentation (cf. Freud, 1915b:222). Thus, returning to the normal case of language processing, Lacan seems to agree with Jakobson on his characterization of the two associative factors of metonymy and metaphor with the two driving forces of the combinatorial axis and the substitutive axis, respectively. Such a characterization can be clearly seen from the subject’s statement (I am careful), for instance, where the signifiers am and careful establish a metonymic relationship under the combinatorial axis, and the signifiers careful and (possibly) careless constitute a metaphoric rapport under the substitutive axis instead; this is not in dispute. However, Lacan appears to disagree with Jakobson over the exact parallel of metonymy and metaphor with the Freudian terminology just mentioned: while Jakobson equates metonymy with both displacement and condensation, and equates metaphor further with both identification and symbolization (Jakobson, 1956:258), Lacan, instead, would simply compare metonymy with displacement, and would merely compare metaphor with condensation.[4] As a result, Lacan emphasizes the priority of metonymic association and its  logical dominion over metaphoric association on the basis of the (perceivable) assumption that displacement may well be activated as a logical precondition for condensation to start its activity, simply because “the coordination of signifiers has to be possible [in language processing] before ‘transferences’ of the signified are able to take place” (Lacan, 1955-6:229).

It appears, therefore, that Lacan’s thesis which allocates logical priority to metonymic association over metaphoric association, from this standpoint, is no more than a self-evident corollary of the logical ascendancy that he assigns to the signifier over the signified (Signifier/signified) –contrary to the symmetrically significant status of the two entities (Signified/Signifier) in de Saussure’s sense, as discussed above. Yet, both Lacan and de Saussure seem to be in agreement upon logically prioritizing the structural (i.e. concrete) dimension of language over its conceptual (i.e. abstract) dimension, since the combination of the signifier and the signified, according to the latter, “produces a form, not a substance” (de Saussure, 1916:113; original emphasis). With this conspicuous injunction that language, as a human phenomenon, should be anatomized from the perspective of its internal structure, Lacan tends to be convinced by the more conspicuous injunction that Freud’s approach to the psyche and de Saussure’s approach to language should be looked upon as complementary: whereas Freud does intend to discover the language of the unconscious and what it constructs meta-psychologically, de Saussure, in turn, does seek to explore the unconscious of language and what it procures meta-collectively. This interdisciplinary view, lastly, brings to light de Saussure’s further eminent dichotomy, langue-parole (roughly, ‘language-speech’), the dichotomy to which Lacan attaches the greatest importance within his psychoanalytic method. As mentioned earlier, de Saussure himself considers langue to be no more than a differential system of signs, an abstract, non-physical system which comprises, in its totality, all of the possible linguistic habits that have survived in a given society or (speech) community –unlike his notion of parole as a natural realization which is almost in conformity with that differential system per se, a concrete, physical realization which includes, in its partiality, any observable set of linguistic acts that are produced by the individual in the same society or (speech) community (cf. de Saussure, 1916:77). Since Lacan, on his part, regards language as a differential system of signifiers, in accordance with his idea of it as a representational phenomenon in the first place, he then makes a further distinction between languea language’ as a concrete, sensible system with its particularity (e.g. Arabic, English, French, etc.), on the one hand, and langage ‘language’ as an abstract, perceptible system with its generality (i.e. the universal language that embraces the superstructure of all human languages), on the other hand. As a result, Lacan resorts to the establishment of his psychoanalytic dichotomy langage-parole instead of de Saussure’s structuralist dichotomy langue-parole (Lacan, 1966a:30f.; 1966b:197f.).[5] Lacan’s main incentive to establishing this alternative dichotomy is the full conviction that it is the ‘input’ of langage (the silent language), rather than that of langue, which would inmostly represent the unconscious mode of language with its taciturnity –unlike the ‘output’ of parole which would only outmostly exemplify the conscious mode of language with its vociferance instead. This means that the afore-mentioned (personal) subject’s division between the unconscious I (in the enunciation) and the conscious I (in the statement) can now be translated into his/her division or fissure between the inmostness of reticent langage and the outmostness of clamorous parole, respectively, given their respective translation into the world of signifiers in the symbolic order and the world of signifieds in the imaginary order. Thus, in the instance (I am careful) just cited, the signifier careful would establish a constituent of the subject’s same statement (I am careful) as a conscious by-product of parole, while the (possible) antonymous signifier careless would, in this case, constitute a component of his/her analogous enunciation (I am careless) as an unconscious by-product of langage. In consequence, Lacan’s single-minded tendency towards the conspicuous injunction that Freud’s approach to the human psyche (that is, his intention to discover the language of the unconscious) and de Saussure’s approach to human language (that is, his pursuit of exploring the unconscious of language) should be scientifically accommodated to each other is, in fact, a very considerable attempt on Lacan’s part to further demonstrate his most celebrated (and quite misconstrued) maxim that “the unconscious is structured like a language” (Lacan, 1955-6:167; 1964:20; original emphasis), the maxim that has just been quoted in the context of the dream-work (see note 4).

With the indubitable contention that dreams, even if they become confused, are the manifestations of the unconscious (along with jokes, parapraxes, and symptoms), it can evidently be seen from the initial intention of Lacan’s maxim that the language of the unconscious, first and foremost, seems to operate in terms of enigmas and conundrums in places where they could not possibly be. This initial intention is, in effect, not new in itself: it has already been stressed by Freud himself in the context of the dream-work upon his figurative implementation of the rebus (that is, the pictorial representation of the signifier which suggests its syllables), thereby stressing the ‘semantic’ analogy between the structure of the dream and the structure of the rebus. In this respect, Freud avers:  “we can only form a proper judgement of the rebus if [….] we try to replace each separate element by a syllable or word that can be presented by that element in some way or other. The words which are put together in this way are no longer nonsensical but may form a poetical phrase of the greatest beauty and significance. A dream is a picture-puzzle of this sort” (Freud, 1900:382). Moreover, the criticisms that are levelled against Lacan’s maxim, most of which tend to resonate Benveniste’s criticism of Freud’s obscure article “The antithetical sense of primal words” (or Gegensinn der Urworte) (cf. Benveniste, 1966:68f.), appear, in fact, to have been based both on sheer misunderstanding of the mechanisms which underlie the system of natural language, in general, and on utter ignorance of Freud’s An Outline of Psychoanalysis, the  last work which indicates more clearly that the dictum is actually his, and not Lacan’s, one may say incontestably. Notice, in this context, how Freud ascribes the semantic dimension of the dream to the developmental aspect of speech in his own words: “Dreams [even if muddled] make an unrestricted use of linguistic symbols, the meaning of which is for the most part unknown to the dreamer. [….] They probably originate from earlier phases in the development of speech” (Freud, 1938b:398f.; emphasis added). And, in this respect, above all, the same Freudian dictum (along with de Saussure’s structural linguistics) may also have exerted its direct influence on Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology, who declares that the myth, even with its pure imaginativeness, must reflect a linguistic structure, in one shape or another, within a differential system of what he calls ‘mythemes’ on the analogy of phonemes (and therefore signs, as seen), given the remarkable congruency that is essential between myths and dreams in their temporal vagueness and spatial ambiguity (cf. Lévi-Strauss, 1963; 1978). Thus, what the maxim or dictum in question implies can now be discerned more unambiguously: just as the myth is structured like a language by dint of being narratable, so too the dream is structured like a language in virtue of being relatable. Hence, Lacan deliberately coins the neologism lalangue to denote those things and ideas that are beyond both narration and relation (as is the case with the afore-mentioned term l’inexprimable ‘the inexpressible’ in Bergson’s sense), thereby suggesting salubriously that the subject’s tenacious tendency towards playing on the ambiguousness of the unconscious signifier, as a preordained fact, would no doubt result in a sort of psychical-lingual satyriasis and nymphomania that would, in turn, harbour a kind of lingual enjoyment/pleasure or the lingualness of jouissance per se (another neologism coined by Lacan to suggest ‘play’ and ‘orgasm’ simultaneously) (cf. Lacan, 1972-3:126). What seems to principally motivate Lacan’s neologisms such as these is, in fact, his lengthy seminar on Joyce, whose last work Finnegans Wake is unparalleled with its psychotic language that rebels against all writing and with its polysemous signifiers that are intractable for any reader. For this reason alone, Lacan considers the style of the work in question a style that is instinct with what he terms, ‘stuffed’ signifiers (such as, bootiful whose ingredients are at least three: boot, booty, and (puerile) beautiful, etc.) (cf. Lacan, 1975; 1975-6; Fink, 2004:83). Joyce’s last work Finnegans Wake appears, therefore, to incarnate with its psychotic language the unconscious epic of the mind where the events occur in the darkness of the night –unlike his second last work Ulysses which seems, instead, to embody with its neurotic language the conscious epic of the body where the events take place in the lightness of the day.

From the above detailed discussion of the signifier, it can be seen, therefore, that this entity, as well as the light it can see, preempts unsparingly the psychical significance of the subject’s entire being (i.e. his/her existence and his/her cogitation alike), a preemption which commences its free indulgence not only at the very moment the subject speaks a word or signifies an idea or a thing, but also when he/she does not know what to say unintentionally, or even when he/she does not utter a word intentionally and purposefully. Hence, such unfortunate preemptiveness reveals, in and of itself, the genesis of the seemingly unbridgeable lacuna (or, rather, the insurmountable impasse) between what the ‘unwilling’ subject means to say in the statement consciously and what the ‘willing’ subject means to voice in the enunciation unconsciously, since the language of desire (as well as the language of what all versions of desire enfold) does not, in fact, function through ‘visible’ linguistic structures at the level of parole, but rather it operates through ‘invisible’ linguistic structures at the level of langage, otherwise it will be doomed to ineffability (unsayability or unvoiceability) in lalangue. For this very reason, Lacan adopts the jussive injunction that the analyst should never take what the ‘unwilling’ analysand means to say consciously at face value, but should focus attention, instead, upon all manifestations of the unconscious signifier, given their ‘transindividuality’ and their unavailability at the analysand’s disposal (cf. Lacan, 1966a:49; 1966b:214; Fink, 1997:20f.). Accordingly, Lacan illustrates how the psychical significance of the subject’s entire being is unsparingly preempted by the unconscious signifier through his stimulating analysis of Poe’s story “The purloined letter” (cf. Lacan, 1966b:6f.). This unique story is about a ‘secret letter’ which manifests itself as a fortuitous symbol of the unconscious signifier, a letter that was personally addressed to the queen and was, then, forcibly stolen by a minister in the king’s absence. The letter, or even a trace of it, could not be recovered by any of the policemen who went in quite long search of it and in thorough examination of where it might be, thereby assuming that the minister had hidden it in a place which no one knew (except for him). Yet, the letter itself could at last be found by a ‘shrewd’ detective, but guess where? –in the most obvious place which even the ‘blind’ could see: on open display in a letter rack dangling from the mantelpiece in the minister’s house. Given that the letter was never, in fact, opened (and therefore read) throughout the whole story, this deliberate narrative negation clearly signifies that all the fictional characters within the narration (including the factual character of the reader) could not succeed in determining the import of the letter in the first place. It is, therefore, the entity of the unconscious signifier itself (or the entity of the secret letter itself) not that of the signified (or that of the import) which would be the concrete rather than abstract force that determines the (entire) psychical significance of the characters (and the reader). This means that the human being does not initially exist as an independent being and then enters into the worlds of signifiers as a dependent being. The human being comes into existence only in and through the worlds of signifiers, since it is the realms of words per se which create the realms of things. But how can the realm of the word exhaust the meaning of the word (or drain the meaning of meaning) in anything except the mental action that engenders it and does instigate it? Lacan replies: “it was certainly the Word [verbe] that was in the beginning, and we live in its creation, but it is our mental [esprit] action that continues this creation by constantly renewing it. And we can only think back to [that] action by allowing ourselves to be driven ever further ahead by it” (Lacan, 1966a:61; 1966b:225).

In the light of this exposition, it can be seen that the signifier manifests itself, within the Lacanian psychoanalytic method, as an entity that is associated with a more comprehensive signification than what it is associated with in accordance with the Saussurean structuralist method. In this case, its seems that the signifier is not just an entity which is merely based on the concrete part of the sign, but also an entity that contains, as one of its numerous by-products, the entity of the signified itself, the entity which is based on the abstract part in contrast. What is more, the signifier also exhibits itself as an entity that has an inevitable and overbearingly representative function: upon representation, it overpowers ruthlessly the entire psychical significance of the subject’s being (i.e. his/her existence and his/her thinking alike). In this case, it appears that the subject’s being is what it is within the deluge of innumerable antithetical dichotomies, and it is what it is from the perspective of signifiers which may inter into the system of consciousness at the one end, and which may be firmly embedded in the system of unconsciousness at the other. This is because the signifier is, in and of itself, an entity that represents the subject’s being in spheres where he/she can or cannot possibly be, a representation which cannot, in the real order, but stamp his/her symbolic identity, whether he/she likes it or not.

3 - Summary

In short, the signifier, with its concrete mediation, does not represent the subject as an undivided, discrete and clear-cut being, but rather it represents him/her as a divided, indiscrete and ambivalent being, given that the afore-said inauspicious attributes (viz. inherent hesitation, immanent division, and perpetual alienation) take possession of his/her psychical significance, as well as what it obtains, at the level of language. Given that all sorts of significations of (later) signifiers are predetermined by the phallic signification of the primordial signifier, the subject’s ability to assimilate this very signifier is embodied as further evidence of his/her neurosis in the ‘normal’ psychopathological cases, whereas the subject’s inability to assimilate the same signifier is incarnated as another proof of his/her psychosis in the ‘abnormal’ psychopathological cases. Hence, the primordial signifier comes to light as the ‘mythical’ forefather of what was called, intra-linguistic signifiers, the signifiers which emit their significations inside the domain of language, and which stand in spatial contrast with what was named, extra-linguistic signifiers, those signifiers that cast out their significations outside the domain of language. From the minute explanation of de Saussure’s famous dichotomy ‘signifier-signified’, to which Lacan attaches great importance (but upon deliberately subjecting it to certain psychical modifications), it can be seen that there is a remarkable conceptual convergence between de Saussure’s account of the signifier as an ‘acoustic image’ and Freud’s account of the word as a ‘sound-image’, thereby highlighting the long history which lies behind this dichotomy. But the conceptual divergence between de Saussure and Lacan in the same dichotomy would bear upon the logical positioning of its two entities: while de Saussure offers a symmetrically significant standing to the signifier and the signified, Lacan underlines the priority of the former, and thus its logical ascendancy, over the latter. Moreover, de Saussure’s further prominent dichotomy, ‘syntagmatic-paradigmatic’, to which Lacan attaches greater importance in this case, does illuminate de Saussure’s contention that the signifier would acquire its particular signification (or its signified per se) only by means of its syntagmatic and/or paradigmatic relationships with other signifiers, given his view of language as a differential system of signs and nothing else. Therefore, within the discernible ‘structural’ opposition between de Saussure’s and Lacan’s logical positioning of the signifier in respect of  the signified, the ‘conceptual’ opposition between their psychical positioning of the signifier, in particular, is also perceivable: whereas de Saussure regards the signifier as a psychically destructible term because it signifies something, Lacan considers it a psychically indestructible element simply because it signifies nothing in the real order, given the  fateful impossibility of true articulation in this order. As a result, within Lacan’s view of language as a differential system of signifiers (and not signs), he adopts the pat contention that the signifier seeks to represent the subject for another signifier, a representation which leads to the formation of an endless signifying chain, thereby underlining the assertion that meaning (as well as its derivations) is always in a state of flux. In language processing, this endless signifying chain seems to follow both the ‘logic’ of metonymy, which operates syntagmatically (or horizontally) at the one extreme, and the antithetical ‘logic’ of metaphor, which functions paradigmatically (or vertically) at the other extreme.

Now that the new dichotomy ‘metonymy-metaphor’ forms a diametrical opposition in the normal course of language processing (the dichotomy which is originally inspired by de Saussure’s further eminent dichotomy ‘synchronic-diachronic’), the two figures of speech (or tropes) are typified with the two compositional axes that Jakobson postulates in the same course, respectively: the combinatorial axis which acts syntagmatically (or horizontally) and the substitutive axis that works paradigmatically (or vertically). In the abnormal course of language aphasia, on the contrary, the debilitation of either compositional axis would result in the predominance of the other (and not necessarily in its reinforcement): if the combinatorial axis is debilitated for some reason, then the aphasiac tends to employ metaphors predominantly via the substitutive axis, and vice versa. Whereas Lacan agrees with Jakobson’s formulation of the two compositional axes as such, the former disagrees with the latter over the exact conceptual parallelism of metonymy and metaphor in language processing with Freud’s terms (displacement and condensation) in the context of the dream-work: at the one end, Jakobson appears to affiliate metonymy with both displacement and condensation, and metaphor with both identification and symbolization; and at the other end, Lacan seems to associate metonymy with displacement only and metaphor with condensation and nothing else. Accordingly, Lacan is underpinning the logical priority of metonymic association (or displacement) over metaphoric association (or condensation), a priority which is a self-evident corollary of the logical ascendancy that he assigns to the signifier over the signified, in contrast with the symmetrically significant status of the two entities in de Saussure’s sense. Yet there is a concurrence between both Lacan and de Saussure in the logical prioritization of the structural (i.e. concrete) dimension of language over its conceptual (i.e. abstract) dimension,  a concurrence whereby Lacan draws on, and attaches the greatest importance to, de Saussure’s still further eminent dichotomy langue-parole (roughly, ‘language-speech’), so as to make a further distinction between languea language’ as being a specific concrete system and langage ‘language’ as being a general abstract system, and to subsequently establish his dichotomy langage-parole, and not langue-parole (with the neologism lalangue pointing to those intractable aspects of language that are incommunicable). Lacan’s main incentive to such a distinction is his contention that it is the input of langage (the silent language), rather than that of langue, which would represent the unconscious mode of language –unlike the output of parole which would only exemplify its conscious mode. This indicates that the subject’s division between the unconscious I (in the enunciation) and the conscious I (in the statement) can now be translated into his/her division or fissure between the inmostness of langage and the outmostness of parole, respectively, not to mention his/her respective division between the world of signifiers in the symbolic order and the world of signifieds in the imaginary order. Thus, upon his full conviction that Freud’s approach to the human psyche (i.e. his intention to discover the language of the unconscious) and de Saussure’s approach to human language (i.e. his pursuit of exploring the unconscious of language) should be reconciled, Lacan’s most celebrated maxim that “the unconscious is structured like a language” seems, in fact, to be quite misconstrued, since its origins are well traceable in Freud’s theorization on the dream-work. Here, the dream, as one manifestation of the unconscious (the others being the joke, the parapraxis, and the symptom), is also structured like a language (i.e. a set of phonemes) in virtue of being relatable, just as the myth, in Lévi-Strauss’s sense, is structured like a language (i.e. a set of mythemes) by dint of being narratable: hence, Lacan’s neologism lalangue exhibits itself as a ‘continuum’ which refers to those recalcitrant aspects of language that are beyond relation or narration, as is the case with l’inexprimable ‘the inexpressible’ in Bergson’s sense. Finally, the signifier manifests itself as an entity which preempts unsparingly the psychical significance of the subject’s entire being at the very moment he/she speaks, or does not speak, a word or he/she signifies, or does not signify, an idea or a thing, a preemption which marks the constitution of the unbridgeable gap between what the ‘unwilling’ subject means to state consciously and what the ‘willing’ subject means to enunciate unconsciously. This is because the language of desire does not, in fact, function through ‘visible’ linguistic structures at the level of parole, but rather it would operate through ‘invisible’ linguistic structures at the level of langage (otherwise it will be destined to incommunicability or ineffability in lalangue). In consequence, the human being does  not initially exist as an independent being and then enters into the worlds of signifiers as a dependent being. The human being comes into being only in and through the worlds of signifiers, since it is the realms of words per se which create the realms of things. And “it was certainly the Word [verbe] that was in the beginning”.

*** *** ***

REFERENCES

Benveniste, E. (1966): Problems in General Linguistics. Trans. M. Meek. Miami: M.U.P. (1971).

Bergson, H. (1934): La Pensée et le Mouvant. [The Creative Mind]. Trans. M. L. Andison. New

York: Philosophical Library (1946).

Chomsky, N. (1957): Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, N. (1965): Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: M.I.T.

Chomsky, N. (1981): Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, N. (1986): Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin and Use. New York: Praeger.

Chomsky, N. (1995): The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: M.I.T.

Chomsky, N. (2002): On Nature and Language. Cambridge: C.U.P.

Fink, B. (1997): A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Harvard: H.U.P.

Fink, B. (2004): Lacan to the Letter: Reading Écrits Closely. Minnesota: M.U.P.

Freud, S. (1887-1902): The Origins of Psychoanalysis. London and New York.

Freud, S. (1900): The Interpretation of Dreams. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 4.

Freud, S. (1915): The unconscious. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 11

Freud, S. (1915-7): Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 1

Freud, S. (1923): The Ego and the Id. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 11.

Freud, S. (1926): Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 10.

Freud, S. (1938): An Outline of Psychoanalysis. Penguin Freud Library, vol. 15.

Jakobson, R. (1956): Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances. In his

Selected Writings, vol. 2. The Hague: Mouton (1971:239-259).

Lacan, J. (1953-4): The Seminar. Book I. Freud’s Papers on Technique. Trans./Ed. J. Forrester.

Cambridge: C.U.P. (1988).

Lacan, J. (1955-6): The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses. Trans. R. Grigg. Routledge (1993).

Lacan, J. (1956-7): Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La Relation d’Objet. Paris: Seuil.

Lacan, J. (1964): The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.

Trans. A. Sheridan. Vintage (1998).

Lacan, J. (1966a): Écrits: A Selection. Trans. A. Sheridan. Routledge (1997).

Lacan, J. (1966b): Écrits. Trans. B. Fink. Norton (2006).

Lacan, J. (1972-3): Le Séminaire. Liver XX. Encore. Paris: Seuil.

Lacan, J. (1975): Joyce le symptôme. In J. Aubert (ed.), Joyce avec Lacan. Paris: Navarin (1987).

Lacan, J. (1975-6): Le Séminaire. Liver XXIII. Le Sinthome. Est. J.-A. Miller, Ornicar?, vol. 6.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1963): Structural Anthropology. Basic.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1978): Myth and Meaning. Routledge.

el-Marzouk, Gh. (2007): ÇáÏãÌ / Identification. Damascus: Maaber. (In Arabic and English).

el-Marzouk, Gh. (2008): ÇáÃäÇ / The ego. Damascus: Maaber. (In Arabic and English).

el-Marzouk, Gh. (2009): ÇáãÓäÏ Åáíå / The subject. Damascus: Maaber. (In Arabic and English).

Russell, B. (1946): History of Western Philosophy. Routledge (1991).

de Saussure, F. (1916): Course in General Linguistics. Trans. W. Baskin. Collins (1974).  

 


 

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[1] As mentioned in a pervious article, there exist in the Lacanian formulation three essential orders (or registers), whose mental workings may be expanded from a developmental perspective as follows (cf. el-Marzouk, 2007, note 5). Firstly, the imaginary order, which embraces the world of signifieds, and in which the narcissistic (dual) relationship between the ego and the specular image is initially formulated in the mirror stage. This relationship is constructed on the basis of the structures of illusion, seduction, and deceptions. Therefore, the imaginary order (with its signifieds) is the least developed order in mental functioning, since it relates to the primitive genesis of the ego by imaginary identification, which refers to the early ‘identification with the specular imago’. It also relates to the less primitive genesis of the ideal ego under the effect of imaginary projection, which suggests the later ‘projection of the imago itself’ (cf. el-Marzouk, 2008, note 4). Secondly, the symbolic order, which comprises the world of signifiers instead, and in which the ‘anaclitic’ (oppositional) relationship between the ego and the other is later formulated in the discourse of the unconscious. This relationship is constructed on the basis of the structure of desire in the Oedipus complex because the signifiers do not have positive existence per se. Thus, the symbolic order (with its signifiers) is by far the most developed order in mental functioning, since it pertains to any format of structural representation in the linguistic sense, a pertinence whose ‘openness’ is ascribable to the great difficulty in imagining the notion of ‘structure’ without the constraints of language as a tangible continuum and the negativities of the signifier as the main medium of speech transmission (Lacan, 1956-7:189). It also pertains to the mature establishment of the ego by symbolic identification, which eventually suggests ‘identification with the mental imago’, and to the more mature constitution of the ego-ideal under the influence of symbolic introjection, where the psychical entity in question incarnates the conscious desexualization (and thence affective sublimation) of object-cathexes (cf., also, el-Marzouk, 2008, note 4). Thirdly, the real order, which enfolds a world that contradicts the imaginary order (with its signifieds) and, at the same time, resists the symbolic order (with its signifiers), thus ultimately alluding to the impossibility of true articulation in general. Such impossibility is, at bottom, ascribable to the spurious nature of the signified, at the one end, and the negative nature of the signifier, at the other. Thus, if the ‘associations’ of the real order manifest themselves within a differential system of signification, then these ‘associations’ do nothing but reveal the spuriousness of the (imaginary) ego on the basis of opposition and contrast, and expose the negativity of the (symbolic) ego on the basis of resistance and refusal. Given that the ego, alone, would represent “the actual seat of anxiety” (Freud, 1926:244) or “the [actual] seat of illusions” (Lacan, 1953-4: 62), such ‘associations’ would transmit their significations, as it were, only within the sphere of the impossible to say or the disruption of saying the truth (cf. Lacan, 1953-4:66; 1964:167; 1966b:324). Yet, these three orders are not considered to mentally operate in absolute isolation from each other, but rather they are regarded as overlapping in mental functioning so as to stress the locality (or localities) of their psychical convergence, hence they are topologically represented as the famous Borromean knot, where each of the three rings (or orders, by extension) is interlinked with the other two, as illustrated in the following figure (cf. Lacan, 1972-3):

[2] Notice, here, that one of the most controversial issues within the framework of Lacanian psychoanalysis is the idea of what is called ‘paternal determinism’, the idea which intentionally presupposes the notion of  ‘maternal marginalization’ and which resonates more frequently within Freud’s theorization on masculine sexuality in general. Thus, within Lacan’s theorization on feminine sexuality in particular, the notion of  ‘maternal marginalization’ culminates, in turn, in his provocative maxim that ‘the woman does not exist in reality’. Yet the actual import of this maxim would be an historical negation of the female’s presence in the real order, but neither in the symbolic order nor in the imaginary order, not to speak of the emphasis on the locality (or localities) of the psychical convergence of these three orders (see note 1). And notwithstanding,  of course, the crucial psychical difference between masculine sexuality and feminine sexuality, even though both are subjected to the phallic phase in infantile behaviour: whereas the intended psychical difference, according to Freud, is embodied between the male’s pent-up apprehension of the castration complex, at the one extreme, and the female’s reluctant submission to this complex, at the other (cf. el-Marzouk, 2007), the concerned psychical difference, according to Lacan, is represented between the male’s obdurate self-importance, and thence his dissimulation of the ‘vigour’ of phallic having, on the one hand, and the female’s hybridized staggeriness, and thence her mummery of the ‘adder’ of phallic being, on the other. It seems, therefore, that the castration complex, for Lacan, manifests itself as a symbolic process which necessitates the recognition of what he calls ‘primordial lack’ rather than the biological demise of the male’s penis (or the female’s clitoris, by extension). This means that both the male and the female are symbolically castrated, and that both masculinity and femininity are no more than two notions or two constructs of signification per se, constructs which have no anatomical foundation whatsoever. It also means that, for the primordial lack in question to be assimilated, the subject must be confronting either (or both) of two possible sexual destinies: either the subject may cocksurely ‘have’ the phallus as a have-r who dissimulates and feigns, as such, with its masculinity (since the male, in this case, did not possess the phallus to dersire and to love in the first place) or the subject may hotdoggingly ‘be’ the phallus as a be-er who mums and masquerades, as such, with its femininity (for the female, in this case, does nothing but discard an integral part of her femininity to be desired and to be loved). In either sexual destiny, therefore, the phallus would sit in judgement as a signifier which signifies the primordial lack in itself or as signifier that signifies the desire of the (big) Other in Lacan’s terminology, a signifier which first operates as an imaginary object on the assumption that it could satisfy the mother’s/female’s desire, and then functions as a symbolic object with the realization that it could not, in fact, satisfy this desire (cf. Lacan, 1966a:289f.; 1966b:545f.). In consequence, the castration complex comes to light as an unfillable tensional chasm between the sense of the subject’s psychological identity and the sense of his/her symbolic identity, a tensional chasm which no signifier would be in a position to represent realistically except for that symbolically objectified phallus that is dissimulated/feigned (in having) and mummed/masqueraded (in being), or rather, except for that primordial signifier, with its phallic signification, which stands for the ‘mythical’ forefather of intra-linguistic signifiers in their entirety, as mentioned in the text.         

[3] It is worth noting, here, that Lacan’s dogged assertion that meaning is always in a state of flux somehow mirrors a materialistic tendency in his psychoanalytic method. In fact, this assertion goes back to the pre-Socratic Heraclitus (circa 540 B.C.-480 B.C.) with his famous doctrine that “everything is in a state of flux”, a doctrine which seems to have met with Aristotle’s approval, who described it in his statement that “nothing steadfastly is” (cf. Russell, 1946:63). Thus, it is clear that both Freud and Lacan seek to apply this principle to the theory of meaning (and the consequences it entails) in their psychoanalytic methods. On the contrary, the assertion that “meaning is rigidly constant” actually dates back to Parmenides (circa 515 B.C.-450 B.C.), another pre-Socratic on whom Russell remarks in conformity with both Freud and Lacan, too: “Parmenides assumes that words [or signifiers, by extension] have a constant meaning; this is really the basis of his argument, which he supposes unquestionable. But although the dictionary or the encyclopaedia gives what may be called the official and socially sanctioned meaning of a word [or signifier], no two people who use the same word [or signifier] have just the same thought in their minds” (Russell, 1946:68). For entirely contradictory reasons, alone, Parmenides’ doctrine appears to have already been adopted by the Socratic pupil Plato in opposition to Heraclitus’ afore-said doctrine (cf. Russell, 1946:165), an adoption that culminated in Plato’s famous theory of ideas (such as, the perfect woman, the perfect man, etc.). Furthermore, it is this theory of ideas which also seems to have exerted its direct influence on Jung’s theory of archetypes (such as, the wise woman, the wise man, etc.) and Klein’s theory of objects (such as, the good breast, the bad penis, etc.).

[4] In this context, however, the ‘figurative’ significations of displacement and condensation in the process of the dream-work, specifically, should not be confused with their ‘literal’ significations in language processing. Given Lacan’s maxim that “the unconscious is structured like a language” (as will be seen presently in the text), and that the dream is one manifestation of the unconscious (the others being the parapraxis, the joke, and the symptom), it follows that “the dream has the structure of a sentence or [….] a rebus”, too (Lacan, 1966a:57; 1966b:221). Thus, it is clear that the language of the dream, in such a perspective, has its own syntax and semantics, the two linguistic components which are characterized with displacement and condensation, respectively: while ‘syntactic displacement’ refers to those ‘syntactic’ representations which are relevant to the concrete structure of the oneiric sentence and to the localities of its unconscious signifiers (be they patent or virtual or covert, etc.), ‘semantic condensation’ points to those ‘semantic’ representations which are pertinent to the abstract structure of the same oneiric sentence and to the levels of its unconscious signifieds, especially when these levels become as ramified as the procured figures of speech. Consider, in this connection, how Lacan accounts for the rhetoric existence of the dream language on the basis of Freud’s teachings: “Ellipsis and pleonasm, hyperbaton or syllepsis, regression, repetition, apposition –these are the syntactical displacements; metaphor, catachresis, antonomasia, allegory, metonymy, and synecdoche –these are the semantic condensations; Freud teaches us to read in them the intentions –whether ostentatious or demonstrative, dissimulating or persuasive, retaliatory or seductive –with which the subject modulates his/[her] oneiric discourse” (Lacan, 1966a: 58; 1966b:221f.; emphasis added). Therefore, it is now evident that both of the two forces of metonymy and metaphor would operate in concomitance with each other under the mechanism of condensation in its ‘literal’ signification in language processing, while these two forces would function in isolation from each other in accord with the two mechanisms of displacement and condensation, respectively, in their ‘figurative’ significations in the process of the dream-work.

[5] It is worthy of noting, in this respect, that de Saussure’s dichotomy langue-parole in his structuralist method is quite comparable with Chomsky’s dichotomy ‘competence-performance’ in his generativist method, respectively, where the psychological dimension of language (i.e. the latter’s introspective notion of linguistic competence) is even more emphasized than its social dimension. Within his view of language as a creative system of finite rules (cf. the ‘differential system of signs’ in de Saussure and the ‘differential system of signifiers’ in Lacan), Chomsky considers linguistic competence to be an idealized continuum which incarnates the speaker’s innate knowledge of his/her native language, and in which that creative system of finite rules enables him/her to perceive and produce an infinite number of  grammatical sentences (cf. the idea of ‘linguistic habits’ in de Saussure). On the contrary, Chomsky regards linguitic performance as a materialized continuum instead, since it embodies the speaker’s actual (albeit partial) realization of the afore-said innate knowledge which is, in fact, observable in the concrete range of his/her specific pragmatic utterances (cf. the notion of ‘linguistic acts’ in de Saussure). The theoretical basis of Chomsky’s dichotomy ‘competence-performance’, which was initially put forward within his first major model of what is known as universal grammar (UG), viz. the transformational-generative-grammar model (cf. Chomsky, 1957; 1965), has, in fact, been almost the case for at least fifty years, the period that spans his academic career as an erudite linguist in undertaking this enterprise. Moreover, the theoretical basis of the same ‘competence-performance’ dichotomy still has its effect on the distinction which Chomsky later made between ‘internal language’ and ‘external language’, respectively, within his second major model of UG, viz. the principles-and-parameters model (cf. Chomsky, 1981; 1986). Whereas internal language refers to the sort of linguistic continuum which is internally represented and is presumed to be a property of the human mind/brain, external language points to the kind of linguistic continuum that is associated with a given society or (speech) community and is assumed to be quite independent of the human mind/brain. It seems, therefore, that Lacan’s distinction between languea language’ and langage ‘language’, as mentioned in the text, would conceptually approximate Chomsky’s distinction between ‘descriptive adequacy’ (which concerns the theory of a certain human language) and ‘explanatory adequacy’ (which addresses the theory of UG (i.e. all human languages)), respectively, with this latter distinction being still under consideration within his third major model of UG, viz. the minimalist-program model (cf. Chomsky, 1995; 2002). 

      

 

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