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Lacan's Letter

Author(s): Gilbert D. Chaitin

Source: MLN, Vol. 103, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec., 1988), pp. 995-1011
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
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D. Chaitin

In "The Agency of the Letter,Or Reason Since Freud," Lacan re-

minds us thatFreud's earlyuse of the term"transference"in Inter-
pretationof Dreamsdenoted a specificfunctionperformedby the
signifier,a function"whose development is inscribed in the for-
mulas of connexion and substitution"(Ecrits:A Selection170). Only
later was the term used "to name the mainspringof the intersub-
jective link between analyst and analysand" (170).1 Now the for-
mulas referred to here are none other than the so-called algo-
rithmsfor metonymyand metaphor which Lacan had transcribed
a few pages earlier in thissecond sectionof the article:

R(S . .. S')S - S(-)s; fa S - S(+)s.

avoiding the conclusionthat

In reading thistext,one has difficulty
the use of the same name for the two apparentlydisparate trans-
ference-functionsmust imply some more or less hidden connec-
tion between the two,and thatthatconnectionmustbe none other
than Lacan's algorithmsfor the rhetoricaltropes. In fact,Felman
has made just such a connection in her reading of Henry James'
Turn oftheScrew:
Bothsensesoftheterm"transference" in Freud'stext-transference as
themainspring as therepetitive
of psychoanalysis, structuralprinciple
and transference
oftherelationbetweenpatientand analyst, as therhe-
toricalfunction materialin psychiclife,as themove-
of anysignifying
mentand energyof displacement througha chainof signifiers-thus
come togetherin theprologueof theTurnoftheScrew.... The whole

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space betweenthetransfer-
storyis thusplayedout in thedifferential
enceof thenarrators and thetransference betweenan
enterprise captureand thedisplacement
of seductionand ofnarcissistic
of a signifier,the transferralof a text.... (137)
What interestsme in this repeated juxtaposition of the two trans-
ferences is the possibilityof deriving from it a method of de-
scribingthe relationbetween signifiersand subjectsin reading, or
at least in narration,a method thatwould emerge fromthe articu-
lation of psychoanalysisand literature.In a shortessay,I cannot of
course hope to do justice to Freud, Lacan, or Felman, let alone
define the method I am seeking.What I would like to do is to open
a space for such a definitionby inquiring into the relations be-
tween rhetoricand transferenceas theyare formulatedin several
of Lacan's texts.2
In learning to deal with the unconscious, one is trained to be-
ware of gaps, omissions,and absences, and there are two such la-
cunae in Felman's text.The firstis her omissionof any mentionof
Lacan's algorithms.She does emphasize the "rhetoricalfunction"
as the "movementand energy of displacement;" and her analysis
of James's storydoes include a discussionof the phallic metaphors
of helm, mast and screw (169-179), a discussionwhich culminates
in the assertionthat"the turningscrewturnsout to be a functional
metaphor,the figureof a dynamicfunctioning; it is not so much the
screw itselfthat counts, as the very turningmovement of its twists
and whirls... ." (179). But thistropingon the etymologicalsignifi-
cance of tropicalitydoes nothingto disorientthe traditionalgeog-
raphy of rhetoric.Whether it be a substance or a function,the
signifiedof the metaphor is stillsimplyrepresented by the shape or
functionof its signifier.Moreover,the relationbetween metaphor
and metonymyis never specified, although the term "displace-
ment" is used extensivelyto describe the transferenceas the move-
ment from signifierto signifier,a movementwhose inertia pre-
ventsand opposes any tendencytowardmastery,towardthe fixing
of a meaning.
In "Lacan and Literature: a Case for Transference," Gallop
adopts and explains Felman's distinctionbetween a method of
reading oriented toward the fixingof meaning, here called the
"interpretation-relation,"and the mode of reading which attends
to the movementof signifiers,now called the "transference-rela-
tion" (305). Gallop refersto another passage fromthe same second
part of "The Agency of the Letter:" "psychoanalystswere fasci-

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M L N 997

nated exclusively by the significationsrevealed in the uncon-

scious, . . . because these significationsderived theirsecret attrac-
tion fromthe dialecticthatseemed to be immanentin them"(162).
The fascination with unconscious meanings she equates to
Felman's "interpretation-relation;" Lacan's "dialectic" she assimi-
lates to Felman's "transference-relation," and calls it the "literarity
of the text"(307).
The effects of the omission of Lacan's algorithmshave now be-
come clear: first,the distinction between the two methods of
reading has become ossified in a decidedly non-dialecticsplit be-
tween attentionto form or to content; second, an impenetrable
barrier has been erected between the dialecticand the literaryon
the one side, and interpretationon the other. Like Austin'spara-
sitic,literary,use of illocution,but in reversedform,interpretation
has been cast into the ditch of perdition.
This undialectic exclusion of interpretationfrom the analytic
process could only arise, in its turn, from the second omission
from Felman's text. Nowhere in her discussion of the relationbe-
tween the two types of transferencedoes she mention Lacan's
treatmentof the topic in Chapter XIX of his firstSe'minaire, on
Freud's technicalwritings(269-270). The substanceof Lacan's de-
scriptionof the earlier use of transferenceis virtuallythe same as
Felman's excellent presentationof the problem as already cited.
This is not a disagreementconcerningthe accuracyor the fidelity
of her rendition; it is not a matterof the resemblance of her ac-
count to his, of the correspondence between model and image.
What has been lost is ratherthe contextof Lacan's lengthyelabora-
tion of a definitionof the process of analysis,and thus of the links
which connect the early sense of transferenceto the "letter,"the
letterto metonymyand metaphor,and all three to transferenceas
the driving force of the psychoanalyticprocess. For the same
reason, the role of interpretationas a necessarymoment in that
dialectic has been obscured. Fascination with meanings can be
simplyequated withinterpretation,interpretationwiththe seduc-
tion, or narcissisticcapture, associated with the Verliebtheit (being-
in-love) that marks the onset of the transference-relation in anal-
ysis. But how, then, can this deceptive process be the mainspring
of the analyticrelation?And how is it possible thatthe connection
between thissecond meaning of transferenceshould be thoughtas
the diametricopposite of the firstsense of transferenceas a signi-
fying relation? Would it not be more accurate to say that this

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second transference,far frombeing the motor of psychoanalysis,

is preciselythat which closes off the unconscious, and thus pre-
ventspsychoanalysis?This is, of course, exactlywhat Lacan asserts
in TheFour FundamentalConceptsofPsycho-Analysis (130). What has
happened, in short,is that,througha strangetwist,the "interpre-
tation-relation"has been equated to transferenceas the main-
springof the psychoanalyticrelation,whereas the so-called "trans-
ference-relation"turnsout to be somethingtotallyother than psy-
choanalytic transference,namely, rhetorical displacement, what
the text "does," its literarity.At the same time,and as a resultof
the same twist,the supposed drivingforceof psychoanalysisturns
out to be the verynarcissisticcapture thatpreventsits operation.
Although these two omissions may be due to chance, psycho-
analysisteaches us thatsuch disruptionsof a textgive the reader a
chance to take cognizance of the working of a latent desire. In
ReadingLacan, Gallop specifiesthe nature of the desire at workin
one of those lacunae, and gives some indicationof its history:"As
Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe remark [in Le Titrede la lettre], these
formulas[for metonymyand metaphor] 'cannot in factbe read as
real logical formulas (they neither suppose nor authorize, here,
any calculation)' (Titre 99). This realization releases us literary
typesfromthe obligationto masterthe operationsand allows us to
read" (1 19). Having received thismetaphoricalliberation-Gallop
later pointsout thatthe "franchissement" of the bar effectedby met-
aphor has "the older meaning of liberationfrom slavery"(1985,
128)-she proceeds to give a subtle and illuminatingreading of
those formulas,which includes a pertinentcritiqueof the position
taken in Tritre.Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe claim thatLacan privi-
leges metaphor over metonymy,poetry over linearity,whereas
Gallop is able to show that,as Lacan expresses it in his Se'minaire
III, on the Psychoses,"Metonymyis therefromthe beginning,and
it is what makes metaphor possible" (259).
The contrastto Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe would have been
even more strikinghad she cited this phrase from Titre:'just as
metaphor dominates, founds and precedes metonymy"(143). It
then becomes possible to discern the link that connects the desire
to effecta clear separation between metaphor and metonymyin
Lacan, and to privilegeone termof the opposition over the other,
with the assertion that the formulasare not real logical formulas
and withthe mistrustful stance thatthose formulashave the form
of a joke (Witz)and are to be taken as play (jeu) or trickery(feinte)
(lOOn, 122-123). This seems to be one of those cases where non-

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M L N 999

dupes err, for theyconclude theirreading of "The Agencyof the

letter" with the series of assertions that has guided it from the
start:forLacan, desire is supposedly desire forthe truth,truthis a
matterof ontology,of being, metaphor"is thusnothingotherthan
the presenceof being-even if presence were thought,as we shall
see, in its duplicity(a non-simplepresence, includinglack,just as
metaphor dominates, founds and precedes metonymy)"(143).
Why metaphor should be thus linked to being as presence they
explain a few pages later, when the claim that for Lacan, truthis
simple "aletheia homoiotique", that is, the perfectadequation of
thoughtand object, of assertionand reality,of enonciation and e'n-
once.They claim, in short,that Lacan has what is usually called in
English a "correspondence theoryof truth."
Now any such theorymust be based on the view that there is a
relationof similaritybetweenwhatis affirmedand whatis reallythe
case, between "image" and "model," ifyou will.And, as mosttheo-
reticians have asserted, from Aristotleto Jakobson, metaphor is
preciselythe trope of similarity,and thus of genius and of science,
of knowledge. Metaphor is supposed to be an implicitcomparison,
a transferof meaning-Sinnesiibertragung forJakobson,transfert de
for Lacan-on the basis of a non-expressed simi-
sens,de signifie',
laritybetween the term defined by the metaphor and a latent,
fourthterm.Aristotle'sexample, the sunsetof life,definesold age
in termsof the relationbetween lifeand day (Poetics1457b 23-26).
The problem withthisview of Lacan is thatit places him square-
ly in the verytraditionof Aristotelianthoughton truthand meta-
phor as homojosisfrom which he was trying to extricate his
teaching,whichhe was strivingto displace. It is thatsame problem
and that same displacementwhich explain why,although Lacan's
algorithmscannot be read as "real logical formulas,"theyare not
mere trickeryand deceit either; rather,theyare real formulasthat
functionas mappings of the set of signifiersonto itself,just as f(x)
= x2 is a perfectlywell-defined,mathematical,functionthat can
map the set of positiveintegersonto itself(1 -- 1, 2 -- 4, 3 -- 9,
etc.). Once you relinquishthe attemptto find similarityin Lacan's
algorithms,it becomes apparent thattheyare not at all absurd, as
Gallop maintains(ReadingLacan 119), and the only perversion,or
detournementas Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe call it (91), is the one
which Lacan effectson that veryhomoiosis theyseek in those for-
mulas. Moreover, it is those same algorithmsthatexplain the rela-
tion between the two transferences.
Neither Felman nor Gallop wish to saddle Lacan withthe yoke

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of homolosis;in fact,theystriveto do just the opposite, to free him

from its grip. Felman puts functional metaphoric action above
mere substantialmetaphors (a mast looks like a phallus, for in-
stance); and in ReadingLacan Gallop "celebrat[es]a new, feminine
metonymicreading (which, as opposed to the metaphoric, [she
has] notcalled interpretation)",although she recognizes that met-
onymic reading can also become phallocentric(132). Indeed, the
difficultyshe has in keeping the two modes apart is betrayedby
the factthatonly threepages earlier,she had just called this"femi-
nine reading" "metonymicinterpretation" (129, myemphasis). And,
as pointed out earlier, Felman's functionalmetaphor is stillbased
on a kind of resemblance. In seeking to avoid metaphoricinter-
pretation,theyend up being ensnared by it,even though some of
their finestinsightsconcerningJames and Lacan resultfrom this
very effort.The reason for this seeminglyuncanny effectis not
hard to discern; each takes more or less forgrantedthatmetaphor
is a matterof similarity(ReadingLacan 129, 131; "Turning the
Screw" 171).
When Lacan introducesVictor Hugo's line from"BoozEndormi"
in his Seminaireon the psychoses,the firstpoint he makes is thatit
does notdepend on a relationof similarity:"There is no compar-
ison, but an identification"(1981, 247). The term "identification"
is to be taken here in the strong,psychoanalytic,sense of a radical
transformationor creationof the being of the subject. But thisis a
symbolic,not a specular, or imaginary,identification.Since Aristo-
telian metaphor is a matterof four termsrelated to each other by
analogy, it must depend on the primacyof the signifiedover the
signifier,for the analogy between sunset and old age can only re-
sult fromthe imputed similarityof attributes,thatis, sunset marks
the end of day as old age marks the end of life. Lacan's formulas
for metaphor assert somethingdifferent,the primacyof the signi-
fierover the signified.
In "The Metaphor of the Subject," Lacan accepts the view that
metaphor consistsin a relation among four terms,but he rejects
the idea thatthisrelationis one of analogy (Ecrits889). Taking this
article in conjunction with Chapter XIX of Se'minaireI and
Chapters XVII and XVIII of Se'minaire III, one can conclude that
he subjects the standard representationof the metaphoricprocess
to several changes, twists,or detournements, which togethermake it
possible to read his algorithmsas genuine mappings. The first
point is that any metaphor is, or contains,an implicitpredication

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M L N 1001

(SeminaireIII 248). If the expression "the sunset of life"is a poetic

equivalent of "death," then the metaphor can be re-writtenin the
form,"Old age is the sunset of life." Since the worlds "old age" do
not appear in the metaphoricexpression,thisimplicitpredication
is in fact a metonymy,thejuxtaposition of two or more signifiers
whose signifiedis a latent signifier.In the cliche example from
Quntilian, the fleet is defined by the actual expression, "thirty
sails," but the signifier"fleet" does not appear. The metonymic
effectis thus caused by the linearityof any linguistic,signifying,
structure,that is, the general rule that thejuxtaposition of signi-
fiersin a chain is taken to be meaningful.It is thissignifyingstruc-
ture which makes predication possible, since any predication in-
volves the possibilityof separatinga subjectfromitsattributesand
theiralignmentin a signifyingchain whose formationis thus gov-
erned by linguistic,not referential,rules. The algorithmfor me-
tonymyindicates this very signifyingstructure.The metonymic
function,f, statesthatthe alignmentin a syntagmaticchain of one
or more signifiers,(S . . S'), next to a given signifier,S, willassign
to that signifiera signifiedthat will remain a latent signifier.On
the rightside of the congruence sign you thus have the original
signifier,S, coupled withits latentsignified,s, where the latencyis
marked by the (-). If you take "sails" as the original S, and add
"thirty"as one of the (S .. . S'), you get fleet" as the latentsigni-
Of course, Lacan wished to indicate somethingmore in his no-
tion of metonymy,above all the Hegelian view that language en-
tails the "murder of the thing" insofar as naming abstractsfrom
the actual existence of a thing,such as a fleet,and it reversesthe
speaker's relationto the presence and absence of the thing,so that
you can call to it when it is not there and send it away when it is.
But these elaborations,these readings of the formulas,even if the
readings are those of Lacan, neithercontrolnor negate the mathe-
matical functioningof the algorithms,any more than the applica-
tion of f = ma requires or precludes its use to describe billiard
balls or planets. As Lacan puts it in "Agency,""in so far as [S/s]is
itselfonly pure functionof the signifier,the algorithmcan reveal
only the structure of a signifierin this transfer[from S to s]"
(1977, 152). That is, thisalgorithmand the others "cannot in any
case have a signification"(1977, 152).
Lacan's second point concerningmetaphoris that,once the met-
onymicseparation of subjectand attributeshas been effected,they

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can be recombined in new, perhaps even untoward,ways. "The

child spells out the powers of discourse and inaugurates thought"
by singing: "The cat goes bow-wow,the dog goes meow-meow"
(Ecrits891). The severingof the lexical ties thatmakes such a chil-
dren's song possible is the second pre-conditionfor the formation
of a metaphor. The dominant,customary,or dictionarymeanings
must be emptied out of the term before the metaphor can arise
(Se'minaireIII 248). The dictionarydoes not authorize the attribu-
tion of "sunset"to age any more than it allows "miserly"to apply to
a sheaf. As withhis definitionof metonymy,Lacan appeals here to
a general propertyof signifyingsystems,theirabilityto divestthe
materials they use of any previous connectionsso as to redefine
and redeploy them in new, signifyingchains. In fact,thisproperty
is preciselywhat Lacan means by his term "non-sense,"the nega-
tion of a certain,previous,set of meanings,the verypropertythat
metonymyand thejoke (Witz)have in common. And thissense-ne-
gating capacity is also the necessarypre-conditionfor the forma-
tion of a "letter,"whetherit be a phoneme, a writtencharacter,or
a dream-element. A letter (Greek stoicheion)is an element (stoi-
cheion)thathas been emptied of itsmeaningsand reintegratedinto
a different,signifying,system(Se'minaire I 269-270).
The third point is that there is a fundamental differencebe-
tween the firstthree terms of a metaphor and the fourth one.
Whereas the firstthree are well-defined,e.g. "old age," "sunset,"
and "life,"the fourthone cannot be pinned down to a single,de-
terminate,term,but can take on a whole range of values. It re-
mains indeterminate,an x, not a d. There is no way to be sure that,
or to make sure that,the fourthterm will be taken as "day" and
that there will be an analogy based on the concept "end." The
"sunset" in question mightindicate beauty,calm, coolness, bright-
ness, violence, blood, despair, and so on. There is no way to con-
tain the meaning of the metaphor in a single term,even if thatis
what the speaker "wanted to say." That is why a new metaphor,
whether it be new for an individual, a group, on an entire lan-
guage, opens up a host of new meanings,whichLacan indicatesby
the (+ )s in his formula. (SeminaireI 262-263).
The metaphoriccreativityof language also resultsfromitsuse in
speech to establishor change an intersubjectiverelation. If I call
someone "the sunset of life,"or tell them about "the sunset of my
life,"I am therebycalling on them to assume a certainrelationto
me, the specificnature of whichwilldepend on whichof the many
possibilitiesthey read into the fourth position, as well as on the

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M L N 1003

relationtheydecide I have as subjectto myspeech (serious,ironic,

allusive, etc.).
The last point is thata fullyformedmetaphorwillnot onlycon-
tain an implicitpredication,but will also cover the implicitsub-
ject-"old age," in our example-with another subject that actu-
ally appears in the signiflyingchain. Hence the example from
"BoozEndormi,""His sheaf was neithermiserlynor spiteful,"where
"his sheaf" has taken Boaz's place as subject of the predicate.
Lacan has indeed, after all, adopted fromJakobson a concept of
similarity.It is not, however, the similarityof resemblance of at-
tributeswhich Jakobson uses to define metaphor, but rather his
notion of the axis of similarities;namely,that,in an actual, posi-
tive, language, such as French or English, the metonymicchain
establishes and provides certain signifyingplaces into which a
whole series of signifiersmay be inserted.Whetherthese places be
marked by word-order,case, or some other mechanism,is of no
great consequence, as long as the language definessuch signifying
places as subject and predicate. (Se'minaire III 257-258).
The complete metaphoric process is thus a "double twist"or a
"double-triggeredmechanism,"as Lacan calls it in "Agency"(166),
for it involves both the emptyingof sense (-) made possible by
metonymyand the formationof new meanings,the crossingof the
bar to give a (+) in the relation of the suppressed term to the
metonymicchain that appears. In the Hugo example, the sheaf
has been emptied of its connectionswithcrops, fields,agriculture,
nature, and so on, and has been reconnected to attributeswhich
belong to human beings such as Boaz, that is, avarice and spite.
And that is just what the algorithmfor metaphor indicates. The
metaphoric function,f, states that if you take a signifier,S, (mi-
serly,e.g.) and juxtapose it to another as predicate (sheaf), where
thisother signifierhas taken the place of a third,(S/S'), thena new
set of signifyingpossibilities will emerge, (S(+)s), through the
emptyingof one set of meanings,(-), and the attachingof a new
Gallop rightlyemphasizes that metaphor thus requires me-
tonymyas itsconditionof possibility(ReadingLacan 129, 131-132),
but we can now see that this relationhas nothingto do withsimi-
larityas homoiosis. As a result,there is no longer any reason either
to accuse Lacan of privilegingmetaphoror to shield him fromthat
accusation. We can instead reevaluate the question of reading and
interpretationin light of these formulas,and thus return to the
problem of the relationbetween the two kinds of transference.
One thingshould be clear at thispoint: if the formulasfor me-

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tonymyand metaphor do not have a meaning, then theycannot

dictate any specific method of reading. That is not to say that
criticslike Felman and Gallop ought not to lable the modes of
reading theydevelop as metaphoric,rhetorical,metonymic,or in-
terpretive.They have in fact done so quite successfully.What it
does mean is that these algorithms concern the mode of func-
tioningof signifyingsystems,whereas any method of reading also
involvesthe relationof the subject,the reader in thiscase, to those
modes of signification.Lacan's own readings of the Boaz meta-
phor, in "Agency" and in the psychoses Seminar,show that it is
impossible to read metaphor withouttaking into account its me-
tonymicsubstructure,the attributiveor predicational force that
derives fromthe syntagmaticand syntacticconnectionsjoining the
suppressed subject to the verbal expression. They also show that
metonymyand metaphor must always be read: because metonymy
institutesa search for the latent signifiers-reading between the
lines; because metaphor creates the possibilityof a set of new
meanings; and because both have an invocational,or intersubjec-
You will recall that Lacan begins his discussionof metaphor by
assertingthatit is not a matterof comparison,but of identification.
What is at stake in metaphor,in language in general as well as in
psychoanalysis,is human being in so far as thatbeing arises and is
subject to change throughsignifyingprocesses, throughthe com-
bination and substitutionof signifiers.Since metonymyseparates
the subject fromits attributes,it produces a certainkind of lack in
and of being. It therebyinduces a desire to know,to findthe truth
of one's being. This epistemologicaldrive, which Nancy and La-
coue-Labarthe equated to desire in general for Lacan, is for him
merely a means to an end, the desire for completion,for pleni-
tude, for perfectbeing. This metonymiclack has two aspects: the
real existence of the subject has been subsumed under a series of
abstract,general, categories; and the attributesthat were part of
the image of the thinghave been detached fromit, the imaginary
component of the signifiedhas been evacuated. Metaphor reme-
dies the metonymiclack to the extent and in the way that this is
possible: by reconnectingsubject and attributein discourse and
therebyreconnectingthe subjectto the other in wayspossible only
in speech (parole).The metaphoricprocess is thus a therapy,one
which confers onto the subject a new, symbolic,being, a kind of
wholeness that can only arise in and through the signifier,and

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M L N 1005

whichis doomed fromthe start,fromthe necessityof a metonymic

component, to imperfection. Perfect therapy would amount to
eternal life, whereas the metonymicminus always indicates the
"presence" of death, the silentworkingof the death-drive.
Interpretationwill thereforealways involve two aspects: the at-
tempt to specifythe new relationsbetween the latent and patent
signifiers,a set of meanings; and the use of thisinterpretationas a
responseto the speaking subject,as a way of establishingan inter-
subjective relation. The missing fourth term of the metaphoric
ratio is supplied by the reader, who not only gives that X a deter-
minate value, but in so doing determinesthe subject of the signi-
fied (or 6nonce)."What one mustsay is thatthe "I" of [mychoice of
words] arises somewhere other than the place where discourse is
uttered (s'e'nonce),preciselyin the one who is listeningto it" (Ecrits
892). The question remains,whethereitherof these aspects of in-
terpretationcorresponds to the seduction,the narcissisticcapture,
thatour criticsassimilatedto interpretationas transference.
Freud's firstdefinitionof transference(Ubertragung), the one to
which Lacan and Felman allude, occurs in Section VII of Interpre-
An unconsciousidea is as suchquiteincapableof enteringtheprecon-
sciousand ... it can onlyexerciseany effectthereby establishing a
connectionwithan idea whichalreadybelongsto thepreconscious, by
transferringitsintensityon to it and by gettingitself"covered"by it.
Here we havethefactof "Transference"....(562)

Lacan can describe thistransference-function as a signifying,met-

aphoric, process, not only because of the etymologicaland lexical
resonances of the terms Ubertragung, and meta-
phor, all of which indicate some sort of "carryingacross," but also
because it is preciselya matterof one signifier-the unconscious
idea-getting itself covered by another signifier-the precon-
scious idea, or day-residue-in such a way thatthe latentsignifier
controlsthe configurationof the dream-elements.In Freud's Intro-
ductory LecturesonPsycho-Analysis,he presentsthe dream of a young
woman in which she is at the theater with her husband. In the
dream she mentions to her husband her friend and the latter's
fiance, who could only get bad seats for 1 florin 50 kreuzers.
(122-125). The dream-analysisshowed that the woman had just
learned of her friend'sengagement,and thatshe had just recently
tried to get ticketsto a play but had bought them too early. The

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dream as it acutally appeared, the so-called manifestdream, was

thus a tissueof these recentoccurrences.In fact,however,the par-
ticularchoice and organizationof those elementswas controlledby
the young woman's questions about her own haste to get married
and by her wish to engage in sexual seeing. Just as the line that
actually appears in "Booz Endormi"involves the disconnectingof
the sheaf fromits usual lexical ties and theirreconnectionto ones
emanating fromthe latentsignifier"Boaz," so the signifiersof the
young woman's recent experience, the news of her friend's en-
gagement, going to the theatre, were detached from their cus-
tomarysignifiedsin order to be reattached to others determined
by her question and her voyeuristic curiosity, her wondering
whether another husband might complete her being more per-
When Lacan claims that the symptomis a metaphor ("Agency"
175), he is thus simply reiteratingthe definitionthat Freud ex-
plained in Fragmentof an Analysisofa Case ofHysteria:

And [thehysterical symptom] cannotoccurmorethanonce-and the

capacityforrepeatingitselfis one of thecharacteristicsof a hysterical
symptom-unlessithas a psychical a meaning.
significance, The hyster-
ical symptom does notcarrythismeaningwithit,but the meaningis
lentto it,solderedto it,as it were;and in everyinstancethemeaning
can be a differentone, accordingto the natureof the suppressed
thoughts whichare struggling forexpression.(40-41).

The hystericalsymptom-Dora's aphonia, for example, uses a

physicalstateas the equivalent of a predication-"I cannot speak,"
"It preventsme from speaking"-which covers a latent subject-
"Your absencemakes speaking useless"-in just the same way that
the theater-goer'sdream uses the day-residuesto cover her ques-
tions and desires. In both cases, the realitiesof historyand body
have been separated fromtheircustomarycontextsand reinserted
into a new signifyingsystem.
Both the day-residuesof the dream and the hystericalsymptoms
have thus become letters,for a letter is a "signifyingmaterial,
whetherit be phonematic,hieroglyphic,etc., [which]is constituted
of forms which have fallen from their proper meaning and are
taken up in a new organization throughwhich an other meaning
triesto reach expression" (Lacan Se'minaire I 269-70). And it is this
thatallows for the interruptionand
veryprocess of "lettrification"
reorganizationof discourse by the unconscious, which is also the

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M L N 1007

goal of the basic rule of psychoanalysis,that of "free association."

Lettrificationand free association both permitthat instancein the
titleof "L'Instance de la lettre,"one of whose referencesLacoue-
Labarthe and Nancy discovered to be Aristotle'senstasis,the ob-
stacle I put in the path of my opponent's reasoning; that is, that
which interruptsand disrupts his discourse (Titre29n3). "Since
Freud the unconscious has been a chain of signifiersthat some-
where (on another stage, in another scene, he wrote) is repeated,
and insistson interferingin the breaks offeredit by the effective
discourse and the cogitation that it informs" (Ecrits;A Selection
Transference in the firstusage thus poses the question of the
dreamer's being and attemptsto answer thatquestion throughthe
same process of lettrification thatis operative in metaphor.Stated
in these terms,the relationbetween this early definitionof trans-
ference and the later one as the motor of the psychoanalyticpro-
cess can now be specified.Free associationis designed to allow the
maximum possibilityfor thisquestion to surfacein the analysand's
discourse. In "Position de l'inconscient,"Lacan explains: "The ex-
pectation [anticipation,attente]of this being in relationwithwhat
we designate as the desire of the analyst . . . that is the true and
ultimate mainspring of what constitutesthe transference"(Ecrits
844). The drivingforce of the transference,withoutwhich there
could be no psychoanalysis,is the analysand's expectation of an
answer to the question, "What am I?", a question thatcan only be
asked in the intersubjectivecontext of another question, "What
does she, he, want fromme?"
The primarydifferencebetween the two transferencesis that
the second, psychoanalytic,one requires the presence of a listener,
the analyst, whose desire, however, must remain absent, unex-
pressed and undefined except as a virtuality,if the process is to
succeed. In analysis, dreams and other unconscious formations
tend to "speak to the analyst,"as Lacan puts it in SeminaireI (270),
involvingthe analystboth as addressee and as a patentsignifierin
thatformation.In other words,the analysand puts the question of
his or her being and desire in termsof a statementabout (and to) a
'you' fromwhom she or he expects a response. If the unconscious
subject comes to use transferencein the firstsense to speak to the
analyst,what it desires is some response, and, firstof all, at least
some indication that its message has been heard, an acknowledg-
ment (accuse de reception)that constitutesa recognition(Seminaire

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III 213). And what other response can the analyst give without
exceeding the bounds of the analyticprocess,the rule of the game,
than to offeran interpretation,that is, to seek to bring forththe
To refuse categorically to interpretunder any circumstances
would thus put an insuperable obstacle in the way of the subject's
speech, one which would not only put an end to the analyticpro-
cess, but would also undermine the short-termgoal of the subject
in analysis,its metonymicquest for being. The immediategoal of
that search is the reintegrationof the subject's historyas ego, the
historyof its specular identificationswith its objects. It is the be-
ginningof the latterprocess,the productionof the imaginaryrela-
tion between analysand and analystthroughthe operation of free
association,that marksthe onset of the transferencein the second
whose essentialrole is to close offthe
sense. This is the Verliebtheit
transferenceno sooner than it begins,by proposing the subject as
love-objectto the analystas ego-ideal, a process of seductionwhose
aim is deception, the avoidance of the unconscious truthstrivingto
be heard.
For Lacan there are two essential aspects to the transference,
just as there are at least two typesof identification,the imaginary
and the symbolic. An interpretationthat tends to reinforcethe
imaginaryinertiasof the subject willbe detrimentalto the process
of analysis;one thattends to help the subjectto verbalizehis or her
imaginaryexperience will furtherthat process. Analysisthus uses
interpretationto contributeto the fillingout of the analysand's
imaginaryhistoryby allowing her or him to symbolizethose parts
of it that had been excluded fromspeech, thathad been traumas.
This goal can only be reached, however,if the subject can recog-
nize that this imaginaryexperience was always already caught up
in an intersubjectivedialectic.
Here, finally,is the explanation of that "dialectic,"that move-
ment toward the truthof the subject,which Gallop equated with
literarity,and which, according to Lacan, early analyststhought
was contained in the unconscious meaningstheywere discovering.
Those unconscious significationsare none other than the imagi-
nary components of the non-symbolizedtraumaticexperiences.
But the dialecticis not contained in them. Rather,it consistsin the
intersubjectiverelation Lacan designates by the phrases, the un-
conscious is the discourse, the desire, of the other. The relations
described so well by Sartre in his analysisof the gaze in Beingand

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M L N 1009

Nothingness(252-302), and those which Lacan adds under the

names of the vocal, oral and anal relations,all involvean intersub-
jective struggle,in which each partyboth recognizes the other as
subject and, at the same time,seeks to turn the other into a mere
object. This relation,which Lacan calls "perverse,"must end in a
pyrrhicvictory,for to the extent that one subject succeeds in re-
ducing the other to the status of object, it therebyalso reduces
itselfto being an object. The dialecticof perversionthus places the
subject in an inherentlyunstable position,in which the approach
of the object inevitablyproduces that aphanisis,or disappearance
of the subject,that Lacan was later to call "fading."
From the start,then,the subject-objectrelationof the ego to that
which would complete it-breast, feces,gaze, voice-is caught up
in the intersubjectivedialectic,the veryone which Gallop assimi-
lates to "the literarityof the text." Now there is no simple way of
deciding whetherthe term "literarity"can be substitutedhere for
"dialectic,"perhaps no way at all, simple or not. Lacking any rule
on whose basis to make such a determination,I would prefer to
describe the trajectoryLacan followsin articulatingthe relation-
ship between imaginaryand symbolicdesires.
On the one hand, I desire the desire of the other. On the other,
thatdesire is given to me onlyas text,as the discourse of the other,
what the other says and does in a signifyingway. But the desire of
the other is not simplythe discourse of the other in so far as that
discourse is a unified, rational, whole; rather, it speaks in the
holes, gaps, silences,or modes of organization(for instance,repe-
titions,or other "figures")of thatdiscourse. Provided thatwe take
the "literary"to mean preciselythose gaps and modes of organiza-
tion,we can say that the dialecticis the literary.
On the Other other hand, however,it mightbe considered per-
verse to define the literaryin such a way as to involvea necessary
de-subjectificationof the subject,whetheras author,or as reader.
And while thatis preciselythe thrustof a certainformalismand a
certain"new criticism,"it is certainlynot in keeping withthe aim of
Lacanian psychoanalysis,nor withthe formulasfor metaphorand
If the only two possibilitieswere Verliebtheitand perversion,se-
duction and the master-slavedialectic; if the analyst could only
oscillate between the position of ego-ideal and that of a-object,
then psychoanalysiswould be nothingother than an interminable
game. For the Lacan of the 1950's, there was a way to end the

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game, without,of course, stopping it. Once the subject has played
its last card, its own loss, or disappearance; once it has recognized
its essential indeterminacy,or non-being,then it becomes possible
to change the game. The new game is one that is determined
purelyin the symbolicregisterof a true subject-to-subject relation.
Lacan often refersto it as the Oedipus complex; Freud calls it the
resolutionof the Oedipus complex. Some of its possibilitiesLacan
lists in "Position de l'inconscient"as "the exchange of signifiers,
ideals, the elementarystructuresof kinship,the metaphor of the
father as a principle of separation, an order and a norm estab-
lished to tell the subject what to do as man or woman" (Ecrits849).
In short,the dialecticof symbolicand imaginarythatis operative
in transferenceas in metaphor,produces three,not two, kinds of
relations: seduction, the fascination with the imaginary side of
meaning; the intersubjectivedialectic which links the desire for
plenitude to the strugglefor mastery;and response, the recogni-
tion of the desire of the other in speech, and the inaugurationof a
new, symbolic,relationamong subjects.
I would suggest thata Lacanian analysiswould not take place in
the space supposedly opened up between transferenceas seduc-
tion and transferralas textualrepetition.Nor is it a matterof cor-
recting a psychoanalyticinterpretationthat would master litera-
ture by attemptingto stop meaning,to arrestsignification, by "fol-
lowing the incessant slippage, the unfixable movement of the
signifyingchain" (Felman 191). Textual repetition,like transfer-
ence, willremain fruitlessunless and untilitis read as such. "When
not recognized [in the Dora case], transferenceworked as an ob-
stacle to the treatment.Once recognized,it becomes the best sup-
port of the treatment."(Se'minaire I 308). The struggleformastery,
in interpretationas elsewhere,is destined to remain in the register
of the perverse, and this regardless of whetherone fightsfor or
against it. (That is preciselywhat Felman's brilliantreading of The
Turn oftheScrewshows.)
I would propose, rather,thata Lacanian analysiscan operate in
the space that language opens up between sexualityand the rela-
tion to death; in the space of metonymyas the loss of meaning and
metaphor as the attemptto remedythatlack; between the radical
indeterminacyof the subject and the determinationthatcomes to
it fromthe Other.
What this means for narration and its participantsis that the
subject of narrationoscillatesbetween being writtenby the act of
narrationitselfand definingher or himselfin termsof the Other

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M L N 1011

for whom he or she narrates; that the analysisshould not consist

solelyor primarilyof doing readings of texts,whethergivenout as
objective or subjective,but should striveto define the particular
typeof subjectivity thatcomes intobeing in relationto those narra-
tives. This analysis would constitutea response-to the desire of
the textas read by othercritics.For the dialecticin itshighestform
is a response to the other'sletterthatpromotesthe historizationof
the other's experience.
Indiana University

1 In fact,Freud used the word "transference"to designate one aspect of the rela-
tion between analystand patientat the end of Studieson Hysteria(301-304), that
is, as early as 1895.
2 In a second essay,"Interpretationand the Paradox of Transferencein Lacan," I
explore the possible uses of Lacan's notionsof rhetoricand transferencein lit-
erary theoryand criticism.

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