Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Lacan and the Subject of the Law: Sexuation and Discourse in the Mapping of Subject Positions That Give the Ur-Form of Law

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Lacan and the Subject of the Law: Sexuation and Discourse in the Mapping of Subject Positions That Give the Ur-Form of Law

Article excerpt

In 1972 and 1973, Jacques Lacan gave the Seminar he entitled Encore.1 In Chapter 7 of Encore, "A Love Letter,"2 he offered an interpretation of Freud's Totem and Taboo3 that is essentially an original theory of the foundation of law. By reinterpreting Freud's development of the Oedipus myth as the founding myth that explains the derivation of law, Lacan offers a structural logic to explain his theory in light of Freud's fable of the primal hoard in Totem and Taboo. Working since the 1950s to understand the differences between metaphor and metonymy, Lacan reconceptualized the Oedipus complex as a paternal metaphor derived from the subject's experiences of castration and the phallus.4 By arguing that metaphor functions by predictable laws and that myth has structure as well, Lacan demonstrated in Seminar XX that myth has an ordering that guarantees a certain predictability. Myth, says Lacan, gives epic form to that which works from structure. He defines this structure in Seminar XX as the Borromean triadic unit of the real, symbolic, and imaginary.5 A fourth order, the order of the Symptom or sinthome, knots the other three units of associational meaning into a necklace of mind/memory made of thousands and thousands of such connexions.6

This Article will seek to establish that cultural law has the same roots as individual desire. This paradox lies at the heart of the minimal requisites necessary to maintain the "social link" Lacan recognized as present when language is used to negotiate a lack-in-being. Therefore, for Lacan, "discourse" is not commensurate with conversation, communication, speech, or intersubjective language exchanges. Rather, discourse makes a social link insofar as the agent of speech addresses the other from a place of lack. Lacan did not envision the other as other person, but as representative of something. Thus, the other occupies a place in language that Lacan defined as having quantifiable dimensions at the level of meaning something for someone.

In the master discourse, the one seeking confirmation of his or her knowledge (S^sub 1^) addresses the other as the-one-who-knows, the supposed subject of knowledge (S^sub 2^). The simple supposition that the other's knowledge confirms or guarantees your being is not necessarily commensurable with the grammatical usage of "I" and "you." It is, rather, the castration or lack-inbeing of the subject of desire that Lacan stressed. In the academic discourse, the professor addresses the cause of the student's desire (a), seeking to transmit knowledge by evoking interest. The hysteric speaks to the other, not so much as a guarantee of his or her own knowledge, but as an embodiment of law or authority (S^sub 1^). Finally, in her discourse, the analyst addresses the analysand's lack of knowledge about his or her desire (formula omitted) in reference to his or her identity as symbolized by a few master signifiers (S^sub 1^).7

Lacan's other theories implicitly propose that one must symbolize a minimal number of places -- eight, to be precise - in order to make "a social link." This assertion makes sense if one accepts linguist and logician Charles Pyle's premise that: (1) most individuals in a group have symbolized mother, father, self, and a fourth position that Lacan called dummy at bridge; and (2) the psychotic subject has not symbolized the position of the father. At the simplest level, one could define the dummy position as the awareness that at the place of the other, one symbolizes something other than the common terms of one's own narcissistic identifications with the first figures of one's base family unit; it is also a question of to what one's desire is referred.8

Long before he formalized his discourse theory in Seminar XX, Lacan had schematized the individual speaking subject in Seminar II by using the Schema L, a quadrature of four places. In Schema L, Lacan argued that the speaking subject is stretched over these four places rather than being a unity or unitary self. …

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