Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

Lacan's Seminars on James Joyce:
Writing as Symptom and
"Singular Solution"

Ellie Ragland-Sullivan

My purpose is to try to convey in some detail the fruit of Jacques Lacan's seminars given on James Joyce, principally in 1975 and 1976, but also as early as 1971. When Lacan first spoke at Yale University in 1975 he began: "Ce n'est pas facile" ("It is not easy for me") ("Kanzer Seminar"). Indeed Lacan's words on Joyce depict a Joyce that will be perfectly strange for many, including Joyce scholars. You will hear ideas such as these. There are Real knots in Joyce's prose that are not metaphorical, but have to do with metonymical signifying chains surrounding the Name of the Father. These knots denote the "thing" (das Ding or point de capiton) stuck at a point of impasse or encounter. But what is a knot? For Lacan the knot has the structure of a symptom, defined in at least three ways. But for the moment we will describe it as that in a person's life history which conscious knowledge does not account for, but which leaves its imprint anyway. That is, the symptomatic knot is Real, extrinsic in the first place to the cord it ties. It has to be put in. As such it is a Real referent. Thus one can say that psychoanalytic resistance has the shape of a knot, the structure of a symptom, the structure of something that is an obstacle or blockage in various aspects of a person's life.

In 1987 Jacques-Alain Miller described the symptom in Joyce avec Lacan as an enigma written in secret characters which in and of themselves say nothing to anyone ("Préface" 11). Secondly, the symptom is also the pure jouissance—which Freud discovered as the limit of the power of interpretation—of an écriture that Lacan called the Real ("La

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