Posted by: glue | March 5, 2009

Letter l’etre

A relay for understanding subject forming within electracy is psychoanalysis.  The discovery of the unconscious as a real dimension renders the old prudence impossible, sending virtue on a detour through sublimation.  Avatar emerges here to make the trip on my behalf.  Avatar is my symptom, or what Lacan called sinthome, using the word from Medieval French (from the time of the troubadours).

Name Recognition

Name Recognition

At the end of his career Lacan explicitly associated his therapy with the history of prudence by declaring that the goal of the treatment was to learn how to do something with one’s symptom.  His phrase is, “savoir-y-faire.” “Savoir-y-faire means something like ‘dealing with it,’ with connotations of ‘getting rid of it,’ ‘untying oneself from it’; it does not involve learning a skill, but sorting something out, getting rid of a burden or irritation.  It thus implies an unknotting or denounement” (Harari, 121).   The treatment aims at changing the analysand’s relationship with and attitude toward jouissance.  To recognize the symptom as a trope of destiny, as “belonging-to-me” (echoing Heidegger’s Ereignis), is to take responsibility for one’s history.

Lacan acknowledges that he does not know exactly the nature of this know-how or sprezzatura (in our context), but the model for it he learned from James Joyce, especially Finnegans Wake (FW).  “I let fairevieews in on slobodens,” to quote at random from the text, “but ranked rothgardes round wrathmindsers; I bathandbaddend on mendacity and I corocured off the  unoculated.”     Lacan recognized in Joyce’s style the Rat Bridge of symptomology; that Joyce exploited all the musical and poetic devices of the poetic function, pushed to the extreme of nonsense, that is, for their own sake, without concern for the signifieds of meaning.  Julia Kristiva, in her Revolution in Poetic Language, influenced by Lacan, calls this “semiotic” dimension of language “chora.” The theory is that language supports a dual process – part meaning (signified) and part jouissance (signifier), with the latter associated with “being.”  Any linguistic practice carries a libidinal lining in this musical register of sound, tone, rhythm, voice (Stimme).  The famous slips and parapraxes exploited by Freud in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life connect at this level, retracing the mnemonic tricks of premodern orators.

Lacan realized in his study of Joyce that the writer had learned how to savoir-y-faire, how to enjoy his symptom.  Joyce’s biography, that is, reflected all the attributes of the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, the loss of the phallus, found commonly among neurotics, if not psychotics.   At one level the strategy was just that of sublimation –- supplement the phallus by making a name for oneself by becoming a famous author.  Joyce went further, by pushing his style to the limits of language and into the nonsense of pure signifiers.  His method was the macaronic pun, punning across languages, combined with portmanteau neologisms.  Joyce uprooted the  quilting point of his symptom, it seems, so he avoided the impasse of neurosis. The quilting point of meaning is gone, in the Wake.  What then provides its undeniable coherence?  The object @, joining letter and signifier, preserving a piece of the Real in the Symbolic (discourse). The implication for individual and collective identity formation, in the context of the apparatus, is profound.  The electrate category emerges at the opposite pole of the literate one.  It is not universal, but is a sinthome, a non-sense letter sported by a particular body.  In Lacan’s topologerie, the object @ as sinthome is graphed as a trefoil knot, with the loops or rings of the three categories of Dasein (Real, Symbolic, Imaginary) knotted by a forth ring or clasp (Symptom), without which the other three loops would separate, fall apart.



What exactly is the “letter” in this account?  The mathematical analogy comes from set theory.  The subject is a function, that is, an operation applied to a collection of otherwise unrelated signifiers.  Here is the new category:  not shared traits or properties showing essence, but a gathering around a hole in the real activated by the irreducible desire of this speaking being, who, in speaking, “enjoys.”  The unity of this scene is provided by the “want-to-be” of the subject (Chaitin, 127).  This being is created, invented, through the subject’s savoir-y-faire.  Lacan drew also upon grammatology, studying the history of writing to understand the formation of the unconscious, of a writing in, with, and through the body.  He observed that writing systems were formed by analogy; letters were distilled from other uses:  trademarks on pottery, lines traced from oracular readings of cracked tortoise shells (Chinese).  To become a letter the appropriated mark was emptied of its established signification and reattached to a new meaning:  First the isolation of a trait; next naming the trait with a signifier; finally, using this signifier to name a different item from the original source of the trait with a shared sound (homonymy).  Here is another version of aletheia, of trace:  creation of appearing through withdrawal.



Thus in Egyptian hieroglyphics an image of a scarab meant the verb “to become,” because of phonemes in common (Chaitin, 129-130).
Lacan proposed that this originary discourse of the body (the unconscious) functioned in this same way, such that the signifiers sounded in the music of writing are capable of directly affecting the letter of a body. What matters is not the “meaning” of the symptom; it is in fact nonsense, and the Other is a fiction. The letter of the sinthome, therefore, is explicitly identified as being “acephallic” (Voruz, 114). Joyce, in other words is the prototype of a modernist vanguard literature that invented a non-objective writing, that is ontological in opening and augmenting for further thought a new kind of sense, jouissance, blissense.   This new sense, as the basis for the conductive inference of a new prudence, is available for further development in flash reason.



  1. Name Recognition

    Avatar is my ambassador to the sublime–the virtual dimension of information (overload): the outside in. The nonsense letter of sinthome is the connection between my living self and my image. Sinthome is to avatar what synderesis was to the relation of self and soul in Scholastic philosophy. Synderesis named the connection that the embodied soul retained with the realm of pure spirit, allowing experience some access to the divine. Sinthome, the embodied letter, is this line of communication with my image, through the recognition of my name, the circulation of my image as reputation, that makes me responsible, able to respond to the call of distributed hegemony.

  2. Thanks for a great post, Greg. You articulate and weave together these concepts in a most original way while always maintaining an strong ethics.

  3. In fact I’m not happy with the weaving thing when it comes to this medium. I was thinking I needed to disentangle the strands, and present each strand on its own, and let the “constellation’ take care of the weave. I’m stuck in essay gear!

  4. Yes. I understand. Google gears may be the answer. Plug in the essay and let the extraction begin!

    This off the hip comment makes me think though about how machinic automation might figure into an electrate apparatus. For instance, this post speaks to the space between avatar and human and yet I can automate my wordpress insights plugin to find a random flickr image to be my avatar that changes from post to post. How do I figure the machine’s choice especially when the circulation of my image is something I may not even be aware of (since it’s being randomly chosen by the machine)?

  5. Thanks for this thread. It makes me realize the relevance of the various FB play with chance, such as the chance formula for designing an album cover for your band. Maybe need another post to address the implications, but the allusional answer (top of head) concerns the metic strategy for dealing with Proteus (if that is enigmatic enough to cover further reflection?).

  6. That’s one way of putting it. I was thinking what an incredible foe Mystique is from the X-Men.

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