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Issue 53: Editorial

The Letter, Issue 53, Summer 2013, Pages v - vii


I am very pleased to include the final two sections of Christian Fierens’ book Lecture de L’Etourdit in this issue of The Letter. These are the Fourth Chapter on the First Turn of Lacan’s extraordinary text, entitled The Phallic Function and the Formulae of Sexuation and the section that bridges the First and the Second Turns, entitled From One Turn to the Other.

It is perhaps worthwhile reminding readers once again[1] of the slightly complicated sequencing in bringing Fierens’ reading of L’Etourdit to your attention, because I anticipate that the instruments de travail that these texts provide, will be worked with by scholars of psychoanalysis for many years to come. Lacan’s First Turn was brought to you in Issue 41, accompanied by Fierens’ introduction to the text. Further chapter by chapter commentary then appears somewhat later in Issues 51, 52 and 53. The Second Turn of L’Etourdit, pub- lished over three issues (43, 45 and 49), is accompanied in each of these is- sues by the corresponding commentary by Fierens.

While it is impossible in a brief editorial comment to do justice to the sections of Fierens’ book included in the current issue, I nonetheless have to declare a particular interest in Chapter Four of The First Turn.

In Chapter Three of The First Turn There is no Sexual Relationship (Issue 52), Fierens had highlighted that ‘To say ‘there is no sexual relationship’ we must start from relationship (‘in general’) and relationship is always to meaning’. What is truly novel is the equating of meaning with the sexual. It is our under- standing that ‘meaning making’, the relationship of signifier to signifier, or of ‘said’ to ‘said’ becomes the symbolic journey encircling the real, synonymous at this time with ‘the absence of sexual relationship’ or ab-sens.

Let us move on then to Chapter Four of the First Turn The Phallic Function and the Formulae of Sexuation. This chapter is, to my mind, centrally im- portant on two counts. Taking the two terms contained in the title, the phallic function and the formulae of sexuation, Fierens demonstrates how ‘by opening up the path of ab-sense’ the psychoanalyst is freed up from a reliance on ‘relationship’(that word again), is freed up from relying on the linkage of one meaning to another meaning. The phallic function – consequence of ab-sens in the psychoanalytic discourse - is modulated by the movement in elaborate concert, not only of the first two formulae that we associate with meaning ( ‘for all of x, x is subject to the phallic function’ and ‘there exists an x not subject to the phallic function’), but of all four formulae.

The first reason I rate this chapter so highly has to do with its utterly contem- porary contribution to our thinking on any possible treatment of psychosis. In psychosis, the fictitious plugging of the hole of ab-sens that the first two formulae provide, is problematic. This structural ‘problematic’ at the same time completely exposes the question of the subject as posed by Lacan. Let us recall that the question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis is the question of the Lacanian subject.[2]

The second reason this chapter has to be taken seriously has everything to do with the clarification it provides of feminine sexuality, in line with Lacan’s new logic. This new logic was unavailable to Freud, condemning him to leave unanswered the question of what a woman wants Was will das Weib? Feminine sexuality implies the logic of the third and fourth formulae (‘there does not exist an x not subject to the phallic function’ and ‘not-all of x is subject to the phallic function’) that ‘concern not only women but the second half of every subject, of every speaking being (him or her)...’

The best inducement I can offer you to further study this Chapter Four of Fierens, is to signal Lacan’s startling definition of heterosexual, as having little to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with what ‘is different from (heteros in Greek)’ meaning, or again, what allows ab-sense to be privileged.

A word on the section bridging the First and the Second Turns, entitled From One Turn to the Other. All I can do here is encourage you to engage with the glorious re-presentation that it provides of the riddle of the Sphinx, the Oedipal myth and Antigone’s role – thrilling stuff, indeed!

The Lacanian subject, already mentioned, is the focus of Barry O’Donnell’s thoughtful paper Speaking Subjects, delivered at ISLP’s Intercartel Day (June 2013). Taking as his starting point two of Lacan’s four addenda in Ecrits (1966) to his 1953 Seminar on The Purloined Letter, O’Donnell deftly underscores the ambiguity we encounter when we speak of the subject of the real and, at the same time, the coming into being of the subject in the act of symbolization, or - more simply put - in the act of speaking. Lacan’s question about the subject is given its properly logical co-ordinates six years later in L’Etourdit – a claim, no doubt, requiring further validation. Referring to the phraseology surrounding Lacan’s use in the same addenda, of the word as-sujettissement, further subtle distinctions are played out around the subjection of subjectivity, O’Donnell concluding that the alternative to the subjection of subjectivity is never freedom or autonomy.

Tony Hughes’ paper The Klein Bottle has to be taken very seriously in light of our earlier comments on the phallic function. In analysis, the phallic function as ‘a-semantic signifier’ is linked to the process where a topology ‘that is not metaphorical’ is developed. ‘This topology will respond to the ab- sense proper to psychoanalysis. It alone allows access to structure. Then to interpretation’.[3] Before giving us a masterclass on the topological entity that is the Klein Bottle - introduced by Lacan in the session of December 16th 1964 of Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis - Hughes makes a compelling case for respecting the radical difference between Lacan’s effort over many years to demonstrate (monstration) topological principles by imaginary means and the (real) topological shaping that, by way of ‘cutting’, analytic interpretation actualises.

Karina Melvin’s paper A Clinic of the ‘Not-all’ finds its natural home in this issue of The Letter, addressing as it does - from the very first page - the error in reducing Lacan’s formulae of sexuation to a binary form of think- ing about men and women. Rather, she exhorts us to explore the riches of Lacan’s interrogation of logic from Aristotle to Russell, as the means to properly ‘read’ the formulae. Melvin bases her reading on two chapters of Guy Le Gaufey’s ground-breaking book Le pastout de Lacan. Consistence logique, conséquences cliniques (2006), highlighting, in particular, the distinction be- tween ‘minimal’ and ‘maximal’ interpretations of the particular proposition. The latter interpretation allows for a logically robust ‘maximal’ clinic - a clinic of the ‘not-all’ – reliant, not on the knowledge the psychiatrist or the psy- choanalyst brings to bear on a ‘case’, but guided by the subject’s own truth.

Patricia McCarthy


[1] C.f. Cormac Gallagher’s editorial in Issue 51

[2] Let us recall Fierens’ paper Foreclosure and Discordance:Is Schizophrenia Think- able? delivered at to the Schizophrenia Conference, organized by Tom Dalzell in 2008 at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin (available in Issue 40 of The Letter), where ‘ “What is said schizophrenically’ can only be understood by the complete development of the subject’

[3] Page 2 of this current issue

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