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Signifier And Signification In The Practice Of Lacanian Psychoanalysis

The Letter, Issue 20, Autumn 2000, Pages 130 - 146


Frédéric Declercq


Interpretations that focus directly on signification are not psychoanalytical in the Freudian-Lacanian sense. Such interpretations characterise, on the contrary, the paranoid psychosis. This is borne out theoretically by Lacan and Watzlawick. M. Klein's clinical cases demonstrate that interpretations that focus on significations induce a paranoid-like exacerbation of the imaginary. Freud and Lacan on the other hand, aim at the signifier. The significations that Freudian psychoanalysis validates are those which result from the correlation of two signifiers.


When Lacan defines the unconscious as being structured as a language, he refers to formal language, that is to say language without inherent signification.[1] For this reason, he founds his conceptualisation of the unconscious on a mathematical rather than on a classical linguistic philosophical pattern.[2] Indeed, mathematical algorithms do not carry signification as such: they only acquire signification in conjunction with other algorithms which belong to the same system. Applied to the formations of the unconscious, this means that it is not relevant to interpret or to attribute a meaning to a signifier as such (1), but to check primarily how this signifier articulates itself to another signifier (2).

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