Archive for the ‘Literary Essay’ Category

Kafka Pragois

Posted: October 10, 2007 in Kafka, Literary Essay, Literary Magazine

By Jean Montalbetti

Literary magazine n° 198
September 1983

1983. Whole Europe celebrates the centenary of Kafka. In Paris, a conference is devoted to him to the Sorbonne. But Prague, city whose Kafka is indissociable, continuous to regard it as a declining author, of which proscire is needed work and the memory.

“It seemed to to me that the nature of works of Kafka is such that it is likely to make of him the completely frightening civil servant of the Castle which he describes (…) It is the humour which prevents Kafka from becoming this monument petrified and risen by the mass of interpretations that one brings.”
Vaclav Jamek



In margin of " Zone "

Posted: October 10, 2007 in Apollinaire, Literary Essay

By Lionel Richard

Literary magazine n° 348
November 1996

The new esthetics, which Apollinaire in “the preliminary Alcohol” poem proposes , aims at gathering and with exalter the heteroclite one. When poetry accepts chaos and the chance.

” Love you do not know what it is only the absence
And you do not know that one smells oneself some to die “
Apollinaire,Poems With Lou

” Sad and mélodieux is delirious
I wander through my beautiful Paris
Without having the heart to die there. “
Apollinaire,the Song of badly-liked

” the Song of badly-liked commemorates my first love at twenty years, English met in Germany, that lasted one year, we had to turn over each one on our premises, then we were not written any more… I suffered much from it, witness this poem where I believed myself badly liked while it was me which liked badly… ‘
Apollinaire, Letter With Madeleine Pagès, 1915.

Quand the volume of ” Alcohols ” appeared, in 1913, it was compared with the back-store of a receiver. One could there discover of all, out-of-date and the incomprehensible one. It was not so badly seen ; but if ” the old one “, which connected certain poems with those of Gourmont, Verlaine, Nerval, of Villon, with the weaving songs, were noticed instantaneously, the ” new one ” appeared to raise of provocative incongruity. In short, the ” new one ” appeared to be limited to a sterile ease. It was necessary that time passed so that more surprising became most productive ; the least justifiable was going to be held by the poets for most fertile. Thus it goes from there, in ” Alcohols ” with the preliminary poem ” Zone “, and its guarantor, at the end of work, ” Vendémiaire “.
” Zone ” appeared, in December 1912, in ” the evenings of Paris ” ; on Apollinaire tests will substitute for the title ” Cry ” that of ” Zone “. “the Alcohol” organization not being chronological, Apollinaire retained it to open the collection symbolically, when ” Vendémiaire “, probably written about 1909, and published in November 1912, was located at the end of the work. Poem assessment and poem confession ” Zone ” places ” Alcohols ” under the sign of what will be named a little later in ” Calligrammes “, the tradition and the adventure. The change of title which takes place, of pre-original to the collection, ” Cry ” (the table of Edward Munch is 1893) at ” Zone “, carries to modify the reading of the poem : it is not any more to regard a cry of personal despair, but as the course of a zone of pains ; the individual is disseminated and reflects himself in what it sees around him, which it looks with the sky. The poem is built on the rather traditional form of a wander, downtown, of an end of day to one morning. Space described, between the recollection of a ” industrial street ” crossing the morning, and approaches it at the following day of the residence of Auteuil, while ” the slags make tinkle their cans in the streets ” seems subjected to the only law of the disparate one. The memories in disorder invade the spirit ; those which milked with Mediterranean childhood, at the cities crossed at the time of the great voyage towards the east of 1902 (Prague, Coblentz), with shames (” as a criminal one puts to you in a state of arrest ” what refers to the flight of the Mona Lisa into 1911), to the disasters of the desire and with the compassion (” I now humiliate with a poor girl with the horrible laughter my mouth “) are juxtaposed. No law ” of association of the ideas ” could legitimate their appearance ; their obliteration, or their multiplication is free. With these memories, that the indication of the places makes it possible to place in prospect in time, mix with the notations with the dubious statute. An assessment, an effort of totalization (” you made the painful one and merry voyages “) can indicate a return to the present, that of the evening and night ambulation, with this ” today you steps in Paris ” which constitutes the wire of the poem. The emigrants at theSaint-Lazare station are images of oneself, which became wandering fault of not having more pole (” I lived like insane and I wasted my time “) ; the prostitutes are beings pareillement detached, déconstruits. The title of ” Zone ” would indicate mental space thus, when it is without direction, when it is not any more that one ” ground gaste “, ” has waste Land “, where all that occupies the field of the conscience suddenly takes the same value.
The occasion of this sentimental and spiritual assessment is known ; it follows the rupture with Marie Laurencin. And as Apollinaire is with the day before of his thirty-three years, its destiny does not appear to him without relationship with that of Christ. Nor what it saw, with what Dante and Virgile crossed. It is well in hell, but it does not have a guide. With the way of the poems epic, ” Zone ” proceeds on several plans : that of the night and adventurous ambulation, of confrontation with the other which one was (and that could be named a ” catabase “), that, finally, the supernatural one, sky where the guardian angels côtoient the airplanes. The characteristic of, it is to make of a human destiny the consequence of a divine will. The title of ” Zone ” could thus indicate a space, always undecided, but this either geographical but spiritual time : ” Zone ” this place and vacuum of the sky which one awaits some sign vainly, with least humming.
This poem of heroic confession thus has all the characters of old : its staged construction, its assonancés distiches, its regular alexandrines (” at the end you are tired/of this old world “) or prolonged (” shepherdess ô Eiffel Tower/the herd of the bridges bleats/this morning “), its traditional inversions and its periphrases (” the flying machine “), its unexpected metaphors (” a bell barks “), finally the sure effects of the religious litany (” it is the torch with the russet-red hair… “), all causes to make identifiable of the familiar rates/rhythms, alleviating known musics. But the old poetic one cannot access text completely ; it remains in margin of the tradition ; it is désaccordé of it with what it makes think ; in short, it is located in a new ” Zone”, disconcerting already, but still undecided. Indeed the characteristic of the poem was to present itself, in its forced forms, like a language necessary ; however all, in ” Zone “, the set of themes, the rhythmic one, concerns the random one. Moral despair leads Apollinaire to invent, as of ” Zone “, a new esthetics, which it will radicalize in other works (in the ” poem-conversation “, for example), and of which it will make the theory, in 1917, in its ” Conference on the new spirit ” : ” one can be poet in all the fields : it is enough that one is adventurous and that one goes to the discovery. “It is what” Zone shows ” ; and that explains why was placed at the opening of the book this poem of distress, when were reserved, to close it, the ” songs of universal drunkenness “. ” the poet is that which discovers new joys, were they painful to support “.
The new esthetics, which Apollinaire proposes, is related to an idea of gathering and exaltation of the heteroclite one. If the idea of beautiful ideal and harmony referred to Apollon implicitly, it is in Dionysos that will refer Apollinaire, Dionysos to which is comparable Christ, when the wine is blood, and the mystical press. Poetry selective any more, neither in its vocabulary, neither in its topics, nor is scheduled. It accepts chaos and the chance. It is not only any more in the books ; it bursts with the glance : ” You read the leaflets the catalogues the posters which sing high/here is poetry this morning… ” the pain-killer, the apparently unimportant one, the commonplace one even are taken again in load : ” Te here in Marseilles in the medium of water melons/Te here in Coblentz with the hotel of the Giant “, in ordinary alexandrines consolidated by discrete assonances between the hémistiche and the rhyme. But what to say this industrial street ” located in Paris between the street/Aumont-Thiéville/and the avenue of the Terns ” where an E dumb remains floating (its deletion in the word ” street ” gave a great concern to Mallarmé, when it wrote in quatrains the addresses of its letters), where only a rhythmic symmetry would impose on a diction, undoubtedly hateful, ” to save ” the notation ? The poetic modern one is opposed to the old speech in worms : with the logical continuum (only division in stanzas was allowed) are opposite the asyndeton, the rupture, the failure, with what consolidates, which breaks, with what progresses in time, which exists simultanéement. The poem is composed of small islands ; the reader, of the one with the other, short the risk of a shipwreck. The text is invested by the white which penetrates margins in the sentence, of monostic with leaves the twenty-nine one towards by the distich, the tercet, the quatrain.
The notations are not implied rationally ; each one of them becomes the expression, discontinuous, of a latent imaginary state to which the reader must lend a problematic coherence. To say that poetry is in ” the leaflets the catalogues the posters ” is not only to affirm its visual character (what will open the way with the ” Calligrammes “, and, beyond, with the joining of ” titles and fragments of titles cut out in the newspapers ” to what André Breton proceeds as of first ” Proclamation of surrealism “) ; it is to oppose the heteroclite one to homogeneous, dispersion with the unit with the idea that poetry is the act by which a listener or a spectator adapts scattered images to make of them signs of his own destiny. Poem MIME plus a stable composition, according to reasonable rules ; it is an apparent chaos, a starry sky, whose reader must make a space of composition, always in disintegration, always to restructure.
The world of the spirit, waste ground, heteroclite point discharge, true zone, is explored during the night, until the morning, ” the sun is it there is a distinct neck “. This first version becomes, in theoriginal one of 1912, ” sun raising sliced neck “, to finally find its form final, gnomic, cacophonous and enigmatic : ” sun cuckoo-roller “. The raising sun represents a traditional image of the hope ; if the Phoenix dies one evening, known as the stanza added in 1909 to ” the Song of badly-liked “, ” the morning sees its rebirth “. The sun is not any more the manager of the cosmic movement ; it makes think of a decapitated god. The man is headless, the world is eccentric. The swirl, the flashover only reduce the feeling of loneliness and scatter :
” And you drink this extreme alcohol like your life
Your life which you drink like a brandy. “
A dance dionysienne will carry the cities and the world in the month of the grape harvest, in ” Vendémiaire “, after the revolution will have been accomplished. That which delivers kings, incunables, agreed poetry.

Inliterary magazine n° 348 – November 1996 – File ” Apollinaire “

Jacques-Alain Miller
translated by Barbara P. Fulks


Shouldn’t I lift the burden I’ve placed on your shoulders – and on my own? I have in fact placed on us the weight of an insistent return, that of the difference between pure and applied psychoanalysis – applied, I should add, to therapy.


This return of ours was motivated by a state of affairs where the distinction appeared to me as unfinished, not fully considered, located, or posed. At the same time, the rapport between two opposing terms which are classical in psychoanalysis and beyond, even though a bit out of date, has produced an impediment, even some pain, and, we might say, a certain feeling of drift.

I have taken this into account. I have very seriously taken it into account.

However determined I’ve been, however I’ve posed it and supported it with evidence from all our classical works, I can only conceive of this return as the first step of a problem to resolve, as the enunciation of a diagnosis.

I’ve made a worthy attempt to capture it. A worthy attempt, to my mind, not institutionally or through classification – this is not how the problem is posed – but by involving what conforms to the dynamic among psychoanalysts.

My focus was on psychoanalysis as practice. I expected and worked to find a strategy there which, if not the best, would at least have a chance of coping with the issue for a short while. These are the considerations I bring to you today.

I will speak a little later from my perspective against the notion of an anchoring point. We are justified in keeping our distance from the constant fixing that we see in what we call, using Lacan’s metaphorical illustration, the anchoring point, which hearkens back to a very precise signifying mechanism.

Nevertheless, what I stirred up here, what I tried to plot simply and definitively, involves something of an anchoring point; that is to say it gave me a point of view that I haven’t quite captured or centered on, even if I see clearly how it developed. Today I am going to try to communicate to you, in the simplest way, leaving what is perhaps on the order of its construction for later.

The fact that the distinction between pure and applied psychoanalysis in therapy has not been made leads to some confusion, leads us to practical confusions, to the posing of false problems, and especially to false solutions which, briefly outlined, lead us to a certain number of complications in situating what we do in practice. Again we must situate the truly important confusion in its place. What is it? It is not so much the confusion between pure psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis applied to therapy. This confusion has a limited range, because even if we acknowledge that they are different, they are still part of psychoanalysis. The confusion which is truly important is distinguishing, in the name of therapy, what is psychoanalysis and what is not.

If we look closely at the objective, it is not necessary for psychoanalysis, in its dimension or its usage or its therapeutic care, to be lured, kicked around, and even mortified by the kind of non-psychoanalysis glorified with the name of psychotherapy. What we need is for psychoanalysis applied to therapy to remain psychoanalytical and be proud of its psychoanalytical identity.

In order to fix these ideas, I will write it thus:

pure Y / applied Y // Y therapy

I should note that the difference I have signaled between pure and applied psychoanalysis was made to reverberate upon the difference between the two with regard to psychotherapy. My formula had the goal of demanding too much of psychoanalysis applied to therapy; that is to say it demanded that it be psychoanalysis, that it not give up being psychoanalysis and, under the pretext of therapy, let itself be drawn into overstepping this limit, this difference.

In the same vein, it seems that the essential stake – the essential stake of the part we play today – is to verify that psychoanalysis applied to therapy remains psychoanalysis, that it is the role of the psychoanalyst to ensure that it is psychoanalysis as such when it is applied.

I imagine the agreement made on these elementary premises. The task is now to reinstate in the profession the difference between psychoanalysis as such, pure or applied, and psychotherapy.

This is a theme already covered, a theme which, ten or so years ago, was the subject of a congress, the product of which was then distributed at different events. But we did not then have the view of the situation that we have now.

To situate this difference shouldn’t be difficult if we understand things from the perspective that psychotherapy does not exist, that it’s a convenient label which covers very diverse practices, extending even to gymnastics. These practices are not in themselves detrimental. Gymnastics is even a highly recommendable exercise. If I just reflect on the question and ponder where we are led seriously, there might be more in the body than in our philosophy.

In any case, the forms which can pretend to have psychotherapeutic effects are no problem for us. Those which are a problem are the ones which are close to analysis, which welcome the demand of the sufferer who wants to know and which treat this demand with speaking and listening, and further, as we say, as one has said for a long time, which draw inspiration from psychoanalysis – a sacramental and regulated formula to some of us. If we proceed further, there are forms which say they conform to psychoanalysis and, if we go all the way to the end of the spectrum, those which call themselves psychoanalysis.

It is not excessive, at least in an exploratory way, to formulate the problem in these terms: that psychoanalysis produced, nourished, encouraged its own semblance, and that this semblance thereafter enveloped it, passed over it, vampirized it. I say vampirized because one could give to this history a Gothic style in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe, something like “Psychoanalysis and its Double.” Once we display the resemblances, the intermittent confusions of person, the interchangeable character of the original and the double, the story would conclude with the substitution of the double for the original, the original ending up expropriated, exiled, in the rubbish, eliminated.

Unbelievable! To read what is widely written by psychoanalysts of various stripes, one could state that we are confronted with what I termed the expropriation of psychoanalysis.

If we can dream it, it is logical, and it even seems necessary that psychoanalysis has produced its semblance. This has also happened to philosophy, which, as it advanced through Socrates, produced its double under the Sophists. It is what motivates the constant Platonic polemic against the Sophists as doubles, as semblances of philosophy. It’s an old story.

In order to begin to speak of the difficulty of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, one need only to see this imagery of the original and its double developing, only here it is situated with even more difficulty. There is the Gothic element; there is the Platonic element in the psychoanalyst’s torment at seeing the growing extension of psychotherapy in the adjacent form of analysis, this derivative form, which it does not seem excessive to me to qualify as a semblance of psychoanalysis.

The sociological enquiry can be used here, but it will not give us the secret of this impasse and the means to surmount it. The secret of this semblance is no doubt in psychoanalysis itself, if it is true that psychoanalysis has produced this semblance which devours it.

I’m saying all this in quotation marks. Let’s not panic. We have a mise en place here and I am trying to assemble some notes which may effectively develop some fragments and a symphony. There is work to do.


Today we can perceive that what motivates the apparatus of formal rules and of traditional, institutional validation which was inserted into psychoanalytic practice by its early practitioners is probably the defense against this semblance. To their credit, given the nature of psychoanalysis, the premonition that it would produce its semblance didn’t escape them, even in a situation quite different from our own. One can give them credit for anticipating this semblance – and those who are faithful to the apparatus were the first to say so – but today we see the impotence of the apparatus quite well. It is perhaps because they touched bottom on this anti-semblance apparatus that they have also been the first to alert us to the weakness of the apparatus in regard to the semblance.

We can say today that to make the distinction between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy through rule and tradition leads only to establishing psychoanalysis in a difficult position, that of a besieged fortress. When one is in a besieged fortress, everything indicates that it is already on the way to being taken from within.

Well! Let’s try to keep our heads in this turmoil, which in a short while will become a tempest and, according to Rouletabille’s formula, let’s “take things by the good end of reason.”

We should say first that there is no regulatory, institutional disposition that can hold where the orientation is lacking. We cannot turn to the institution to find some type of filter which would keep the chaff and deliver the grain. We need to trace our path toward an orientation of structure.

In this detour, whom can we ask for this orientation? Surely our customary reasoning, but this reasoning has the habit of turning – even if just a little, even if it’s a mistake, even if it is contradictory – toward what Lacan left. On occasion, these are arguments and not indications. It is there that in terms of orientation we have the custom of looking for our thread, noting that the situation has changed but giving him credit for a certain capacity of anticipation we think we’ve perceived up to the present.

The small point of support I have is that the question was posed to him – by myself (see Television). 1 The question involved the difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, understanding by psychotherapy that which is supported by speech, that is founded on listening and speaking. So we can see, even then, the trace of the phenomenon of semblance which is later inflated, and with which we are grappling.

How many times have we read it? But we must understand – and here’s where the change occurs – his response as a response to our interrogations of today. And to appreciate the accent of this response or to understand the impact this response has today, we must base it on what it is not: I mean on the basis of the responses that Lacan did not make in 1973 to the question of knowing what distinguishes psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

I distinguish two responses that he did not make, but which he could have made, making thus a series of three.

The first response he did not make would have used the vector apparatus called the graph of desire. He did not give this response then – even if one finds it in elements throughout the course of the previous seminars which I had to develop in Rennes. The difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy was supported by the difference of levels in Lacan’s graph.

It consists in distributing psychoanalysis and psychotherapy on these two stages while posing the crucial role of that which in A opens the way to the upper stage, and where one can consider that the desire of the analyst is operative, since it is not functioning in the lower part.

This schema is somewhat convincing because it takes into account the effectiveness of psychotherapy, if one wants to situate it there. The fact itself of being placed in the position of listening, of prolonged listening to an intimate and consistent communication of the patient, constitutes the auditor as the Big Other, or installs him in the place of the Other. The auditor’s position as an agent of humanity, in the place of speech, as depository of language, confers to his speech, when he allows it, an operational power which is effective, in particular in rectifying identifications.

I would remind you that what is obtained is, after all, rather convincing and valorizes the analyst’s desire, which is established by the refusal of the auditor/interpreter to employ his supposed identifying power. It is this abstention itself of the analyst’s desire which opens a trajectory beyond.

It is clear that this schematic permits, and even incarnates, what might be called a trajectory beyond, since, when it is constructed, the only port of entry to reach the upper stage is in the place of the Other. If the switches don’t give you access to this vector, you are stuck, you can’t get to any other point. Thus we have here a singular point which opens to a vector. When the switch of the subjective trajectory is in operation, we have a unique point.

We must see at what point this schematic becomes for us the instrument itself of pinpointing a practice, a very prevalent instrument, whose echoes resound. Its foundation, to state it quickly, is scission and articulation of speech (parole) – these are the circuits of the lower stage – and of drive. Parole would be the first stage; drive would be the second.

We find here, symmetrical with the place of the Other, something in Lacan’s writings which we could decipher, but which, for today, and perhaps for a little while, we could simplify by giving it its Freudian name of id, of conferring to it the privilege of being the space of drives.

I remember that Lacan, in a detour in his Seminar, reproached himself for having once joined them, instead of separating them, in his “that which speaks.” He reproached himself for having joined the id and the unconscious, in its manifestation as parole, in his “that which speaks.” This schematic shows the lesson of what Lacan had at one time considered as his confusion, which distinguishes the place of parole and the drive, here the Other and the id.

I’ll forego the interesting digression – that I had prepared but which I must skip – which made me revisit the correlative function, namely that of S(), which one could say inscribes the scission of the id and the Other, that reflects the scission of the id and the Other.

I of course privilege the staged presentation. You evidently find in Lacan the possibility of considering the two stages as simultaneous and functioning in some way superimposed one upon the other. The lower stage, where hypothetically we situate psychotherapy, is such that – and there we would note a difference – the question of jouissance is not posed, since one must rise to the second stage for it to be posed, and it is at this cost that the total power of the Other is preserved.

We elude thus, in psychotherapy, that which would put the omnipotence of the Other at fault. We preserve, in psychotherapy, the consistency of the Other, since what would be unique in the analytic position pertaining to psychoanalysis itself would be admitting the question of jouissance, would make the Other inconsistent.

It’s wonderful! I find it truly great. It works. I once explained it almost like that, rather more lengthily. But it is not Lacan’s response. Of course it is there previously, scattered throughout the course of the Seminar, but it is not the response he gave.

He gave a response which seems much less interesting, a truly impoverished response, some laughable phrases.

The second response that Lacan did not give either was to consider psychotherapy as inscribed in the discourse of the master. Why didn’t Lacan simply respond about that aspect, since the four discourses were still for him, in 1973, a totally current reference which we find used in Television itself? Why didn’t he give a response directed toward locating psychotherapy in the discourse of the master, a response which would not have been inadequate?

The discourse of the master conforms to the unconscious. It is what the unconscious reclaims. It is its discourse. In terms of psychotherapy, one could say: the subject reclaims an identification which lets it cope, and it suffers when this identification vacillates, is defective. The urgency is thus to restore it. It is only in this condition that it can find its place. And such psychotherapy, I imagine it as a semblance, speaks like us: to find its place in the knowledge of its time, in what allocates the socially indicated or designated places. And also, objet a as product: in effect, it must be productive. This is what motivates the contemporary belief in the symptom. It is referred to as functioning. Can one function or is one unable to function? We see that we have done well in developing psychotherapy at the level of the master discourse.

Let’s not be confused. Objet a is not that which is articulated in the fantasme. Let’s use this notation of Lacan’s to demonstrate that the discourse of the master is precisely a discourse which puts a stop to the fantasme, which renders it impossible:

It is thus that, in the discourse of the master, between and objet a, there is a double bar which indicates the impossibility of rapport; the rapport rendered impossible, which is scrapped, is the fantasme. One could say that psychotherapy privileges identification at the price of scrapping the fantasme. The first response, well supported in a convincing way on the graph, definitively makes psychotherapy the first step of an analysis. It is difficult for me to remember the precise mental conditions in which I stammered here ten years ago, but it was in a rather conciliatory attempt. All is well! This response had the merit of making psychotherapy the first step of an analysis in such a way that it could be proposed as an exercise for beginning practitioners. This response – the first response that Lacan did not make – would be psychotherapy as the friendly neighbor of psychoanalysis. Thus, by your choice, this is the way to go if you want to proceed in the sense of a good neighbor.

The second response that Lacan did not give distances psychotherapy through the discourse of the master, since it puts it in the register of the other side of psychoanalysis.

The third response, the one given, which has passed largely unperceived in its consequences and nuances, shines in its simplicity. It states simply that meaning is the distinctive trait of psychotherapy, and that’s all – finally, some laughable embellishments of meaning. Lacan was content to say: “psychotherapy speculates about meaning, and that’s how it is different from psychoanalysis.” He makes fun of meaning: sexual meaning, good sense, common sense. He makes fun of it even as he signals – it’s a small detail which has another resonance today – that “one could believe that the slope of meaning is that of analysis.”

At the moment he made fun of meaning, when he attributed speculation about meaning to psychotherapy, he also said: “one could believe that the slope of meaning is that of psychoanalysis.” There is precisely his noting the fact of semblance. When one speculates on meaning, one could believe that psychoanalysis operates there. In this conditional phrase and in this construction, the fact of semblance is already slipping in.

It is on the slope of meaning that the place of psychotherapy could be confused with the place in which psychoanalysis functions. On the horizon there is a confusion, the confusion of the double expropriation of which I spoke.

This is the capstone, since one would have the best reasons to believe that analysis operates on the slope of meaning, and meaning itself was Lacan’s port of entry into psychoanalysis. If there is someone who believed that the slope of meaning was really that of psychoanalysis, if there is someone who even introduced it to psychoanalysis, it’s Lacan. Lacan entered into psychoanalysis by reintroducing meaning.

We have here one of those manifestations that I formerly called Lacan against Lacan. Since he said: “Oh la la! the stupidity in thinking that way,” see if it is not against a certain Lacan, Jacques that Jacques Lacan is operating. He operated against others – that happened to him, more often than it should have. There is an element of bluffing here, undeveloped on the level of argumentation, which has contributed to effacing the stoppages, precisely the stopping point which was here indicated so simply.

I would point out an old text on “Aggressivity in psychoanalysis” 2 for Lacan’s references to meaning. You will see that Lacan defined the subject as stemming from meaning: “Only a subject can understand a meaning; conversely, every phenomenon of meaning implies a subject.” Second, he also situates the psychoanalytic symptom from meaning. And it is finally meaning that names, according to him – in his Report to the Rome Congress 3 – the proper operation of parole, that of “conferring a meaning to the functions of the individual.” He promotes the function of parole as essential in psychoanalysis precisely inasmuch as it can make meaning.

Surely, when he rejected meaning on the side of psychotherapy in 1973, he had already done a lot to resituate the authority of meaning in the course of twenty years of his teaching. Certainly, he resituated meaning as an effect of the signifier, he displaced the definition of the subject toward the signifier, he separated the signifier and meaning, he promoted the isolation of the signifiers without meaning in the symptom. See “Position de l’inconscient,” 4 where the “without any meaning” qualifies these signifiers in the symptom.

One can follow this movement in Lacan’s trajectory: after having promoted meaning, he resituated it, relativised it, deflated it. But in fact, in the sarcasm against meaning which figures in this paragraph of Television, something else occurs, there is another accent.

I would point out the word which figures at the end of Lacan’s writing which precedes Television, called “L’Étourdit:” 5 the word is “semantophilia.” It makes fun of – a year earlier – the love of meaning. He evoked the whirlwind of semantophilia, which owed something to him, for a reason, since he had, as we know, promoted meaning as essential in the analytic operation. That was directed to the 1970s’ Academia. It was the same emphasis that, in Television, Lacan displaced to impute it to psychotherapy, to make it in his response the distinctive trait which distinguishes psychotherapy from psychoanalysis.

This is the early emergence of something which, though well-prepared, is all the same a landmark. I can impute to Lacan, on the contrary, a “semantophobia”, the rejection of meaning. He passed, or seems to have passed, from semantophilia to “semantophobia.”

We can perceive that he abandoned the levitational value that he attributed to meaning to the beneficence of the signifier and especially to the beneficence of the matheme as vector of psychoanalytic teaching, of an integral transmission outside-meaning, which is precisely what he developed in “L’Étourdit.” What we did not perceive then but can now, from this nothing at all, is that Lacan said meaning while he could have said other things much more interesting, that he threw this small stone. Myself, I say that on this stone one can construct not a Church, but an issue.

What we can now understand, now when psychoanalysis is being devoured by its semblance, is that the outside-meaning is the decisive stake. This is not only a means, definitively subaltern, to fix ideas of the matheme type. We must link outside-meaning to it. The matheme allows for the transmission of outside-meaning. The issue in outside-meaning is not only to maneuver knowledge, which can be elaborated from psychoanalysis. We can perceive, from our point of difficulty, that it is first of all for Lacan a practical stake. It is the same stake as the practice of psychoanalysis, in its difference from psychotherapy.

I’m even going to say that it is from this point precisely that Lacan put his money on the Borromean Knot, that he was, as he said, captivated by this Knot, on which he consecrated his later teaching. His later teaching is an elaboration of psychoanalysis in its difference from psychotherapy and of the outside-meaning of psychoanalysis.


We can take this later teaching as inconclusive, so it can be an exploration for us. It’s not solid. It’s haphazard, in pieces. It’s contradictory. It’s clear that, in use, the anchoring point was flawed in Lacan’s later teaching. But let’s look at it on the bias, in another way. What is explored in the outside-meaning dimension with the support of a Knot is not capable of finding an anchoring point.

The circles of string which compose the Knot pull, snag, limit each other, but they always leave degrees of freedom in their individual relationship. They are presented in changeable forms: they are certainly distinguishable, identifiable, by color, by orientation, but the Knot they form does not lend itself to a crossing of vectors from which the illumination of the anchoring point can proceed.

It is precisely a psychoanalysis without an anchoring point which this lesson demonstrates and comprises in its form. The anchoring point is a phenomenon of meaning, which is precisely what one should renounce where the outside-meaning should dominate the affair. I would remark that the same notion of a point is interrogated by Lacan with his Knot. This notion of a point is put in question in chapter X of Encore, 6 where Lacan announces his interest in the Borromean Knot. You will see that, from the beginning, Lacan very precisely puts in question the notion that a point is tenable.

In fact it is tenable when we have lines and surfaces, but when we have enchained cords, the notion itself of a point is lacking. The anchoring point is a final term, a point against the grain from which the trajectory of an experience prescribes, re-signifies, and re-subjectivises. This is precisely what puts psychoanalysis outside-meaning in question. It puts in question the concept of finitude itself.

We can see it well as we follow the later teaching, since it is presented in resounding form, unfinished and failed. We can impute it to the anecdote of the person, but it is a “superior” point of view – superior to the use we can make of it. This is precisely because this teaching moves in a dimension that doesn’t lead to success, a dimension to which infinity belongs, even if it is supported on the basis of three enchained elements.

In other words, while Lacan elaborates through a rejection of meaning, sarcastically, on behalf of psychotherapy, there is a psychoanalysis in which the endless series is inscribed in the place of the anchoring point. From this perspective Lacan’s words – which are scattered, discrete, rapid, put in question, in suspense, are understated, devalorized – make sense, fall into place, and even frankly refute the notion of an end of analysis.

This was revisited, of course, as asides. It was revisited in his conferences published in Scilicet at the end of 1975. 7 One was surprised by the proposal according to which an analysis does not have to be pushed too far: “When the analysand thinks he’s happy with life, that’s enough.”

We could say: he said that for the Americans since the pursuit of happiness is the foundation on which they formed their nation. But we also read in the April 8th, 1975 Seminar: “Everyone knows that analysis has good effects which only last a little while. It’s a respite, though, and it is better than nothing.” 8

We could minimize these statements, of which Lacan did not make many. We have to look for them in corners, and we could see in them testimony of the latitude that Lacan could have in relation to his elaborations. We could diminish it and see modulations, ironies. Myself, I would accentuate them. I say that they are fundamental topics, coherent with the whole, the resounding whole of what is then explored.

I should add here a short phrase of Lacan’s to which I’ve already alluded, in which he says: “Finally, the pass, when it is passed, is a story one tells.” What is underlined is that it is constructed, that it is an artifice, that it has to do with art, and that it demonstrates savoir-faire.

The pass as anchoring point, the clear-pass, of which Lacan spoke, which is still in the regime of meaning , the pass-history, pass-narration, is obviously relative in the regime of outside-meaning psychoanalysis. It is – a term I use here which is fundamental in this register – a lucubration. There are good lucubrations, but the promotion itself of the term lucubration in Lacan’s later teaching expresses this rapport between outside-meaning and the artifices of meaning .

This doesn’t annul the pass – after having relieved you of a burden, I put it right back there on your shoulders – but it considers the analytic experience from another angle.

One must affirm that truths are solids, as Lacan said. There are different faces and, according to where one is, according to the angle of one’s perspective, one perceives something else. Truths are solids. We must be as solid as truths.

The unexpected consequence of taking things from this perspective is that on the one hand psychoanalysis outside-meaning widens the gap with psychotherapy (the later teaching of Lacan, such as we perceive it and use it in our orientation today, creates a chasm with psychotherapy) and on the other hand it effaces, or at least tends to efface, the difference between pure psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis applied therapeutically.

This already includes what I said of the pass. The pass is not an exception. To the contrary, the psychoanalysis outside-meaning that Lacan developed in his later teaching, this attempt to look at psychoanalysis through a perspective that rejects meaning – one can only go there up to a certain point, and Lacan visibly went very far in that direction, and we understand his practice the best there – accentuates the therapeutic element of psychoanalysis. It is what signals the phrase about the happiness of living. The later teaching made the sinthome its greatest clinical reference, if not the only one. In the perspective of psychoanalysis outside-meaning, the difference between pure psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis applied therapeutically is an inessential difference.

Now that I have shown you how to lift the burden from your shoulders, perhaps your arms will drop. If we wish, at this juncture, to recycle this later teaching of Lacan, we must be ready for a transmutation of all the psychoanalytic values that Lacan himself transmitted to us and that we have had drummed into us. This is why this later teaching is an exercise limited to the confines of psychoanalysis; it is in some way the inverse, or the inferno, of Lacan’s teaching.

The value that we attach to representing analysis to ourselves as a trajectory having stages and an end shows that for us there’s a value in analytic experience being ruled by a logic of the beyond. It is in psychoanalysis: beyond the pleasure principle, beyond the Other as S(), beyond demand and identification, toward desire. Access to jouissance implies a transgression, a passing beyond, protected. Access to jouissance is protected and barred by the pleasure principle and, in turn, by the analysand; he must go beyond the symptom toward the fantasme, where what moves him in his desire lies.

We see how transgression of jouissance and crossing the fantasme correspond and are homologous. It’s the same conceptualization that supports the notion that one must get through a barrier in order to have access to jouissance and that, in analysis, one must go beyond the symptom in order to touch and traverse the fantasme. These are terms that correspond with the notion of an “up to the end.”

In effect, there is a transmutation which is supported by the rejection of meaning. It is not to be nasty that Lacan brought in the sinthome, but to install as central in clinical practice an instance in which one no longer differentiates between symptom and fantasme.

When you don’t differentiate, how do you go beyond one toward the other? The route of the beyond is cut off. The Borromean Knot is a device to cut off the beyond.

How can you operate a transgression of barrier toward jouissance when, from the moment Lacan elaborates a jouissance which is everywhere, he refuses to make a distinction between pleasure and jouissance, and when he formulates “where the id speaks, it finds pleasure?” He returns to the productive difference which figures in the graph. “Where the id speaks, it finds pleasure” establishes his “the id speaks,” which he had previously denied and linked to jouissance. Where is transgression then?

Surely it is linked to the devalorization of speech. It is not a quarter turn but rather 180 degrees. Lacan, who anointed language, qualified it in his later teaching as chatter, blahblah, and even as a parasite of human beings. Meaning only enters in formulas in which it is characterized by imbecility. It is a facade on parole.

And later, it is a facade on language. Lacan had placed it at the level of structure, of essential structure, and even in “L’Étourdit” put this structure at the level of the real. “The structure is the real,” he said then. But when he separated lalangue from language, as grammar, as structure, he only gave a few lucubrations.

He downgraded his concept of language, and also that of structure, now not carried to the level of the real. It is a correlative of the systematic replacement, directed to experience, of the term of “subject” by the term parlêtre (speaking being).

Lacan, who was the promoter of the integration of psychoanalysis in science or, failing that, of their essential rapport, at the time of his later teaching did not hesitate to describe the science of futility.

This is also the time in which Lacan proceeded to great exorcisms in psychoanalysis. He exorcised knowledge (connaissance); he exorcised the world. To hell with this or that concept! He exorcised everything. And he also exorcised – here he used the word exorcism properly speaking – being, precisely for its affinities with meaning (see Encore). And all that to the benefit of the real, antinomic to meaning , antinomic to the law, antinomic to structure, impossible to negativize. The real is the positive name of outside-meaning, although to assign names is problematical here.

Is it a lucubration for me to constitute this perspective of psychoanalysis outside-meaning this way? It was presented by Lacan in flashes, as he himself said, tentatively. He did not leave an elaboration.

I think that it is worthwhile to elaborate on these points of Lacan’s. Even if they are incomplete, they have a consistency which we can see. It is correlative to my problem, announced at the beginning of the year, of understanding, of better capturing the sexual non-rapport.

It is certain that the Borromean Knot in three came to Lacan in the place of the sexual rapport in two, of which there is none. This now helps us capture why the term “rapport” is important.

What is the Borromean Knot? Materially, it is three circles of string. From the point of view of matter, of what one can touch, it is one circle, another, and another. What makes the Knot here is not in any one circle. It is precisely the Knot that gives us the key to what a rapport is. It is the Knot itself, the knotting, as distinct from its elements, which is a rapport.



Let’s apply ourselves now to defining pure and applied psychoanalysis through each other as neatly as possible. I have already called this the La Bruyère exercise, after an author I have loved since high school: “Corneille paints man as he should be, Racine paints him as he is.”

It would be tempting, at this point, to suggest that pure psychoanalysis is psychoanalysis as it should be, and applied psychoanalysis as it is. That indicates a direction, an orientation, perhaps even a temptation to which one could cede. But is it really well-advised? This would be to proceed, in terms of psychoanalysis, in the sense of subsuming, that is to say of subsuming the ideal under the fact. I won’t avoid what is worthwhile finding in this direction. To animate things a little, to illuminate how this direction could be a spoiler, one could put it thus: always prefer the real to the imaginary. It would be – why not? – what prompts the symbolic for us. But we must also be assured that the symbolic itself is not more imaginary than real.

The Corneillian, he gets away with it – it’s his characteristic – and with all the honors of war, even if he ends in tatters. Racine, the Racinian subject – if one can use this expression – does not get away; he remains in place.

The Corneillian has his debate, his famous debate which grips him, but which is structured, which is one option. While the Racinian is grappling with a dilemma. He can’t even follow the example of the worst, because the worst has two sides. He is at an impasse. In general, the Racinian can only abandon the scene, while the Corneillian finds an exit, usually on the side of identification.

Since it’s a question of psychoanalysis, must we accent the tragic? We should remark that Lacan, in contrast, accents the comic. More exactly, he says that it is on the order of wit, of Witz, which is not the comic but which brings laughter. On the side where one cannot exit, and where one expects the tragic accent, he sees the comic. As he said – to put him back in the place I’m trying to lead him – in a quite simple statement: “Life is not tragic, it is comic.” Consequently, it seemed to him totally inappropriate that Freud should search out a tragedy to extract the Oedipus complex.

I introduce this in my fashion, but it’s a very precise matter. It means that when one gets out of it, or if one gets out of it, or in the measure in which one gets out of it, it’s by playing on the signifier, by the play of signifiers, on which the effect of Witz reposes. But there is all the same, on the side where one – no one – can get out, at least a signifier with which one cannot play, at least one cannot play with what it names, if what it names gives us the name of jouissance. There is there, as Lacan noted straightaway, something which cannot be negated, which doesn’t lend itself to annulment. If one designates this signifier by F, one sees suddenly the way in which it’s comical not to be able to get out.

Let’s go back to define the pure and the applied. To define is a game. To define, if we are looking for the correct way here, is to capture the distinctive feature.

In order to reassure ourselves, we must say that there is a surface, so the whole shebang can give us the security that what one thing is, the other is not. What is correctly in question is to know if one can, in psychoanalysis, think in lines and surfaces, that is to say also in definitions. Definition is already charged with presuppositions: to propose them supposes twists and turns, such as we could follow, on occasion sadly, or even comically, with Lacan’s exertions. This is the question: can we define in a reassuring manner? One must have the faith of the coal miner. But let’s go there, because if we don’t, we’re at a loss.

Pure psychoanalysis – let’s try this – is psychoanalysis inasmuch as it leads to the pass of the subject. It is psychoanalysis inasmuch as it concludes with the pass. The subject emerges there and he emerges in another space – he tries – with the honors of war. In any case, one could suggest that he ask for honors, something consecrated with a title. If it is not on the order of honors, then words no longer have common sense. This lets the subject belong to a distinguished class which, even if it is impermanent, is no less distinguished beyond the time in which it is obvious that the title fades away.

Applied psychoanalysis is that which concerns the symptom, psychoanalysis as applied to the symptom. And does one emerge there? Is there that level – a sortie? There is something called healing, which could in effect be the name of the sortie on this slope. As you know, it’s a term in psychoanalysis which is very problematical, very relative.

But the sortie called the pass is no less problematical. One could strongly encourage those who experience the sortie in this manner to explain how they think they succeeded. And we affirm that, in the context of an analysis, each one experiences it in his/her own way. The pass sortie is no less problematical than the cure sortie, even if the pass sortie is susceptible to a radical definition in psychoanalysis. Lacan gave this radical definition – he gave several of them – while the cure does not have a radical definition.

Is having a radical definition a benefit? Is it comfortable? Is it solid? One could say that having a radical definition for the pass is rather its weakness.

Examined closely, the pass is the notion – I ask you to tolerate the terms I use – of a cure which would be radical, which would be definitive. If we say it in this way, we see that it is a naive notion, one that demands to be refined. But I don’t believe that we cannot – by trial and error – situate the pass as a radicalization of the cure.

The schism of the two psychoanalyses, pure and applied, rests on the difference between the symptom and the fantasme. It rests on the notion of a beyond of the symptom, on the notion that the fantasme is beyond the symptom.

What is a cure for the symptom, improvement, amelioration, still leaves a place for an operation on the latter term. Seen in the way one defines the fantasme, one does not call this operation a cure. One commonly calls it – it is set in motion because of a term used once by Lacan – a crossing, since it concerns the fantasme. But that also carries the notion of reduction as much for one as for the other.

To the extent that this difference holds – and I have made it hold; in the second series of courses I’ve given under the general title of Lacanian Orientation, I embarked, and you with me, on this difference between symptom and fantasme, while proposing the notion that we perhaps hadn’t finished with the fantasme and that a brief return to the symptom was also called for 9 – as I say, to the extent that this difference posits the symptom as what doesn’t go, that which does bad, and the fantasme as where one is good, or at least where one can have jouissance, one is grounded in distinguishing pure and therapeutic psychoanalysis.

What form does this distinction have? The form in which therapeutic psychoanalysis would be a limited form of pure psychoanalysis. But this is not the final word on the question, even though it would be good to stop here to illustrate it. I’ve already stopped the cursor for too many years: on the opposition of the symptom and the fantasme, and thus on the distinction between the sorties. This has the virtue of structuring, of which one has seen the outcome at the point it was susceptible to illustration – it was shown in the best way. Nevertheless, we can’t say that it is the final word on the question.

At any rate, the later Lacan advised us never to stop at the final word of the question, never to stop at the last word. If one stops there, he said, it is paranoia. And the Knot is made precisely to rid us of the paranoia there.

It is not the final word, it is not the word of the end, since there is another perspective, another angle under which the difference between the symptom and the fantasme fades away. It is the angle Lacan led us to with the name sinthome, using an old graph of the word – I have already explained something of it before – to include in the same parenthesis symptom plus fantasme. 10

Sinthome = Symptom + fantasme

This is an approximation of the equation, but I had situated there the idea that the clinical opposition of the symptom and fantasme, as well-founded as it might be, does not prevent us from taking another perspective. Under this angle, the difference between the two psychoanalyses is inessential.

Excluding error on my part, the difference between the two psychoanalyses is absent in Lacan’s later teaching. If someone could show me the reference I’m lacking here, be calm, I will know how to get out of it. I would say precisely: it is inessential.

It is not a question of fact; it is a question of understanding the orientation of what Lacan meant by disorientation. He touched on orientation as a compass that he himself had constructed in the course of years in order to open in fine a field of disorientation. It is very complicated to follow it, because one must unlearn. Since time also has passed, Lacan’s construction has to be built, if I may say so, architecturally.

We must give this disorientation a nudge to put it on its level, to put it in movement, and not to let it be stopped by indignation which might hold that the later Lacan is the end-all and be-all. It is someone who says – he says it between the lines, he lets it be understood, he says it a little to the side, not too loudly – “the pass does not exist.” Can you understand that? More precisely perhaps – this will give a little comfort – that the pass does not “ex-sist.” We must see the proper value that is given to this artifice of writing in order to understand the small hyphen separating “ex” from “sist.” It demonstrates, as clearly as one can, that the pass does not exist or that if it exists, it is in a state of fantasme.

Notice the imaginary meaning of this word, which is not in fact that of the word I wrote there. We must still nudge the meaning of the imaginary word. You see the chain of disorientation in which we must proceed.

At any rate, before protesting that this means very little to us, that the later Lacan is inessential, before protesting about the attack he waged on the pass, we must see that, in the perspective of the later Lacan, of the last judgment, in the perspective of the Last Judgment, I quote Lacan: “Science itself is only a fantasme.” It’s easier to swallow the idea that the pass could be only a fantasme if it is accompanied by science itself.

It’s outrageous. It’s outrageous to have had to listen to, read, and repeat: “Science is only a fantasme.” From Lacan’s mouth! It’s beyond common sense. And it’s beyond what his teaching supported, with Freud as underpinning; and Lacan had recourse to other sciences, to a more sophisticated dialectic than Freud’s psychoanalysis and science. One would not expect the proposition “science itself is only a fantasme” from him. Where does this enormity which breaks the link between psychoanalysis and science come from? The pass is set adrift with the same blow.

We must examine this calmly, try to put it in its place, put it in a chain, even if the Knot is not the chain, if it is constructed otherwise. But in order for us to advance, we must put it in sequence. If, instead of protesting, we choose to construct it on those few statements of Lacan’s which I remember – not many, but where we must put the accent, the punctuation, in order to capture what was important in his effort – that will in the end raise some elements, a perception, a perspective in which we can find a point of departure in the most assured, most classical, most instructing and instructive aspects of his doctrine.

Pure psychoanalysis is the notion of a psychoanalysis as a practice which takes its departure from transference – Lacan presented it as an algorithm, an algorithm of knowledge – and which, being pushed to its final consequences, encounters a principle of a stopping point. It’s the finiteness of the experience posed by Lacan, unlike Freud, as being deduced, concluded, from an algorithm of knowledge, thus functioning automatically. This stopping point is an illumination, or a flash of lucidity, a perception, an insight, a truth. Each of those who have experienced it, who have been in this experience, have their own way of recognizing it – it could be from a dream, or the after-effect of a dream, from an analyst’s interpretation, from an encounter, from a thought. This stopping point always produces what I will call an event of knowledge (savoir).

The later Lacan put in question – it’s a small detail – the validity of this event of savoir, to clarify it as a glimpse of the real. We must still take this real in its Lacanian category, in its category in fine. We must unlearn a little bit of what we believed of the real, taught by Lacan. What is the value of this event of savoir for the glimpse of the real – how should we understand it?

Let’s not say that which gives us the following connection: the event of savoir would not be worth a glimpse of the real if there were savoir in the real. If there is savoir in the real, it is well understood that an event of savoir brings a glimpse of the real. It’s the foundation of scientific practice. If science is only a fantasme, that is to say that it has no validity for a glimpse of the real, then – excuse me – the pass follows the same route.

This is why Lacan can say, in the same breath, in the same phrase in his Seminar Le moment de conclure, 11 that science is only fantasme and that the idea of an awakening is, properly speaking, unthinkable. Awakening is an initiatory word to describe the illumination of the pass, and to pose also that thought is not part of the real. In other words, he downgrades thought.

Which is even more striking, at least in this outline. In all his later teaching, Lacan classified thought in the imaginary register. Which is enormous, since a very short time before – you have the written reference in Television – he explained in a totally contrary way that thought is the part of the symbolic which disturbs the imaginary of the body. But Lacan’s later teaching begins when thought is downgraded from the symbolic to the imaginary.

Here one must say that pure psychoanalysis, with its objective of the pass, is supported by the confidence of knowledge – we can say, of a confidence in the savoir in the real – but only as supposition.

It is what guided Lacan when he introduced the pass in his inaugural text on the psychoanalysts of the École. He evoked savoir, but only as supposed savoir, giving the status of unconscious to this knowledge. This supposition is related to analytic discourse: it is induced by the analytic act, and it is a fact of transference, a fact of love. This supposition of savoir is not real. Lacan pointed it out in black and white: the subject-supposed-to-know is not real. Thus it is not equivalent to savoir in the real.

Lacan always insisted on this. The motivation for psychoanalysis is the supposed transferability of savoir. This does not at all assure that there is savoir in the real. Thus the status he gave to the unconscious as being functionally a hypothesis, or even an extrapolation. This is what Lacan constructed in Le moment de conclure, from where I take this sentence: “The hypothesis that the unconscious is an extrapolation is not absurd.”


We can, from here, give the proper stress to everything which is a construction of savoir in analysis.

As to interpretation, we can set the goals, where the goals that one has – it’s the same way Freud presents it – the illuminations of truth that one has, one constructs them in savoir, one makes a construction, there, on the side of the analyst. This is how Freud presented interpretation – Freud, thinking that this construction was to be communicated to the patient when he was ready. He differs here from Lacan, who imposed the same term of construction on the side of the analysand. I’m speaking of the construction of the fundamental fantasme. Which indicates that the fundamental fantasme is a construction. It is not knowledge in the real.

If the fundamental fantasme is a construction, as Lacan always maintained after he introduced the term of fundamental fantasme, why should the pass as a traversal of the fundamental fantasme be surprising? It is a construction of savoir from the effects of truth, a construction ordered by an effect chosen as major or which is imposed as the nec plus ultra. Its character of construction is wholly patent, since one passes from the moment of-the-analysis pass to the exposition-in-the-procedure pass. It is a construction which one chooses and from which one assembles the elements.

The faith that one has – when one has faith in analysis – is in the constructions, of the real put in play, of the real touched from the supposition of knowledge, something of the real is manifested from savoir. It is what Lacan indicated when he launched the pass in a very discreet way: the meaning of savoir, supposed savoir, holds the place of a still latent referent. Formerly, I had read this sentence as indicating that the referent is the object as real, to be defined by the signifying series pursued in analysis.

If one takes this with the faith of the coal miner, it lets us believe that one passes imperceptibly from the subject-supposed-to-know, which is not real, to a term which belongs to the register of the real. One could imagine that, at some moment, the supposed knowledge is metaphorised by the real, that the referent, the real still latent, comes to a moment, arrives on the scene, and says – What does it say? It says: “I, the real, I speak!” Why not?

If we believe this metaphor, that this is what Lacan said, or he would be happy with, we must fall to our knees. It’s a miracle. We speak of a miracle when the relationship of causality escapes us.

To stir up our attention to this affair, the real says objet a is not the whole real, inasmuch as one can say the whole real. We cannot of course: it is the real which is captured in the fantasme. objet a is a real put into form, put into function. It is a real resulting from a construction, from the construction of the fundamental fantasme, that is to say the reduction of representations fantasmatiques and stories told, to detach it as the formula. If there is a real, it’s a real which results from a construction.

This is why, exploring it thus, as real resulting from a construction, the term objet a is one which calls the status of real into question. When one reads Lacan too fast – even if one tries to slow one’s reading – there’s a shock of perceiving that, in Chapter VIII of Encore, he downgrades objet a from the register of the real. I must comment on this chapter, which announces the Borromean Knot. He announced it in the form of a triangle in which the points have capital letters representing the symbolic, the imaginary, and of the real, which Lacan matches with his Borromean Knot.

It is truly here that we see the preparation of this breakthrough that the later Lacan was orchestrating. The triangle is oriented by its vectors and it is on the vector that goes from the symbolic to the real that objet a is inscribed, precisely as a semblance.

I emphasized this formerly, I should say without success, because everyone held absolutely that objet a was real. Everyone insisted on the miraculous metaphor of knowledge in the real. While Lacan indicated that objet a was rather on the side of being than of the real. He even qualified it as semblance of being, and he noted that objet a itself, this still latent referent which could take the place of supposed knowledge, cannot be supported in the approach of the real.

Connected with this is the notion, the meaning that one can give to the term real. It is evident that it is a matter of proposing a real outside construction. That makes objet a an effect of meaning coming under the symbolic, directed toward the real, but only attaining the being.

If we pay close attention to what led Lacan to construct the notion of the pass, what can we respond to the question of knowing what the operation of supposed knowledge changes to the real? What did Lacan explain that the pass changed to the real? He said – let’s be precise – that the pass changed something to that which is the rapport of the subject to the real, that it changed something to its fantasme like a window on the real.

Let’s admit that, in his initial definition, the traversal of the fantasme permits a sortie outside of the fantasme, even if it is momentary, even if it is a glimpse. But it is not certain that this changes the drive. It is in this sense that Lacan – in his Seminar XI, since he was already on the path of elaborating analysis with an end – still posed the question: “How does all that finally change to the drive?” 12 We must understand: in effect, there is a result at the level of knowledge, but tell me what that changes to the real.

As Lacan noted in Le moment de conclure – I gloss, but it all comes together in three sentences which are illuminating – Freud had recourse to the concept of drive because the hypothesis of the unconscious, the supposed savoir, cannot be supported in the approach of the real. With the drive, Freud wanted to name something of the real. But, for the later Lacan, naming is very problematic, combining, with the signifier, from the order of the real.

Why did Lacan gloss over naming in his late teaching, the reasoning for which he did not seem to deploy? Why the problem of naming? Because naming is a supposition. It is the supposition of the agreement of the symbolic and the real. It is the supposition that the symbolic agrees with the real, and that the real is in accord with the symbolic.

Naming is the pastoral of the symbolic and the real. Naming is equivalent to the thesis of knowledge in the real, or at least it’s the first step, the significant one, in the direction of knowledge in the real. The proper name is an anchoring point, not between signifier and signified, but between symbolic and real, from which we find ourselves with things, that is to say with the world as imaginary representation.

If we don’t suppose this miraculous accord of the symbolic and the real, then an act is necessary. This act can only reveal that the major anchoring point is the Name-of-the-Father. This is why Lacan proposed the named father, the naming father, he who assumes the act of naming, through whom the symbolic and the real are joined. This angle of the later Lacan reverses psychoanalysis. He weakens its foundation, its axiom, its supposition. He puts in question the union of the symbolic and the real, that is to say he invites us to think from their disjunction, from a rapport of exteriority between the two, and let’s say from their non-rapport. That is how he entered into the question, since he began by putting the imaginary in the position of thirds, of mediation, between the twos of the fundamental symbolic disjunction and the real.


When one begins to reverse psychoanalysis’s axiom, its supposition, its support, that is to say from the moment when one separates the symbolic and the real, one says: “It is not at all because you have found things in your analysis, truths, knowledge, whatever – I said all that and the contrary, and at some moment I stopped because the task was so formidable that I could not do better – that, from the side of the real, anything is necessarily changed.” There is a discrepancy, it could be changed in the semblance of being, but it is not forced to go further. Otherwise, more things are in the real than one can change by the experiences of knowledge. Otherwise, that would be known.

One progresses in experimentation. Now one is not producing clones, but rather a new species of monkey, never before seen. I believe that one can calmly predict that, just as there is a new monkey, a new man surely waits for us in the 21st century. And what committee of ethics will be capable of preventing the perfection of a species which suffers so much that it needs psychoanalysis?

If you think from the exteriority of the symbolic and the real, and if you take into account that there are interferences, but you want all the same to keep them separated – without being foolish, knowing that since one adulterates something on the side of the symbolic, one can have effects in the real – if you keep them separate conceptually, the Knot becomes a necessity. You cannot cut the Borromean Knot. It is in the form of a Knot, in the species of Knot, more nudo, that the two, symbolic and real, can remain unjoined at the same time that they’re inseparable. The Borromean Knot lets the two elements remain unjoined – they can say “don’t know” – except that at the same time they are inseparable, that is to say they are joined in a way that they cannot be separated. The Borromean form of the Knot surmounts the antinomy of juncture and disjuncture. This requires the introduction of a third, also not joined to the two others.

We see here what is the peculiarity of the Knot in relation to the chain. The Knot and the chain are two forms of articulation, but in the Knot the elements remain unjointed. They are each there for themselves in a radical non-rapport, and they are nevertheless involved in a rapport.

We must come to the real where it belongs, not the real that you find in Lacan’s schema R, in his “On a question preliminary…” 13 It is all the same the schema which is supposed to give us something of the real. Lacan baptized it with the initial letter of the word, schema R. We have there a real which is framed by the symbolic and the imaginary. There are the fields. It is a question of recuperation, for example. Lacan can say: “The specular imaginary relation a-a’ gives its base to the imaginary triangle that the symbolic relation mother-child recuperates.”

That is part of Lacan’s construction b.a.-ba. We start with the imaginary and we assemble the terms that symbolize it, or that permit its recovery by symbolic terms. There are also intrusions from one field in another. The term intrusion returns often in the clinic, even in the Schreber case, and the term intrusion shows that the fields of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary communicate with each other.

In a general fashion, what we call symbolization, this displacement, this circulation, implies the transferal of one element belonging to one field into another field. Normally that presents to us the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary. There is a whole population there. The real elements are displaced indefinitely in the symbolic and there are imaginary elements also, and when this is not inscribed in the symbolic, it is compensated in the real. It’s a hustle and bustle.

I’m not talking about that real. What does the real in the Knot become? It is figured, not as a field, but as a poor circle of thread, unjoined from the symbolic and the imaginary. It is the real as outside symbolic and outside imaginary. That at least is simple. It is what the expression “outside-meaning” sums up, since in order for there to be meaning , the symbolic and imaginary must collaborate, and it is precisely what is excluded from the real. What can we understand of this real? Is there a concept there? One can well ask. Lacan at least said that yes, there is a concept of this real. He said that it was his, and if he so emphasized the fact that it was his, it was because it was not so easy to convey.

We must first see that it is precisely because the real is defined as excluded from meaning that we can put meaning on the real. I do not say “in the real,” I say “on.” The “in” presupposes a field, and there is no inside of the circle of thread.

We can, on the real, put knowledge, but in the perspective of the real as excluded from meaning : to put knowledge there is only a metaphor. Let’s write meaning on the real:


This means that even knowledge is of the order of the terms that multiply in Lacan’s later teaching, not of constructions, but of lucubrations, of futilities, even of fantasmes. To situate all that is meaning in this way does not save knowledge or science. As to the concept of the real as excluded from meaning, all that makes meaning has the value of futility and lucubration.

It is a category evidently; it multiplies. From the moment that one takes the perspective according to which the agreement between the real and knowledge is broken, one can say that all knowledge is reduced to the status of the unconscious, that is to say to the status of hypothesis, of extrapolation, even of fiction. It is a radical position. Nothing of meaning enters in the concept of the real. It is not only “lose all hope,” but “lose all meaning.”

It’s abracadabra, but it is a position of method, in the sense that one speaks of Descartes’ methodical doubt. It is methodical doubt that lets Descartes produce the exception of the being whose existence cannot be evoked in doubt.

Likewise, when one is obliged with this salubrious discipline to pose the real as excluded from meaning, one can eventually pose the exception of the Freudian symptom, as Lacan did occasionally. The Freudian symptom would be the only real not excluded from meaning. A phrase like that, to be thinkable, must have the radical perspective of exclusion of meaning.

It is in the same vein that Lacan can, elsewhere, dismiss the analytic symptom as a matter of belief. As he said, one believes it. One believes that the id can speak and that it can be deciphered. One believes this of meaning.

This “one believes it” emphasizes the transferential relativity of the symptom. “The symptom, one believes it,” which is so surprising in its formulation and is the consequence of the subject-supposed-to-know. This changes the emphasis. The pure signifying supposition is translated in terms of belief. When we say “supposed,” no one supposes, it is supposed of the signifier. When one says, “one believes it,” that shows the necessity of someone’s believing it.

One can formulate on this basis that transferential belief is directed at knowledge in the real as a meaning which can speak, like a subject. What is transferential belief? Let’s give it its name. It is love.

It is there that what Lacan said finds its place – one asks why, if one only takes it as separated – in Encore: “Love is directed toward the subject.” Love directed sends the supposed subject a sign. The “one believes it” convokes and expresses love. This is why one can introduce here, as Lacan did in his later teaching, woman at the rank of symptom, par excellence.

The affinities of woman and symptom are not only that the symptom is what doesn’t move, like superficial people think. It is what is susceptible of speech. This is the basis of the woman-symptom. What you choose as woman-symptom is a woman who speaks to you.

Previously I developed the other aspect, that a woman waits for someone to speak to her. This is why Lacan speaks of “to believe in a symptom there” and at the same time “to believe a woman is there.” It is a speaking symptom calling to be heard, to be understood. In order to have a woman as symptom – the only way to love her – one must hear her, one must decipher her.

When the gentlemen are not ready, when they do not have time, or when they are in front of their computers – another symptom to decipher, another symptom which speaks – or they are deciphering the symptoms of their clients, well, the women go into analysis.

This is a definition of love which is not narcissistic, and which we were looking for. It is very simple: narcissistic love is that which is directed toward an image, while Lacanian love is that which is directed toward the subject. The supposed subject is love inasmuch as it introduces meaning and knowledge in the real. It is the only path by which knowledge and meaning are introduced in the real.

Here is where we can place Lacan’s scattered statements which say at the same time that women are terribly real, and then also contend that they are terribly sensible, and even the support of meaning, and at the same time occasionally terribly mad. These terms are all organized around the concept that love is directed toward the subject. We only perceive it all if we have a good concept of the real as outside-meaning, but also as the real without law.

All this seems too much, when Lacan said: “The real is outside law.” The foundations themselves of rationality are abandoned here. Still, if we confuse this outside-meaning with the signifier, we can barely perceive it. But without law! Law is, in effect, of the order of the construction, from the futility of the construction. Our methodical concept of the real obliges us to shift the status of the law. Otherwise, what proves to be not of the real are the laws that one finds in the real. They change.

The best proof that science is only a fantasme is truly the easiest position: it is that there is a history of science and that it is revised. One could believe an analysis, for all that.

It is to make the distinction between the real, properly stated, and meaning that we find something like lalangue. How did Lacan invent lalangue, distinguished from language? He raised his concept of language and structure a notch to the level of the futility of meaning. He said: “In the end, this language with its structure is a construction, a lucubration of knowledge which is established above the real.”

The method is to look for the real. Look for the real, try to bypass under meaning, to bypass constructions, even the elegant ones, even the probing ones, especially if they are elegant. It is what Lacan assumed and demonstrated in his later teaching. It is a certain “to hell with elegance!”

There’s a text I’m dissecting at this time which is called in English “The Elegant Universe.” This work is dedicated to exposing something that resonates for us, the theory of strings and super strings, that is to say a recent theory that claims to unify the field of physics. What is formidable is that it abandons particles, it abandons points – such as this point – but it puts in their place, as a basic element, strings. One can say: truly, what a presentiment of Lacan. Except that these are not exactly Lacan’s strings, but vibrating strings. But what is done to offer us an elegant universe does not give us confidence.


1 Lacan, Jacques, Television, New York: Norton, 1990.
2 Lacan, J., “Aggressivity in psychoanalysis,” Écrits: A Selection, New York: Norton, 1977.
3 Lacan, J., “Function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis,” Écrits: A Selection, New York: Norton, 1977.
4 Lacan, J., “Position de l’inconscient,” Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 1966.
5 Lacan, J., “L’Étourdit,” Autres écrits, Paris: Seuil, 2001.
6 Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge: Encore, 1972-1973, New York: Norton, 1998.
7 Lacan, J., “Conférences à Columbia University et M.I.T,” Scilicet 6/7, 1975.
8 Lacan, J., “Rectifier le non-rapport sexuel,” Le séminaire XXII: R.S.I., in Ornicar? 5, 1975.
9 “Du symptôme au fantasme” (1982-1983), L’orientation lacanienne II, 2. The whole beginning of the course was devoted to differentiating symptom and fantasme, the accent being put on the fantasme. The latter part of the course began a movement of return of the fantasme on the symptom, accentuating there the importance of the symptom on the fantasme.
10 You find one or two occurrences of it in “Du symptôme au fantasme…”: the term sinthome is quoted in relation to Joyce. “Among the questions that I regret not having dealt with is […]that of showing a construction which can differentiate metaphor and metonymy in the symptom. I purposely remained on the side of sinthome in the way that Lacan began to write about it after a certain date, because that profoundly modifies the problematic that I developed this year, and that, in order to pursue it legitimately, a certain number of considerations on which “L’Étourdit” makes the point are needed. One must first have succeeded in animating this subject in the real in order to approach it.” I actually made this approach later. See “Le sinthome, un mixte de symptôme et fantasme” (March 1987), La Cause freudienne, 39, 1998 and “Une nouvelle modalité du symptôme” (May 1998), Les feuillets du Courtil, 16, 1999.
11 Lacan Jacques, Le Séminaire, Livre XXV: Le moment de conclure, in “Une pratique de bavardage,” Ornicar? 19, Paris, 1977.
12 Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, New York: Norton, 1978.
13 Lacan, J., “On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis,” Écrits: A Selection, New York: Norton, 1977.

fter researching the aesthetics of Japanese literature, I decided to design an aesthetics research study in which I selected two haiku that embody the descriptions of four Japanese aesthetic terms (sabi, wabi, yugen and aware) and test these with various readers responses to those haiku. My purpose for doing this was to see if these terms really articulate responses that actual readers might feel.

For each aesthetic term, I chose one Japanese haiku and one English language haiku. I designed the project this way to see if readers responded to the two haiku in different ways. None of the readers had any previous knowledge about haiku, the haiku were shown to them individually and I had them verbalize what they thought the scene was that each haiku depicted and what sort of feeling or mood they thought each haiku invoked or possessed, if any.

To begin with, I will define the Japanese aesthetic terms that I concentrated on
during this project. Sabi is a very basic aesthetic term that refers to the feeling of loneliness or solitude. This term demonstrates the human need to have the space and time to be alone every once in awhile. I chose two haiku that I felt fit this description. The first was an extremely popular haiku by Basho:

On a bare branch
A crow is perched—
Autumn evening.

Four individuals responded to this haiku and their responses had some similarities. One person said that the haiku was “quiet,” while another person described the setting as being “a country evening away from the busyness of people.” Both of these responses illustrate the loneliness or solitude of the haiku; without really articulating it, both readers noticed the sabi, or loneliness and solitude, that Basho’s haiku depicts. Another individual responded with the phrase “it makes me think of standing still and watching the world go by.” This response also hits on the aesthetic term sabi because it emphasizes a certain amount of loneliness while everything and everybody goes on with their life.

Margaret Chula writes the English language haiku that I chose to represent this aesthetic term sabi.

long winter night
tangerine peels
piling up

This haiku proved to be trickier for people to pick up on the sabi feeling behind it. Two individuals said that the haiku made them think of “sitting at home with nothing to do when there’s a blizzard outside” (one even pictured herself “all wrapped up, reading a book and eating a tangerine with my cat on the floor watching me”). Images such as these clearly depict a sense of solitude and loneliness; however, one respondent did not imagine loneliness but, instead, thought of “having a long talk with someone.” So, she tuned into the comfort of the haiku rather than the solitude of it.

The second Japanese aesthetic term that I chose to focus on was wabi, which suggests the feeling that something is just as it should be, even if other things are not. Wabi often involves noticing nature, which has been on earth longer that humans and will remain on earth long after we leave, at a time when you are usually wrapped up in your own world. I chose a haiku by Shiki to test this term.

The wind blows,
The duckweed moves,
Blooming all the while

For this haiku, one respondent said that she felt that the duckweed was a sort of metaphor representing “confidence issues” and the fact that “life changes but you continue to go on with confidence.” Other people described country settings with women with “wind in their hair” and “duckweed around a pond with calm water – just a little movement – and the wind blowing but not hard.” Wabi is a difficult term to articulate or pin down, but I think that these individuals were responding, especially in their descriptions of the countryside, to the sense of nature being there and taking over. Even the person who thought of the haiku as a metaphor, was responding to the sense of the wind pushing things but nature (or people) standing strong and enduring.
The English language haiku that I chose to depict this sense of wabi was one by Gary Hotham.

morning fog
not seeing far
the fern’s underside

Two respondents reflected on the fact that the fog clouds the vision, and one individual said “there’s water on the underside of the fern; it’s early morning and there’s still moister everywhere.” This description of the scene dives into nature as the respondent took the haiku one step further and noticed something that was not directly stated, which fits into the definition of wabi as suggesting everything as it should be. The respondent placed the setting in the morning and then expanded on that to say that with it being morning and all of the fog, then the fern must have dew and moisture on it. Not everyone seemed to respond to this sense of wabi, however. One respondent simply said that the image was “relaxing and kind of countryish” and another person said that it was “scary” and reminded her of “dying because I’ve seen a lot of ferns in graveyards.” So, while some people picked up on the sense of nature continuing to be as it should, others were influenced by previous experiences that prohibited them from feeling this.

Yugen is another aesthetic term that I used in this project, and it describes a sense of mystery over the universe. Yugen also deals with noticing the vastness of the universe in comparison to the minute nature of human existence. Instead of using a haiku by a Japanese haiku master, I chose a haiku by one of Basho’s disciples, Hattori Ransetsu, to illustrate this term.

harvest moon . . .
smoke goes creeping
over the water

The first individual that I asked to read this haiku picked up on the sense of mystery right away and responded with one sentence: “it makes me think of coming up on something in the unknown.” While the “unknown” is not generally thought of as the universe, it does emphasize the sense of mystery that the haiku possesses. One individual described the haiku as having a “spooky” or “eerie” feel to it and another said that it reminded her of Halloween because of the harvest moon. The fourth respondent depicted a “camping” or “hayride” setting, where people are gathered next to a “bonfire cooking hotdogs” while the smoke drifts “over a lake.” While this respondent did not depict a sense of mystery, she did describe a sort of vastness with the drifting smoke over the lake. The English language haiku by LeRoy Gorman that I chose for this aesthetic received much of the same response.

she dresses
under her arm
the moon

One individual responded that the “she” in the haiku was “a Goddess because it has a mythical feel to it.” While this does not depict yugen, exactly, it does suggest mystery. Two individuals chose not to respond to this particular haiku, and a third said: “I think of getting ready for bed and putting on my nightgown and noticing the moon between the blinds in my room.” In a subtle way, I think the first and last individuals were responding to a sense of yugen by noticing either a little bit of mystery or by noticing the moon while doing an insignificant action such as getting ready for bed.

Lastly, I chose two haiku to illustrate the aesthetic term aware. Aware suggests the fleeting or impermanent nature of things. It describes the feeling that nothing can be held onto forever, and things change and should be remembered but at the same time change is necessary and good. Shiki wrote the Japanese haiku that I chose to demonstrate aware.

sounds of snoring—
a plate and a sake bottle
set outside the mosquito net

Of the responses that I received for this haiku, nobody really expounded on this sense of impermanence. One respondent mentioned “somebody’s passed out,” while another thought the haiku reminded her of “hicks living in a swamp” and said, “it’s kind of repulsive and disgusting.” I had better luck with Caroline Gourlay’s haiku:

the last guest leaves—
a rose
opens in the vase

One respondent articulated the feeling of aware by stating that the haiku suggests a felling of “ending to begin again.” She said it depicts a sort of “bittersweet happiness.” Another individual said that it reminded her of “Beauty and the Beast because of the rose” but had a “happy feeling but sad, too, because everyone has left.” Moreover, another person said, “the rose represents quietness and peace” because “a bunch of people have been there and have left.”

All in all, the Japanese aesthetic terms articulated much of the responses I received from the haiku nicely. Some haiku did not invoke the aesthetic feeling that I chose them for; however, that could be for a number of reasons. One explanation for this occurrence is that I did not choose haiku that represented the aesthetic term as well as it could have. For example, the both haiku that I chose to represent yugen may not have been the best haiku for the job. While selecting them, I was trying to chose haiku that illustrated the vastness of the universe by having people close up noticing things stretching off into the world, but focusing on this minute aspect of yugen may have been a bad decision.

Furthermore, when I picked the two haiku for aware, I tried to choose two that demonstrated a party being over because I thought that my readers might relate to that better; however, they did not seem to tune into this aspect of aware as much as I had hoped. There were also some images that some respondents questioned, such as sake and duckweed, which may have hindered their responses.

On a whole, I was pleased and somewhat surprised to find that the English language haiku represented the Japanese aesthetic terms just as well as the Japanese haiku did; in one case even more so. Completing this project taught me a lot about how to teach individuals how to read and respond to haiku, and how to chose haiku to fit specific aesthetic terms. If I had to do the project again, I would rethink the aspects of the aesthetic terms that I wanted to depict and choose haiku that reflected those aspects more effectively. Overall, I enjoyed this project and was quite surprised at the enthusiasm that individuals demonstrated while performing the responses.


—Kristin Boryca
-Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2000
-Link source:

As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
– The Tempest, Epilogue, 19-20

[Preliminary Note: The following “theory” {the word is related to “theater” and etymologically it means something like a “way of seeing”} is mine in two possible senses of ownership. First, I have formulated it; second, I “believe” in it. It comes from two specific sources which I myself have combined. The “theory” also rests on my own occasional readings of Shakespeare’s various plays, of course – in other words, it’s not superimposed on Shakespeare (see my essay on “The Art of Reading”), it is implicit in his work . . . ]

Of Plots and Conflicts (and Young Women, of Course)

It seems that all of Shakespeare’s plays are variations on a theme. They certainly seem to be jigsaw puzzle-like pieces of an intricate and complex design/pattern/weave/text/texture. According the John Vyvyan’s Shakespeare and the Rose of Love, the scenario goes something like this: Shakespeare seems to have learned to plot his plays according to a design established by Terence, the Roman playwright. The “Terentian Pattern” is plotted according to the following structure:

Act I: Conflict is established (Vyvyan uses the metaphor of war) and the audience is “asked” to take sides. In Vyvyan’s words “the first act gives the rational and emotional background of the coming action” (12).

Act II: Suspense builds up as both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” make preliminary moves against one another.

Act III: Things begin to look as if the “bad guys” might win. The audience is worried.

Act IV: The “good guys” go for it. In Vyvyan’s words, “the act closes with everything prepared for the final victory, but just short of it” (ibid.)

Act V: There may be a “surprise” here (Vyvyan’s word), but the victory of the side which wins nevertheless follows a kind of “logic” (my word).


The first thing to know about this five-act structure is that Terence used it (and intended it) for comedy. Shakespeare, on the other hand, used it for both tragedy and comedy (in fact, he seems to have used it for the so-called dark comedies [such as The Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure] as well as the so-called serene romances [his last four plays, of which The Tempest is the final]). In any case, this fact gives rise to the following interesting question: what (in Shakespeare’s scheme of things) makes a play (that is, causes it to be) a comedy rather than a tragedy, and vice versa? It is clear that the stuff of each kind of play is full of the potential makings of tragedy. This is especially true of the so-called dark comedies, which is precisely why they are so called. But even the “regular” comedies abound in the stuff (evil) of which tragedies are made. According to Vyvyan, it all depends on the Rose of Love. “Her fortunes . . . determine the outcome of life or death. She is a love-symbol. And the love-symbol, for Shakespeare, is something more than sex, passion or romance; these are parts, but their sum is not the whole” (21). For Vyvyan, the Rose of Love is either “Platonic love” or the “redemptive love of the Gospels” (ibid.). In the first case she is “passive,” in the second, “active” (22).

Things are, of course, a bit more complicated. I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that this is a static structure in Shakespeare. On the contrary, it is for all intents and purposes infinitely variable. Yet, with the possible exception of the so-called history plays, all of Shakespeare’s plays seem variations on the theme of love, passive or active. At the heart of the dynamic is the man/woman relationship usually with a dose of a father/daughter relationship thrown in for good measure. If the man rejects the love of the woman (the Rose), and if she lets him get away with it (in which case she is passive), we usually (not necessarily always) have a tragedy on our hands. If, on the other hand, she won’t let the man get away with rejecting the Rose or her love (in which case the Rose is active, of course), we usually (I think always) have a comedy on our hands. Just think, in this connection, of the Hamlet/Ophelia and the Ophelia/Polonius dynamic. Where does Hamlet send Ophelia? Right, to a “nunn’ry” (which also meant “whorehouse” in Renaissance slang). The trouble is that she lets him get away with this, partly because she is too obedient to her father (and Polonius isn’t exactly wise, you know, even though he is the one who says “this above all: to thine own self be true”). Ironically, Hamlet isn’t a dumb tragic hero (they’re usually dumb, you know); in fact, he is too smart for his own good (more of this later). A similar (yet different) example is provided for us in the Othello/Desdemona and the Desdemona/Brabantio dynamic. What does Desdemona do when Othello rejects her (they’re married, by this time, to boot). Why, she lets Othello get away with it, even though she has had the “active” gumption to marry him behind her father’s back in the first place. Othello (unlike Hamlet) isn’t very smart either (more of this later).

The difference between these plays and the comedies is clearly augmented by the difference between their respective heroines. Just think, in this connection, of the Orsino/Viola(Cesario) dynamic in Twelfth Night or the Orlando/Rosalind(Ganymed) dynamic in As You Like It. The first thing you will notice is that in these plays the heroines dress up as men in order to undo the “evil that men do.” What adds to the dynamic in question is, of course, the nature of the conflict (“war” in Vyvyan’s terminology) which is “about to break out” (Vyvyan 12) as each play opens. According to my own educated guess, the real conflict in Shakespeare’s plays is metaphysical. It usually takes some permutation of a clash between seeming and being (that is, appearance and reality). Shakespeare’s heroes are usually too dumb to detect the difference (which makes all the difference, of course) between seeming and being. Hamlet is an exception to this rule. Othello, on the other hand, may be the rule itself, if you will. And King Lear wouldn’t be far behind Othello, even though he is a much older and wiser man. In Hamlet’s case, the question of seeming and being revolves around the ghost. In Othello’s case, it revolves around Desdemona’s fidelity to her husband. In King Lear’s case, the question is, who loves “daddy” the most, those who claim they do (Regan and Goneril) or she who doesn’t claim anything beyond filial duty (Cordelia). But I think you are beginning to see the dynamic hinted at by John Vyvyan’s Shakespeare and the Rose of Love. Whether a play is a comedy or a tragedy, then, seems to depend on the kind of heroine we have (active or passive), for it is she who is the “trump card of life” (Vyvyan 20).

I hope the dynamic of this “theory” is readily relevant to your understanding of The Tempest so far. Clearly Miranda is an active Rose. It is also clear that Ferdinand doesn’t reject her. It is also clear that she both obeys her father and yet stands up to him, too. It is also clear that her father doesn’t reject her either. In fact, he admits his indebtedness to her influence. It is also clear that in this serene romance there is plenty of stuff that could easily have turned out tragically but for Miranda’s GRACIOUS AND REDEMPTIVE LOVE! But it is also clear (at least, it should be) that there is more to this business than meets the eye. In my humble attempt to get at this “more,” I shall indulge myself in another apparent digression.

Of Illusions and Illusions

If you know anything about Shakespeare at all, you probably know that he is famous for, among other things, such ejaculations as “the play’s the thing,” or “[a]ll the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.” Many of Shakespeare’s plays do, in fact, have that curious phenomenon known as the play within the play in them. I am talking about actual theatrical performances here, such as those we find in Hamlet or in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There are, of course, other kinds of “plays” within plays; disguises and pretenses, for example, where women dress up as men or where certain characters appear in costume, so to speak, for the sake of pretending to be something they are not. These sorts of deceptions usually mean something good. It’s (at times) almost as if Shakespeare had favored the fake as opposed to the genuine. Witness, for example, the following lines from As You Like It: “the truest poetry is the / most feigning.” Obviously it is curious to find seeming favored by a playwright who otherwise pits seeming against being in most of his plays at the expense of the former. This can only mean one thing: we must be dealing with two different kinds of seeming here. And we are. But (and at a most advanced level to boot) we may even find the distinction between the two collapse so that being itself may emerge as but a kind of seeming. This is the point to which I would like to take you now, while all along you should understand me as really talking about The Tempest.

One of the best known examples of a play within the play is the play in Hamlet. Hamlet, who has been told that his stepfather is a murderer and a usurper (doesn’t this remind you of Antonio, Prospero’s brother?), would like to be certain that what he has been told is the truth. In other words, he seems aware of the difference between seeming and being, and he considers the possibility that his father’s ghost may have been an evil spirit disguised as his father’s ghost, and so on. In any case, when the strolling actors arrive at the court (we are in Denmark here, where something is always already “rotten,” as you know), Hamlet sees a chance for the verification of the ghost’s story. He will have the players enact the story the ghost has passed on to him and he will scrutinize his stepfather’s reaction. Thus, as he tells us, “the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” This is the significance of the play within the play from Hamlet’s point of view. Shakespeare’s point of view is another thing. One of the best explorations of the significance of Shakespeare’s point of view is in Leslie Fiedler’s splendid essay, “Shakespeare and the Paradox of Illusion.” Simply put, the issue is as follows: in order to enhance the reality of the illusion of the play (Hamlet, in this case), Shakespeare places a play within the play so as to make the play within which the play appears seem real in comparison to the play within the play. The trouble is, however (and this is precisely what Leslie Fiedler is interested in), that this ploy may backfire. Instead of producing the kind of “psychology” according to which the audience may exclaim: “the unreal play in the play makes the larger play seem real,” the audience may well ejaculate: “the play within which the play appears is only a play, too. In fact, it is precisely this play within the play which reminds me of the inescapable ‘playness’ of the play within which it appears.” Now this, according Leslie Fiedler, may be just the thing Shakespeare is after. Fiedler’s point is that what Shakespeare may ultimately be implying is that life itself is a play within which his own plays are but plays within a play, just as the play within any of his plays is a play within a play. This would make life itself a play within another play, God’s. As Fiedler puts it, “the metaphor of the play within the play . . . is the myth of the Cosmic Drama” (he is, I think, right to add that the “myth of tragedy is a pagan myth,” whereas the “myth of comedy is a Christian myth,” 279).

Are you, my beloved students, beginning to see the light that shines in the seeming darkness of our being? I hope so. And are you also beginning to see the relevance of all this to The Tempest? I most ardently hope so. This, then, is what I would add to the insights we have already gleaned from Vyvyan: the play in question is but seeming. In fact, the whole play is a play within a play where what seems is not what is and what is is not what seems. And Prospero (the “magician”) is both the playwright and the director of this special play within itself. And the theme of this play within itself is clearly that all the wrongs contemplated or committed are nevertheless forgivable. Before forgiveness, though, there must be repentance; and before repentance, crime. But perhaps “crime,” like “life” itself, is no more than an illusion in a larger, transcendent scheme in which it is a fervent hope that God will always already say about us, what Prospero says in the play about his “enemies”:

Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further.


With the exception of The Tempest (Signet Classics), all my citations from Shakespeare are from The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974). My spellings (e.g., “nunn’ry,” “Ganymed”) conform to the spellings in this edition. Note, by the way, that Measure for Measure seems to be an exception to the Rose of Love rule. Here it is Duke Vincentio who, having withdrawn himself from the deeply problematic world of the play, returns disguised as a friar to “fix” things. By virtue of his behind-the-scenes machinations, the Duke is clearly a forerunner or precursor of Prospero. Both characters are also images or “imitations” of God.

Works Cited

Fiedler, Leslie. “Shakespeare and the Paradox of Illusion.” 1948. Reprinted in The Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler. New York: Stein and Day, 1971. I: 265-80.

Vyvyan, John. Shakespeare and the Rose of Love: A Study of the Early Plays in Relation to the Medieval Philosophy of Love. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1960.

*The writer notes: This essay was originally a handout I used in a number of different courses, including a Shakespeare course I had occasion to teach twice in my career. There is a lot written about Shakespeare, so I won’t make any grandiose claims for my contribution, but I do think that this particular way of looking at the Great Bard’s work is insightful and worthwhile.

Note also that originally this essay was an attempt to place The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, into a perspective of the whole of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

If you have any questions about it, please feel free to e-mail me. I love to dialogue with my readers. Send e-mail to:

Imagine that you are a student in a writing course where you receive the following instructions: Your task is to write a fictitious term paper. The catch is that the format of your paper must follow the style established by the MLA Handbook to a tee. The paper itself must be seven pages long with six pages of text followed by a page listing your works cited. On the seventh page of your paper you must, in fact, list seven works cited representing the following categories: two single-author books, two essays from collections of essays (that is, from books that have editors rather than authors), two articles from the same number of learned journals (I said learned journals, like PMLA or Diacritics, not Time or Psychology Today), and one work of literature of your choice (any work will do).

In the text of your paper you should quote from the work of literature of your choice from time to time, varying short with long quotations, in order to make your paper look real even as you are careful to maintain the illusion that the work of literature of your choice is the subject matter of your paper. Interspersed with the quotations from the work of literature of your choice you should cite at least once from each of your other sources. Otherwise, the text of your paper should have nothing to do with either the work of literature of your choice or any of your other sources. You may write whatever you wish. Your writing, in fact, may be humorous, parodic, irreverent, or irrational – in other words, completely “off the wall.” Your grade will be based on the form of your paper and on the quality of your writing.

The initial reaction of my students to these instructions is usually mixed. On the one hand, they seem delighted with the prospect of writing a nonsensical paper, on the other, they seem anxious about the apparently complicated requirements for the scholarly, professional format. To reduce their anxiety, I provide them with a sample fictitious term paper (see Appendix) in which I myself painstakingly fulfill all of the requirements in question. In fact, in my sample fictitious term paper I even cover all those little tidbits that forever bedevil our students, like the use of ellipses for omissions from and the use of brackets for interpolations within quotations, or the commonsensical distinction (which never strikes my students as commonsensical) between the author of an essay and the editor of the volume in which the essay in question appears, and so on. In addition to the sample paper, I also provide my students with a set of recommendations for the whole procedure. The instructions typically say something like the following: Go to the library and select the works you will cite in your paper. Pick up a work of literature (The Scarlet Letter, for example), two single-author books (such as Derrida’s Of Grammatology), two collections of essays (Reader-Response Criticism, edited by Jane Tompkins, for example), and two recent issues of any two learned journals (American Literature, Critical Inquiry, what have you). Having recorded the necessary information for your list of works cited (author, title of book, essay, or article, publisher, date, and so on), flip the pages of each of your sources until you find a few sentences or paragraphs that strike you as worthy of being included in your paper. Once you have copied down all the quotations you think you will need, you will have completed your “research,” and you may start working on the paper itself. Just give it a title and begin writing. Remember you may write whatever you wish (you may even use obscene language, for all I care) – anything goes, nothing matters, as long as whatever you write is well written.

Experimenting with this fictitious term paper requirement for approximately a decade now, I have learned a number of things, some of them pleasantly surprising. My initial motive for establishing this assignment was to spare myself the painful experience of reading terribly botched papers where the form was as badly mangled as the content. I figured that if I could just trade the content in for the form I would be able to insist on the form without appearing to be in mindless conformity to the letter of its law. At the same time, I also wanted my students to realize that the conventions of scholarly writing are simply the rules of the game. Since students don’t mind the rules of baseball or basketball, why should they mind the rules of scholarly writing? Doesn’t playing by the rules simply show them that they belong, that they know what they are doing, and that the penalties for breaking the rules are as much part of the logic of the game as the rules themselves? Furthermore, don’t the rules of the game facilitate rather than hinder the players, don’t the rules, in fact, make the game? My students had no trouble with this analogy, nor did they begrudge the formalities of scholarly writing once it was clear to them that they didn’t have to bother with its content.

I myself was very confident the first time I gave this assignment. I felt that my students could now concentrate on the “how” without worrying about the “what.” I also hoped that not worrying about the “what” would free their writing of its customary constraints. I certainly expected it to flow with ease rather than meander aimlessly in the choppy current that usually passes for their expository or argumentative prose. I shall never forget the pleasure I felt when I collected the first batch of fictitious term papers. Every single one of them looked professional. So far, so good, I sighed. Scanning the titles also made me realize that I would be in for a lot of fun reading. One of the titles, for example, was obviously a take-off on that time-honored assignment I am sure we have all struggled with when we were students: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” – it was called “I Was a Deconstruction Worker.” Reading that first batch of papers made me discover a number of things.

The first discovery was a pleasant surprise. As I read paper after paper, I soon saw that the vast majority of the fictitious term papers were highly self-reflexive. Since self-reflection is not as a rule the forte of most of our students, this was a welcome discovery indeed. And along with the self-reflexivity came a sense of fun, playfulness, even mischievousness. Many a fictitious term paper seemed enamored of mocking and teasing the assignment itself or the “crazy professor” who thought it up in the first place. Here is a typical quote from a recent paper: “You say this paper should be fun to write. Well, I am not quite sure I agree. In fact, I am positive I don’t agree. Writing (any kind) is work for me and work isn’t fun. In other words, you lied to me, in a sense.” A few sentences later the student quotes a passage from a scholarly work, which admonishes us against the disguising of the truth, then she comes back to the issue of the professor having lied to her. She writes: “Really, I am just kidding . . . I’ve always wanted to accuse a teacher of something. Now I have, so don’t take it personally (doesn’t the song “Personally” come to mind when you hear that word?).”

Note that in addition to the mocking/teasing “intimacy” between the teacher and herself which this students feels free to project in her paper, she is also manifestly writing by a kind of free association of ideas. Not only is the quotation which warns the reader against disguising the truth sandwiched between the playful accusations hurled at the teacher who said that writing a fictitious term paper might be fun, but the word “personally,” used in one context, suddenly becomes the title of a song, and so on. Obviously, the student’s attempt to write nonsense merely to fill the gaps between the various quotations which constitute her “research” has backfired. It is clear that by merely playing with words, the student has begun to think on paper, so to speak. It is also clear that the quotations, which according to the requirements for the assignment do not have to be linked up in any way with the student’s own text, have nevertheless become subtly intertextual with it. This same phenomenon appears in fictitious paper after fictitious paper. The quotations selected prior to the act of writing (or, perhaps, alongside with the act of writing, as the case may be) begin to influence the student’s own “nonsensical” composition in such a way that a kind of context emerges in spite of the fact that this is precisely what the student seems to want to avoid or, at least, remain nonchalantly indifferent to, with the teacher’s prior blessing to boot. In other words, not having to worry about what he/she is writing, each student seems to naturally and spontaneously worry about precisely what he/she is writing. Since there are no pressures on this process, though, since the process is “merely” a kind of play or game, since it is “fiction,” in other words, the process itself unexpectedly takes on all the desirable qualities we ourselves try to project into or extrapolate from our own “real” writing.

Speaking of our own “real” writing, it is clear that the customary distinction between the real and fictive is vastly overstated. I take it that Robert Scholes is right when he claims that “[a]ll writing, all composition, is construction. We do not imitate the world, we construct versions of it. There is no mimesis, only poiesis. No recording. Only constructing” (7). I also take it that this same statement applies to reading as well. The only difference between writing/reading the real and the fictitious term paper, therefore, is that while the real is serious the fictitious is not. But no sooner have I made this distinction than I am troubled by it, partly because I cannot forget one of Derrida’s curious and apparently odd remarks concerning this issue. “There is always a surprise in store for . . . any criticism that might think it had mastered the game.” Speaking of a “hidden thread” in the text, Derrida goes on to say that

[i]f reading and writing are one, . . . if reading is writing, this oneness designates neither undifferentiated (con)fusion nor identity at perfect rest; the is that couples reading with writing must rip apart. One must then, in a single gesture, but doubled, read and write. And that person would have understood nothing of the game who, at this [du coup], would feel himself authorized merely to add on; that is, to add any old thing. He would add nothing, the seam wouldn’t hold. Reciprocally, he who through “methodological prudence,” “norms of objectivity,” or “safeguards of knowledge” would refrain from committing anything of himself, would not read[/write] at all. The same foolishness, the same sterility, obtains in the “not serious” as in the “serious.” The reading or writing supplement must be rigorously prescribed, but by the necessities of a game, by the logic of play. (63-64)

If the difference between the real and the fictive cannot be maintained in terms of the presence/absence of “mere” seriousness, then I think it would be helpful for us to distinguish the two in terms of intent. The intent of the fictitious term paper is to exemplify the student’s mastery of the game or play of scholarly, professional writing. The fact that this kind of writing is “game” or “play” does not one whit detract from its customary/ordinary “seriousness.” On the contrary, the fact that the assignment requires the student to play the game self-consciously “merely” guarantees that he/she is going to discover the real in the fictive. And this leads me to a consideration of the second discovery I have made repeatedly during the history of my fictitious term paper requirement in the last decade or so.

I would, of course, be overstating the case if I didn’t admit that the self-conscious or self-reflexive papers my students keep writing for me are miraculously self-inventive or self-generative. My students usually “imitate” me. Not in the sense denied by Robert Scholes (“There is no mimesis, only poiesis”), but in the sense of playful burlesque or mischievous travesty. I must further confess that the sample fictitious term paper I provide for my students is not only itself self-conscious or self-reflexive, but that it, too, fails to keep its own text from being contaminated by the quotations intertextualized with it. In other words, while my own fictitious term paper is itself humorous, parodic, irreverent, and irrational (that is, completely “off the wall”), it nevertheless makes a kind of sense concerning the “theme” of (excuse this barbaric coinage) “fictitious term-paperality.” Not only do I extol the virtues of the “theme” in question in a variety of playfully mocking/teasing ways, but I keep quoting texts like “[b]oth the author and the narrator . . . maintain their sanity and discover truth by the creation of a rational lie, a fiction” (Dryden 37) or “[b]y the end of the story what appeared to be real but turned out to be fake appears to be more real than if it had been real in the first place” (Scheer 46-47).

My second discovery, then, has to do with an answer to the question: why is it that our students write terribly bad real papers when they are demonstrably capable of writing pretty good fictitious ones. As I have already indicated, the answer cannot be that the fictitious paper is not real. If anything, it appears more real than if it had been real in the first place. Perhaps the answer is hidden in the intent I have mentioned above. But why should the “intent” in question make such a difference? To answer this question I shall have to invoke my third discovery (and collapse it with my second still under consideration here). Judged by its etymological meaning, the word “school” once meant “play.” Perhaps the trouble is that we have managed to turn it into something altogether too “serious.” And that’s the problem, as I see it, with asking our students to write “real” papers. The “real” papers aren’t real in the first place. They are certainly not destined for publication, which renders their very ethos unreal. In other words, the “real” papers in question are written for the sake of learning how to write a real paper. They are real only in the sense that the students are required to go through the customary procedures ordinarily necessary for their production. Which is the same as saying that the “real” papers are not real since they ipso facto represent (albeit in a pretentiously disguised form) exercises in futility. This is precisely why they deprive the students of a voice just at the time when they have the greatest need for a voice of their own.

And this takes me back to the notion of “school” as “play.” The fictitious term paper requirement instantly restores the institution in which we, as teachers, ply our trade to its own forgotten intent. No wonder our students get confused when society distinguishes the schools they attend from the “real” world for the sake of which they attend schools in the first place. No wonder that they, along with society, tend to despise schools, the customary rhetoric of “lip service” to the contrary notwithstanding. To restore its rightful importance we must recognize the school not as a place in which to work but as a place in which to play – that is, pretend to work. The fictitious term paper succeeds precisely where the real paper is doomed to fail. What is paradoxical is that in spite of the requirement for the professional format it does not impose on the student the stultifying burden of conformity. But perhaps this is not paradoxical at all. By making going through the motions the obvious game or play going through the motions has always already been meant to be, the fictitious term paper liberates the student from “work” so that in “play” he/she may master it. Furthermore, by playing the game seriously, we will also give our students an opportunity to experience for themselves that leisure is indeed the basis of culture (as explained in Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture) and that the human race is a naturally playful species (as exemplified by Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture). Perhaps the time is ripe for recognizing that the school is not a place of stultifying “reality” but the arena of liberating “fiction.”

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Dryden, Edgar A. Melville’s Thematics of Form: The Great Art of Telling the Truth. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.

Scheer, Steven C. Kálmán Mikszáth. Twayne World Authors Series 462. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1977.

Scholes. Robert. Structural Fabulation: An Essay on the Fiction of the Future. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975.


The following is a “typical” fictitious term paper (one of many I have written during a twenty-year period while using this assignment), actually used in the spring semester of 1986. The sample fictitious term paper should perform a double function. On the one hand, it should exemplify the format established by the MLA Handbook, on the other, it should serve as a model for the students to imitate. What my own experience clearly tells me is that such a “model” works best when it is not only playful but also a bit irreverent, even perhaps a bit risqué.

Steven C. Scheer
Professor Scheer
En 101
February 11, 1986

The Fictitious Paper as the Real Thing:
Or, How Your Inimitable Professor Attempts to Show You Why

The fictitious paper is not only real, it is also a lot of fun. The fun comes from fiction. Reality, as we all know, is a bore. It is, to be precise, a series of relentlessly boring little hassles punctuated by uncertain anxieties, not the least of which may come in the wake of assignments given by lethally boring professors who stay up nights to think up new methods with which to torture their students. I don’t know, I just don’t know. But at least I am honest. Which is why (I suppose) I seem to be haunted by one of Hawthorne’s clever remarks in The Scarlet Letter (1850) according to which “[t]o the untrue man, the whole universe is false” (142). And that’s as it should be, except of course it shouldn’t be that way, even if it should (not) be.

Let me try again. The purpose of this course (one of its purposes, if you like) is to teach you (and allow you to practice, of course) certain things about writing scholarly/critical papers. Such papers have two basic ingredients: form and content. Both, in a sense, are institutionalized. The reason is that both, in a sense, require certification. To get the point I am trying to make here, just think of all those people you know who may be certifiable and should, thus, be institutionalized. There you go. Perhaps this (in any case) is why Derrida is interested in the following perplexing questions:

Where does writing begin? When does writing begin? Where and when does the trace, writing in general, common root of speech and writing, narrow itself down into ‘writing’ in the colloquial sense? Where and when does one pass [gas? Just kidding] from one writing to another, from writing in general to writing in the narrow sense, from the trace to the graphie, from one graphic system to another, and, in the field of a graphic code, from one graphic discourse to another, etc.? (74)

I myself am, of course, deeply interested in (and perplexed by) all these questions but in a slightly different way. Raising them in a different context, on the other hand, is not going to get us anywhere. Nevertheless, “[t]his attempt to deconstruct Peirce could go on citing other instances of self-referential inconsistencies or self-contradictions in ‘The Fixation of Belief,’ though it could never point to ‘mistakes’ in Peirce’s logic which Peirce himself could have avoided” (Scheer 336). You may question my own logic here, of course, but remember that you run the risk of flunking this course. Which may well bug you no end (am I mixing metaphors here? Never mind). I mean, why should the teacher be always right. Right? Just to show you that I am a really, really nice guy, I shall hereby declare that at this particular point in the history of my mental decline I AM WRONG! I would appreciate it, of course (I keep using this splendid little expression because, you know, this is a course), if you didn’t quote me on this. Thank you so much.

At this point (in time) I seem to be fascinated by the narrator’s question attributed to Hester in The Scarlet Letter which raises itself (and I quote) in the following manner: “Hester could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a defect of truth” here somewhere (161). One may go along with another critic in this case (even though the quotation coming up deals with quite another con/text) and reluctantly agree that “[t]his sentence deliberately frustrates the reader’s natural desire to organize the particulars it offers” (Fish 81).

Tickle, tickle, funny bone;
How I wonder why you laugh.
If writing, it is such a bore
What makes you write this . . . graph?

I just made up this little ditty for no reason whatsoever. One needs an interruption every now and then. (If you can’t beat them join them, right?) In any case, we were talking about some defect (original, to boot) in some truth. A truly fascinating subject. I was reading this article in a recent issue of PMLA the other day, and I encountered the following intriguing statement: “The plot is distributed through five principal images: apple, wilderness, temple, body, and seeds” (Teskey 14).

This issue is so significant (it is so fraught with a kind of highly problematic [non]sense) that it deserves a new par/a/graph. We were (I hope you still remember this) speaking of some original defect of truth. This is important. The reason is not difficult to find. You see, the images in the quotation from Teskey remind me of some very genetic things. The apple. Could this be the pro/verbial fruit (forbidden, to boot) that Adam and Eve (ladies first?) consumed in the Garden of Eden? Wow! “Wilderness, temple, body, and seeds” suddenly form a con/text fraught with sign/if/icance (please notice the “if” in the middle of that marvelous word). What is (was) outside the Garden is (was), of course, wilderness. Temple. How should I take this? Of course, one’s body is, in a sense, the temple of one’s soul (which may well raise another question: which is the “meta” in the metaphor, the temple as body, or the temple as church? Never mind), in which case “seeds” are not necessarily apple seeds but spermatozoa. The “seminal” in seminal fluid (which carries the semen [seeds, lit.]) is, of course, related to such words as “seminar” and “seminary” (this last place is where young men study for the priesthood, for example – which would make the young men in question “seeds” or “seedlings” of sorts – never mind).

You may wonder (wonder, wonder, wonder) how all this relates to the question we are considering here, the question concerning some original defect in some truth. I shall tell you in due course. Right now I want you to consider another “questioning” sort of quotation. Here it comes: “Here the ‘godless’ becomes the ‘blameless’; the man whose ‘conduct’ is an ‘eloquent sermon’ makes the ‘professional preachers’ seem odds-on favorites to be ‘narrow-minded and bigoted'” (Regan 223). In another context (once again, I shall invoke The Scarlet Letter) we encounter passages such as this one: “thus, the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril” (157). What begins to loom large here (and is, consequently, writ large here, too) is something in the nature of a paradox (para + doxa = aside/beside itself + opinion). To spell this out more clearly, I might say as follows: from two radically unrelated con/texts we seem to be getting the message that the good are really bad whereas the bad are really good. No comment.

That’s a lie (I mean the “no comment” above, of course). The truth is that perhaps the truth itself is always already a lie. This does not work vice versa. In other words, lies are not therefore truths, except of course the ones that let you know that that’s what they are from the beginning (works of fiction, for example – which would make “works of fact” [factually “true” works] really lies, which is [and I kid you not, in a sense] what they really are. So there). Here’s cryptic proof for this (nothing is too good for Uncle Steve’s students): Culler exclaims, explaining a point in Derrida, that “[m]eaning is context-bound, but context is boundless” (123). This leads Culler to consider that “structural openness of context” which is “essential to all disciplines; the scientist discovers that factors previously disregarded are relevant to the behavior of certain objects; the historian brings new or reinterpreted data to bear on a particular event; the critic relates a passage or a text to a context that makes it appear in a new light” (124).

I hope you are beginning to see the way in which my “funny” argument is beginning to make alarming sense: since the human condition originates in a fall from divine grace, all human truths are subsequently tainted by lies reminiscent of the first one (in my hopefully soon forthcoming book [an referene to my Pious Impostures and Unproven Words which has been published more than 10 years ago by now] I call this the “lie about a lie that was not a lie”). Which should bring me (around) to my conclusion. This paper is intended to exemplify the fictitious term paper. As usual, it fails. That is, though is was meant to be entirely spurious, irrational, and parodic, it has (I don’t exactly know where I took the wrong turn) almost become “serious.” I know from past experience that you will experience something not unlike the experience I have just experienced. Let me nevertheless lay this down as a “law”: your paper must not make sense. This isn’t, of course, an absolute law. Nor could I enforce it, even if it were. So do the best you can. But have fun, in any case. I think I shall have written this in a later handout for this course (which you may or may not receive in this one), so let me “prepeat” (the opposite of “repeat”) it here: what is no fun to write, is no fun to read. In other words, no fun for the writer, no fun for the reader. In other other words, without fun there is no fun. Or words to that effect. Are you still with me? Good, because if what I have been saying here is a true lie, then the fictitious term paper you are about to write will have been the truest thing you shall ever have written in your life to date. Makes you think, does it not? And wonder, too.

Works Cited

Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.

Fish, Stanley E. “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics.” Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism. Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. 70-100.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Leo Marx. New York: Signet-NAL, 1959.

Regan, Robert. “The Reprobate Elect in The Innocents Abroad.” American Literature54 (1982): 240-57.

Scheer, Steven C. “Unfixing ‘The Fixation of Belief’: Can Peirce Be Deconstructed?” Semiotics 1984. Ed. John Deely. Lanham: UP of America, 1985. 333-340.

Teskey, Gordon. “From Allegory to Dialectic: Imagining Error in Spenser and Milton.” PMLA 101 (1986): 9-23.

*This article is written by Steven c Scheer.
*The writer notes: Originally delivered at several conferences, this paper was subsequently published in the Journal of Teaching Writing (see the whole story of this paper in the previous Web page). This version has a “typical” fictitious term paper appended to it, one of many I had written years ago, as a model for my students, so they could see what the fictitious term paper should look and sound like. They actually wrote many that were funnier and, in some cases, better than mine, which is the best testimonial of the success of this assignment.

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In Defense of Deconstruction Julia Roberts As She Sees Herself?

According to a well-known deconstructive tenet all reading is misreading. This is, of course, the kind of common-sense defying assertion that has always already given deconstruction a bad name in certain circles. But did you know (of course, you couldn’t possibly have) that in one of my writing classes I am constantly trying to persuade my students that all writing is miswriting? I raise the question of misreading/miswriting not just because I have to begin somewhere (for according to deconstruction there is no such thing as a “proper” beginning, there are only starts) but because the question in question leads me to an explanation of the (main) title of my presentation tonight.

Just a few weeks ago I was reading (or rather continuing to read) Richard Harland’s Superstructuralism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism in which I came upon the following passage (and I am not going to play fair now because I am going to deliberately miswrite [and misread] the passage which I – at the time – had merely misread by what common sense would call a mistake). The passage in question, then, (mis)reads as follows:

[Julia] Kristeva and [Roland] Barthes . . . separate out two distinct levels of language: a level of ‘significance’ or creative transgressive meaning, and a level of ‘signification’ or socially instituted socially controlled meaning. . . . Whereas the ‘signification’ of a word is held fixed and self-identical within a system, the ‘significance’ of a word opens out centrifugally. As Kristeva puts it, ‘it is necessary . . . to decompose [the sign] and to open up within its interior a new outside, a new space of malleable and combinatory sites, the space of significance.’

I am now playing doubly unfair. You see, by the time I came upon that last “significance” I had noticed that something was wrong. It was with a mixture of horror and delight that I noticed that a “c” was missing from the word. Knowing that most books contain typographical errors, I was glad to see one in a book not written by me. Yet as I stared at the word with the missing “c” in it (which is itself a strange thing to say: how can the missing “c” be in it?) I suddenly realized that instead of a typographical error I was staring at a masterful coinage here. So I quickly went back to the beginning of the paragraph and read it over again, this time without mis/reading it:

Kristeva and Barthes . . . separate out two distinct levels of language: a level of ‘signifiance’ [of course!] or creative transgressive meaning, and a level of ‘signification’ or socially instititued socially controlled meaning. . . . Whereas the ‘signification’ of a word is held fixed and self-identical within a system, the ‘signifiance’ [of course!] of a word opens out centrifugally. As Kristeva puts it, ‘it is necessary . . . to decompose [the sign] and to open up within its interior a new outside, a new space of malleable and combinatory sites, the space of signifiance’ [of course!]. (168)

Of course, we are not through with (potentially deconstructive) ironies here, for Harland goes on to say (in the very next paragraph) that “‘signifiance’ [of course!] opens out in two ways. One way is the way of what Kristeva calls ‘intertextuality.’ ‘Intertextuality’ depends upon the notion that ‘in the space of a given text, several utterances taken from other texts intersect and neutralize one another.’ Reading for ‘signifiance,’ we undo this neutralization and ‘run’ the threads of meaning back across all the other texts from which our given text was formed” (168). And this is precisely what is happening in my text as well, for in quoting Harland I have also been quoting his quoting of Kristeva and Barthes, so that in quoting one author I have actually been quoting three. Furthermore, since I have also been confessing to a literal (although momentary) misreading of my own here (which is not to be confused with its deconstructive counterpart) my own text so far is an uncanny maze of advertent intertextuality and inadvertent deconstruction.

Now one more quotation from Harland (which will also include an unofficial quotation – that is, a paraphrase – from Derrida) and we will be in business: “This is all very obviously analogous to Derrida’s philosophy of language. There are the same two levels of meaning, the socially controlled level versus the anti-socially creative level” (169). And these two levels correspond to what I will in due time call the language of indoctrination versus the language of education. This issue is also one of the subtexts (at times explicitly treated) in my own Pious Impostures and Unproven Words. What I aim to do here, therefore, is to re-argue the issue of the affinity between deconstruction and the “traditional” concept of a liberal arts education. My emphasis shall naturally fall on deconstruction as a strategy of “signifiance,” as a method of educative (as opposed to merely indoctrinative) undertaking. In the meantime, please note the moral in the story of my literal (if momentary) misreading: the human mind is error-prone.

Let me, then, begin (?) by de/fining deconstruction: Deconstruction disrupts “traditional habits of thought” (Culler 141); deconstruction “works within the terms of a system but in order to breach [that is, to subvert] it” (Culler 86); and (most importantly, in a sense) “deconstruction appeals to no higher logical principle or superior reason but uses the very principle it deconstructs” (Culler 87). What I would add to these characterizations at the outset (?) is that deconstruction rejects either/or in favor of and/both thinking. It is (usually) for this reason that it gets into trouble with “traditionalists” who refuse to go far enough to contradict one of the most basic foundations of our civilization, the principle of non-contradiction.

The most basic and the most readily available strategy of deconstruction can be traced back to Derrida’s deconstruction of the speaking/writing hierarchy. Bear with me for an exploration of this issue now, for there is more to it than will initially meet the eye. Derrida begins by noticing something curious in Ferdinand de Saussure’s study of language. As advanced as his thinking about linguistics is, Saussure keeps rejecting writing in favor of speaking. He claims that the proper study of linguistics is speaking, not writing. Yet, Derrida notes, every time Saussure wants to get at the very heart of language, he invokes the example of writing. Derrida claims that there is a simple albeit an extraordinarily complicated and momentous reason for this. The reason why Saussure must continually resort to writing as an example in his discussion of speaking is because – or so Derrida claims – speaking is always already a form of writing. As Derrida puts it, in his inimically complex yet paradoxically compendious style,

it is when he is not expressly dealing with writing, when he feels he has closed the parentheses on that subject, that Saussure opens the field of a general grammatology. Which would not only no longer be excluded from general linguistics, but would dominate and contain it within itself. Then one realizes that was chased off limits, the wandering outcast of linguistics, has indeed never ceased to haunt language as its primary and most intimate possibility. Then something which was never spoken and which is nothing other than writing itself as the origin of language writes itself within Saussure’s discourse. (43-44)

There you have it, your first example of deconstruction’s apparently irrational defiance of common sense. Can Derrida really claim that writing comes before speaking, that writing is the origin of language? That he does claim this is clear. And he claims it in the name of “grammatology” which he pits against “logocentrism,” one of the main (if not the main) founding illusions of our civilization. Note that the very word, “grammatology,” is a clever and masterful coinage, it itself puts writing (“grammar”) before speaking (“logos”). You may, of course, have always already detected an uncommon sense in the coinage in question as well. Let me nevertheless give you a preliminary clarification of the issue by quoting Harland’s version of it: “Derrida recognizes that the fact of writing follows from the fact of speech, but he none the less asserts that the idea of speech depends upon the idea of writing. Or to put it another way, writing is the logically fundamental condition to which language has always [already] aspired” (129, italics Harland’s).

What you have just witnessed is the basic deconstructive strategy of the reversal and the reinscription of a hierarchy. It should be clear, of course, that by the time Derrida places writing before speaking he is no longer speaking of writing in the common sense. He has, in other words, not merely reversed the speaking/writing hierarchy, he has also reinscribed its initially second term. Even if this makes sense to you (and it should), you may still wonder why Derrida feels it so important to “reason” so deconstructively, or why I claim that such reasoning may well be at the heart of a “traditional” liberal arts education. There is something crucial in this argument that I haven’t mentioned yet. The reason why our civilization has always already privileged speaking over writing is because in the act of speaking the speaker and his/her meaning seem to emerge in a simultaneous presence. Derrida claims that this “presence” is an illusion, but he does not claim that it is simply a mistake that could have been avoided. It is, in other words, a necessary illusion, but an illusion just the same. Let me remind you now of my own beginning here tonight. I started with a misreading of my own from which I have derived the following moral: the human mind is error-prone. What I would like to assert now is that the human mind is also illusion-prone. What I would also like to make clear, though, is that while some of our illusions are necessary, some of them are not. Yet we have them just the same. And we may suffer as a result of them. A deconstructive education can, of course, dismantle both kinds of illusions, the first for our greater understanding, the second for our potential improvement. In order to arrive at the second, though, I will have to more clearly show the first. I will ask you to bear with me a little while longer, then, over this speaking/writing business. In a moment you will see that there is much more to it than initially meets the eye.

What happens when I speak? With breath (the original meaning of “spirit”) and the aid of my vocal chords I make (meaningful) sounds. The sounds of my speech disappear (lapse back into silence) even as they come into being, but the meaning the sounds “make” seems to “stay.” What happens when I write? With some writing instrument I make (meaningful) marks on some appropriate surface. The marks of my writing remain on the surface onto which they have been “inscribed,” but I do not seem to “stay.” In speaking I and my meaning seem to exist in a simultaneous presence; in writing I and my meaning seem to split, the marks remain but I “remain” absent (from them).

Traditionally, writing is defined as the re/presentation of speaking. But notice the difference between speaking and writing: in the one the meaningful sound-maker is always already present, in the other he/she (the meaningful mark-maker, in this case) is always already absent. Add to this the following commonsensical observations: the spoken word is heard, not seen; the written word is seen, not heard. (In a literate culture, of course, it is always already possible to “see” the spoken word, but in a purely oral culture the idea of “visible” words is an impossible concept – at the same time, in a literate culture it is also possible to “hear” the written word, in an oral culture, of course, that’s all that’s possible.) The most important distinction between speaking/writing seems to be the presence/absence of the speaker/writer. What is present in speaking is the speaker; what is absent in writing is the writer. In the first case the speaking disappears just as it is finished, in the second the writer disappears just as soon as he or she has finished writing.

Consider also the following: for a spoken word to be meaningful it must have (simultaneously) sound/meaning; for a written word to be meaningful it must have (simultaneously) mark/meaning. In the case of the written word, of course, the mark is a re/presentation of the sound. Now consider the following question: where (in either case) does meaning reside? In the perishable sound/permanent mark, or in the mind of the language user? And perhaps it is here that we should consider the arbitrary/conventional “nature” of the word. Is the connection between any given sound/meaning or mark/meaning intrinsically necessary? That is, must the idea of a young male person, for example, necessarily be designated by the sound/mark “boy”? No, because in other languages the same idea is designated by different sound/marks – garçon, Knabe, etc. People speaking different languages, then, use different sound/marks to re/present the same meanings. In any case, the answer to the first question above (concerning the whereabouts of meaning) is: in the mind of the language user. The speaker knows which sounds “re/present” which meanings and, presumably, the hearer knows this, too. The same applies to writers/readers, except in this case we don’t need the quotation marks around the word “re/present.” This brings us back to the whole presence/absence business: in speaking the meaning is momentarily present in the perishing sound, in writing it is permanently “present” in the enduring mark. To be quite accurate, of course, one must place quotation marks around the word “present” in the last part of my last sentence. If meaning is not in the mark but in the mind of the user of the mark, then there cannot be any meaning in writing. This seems like an absurd conclusion, but it’s the conclusion to which what we have already agreed to so far inevitably leads. Perhaps we could get around this dilemma by saying that meaning is present in the mind of the writer at the time of the writing and that it comes to be present in the mind of the reader at the time of the reading. In the interim, there is no “meaning” there at all. Perhaps there is no “writing,” either. What is not being perceived might as well not exist at all; the same applies to what is not being seen (or heard, for that matter). But the fact is that the mark remains visible, just as its meaning remains discernible. This would somehow make “writing” dead-it is, of course, alive while it is being written and every time it is being read. Can we say then that writing is dead/alive? But what about speaking? Since the sound perishes even as it delivers its meaning, can we say that it remains alive? No, it would seem that speaking is the opposite of writing, it’s alive/dead. Of course, a hearer may always already remember/recall someone else’s speech, in which case what was dead is always already potentially alive again. The same applies to writing (of course). Writing is alive when it is written/read (or even when it is remembered/recalled), just as speaking is alive when it is spoken/heard (or even when it is remembered/recalled – which means that both are, in the final analysis alive/dead/alive).

Given these considerations, the question might be raised: if there is no significant difference between speaking/writing (which is precisely why Derrida argues that speaking is always already a form of writing), why the controversy? If the answer is not readily apparent (perhaps because you may have already become more deconstructive than you realize) please remember that writing has been controversial ever since its inception. Derrida has given a name to this controversy, he calls it “logocentrism.” He has also given a name to the (deconstructed-reversed and reinscribed) idea of logocentrism, he calls it “grammatology.” As you may recall, the second term puts “writing” before “speaking,” while the first makes “speaking” the center of its attention. In doing this, though, the first also tries to “put down” writing. According to Derrida this “put down” is “strange.” Especially when it becomes apparent that a careful, scrupulous, and rigorous description of writing turns out to be a description of language (both spoken/written) as such.

Why does Derrida, then, finally claim that logocentrism is not a mistake that could have been avoided? Again, please pay close attention to what the issue is: in speaking the sound is important only to the extent to which it delivers meaning; it is the meaning that’s all important. In writing the mark seems to take on a perverse importance of its own. The mark, which should “merely” “re/present” the “sound,” seems to be pretty uppity. It sticks around. It may even continue to function in the absence of its originator. Of course, it is (by then) no longer in the control of its originator. Thus, it seems to become even more uppity than it always already has been. It may even support meanings that its originator did not intend. Thus, it is also dangerous. It may even betray its originator (who no longer has control over it, remember?) Thus, it may also become a traitor. Yet it is clear that we didn’t know any of this until after the invention of writing. In other words, the privilege attributed to speaking comes about as a result of writing. This “privilege” seems strange to me. Just as it seems strange to me that when the talkies first came into being people who were accustomed to silent movies thought that “speaking” movies were somehow “unnatural.” The crux of the problem is that speaking doesn’t seem to involve an external “technology.” Perhaps that’s why it seems natural and real. But this is, finally, an illusion. Speech has its “technology,” too: breath (spirit) and the vibration it produces on the vocal chords. The invention of audio-visual media has, of course, made it totally technological (it was, in fact, the technology of speech which made the silent movies real in comparison with the talkies). Why, then, does speaking seem so utterly real in contradistinction to writing? Because the illusion of the simultaneous presence of a speaker and his/her meaning is necessary for us to have the concept of the autonomous self that we do in fact have and without which we would simply not be the human beings that we are. Derrida’s point is that the evidence or proof of our concept of the self, of our concept of our selves, is (finally) nothing of the sort. What we take to be evidence is no evidence, what we take to be proof is no proof in the final analysis. Which is not to deny the reality of our concept of the self, or the reality of our selves.

Good, but here is where problems really begin. As I stated earlier, not all of our illusions are necessary. Yet we have them anyway. And we may even suffer as a result of them. Allow me, then, to illustrate the workings of deconstruction by means of another example. This one is not a necessary illusion but certainly a highly educative one. What I aim to do here is nothing short of the dismantling of the illusion of male chauvinism. But because male chauvinism has a long history, perhaps it will simplify matters if we concentrated on its Freudian manifestation. Remember, though, the basic definition of deconstruction I have given you earlier: deconstruction disrupts “traditional habits of thought,” it “works within the terms of a system but in order to breach [or subvert] it,” and it does not claim to be using a logic superior to the logic of its target.

Here, then, is the deconstruction of the man/woman hierarchy à la Freud: Freud defines the little girl as a little boy without a penis. It seems that the presence of the penis makes all the difference in the world. From the point of view of the little boy the absence of the penis in the little girl is traumatic; it tells him that the penis may be cut off, giving rise to what Freud calls “castration anxiety.” From the point of view of the little girl the presence of the penis in the little boy is also traumatic; she instantly recognizes it as superior to her own genitalia. You realize, of course, that this definition of the woman as, in some sense, the negation of man has been rampant in the male chauvinist economy of our civilization. Yet this man/woman hierarchy is typical of illusions which are not necessary (which is not to say that they have not been altogether too real throughout history).

There is, of course, a blind spot in Freud’s version of the man/woman hierarchy. It is, in other words, not necessary to invoke a different logic in order to deconstruct it. You see Freud himself says that the clitoris is the female equivalent of the penis. In addition to the clitoris the female, of course, also possesses the vagina. If it is safe to say that the clitoris is a small penis and, by the same token, that the penis is a large clitoris-do you, by the way, detect some wishful thinking along (no pun intended) these lines?-and if it is also safe to say that the clitoris never comes without a vagina (no pun intended, I am sure) but that the penis forever wishes it could, would it not make more sense (according to Freud’s own logic, mind you) to see the female as the primary sex of which the male is a mere negation?

Please note the way in which traditional (that is to say, habitual) male chauvinist thought has been disrupted here. Please note also that the subversion of male chauvinism did not require a logic superior to the logic being disrupted. But please note also that reversing the man/woman hierarchy also reinscribes its initially second term. It seems that man comes from woman rather than the other way around (though no one is, of course, denying that it takes two to tango [?]). This is, by the way, borne out (no pun intended) by biology according to which we all start out as women, it is, as it were, only as a result of a deviation from the “norm” that men become men.

Speaking of Freud, may we not say, then, that the man/woman hierarchy entails a suppression? Which comes close to saying that male chauvinism is an illusion that, like the speaking/writing hierarchy, is yet not a mistake that could have been avoided. In some sense, then, this illusion, too, has seemed historically necessary (without it, in other words, it would have been impossible to uphold the masculine status quo). Yet I would maintain that it is not a necessary illusion, not in the same sense, at least, in which the privileging of speaking over writing appears to have been. The question of suppression, therefore, persists. What exactly is it that the “traditional” man/woman hierarchy suppresses? Obviously it suppresses the radical bisexuality of the female as opposed to the equally radical monosexuality of the male. Interestingly enough the terms of bi- and monosexuality have been present all along, it’s just that their significance has remained in want of an act of signifiance.

The Bible may well come to mind. We all remember the story in Genesis where God shapes the form of man out of earth and then breathes life into it. We also remember how, subsequent to this, God (in a curious act of midwifery – or could we call God an OB-GYN in this case) puts man to sleep to take woman out of man, thus “proving” that though man comes out of woman, the first woman came out of man. What significance is being suppressed here? What is in want of an act of signifiance in this case? It so happens that in the original Hebrew Adam, adamah, means “earth” or “dirt” while Eve, hawwah, means “life” and comes from a verb meaning “to be.” It also happens that Adam’s name is a “masculine variant (or a miswriting) of the feminine form adamah” (Bible Dictionary 12, italics mine). Furthermore, the “story of Eve is also the story of the displacing of the Goddess [the original concept of the Creator] whose name is taken from the Hebrew verb ‘to be’ by the masculine God, Yahweh, whose name has the same derivation” (Phillips 3, italics mine). It seems to me then that the key terms of the original Hebrew present us with ample linguistic evidence for the potential disruption or deconstruction of the male chauvinist economy otherwise and nevertheless still operative in the Bible. It seems that the logic supplied by this subversive linguistic evidence is both allowed and suppressed in the genetic story of our Judeo-Christian inheritance.

Both the Bible and Freud, then, try to suppress woman, but (finally) to no avail. Inherent in the logic of each is the potential undoing of the logic of each by the same logic. Which brings me back to the relationship between deconstruction and the “traditional” concept of a liberal arts education. Etymologically “education” means “out/leading.” As such, it is the opposite of indoctrination. While education liberates (and that’s what the word “liberal” is doing in liberal arts), indoctrination enslaves. Contemporary institutions of higher learning are always already paying lip service to education, but isn’t much of what’s taking place in these same institutions really indoctrination rather than education?

In my own Pious Impostures and Unproven Words I deal with this issue at some length, paying particular attention to the reversal and reinscription of the fact/fiction and the truth/lie hierarchies. All I can do here is briefly outline the main contours of my argument. In his Secular Scripture Northrop Frye says that “[s]ociety . . . makes a special and nonliterary use of myth, which causes it to from a mythology and eventually a mythological universe. Such mythology surrounds us on all sides, and on several levels” (166). Later on Frye claims that “[o]ne of the things that the study of literature should do is to help the student become aware of his [or her] own mythological conditioning, especially on the more passive and critically unexamined levels. It is, of course, unlikely to do this as long as the teachers are unconscious victims of the same conditioning” (167).

Frye is alluding here to the fact that many of our valued texts question and perhaps even subvert the values of the social/political/religious orders in which and for the sake of which they are produced. But, as our foregoing analysis of certain examples of deconstruction clearly indicates, the human mind is not merely error-prone, it is also highly illusion-prone. No text, no matter how brilliant and/or subversive of questionable values it may be, can therefore do more for a reader than the reader is willing to do for it. Thus, the question of the quality of reading must also be faced. Careless and cursory reading will simply not do; even careful and attentive reading (preferably painstakingly slow) may not be good enough. “In an age of manipulation,” says Robert Scholes in his Textual Power – and what age is not manipulative? – “when our students are in dire need of critical strength to resist the continuing assaults of all the media, the worst thing we can do is foster in them an attitude of reverence before texts . . . [W]hat is needed is a judicious attitude: scrupulous to understand, alert to probe for blind spots and hidden agendas, and, finally, critical, questioning, skeptical” (16).

It is clear that the kind of pedagogy Scholes offers here is indebted to deconstruction and to the significant contribution deconstruction may make to a potentially deconstructive revival of liberal arts:

If the text were a vehicle of eternal truth, then the teacher’s function would be to guide the student toward the correct interpretation of the text, so that the truth might stand revealed. But if the text is understood as necessarily partial, its truth value various in relation to historical changes in human situations, then this sort of interpretation . . . will not suffice. We will need a ‘negative hermeneutic’ as well; that is, we will have to restore the judgmental dimension to criticism, not in the trivial sense (discredited by Frye and others) of ranking literary texts, but in the most serious sense of questioning the values proffered by the texts we study. If wisdom . . . is to be the end of our endeavors, we shall have to see it not as something transmitted from the text to the student but as something developed in the student by questioning the text. (13-14)

It seems to me that deconstruction is a par excellence companion to education as opposed to indoctrination. Yet, though it is fairly widespread in academia by now, it is still controversial. Perhaps that’s as it should be, but then allow me to add that education as such should always already be controversial, too. It may be that there will never be an end to the conflict between indoctrination and education, because, as Barbara Johnson puts it, there will always already be those who will “stop reading” as soon as the “text stops saying what it ought to have said” (140), but that shouldn’t stop the rest of us from disrupting or deconstructing our own error- and/or illusion-prone habits of thought. The question we must keep asking is, where does the truth lie, for (if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that) the truth may lie anywhere and everywhere.

Works Cited

Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1982.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.

Frye, Northrop. The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1976.

Harland, Richard. Superstructuralism: Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Johnson, Barbara. “Teaching Deconstructively.” Writing and Reading Differently: Deconstruction and the Teaching of Composition and Literature. Ed. G. Douglas Atkins and Michael L. Johnson. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1985. 140-148.

Kselman, John S. “adamah,” Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Phillips, John A. Eve: The History of an Idea. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Scholes, Robert. Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English. New Haven: Yale UP, 1985.

*This artcle is written by Steven C Scheer
*The writer notes: Deconstruction has been controversial from its inception. By now the word has entered everyday parlance and has even been entered into up-to-date dictionaries, usually defined in a way that belies it. It is not “nihilistic,” nor does it say that “anything goes,” nor that there are no “great books,” or that “words can mean anything you may wish them to mean.”

So I offer this lecture of mine here as a positive assessment. It explores what I might call “classic” deconstruction. I hope it will make you think better of this highly maligned and at times inappropriately promoted attempt to interpret our world and what it means.

This paper was originally an invited Liberal Arts Forum lecture given at the University of Southern Indiana on March 7, 1990.

For the deconstruction of the man/woman hierarchy that comes up later in the essay, I am indebted to Culler’s more or less free paraphrase of Freud and various feminist critics, including Sarah Kofman, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray (See, Culler 165-75).

For different versions of the deconstruction of Genesis, see my Pious Impostures and Unproven Words: The Romance of Deconstruction in Nineteenth-Century America (Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990), 1-8, and my “Obliterate Inscriptions and Cunning Alphabets,” a Review Article of Kevin Hart’s The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology, and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), in Semiotica 90-3/4 (1992), 279-293. Send e-mail to: