LACAN AND MEANING
SEXUATION, DISCOURSE THEORY, AND TOPOLOGY IN THE AGE OF HERMENEUTICS
LACAN ON MEANING
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as to ‘complete’ the system. This could also be conceived as a system which sets in motion its signifiers in an endeavor to find the ‘missing’ signifier. Either way the result is the same: its total completion and thus all of its meaning-effects are impossible to achieve. Yet this very notion of a lacking signifier is further marked by a signifier: a signifier of the lack of a signifier. However, this is not yet the phallic signifier. All one needs to do to grasp this signifier is reflect on the ‘place’ in which the lack of the signifier converts into the signifier of the lack. The signifier which marks this place is the phallus qua signifier, a paradoxical signifier-without-signified that ‘sticks out’ from the series of ordinary signifiers. It is an element in the symbolic order in which excess and lack coincide. So while the phallus qua signified is the subjective experience of pulsating between a joyful grasp of meaning and the painful inability to fully articulate it, the phallus qua signifier is a pure signifier which means meaning as such. They may be distinct, yet they are nevertheless intimately related. For being dispossessed of the phallic signifier is the price to be paid for any meaningful experience.
This leads to the second key expression of this paper, Lacan’s contention that
‘one can indicate the structures that govern the relations between the sexes by referring simply to the phallus’ function. These relations revolve around a being and a having which, since they refer to a signifier, the phallus, have contradictory effects: they give the subject reality in this signifier, on the one hand, but render unreal the relations to be signified, on the other. This is brought about by the intervention of a seeming [paraître] that replaces the having in order to protect it, in one case, and to mask the lack thereof, in the other.’34
Concisely said, man is defined as ‘having’ the phallus while woman is defined as ‘being’ the phallus. Here lies the origin of Lacan’s earlier attempt to formulize sexual difference. As can be seen, it is one which is strictly conceived as internal to phallic economy. The sexual categorization of the subject simply proceeds according to which of the two possible relations it takes with respect to the phallus. It is a resounding truth that much of the criticism leveled at Lacan’s notion of sexual difference is leveled at this particular conception. What is thereby overlooked is how Lacan himself eventually recognized the shortcomings of articulating sexual difference as a symbolic reality. In the early 1970s, he turns instead to consider its real basis. Most strikingly inscribed into his ‘formulae of sexuation,’ commentary in the literature on this later conception of sexual difference has only slowly been growing in recent years. The formulae of sexuation are extensively discussed and enlarged upon throughout Part II.
34 Ibid., 582.« prev next »
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