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— page 66 —

3.3 Real Lacan

What is the signifier? The signifier – as promoted in the rites of a linguistic tradition that is not specifically Saussurian, but goes back as far as the Stoics and is reflected in Saint Augustine’s work – must be structured in topological terms. Indeed, the signifier is first of all that which has a meaning effect and it is important not to elide the fact that between signifier and meaning effect there is something barred that must be crossed over.

—Lacan, December 19, 1972

In an important footnote added a quarter of a century after the initial publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud explains that the essence of dreams is not so much found in latent dream-thoughts in distinction from the dream imagery of its manifest content. Rather, the key distinction lies between the former and the dream-work which creates that particular form of thinking known as the dream.35 What is at stake is how the dream-work strives to transform potentially troubling latent thoughts into innocuous manifest content so that the dreamer will not awake. It is here the larger dimension of Freud’s structuralism reveals itself, imperceptibly moving into a focused concern for a nonsensical object. What thereby opens up is a possible third level at which Freud can be read. Two of the four factors composing the mechanics of the dream-work’s process of forming dreams are well-known. While condensation compresses the wealth of latent thoughts into the manifest content of dreams which are quite slight by comparison, displacement transforms latent thought elements of high psychical value into manifest content with lower, more acceptable intensities.36 Along with considerations for representability and the secondary revision the dream undergoes by the awakened dreamer when he articulates it, a dream is formed whose overall status is a distorted fulfillment of a wish. It follows that its hidden meaning can be revealed by working back through the transformation process of the dream-work. However, Freud notes how

‘[t]here is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure; this is because we become aware during the work of interpretation that at that point there is a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unravelled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream. This is the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown. The dream-thoughts to which we are led by interpretation cannot, from the nature of things, have any definite endings; they are bound to branch out in every direction into the intricate network of

35 Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 506–7.
36 See ibid., Chapter VI (A) and (B). These are later translated linguistically as metaphor and metonymy, respectively, by Jakobson.

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