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— page 68 —

order. Thus Lacan’s turn to the real does not signal his abandonment of the symbolic. Its exploration must continue. For the inherent incompleteness of the signifying network is precisely the way the non-symbolizable real makes its presence known, throwing the potentially smooth signifying operations off course. At first Lacan considers these real effects in their traumatic impact on the subject. But in the 1970s the real is conceived not only as traumatic but also as impossible – a conception notoriously expressed in his declaration of the impossibility of the sexual relation. Below two seminars from Lacan’s non-hermeneutical phenomenological period are examined. Seminar XI is primarily taken up for its potential to radically suspend Heidegger’s question of the meaning of being. Seminar XVII is likewise considered for having theorized an end point to the interminable slide of meaning.

The most pertinent section of Seminar XI is its last section which includes two Venn diagrams, reproduced in Figure 3.1 with slight modifications.39

Figure 3.1, Lacan's Vel of Alienation diagram: 2 Venn diagrams with words 'money' and 'life' in one, 'being' and 'meaning' in the other, with accompanying mathemes $, S1 and S2

The diagram to the left is readily understandable and Lacan uses it to explain the one to the right. Suppose you are walking down an alley and a robber jumps out, sticks a gun in your belly and offers you the following choice, a vel (Latin for ‘or’): “Your money or your life!” It is immediately evident that if you choose to keep your money the robber pulls the trigger, ending your life as well as relieving you of your money. The only way of retaining one of these options is to choose life, which is of course a life now diminished by a specific dollar amount. The choice of life is thus rather forced upon you40 and Lacan’s point is that so is meaning, for the subject faces a similar choice with respect to its being and its meaning. While Heidegger is not expressly named in these pages, one should recognize that where hermeneutical phenomenology holds meaning and being together in a single question that proves decisive for its very project, Lacan’s non-hermeneutical phenomenology posits a gap between the two. As he says, ‘the being of the subject [is] that which is there beneath the meaning.’ He continues, summarizing the vel of alienation:

39 Ibid., 211–2.
40 The ‘forced choice’ of life goes well beyond the pragmatic outcome of rational decision-making, for in hearing the presented options, you have already ‘chosen’ life.

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