TRACES – ORIENTATION: Alexandre Stevens

The Body Marked by Language

"Writing is a trace in which an effect of language can be read"
— Lacan, XX, 121


NLS Congress presents

Alexandre Stevens
The Body Marked by Language

The Body Marked by Language (1)
In his last Seminar, The Moment to Conclude, Lacan says the following: "The Symbolic is language: we learn to speak and it leaves traces […], consequences that are nothing other than the sinthome and analysis consists […] in realising why we have these sinthomes […]" (2) That is to say, language has an effect on the body, marking it with traces that impede the speaking being, that confuse it and that are the sinthome. It is a real effect of language on the body. The speaking being is struck by the language into which it enters, and this leaves a real mark, an effect of jouissance. It's not like in the classical period of Lacan's teaching where the subject is caught up in the signifier and its effects of signification; here it's a corporeal effect of language, a strike of the signifier on the body. This is the position of the last Lacan.
From the imaginary to the symbolic
In Freud there are some remarks on the body as an organism, for example when he says that "anatomy is destiny". But fundamentally the body of organs is not what comes to the fore when we speak of the body in psychoanalysis. In the very first stage of Lacan's teaching, the body is essentially grasped as a unifying image that constitutes a first identification. The real body is then the fragmented body stemming from before this capture in the idealising image. This image is already what forms the Ego in Freud, which is certainly very heterogeneous, but which is "above all a corporeal Ego." (3) For Freud, it is "the projection of a surface". This is the image of the body that Lacan will develop in The Mirror Stage, adding an alienating character to it since it is constructed from another image, in the mirror. Jouissance is narcissistic then, since the subject jouits his own image.
From the classical Lacan, who advances the pre-eminence of the signifier, this imaginary is regulated by the symbolic. It is the iron law of the signifier that imposes itself as a real, what Jacques-Alain Miller calls the 'real-order' (4) and of which the diagrams in The Purloined Letter give us the concept. It is the body mortified by the signifier that has this double effect of symbolic death in life and symbolic life in death. Empedocles committing suicide on Mount Etna will remain forever present in the memory of mankind.
Bits of the real
However, Lacan takes a further step: from Seminar XI onwards another signification of the real appears. With the distinction between two types of repetition, αυτοματον and τυχη, he gives a new meaning to the real. The automaton is the signifying repetition that obeys the symbolic order; the tuche is the repetition of a trauma. It is the real that is at the root of this repetition which occurs as if by chance. We pass from a real order to a real-trauma. The body no longer appears only as an image or caught up in a symbolic order, but also as the site of another jouissance of the body, partial, linked to morsels of the real.
This is what gives the little object a its legitimate place: bits of the real, bits of jouissance. The body is now caught in the series of its objects. Éric Laurent argues that burial, by which the body remains body and does not become carrion, is a writing by which "the body becomes inscribed absence, around which the objects of jouissance are arranged and deposited." (5) "Alongside the void of which the set of bones is the correlate, there remain the instruments of jouissance which present themselves as so many sub-sets around the subject. […] The instruments of jouissance thus always overflow the extensions of organs that they can incarnate; they are always in excess" (6).
But this "logical moment" of Lacan’s development "finds its stopping point […] in Seminar XX Encore, chapter VIII, when Lacan throws his hands up […] and formulates that the object a cannot "sustain itself in approaching the real" (7). This is where Jacques-Alain Miller commences on the last Lacan. "There is a second version of the real, not the end version. There is the version that Lacan calls the sinthome. […] it is really something else, since the sinthome is a system. It is well beyond the bit of the real […] it is the real and its repetition." (8)
Illnesses of Mentality
To enter into this new perspective of the body in the last Lacan, I want to comment on the phrase 'illnesses of mentality' mentioned in the argument of the NLS 2021 Congress on 'the bodily effects of language'.
It is used by Jacques-Alain Miller in a 1977 text (9) on the presentation of Lacan's patients. In particular, it is a commentary on a presentation made by Lacan in 1976, i.e. at the time of Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, and therefore during the period that Jacques-Alain Miller would call a few years later "Lacan's last teaching".
I take up the case of which Lacan says that it is "as one of those normal psychotics who make up our environment". This first remark is not without reminding us, of course, of what Jacques-Alain Miller will later formulate as ordinary psychosis.
The patient describes herself as disarrayed. I quote: "I always have problems with my employers, I do not accept being given orders when there is a job to do, nor having a schedule imposed on me I like to do what I like, I tear up my pay slips, I have no references, I am looking for a place in society, I no longer have a place […]"
But above all she perpetually floats in the most elementary imaginary reference points. I quote her again: "I am neither a true nor a false patient, I have identified myself with several people who do not resemble me, I would like to live as a dress" There is no constituted Ego, in the Freudian sense, no imaginary identification, no body image. She is in pure semblance. Jacques-Alain Miller writes: "She was perpetually floating, as she very lucidly expressed in a remarkable formula: 'I am my own part-time employee’. A mother, she wanted to "resemble a mother", and when Lacan evoked her child, from whom she is separated, by showing a photograph, she did not respond."
Lacan says this: "This person hasn't the least idea of the body that she is putting into this dress. There is no one to inhabit her clothing".
It is this case, which, with Lacan's comments, Miller points out as an "illness of mentality" and he adds "our clinic requires us to distinguish between illness of mentality and those of the Other. The first are related to the emancipation of the imaginary relation, the reversibility of a-a' [ego and object] troubled at no longer being subject to symbolic scansion. These are the illnesses of being that approach pure semblance."
This is to be distinguished then from the illness of the Other, those where there is conviction, certainty, where the subject does not float but has to deal with a complete or perfect or wicked Other, even if it means being reduced to waste. This opposition between illness of mentality and illness of the Other is not simply superimposed on the couple schizophrenia-paranoia, but rather corresponds to two models: Joyce and Schreber, which are the two landmarks of psychosis that Lacan takes respectively in his last teaching and in his classical period.
The illness of mentality is that in which the imaginary body disappears, unsupported by the dimension of the word. Jacques-Alain Miller ends his text on the patient presentation by specifying: "Mental illness is serious when the subject has a certitude: it is the illness of the unbarred Other, […] The illness of mentality, if it is not serious, does not take the word seriously either."
Mental illness is a diagnosis that we do not often use. However, the clinical field it covers is quite clear. Jacques-Alain Miller speaks about it again in 2010 in La vie de Lacan, and I quote: "This is what I later, much later, called […] 'ordinary psychosis'. It is when, if you like, psychosis does not take form and it is precisely this formlessness that denounces it."
In ordinary psychoses, we can sometimes highlight a series of bodily phenomena that aim, for the subject, to staple his or her body (10): tattoos, piercings, etc. Here, in Lacan's presentation of the case, it is the garment that seeks to staple the body. The surface of the image of the body is lacking here and the garment tries to replace it, as she says in this sentence: "I would like to live as a dress".
What is mentality?
Let us specify what this mentality is. In the same year, in Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, Lacan says it clearly: "mentality, that is to say self-love." (11) He equivocates between senti-mentality and that which lies [ce qui ment] in ment-ality. Mentality lies because it is the principle of the imagination. Thus "The speaking-being adores his body because he believes that he has it." (12) Let us be clear, the formula "he believes that he has it" means that he does not have it, but that he makes himself believe that he has it. Moreover, Lacan says it explicitly just afterwards: "In reality, he doesn't have it, but his body is his only consistency – mental consistency, of course […]" The body is thus the only consistency of the parlêtre. Jacques-Alain Miller comments: "this means that the symbolic does not give the parlêtre the ability to hold together" (13).
There is a certain paradox in stressing that he does not have it, since Lacan insists on the dimension of having linked to the body. One has a body, one is not it. Here this having is linked to one's self-love, to mentality, as mental consistency. It is therefore not simply a question of the organic body which "will clear off at any moment" although it miraculously remains until the end, "the time of its consumption" (14). It is rather the body as the subject treats it and as it enjoys of itself. Lacan's formula is very explicit: "I put a dressing on it, therefore I suffer it [Je le panse, donc je l’essuie]". It is not thought that is primary, as in "I think, therefore I am [je pense donc je suis]", it is this jouissance of the body, that of the paunch. We can hear, in the expression "I put a dressing on it", that I treat it, but above all Lacan adds "I turn it into a paunch [je le fais panse]" which leaves no doubt about the fact of this jouissance. (15)"It is the root of the imaginary" (16) as Lacan specifies. Jacques-Alain Miller adds that it is "a kind of primary love, not of the Other but of a cult of oneself" (17).
Mentality thus consists in adoring one's body, and it is even "the only relationship that the parlêtre has to its body." (18) Jacques-Alain Miller, commenting on this passage, points out that if there is no sexual relation, there is nevertheless a corporeal relation: "The relation that Lacan forfeited at the sexual level, the non-existence of which he noted, or thought he noted at the sexual level, that is to say the relation whose non-existence he formulated at the sexual level, he finds again at the corporeal level and in a certain way Joyce serves as an example of: there is a corporeal relation [il y a un rapport corporel]" (19).
This adoration of one’s own body that does not pass through the Other of the signifier is obviously a new relation to the body. The body that Lacan is talking about is "the body in so far as it enjoys of itself" (20), and not simply a body that enjoys. It is therefore clear that the term "illnesses of mentality" situates an absence of this relation constituted of adoration, of the parlêtre of/to its body. The patient in Lacan's presentation would like to be a dress, which could substitute for the lack of this relation, by metaphorising -in a sort of way- the body through the dress. But she fails to do so.
Thought and the other body
There is thus the adoration of one’s own body, but there is also the adoration of the other body, the body of an other, the body of one or another, which introduces us to the two, that is to say to the signifying dialectic, to meaning and to the sexual, and thus to thought. Jacques-Alain Miller remarks "that there is a difference to be exploited which is only evoked, sketched out, in the Seminar on the Sinthome, a difference between mentality and thought. […] And so Lacan isolates as primary the bodily relation […] and distinguishes it from the relation to the other body, where there is thought, there is meaning and there is sexual reference." (21)
This distinguishes mentality as first, centred on the One, before thought introduces the sexual: "It is clear that the very first stirrings of what is called pondering, of what makes sense, from the moment it first rears its head, entails a reference, a gravitation towards the sexual act, however little in evidence this act may be." (22)
In his book L'envers de la biopolitique, Éric Laurent points out that we have a good example of this thought in the Preface to the Spring Awakening. Lacan says there, about what happens to boys with girls, "they would not think of it without the awakening of their dreams" (23). There is certainly the pubertal awakening, but for the love of the other body to arise, beyond the randomness of the encounter, there must also be thought, the awakening of dreams.
So there is a difference between self-love and love of the other body, but both are situated in the realm of having. We believe we have our own body, but we sometimes also believe we have the other's body. Do we not use, for example, the possessive pronoun in the expression "my wife"? It is obviously less certain that she believes it! In any case, of course, we don't have it. "The relationship to the other body is not a body-to-body relationship with the semblable. It is marked by the fact that by speaking, the parlêtre makes a link, he can seduce another body, but he cannot "make it his own". The subject remains separated from the other body by its jouissance." (24)
The patient in Lacan's presentation, who does not really feel she has a body, is also floating in relation to the other body when she identifies herself with strangers.
A relation of being to the body
In this same Course Miller adds this: "there is the Joycean corporeal relation […] which is immediately distinct since what is at the centre here is not the adoration of the body, […] it is the idea of self as body. And it seems to me that what can be here placed in opposition is the adoration of the own body and the moïsation of the own body, if I may say so. The first, the relation of adoration remains a relationship of having, whereas the Other is a relationship of being." (25) So we could speak of an illness of mentality for Joyce as well, but with this substitute formula: he doesn't have a body, he is it. This is a somewhat enigmatic formula that I would like to try to clarify.
Lacan comments on a scene from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is the argument that arises between Stephen and Heron about the poet Byron. Heron and his comrades pounce on Stephen, corner him against a barbed wire fence and beat him. After a while he breaks free and "half blinded with tears, stumbled on, clenching his fists madly and sobbing (26) […] just after, “and while the scenes of that malignant episode were still passing sharply and swiftly before his mind he wondered why he bore no malice now to those who had tormented him. He had not forgotten a whit of their cowardice and cruelty but the memory of it called forth no anger from him.[…] he had felt that some power was divesting him of that sudden woven anger as easily as a fruit is divested of its soft ripe peel." (27)
Lacan's commentary is precise and I extract two points from it. First: "After the escapade, Joyce wonders how it is that he bore no malice to him. […] It is not simply a matter of his relationship with his body, but, if I may say so, of the psychology of this relationship." (28) And Lacan specifies that the psychology is there "the confused image that we have of our own body." That is to say, it is the imaginary link gives way for Joyce. There is no adoration of the body, no mentality. There is, for him, no more body than for the patient of the presentation.
But by contrast, another sentence of Lacan's must be underlined: "he metaphorises his relationship with his body. He observes that the whole business was divested of, like a fruit peel". (29) Éric Laurent comments on this formula: "The metaphorisation of the body makes it emerge in a paradoxical movement of fall, of detachment. It is written as a slide out of the knot. The metaphorisation of the body makes it appear." (30) This is how I understand that he does not have it, but that he is it. The metaphor makes the body become "like a peel". He does not have a body, which is indicated by the absence of self-love, but it is by this process of metaphorisation, which Jacques-Alain Miller calls "moïsation".
The patient in the presentation is unable to metaphorise her relationship to the body: she would like to be a dress, but the metaphor fails and so she has no more a relation with her body of being any more than of having.
Jouissance and prohibition
Adoration is therefore a corporal relation. The existence of this first relation to the body, which presupposes the One, thus contrasts with the non-existence of the sexual relation, based on the two [le deux]. In order to specify this relation of jouissance to the body and to make the link between jouissance and the real, several things were necessary. And the first of these things was that jouissance was not linked to a prohibition. For Freud, jouissance is linked to an oedipal prohibition. And for Lacan too, jouissance will be linked for a long time to what is not permitted. A sentence from the Écrits testifies to this: "Castration means that jouissance has to be refused, so that it can be attained on the inverse scale of the Law of desire " (31).
It can only be achieved if it is refused. In the classical time of Lacan's teaching, jouissance is linked to desire. One desires the object all the more because the law forbids it. The law of desire is thus the one that creates desire through the prohibition. Jouissance is therefore also situated on the basis of a 'no', that is, it is situated in an oedipal framework where it remains linked to its phallic expression.
What changes in his last teaching is that jouissance, as real, takes centre stage. As Miller says in Being and the One: "Lacan was able to think […] beyond the prohibition, to think positivised jouissance as that of a body that enjoys of itself, and the difference is noticeable: jouissance does not depend on a prohibition, jouissance is an event of the body." (32) The body event is not a signifying repetition in the dialectic of desire. The jouissance here is that of a trauma, of a contingent shock. It is a chance encounter, not subject to the law of desire. Miller adds: "It is not caught up in dialectic but is the object of a fixation." (33) The event of the body is a letter of jouissance.
Moreover, it should be noted that Lacan was only able to formulate feminine jouissance after having freed jouissance from its link with the prohibited. In this Course, Miller extends this feminine jouissance to jouissance as such, linked to what Freud calls "fixation" This jouissance of the body is not simply that of a body insofar as it enjoys, but of a body insofar as it enjoys of itself. This is not at all the same thing, since this body that enjoys of itself is thus the body of auto-eroticism. This is the real of the body in the last Lacan.
What Lacan calls "Yad'lun" is the One of existence, the pure real of the signifier One all alone, outside meaning, that is, without the "two", the S2. That there is no "two" means that there is no sexual relation, because this relation presupposes the "two". This situates the body in the series of three Lacanian affirmations: the first, Yad'lun, says that the One exists, the second, there is no sexual relation indicates the absence of the two, and the third is there is the body.
Miller expresses this as follows: "The body appears as the Other of the signifier and this is what Lacan already implied when he said: the Other (with a capital A) is the body." (34)
Before that, the Other of the signifier was the Other of truth, or of the Law. This is the meaning of the paternal metaphor whose definition of the Name-of-the-Father is given in Écrits: "the signifier which, in the Other, qua locus of the signifier, is the signifier of the Other qua locus of the law." (35) That is to say, in the first Lacan, instead of the signifier, we find the Other of the law and of truth. And in the last Lacan, for the signifier One, outside of meaning, the Other is the body. The Other of truth is the place where meaning is said. The Other of the body is the place where the effect of jouissance of S1 is written. The real of jouissance is this conjunction of the One and the body.
So meaning is said, but jouissance is written. This signifies that if we can hear the meaning in the signifiers, we must read the effects of jouissance. I refer here to Jacques-Alain Miller's text, Reading the Symptom.
This jouissance, opaque to meaning, linked to the mark of traumatism on the body, led Lacan to "invent the writing of the sinthome". The sinthome will be the repetition, an iteration, of this mark of jouissance. And Jacques-Alain Miller brings it closer to the Freudian notion of fixation. As Freud says in Analysis Terminable and Interminable, speaking of the development of the libido: "even in normal development, the transformation is never complete, so that remnants of previous libidinal fixations can be maintained until the final configuration"(36) For Freud, the fixation is always linked to the repetition of a particular libidinal trait. This is found in many places in his work, although he did not give this term fixation a wide scope? It was Lacan who developed this notion of fixation in the sinthome. And Miller adds: "What the point of fixation means is that there is a One of jouissance that always returns to the same place." (37) A "One" that produces a symptomatic reiteration.
The One alone, which here determines the sinthome in its repetition, is empty of meaning – for meaning necessarily implies the 'two' of the signifying dialectic. This S1 alone is not the symbolic which presupposes at least the minimal signifying opposition, S1 —> S2, it is a signifier in the real. However, this hors sens does not mean that we see nothing, that there is no possible articulation. As Miller says: "the analytic practice that presupposes heresy, is not to leave the field of language, it is to remain in it, but by settling on its material part, that is to say, on the letter instead of being." (38) Being is signifying articulation with meaning and it is therefore a question of reading the letter in order to catch the body.
Reading is not the same as understanding; it is rather grasping a logic at work. In his last seminar, The Moment to Conclude, Lacan says: "There is surely writing in the unconscious, if only because the dream, […] the slip of the tongue and even the witticism are defined by the legible. […] The legible is what knowledge consists of. " (39)
And he adds that the analytic act is a "supposé savoir lire autrement" [supposed to know how to read otherwise]. Reading is something other than listening. One listens to the signifiers, one reads the letter.
Translation: Raphael Montague
Review: Joanne Conway

1 – Text based on a course at the Brussels Clinical Section and two lectures given in November 2020, one in Ghent, the other at the Lacanian Compass (USA).
2 – Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, The Moment to Conclude, Lesson of the 10th of January 1978. Unpublished.
3 – Freud, S., [1923], The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIX, The Ego and the Id, London: Hogarth Press, 1961, pp. 19-27.
4 – Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, Course of the 2nd of February 2011. Unpublished.
5 – Laurent, E., L'envers de la biopolitique, une écriture pour la jouissance, [The Other Side of Biopolitics, A Writing for Jouissance], Paris: Navarin ◊ Le Champ freudien, 2016, p. 39. Unpublished in English.
6 – Ibid. p. 41-42.
7 – Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, op. cit., Course of the 3rd of March 2011. Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book e XX, Encore, London and New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 95.
8 – Miller, J.-A., op. cit., Course of the 9th of February 2011.
9 – Miller, J.-A., Teachings of the Case Presentation, in Returning to Freud, Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of Lacan, S. Schneiderman (Ed. & Transl.), New Haven and London: Yale University Press, pp. 50-52. [Modified Translation]
10 – Miller, J.-A., Effet retour sur la psychose ordinaire, in, Quarto 94-95, p.40-50, 2009.
11 – Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XXIII, The Sinthome, Cambridge, UK & Malden MA, USA: Polity, 2016, p. 52. [Modified Translation]
12 – Ibid.
13 – Miller, J.-A., Pièces détachées, Lecture of the 25th of May 2005, Unpublished.
14 – Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XXIII, op. cit., p.52.
15 – Lacan plays on words, on the cogito: je pense donc je suis. "Je le panse, c'est-à-dire je le fais panse, donc je l'essuie." (S.XXIII, P. 66): je le panse (verb) to dress or bandage something (a bandage for healing a wound is also called a dressing); in an idiomatic sense to groom something, or it can be used as a noun [ le panse] which is a paunch, potbelly or spare-tyre, involving colloquially an eating to excess…  therefore [ je le fais panse]  can be: to make a paunch… possibly as a homophony in relation to the cogito: pen-se, to think about something, where being [suis] and suffering [essuie] are homophonously exchanged in relation to ‘having’ a body. [TN]
16 – Ibid.
17 – Miller, J.-A., Pièces détachées, Lecture of the 25th of May 2005.
18 – Lacan, J., op. cit., p.66.
19 – Miller, J.-A., op. cit.
20 – Miller, J.A. Being and the One, Lecture of the 30th of  March 2011, Unpublished.
21 – Miller, J.-A., Pièces détachées, op. cit.
22 – Lacan, J., Seminar XXIII, op. cit, p. 50.
23 – Lacan, J., Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 561.
24 – Laurent, É., op. cit., p. 160.
25 – Miller, J.-A., Pièces détachées, Lecture of the 25th of May 2005. Unpublished.
26 – Joyce, J., Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004, p. 71.
27 – Ibid.
28 – Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XXIII, op. cit. p. 129.
29 – Lacan, J., Ibid.
30 – Laurent, E., op. cit., p. 141.
31 – Lacan, J., The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire, in, Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English, London & New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 700.
32 – Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, Lecture of the 9th of February 2011, Unpublished.
33 – Ibid.
34 – Miller, J.-A., Being and the One, Lecture of the 18th of May 2011. Unpublished.
35 – Lacan, J., On a Preliminary Question to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis, In, Écrits, op. cit. p. 485.
36 – Freud, S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXIII (1937-1939): Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works, pp. 209-254.
37 – Miller, J.-A., Being and the One. Lecture of the 30th of March 2011, Unpublished
38 – Miller, J.-A., Ibid., Lecture of the 30th of March 2011, Unpublished.
39 – Lacan, J., The Seminar, The Moment to Conclude, Session of the 10th of January 1978. Unpublished.


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