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Indeed, the analyst, of all [those whose] orders of discourse are sustained currently […] is the one who, by putting object a in the place of semblance, is in the best position to do what should rightfully be done, namely to investigate the status of truth as knowledge. […] Analysis came to announce to us that there is knowledge that is not known, knowledge that is based on the signifier as such. […] The status of knowledge implies as such that there already is knowledge, that it is in the Other, and that it is to be acquired. […] the subject results from the fact that this knowledge must be learned, and even have a price put on it […] Knowledge is worth just as much as it costs […] and that is difficult. Difficult to what? Less to acquire it than to enjoy it. In enjoying, the conquest of this knowledge is renewed every time it is exercised, the power it yields always being directed towards its jouissance.29 In using its proper apparatus of semblants, that is to say, in showing that the analyst, by positioning himself or herself as object a in the place of the agent, occupies the place of semblance, the analyst’s discourse kills two birds with one stone. As “a specialist in the S1,”30 to borrow Miller’s formula which captures very well the gist of the matter, the analyst makes it possible for the subject to “cough up” this mark that has absorbed it until now. It is from the position of the object a that the analyst sets the subject at work and thus makes it possible for a transmutation—of the invisible yet legible mark that dominates the subject into a new master signifier—to occur.

What is at stake in psychoanalysis is to make the identifying signifier, the master signifier, vacillate and to displace it. But what can make the identifying semblants vacillate if not another master signifier, an S1, produced by the analyst’s discourse itself? In the matheme of the analyst’s discourse, the S1, produced in the very analytic experience, is situated in the place of the real, in the place of the product. Although this new S1 occupies the place of the real, it is but a false real. As a matter of fact, what the analyst’s discourse brings to light at the end of the analysis is precisely that the real cannot be situated in any of the places provided by the structure of the discourse. It is in this sense that one can say that discourse as such, even the analyst’s discourse, is an apparatus of the semblant specifically designed to avoid the real.

At the same time, by situating the analyst in the place of the agent, the analyst’s discourse thus shows its true character as semblant. Far from being the master of discourse, the term occupying the place of the agent, as its appointed “functionary,” suffers truth effects rather than provoking them. This place seems only to be one of an acting subject; indeed, it is but a semblance brought in by the discourse structure as such.

216 Penumbra It is for that reason that, according to Lacan, the discourse that brings the other three to light is the analyst’s discourse. That is to say, by exposing as a semblant, as a deceitful fiction, that term which, by occupying the dominant place, commands all the relations between the terms of any discourse structure, the analyst’s discourse is for that reason able to subvert the make-believe of the social bond that is present in the other three discourses. From such a perspective, the analytic discourse can then be seen as a specific apparatus which, by being situated at a paradoxical Archimedean position of extimacy in relation to any discourse, brings to light the functioning of the semblant in all other discourses.

While strictly speaking, the analyst’s discourse cannot be considered to be a discourse that is not of the semblant, its privilege consists nevertheless in its ability to perceive the semblant for what it is: precisely a semblant. The very fact that in the analyst’s discourse the analyst is situated in the place of the agent permits it, by using the very mechanism of the production of the social bond—i.e., this peculiar mode of mimicking the structure of the social bond which is sustained only by virtue of the make-believe situated in the place of the agent—to reveal the semblant itself.

It is from such a perspective that Lacan himself underlined the fictional foundation of psychoanalysis: paradoxically one should pay respect to the psychoanalysis of our time, he said, insofar as it “is a discipline which produces itself only through the semblant. The latter is denuded to the point that it unsettles the semblants which support religion, magic, piety, all that which conceals the economy of jouissance.”31 This remark assumes its full value on the condition that one treats the semblant through the psychoanalytic discourse. 32 The opposition between the real and the semblant therefore remains essential for Lacan’s elaboration of the four discourses. Even so, there remains the problem of knowing not only how the relation between the real and the semblant is located within each discourse but, more importantly, whether among the four discourses there is one which is also of the real and not only of the semblant.

In this seminar Lacan argues that discourse, namely, is a structure which is able to subsist without words due to certain fundamental relations that would not be able to be maintained without language.33 The distinction between discourse and speech, the latter being always more or less occasional, is crucial here insofar as it translates, at the level of language, the distinction between variable and invariable. Indeed, by opposing discourse and speech, Lacan clearly aims at situating discourse on the side of that which remains invariable, that which remains the same, untouched by what is meant or said of it. One is almost tempted to say that discourse, to the extent that it is defined as a structure, is an instance of the real in language.

On the Path of the Semblant Indeed, Lacan’s theory of the four discourses is grounded in an idea which traverses the whole of his teaching, namely, that for psychoanalysis, as for science, there should be some symbolic in the real. If psychoanalytic theory has for its object the unconscious, then it has as its charge the task of demonstrating that this peculiar kind of knowledge which cannot be assigned to an “I” keeps returning to the same place, i.e., is situated in the real. Clearly, mathematical writing provides a model in this regard insofar as Lacan indicates that there is discourse in the real, that there are formulas which the subject obeys without knowing it.

The very promotion of the social bond implies for Lacan the radicalization of the antinomic relation between the real and the semblant. Indeed, the point of departure of the Lacanian concept of discourse is the steady erosion of the Other and its Ideals. If the question of the real was so acute in Seminar XVII it is because from the perspective of the inexistence of the Other, from a perspective in which the Other with its Ideals is downgraded to the status of the semblant, the real itself seems to vacillate. Indeed, what remains of the real if the Other is not real, if it has the structure of a fiction?

Actually, the very idea of the four discourses, four mathemes, four discursive structures, is inspired by the knowledge in the real that the discourse of science transcribes in mathematical formulae. In a way, the four discourses are Lacan’s desperate attempt at restoring the Other—under the guise of discourse structures. Just as for science there is knowledge in the real, there are discourse structures in the real for psychoanalysis. Lacan’s concept of discourse could then be considered a new edition of the Other as a structure in the real.

Of course, the Other in this new edition is not to be confused with the master signifier. The Other may well be concentrated in the place of the master signifier, but it could also be situated in the place of knowledge, of product; in short, it would be more appropriate to situate knowledge at the level of discourse as such. It is the structure of discourse which can now be identified with the Other. Only in this sense can Lacan maintain in his seminar Encore that “the notion of discourse should be taken as a social link, founded on language.”34 In other words the Other, from the perspective of the four discourses, cannot be isolated; rather, it is the very knot of all four discourses. It is an attempt at maintaining the function of the quilting point without it being assigned to a particular discourse. In this sense, the four discourses as a figure of the Other already announce the Borromean knot insofar as the knot is a solution proposed by Lacan to show how three heterogeneous orders—the imaginary order of meaning, the symbolic order of knowledge and the real order of jouissance—hold together.

The four discourses can then be perceived as the last desperate attempt to elevate psychoanalysis to the level of science. The idea according to which the structures of discourse are inscribed in the real is an ingenious invention 218 Penumbra which permits psychoanalysis to determine the specificity of the real that is at the core of its experience and at the same time to avoid the snares of contemporary nominalism according to which everything is a semblant. The construction of the four discourses is an operation comparable to Galileo’s and Newton’s founding gesture of science, a gesture which consists in the strict separation of the real from the semblant. In other words, the four discourses are Lacan’s attempt at circumscribing the place of the real in psychoanalysis while limiting the imperialism of semblants; and just like the discourse of science that not only “reads,” determines, deciphers the knowledge in the real, but writes it down in mathematical formulae in order to transform it, psychoanalysis also presumes to be able to determine the real it deals with and to find a way to transform it.

Thus, considered in retrospect, it is perhaps no accident that Lacan raised the thorny question of the semblant in the wake of his seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. Contrary to what one might believe according solely to the title, which is rather equivocal since it evokes the possibility of a discourse that would not be a semblant, the central issue in the seminar D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant is not the elaboration of a discourse that would not be a semblant, with the surreptitious implication that psychoanalysis might be, together with science, this discourse. On the contrary, from the beginning of this seminar, Lacan states in no uncertain terms that insofar as the signifier itself is the semblant, all that belongs to the discursive order necessarily falls under the rubric of the semblant.35 In other words, the semblant is a category inherent to discourse as such.

Having established that in discourse the semblant is irreducible and that, consequently, there is no discourse that is not of the semblant—the discourse of psychoanalysis being no exception—Lacan moves on to broach the question which is undoubtedly the crucial issue around which the major part of Seminar XVIII revolves: once the constitutive lack of the discourse of the real is admitted, how to solve the problem of holding together the symbolic and the real, two heterogeneous registers, while maintaining their irreducible heterogeneity? This constitutive lack of the discourse of the real is what leads Lacan to deploy a new category and to pose the question of knowing what is the real from a new perspective.

In Seminar XVIII Lacan started to bring into question the union of the symbolic and the real and, by so doing, he proposed at the same time to reconsider psychoanalysis and its practice from a different perspective: from the disjunction of the symbolic and the real, from the rapport of the exteriority between the two and, ultimately, from their non-rapport.

From this perspective of non-rapport, Lacan’s seminar D’un discourse qui ne serait pas du semblant marks a crucial turning point in which the future orientation of psychoanalysis is at stake. Hence, despite Lacan’s usual style of self-assurance and confidence, in this seminar he nevertheless hesitates as On the Path of the Semblant regards the possible ways of overcoming the impasse implied in the nonrapport between the signifier and jouissance. In fact, the question of a new departure point involving a radical inversion of perspectives plays across the whole surface of this seminar. Throughout this seminar, the deployment of the notion of the semblant allows it to gather its consistency, while at the same time providing the points of vacillation and resistance necessary for it to establish the themes that Lacan pursues in the final period of his teaching. Lacan tentatively proposes various solutions to the problem posed by the articulation of absolutely heterogeneous registers, while at the same time avoiding the previously privileged device: the quilting point.

Lacan’s theory of the semblant clearly follows a certain dynamic, a logic of its own. In Seminar XVIII, we can witness the displacement of this concept in relation to the quilting point. With his elaboration of the notion of the semblant, Lacan throws precisely the quilting function of the signifier into relief. And it is by redefining what is at stake in this function that Lacan comes to effect, by replacing the term “fiction” with that of “semblant,” a singular devaluation, the downgrading of the term whose role is precisely to pin the real to the symbolic.

Lacan initially introduced the notion of the semblant into pyschoanalysis, under the guise of the fiction, in order to situate the real in the symbolic (which is to say, to make the real obey the rules of the signifier). In his later teaching, the same terms that were previously considered to secure access to the real (the phallus, the master signifier, the Name-of-the-Father, the Other, the object a) and were as such valorised now, under a new light, appeared to be the very obstacle on the path to the real and were consequently downgraded to the status of semblance. In fact, as has been pointed out, the substitution of the term “fiction” by “semblant,” to the extent that it implies a certain downgrading of the terms designated as semblant, involves at the same time a paradigm shift.

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