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CODA Although Lacan maintains that the sexual relation “doesn’t stop not being written,” it transpires that if this impossibility undergoes a certain procedure, the sexual relation “stops not being written.” As the discussion above helps us to see, the sexual relation evidently “stops not being written” at the moment when the impossible is “mathematized,” that is to say, formalized as the “provisional representation” of the phallic signifier. Hence, contrary to the popular idea of the phallus as a form of determination, as a provisional representation, the phallus is therefore “contingent.” Lacan states that “It is as a mode of the contingent that the phallic function stops not being written.”13 By this I understand him to mean that this formalization of the void of the sexual relation might not have taken place (or might not have fully succeeded, as is the case, for example, for the psychotic and the perverse subjects). If we now follow Lacan’s own loving formula to its final step, we go from the contingency implied by the phallus to a necessity that Lacan expresses in the phrase “doesn’t stop being written” (ne pas de s’ecrire). This step is famously taken by “love.” All love, Lacan explains, “subsisting only on the basis of the ‘stops not being written’ tends to make the negation shift to the ‘doesn’t stop being written,’ doesn’t stop, won’t stop” (Encore, 145). In this formulation, whose seeming nonsense appears worthy of a Kierkegaardian heroine, Lacan appears to be asserting that love is nothing more than a shift of a negation in a sentence Signifier and Letter in Kierkegaard and Lacan about writing: “The displacement of the negation from the ‘stops not being written’ to the ‘doesn’t stop being written,’ in other words, from contingency to necessity—there lies the point of suspension to which all love is attached.”14 Despite its apparent nonsensicalness, what Lacan is driving at in this distinctly unromantic sounding statement is the way love’s “doesn’t stop being written” enables the subject to approach the impossible jouissance of the sexual relation in a way that is not entirely governed by (phallic) contingency and its imaginary stagings in the fundamental fantasies. But as it now appears, this is not to say that love somehow by-passes or short-circuits the phallic fantasies. Love, it would seem, “subsists” only on the basis of the “stops not being written” or, as we are now comprehending this phrase, on the basis of the formalization of impossible jouissance by means of the phallus. However, whereas the phallic formalization succeeded in mathematizing the Real to produce the first signifier (the phallus, or “empty set” in my schema), with their use of letters, the fantasies perform an additional formalization and write this Real. Letterating the phallus’s (binary) numericization of the void in this way, the fantasies can be said to perform a second-order abstraction of that first suturing act that produced the phallic signifier. In doing so, they enable us to achieve the earlier mentioned breakthrough with which Lacan credits Cantorian set theory Emmeline and Charles can once more come to our rescue in understanding precisely how writing accomplishes this breakthrough. As we have seen in the above discussion, each of their fantasies are limited in advance by the structural failure of the a that ensures that none of their attempts to count to One will succeed, obliging them to begin again in a gesture of infinite repetition. Nevertheless, it seems that if each of their individual unsuccessful attempts are grouped together in a series, a “One” may be reached by means of a different mathematical procedure than that of the (failed) count. The method for obtaining this “supplementary One,” as Lacan calls it, relies on the same axiom as proposed by set theory: the power set of x is greater than x.15 Rather than taxing ourselves with an explanation of the mathematical basis of this axiom, we can turn to Lacan’s discussion of the same problem in Seminar XIV: the Logic of Fantasy (1966-67) where he introduces this idea of a supplementary One in the context of a discussion of Bertrand Russell’s catalogue of all catalogues that do not contain themselves. In his lesson of 23 November, 1966, Lacan counters Russell’s famous catalogue with the idea of a catalogue that lists all the books referred to in a single volume’s bibliography.16 Unlike Russell’s catalogue, there is no question of whether the book whose bibliography is being listed should be included (of course it should not).

However, another catalogue that lists all the books that a second book’s bibliography contains, may well include the title of the first book (although, naturally, not that of the second), and so on. By effectively grouping books into ‘sets’ in this way, Lacan swiftly demonstrates how a totality may be achieved 276 Penumbra without falling into Russell’s paradox. As Lacan explains, although each bibliographic catalogue will not include the title of the book from which it has been derived, once we group these catalogues together into a series, it is not unthinkable that, between them, they will succeed in listing all of the books in the world.17 Returning, then, to our first lovers, although the a’s structural failure ensures that that Emmeline and Charles will, by a certain inevitability, fail to reach their desired object in the fantasmatic count, if each of these unsuccessful attempts are collated and grouped together in a series, an ‘all’ may be created that is more than the sum of its individual parts. Inaccessible to the count, this ‘all’ or supplementary One results from the principle of limitation that is encoded into every fantasy in the form of the letter.

Space constraints here prevent a proper treatment of the precise way that love, through the nonsense it suddenly induces lovers to speak, gives us access to this “supplementary One” that is “not grasped [or counted] in the chain, as Lacan puts it in his seminar, The Psychoanalytic Act (Seminar XIV).18 Let us conclude instead with a final comment. We have seen how, as an “assemblage,” the letter by definition keeps the original relations of the subject, Other and a that constitute the One intact, even as the letter permits us to go on and manipulate multiple instances of these Ones. Accordingly, one could say that when the letter ‘writes’ the failure of the phallic count to One in the fantasies, it simultaneously carries with it the history of that signifier’s original formation. The letter, as it were, carries some kind of ‘memory’ of the One’s primordial creation ex nihilo. I cannot help speculating that it is something of this ‘memory’ that Lacan is referring to when he states in Seminar XX that “Writing is … a trace in which an effect of language can be read” (Encore, 121). Within it, the letter contains the traces of the original formalization that first enabled a signifier, One, to stand in for a disparate group of objects.

Invisibly stamped with the ‘memory’ of the One’s original formation, the letter is thus the carrier of that archaic decision of substitution that Lacan calls an “effect of language.” Notes

1. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge (1972-1973), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1998), 145.

2. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Vol. 1, trans. David F. Swenson and Lillian

Marvin Swenson, rev. and foreword Howard A. Johnson (New York:

Anchor Books, 1959).

3. In his seminar devoted to the object a, for example, Lacan offers a working definition of the object a as what “falls” (chute) from the field of the Signifier and Letter in Kierkegaard and Lacan symbolic. See, for example, the lesson of 22.12.65, Le séminaire, livre XIII, L’ objet de la psychanalyse (1965-1966), unpublished seminar.

4. As Lacan puts it in Encore, “Something true can still be said about what cannot be demonstrated,” 119.

5. Both Freud and Lacan have wavered on this point, with Freud ultimately opting for an original, non-negotiable choice which is “independent of experience.” See Freud’s discussion of a seeming conversion from anxiety hysteria to obsessional neurosis in “The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis,” (1911-1913), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, et. al. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-1974) 12: 317-26. Hereafter SE. But even if the choice itself can never be undone, this is not to say that the way it was made cannot be revised as Paul Verhaeghe explains in his elaboration of psychoanalysis’ various “therapeutic effects.” See Paul Verhaeghe, On Being Normal and Other Disorders, trans. Sigi Jöttkandt (New York: Other Press, 2004).

6. See Lacan’s lesson of 19 April, 1961, Le séminaire, livre VIII, Le transfert (1960ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 2001) 297-331.

7. In Seminar IX, Lacan defines anxiety as “the sensation of the desire of the Other.” Lesson of 4 April, 1962, Le séminaire, livre IX, L’identification (1961unpublished seminar.

8. Psychosis has no fantasy but is instead described by Lacan as “delusion.”

9. See Lacan’s discussion of the hysteric’s fantasy in Seminar VIII, lesson of 19 April, 1961. For a refreshingly lucid explanation of this formula, see Verhaeghe, 373-81.

10. For a mathematical explanation of the derivation of the a, see Lacan’s discussion in Seminar XIV, lessons of 22 and 29 January, 1969. Briefly, the a is not “equal” to 1, but holds the value of the relation of one term in a Fibonacci series to the next. Thus, if 1+1+2, 1+2+3, in the converging series (hysteria) or, in reverse, the diverging series (obsession) 1-a, 2a-1, 2-3a, etc. the “value” of a will always be the proportional difference between one term and the next in the Fibonacci series, a difference which is computed as 0.618. Lacan’s use of the Fibonacci series here and elsewhere is designed to model the relationship of the speaking subject to the signifier which represents the subject for another signifier. As Lacan explains, “here it is the relationship not of 1 to 1 but of 1 to 2 that is at stake.” See his discussion on 29 January, 1969.

11. Le séminaire, livre XV, L’acte psychanalytique (1967-68), unpublished seminar (lesson of 21 February, 1968).

12. Sigmund Freud, “Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses,” (1893SE 3, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1955) 141-56.

278 Penumbra

13. Lacan, Seminar XX, 94. The English translation is a little ambiguous here.

To clarify, it is not the “phallic function” that “stops not being written.” It is rather the unwritable jouissance that stops not being written (in the form of the phallic function).

14. Lacan, Seminar XX, 145.

15. See Mary Tiles, The Philosophy of Set Theory: An Introduction to Cantor’s Paradise (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 104-5.

16. Lacan, Le séminaire, livre XIV, La logique du fantasme (1966-67), unpublished seminar (lesson of 23 November, 1966).

17. This can be expressed in digrammatic form, where each letter outside each

set represents the title of the ‘book’ whose bibliography is being catalogued:

A (B, C, D) B (A, C, D) C (A, B, D) D (A, B, C) Between them, every ‘book’ has thus been catalogued (represented), even though there is no single catalogue that contains them all. For further discussion, see Seminar XIV (1966-67), lessons of 16 and 23 November, 1966.

18. ‘... by simply closing the chain, there results that each group of four [catalogues in the example Lacan is using] can easily leave outside itself the extraneous signifier, which can serve to designate the group, for the simple reason that it is not represented in it, and that nevertheless the whole chain will be found to constitute the totality of all these signifiers, giving rise to this additional unit, uncountable as such, which is essential for a whole series of structures, which are precisely the ones on which I founded, since the year 1960, my whole operation of identification,’ Seminar XIV (lesson of 23.11.66).

(Marxian-Psychoanalytic) Biopolitics and Bioracism A. Kiarina Kordela


According to Michel Foucault, the thinker who introduced the concept, biopolitics is a form of power that emerged with and continues to accompany capitalist modernity; according to others, notably Giorgio Agamben, it has existed since antiquity’s linkages of nomos (the law) and physis (the state of nature).1 Though I could argue that, in a sense (and a very psychoanalytic one), biopolitics has actually existed since the very tribal beginnings of any social formation, I would also acknowledge that the two positions do not really contradict each other. Rather, their apparent discord is indicative of the fact that biopolitics, like any political concept, undergoes fundamental mutations, adjusting and developing according to the historical formations in which it is exercised. Here I want to focus on the specificities of biopolitics within the particular historical era of capitalist secular modernity.

Value is something that existed in the most primitive societies, given that, as Aristotle noted, “the technique of exchange […] has its origin in a state of affairs often to be found in nature, namely, men having too much of this and not enough of that.”2 Yet, Aristotle was, by historical necessity, incapable of grasping the value form as it is required for the development of capitalism. It is for this reason, as Karl Marx comments, that when faced with the possibility that the equation “‘5 beds = 1 house’ […] is indistinguishable from ‘5 beds = a certain amount of money,’” Aristotle could only feel indignation and declare that it is “in reality, impossible […] that such unlike things can be commensurable.’”3 For Aristotle, Marx continues, this equivalence means “that the house should be qualitatively equated with the bed, and that these things, being distinct to the senses could not be compared with each other as commensurable magnitudes” (151). Aristotle therefore “abandons […] the further analysis of the form of value,” concluding that this “form of equation can only be something foreign to the true nature of the things,” reduced only to “a makeshift for practical purposes” (151).

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