Essay on Repetition and the Split of Sign

Essay on Repetition and the Split of Sign

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We follow Lacan and return to Freud, only to find ourselves arriving at the knowledge that the unconscious operates like translating without the original text. There goes a process of representing activity in which we achieve a representation without knowing what is the "represented." Lacan leads us back to so many of Freud's decisive terms, thereby prefiguring the way those terms slip away from the grasp of traditional conceptual discourse. In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis we are told that "the unconscious is structured like language" (FFC 20). This is a turn-away from Freud, a radical change bringing us to the understanding that the unconscious can be described only in reference of the Other, and thus has no identity at all. For Lacan, no less than for Freud, it is never an accident when language and intention diverge from each other. Such a divergence derives from the signifying structure of language. Language, as the medium of signification, becomes the articulation of non-identity. It is this notion that allows the unconscious to be described as the discourse of the Other.

This relation of the unconscious to language is of decisive importance for Lacan's treatment of Freud's text. With this distinctive character, Lacan's return to Freud is often treated as more than only a paraphrase or translation of some original text. It is an act of repetition, an act that calls for a reconsideration of language and a further consideration of its particular relation to psychoanalysis. However, the process that Lacan studies involves repetition not as a return of the same, but rather as the recurrence of a difference separating what is repeated from its repetition. It is the distance between t...


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...ge, 1989). Hereafter quotations refer to this edition.
  • Louis Althusser, Essays on Ideology (London: Verso, 1984) 159.
  • For an extensive discussion about metaphor and metonymy, see Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Lacan: The Absolute Master, tran. Douglas Brick (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford UP, 1991) 169-96.
  • Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994) 221.
  • Samuel Weber, Return to Freud, tran. Michael Levine (Cambridge:Cambridge UP, 1991) 62.
  • Erik Erikson, Toys and Reasons: Stages in the Ritualization of Experience (New York: Norton, 1987) 85- 113.
  • Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, tran. and ed. James and Alix Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1953-1974) vol. xviii, 14-15.

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