March 20th, 2005


Goddess Erida

{about to post the biglist w/ 777 points & decided to number it at the last minute—wouldn't ya knowit? #86 is the Goddess Erida. will post something about this wonderful goddess soon ... for now}


The Truth Arises from Misrecognition

"wondering about "apparition in the Real" found this link. another Jane Austen mention (other two are What is Love? by alain badiou, and A Nomadic Austen by michael kramp).

The Truth Arises from Misrecognition
Slavoj Zizek

From Lacan and the Subject of Language. Ed. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan and Mark Bracher. New York and London: Routledge, 1991.

I The Dialectics of the Symptom

Back to the future

The only reference to the domain of science fiction that we find in Lacan's work concerns the time-paradox. In his first Seminar, Lacan uses the metaphor, invented by Norbert Wiener, of the inverted direction of time, to explain the symptom as a "return of the repressed."

Wiener posits two beings each of whose temporal dimension moves in the opposite direction from the other. To be sure, that means nothing, and that is how things which mean nothing all of a sudden signify something, but in a quite different domain. If one of them sends a message to the other, for example a square, the being going in the opposite direction will first of all see the square vanishing before seeing the square. "That is what we see as well. The symptom initially appears to us as a trace, which will only ever be a trace, one which will continue not to be understood until the analysis has got quite a long way, and until we have discovered its meaning" (Seminar I, 159).

Analysis is thus conceived as a symbolization, a symbolic integration of meaningless imaginary traces; this conception implies a fundamentally imaginary character of the unconscious. It is made of "imaginary fixations which couldn't have been assimilated to the symbolic development" of the subject's history; consequently, "it is something which will be realized in the symbolic or, more precisely, something which, thanks to the symbolic progress which takes place in the analysis, will [retroactively] become what it was" (future anterior: aura été) (I, 158, translation modified). The Lacanian answer to the question, from where does the repressed return, is then paradoxically: from the future. Symptoms are meaningless traces; their meaning is not discovered, excavated from the hidden depth of the past, but constructed retroactively. The analysis produces the truth, i.e., the signifying frame which gives to the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning. As soon as we enter the symbolic order, the past is always present in the form of historical tradition, of interwoven traces which constitute a synchronic network of signifiers. The meaning of these traces is not given; it changes continually with the transformations of the signifier's network. Every historical rupture, every advent of a new master signifier, changes retroactively the meaning of all tradition, restructures the narration of the past, makes it readable in another, new way. Thus things which don't make any sense suddenly mean something, but in an entirely other domain. What is a journey into the future if not this "overtaking" by means of which we suppose in advance the presence in the other of a certain knowledge-knowledge about the meaning of our symptoms.

What is it, then, if not the transference itself? This knowledge is an illusion. It does not really exist in the other, the other does not really possess it. It is constituted afterwards, through our—the subject's—signifier's working. But it is at the same time a necessary illusion, because we can paradoxically elaborate this knowledge only by means of the illusion that the other already possesses it and that we are only discovering it. If, as Lacan is pointing out, the repressed content in the symptom is returning from the future and not from the past, then the trans transference—the actualization of the reality of the unconscious—must transpose us into the future and not into the past. And what is the journey into the past if not this retroactive working-through, the elaboration of the signifier itself: a kind of hallucinatory mise-en-scène of the fact that, in the field of the signifier and only in this field, we can change, we can bring about the past? The past exists as it is included, as it enters (into) this synchronous net of the signifier, i.e., as it is symbolized in the texture of the historical memory. That is why we are "rewriting history" all the time, retroactively giving the elements their symbolic weight by including them in new textures. It is this elaboration which decides retroactively what they "will have been (auront été)."

The Oxford philosopher Michael Dummett has written two very interesting articles included in his collection of essays, Truth and Other Enigmas: "Can an Effect Precede its Cause?" and "Bringing About the Past." The Lacanian answer to these two enigmas would be "yes", because the symptom as a "return of the repressed" is precisely such an effect which precedes its cause (its hidden kernel, its meaning). In working through the symptom, we are precisely "bringing about the past." That is, we are producing the symbolic reality of the past, long-forgotten traumatic events. One is then tempted to see in the time-paradox of science-fiction novels a kind of hallucinatory apparition in the real of the elementary structure of the symbolic process, the so-called internal, internally inverted eight: a circular movement, a kind of snare where we can progress only in such a manner that we "overtake" ourselves in the transference, to find ourselves later at a point at which we have already been. The paradox consists in the fact that this superfluous detour, this supplementary snare of overtaking ourselves (voyage into the future) and then reversing the time-direction (voyage into the past) is not just a subjective illusion/perception of an objective process taking place in so-called reality, independently of these illusions. This supplementary snare is rather an internal condition, an internal constituent of the so-called "objective" process itself. It is only through this additional detour that the past itself, the “objective" state of things, becomes retroactively what it always was. Transference is then an illusion, but the point is that we cannot by pass it and reach directly for the truth. The truth itself is constituted through the illusion proper to the transference-"the truth arises from misrecognition" in Lacan's words.

If this paradoxical structure is not yet clear, let us take another science-fiction example, the well-known story by William Tenn, The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway. A distinguished art historian takes a journey with a time-machine from the twenty-fifth century to our days to visit and study nl vivo the immortal Morniel Mathaway, painter not appreciated in our time but who was later discovered to have been the greatest painter of our era. When he encounters him the art historian finds no trace of a genius, just an imposter who is megalomaniac and even a swindler who steals his time-machine from him and escapes into the future, so that the poor art historian stays tied to our time. The only thing open to him is then to assume the identity of the escaped Mathaway and to paint under his name all his masterpieces that he remembers from the future. It is himself who is really the misrecognized genius lie was looking for!

This is then the basic paradox we are aiming at. The subject is confronted with a scene from the past that he wants to change, to meddle with, to intervene in. He takes a journey into the past, intervenes in the scene and-it is not that he "cannot change anything, quite the contrary--it is only through his intervention that the scene from the past becomes what it always was. His intervention was from the beginning comprised, included. The initial “illusion" of the subject consists in simply forgetting to include in the scene his own act, i.e., in overlooking how "it counts, it is counted, and the one who counts is already included in the account" (Lacan, Seminar XI, 20; translation modified).

This introduces a relationship between truth and misrecognition/misapprehension by which the truth, literally, arises from misrecognition, as in the well-known story about the "appointment in Samarra" (from W, S. Maugham's play Sheppey)

Death: "There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it and he dug his spurs in its flanks and he went as fast as the horse could gallop. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Before we ask ourselves what this story has to do with psychoanalysis, we ought to remind ourselves that we find the same structure in the myth of Oedipus. It is predicted to Oedipus's father that his son will kill him and marry his mother, and the prophecy realizes itself, "becomes true," through the father's attempt to evade it. He exposes his little son in the forest, etc., and Oedipus, not recognizing him twenty years later when he encounters him, kills him. In other words, the prophecy becomes true by means of its being communicated to the person it affects and by means of his or her attempt to elude it. One knows one's destiny in advance, one tries to evade it, and it is by means of this attempt itself that the predicted destiny realizes itself. Without the prophecy, the little Oedipus would have lived happily with his parents and there would be no "Oedipus Complex."