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Repetition Automatism
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Repetition Automatism

Reflections on the Écrits (2)
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Important notes:

  • Repetition automatism as the central focus on Lacan’s discourse: what happens of itself, mechanical repetition of signifying drive

  • Subject of the unconscious (signifying drive) vs. imaginary ego structure as relationship between incessant motion and desire for death (i.e. for things to stop)

  • The unconscious does not stop, keeps going, eppur si muove (and yet it moves)

  • Stakes of movement from the imaginary ego which wants things to stop, which wants to fill the gap, is the acceptance of lack as constitutive of the repetition automatism of the signifying drive, bringing the symbolic to the real

  • The real is not an external “reality system” or “substance” but rather the real as impossibility of the nature of the unconscious mind as such, that is the impossibility of repetition (here we get the introduction of genuine difference)

  • Lacan’s teaching focuses on the relationship between the symbolic drive and the real as functioning on different symbolic laws constituting different psychic states of mind: repression = neurosis; foreclosure = psychosis; disavowal = perversion

  • Analysis as therapy aims for the writing of good fiction, not just imaginary ego which has the Perfect Thing, but imaginary-symbolic, grounding one’s imaginary in the real of a signifying drive, recognising that one is radically de-centred from the Perfect Thing (which does not exist)

  • The Purloined Letter is a story Lacan uses to articulate the nature of the social games at work in the movement from the imaginary to the symbolic: structured by four characters, (1) The King, (2) The Queen, (3) The Minister, (4) The Detective

  • The King has his head in the sand (does not see the Queen or the Minister); The King can be understood as a “fool”

  • The Queen represents the anxiety of the truth (is a masquerade for The King, and anxious about the manipulative behaviour of The Minister)

  • The Minister is playing a power game to threaten the social legitimacy of the royal family (The King and The Queen); The Minister is a type of scoundrel

  • Finally, The Detective finds the truth in broad daylight (what is visible for all, but which nobody sees); he is also framed as a superior character to a classical notion of a hero or superman

  • What is at stake in this game is knowledge for truth of the symbolic order, which involves a death wish (vis-a-vis the identities of The King (who is a fool), The Queen (who is a masquerade), and The Minister (who is a scoundrel)

  • The truth here is ultimately not owning the Perfect Thing but reconciling yourself with being de-centred in relation to the repetition automatism of language itself (the ego is just an imaginary effect of this de-centering)

  • In short: a motion from autonomous ego to autonomous symbolic order, which could be seen as a motion from individualist egotism to true intersubjectivity

  • Lacan will refer to the autonomous symbolic order as indestructible, and justifies psychoanalytic use of free association as a method for helping the subject deal with the neuroses and psychoses (relations between the symbolic and the real)

  • Lacan will also refer to the autonomous symbolic order as prevital (pre-biological, constitutive lack) and transbiological repetition (symbolic order itself)

  • Finally, Lacan suggests that the mistake of institutionalised psychoanalysis involved reification of the object of genital love (King-Queen) as Other (God) in Utopia, which keeps subjectivity trapped in dyadic identification, and far removed from true intersubjectivity

The fourth Philosophy Portal course, focused on Lacan’s Écrits, starts September 3rd.

Podcast inspired by:

  • Lacan, J. 2005. Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”. In: Écrits. p. 6-48. New York: W.W. Norton Norton & Company.

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