An Attempt at Grasping the Real 

Elie Helou                                    


  The argument of the Study Day mentions that something in the letter escapes symbolisation and the effect of Language; something pre-exists and survives the letter. The act of writing points at the metaphorical traces in the individual, a testimonial of becoming a parlêtre. Traces are not the product of writing but of the bar or the attempt for one through suppléance. Writing ex-sists the effect of Language; it connects the real of the letter to the breaking of the illusion of having complete signification and meaning. Something must remain to cover the object a which pushes towards the subject’s continuation and thriving as a desiring being. Therefore, what real is revealed in writing? How does the illusion of total understanding of personal matters (or the lack of it) show itself through writing? How does writing push towards traces, desire, and continuity?

 A book entitled De Niro’s Game by the Lebanese-Canadian author Rawi Hage covers the story of two young men’s experiences with women, drugs, soldiers, travelling, and betrayal during the Lebanese Civil War. It highlights the experiences of early adults at the time, especially regarding staying in crime-ridden Beirut, or leaving the country for the uncertainties of life abroad. A major component in immersing the reader into the mind of the protagonists with such clarity is the style of writing and the mistakes left in the book. To my surprise, the errors in spelling, syntax, and obviousness of the remnants of the Lebanese—almost literal—way of thinking, all give the book such character that, without those factors, the reader would not have grasped well the depths of the struggles of the protagonists, which mirror in turn those of the author. 

A non-Lebanese reader would not connect to the content as much since their lalangue would not share a “similar real”. Nearly the same goes for a Lebanese who decided to stay in the country. Furthermore, the author’s Language and what surpasses it are tangible in how he attempts to simultaneously convey and cover what continuously escapes his grasp. Living through the war must not have been easy; the book may have been an attempt at putting to rest the agitation of non-meaning in what Rawi Hage went through—his first name literally means “narrator”. Upon finishing the writing process, I do not imagine much relief was felt. Perhaps it was just good enough. Had he thought he would “get it” by the end, disappointed he most likely was; tricked by the real of his words and the “it” he was trying to get. 

There is nothing that would deliver the subject from the aftermath of the lack in Language. We speak of the effects of Language but what would then be said regarding the continuously developing consequences of what is forever fleeing from us if not accepted and sought to live with? Is it to grasp the ungraspable that people write, or to soften the blow of the real? There are commonalities between a piece of art like a painting and a finely-written piece of literature in what they provoke in people exposed to them. The second someone envisages the dangling carrot in the real which pushes such pieces into existence, a domino effect of possible new “reals” and attempts at meaning is triggered. The letter loves the real. It promises the subject relief, but also dismay, until the endless loop of being halts indefinitely. 

Therefore, writing may at a first glance be an almost futile activity to understand oneself in order to overcome despair. Yet, it is not totally futile as the activity of writing becomes an act of taking control over what escapes us. It is not about “grasping it” but rather about the mere attempts at doing so which alleviates suffering. There are many ways to do this; writing is but one of them, albeit a major one. It is a solid path towards learning how to live with despair and what escapes meaning. It does that by marking, after laborious efforts, what was indeed understood, which leaves room for the “why, how and what” of which was not, further tying those dangerous loose ends. 

Desire, to the Letter

Chantale Khadra 

"If the psychoanalyst cannot respond to the demand, it is only because answering it would necessarily disappoint it, since what is demanded there is in any case something Other, and that is precisely what one must manage to know."¹ In The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power in 1958, Lacan says: "Since it is a matter of grasping desire, and it can only be grasped literally, since it is the nets of the letter that determine, over-determine its place as a celestial bird, how can we not demand that the birdcatcher be first a literate person?"²The definition of desire as a desire for recognition requires the prior existence of an Other, whom the subject would address through their symptom, the latter being harpooned like an encrypted message, or rather as words addressed to the Other.Lacan affirms in "Lituraterre" that letters are secondary to the signifier. In other words, letters are the result of signifiers. It seems to me that one must start by making letters the basis of subject names. Thus, the subject acquires their identity through the letter.However, the process of naming corresponds to the operation of recognition. We can thus observe the emergence of letters in three logical moments that realize the identity of the subject's composition.Firstly, the signifier is attached to a drive, which is the sign of object perception, which itself is inscribed in the mnemonic register, the first mnemonic register that Freud schematized in the alphabet, Wahrnehmungszeichen (sign of perception).This first signifier, the signifier of jouissance, is an S1, an unreadable number; the unconscious would be the second register of signifying inscriptions, "it speaks", whereas S2 is constituted of chains of signification that allow for a reading through metaphor and metonymy, since the unconscious is structured like a language.Regarding the letter, it fulfills its function in the passage from S1 to S2, that is, in the translation of mnemonic traces into unconscious signifiers. This passage from S1 to S2 implies the erasure of S1, and where it disappears, a first symbolic identification of the subject is inscribed, a basic signifier, a monist character. Its repetition allows the subject to count, while counting the lost objects throughout the same line. As Lacan emphasized in his seminar From the Other to the Other, "it is sufficient for a being who can read their trace to be able to re-register elsewhere than from where they carried it."³In his seminar on Identification in 1961, Lacan explains that "the unary trait comes in the place of the trace that has disappeared." The trace precedes the trait because the trait marks where the trace was when it was erased. But the translator is the letter because it trots along through homophonic transliteration.The letter is the transcript of a sound in language because it gives birth phonetically. The letter will be written at the place "marked" by the unary trait, but only in a secondary time, after the setting in motion of the signifying system. It is the letter that serves as the material support of the signifier and halts the ambiguity of the signifier."To decide, when there is a demand, to take the subject literally at the letter of their demand is always to manipulate them”'4, as Jacques-Alain Miller says.Psychoanalysis consists of not taking the subject literally. This is the condition for the instance of desire to emerge. If the unconscious itself has a structure of language, the subject, in a way, only needs to rely on this structure to let their unconscious speak. This necessarily implies that it is through a certain use of the letter that the analysand can subjectivize this unconscious, defined as a truth acting unbeknownst to them.From there, the ethics of psychoanalysis, which is inseparable from its practice in Lacan's view, is one that supports the subject in their duty to say "I" where it speaks in and through them. The subject always appears as an ex-sistent at the level of desire. It is by assuming the impossibility of recognizing oneself in it that the subject can finally find themselves as desiring. Taking desire literally, a paradoxical assertion by Lacan, precisely means never doing so in relation to the demand. This implies that the analyst must refuse the demand for meaning in order to preserve the place of desire in the direction of the treatment. 

Lacan, J., « La psychanalyse. Raison d’un échec » [1967], Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 343.

Lacan, J., « La direction de la cure et les principes de son pouvoir », Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 1966, p. 641

Lacan, J., Le séminaire, Livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, Paris, Seuil, 2006, leçon du 14 mai 1969, p. 314.

Miller J.-A., « L’orientation lacanienne. Ce qui fait insigne » (1986-1987), enseignement prononcé dans le cadre du département de psychanalyse de l’université Paris VIII. Cours du 07 janvier 1987.


 Marta Pilar Casero 

The letter is each of the graphic signs that make up the alphabet of a language, and also each of its sounds. Letters enable writing and oral communication. The letter is an element, the smallest form of the signifier, and it supports it. For psychoanalysis, it is its structural condition because the unconscious is constituted in language and "commands the function of the letter."iThe letter, beyond its signifying function, extends to the domain of science and its formalization in logic and mathematics. These are the domains used by Lacan for the development of his mathèmes through which he attempts to facilitate the transmission of psychoanalysis. However, the symbolic is incomplete and only allows accounting for this impossibility.The letter has its full status in Lacanian psychoanalysis. Its function has evolved, acquiring a structuring character and becoming one of the fundamental theoretical elements, even reaching the privileged consecration of a letter to name the formalization of one of his most important inventions: the object a, which Lacan will develop throughout his teachings.Following Freud, Lacan starts from the signifier and the concept of symptom as a metaphor, then places the symptom as a letter of jouissance. He moves from the symbolic to the real, finally asserting that the letter marks the body and advances in reading it. This will enable us to come to terms with the symptom at the end of an analysis.In the early stages, the weight of Lacanian theory oscillates towards the register of the symbolic, as we see in the text from 1953, "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious" or "Reason since Freud." In this text, he makes affirmations that will remain throughout his teachings. In the chapter, the sense of the letter states: "Our title implies that beyond the letter, it is the entire structure of language that the analytic experience uncovers in the unconscious." Lacan privileges the letter. But this letter, how should it be taken here? Simply, literally. We designate as the letter the material support that concrete discourse takes in languageii.In his ongoing attempt to give psychoanalysis a scientific projection, he published "The Function and Field of Speech and Language" in 1956. In this text, he develops the function of the word in analysis, which faces the entanglement of language when the subject escapes. He places us in front of the truth of full speech and empty speech in the psychoanalytic realization of the subjectiii. In this work, Lacan values Freud's contribution, from which he extracts the importance of decipherment, recognizing in the formations of the unconscious the work of signifying mechanisms.In 1956, in the Seminar on the Purloined Letter, Lacan emphasizes the determination of the symbolic and "the dominance of the signifier over the subject"iv as a truth that is everywhere and not merely a coincidence. In this text, he also highlights the function of the letter, stating that it feminizes, reduces to the letter as a remainder, and the connection to repetition.During this period and up until Seminar XIV, in his early seminars, Lacan begins to give the first outlines to his concept of the objet a, and during this time, this letter holds an imaginary status. However, it is when he unfolds the logic of the phantasm, emphasizing the value of jouissance, that the letter a shifts to the register of the real, thus articulating the three registers. Lacan then reuses the letter, drawing on philosophy and topology, in search of a scientific status for psychoanalysis.The letter creates a hole in the body, where jouissance finds its lodging. The subject will attempt to mask this produced fault by calling upon the phantasm. The letter borders, incorporates, and sets limits. Jouissance and the letter are inseparable.In the final stage of his teaching, influenced by Chinese culture, Lacan develops these concepts to articulate the letter and the void. This condenses in "Lituraterre"v (Lacan, 1971). The letter that constitutes the subject, a letter that supports the signifier, not so much to be read. Writing that delves into the void and welcomes jouissance. A letter that, by means of interpretation, will allow knowledge of being, knowledge about the symptom. A letter, a literal shoreline, between knowledge and jouissance.  

Lituraterre (Lacan, 1971). Autres écrits. Éditorial Paidos p. 22 

Lacan, J. (1953) “L'instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient, ou la raison depuis Freud”. Écrits 1, Editorial Siglo XXI. 22º Édiction. Méjico 2001 p. 475 

Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse. Écrits 1. Editorial Siglo XXI. 22º Edición. Méjico 2001, p. 237  Le juge Lacan. Le séminaire sur La Lettre volée. Écrits 1. Éditorial Siglo XXI. 22e édition. Mexique 2001, p. 34

 Lituraterre (Lacan, 1971) Autres écrits. Editorial Paidos p. 19J. Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, Paris, Seuil, 2006, leçon du 14 mai 1969, p. 314.     

Jan Tkaczow

Lituraterre – the earth furrowed by shimmering streams in the vast emptiness of Siberia and strokes of paintbrush in calligraphy of Japanese letters. Each sentence of this rich text is full of transmission if I may express so: those enigmatic terms: papludun, Hun-En-Peluce, let’s go! (Partons), avow-admit-confess (l’avouer) and having (l’avoir), letter-litter-litoral, Japanese writing and view of Siberia from the plane, breaking clouds which rain the signifier. How do we read this text? I’ll risk the following statement: how close can we approach the real with the symbolic? How is the letter creating littoral which effects and affects both? How does the repression operate, when one is taken for expulsive litter and then devoured again to form the innermost pearl? Yet, always impossible to assimilate, always producing the saliva of/for life… Under the condition that during this process a bed is made for non-existence of the sexual relationship (which other text terms as „lamella” – something slips out, something is lost)? Of course, this is only another way of saying: alienation/separation, but still, with an „Instance of a letter” … But why? What for? To precise, to clear, to specify the technique of analysis, therefore to „make theory its practice”. Can one learn from this text anything in the terms of the discourse of university? Of course – no. This marvelous feature of Lacan’s teaching: in reading him one cannot apply the position of knowledge as semblant. He always insists on it being no other than subjective/unconscious. In the final formulation of unreadable but experienced Real. One can „receive” (avow?, admit?) this text only through the experience of the defile of the signifier in practice - in the position of the analysand – which gives support for theory, which then – maybe – one is able to perpetuate. Just as every beginning has its end and every end has its beginning. One can, one is able, to avow that one can perpetuate. Maybe through work of cartel, maybe through reading, maybe through exchange, maybe by taking position of the analyst. In any case: in the School. Let’s not take the letter for signifier. Let’s situate it in the littoral, which along with it is an „effect of signifier and effect of language”, the limit ungraspable otherwise than through act. And what about those who instead of the subject supposed in/of knowledge must take guidance from the subject supposed in love? This formulation alone gives us hint: let’s build their littoral from their love for their particularity, and maybe we’ll be able to carve out their singularity from it? Distance from meaning is palpable here, and Lacan affirms: „nothing is more distinct from the void hollowed by writing than the semblant.” To paraphrase him: only when one can see the straight line one knows one is in the symbolic. This debt is inevitable if we are to assume/avow/admit it from barred $ in the lengthy process of forming one’s calligraphy. How can one avow something that has been erased? That’s the longevity of the process, the process of analysis in service of the letter: tracing/carving out first the division, and then letting it be assumed/taken as responsibility. Temporarily, no doubt, but enough for the function and perpetuation.