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Re-Inventing the SymptomReview - Re-Inventing the Symptom
Essays on the Final Lacan
by Luke Thurston
Other Press, 2004
Review by Asunción Álvarez, M.A.
Aug 5th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 32)

Re-Inventing the Symptom is a collection of essays dealing with the last period of Jacques Lacan's teaching, with particular emphasis on his 1975-1976 seminar on Le Sinthome. As Luke Thurston points out in his Introduction, this is a particularly problematic period of Lacan's work for Anglo-American readers, given the current legal embargo on Lacan's oeuvre, and the lack of translations (a situation, it should be remarked (which not only affects not only English-speaking readers.) To this unavailability is added Lacan's own taste for obscurity and willful difficulty, which has turned the interpretation of his gnomic dicta into somewhat of an interdisciplinary cottage industry. Indeed, much of the current work on Lacan comes from the field of literary studies, (Luke Thurston himself is a Research Fellow in Languages and Literature at Cambridge), a fact which proves less surprising given Lacan's emphasis on language, and his penchant for literary and philosophical allusion. The seminar on Le Sinthome, in fact, was devoted to James Joyce, whom Lacan diagnosed as a psychotic.

The collection opens with a joint article by Dominiek Hoens and Ed Pluth, 'The sinthome: A New Way of Writing and Old Problem?', in which they locate Lacan's work on Joyce within a chronological frame, and argue that it must be seen as the result of the evolution of his long-term work on psychosis.

In 'Illiterature', Dany Nobus examines a body of marginal or digressive Lacanian texts – in particular, the famous 'Lituraterre' – in order to show how the way in which Lacan articulated the problem of textual interpretation with that of clinical practic changed over the development of his theoretical edifice.

As opposed to Hoens's and Pluth's emphasis on the continuity within Lacan's oeuvre, Roberto Harari argues in 'The sinthome: Turbulence and Dissipation', that in his last period a new modality of psychoanalytic theory, different from all his previous work. Beyond Lacan's well-known interest in topology, Harari somewhat unconvincingly attempts to link this latter development of Lacanian thought to contemporary physics, in particular to chaos theory.

In 'Lacan's Analytic Goal: Le sinthome or the Feminine Way' Paul Verhaeghe and Frédéric Declercq examine how Lacan's account of femininity is affected by his development of the concept of the sinthome. In particular, they claim that Lacan's work on the Borromean knot clarifies his theorizing on sexual difference, and entails an understanding of what constitutes a subject and what the aims of analysis are.

 'Weaving a Trans-subjective Tress or the Matrixial sinthome' is probably the weakest esssay in the collection. In it, Bracha Lichtenberg-Ettinger attempts to provide a reading of Lacan's work on Joyce from the perspective of contemporary aesthetics. Her claim is that underlying the Lacanian conception of the subject is an unstated sexual-political agenda: namely, the linking of the subject to a phallic, masculine version of the body. According to Lichtenberg-Ettinger, the notion of the sinthome would make amends for Lacan's phallocentric previous theorizing, opening a liminal, unthinkable space where sexual difference ceases to exist. In order to sustain this thesis, Lichtenberg-Ettinger resorts to her own, rather fuzzy concept of the 'matrix', which seems rather unrelated to the matter at hand since it appears to apply mostly to the visual arts.

'Acephalic Litter as a Phallic Letter', by Véronique Voruz deals with the Lacanian notion of the non-readerly (or simply, as some would have it, unreadable) écrit as similar to the notoriously intricate Joycean body of work. By showing how Lacan used readings of Joyce at different points in his teaching, Voruz claims that the Lacanian reading of Joyce was not a recurring sideline, but rather constituted the matrix for crucial advances in Lacan's thought.

Finally, Philip Dravers aims in 'In the Wake of Interpretation' to relate the question of the unreadable écrit to wider questions of literary interpretation and cultural analysis. By examining the relation between language and jouissance that is captured in the notion of lalangue, Dravers outlines a literary trajectory in Lacan's work that moves from his early reading of Hamlet to his late work on Joyce.


© 2004 Asunción Álvarez


Asunción Álvarez, M.A. is an MPhil/PhD student in the Philosophy of Psychology programme at King's College London. Her main research interests are intentionality and mental representation, as well as the conceptual underpinnings of current psychological theory and practice. She is currently working on a thesis on mental representation and trauma.


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