text: “The Ternary: Name-of-the-Father, Object a, Sinthome” (L Brusa)

from PAPERS: Electronic Journal of the Action Committee of the School One, 2009-2010, N. 1:

The Ternary: Name-of-the-Father, Object a, Sinthome

Luisella Brusa

1. “Semblants and sinthome”

This is the conclusion of a ternary that Jacques-Alain Miller announced in Buenos Aires: a ternary constituted by signifiers that Lacan introduced into psychoanalysis, of which the two first terms are the Name-of-the-Father and the object a, on which the AWP has worked during its last two Congresses. The originality of this ternary is that it is a question of limit-points of the theoretical elaboration of Lacan, of syntagms of conjunction and disjunction which permit a point of view on the subject still internal to thefield in which it is placed, the field of the Other, but equally beyond the limit of this field, which succeeds thus in relativising itself , of “de-consisting”. These are some syntagms which bear the function , in the Lacanian theoretical corpus, of the death’s head, deformed in the anamorphosis of the Ambassadors of Holbein, commented upon in Seminar XI. These are some semblants which have the particular status of “showing the real.”

2. The-Name-of-the-Father

A systematic analysis of the formula “The-Name-of-the-Father” took place at the Rome Congress: “You can do without it, on the condition of using it.” The privileged signifier, pivot of the well turned-out subjective, and of psychoanalytic work, brings with it its share of belief which makes of each subject a faithful one, disposed to sacrifice himself to a more or less obscure god, even when this god takes the name of Science. The theoretical position elaborated out of this Congress is maintained in the reduction of the Name-of-the-Father to its function: the success of a psychoanalysis is the dissolution of the belief in a being who would be at the place of the Name-of-the-Father, on the condition of acquiring the usage of the function, of using its insistence. To use becomes an act, which no longer opens onto faith, but onto confidence. The Name –of-the-Father, “the operator semblant” according to the apt formula of J.-A. Miller, marks the hole in the knowledge that the real verifies.

3. The object a

The Buenos Aires Congress on “The objects a in the psychoanalytic experience” approached the hole of the structure from the other side, the side of the objects which come to saturate this hole under the form of surplus jouissance. Theoretical and clinical research has covered the numerous forms of this strange object, which does not let itself be taken up in the meanings of language, which is neither absent nor present, nor within nor without. One does not encounter the object a in the clinic, except under its fantasmatic aspects, consistencies of the jouissance of the body, semblants which fill the logical void called “object a,” place of the impossible of the sexual rapport, another name of the real.

4. Towards the real

One sees now that J.-A. Miller’s choice with this ternary is the trajectory of an elaboration which orients us towards Lacan’s real. The third way, concluding the ternary, the theme of the Paris Congress with its explicit reference to the signifiers of the elaboration of the 70s, encircles even more the real, Lacan’s sinthome, its original contribution to psychoanalysis (ipse dixit) and to the history of ideas. “Psychoanalysis (…) will have been a privileged moment during which one will have had an appropriate enough measure (…) of the ‘speaking being.’”- “For a small moment, one has been able to perceive what the intrusion of the real was. The analyst remains there under it. He or she is there as a symptom.”1 The hole of the real is a point of stoppage in his teaching, a mark of style in his research, in which we also have the ungraspable trait of its rhetoric, as J.-A. Miller has affirmed it: “The complement that it carries is the following: beyond the theory of the subject-supposed-to-know, one must have a theory “including a lack which must find itself at every level to inscribe here in indetermination, there in certainty, and to form the knot of the uninterpretable. I exert myself there, certainly not without feeling its atopia without precedent.”2

5. Discourse is an artifact

If the real is what there is of the most human to be conceived, product, by excellence, of discourse and of castration, the semblants, on the other hand abound in nature. It is one of the beginning observations of Lacan in Seminar XVIII . They come to coincide with the signifiers, “the semblant is the signifier, neither more nor less”, when they enter into the human dit-mansion [ the house of the said]. But in order that they enter there , one must make a step, that of the institution of the unconscious. There is a jump, a beginning discontinuity of the sort that they pass to the artifact. Does the possibility arise, then, of an interrogation on the semblant itself: “Is it truth or appearance?” If one establishes a Moebius strip with which the semblant opposes itself to truth, the semblant dissipates into the truth. Truth has a structure of fiction, it is made up of signifiers/semblants.

The disarticulation between truth and effects of truth open a breach in the world of the semblants: the truth is of the semblant but “the true seeming belongs to the word [parole], even were it properly speaking senseless” and “the effect of truth is not of the semblant.”3

The effect of truth, the effect of the analytic interpretation, is not of the semblant. The semblant is taken into this artifact which is the discourse (“The discourse is the artifact”)4, starting from which there exists nothing more that one could call fact except enunciation, discourse, semblant. Entry into the human dimension [dit-mension] carries with itself the unconscious and the repression that one cannot suppress in its originary root, linked to castraton: “The signifiers (…) start off again in (…) nature (…). In order that language be born (…) it has been necessary that (…)the unconscious (…) establish itself. The unconscious and its game, which means that (…) there is going to be, in addition, the fragmented body.”5

Castration imposes the discourse with its effects, the parade of the discourse with its effects of truth. “That is what one calls repression. It is no more than a representation that it represents, it is this following of discourse which characterizes itself as effect of truth.”6 Discourse is made up of semblants and does not go outside the semblant: “Everything which is of the discourse can only give itself up as a semblant, and nothing edits itself there which does not basically come from what is called the signifier.”7 It is the radical position of Lacan: there is no metalanguage.5

The judgment of attribution which flows from the negative formulation of the title of Seminar XVIII says that “the discourse is of the semblant,” and moreover it leaves empty the place of the object of the demand: semblant of what?8

As analysts we are in the position of listening9 to a discourse which would not be of the semblant. This is a form of avoidance where castration always presents itself,10 a fantasmatic waiting for a jouissance not barred by the language which would come to coincide with the “Beyond the pleasure principle” of Freud.11 “One must start from this central point of the psychoanalytic discourse, insofar as there is only listening here to this last discourse, the one which would not be the discourse of the semblant (…) which would not be and also, as well, it is not.”12 “Under what form do we see everything which is evoked as castration; we see it under what form? Under the form, always, of an escape.”13  “Of what is it a question there where this would not be of the semblant? Of course, the terrain is prepared by a singular step, although timid, which is the one that Freud made in Beyond the Pleasure Principle… .”14 There is no discourse which would not be of the semblant, there is no Other of the Other, neither a metalanguage which permits one to say the true about the true, to put a word on the object.15 “From a discourse which would not be of the semblant, I have spent my year demonstrating that it is a completely excluded discourse. There is no discourse which would not be of the semblant.”16

It is castration linked to the said-dimension [dit-mension] and to the emergence of the unconscious which makes impossible a discourse which would not be of the semblant. But this impossible is precisely the lever that permits one to touch the real by using semblants. It is, in effect, starting from the fact that a discourse is centered on its effect as impossible that it would have some chance of being a discourse which would not be of the semblant: “But the consequence of its emergence ((of the unconscious), that is what must be introduced so that something changes – which cannot change, because it is not possible. It is, on the contrary, inasmuch as a discourse centers itself on its effect as impossible that it would have some chance of being a discourse which would not be of the semblant.”17

The discourse which centers itself on its effect as impossible is the psychoanalytic discourse. Insofar as discourse, neither can it leave the semblants, it cannot designate an object; what it is a question of is not the object, but of the referent and “the referent is what walks around.”18 Since it walks around, there is never the last, the good, the true.  “It is of the nature of language (that) the referent is never the good [the right one] and it is that which makes a language.19 But precisely this, put in the center of the discourse, is the provision for the real of the psychoanalytic discourse: “the referent is always real, because it is impossible to designate.”20

Effects of truth and referent as impossible, these are the two paths by which the analytic discourse introduces the real. On one side, interpretation produces some effects of truth which put a hole in the semblant, on the other hand, the central assumption of the impossible to be designated is marked by the Bedeutung of the phallus. This is a signification to which no signified responds, the peak of sense, this “language (…) only connotes (…) the impossibility of symbolizing the sexual rapport for the beings who inhabit it, this language, for the reason that it is due to this habitat that they have got the word [parole]”21

The discourse-artifact produces access to a real, heterogeneous to the semblant. With its semblants it composes a combinatory algebra which touches the real. “It is a question only that its network (…) make the right [bons] holes appear at the right [bonne] place.”22  Scientific discourse opens onto the “true real,” the discourse of the psychoanalyst on “the real at our level of living beings.”23

6. The artifice of the sinthome

The concept of the symptom carries us to an actualization of psychoanalytic politics. If the analytic politic is one of the symptom in the measure where it is a politics of interpretation, it implies that everything which articulates itself be liable to interpretation: “The symptom institutes the order from which our politics proves itself (…) implies on the other hand that everything which is articulated from this order be liable to interpretation.”24 What demands an actualization in the Joycean epoch in which we live.

What becomes the orientation towards the real? The impossible? The Bedeutung? The fullness of sense? The effect of truth?

The tetrahedron of discourse in the first lesson of Seminar XXIII is replaced by the four rings of the knot.25 The prospective reverses itself to reach the hole from another side.  By managing the knots to reproduce the figures of Seminar XXIII, one learns that it is essentially the hole which makes the rings hold together. The knot is maintained if the hole at the center is maintained,26 and it is this operation, the introduction of a straight line which fixes the hole, an operation that Lacan defines as “verification of the hole,” which transforms it into the real: “The essence of the Borromean chain rests on the verification of the false-hole, on the fact that this verification transforms it into the real.”27

In the perspective of the sinthome it is the third ring/straight line, the “Third,” which fixes the hole, realizes it as a hole. It is the third to make a link between the three, to make One out of three. The real holes, that is to say, separates, but at the same time, all the while separating, links.28 Thus, the sinthome, which is the most particular and the most intimate to the subject, which separates it from the Other, is also what unites, makes a link with the Other.

The artifice, the human operation which leads to the real, is defined, in Seminar XXIII, as “a savoir faire” with knots. Joyce is the paradigm of it. The artifice is put into value as an artistic act. The artifice is the act which knots and realizes, gives ex-sistence , without which it cannot have any notion of the object there. “There is no fact except of the artifice.”29

Joyce is paradigmatic. From having made of his symptom the ring which knots the three functions of the structure with unconscious subjectivity, he has raised to the level of a central symptom, the one constituted by the default proper to the sexual rapport, all the while in giving to this default a form: “The central symptom, of course, is the symptom made of the default proper to the sexual rapport. But it is indeed necessary that this default take a form. It does not take just any form.”30

The rejection of the Name-of-the-Father leaves Joyce faced with the necessity of inventing particular solutions to the vital questions to which the Name-of-the-Father responds. That is to say: the question of meaning in the sliding equivocation into the lalangue, the question of the proper Name, the question of the assumption of sex, of the rapport with the Other sex and with its progenitor. The last chapters of Seminar XXIII reveal the particular solutions that the Joycean sinthome brings to such questions, which all turn around the hole of the sexual non-rapport. Thus, it is through his work that Joyce maintains a subjective rapport with the lalangue that parasites him (remains ambiguous, Lacan says,31 if the progress of his art is going in the direction of liberating itself from the parasitical word, or, on the contrary, to let himself be invaded by the polyphony of the word [parole]). It is through his work that he makes a Name, through the homage that he wanted to be rendered to his name; he has fixed his proper name starting with the sliding towards the common name to which he was doomed and that Lacan sees sliding into his work.32

It is through his work that he recuperates a sexed position: Joyce’s work is the true respondent of his phallus.”33 It is by means of his work that he constructs a relationship with the Other sex: he succeeds in putting woman at the place of the symptom through a literary character that he imagines and for whom he knows how to open up the choice of the-one-woman as his woman.34

The symptomatic dimension touches the relationship of filiations in a revelatory fashion.  The sinthome is equally mobilized by its phallic function in the dimension of paternal protection that Joyce feels called upon to hold in order to stop his daughter from being hospitalized. The point on which he sustains his defense of his daughter’s mental health, as Lacan brings up, is his own sinthome, that is to say, the imposed words that he attributes to his daughter in the form of a telepathic sensitivity.35

Perhaps it is this last trait which revealed that the sinthomatic solution maintains the knot in a position of looking like it makes a knot-in-three – and not of truly making it like one sees it, besides, in the writing of the knot of the Joycean ego [moi]. “I permitted myself to define sinthome which permits the knot-in-three, no longer to make a knot-in-three, but to conserve it in a position such that it looks like making a knot-in-three. There is what I have advanced very gently.”36

That does not prohibit the very particular art of Joyce from being able to be the example of an unedited manner of understanding the structure and the function of the sinthome. In this, it opens onto the Joycean era, ours, in which the politics of psychoanalysis orients itself on a savoir-faire, sustained by science, by the function of the sinthome. It is the Lacanian heresy which “from having, indeed, recognized the nature of the sinthome, does not deprive itself from logically using it, that is to say, from using it up to the point of attaining the real.”37

Translated by Ellie Ragland

1 Lacan, J., Le triomphe de la religion, Paris, Seuil, 2005, pp. 82 and 87-88.

2 Miller, J.-A., De la nature des semblants, lesson of Dec. 4th, 1991, unedited.

3 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XVIII, D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, Paris, Seuil, 2006, p. 14.

4 Ibid., p. 27.

5 Ibid., p. 16.

6 Ibid. p. 14.

7 Ibid., p. 15.

8 Ibid., p. 19.

9 Ibid., p. 166.

10 Ibid., p. 167.


11Ibid., p. 19.

12 Ibid., p. 166.

13 Ibid., p. 167.

14 Ibid., p. 19.

15 Ibid., p. 14.

16 Lacan, J., “Du discours psychanalytique,” Lacan en Italie 1953-1978, Milan, La Salamandra, 1978, pp. 41

and 192.

17 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XVIII, D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, Paris, Seuil, 2006, p. 21.

18 Ibid, p. 16.

19 Ibid., p. 45.

20 Ibid., p. 46.

21 Ibid., p. 148.

22 Ibid., p. 28.

23 Lacan, J., Le triomphe de la religion, Paris, Seuil, 2005, p. 93.

24 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XVIII, op. cit., p. 123.

25 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XXIII. Le sinthome, Paris, Seuil, 2005, p. 22.

26 Ibid., p. 23.

27 Ibid., p. 118.

28 Miller, J.-A., “L’orientation lacanienne. L’inconscient réel,” lesson of Dec. 13th, 2006, unedited.

29 Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, Livre XXIII, op. cit., p. 66.

30 Ibid., p. 70.

31 Ibid., p. 97.

32 Ibid., p. 89.

33 Ibid., p. 15.

34 Ibid., p. 70.

35 Ibid., p. 96.

36 Ibid., p. 94.

37 Ibid., p. 15.


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