As Lacan’s ‘discourse theory’ has become more well known since the English publication of Seminar XVII in 2007, it has not been uncommon to see the analyst’s discourse touted as having great potential for deployment outside the clinic. It is easy enough to understand why such hopes would be expressed, though it seems to me that certain claims being made about it exceed the support that it can offer. Some say it is a revolutionary discourse, others that it is a discourse which “excludes domination” (that phrase is Jacques-Alain Miller’s). Here is Žižek glossing this perspective (note I do not say that he is espousing it),
(...) the analyst's discourse stands for the emergence of revolutionary-emancipatory subjectivity that resolves the split of university and hysteria. In it, the revolutionary agent - a - addresses the subject from the position of knowledge that occupies the place of truth (i.e., which intervenes at the "symptomal torsion" of the subject's constellation), and the goal is to isolate, get rid of, the master signifier that structured the subject's (ideologico-political) unconscious.
The snag, or hang-up that emerges for anyone wanting to take this aspiration further (if it is recognized as a snag at all, and often it is not) concerns how to actualize the discourse of the analyst outside the clinic.
Inside the clinical relation, the analyst’s discourse makes possible many things, crucially it aids in establishing the transference, it makes of the analyst a cipher or void or sorts onto which the analysand’s various repetitive ways of responding to the Other might, over time, be made recognizable to them. And with that recognition of what is symptomatic and repetitive in the analysand’s stance vis-a-vis the Other, comes the potential to change (obviously much more could be said about this). I have no qualm with any of this because in that very special setting (that of a psychoanalysis) it seems to me that the analyst’s discourse does facilitate these very things. Note that I wrote facilitate, and no other verb which might imply that it offers any assurance of such an outcome. The analyst’s discourse makes possible, that is all.
[Here too, and in spite of my conviction, I am moved to note that there may be something about the discourse of analyst which is specific to the clinical work with neurotic analysands, as I have seen suggesting that if working with a psychotic analysand, that the elusive and enigmatic approach is very much not what is clinically called for — if that is true, then does the analyst in the clinic of the psychotic, still operate in the analyst’s discourse? I leave that question aside here as it exceeds the bounds of my topic.]
But again the question of how one can speak from the place of object a (which is to speak from the place of jouissance), that is, how can one be the agent of the analyst’s discourse outside of the clinic in order to advocate for the (revolutionary, emancipatory) desires that others (those who hear) have, but have not or cannot avow as their own? (This being part and parcel of aiding the analysand in grasping their symptom qua symptom, through recognition of their stance toward the Other.) Then, if one can do this effectively outside the clinic in the broader social realm, then per the discourse, the hoped for product would be new S1s, new master signifiers that productively name the addressed subject’s desire— allowing them to own it, to act upon it.
What those who either make these claims or hope for them seem to be eliding is the radical specificity of the clinical setting and it’s marked difference from nearly any other discursive context one might name. That setting insists upon the fundamental rule of free association. Already here, at the fundamental rule, we are faced with an injunction that is very unique. And while it is not as if we do not, in our many and varied discursive activities, engage with free association — only that nowhere else is it a rule, much less a fundamental one. In the clinic, the analysand (certainly to the extent that he or she has sought out a Lacanian analyst) is unlikely to be consciously expecting answers to their every question, advice or instruction relevant to their life’s problems, even as what they very probably do expect unconsciously might very well be these things. While this setting may be compared with other clinical settings or to what takes place in other sorts of psychotherapy, it is quite difficult to imagine any less formalized, less structured “social setting” being able to maintain even the fundamental rule of free association.
Let us be comedic for a moment and suppose that you wish to operate only in the analyst’s discourse throughout the course of a day and through one’s various activities (making an appointment to take the cat to the vet, ordering lunch, talking with coworkers around the break room table, sitting in a conference call with other co-workers, unwinding with a friend or spouse after work, etc). How does one speak from the place of jouissance so as to help the other one is addressing to recognize and avow their own desire when ordering lunch? What happens on that conference call if, now and then when you hear an odd stress or slip of the tongue you echo it in the manner of the analyst? How much ‘unwinding’ is possible with friends if you only ever repeat their slips, or highlight the polyvalence and ambiguity of what they say?
The trouble it seem in each of these scenarios is that they do not conform to the specific agency involved in the clinical use of the analyst’s discourse. Agency in everyday discourse situations requires offering statements, questions, information and much else a great portion of which is expected to be accurately self-referential in nature. The waitron’s question is not “what do I desire for lunch while being unable to avow it to myself” it pertains to you and your demands at the conscious level. We might then think of the analyst’s discourse as one in which the agent involved agency is directed toward enabling the unconscious of the other to be heard. And while, between good friends, where one has a trouble and wants to talk about it, the other may very well be trying to hear in their friend’s many thoughts about whatever they are suffering from, what it is that they desire but cannot put into words, I would argue that even here, where a very similar impulse might be seen, that enough significant differences persist that such a conversation between friends is still not a clear cut example of the analyst’s discourse.
Having thought about this off and on for a couple of years at this point, I remain at a loss to find any other social setting where the specific constraints that structure the clinical relation are in effect.
Here are three passages from Lacan which underscore some of the issues already raised;
For a good analysis to be possible there needs to be an agreement, an understanding between the analyst and the subject analysing himself.
The routes by which this act of speech proceeds demand a great deal of practice and infinite patience. Psychoanalysis’s tools are patience and moderation. The technique consists of moderating the degree of help that you give to the subject analysing himself.
Psychoanalysis is a serious matter that concerns, I repeat, a strictly personal relation between two individuals, the subject and the analyst. There is no collective psychoanalysis, just as there are no mass anxieties or neuroses.
(Lacan in 1974” — emphases are mine)
Now for more comedy, but not a thought experiment. During my analysis, I became, as I am sure many do, quite attuned to slips of the tongue, both my own and those of others. Once one begins to hear how amazingly frequent these are, it can be hard not to try doing some of what one’s analyst does — or at least this was the case for me. I did this to people all the time! The responses were quite striking. Here are a few in brief;
I’d asked where the men’s shoes were in a department store, the employee said something like “Shoe-shits are over there.” The first word “shoe-shits” was less clear and less distinct than it appears in writing. But that is what I heard, so I blurted out, in my best neither-question nor-assertion tone of analytic ambiguity “shoe shits” with a pause to bring out both words. The employee looked shocked for a split second then started cackling with laughter. This is the only pleasant anecdote about this I have.
The most unpleasant is somewhat complicated and even now I shy away from giving some of the details, but a very short version. I heard a poet reading. He had intended a particular word and said something else, something very neologistic but quite clear (and later I listened bakc to this on an audio recording and it again seemed clear to myself and other I asked that the neologism I heard is what other heard as well). After the reading I mentioned this slip of the tnogue to the poet and he first denied (quite vehemently) that this is what he had said. I didn’t dispute with him only saying that this is what it sounded like to me. The word in question (I am intentionally not giving it for reasons that will be made clear below) included the word “porn” as one of two syllables in the neologism. The poet in question became more angry and said “So you’re saying that I watch porn and there’s something wrong with that?!” I said I had nothing against pornography, and had no insight into the meaning of the slip, and that I thought the word I heard was poetically interesting. He seemed unable to hear any of this and continued in the same vein, getting progressively angrier. I tried to change the subject but he kept circling back. Finally, arriving at his hotel, I said, “What would be so bad about having said that. We all make slips of the tongue all the time.” He replied with “Fuck you” and slammed the car door. Had this been all there was too it, it would be less of a story but the action doesn’t end there. About a week later I was alerted by a friend that several lengthy posts at a blog were violently attacking me by criticizing a piece I had written about a poet (already long deceased at that time). My friend sent me the link and I notice only once I had click on it that the blog it took me to had a one word neologistic title — precisely the same neologism I had heard in this poet’s slip of the tongue. I read through three lengthy pieces of this guys writing which were all intent on demolishing every claim I has made in that piece about the dead poet, and along the way to impugning my poetics, my intelligence, my grasp of logic, my abilities as a reader of literature, and even my grammar! Over the next month or more, additional posts appeared with scathing reviews of my poems as found here and there online and even point by point attacks on posts I had made to a poetry-related listserv more than 5 years earlier. This blog still exists (I just checked), though its author has long since ceased to devote himself to telling the world how terrible everything I think say or write is (and from checking the archives, it seems that he deleted the posts about me at some point in the intervening years — this having happened in 2004).
Those two anecdotes mark the poles, but the most common response to experiment in listening for the unconscious along these lines was “that’s not what I said” but I’ll still note that often it was prefaced by a “fuck you” and that, it often resulted in a fair amount of negative affect being directed at me. Sometimes people simply looked confused momentarily and ignored what I’d repeated from their discourse. Other times someone would turn what I had said into a question for me. Still, overall, the most common affective response to my many experiments with this seemed to be anger, annoyance, confusion or a demand for clarification. These seem to be what emerges when you try to use the analyst’s discourse in social settings which are not structured in such a way as to allow it to do the work that it does in the clinic.
Toward the end of the time when I was doing this I also tried telling people that I was practicing hearing slips of the tongue and that they should feel free to free associate to anything I repeated. This never went anywhere. Either demands were issued for me to explain why I would do this, arguments were made that slips of the tongue mean nothing, or my repetitions were met with a raised eyebrow and ignored. Often people would ask that I stop doing as soon as I said anything.
I conclude form these admittedly anecdotal and personal/subjective experiences that, Freud was right — It speaks! But (he was right about this too) very few people want to hear what it says or think about what it says and mostly they’re just gonna be pissed off.
Psychoanalysis, as Lacan says above, “is a strictly personal relation between two individuals” and if, as he also claims, there “is no collective psychoanalysis, just as there are no mass anxieties or neuroses” might the reason for this be that no speaker, no agent of any discourse in the extra-clinical social world, where there are more listeners and speakers involved than we see in an analysis, is able to impose and thereby rely upon the rules which psychoanalysis requires in order for the analyst’s discourse to work as it is does in the clinic. And while I do assert that it does work in its radically particular setting, saying so is not meant to imply that it always works, or that it works astonishingly well, or anything of the sort. Most of the time it doesn’t work, right? Doesn’t that have to be the case, as even in the clinic the analysand often enough squirms away from many interpretations because they touch upon what is most anxiety-producing about the unconscious, what we in effect do not want to know that we know about ourselves. This is why Lacan stresses above that psychoanalysis requires “infinite patience” and “moderation.” If the analyst’s discourse always worked, little patience would be required. The analyst’s discourse works, but only now and then… hopefully more often as an analysis proceeds within that very specific setting or “social bound” that we call a psychoanalysis.
Having said all of this, I do not mean to suggest that one cannot operate as Agent of something structurally equivalent to the analyst’s discourse in a social space not founded upon free association and all the rest. I claim that it can and does get used in the day to day world. But that outside of the rules which found the clinical relation it operates somewhat differently, is harder to sustain for long periods (by contrast with the other three discourses in each of which one can blather on for hours at a time seemingly). Also, in non-clinical social space, the fact that the upper level of the graph of the analyst’s discourse is very similar to the matheme of the perverse phantasy [a <> $] is not without significance, because in its extra-clinical functioning it may well be that the best name for it is the discourse of the pervert.
So, how does this discourse, whether we call it the analyst’s or the pervert’s work? The position of the agent, as discussed above, is one which speaks on behalf of jouissance from the position of the object and it addresses an other in their very character as split, addressing itself to this split that all of their defenses and ego and self-understanding is premised upon denying. It does this with S2 (knowledge) in the position of truth, as such this agent has knowledge of jouissance and it is this which it seeks to locate in the split in the other. And, the product of this discourse is an S1, a new master signifier. To provide an illustration of this pervert’s discourse, I’ll now turn to one of the novels in Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, The Hamlet.
Some stage setting will be required here. The Hamlet referred to in this novel is the teensy tiny Frenchman’s Bend, part of Faulkner’s mythic Yoknapatawpha county where the majority of his famous works take place. A new family or clan has taken up residence there, these are the Snopes and they are generally thought of as pretty bad news for a variety of reasons. The important Snopes for this discussion are the patriarch Ab and his son Flem. But Frenchman’s Bend, small though it is, is perhaps not a terrible place when they arrive and rent a nearby farm. The town is run by Will Varner who is the richest man in town, owns the town’s one store, and is the landlord for the majority of the farmland surrounding it. Ab Snopes rented the farm he’s working from Varner’s son Jody who, as head clerk, runs the store for his father. Ab and Flem Snopes, and Jody Varner are the principle characters discussed here, but there is one other who is somewhat important, Ratliff. Ratliff is a travel salesman who passes through Frenchman’s Bend and many other small towns throughout his territory, not only selling his wares, but also acting as new service of sorts. Ratliff knows everyone and seemingly remembers everything as well. So, let’s dive in to the specifics now.
Ab Snopes, father of Flem, comes into Varner’s store and encounters Jody. Ab, like his son Flem, evinces certain traits which might be read via the discourse of the pervert (analyst), namely his vague and somewhat ambiguous answers and his refusal of the normative flow of conversation and reinforcing eye contact (Faulkner 8). But overall this exchange unfolds as two Masters facing off with one another in the full Hegelian-Kojèvean resonance of that as a “fight to the death for pure prestige” (Kojève 7). But outside of this founding Hegelian myth, in a social world wherein such dominance is not usually obtained through direct violence, determining who 'wins' in such a face off is less clear. Jody does not evince any fear for the security of his own dominant position, he is, after all, the son of Will Varner, the richest and most powerful man in Frenchman's Bend as well as the proprietor of the store which everyone thereabouts depends upon — he has power and knows it, is used to exercising it and to be deferred to on its account. But he does recognize the strangeness of the interaction and the obdurant mastery that Ab presents (Faulkner 9). Moments after Ab Snopes leaves the store, a hanger-on at the Varner store named Tull, tells Jody that Ab is thought to be responsible for burning a barn on a property he’d rented previously (Faulkner 9).
The narrative shifts next to a discussion between Jody and his father Will that evening in the Varner home. Here Jody tells his father of a plan he has conceived to increase the Varner profits from the Snopes rental. He suggest that they let Ab work the farm until the season is almost over, and only when the crop is ready to harvest, to reveal that they know about the barn burning incident, using this as a means to intimidate and run the Ab and the family off the property. This scheme would net additional profit, from both the rent paid by Ab until that time and then from the entire value of the abandoned crop (Faulkner 13-8) which the Varners could then have harvested and sell.
The next day, on the road to the Snopes farm to meet Ab and see how things are progressing with the crop, Jody encounters Ratliff and their conversation initiates a shift in Jody’s thinking which is crucial to understanding what follows with Ab to a degree and with Flem most of all. Ratliff tells Jody the story of the bad blood which led up to the barn burning that Ab (with the likely aid of his son Flem) is said to have perpetrated as an act of revenge the landlord whose barn it was. In this scene we see how this barn burning narrative suddenly takes on another function relative to Jody’s plan. No longer a handy and obvious ace-in-the-hole, Jody begins to see the barn burning as far more threatening than he had previously imagined, as his repeated Hell fires, blurted out during the Ratliff’s tale, comically portray (Faulkner 16, 18). Jody's assumption had been that the mere rumor of wrong-doing would undermine Ab's pretensions mastery and insure Jody's dominance of the relationship. In the terms of the graph of the Master’s discourse, Jody’s initial plan to abscond with the literal product (the crops) that Ab as other (as S2, knowledge, in this case specifically knowledge of how to farm and the knowledge of the barn burning incident) conforms nicely to the graph’s dynamics. This aim is precisely mirrored in Lacan's discussion of the how it is that, in his account, the philosopher managed to interest a Master in something more than merely setting slaves to work; reaping the benefits of the knowledge they have, yet cannot or do not articulate (2007, 30). But the effect of Ratliff's narrative is to portray an Ab Snopes who is not in the least troubled by social censure or opinion, an Ab Snopes who is a master that doesn’t limit his strategies are to the socially acceptable. There are more examples of this in Ratliff’s gossip about the Snopes than simply the barn burning and which paint Ab as someone with a prickly refusal of being dominated by others (Faulkner 18).
Having set out on this road in a complacent sense of his own Mastery, by the time Jody reaches the farm and notices that the gate has not been repaired, something he would normally have used against the tenant, his Mastery has been undermined decisively and he remarks “I don’t even dare to mention it” (Faulkner 18-9). Nothing that he had hoped to accomplish in visiting Ab comes to pass at all, and in his mounting anxiety he finds himself instead offering favors quite out of character (Faulkner, 20-1).
In the discourse of the Analyst as practiced in the clinical setting, one of the expected and indeed necessary effects is that the analysand is hystericized. They generally begin by speaking of their problems as Master’s would, or perhaps from a distance characteristic of the University discourse. But analysis begins to bear fruit only when the analysand’s presumption that the analyst knows the meaning of their symptom or their suffering results in their beginning to shift to an hysterical response, trying with all their might to force the analyst out of the Analyst’s discourse and into that of the Master so as to pronounce the truth of their symptom as an S1. For analysis to proceed the analyst must refuse this, must instead remain ambiguous, noncommittal, must not obey conversational conventions such as offering reinforcing gestures or eye contact – analytic behavior proceeds in this fashion so as to embody the elusive object a for the analysand – that object which they wish to contain, naturalize, and delimit so that the frightful and overwhelming jouisance it manifests can be tamed.
Jody Varner already had installed this idea of barn burning in the chain of his own desire to manipulate and swindle Ab, but after talking to Ratliff and seeing exactly how much he had underestimated the potential consequences of fire as a means of expressing antagonism, it, the signifier "burning" or "fire," has behaved as signifiers generally do, sliding into other relations with other signifiers and signifieds. In "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud" Lacan characterizes the signifying chain as composed of "links by which a necklace firmly hooks onto a link of another necklace made of links" (2006, 41). Both Jody's initial plan and the change in his attitude after talking to Ratliff can be illustrated by this suspended links example. Jody begins by assuming that by revealing his knowledge of the barn burning and threatening Ab with it, that Ab will immediately grasp the many associative vertical substitutions that this allows, marking Ab as criminal, untrustworthy, social outcast, etc. Jody is himself criminal as his plot to run Ab off the farm clearly shows, but Jody's social power and prestige is a consequence of his father, and thus, for he himself to be revealed as untrustworthy, a criminal, etc would be disastrous for what mastery and prestige he has. His mistake is assuming that his own mastery, second order as it is and dependent upon social prestige, is the equal of Ab’s mastery, which is not dependent on the social consensus. After talking to Ratliff, whose story undermines the assumption Jody was depending on, we see how it is that other substitutions equally available to the signifying chain manifest that threat. Having burned on barn, Ab might well burn another. Or, a store, a home or many other piece of property might be into the position of the object to be burned and thus collectively embody a substitutive chain of signifiers hanging suspended from the signifier "barn." The threat is that should such things go up in smoke, Jody’s own needs, demands and desires would be curtailed in a fundamental way as the store above all is the emblem of Jody’s own power.
On his way home from his dispiriting encounter with Ab, Jody runs into Ab’s son Flem on the road and, perhaps imagining that Flem will be easier to deal with engages him in conversation. If we consider the pages on which this interaction takes place we can see that Jody, like a good analysand, talks a lot. He seeks to extract reassurance, to tame and domesticate his anxiety. But Flem does not provide any assurance, even when asked if his name is Flem he replies with the ever-so analyst-like question “[t]hat so?” instead of with simple agreement (Faulkner 22).
Unnerved by both Ab's and Flem's persistently perverse ambiguity, Jody tries initially in his conversation with Flem to speak from the discourse of the University, positioning Flem as his object a (what he wishes to control, to domesticate) and attempting to institute a split in him. How does this happen? Jody attempts to sketch a narrative which will make the unspoken signifier “barn burning” its occluded subject and to warn of the dangers facing those who resort to such things, namely that they will run out of places to run away from their own ill repute. This information is delivered not as the commanding nomination of a master who by saying asserts it as truth but as something commonly and socially known, dependent upon obvious knowledge (S2) on whose behalf Jody, as agent, speaks so as to educate Flem. Clearly Jody is hoping to get an assent of some kind from Flem, a recognition that there really are only so many places that a person can run if they do things again and again to make themselves unwelcome and unable to stay where they are. Such an admission on Flem's part would, firstly, link the coordinates of Jody's and Flem's utterances to a common S1 in the position of truth (perhaps nameable as 'social approval' or even 'common sense'). Had Flem agreed to this, and if we assume he did have something to do with the barn burning incident, such an assent to Jody’s claim would have effectively split him between his past criminal actions and his present recognition of the dangers of such actions.
Flem's response avoids this discursive trap entirely. He replies instead that “[t]here’s a right smart of country” (Faulkner 22). Flem’s manifest meaning here is that there is a lot of country and thus that he doesn’t worry about running out of places to go, and Faulkner chooses this particular idiomatic expression for that thought. The obvious, if submerged threat is clearly there for Jody as we know he is already afraid and now his cautionary narrative has just blown up in his face (i.e., the “truth” or S1 that he was depending upon — ‘social approval’ was not so much refused as simply ignored). And Flem response, in analytic fashion, makes use of signifiers provided by Jody, but in order to produce a signification at odds with the meaning that Jody wanted to be taken.
And the utterance is ambiguous, is Flem's response directed at the whole of Jody's narrative or only its final comment? What does Flem know? What are Flem’s desires? Jody cannot tell from what is said. He cannot be sure that Flem is even paying very much attention as his “face was as blank as a pan of uncooked dough” and during Jody’s speech he “chewed steadily” (Faulkner 22).
But what about the specific choice of the word “smart”, a word that did not emerge in Jody’s discourse, but from Flem? The psychoanalyst is not, or so we hope, out to manipulate the analysand, and it is in the service of clinical goals when the analyst offers interpretations or comments to the analysand. I think one can read this word, “smart,” as an interpretation, that is, as a response to the unconscious, latent import of Jody’s prior discussion and not to its manifest content. Were Jody an analysand and asked to free associate on that word in the context of this narrative, might he come in time to consider that he had headed out to see Ab intending to outsmart him (and failed) and that he had just (by means of his little narrative to Flem) hoped to show him a smarter course of action, and thereby outsmart him otherwise, and could the fear that he is now himself being outsmarted already have arisen in his mind? Switching to Flem’s side of this exchange, the analyst is asked to be open to his own unconscious during the clinical encounter, and when sudden signifiers emerge in his own thoughts, to allow them into the discourse. How much of a stretch is it to think that Flem intuits that Jody thinks he is being very smart here and therefore attempting to manipulate him? Flem's use of "smart" accords with Lacan's comment about analytic interpretations, that they are "not designed to be understood [but] to make waves" (qtd. in Fink 81).
Jody's first self-serving little narrative having failed, he tries another tack, again in conformity with the discourse of the University, stressing that open communication between them is important in order to stave off any untoward problems (i.e., the unspoken signifiers “burning” or "fire") and that to do so would yield a benefit. Flem’s minimal response, the question “[w]hat benefit?” (Faulkner 23), once again fails in to address or in any way acknowledge the occulted significations of the narrative in which Jody is trying to ensnare him. What Flem says can be read to signify a simple request for clarification, as tacit agreement to the implicit deal being offered, or as doubt that any benefit offered would be enough, among other possibilities.
Flem's responses throughout this dialogue mirror another comment by Lacan about analytic interpretation, that "[i]t is only through equivocation that an interpretation operates. There must be something in the signifier that resonates" (qtd. in Fink 92). Here "equivocation" and "resonance" denote a polyvalence and ambiguity in what the analyst says that attempts to maximize the potential significations of any utterance. When Jody answers that the benefit is “a good farm to work” (Faulkner 23) Flem immediately shoots him down, thus undermining the second of Jody’s attempts to contain, control, split and outsmart him. Jody tries again to gain the advantage by suggesting that in some other line of work, Flem would need the “good will” of others to succeed (the structure of the University discourse is again evident). Flem ignores this, changing the focus, and tightening it upon Jody himself by asking “[y]ou run a store, don’t you?” (Faulkner 23). This question has many effects here. First of all, in light of the manifest content of the last few lines, it says in so many words I don’t want a farm, I want what you’ve got. Additionally, it links the occluded signifier that has been driving this discussion, “burning” to the social emblem of Varner wealth. And finally, somewhat speculatively, Flem asks about the store twice, each iteration includes the words "you" and "run" (the latter term introduced earlier, as we saw, by Jody) and while one might observe that Jody may well wish he could simply run away from this encounter, that the Varner store cannot run, and neither Ab nor Flem seems about to be run off. Flem has repositioned this signifier in the chain of desires contesting here and, as with “smart” above, it has reverberations and "makes waves." As one knows from reading the novel, Flem will indeed come run the store (and the town) in time.
Two more of Flem’s few comments remain to be mentioned. Jody offers him a cigar, and Flem refuses it saying, “I aint never lit a match to one yet” (Faulkner 23). Here again the previously occluded “burning” is once more reactivated and more explicitly than at any previous moment in their conversation. Jody registers this instantly, saying, as the text specifies, “quietly,” and presumably outside of Flem’s hearing, “[a]nd I just hope to God you and nobody you know ever will" (Faulkner 23). In light of the anxiety that Jody feels about things which might be burned, the offer of a cigar reads as an almost comical attempt to link Flem to both "burning" and something which, if burned, would not be cause for alarm; an attempt to bring closure to the anxiety of "burning" by innocuously punctuating its open-ended threat. Flem's response features both a double negative “aint never” which logically, if not in the vernacular, suggests its inverse and the destablizing word "yet" at the end, making the possibility that he will at some future point "[light] a match to one" explicit. Also, Flem by deploying the shifter "one" in this statement potentially opens up that term's reference beyond one cigar to one barn or one store among other possible “ones.” Jody's sotto voce comment quoted above makes this explicit.
While Flem makes no request for a job in the store, Jody nonetheless makes an offer of such work to begin “[n]ext fall” and when this results in no response from Flem, he says “[n]ext week then” and once again he tries to rein in this giving away of favors to and to tame the anxiety that the unspoken “burning” provokes by asking for a “guarantee” from Flem. The offers, of cigar and of job, show us Jody in the discourse of the hysteric. If a master is not really a master then this is demonstrated by showing that they need things outside of themselves to be complete in their mastery. Jody as split subject offers a cigar and gets a refusal and an increase in his anxiety, then he offers a job next fall, to no reply, and finally he offers a job next week again without any response, and finally he makes a demand for a guarantee. This demand is essentially that Flem be a master, who can lay down the law with his word, and who can thus be potentially challenged and undermined by further hysterical demands for failing to be equal to that word. Flem, acting as the proper pervert (analyst), addresses Jody not as object a, refusing to grant or even acknowledge what Jody (as analysand) will not make explicit at the level of his speech, the signifier “burning”, by asking Jody in return “[g]uarantee what?” (Faulkner 23).
It is unclear from this scene what S1 might have been produced in Jody, but we can speculate. Jody had begun his day in comfortable assumption of his own social dominance and convinced that he could use it to swindle the Snopes. Through a series of incidents that turn his trump card into the signifier of great threat to himself and everything that sustains his own prestige. Might the signifier “guarantee” itself be the new S1 produced? Heretofore, Jody had not felt any need for a guarantee, he’d grown up without any challenge to his power, and without any need to struggle to attain it— that labor had been accomplished by his father. Offering Flem the job in the store might also be seen as a “guarantee” from Jody’s perspective as it is a position of power, prestige and influence in Frenchman’s Bend — and surely from Jody’s perspective, no one would want to burn the source of their own power, or the supports of their own narcissistic ego. But now Jody appears to recognize that he himself desires a guarantee of his own continuing relevance while before he’d never needed it, and while such a guarantee is hard to imagine as positive outcome for an analysis, as here it’s merely a prop for the ego— Flem’s having subjected Jody to the workings of the discourse of the pervert has brought about a change in Jody’s relation to his own desire, and to his stance vis-a-vis the Other.
|The Discourse of the Pervert|
To conclude, as is obvious from what has been said above, my contention is that there is nothing inherent to the discourse of the analyst/pervert which necessitates that it have revolutionary or emancipatory effects on its others. And further, that the positive effects that it has in the clinic are made possible by a carefully regulated setting, with stated rules and expectations which are much more formalized than the majority discursive situations we find ourselves in day to day. Now having said this, I am not ruling out the possibility that operating as the agent in the discourse of the pervert is of necessity manipulative or “bad.” I also believe that this needs to be understood with reference to the other discourse as well. Each discourse can have negative and positive effects, sometimes we need the sort of agency deployed by the master, or the university, the hysteric, or the pervert (analyst) and each of these can be directed at us in ways that intensely problematic. We have to see the discourses as structures without any necessary ethical stakes as those stakes can only be made explicit when we carefully consider what takes the places of S1, S2, the object, and the split subject in a particular case. It will be remembered that Lacan hopes that, in the wake of a successful analysis, and thus “perhaps it’s from the analyst’s discourse that there can emerge another style of master signifier” (2007, 176) and that while of another style than previously, this new S1 would once again circulate within four discourses, that of the master, the university, the hysteric, the pervert… and, conditions permitting, the analyst.
Faulkner, William. The Hamlet. London: Chatto & Windus, 1964.
Fink, Bruce. Fundamentals of PsychoanalyticTechnique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners. New York: Norton, 2007.
Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ed. Allan Bloom. Trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U.P., 1969.
Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2006.
–––. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XVII; The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Russell Grigg. New York: Norton, 2007.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Jacques Lacan’s Four Discourses”