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Punctuation

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French: ponctuation

The Punctuation of a Signifying Chain

To punctuate a signifying chain is to produce meaning. Before punctuation, there is simply a chain of discourse. It is the listener/receiver who punctuates this discourse and thereby sanctions retroactively one particular meaning of an utterance.

The Illusion of a Fixed Meaning

The punctuation of the signifying chain is that which creates the illusion of a fixed meaning:

"The punctuation, once inserted, fixes the meaning."[1]

The Structure of Communication

This is essential in the structure of communication, where "the sender receives his own message from the receiver." It is illustrated in the "elementary cell" of the graph of desire.

Psychoanalysis

The operation of punctuation may be illustrated by reference to two situations which are of fundamental importance to psychoanalysis: the mother-child dual relation, and the transferential relation between analysand and analyst.

Mother-Child Dual Relation

In the first of these situations, the baby who has not yet acquired speech can only articulate his needs in a very primitive kind of demand, namely by screaming. There is no way of knowing for sure whether a scream articulates hunger, pain, tiredness, fear, or something else, and yet the mother interprets it in one particular way, thus determining its meaning retroactively.

Analysand-Analyst Relation

Punctuation is one of the forms which the intervention of the analyst may take; by punctuating the analysand's discourse in an unexpected way, the analyst can retroactively alter the intended meaning of the analysand's speech: "changing the punctuation renews or upsets" the fixed meaning that the analysand had attributed to his own speech.[2] Such punctuation is a way of "showing the subject that he is saying more than he thinks he is."[3] The analyst can punctuate the analysand's discourse simply by repeating part of the analysand's speech back to him (perhaps with a different intonation or in a different context). For example, if the analysand says tu es ma mère ("you are my mother"), the analyst may repeat it in such a way as to bring out the homophony of this phrase with tuer ma mère ("to kill my mother").[4]

Psychoanalytic Treatment

Alternatively, the analyst can also punctuate the analysand's speech by a moment of silence, or by interrupting the analysand, or by terminating the session at an opportune moment.[5] This last form of punctuation has been a source of controversy throughout the history of Lacanian psychoanalysis, since it contravenes the traditional IPA practice of sessions of fixed duration.

"Sessions of Variable Duration"

Lacan's practice of sessions of variable duration (French: séances scandées) came to be one of the main reasons that the IPA gave for excluding him when the SFP was negotiating for IPA recognition in the early 1960s. Today, the technique of punctuation, especially as expressed in the practice of sessions of variable duration, continues to be a distinctive feature of Lacanian psychoanalysis.

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 99
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 99
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p. 54
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 269
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 44