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French: sinthome

The term sinthome is, as Lacan points out, an archaic way of writing what has more recently been spelt symptôme.

Jacques Lacan
1975-6 Seminar

Lacan introduces the term in 1975, as the title for the 1975-6 seminar, which is both a continuing elaboration of his topology, extending the previous seminar's focus on the borromean knot, and an exploration of the writings of James Joyce.

Through this coincidentia oppositorum -- bringing together mathematical theory and the intricate weave of the Joycean text -- Lacan redefines the psychoanalytic symptom in terms of his final topology of the subject.

Development of the Concept of the "Symptom"

Before the appearance of sinthome, divergent currents in Lacan's thinking lead to different inflections of the concept of the symptom.

Symptom Inscribed in Writing Process

As early as 1957, the symptom is said to be "inscribed in a writing process,"[1] which already implies a different view to that which regards the symptom as a ciphered message.

Symptom as pure Jouissance

In 1963 Lacan goes on to state that the symptom, unlike acting out, does not call for interpretation; in itself, it is not a call to the Other but a pure jouissance addressed to no one.[2]

The Way in Which the Subject Enjoys the Unconscious

Such comments anticipate the radical transformation of Lacan's thought implicit in his shift from the linguistic definition of the symptom - as a signifier - to his statement, in the 1974-5 seminar, that "the symptom can only be defined as the way in which each subject enjoys [jouit] the unconscious, in so far as the unconscious determines him."[3]

Symptom as the Particular Modality of the Subject's Jouissance

This move from conceiving of the symptom as a message which can be deciphered by reference to the unconscious "structured like a language," to seeing it as the trace of the particular modality of the subject's jouissance, culminates in the introduction of the term sinthome.

Kernel of Enjoyment Beyond the Symbolic

The sinthome thus designates a signifying formulation beyond analysis, a kernel of enjoyment immune to the efficacy of the symbolic.

Organization of Jouissance

Far from calling for some analytic "dissolution," the sinthome is what "allows one to live" by providing a unique organisation of jouissance.

Identification with the Sinthome

The task of analysis thus becomes, in one of Lacan's last definitions of the end of analysis, to identify with the sinthome.

Shift from Linguistics to Topology

The theoretical shift from linguistics to topology which marks the final period of Lacan's work constitutes the true status of the sinthome as unanalysable, and amounts to an exegetical problem beyond the familiar one of Lacan's dense rhetoric.

Sinthome as Fourth Ring in Borromean Knot

The 1975-6 seminar extends the theory of the borromean knot, which in the previous seminar had been proposed as the essential structure of the subject, by adding the sinthome as a fourth ring to the triad of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, tying together a knot which constantly threatens to come undone.

This knot is not offered as a model but as a rigorously non-metaphorical description of a topology "before which the imagination fails."[4]

Since meaning (sens) is already figured within the knot, at the intersection of the symbolic and the imaginary, it follows that the function of the sinthome -- intervening to knot together real, symbolic and imaginary - is inevitably beyond meaning.

Writings of James Joyce

Lacan had been an enthusiastic reader of Joyce since his youth.[5]

In the 1975-6 seminar, Joyce's writing is read as an extended sinthome, a fourth term whose addition to the borromean knot of RSI allows the subject to cohere.

Faced in his childhood by the radical non-function / absence (carence) of the Name-of-the-Father, Joyce managed to avoid psychosis by deploying his art as suppléance, as a supplementary cord in the subjective knot.

Lacan focuses on Joyce's youthful "epiphanies" (experiences of an almost hallucinatory intensity which were then recorded in enigmatic, fragmentary texts) as instances of "radical foreclosure," in which "the real forecloses meaning."[6]

"Destructive" Refashioning of Language

The Joycean text -- from the epiphany to Finnegans Wake -- entailed a special relation to language; a "destructive" refashioning of it as sinthome, the invasion of the symbolic order by the subject's private jouissance.

One of Lacan's puns, synth-homme, implies this kind of "artificial" self-creation.

Lacan's Engagement with Joyce's Writing

Lacan's engagement with Joyce's writing does not, he insists, entail "applied psychoanalysis."

Topological Theory

Topological theory is not conceived of as merely another kind of representational account, but as a form of writing, a praxis aiming to figure that which escapes the imaginary.

Saint Homme
New Way of Using Language to Organize Enjoyment

To that extent, rather than a theoretical object or "case," Joyce becomes an exemplary saint homme who, by refusing any imaginary solution, was able to invent a new way of using language to organise enjoyment.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.445
  2. Lacan, Jacques. 1962-3. Le Séminaire. Livre X. L'angoisse, 1962-3, unpublished.
  3. Lacan, Jacques. 1974-5. Le Séminaire. Livre XXII. RSI, 1974-5, published in Ornicar?, nos. 2-5, 1975.
  4. Lacan, Jacques. 195-6. Le Séminaire. Livre XXIII. Le sinthome, 1975-76, published in Ornicar?, nos 6-11, 1976-7. 9 December 1975.
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.25; Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XX. Encore, 1972-73. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1975. p.37
  6. Seminar of 16 March 1976