From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
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Linguistic Definition

As early as 1957, the symptom is said to be 'inscribed in a writing process' (Ec, 445).

Lacan defines the symptom in linguistic terms, as a signifier.

conceiving of the symptom as a message which can be deciphered by reference to the unconscious 'structured like a language',

The symptom does not call for interpretation.

The symptom is not a call to the Other but pure jouissance addressed to no one.[1]

"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."[2]

the trace of the particular modality of the subject's jouissance, culminates in the introduction of the term sinthome

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

the sinthome is what 'allows one to live' by providing a unique organisation of jouissance.

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

For Lacan, the symptom is the fixed manner in which subjects enjoy their unconscious.

The sinthome as unanalysable.

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.

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

  1. Lacan, 1962-3: seminar of 23 January 1963
  2. Lacan, 1974-5: seminar of 18 February 1975