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Miller, S. (2017). The Exactitude of the Signifier. DIVISION/Rev., 17:52-53.
  

(2017). DIVISION/Review, 17:52-53

The Exactitude of the Signifier

Steven Miller

Let us begin with the signifier, since this is the form in which La- and La- both presume that the unconscious constitutes a specific form of knowledge. The signifier—there it is, all alone. How strange that, after Lacan and Laplanche, we speak of the signifier, as if there were only one.

To a certain extent, we might recall, the signifier is a synonym for language. The signifier or language, the same thing. So that, in the case of the La/La showdown—ours, and before ours their own, which dates back to 1959—the signifier is shorthand for the dispute (which, from our vantage point today, might seem as arbitrary as the strife between two children on the train, in Lacan's famous illustration, forever opposed over the proper name for their current stop): whether the unconscious is the condition of language (Laplanche), or whether language is the condition of the unconscious (Lacan). In fact, however, the signifier is not just a synonym for language, another word for the same thing; more specifically, it is a metonym—it is an inherently contingent fragment that comes to figure the whole, much as a random card on a table arrayed with cards comes to stand by sheer association for all of the other cards. For Lacan, I recall, metonymy is the name for the horizontal axis of signification, the unstoppable association movement from signifier to signifier, the horizon without horizon of desire. But it is also the operation whereby the term signifier itself is constituted as a replacement or displacement of the word language.

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