An impression of Lacan and his analysis of Poe’s “Purloined Letter”

Post to the Lacan Wave
I had been complaining about Lacan and how cryptic his work was, but I thought I should revisit his work to make sure my impressions were correct, this was the first results of my investigation . .  .
OK, I read the purloined letter and the first chapter of the New Ecrits.
I still say it is CRYPTIC but I have done a lot of work since I last studied Lacan seriously which was years ago. So I got a lot more out of it this time around. Of course, I read the story along with is chapter and I must admit that the story itself is much better than his rendition of it. I don’t think I have read the story since highschool. I think there are other things in the story that Lacan did not bring out that could be fruitfully pursued.
There is a clear connection between Peirce’s categories and what Lacan is talking about. But I don’t think it is precisely through the registers. I wonder if anyone has studied this. I am still trying to find the book I have that I like so much about the Registers. Recently I have been going into Peirce fairly deeply re-reading the Chronological Edition and various secondary works. So, I have a pretty good idea what is going with Peirce right now. But of course that won’t last. Like you said the traces of Heidegger and Hegel are there.
One of the things I have been thinking recently is that there does not seem to be anyone who has taken up the Semiotics of Heidegger in Being and Time. I went back to look at that recently. For him the Sign is part of the ready to hand but conspicuous rather than inconspicuous, and he uses it as the transition to Worldhood. So I am going to play out a fantasy here that Lacan is taking up Heidegger’s semiotics rather than that of Saussure. Also I am going to fantasize that Lacan is aware of the connection in Being and Time with Hegel where Dasein is called Spirit, in its future temporality which Heidegger says has precedence even though the ecstasies are equi-primordial. Now if we take this fantasy, which I cannot substantiate because I have only read this one paper, so far, and project it back on Lacan, then I think that Lacan could become very interesting for me.
Peirce has an idea called Precission, which is different from Precision (unfortunate naming, like differetiation and differenciation in Deleuze). Precission is where you take something whole and you analyze it abstractly without breaking it apart by analysis, so it does not lose its wholeness and emergent characteristics. That is how he derives his categories starting from the Third down to the Second and First, not the other way around. Lacan is doing something similar starting with the Symbolic as intersubjective symbolic behavior which we are caught up in and has control over us rather than the other way around. He says that Imaginary relations that are dyadic are a degenerate form from the Symbolic level where there is a relation between Subject and Other.
Heidegger would like us to start from the totality of Worldhood in this way. One way to think about the difference between ready-to-hand and present-at-hand is to think as ready-to-hand as what can be approached only from totality by precission, while the present-at-hand is what is approached by precision and analysis that breaks apart by precision.
I think Lacan totally gets the fact that dasein is prior to object and subject distinction and is embedded in the mitsein and he is supplying the semiotic underpinnings of the symbolic relations starting with the symbolic relations as overwhelming Dasein, just as it is overwhelmed by Mitsein. This is an interesting view if it is Lacan’s view.
The symbolic is the level of Hegelian Mediation, which is of course what Peirce calls the Third. We are working down from that synthesis with precission to identify imaginary dyadic relations and the real arbitrary characteristics of the Real. So that is where it seems to align with Peirce’s categories, though the precission downward from the synthesis. But interestingly there are dualities at each level: Subject/Other, ego/other, accidental odd/evens. Peirce does not have that insight, which I tend to support. It is similar to my Special Systems Theory.
Something I really appreciated is where he says that there is an inversion of the message that the Subject gets back in its own projection from the Other. This is very similar to my idea that System and Meta-system (ecosystem, media, environment) are inverse duals of each other. I say the same thing about the Set and Mass categories. I don’t think I got this from Lacan, but his relation between Subject and Other is a lot like my System/Meta-system distinction. See my papers at works.bepress.com/kent_palmer and also at archonic.net This gives me some support for calling these relations inverse duals, which has been criticized by R. Kaehr at thinkartlab.com
His basic idea in the analysis of the Purloined Letter is that there is a hierarchy of points of view, where he thought that she thought that he thought, and he is exploring how this ramification within the story of points of view, supports his idea that there are three levels of viewpoint in the odd/even game. There is chance, but the too lucky boy cases out his mark, and puts himself in the position of the other to think out his strategy, and thinks that there are only three meta-levels in this game of even and odd guessing that Poe mentions. I seem to remember a new scientist article about this where actual experiments were done and they said that people lost track after the fourth meta-level of taking the position of the other taking the position of the other taking the position of the other taking the position of the other. Most people could do up to level four, but almost no one could do more than four recursions of the meta-levels of viewpoints. I wish I kept that reference. I liked it because it coincided with my idea of the meta-levels of Being and their emergent structure that determines the structure of the Western Worldview.
I think Lacan is wrong about this particular point, because he associates the even and odd game with presence and absence, but there is another game that really has that structure which is the game “which hand is it in” that has nine states, which are the states of the vector truth in August Sterns Matrix Logic. This is the actual structure of showing and hiding within our worldview. So there is a disconnect between the game of even and odd that Poe mentions and Lacan takes up and the actual structure of presence and absence as showing and hiding. The arbitrary series that Peirce calls Firsts and Lacan calls Real is analyzed in a very complex combinatorial analysis in the additions to the seminar. These actually made more sense than the analysis in the seminar which was clearly originally off the cuff and spoken due to the many digressions. In that combinatorial analysis there is something that I had not seen before which was to produce a diachronic analysis by taking snapshots from the arbitrary series in three elements at a time. For me this was the most interesting part of the paper because it showed how he thought about the elements that were missing, or absent and how they determined the future series. Deleuze has very interesting analysis of this series and the whole idea of the floating signifier, as well as the empty crossing point between two chains of signification. This eight state structure approximates the showing and hiding structure of the more complex game. And so I am not saying that Lacan is not approximating the showing and hiding structure but I am not sure this diachronic analysis is the same.
Lacan says at the end, that his analysis is based on the arbitrary nature of Free Association as a method, and the fact that what ever you free associate is determined symbolically as an expression of the unconscious from out of language. He says he was drawn to Poe’s game of even and odd because it approximated the same idea, of the determination by the too clever boy who always wins of outcomes. In the series the memory of whether it is even or odd is preserved and received in the future from the past, or even backwardly determinate from out of the future, as far as I can see, thus approximating the equi-primoridality of Heidegger’s ecstasies of time.
There is of course the possibility of endless discourses on the story of the Purloined Letter and the analysis of Lacan, but this should be enough for discussion. I really do not like the way Lacan talks about his students, the defense of his theory, and his style which is somewhat desultory.
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Posted December 2, 2009 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

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