The Symptom between Speaking and Writing, with Jean-Louis Gault

 REPORT by Roger Litten

Jean-Louis Gault came to London in November to take part in the Preparatory Seminar of the NLS working towards the Xth NLS Congress to be held in Tel Aviv in June.  He arrived in London fresh from his recentclinical work with Chinese practitioners in Shanghai and was thus well placed not just to entertain us with anecdotes from his experiences there but also to speak to us about the symptom between speech and writing.

His presentation opened with some basic propositions.  Psychoanalysis is in the first instance an experience of language.  The complaint of the suffering subject necessarily takes the path of speech.  In this way the symptom is constituted in the form of a message that returns to him from the Other of language.  This circuit forms the basis for the possibility of analytic interpretation.

But the symptom is not only a matter of speech.  It is also something that concerns the body, not just the body as far as it speaks but also the living body.  Thesymptom has thus to be considered also in its material aspect as something produced in the body and made out of the body, something concerned with themaking of the body itself.  The symptom therefore involves a mode of writing that leaves it imprinted with the logo‘Made in the body’.

These two aspect of the symptom, as something articulated in signifiers and as something inscribed in the body, are linked in turn to the relation between two modes of satisfaction – on one hand the satisfaction of meaning, enjoymeant, and on the other hand as the index of another, more opaque mode of satisfaction, one that is without meaning.  The course of the analytic treatment of the symptom can then be traced between these two modes of satisfaction.

If the symptom is supported by these two different modes of satisfaction, then the analytic practice of interpretation of that symptom will also involve this double affiliation in language and in the body.  Considering the mode of analytic interpretation in its suspension between speaking and writing then poses the question of the form of reading that makes possible the translation of that writing into speech.

Jean-Louis Gault set out to clarify and to demonstrate these propositions first by way of reference to two key passages from the Ecrits (see the passage on page 280 from Field and Function of Speech and Language and that on page 747 from the Youth of Gide).  A close reading of these two passages in relation to each other allowed him to clarify the distinction and articulation between the two dimensions of the symptom and its interpretation.

He also made ample use of clinical material to illustrate these points, particularly by way of an account of two series of dreams recounted by two different subjects in analysis, one turning on a series of grammatical modulations of a key phrase and the other on the play of homophonic modulations, indicating in both instances how it was the analysand’s own deciphering of the phrases concerned that opened the way to a productive reading of what was at stake at that stage of the treatment.

I will notattempt here to follow out Jean-Louis Gault’s careful presentation in any great detail, but simply to provide an indication of one line of thought that I found particularly stimulating in his argument.  I apologise in advance to Jean-Louis for any inevitable distortions this may introduce into his meticulous elaboration.  I hope that nonetheless those distortions in their turn might become productive for further avenues of the collective work of elucidation of ourtheme for the year.

The psychoanalytic symptom is constituted in the relation of speech and therefore takes form in the field of language.  At the same timeit is inscribed in the body, but a body that has nothing to do with biological anatomy but is rather a body distinguished from the biological organism precisely by the impact of language.  Itis this body that we might call the body of satisfaction.

Where medical science in its conception and practice will attempt to reduce the symptom to the biological organism, thus denying the space of the unconscious opened up by language, Freud will invent a special mode of treatment to address the symptoms that arise in the peculiar body produced by language from out of the biological organism. 

These symptoms themselves testify to the futility of the attempt to reduce the speaking being to the organism, to make the subject coincide with the body he inhabits.  They can rather be read as anindex of the irremediable disruptions of the speaking being’s relation to a body carved out by language, in such a way that the speaking being has a body in the same way that he has the use of language, but does not have the slightest idea what to do with that body, what it is for.

In the place of any instinctual adaptation to his body or to his surroundings the speaking being has to make do with a knowledge.  That knowledge might be reduced on the one hand to knowledge of the fact that there are bodies in the world and on the other hand of the fact that these bodies are distinguished as male and female.  But once again he is at a loss as to what to do with this knowledge or how to put it to work.

The symptom, as a mode of knowledge, arises as an index of the speaking being’s helplessness in relation to language and in relation to the body he is supposed to inhabit.  It is testimony on the one hand to the disruption of his body by language and on the other to the disruption of language by sex.  In either case it remains a constant index of the speaking being’s experience of the failure of his resources to confront the real of satisfaction.

Hence Lacan’s claim that speaking beings speak only of that.  For Freud symptoms always have a relation to a disturbance in the sexual sphere.  Thevalidity of psychoanalytic interpretation is founded on the generality of this proposition.  Freud thus posits a mode of constant relation precisely there where there is no relation.  For Lacan symptoms are indexed on the failure encapsulated in the proposition that there is no sexual relation that can be written in the unconscious.

The symptom as index of the failure of the sexual relation is a form of writing of the impossibility of writing the sexual relation.  Any treatment of that symptom thus has to take account of the fact that the symptom is itself in the first instance a form of treatment of the non-rapport.  This can be most clearly demonstrated at the level of satisfaction, where the symptom can be seen toinvolve a form of satisfaction, but a mode of satisfaction erected to mark the site where satisfaction remains in abeyance.

Hence the questions posed by the notion of the symptom as a form of substitute satisfaction, as an Ersatz of satisfaction that comes in the place of the satisfaction that remains inabeyance.  We have perhaps not yet fullycome to grips with the range of questions posed by this notion of the symptom as substitute satisfaction and the paradoxes involved in the notion of Ersatz satisfaction itself.  What is this metaphor of satisfaction by which one form of satisfaction can come to take the place of another?  Even if this relation is in fact one that is encompassed by the notion of metaphor, what would that metaphor be productive of?

Jean-Louis Gault suggested to us that satisfaction is always true, or rather that the satisfaction produced by the symptom is always a true satisfaction, as there is no such thing as a ‘false’ satisfaction.  A false satisfaction does not exist.  Satisfaction is like the rose, but it is not clear that it is a metaphor of anything.  Rather we have a true satisfaction in the symptom, one that perhaps ought not to be, but which arises in the place of the one that ought to be but is not.  Is not the symptom in its ethical dimension here directly allied with the work of art, in the creative function by which it serves to make something out of nothing but the scraps of material found tohand?

If the symptom involves a form of substitution it is one by which a satisfaction that is comes to mark a satisfaction that is not, a satisfaction that maintains a relation to a non-relation and which entails a mode of inscription of something that is impossible to write, even if it is just the writing of the truth of an unsatisfaction.  The symptom remains an irreducible objection both to the dream of resolution and to the dream of satisfaction, but one that can always be heard, interpreted and perhaps rendered productive by those who know how to read. 

At the level of satisfaction there is always an abeyance, an abeyance that is corollary with the proposition that there is no sexual rapport.  The symptom can thus never be reduced to zero, never cease to write itself as the trace of the abeyance of satisfaction.  We will always have to find a way to deal with the symptomatic residues, traces of what cannot be written, which continue to find a way to make themselves heard.  It is these residues of something that we continue to fail to understand that we seek to make productive in our work together.

We thank Jean-Louis Gault once again for the spoken and written traces of his own work that he has shared with us, the echoes of which continue to resonate and tostimulate our working community.

Roger Litten


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