From Absolute Master
When, thanks to the absolute power of Understanding, essence becomes meaning (sens) and incarnates itself in a word> there is no longer any "natural" relationship between essence and its prop; otherwise, words that have nothing in common in terms of their spatiotemporal, phonetic, or graphic reality (chien, dog, Hundy etc.), could not serve as a prop to the same unique essence, all of these words having a single, unique meaning. Thus, there has been a negation here of the given such as it is given (with its "natural" relationships between essence and existence)—that is, a creation (of concepts or words-having-a-meaning, which, as words, have by themselves nothing to do with the meaning that they incarnate). —Alexandre Kojeve
The psychoanalytic interpretation conceives of the phenomenon of consciousness as the symbolic realization of a desire repressed by censorship. Let us note that for consciousness this desire is not implicated in its symbolic realization.... It follows that the signification of our conscious behavior is entirely external to the behavior itself, or, if one prefers, the signified is entirely cut off from the signifies
We could begin this way: What do you call a cat? A cat, obviously.2 Yes; but what do you call "a cat"? Is the named cat the same as the unnamed cat, the cat before it was named? This is what ordinary language believes (or makes us believe), as Maurice Blanchot recalls in an article where, in his own way, he hails the publication of Kojeve's Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: "Everyday language calls a cat a cat, as if the living cat and its name were identical."3 But everyday language is wrong, as the (Hegelian) philosopher and the writer know very well. The named cat is a dead cat, an absent, negated cat: "The word gives me what it signifies, but first it suppresses it. .. . It is the absence of that being, its nothingness. . . . Language begins only with a void. ... In the beginning, I don't speak in order to say something; rather, it is a nothing that asks to speak, nothing speaks, nothing finds its being in speech, and the being of speech is nothing."4
The upright, prosaic person who proposes to call a cat a cat—and not, as a writer does, "a dog"5—is therefore "more mystifying than ever, for the cat is not a cat."6 In fact, how can we name the cat that has disappeared into speech? The real integrity of language is the paradoxical and impossible integrity of the writer, who creates from nothing7 by constantly struggling to name the death that he resuscitates as he goes along, and which escapes from him as well, since his "speech is the life of that death."8 Thus, literary creation is a perpetual idleness (or "unworking") (desoeuvrement)9 that tries to climb back beyond the work, toward Creation itself, and which can accomplish this only through an aborted creation (or, what amounts to the same thing, through an interminable apocalypse):
Hegel,... in a text preceding the Phenomenology, wrote: "The first act by which Adam made himself master of the animals was to give them a name; that is, he annihilated them in their existence (as 'existants')." Hegel meant that, from that moment, the cat ceased to be simply a real cat and became an idea as well. Therefore, the meaning of speech demands, as preface to all speech, a sort of immense hecatomb, a preliminary deluge, plunging all of creation into a total sea. God created beings, but man had to annihilate them. In this way, they became meaningful for him, and he in turn created them out of that death into which they had disappeared.10
In the Beginning Was Language
Let us recall that Lacan, in his "Rome Discourse," was rectifying Goethe's formula: in the beginning was not the Action, but the Word (1977a, 61/271)—by which he meant creative speech, the performative speech act. But two years later, in the second seminar, he modifies the accepted translation of St. John's logos: in the beginning was not the word (parole), he maintained before his astonished listeners, but language (1988b, 309-314/355-361).11 This comment, apparently purely philological (and, as such, rather fanciful), actually introduces an important reversal, one whose importance will only increase. Creative speech is far from being what is opposed to representative language (revealing the nothing hidden by the latter); on the contrary, language "gives [speech] its radical condition" (1988b, 313/360):
We can turn it [the inflection of logos in verbum] into something completely different from the reason for things, namely, this play of absence and presence which already provides the frame for fiat. For, in the end, fiat is made (se fait) on a backdrop of the un-made (non-fait) which is prior to it. In other words, I think that it isn't inconceivable that even the fiat, the most primary of creative speeches, is secondary.... What's at issue [in language] is a succession of absences and presences, or rather of presence on a background of absence, of absence constituted by the fact that a presence can exist.... It is the original contradiction of o and 1 [1988b, 312-313/359].
Therefore, language in general, and not just speech, is invested with the power of bringing non-being (the zero) into being. More precisely, speech does not create ex nihilo except against the backdrop of the simultaneity of presence and absence in language. This is another way of saying that, for Lacan, language is heir to all the characteristics previously attributed only to full/performative speech: no matter what he says, no matter what his utterance, the subject of the enunciation presents himself in it (only) as absence. This is a sign (if we need one) that Lacan no longer believes in the possibility that one speech would be more "true" than another, and that this opposition within language is henceforth displaced onto the "original" opposition between language as a whole and nothing (between 1 and o).