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La structure

In the first essay in Volume 1 of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, Jacques Lacan notes how ‘structuralism’ is beginning to transform the ‘human sciences’. One of the guiding aims of the Cahiers was to analyse the place of subjectivity within the structures uncovered by logic, mathematics, linguistics and the social sciences.

In a 1945 article on ‘Structuralism in Modern Linguistics’, the German neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer wrote that ‘Structuralism is no isolated phenomenon; it is, rather, the expression of a general tendency of thought that, in these last decades, has become more and more prominent in almost all fields of scientific research’.1 Two decades later, the French phenomenologist Paul Ricoeur gave a provocative though apt distillation of ‘structuralist philosophy’ when he described the ‘absolute formalism’ of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s anthropology as ‘Kantianism without a transcendental subject’.2 Indeed, stated most generally, structuralism was a theoretical movement which sought to determine and describe the structures of given phenomena (cultural, natural, or otherwise) without recourse to agents or entities extrinsic to these phenomena. The perspective of structuralism was immanent, as opposed to transcendent. In any given system, ‘structures’ were not set in motion or manipulated by external agents; rather, structure ought to be read as the site of agency itself.

Though Ferdinand de Saussure rarely used the term ‘structure’, it was the posthumous publication of his Cours de linguistique générale in 1916 that laid the groundwork for the development of twentieth-century structuralism. Breaking with a tradition of comparative linguistics that emphasized the diachronic development of languages in historical time, Saussure called for a synchronic analysis that took a given language as a unity to be analysed in terms of its component parts and internal relations. Two distinctions were crucial to Saussure’s approach: that between langue (language) and parole (speech) and that between the signifiant (signifier) and the signifié (signified).3 The signifier and the signified are the composite elements of the linguistic sign, itself the basic unit of language. According to Saussure, the diachronic movement of spoken parole is crucially grounded in the synchronic structures of langue. For this reason, it is the structure of langue that must serve as the site of linguistic analysis rather than the derivative phenomenon of diachronic speech, or parole.4

Any given langue or language is made up of a set of linguistic units, or signs, that are to be distinguished from their referents in the external world (e.g., in any given instance, the sign ‘tree’ may be used to refer to the green and brown mass jutting up from the ground in the distance). But the sign is itself split. The split is between the signifier (i.e., the word, or ‘sound-image’, tree) and what is signified (i.e., the concept tree). It was Saussure’s fundamental contention that the relation of signifier to signified was essentially arbitrary; there is no natural connection between the sound ‘tree’ and the concept signified by this particular aural configuration. Rather, the denotative function of signs is a result of the differences between signifiers, on the one hand, and the differences between signifieds on the other. ‘In language there are only differences […]. A difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms’.5 The correlation of a given signifier to a certain signified is a result of the differences of the unique signifier from all others (‘tree’, rather than ‘three’, or ‘tee’, etc.), and the consistent application, within the synchronic system of language, of this unique signifier to the set of features that distinguish the concept ‘tree’.

At its heart, the Saussurean conception of language is anti-representationalist. Language is no longer conceived as a system of signs which correlates with some anterior reality independent of these signs. Rather, language itself is now understood as a structure which produces rather than reveals meaning.

It was this element of Saussure’s thinking that would be most profoundly developed in the structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss. In a series of groundbreaking works, Lévi-Strauss expanded the narrowly linguistic conception of structure as the site of meaning in language in order to develop a structural account of the production of meaning tout court. Two related themes were especially central to Lévi-Strauss’s research: the relation between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, and the universality of myth. For Lévi-Strauss, the universal manifestation of the incest prohibition in various human cultures was the perfect example of how an essentially ‘cultural’ phenomenon could acquire a ‘natural’ force. The ‘natural’ weight of the incest prohibition was itself tied up in a network of signs which determined familial relations in the first place, a cultural network that was prior to any biological grasp of kinship relations in the modern, scientific sense. Lévi-Strauss read the ‘structure’ of kinship relations in the circulation of women as units uniting and dispersing families. To be sure, a ‘woman’ is much more than a signifier. But the signal insight of Lévi-Strauss’s thinking was to show how chains of signification determine much that is deemed ‘natural’ in the world, including human freedom itself.

The quest for deep structures subtending the apparent arbitrariness of cultures and existence was a guiding concern of Lévi-Strauss’s research into myth. In his book The Raw and the Cooked (1964), he sought to ‘draw up an inventory of mental patterns, to reduce apparently arbitrary data to some kind of order, and to attain a level at which a kind of necessity becomes apparent, underlying the illusions of liberty.’6 In a widely read critique of Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), Lévi-Strauss argued that truth was not a function of the historically-mediated subject but depended on a reconstruction of the effectively atemporal and unconscious ordering or classifying processes that regulate knowledge and experience.7 This emphasis on structure, as a site of logical or quasi-logical necessity anterior to apparent historical or subjective contingency, was a common theme in post-war French structuralism. To rethink a concept of subjectivity that might be consistent with a concept of structure as that which is at once determinant and ‘rule-bound’, or governed by necessity, became a fundamental aim of the editors of the Cahiers. In this task, the two French structuralists of the utmost importance were also the most proximate influences on the project: Jacques Lacan and Louis Althusser.

From ‘Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage’ (the ‘Rome discourse’, 1953), and Seminar II (1954-55) onwards, Lacan incorporated Saussure’s account of language and symbolic structure into his novel account of the Freudian unconscious. Lacan’s controversial thesis that ‘the unconscious is structured like a language’ was consistent with structuralism as a theoretical movement in that it presented the site of signification as not only anterior to its manipulation by a conscious ego, but determinant of the experiences of consciousness in the first place. Moreover, the crucial element of Saussurean linguistics - difference - was transposed into Lacan’s own framework. It is the errant differentiation of the signifier itself that is constitutive of the unconscious for Lacan. It is not through reference to experiences independent of signification that unconscious life is determined for Lacan; rather, it is the mechanisms of signification itself that determines the ‘content’ of the unconscious. For example, Lacan explains Freud’s concepts of ‘condensation’ and ‘displacement’ in terms of metaphor and metonymy in language. The term ‘structure’ was polyvalent in Lacan’s own work. Though he often referred to structuring processes (e.g., ‘the unconscious is structured like a language’), he also continued to refer to psychopathologies as having their own unique ‘structures’ (for instance the ‘structures’ of neurosis and psychosis). By the time of his seminars of the 1960s, the relation between structure and the subject had become Lacan’s primary preoccupation. Lacan’s suggestion that there could be a ‘subject’ of the unconscious would provide an essential point of departure for several of the thinkers represented in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, who sought to test the compatibility of Lacan’s ideas about subjectivity with his structuralist tendencies

Althusser conceived of structure in multiple ways as well. In the first place, society ought to be conceived as a ‘structured totality’, composed of economic, social and ideological levels. The task of theory is to articulate the structures that pre-exist our individual existence, such as the pre-structured hierarchy of relations of production and reproduction at the level of the economy. By the mid-sixties, Althusser had become preoccupied with problems about the kind of causal determination appropriate to structures. In his essay ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’ (1962), Althusser opposes adequate to simplistic conceptions of social determination: whereas a simple or ‘expressive’ approach (as with Hegel or reductionist forms of Marxism) understands the various components of a society - its economy, political system, legal system, cultural forms, etc. - by referring them back to a single underlying cause, a structuralist approach appreciates the ‘relative autonomy’ of each of these components, in the absence of a unilaterally determinant ‘centre’. Such an approach is better suited, Althusser argues, to understand the concrete complexity of moments of social crisis, and thus grasp opportunities for revolutionary political change. In his contribution to Reading Capital (1965) Althusser sought to clarify the sort of ‘structural causality’ at work in the ‘determination of either an element or a structure by a structure’:

In other words, how is it possible to define the concept of a structural causality? […]. This simple question was so new and unforeseen that it contained enough to smash all the classical theories of causality -- or enough to ensure that it would be unrecognized, that it would pass unperceived and be buried even before it was born […]. The structure is not an essence outside the economic phenomena which comes and alters their aspect, forms and relations and which is effective on them as an absent cause, absent because it is outside them. The absence of the cause in the structure’s ‘metonymic causality’ on its effects is not the fault of the exteriority of the structure with respect to the economic phenomena; on the contrary, it is the very form of the interiority of the structure, as a structure, in its effects. This implies therefore that the effects are not outside the structure, are not a pre-existing object, element or space in which the structure arrives to imprint its mark: on the contrary, it implies that the structure is immanent in its effects, a cause immanent in its effects in the Spinozist sense of the term, that the whole existence of the structure consists of its effects, in short that the structure, which is merely a specific combination of its peculiar elements, is nothing outside its effects.8

But if the whole is already structured and all action is caught up in its mechanisms, how is it possible to present the structure as such? If there is nothing ‘external’ to the structure determining it, how does one occupy an ‘external’ position in order to assess it (and potentially determine it in different ways)? In other words, the fundamentally recursive nature of structuralism had become a theoretical problem for Althusser insofar as he hoped that structuralist thinking might prove to be an innovative path for a Marxist political practice. As Alain Badiou put it in his review of Althusser’s major works from the 1960s, ‘Le (Re)commencement du matérialisme dialectique’, ‘the fundamental problem of all structuralism [remains] the problem of structural causality’.9 Various solutions, sketched below, are presented to this problem over the course of the Cahiers.

The term ‘structure’ is already semantically overdetermined by the time of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Nevertheless, the line of questioning taken in the Cahiers is distinctive, and focuses on the internal limits of structuralism as a theory and method, on the foundations of structuralism as a science, and, most particularly, on the relation of subjectivity to structure.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

In Jacques Lacan’s ‘La science et la vérité’, the first article published in the Cahiers, several meanings of the term ‘structure’ are already in play from the first sentence. Lacan asserts that he ‘established the status of the subject’ in Seminar XII by developing ‘a structure that accounts for the state of splitting [refente] or Spaltung’ (CpA 1.1:7; E, 855). One of the problems with analysing the term ‘structure’ in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse is that in some articles, subjectivity is opposed to structure, while in others, there is a structure of subjectivity.

The key passage on structuralism in the piece occurs in the context of a discussion of the limits of formalisation. Lacan suggests that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem shows the ‘failure of logic to suture the subject of science’. Subjectivity remains an ‘antinomic correlate’ to logic, and science is said to be caught in a ‘deadlocked endeavour to suture the subject’ (CpA 1.1:12-13; E 861). He suggests that this ‘is the mark of structuralism that one should not miss [on sais[it] là la marque à ne pas manquer de structuralisme]: how structuralism “ushers in to every ‘human science’ it conquers a very particular mode of the subject”, which Lacan says he is only able to characterise by appealing to topology (in particular, the Moebius strip). This particular mode of the subject involves the “internal exclusion” of subjectivity from its object’. Lacan contends that structural anthropology only manages to discover the pure ‘structures’ underlying the social forms of primitive society on condition that it develops combinatorial analysis and the mathematics of the signifier. The closer the observer of traditional societies ‘is to reducing his presence to that of the subject of science, the more correctly is the collection [of information] carried out’. Structuralism on Lévi-Strauss’s model covers over this process. Therefore structuralism is by no means advancing towards a ‘nonsaturated’ conception of a ‘calculable subject’, but rather to an encounter with its conditions in the subject of science. The specific structure with which Lacan’s psychoanalysis will concern itself is the ‘division of the subject’ and emergence of the objet petit a. Lacan will suggest that the subject of science carries out its own kind of negation: rather than repressing subjectivity, it forecloses it. In his other article in the Cahiers, ‘Réponses à des étudiants en philosophie sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’ (CpA 3.1). Lacan reiterates the primacy of the analysis of the relation of structure to subjectivity: ‘Psychoanalysis as a science will be structuralist, to the point of recognizing in science a refusal of the subject’ (CpA 3.1:13; trans. 113).

Jacques-Alain Miller’s 1964 paper ‘Action de la structure’ was a direct attempt to deal with the relation between subjectivity and structure, but its publication was delayed to Volume 9 (devoted to the ‘genealogy of the sciences’). Miller’s ‘Suture: Éléments de la logique du signifiant’ appeared in Volume 1; the chronological order of publication will be followed here. In ‘Suture’ Miller argues that at its most fundamental level the ‘relation of the subject to the chain of discourse’ involves a ‘suture’, which only permits the subject to figure in discourse as ‘the element that is lacking (in the form of a “placeholder” [tenant-lieu]’ (CpA 1.3: 39; trans. 26). If the subject is lacking from the chain of discourse, however, it is not purely and simply ‘absent’, and plays a dynamic role. Miller’s exposition is focused on articulating ‘the general relation of lack to the structure of which it is an element’. Basing himself on an analysis of Frege’s procedures in his construction of the series of whole natural numbers in The Foundations of Arithmetic, Miller identifies an implicit appeal to metaphor and metonymy in the construction of the relation between the zero and the one. Within the ‘generative repetition [répétition génitrice] of the series of numbers’, (46/31) Miller discerns ‘the structure of repetition, as process of the differentiation of the identical’ (46/31). The relation of the subject to structure is revealed in the ‘flickering in eclipses’ of the symptom, whether this is found in theory or practice. From the perspective of the logic of the signifier, the signifying chain is ‘the structure of structure’ (49/34). Miller concludes his piece with a reference to the issue of structural causality, to which he will return in ‘Action de la structure’. ‘If structural causality (causality in the structure in so far as the subject is implicated in it) is not an empty expression, it is from the minimal logic which I have developed here that it will find its status’ (49/34).

Serge Leclaire does not discuss structuralism directly in the Cahiers, but he uses the term ‘structure’ in various different contexts. In the first instalment of ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’, he discusses the ‘structure and function’ of fantasy (CpA 1.5:62), the formation of which he attributes to the process of fixation of signifiers on the erogenous body. In his encounter with Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner in CpA 3, he will go on to question the absence of conceptions of the body, desire and drive from their more formalist accounts of the subject’s relation to signification and structure (CpA 3.6:95).

Thomas Herbert’s [Michel Pêcheux] articles (CpA 2.6 and 9.5) also put the term ‘structure’ to different uses. Given the Althusserian foundations of the first article, ‘Réflexions sur la situation théorique des sciences sociales’, the idea that society must be approached as ‘structured totality’ is central from the beginning for Pêcheux. But he also talks about the ‘conflictual structure’ (CpA 2.6:149) of society, referring to the dynamic relation between the forces and relations of production in Marx. Herbert/Pêcheux’s exploration, in CpA 9.5, of the relation between syntax and semantics in the production of ideology attempts to integrate structural linguistics with Marxist theory, an exercise he continues in his major work Les Vérités de la Palice [Language, Semantics and Ideology] (1975).

In Volume 3, two major articles by André Green and Luce Irigaray elaborate the place of structuralism within the context of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Responding in part to Lacan’s suggestions in ‘La science et la vérité’, Green claims that an analysis of the role of the objet petit a is essential in order to ‘mark out the limitations of the modern structuralist dimension of Lacanian thought, and no doubt of all psychoanalytic thought’ (CpA 3.2:16; trans. 164). Like Miller and Irigaray, he will attempt to provide a detailed account of the ‘structuration’ (19; trans. 167) of the child in its relation to its parents and the wider symbolic order. He takes up Miller’s concept of suture, but argues that Miller’s structural account should be grounded in the symbolic castration of the child: ‘The series of castrations postulated by Freud - weaning [sevrage], sphincter control [dressage sphinctérien], castration properly speaking’ are at the basis of the ‘structuring and signifying repetition’ addressed by Miller (19; 167 trans. modified). In tandem with Leclaire, Green claims that psychoanalysis must connect its structuralist account of language with a theory of the body. Recognising that ‘any direct reference to the signified would destroy the structuralist enterprise’, Green argues (1) that psychoanalysis must nevertheless incorporate reference to physical structures: ‘our confidence in the stability of pertinent phonological traits ultimately depends on the functioning of the vocal apparatus’ (25; 175) and (2) that a purely structural linguistic approach is inadequate for psychoanalytic practice, insofar as it involves ‘listening to meaning’ (ibid).

In ‘Communication linguistique et spéculaire’, Irigaray also sets out from the Lacanian psychoanalytic conception that what distinguishes humans from animals is their status as symbol-using beings, which presupposes their capacity as individuals to negotiate a series of social and linguistic structures (CpA 3.3:39; trans. 9). In a detailed analysis, she shows how the formation of the subject takes place through its incorporation into linguistic structures. Taking up Miller’s account of the suture of the subject to structure, she remarks upon the analogy ‘between the status of the “on” and [that of] the “zero” in the functioning of the structure of [linguistic] exchange. To grasp this operation is to understand that the unconscious is capable of being founded as structure and not as content’ (CpA 3.3:41; 11, trans. modified). She argues that ‘all structure presupposes an exclusion, an empty set, its negation, as the very condition of its functioning’. (46; 15, trans. modified), and the subject is ‘a blank, a void, the space left by an exclusion, the negation that allows a structure to exist as such’ (41; trans. 10).

In ‘Le point du signifiant’, Jean-Claude Milner opts to speak of the relation between subject and signifier in the signifying chain as a ‘formal system’, rather than a structure (CpA 3.5:78). Plato’s Sophist contains the rudiments of the logic of the signifier, but Plato himself is guilty of ‘ignoring the structure of zero’ (CpA 3.5:82) that underlies his formulations.

In the second instalment of ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’, Leclaire turns to Freud for an account of how it is the sexual drives that put in place ‘the radical structure in which the subject is not placed, characterised by the lack of a lost object’ (CpA 3.6:88). Maintaining the primacy of the drives, he nevertheless gives two ‘structural models’ for the emergence of the subject into the symbolic order: the ‘genealogical tree’ and the ‘open cycle’ (93). In the debate between Leclaire, Miller and Milner in the question period, the ‘nature of the constraint’ that marks subjectivity is discussed, with Milner claiming that ‘the nature of the constraint can only be formal’ (95), while Leclaire insists on the primacy of the differentiation of the drives in the formation of the subject. In the final instalment of ‘Compter avec la psychanalyse’, Leclaire attempts a ‘structural’ approach to the problem of repression. Taking up Lacan’s notion of the objet petit a, he argues that ‘the structure of the unconscious can be described in terms of signifying concatenation: as a chain that has the effect of engendering a subject that it excludes and an object that falls out of it’ (CpA 8.6:93).

In Volume 4, Jacques Derrida’s ‘Nature, Critique, Écriture’ (CpA 4.1) takes further the critical view towards Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism proposed by Lacan in ‘Science et la vérité’. Lévi-Strauss’s structural analysis of the Nambikwara mirrors Rousseau’s presentation of a state of nature, a nostalgic description of a ‘crystalline’ and ‘authentic’ society before violence and social hierarchies (CpA 4.1:27), that implicitly repeats a ‘structure of violence’ (19). Only an original logic of ‘arche-writing’ can prevent structuralism from replicating binary structures (34).

Jean Mosconi’s article ‘Sur la théorie du devenir de l’entendement’ (CpA 4.2) follows up this line of thought by examining the implicit ‘geneses’ that underpin ostensibly structuralist analyses (60).

In his introduction to Volume 5, Jacques-Alain Miller anticipates the account of structuration he will publish in ‘Action of the structure’. The procedure of ‘enunciating’ structure must be grasped ‘in the time of its action’. Only this approach will allow us to trace ‘that which perpetuates the structuring operation in what results from it’ (CpA 5.Introduction:3).

In ‘Les Éléments en jeu dans une psychanalyse’ (CpA 5.1), Leclaire takes a closer look at the logic of the signifier proposed by Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner in ‘Suture’ (CpA 1.3) and ‘Le Point du signifiant’ (CpA 3.5) respectively. Leclaire notes how ‘absence’ and ‘disappearance’ are the ‘principle of the structure of the signifier’. He draws attention to Miller’s claim that the central paradox of the signifier in Lacanian psychoanalysis is that ‘the trait of the identical represents the non-identical, from which can be deduced the impossibility of its redoubling, and from that impossibility the structure of repetition as the process of differenciation of the identical’ (CpA 5.1:12). Leclaire suggests that Miller and Milner’s proposals do not explain how the psychoanalyst can distinguish given signifiers in practice. While any element of discourse may be a signifier, the psychoanalyst must be able to differentiate between signifiers, to privilege some over others. He warns against ‘the error of making the signifier no more than a letter open to all meanings,’ and reiterates that ‘a signifier can be named as such only to the extent that the letter that constitutes one of its slopes necessarily refers back to a movement of the body’ (CpA 5.1:14).

In the same volume, Michel Tort’s article takes up the problem of the ‘structuration’ of the drives in psychoanalysis (CpA 5.2:54), but his account of psychic ‘structure’ is largely confined to a description of Freud’s topographical view of the mind (as split between the structures of consciousness and the unconscious).

In the extracts from Georges Dumézil in CpA 7.1, the term ‘structure’ is only used once, to isolate a ‘functional structure’ in common between Roman and Indian mythology (CpA 7.1:38).

In Jean-Claude Milner’s article ‘Grammaire d’Aragon’ (CpA 7.2), the ‘structure’ of Aragon’s novel Mise à mort is interpreted as a ‘game’ or play [jeu], governed by an implicit but determinant set of rules which generate a ‘set that can be referred back to a law’. Identifying the multiple roles of the characters in the game, Milner shows how structural analysis can articulate the ‘incessant overflowing’ (46) of signification and reflexivity that marks the modern novel.

Jacques Nassif’s article on psychoanalytic notions of fantasy (CpA 7.4) appeals to recent ideas put forward by Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis about fantasies as structures with ‘multiple entries’.10 Like Leclaire and Green, as well as Lacan himself, Nassif uses the term ‘structure’ in several ways. Individual neuroses have ‘structures’ (73), but these structures contain ‘places’ that can be occupied in fantasy. Nassif also echoes Leclaire and Green in taking the structure of ‘sexual difference’ as bedrock in the determination of psychic structure (87).

Louis Althusser’s essay on the social contract in Volume 8 attempts to identify the ‘structure of the social contract’, in order to yield up the ‘paradoxical structure’ (CpA 8.1.15) of total alienation that underpins it.

In ‘Droit naturel et simulacre’, Patrick Hochart undertakes a deconstructive analysis of the ‘structure of moral personality’ in classical political philosophy (CpA 8.3:66-67).

In Volume 9, Foucault’s ‘Réponse au Cercle d’épistémologie’ (CpA 9.2) attempts to go beyond a ‘formalising’ approach to the theory of discourse by developing a theory of ‘discursive formations’. For Foucault, ‘knowledge [savoir] is not science in the successive displacement of its internal structures; it is the field of its actual history’ (34; trans. 326). In their response to Foucault, the Cercle query as to what distinguishes Foucault’s ‘rules of formation’ from the rules already found in structuralism (CpA 9.3:42).

In ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’, François Regnault relates the ‘structure of the One’ in the Hypotheses of Plato’s Parmenides to the ‘structure of the subject’, by connecting Plato’s Hypotheses to a series of possible sutures and foreclosures of science by epistemology (CpA 9.4:60). He also makes a critique of ‘combinatory’ or ‘structuralist’ epistemologies that do not nothing but ‘repeat pure multiplicity’. A dialectic of epistemologies is necessary to mobilise structuralism within epistemology (69).

In ‘Action de la structure’ (CpA 9.6), Jacques-Alain Miller identifies Lacan as the theorist who has put the contemporary notion of ‘structure’ to work in the most decisive manner. Lacanian psychoanalytic structuralism attempts to analyse the relation between structure and subjectivity and take account of the ineliminable feature of subjectivity in a way that has so far not been achieved by the structuralism based on linguistics. In the first section of the essay, simply entitled ‘Structure’, Miller says that structure can minimally be defined as ‘that which puts in place an experience for the subject that it includes’ (95). Two functions qualify his concept of structure: structuration, or the action of the structure; and subjectivity, as subjected [assujettie]. The concept of structuration can be analysed into a structuring structure and a structured structure. The key mediating concept between ‘structure’ and ‘subject’ for Miller is the ‘element of reflexivity’ (96): if we assume the presence of ‘an element that turns back on reality and perceives it, reflects it and signifies it, an element capable of redoubling itself on its own account, then a transformation or a general distortion is produced, affecting the whole structural economy and recomposing it according to new laws. From the moment that the structure involves such an element, (1) its actuality can be said to have the status of an experience, (2) the virtuality of the structuring process is converted into an absence, (3) this absence is produced in the real order of the structure, and the action of the structure comes to be supported by a lack’ (95). In the section on ‘Science’, Miller reflects on the possibility of a Doctrine of Science that would be able to consistently articulate structure and subject in a complex yet consistent way, thus permitting the establishment of a general theory of discourse.

Antoine Culioli’s article ‘La formalisation en linguistique’ is a discussion of the possibilities for formalisation in structural linguistics. It begins by referring to Chomsky’s distinction between surface and deep structure in grammar (CpA 9.7:109).11 The formalisation of language involves appeal to mathematical and algebraic structures capable of articulating the basic syntactic and semantic features of language (111, 113). Culioli suggests that formalised notation could help resolve the problem of metalanguage, and create ‘combinatories much more complex than those found in the analysis called structural’ which has so far only exposed ‘impoverished’ structures (115).

In her study of Galileo, Judith Miller shows how his physics requires a ‘metaphysics of relation [métaphysique de la relation]. This metaphysics has chosen the “structuralist hypothesis” in Hjelmslev’s sense of the term, where the structuralist hypothesis requires us to define magnitudes [grandeurs] by relations and not vice versa’ (CpA 9.9:146).

In Alain Badiou’s two contributions to the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, ‘La Subversion infinitésimale’ (CpA 9.8) and ‘Marque et manque: à propos du zéro’ (CpA 10.8), the term ‘structure’ is not analysed as such, but is used at key points of his argument. Developing an account of the conditions for change within an internally stratified nature of logical propositions and axioms, Badiou suggests how what is excluded from structures ‘can reappear as the inaugural mark of a real process of production in a different structure’ (CpA 9.8:128). His main focus in these articles is on the history of mathematics, but he also intends his analysis to be applied within the theory of historical materialism. In ‘Marque et manque’ he takes up this account of the autonomous stratification of logical form to criticise Jacques-Alain Miller’s account of the relation between subject and structure. Badiou presents the autonomous production of mathematical and logical structure is the real ‘outside’ of human thought (CpA 10.8:162). Badiou’s approach in these two pieces may be classed as ‘hyper-structuralist’ in the sense that they abolish all place for a subject in any domain other than ideology.12

Devoted to the theme of ‘Formalisation’, Volume 10 presents analyses of formalisation and its limits from mathematics and analytic philosophy. This is the only volume of the Cahiers without an introduction, but the texts appear to be chosen to respond to the problems of metalanguage and reflexivity within the theories of structure developed across previous articles. In ‘La proposition particulière chez Aristotle’ (CpA 10.1), Jacques Brunschwig gives an account of the ‘logical structure’ behind Aristotle’s theory of syllogisms. In 1966, Robert Blanché had published Structures intellectuelles, a work on logic, and his contribution to the Cahiers is an analysis of the ‘structure’ of the ‘square of opposition’ in logic, presenting a ‘structuration of the table of sixteen binary connectors’ (CpA 10.7:135). Badiou’s article is the only piece to explain how such problems in logic might be related to the fields of history and discourse.

Select bibliography

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  • Althusser, Louis. Pour Marx. Paris: Maspero, 1965. For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster. London: Allen Lane, 1969.
  • ---. Lénine et la philosophie. Paris: Maspero, 1969. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster. London: New Left Books, 1972.
  • Caws, Peter. Structuralism: The Art of the Intelligible. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1988.
  • Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. London: Routledge, 1975.
  • Dosse, François. History of Structuralism [1991-1992], trans. Deborah Glassman, 2 vols. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • Gandillac, Maurice de, Lucien Goldmann, and Jean Piaget. Entretiens sur les notions de genèse et de structure. Paris/The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1965.
  • Harland, Richard. Superstructuralism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. London: Methuen, 1987.
  • Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. Ecrits, trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 2005.
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1. Ernst Cassirer, ‘Structuralism in Modern Linguistics’, Word 1 (1945), 120.

2. François Dosse, The History of Structuralism I, 237.

3. For a succinct overview of structuralism, see Peter Caws’ entry on the subject in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas,

4. Langue, as distinct from langage refers to a given language or ‘tongue’, e.g., French or English. These two ‘langues’ are examples of a broader human phenomenon of langage or language as such. Parole translates as speech, and serves as the diachronic site of language in practice.

5. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 120.

6. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, 10.

7. Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘Histoire et dialectique’, La Pensée sauvage, ch. 9.

8. Althusser, Reading Capital, 188-190. In his reference to ‘metonymic causality’ in this passage, Althusser footnotes Jacques-Alain Miller’s ‘Action de la Structure’, which Miller distributed as a paper before publishing it in Volume 9 of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Althusser tried to clarify his definition a couple of years later: ‘“Structural causality” is meant to draw attention to the fact that the classic philosophical category of causality (whether Cartesian linear causality or Leibnizian “expressive” causality) is inadequate for thinking the scientific analyses of Capital, and must be replaced by a new category. To give some sense of this innovation, we can say that, in structural causality, we find something that resembles the problem (often invoked by biologists) of the causality of the “whole upon its parts”, with the difference that the “Marxist” whole is not a biological, organic whole, but a complex structure that itself contains structured levels (the infrastructure, the superstructure). Structural causality designates the very particular causality of a structure upon its elements, or of a structure upon another structure, or of the structure of the whole upon its structural levels. As for “overdetermination”, it designates one particular effect of structural causality - precisely the one I evoked a moment ago in connection with the theory of social classes: the conjunction of different determinations on the same object, and the variations in the dominant element among these determinations within their very conjunction. To go back to the example of social classes: we may say that they are overdetermined, since, in order to grasp their nature, we have to mobilize the structural causality of three “levels” of society, economic, political and ideological - with structural causality operating in the form of a conjunction of these three structural determinations on the same object, and in the variation of the dominant element within this conjunction’ (Althusser, ‘The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy’, The Humanist Controversy, 200-201).

9. Alain Badiou, ‘Le (Re)commencement du matérialisme dialectique’ [review of Louis Althusser, Pour Marx and Althusser et al., Lire le Capital], Critique 240 (May 1967), 457.

10. Laplanche and Pontalis, ‘Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality’, 22; article cited in CpA 7.4:73, 76.

11. Jean-Claude Milner translated Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax in 1971.

12. After 1968 Badiou moved away from the Althusserian approach to subjectivity taken here, and in 1982 published his own Théorie du sujet (trans. 2009).