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Synopsis of Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘Avertissement: Concept de la ponctuation’

[‘Foreword: The Concept of Punctuation’]

CpA 5.Introduction:3

Jacques-Alain Miller’s introduction to volume five picks up a thread from the previous volume (devoted to the analysis of text) by identifying the ‘concept of punctuation’ as central to a ‘theory of reading’, a theory devised in terms that are consistent with the ‘science of structure’ and of signification developed in the first issues of the Cahiers. The goal will be to grasp ‘the structure within the time of its action’; this obliges us to follow, in what results of the structuring operation, that which also perpetuates it. The relation between these two terms (the continuation and the result of the structuring) cannot be grasped in terms of the causal logic of ‘classical physics, which takes the exhaustion of a cause in its effect to be the necessary condition of the rationality of the real.’ But what happens to our understanding of the real, Miller asks, if (in the domain illuminated by psychoanalysis) ‘we acknowledge a surplus of force [force] in the cause, by which it signs its product and splits it with its mark?’ The real is then marked by an effectively ‘irrational’ effect, a ‘disparity’ that can be misunderstood because (drawing on the terms of Miller’s analysis of ‘suture’ in CpA 1.3) ‘it falls in the zero of the chain’, i.e. as that which appears, for signification, as ‘insignificant’.

To analyse what Miller here calls the ‘punctuation’ of a text is to try to pinpoint this insignificant place in its logic of signification. Such analysis (as illustrated by Foucault’s ‘exemplary’ treatment, in his History of Madness, of the logic at work in Descartes’ first Meditation) allows us to reconceive the logical relation between cause and effect, to grasp how principles can be ‘the effects of their consequences’. This is what will be at stake, Miller suggests, in this volume’s invitation ‘to read what Freud read, and to read Freud, as Freud read.’

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