Synopsis of Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner, ‘Avertissement: Nature de l’impensée’
[‘Foreword: The Nature of the Unthought’]
The eighth volume of the Cahiers is devoted to Rousseau, and specifically to that which remains ‘unthought’ in Rousseau’s work. Miller and Milner devote their preface to the question of the ‘unthought’ in general, and frame it in terms marked by their recent engagement with the ongoing work of Michel Foucault (soon to be published as The Archaeology of Knowledge ), work which will figure prominently in the ninth volume.
A ‘discourse’, they posit, ‘is a sequence, by its essence discrete’, that is thus ‘incommensurable to the continuum of consciousness.’ To consider a ‘collection of statements’ as a ‘homogenous and complete body’ (i.e. as a discreet discourse) involves ‘recomposing the set of rules that produce them, in such a way as to verify their compatibility, to establish their order, to effectuate their power.’ Such ‘effectuation’, they claim, will serve to determine the field in which the sequence of a discourse unfolds, where this unfolding proceeds from and towards ‘an unthought always to be reached.’
A discourse that confronts nothing unthought simply unfolds in a self-sufficient chain of deductions, ‘detached from its environment’. Such a chain, however, must be governed by an apparently ‘self-evident’ ‘autonomous statement’, one that ‘asserts its own position, is implied by all the others, and is validated by itself alone.’ Since deduction of such a statement is necessarily missing from every discourse, what it states is literally ‘the un-thought that goes without saying.’ Such a statement (of self-evidence) is present in each thought but cannot itself be thought; thus ‘it opens, outside of possible consciousness, onto that which determines the thesis of a discourse.’ The logic of such a statement resonates with the causal logic at issue in psychoanalysis, whereby a cause ‘takes effect only by lending itself to misunderstanding [la cause (...) ne s’effectue qu’à se donner à méconnaître]’.
Hence Miller and Milner’s crisp conclusion: ‘What I think is only the effect of what I un-think [j’impense].’
- Miller, Jacques-Alain and Jean-Claude Milner, ‘Foreword: The Nature of the Unthought’.