GREIMAS AVEC LACAN

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GREIMAS AVEC LACAN; OR, FROM THE SYMBOLIC TO THE REAL IN DIALECTICAL CRITI CISM Phillip E. Wegner [n this essay, I want toexp]ore the ill1plications for a materialist dialectics of a reading of A.J. Grcimas's scmimics, and in particular what Fredric Jameson has described as its "supreme achievement," Greimas's "semi-otic rectangle"I (figure I). My approach challenges what has become a commonplace for example, in both Paul de Man's classic essay ;'Thc Resistance to Theory" (1982) and P:lUl Ricocur's three-volume opus Time alld Narrative {l983-85)- that takes Grcimas's work and the tools he elaborates as the quintessence of a structuralist drive to :lbstraction. marked by totalizingltotalltarian tendencies and an utter rejection of histori city (t he diach ronic) and indeterminacy. (In de Man's terms. this takes the form of an absolute privileging of the gram-matical level of a text over the rhetorical; and Ricoeur concludes. "The whole suategy thus amounts to a vast attempt to do :1way with dia-chrony."2) While such a reading may be accurate in certain deploymems of these tools, a different set of possibilities emerges when the semiotic rectangle is read in conjunction with the work of Greimas's great con-temporary, Jacques Lacan, and. in pa rt icular, "the fundamenta l cI:1ssifica-tion system around which all his theorizing turns," the three orders of the Symbolic, Im:lginary, and Rea!.' Indeed, in this essay, I use the rich semi-otic resources of the Greimasian rectangle to tell a number of deeply in-terrelated stories: about the history of the novel; developments in the last few decades in theory more generally :'!nd in the work of Fredric Jameson in particular; and lhe value of dialectic:'!1 thinking for our present mornelll of global iz:lt ion. This gesture of reading Greimas with Lacan takes its lead from Lacan's own work, by way of hi s essay "Kant avec Sade." In a footnote to a recent discussion of this essay, Slavoj Zizek suggests that "f.1r from being restricted Crlflmm. Spring 2009. Vol. 51. No.2. Pl" 211-H5. ISSN: 0011 -1589. o 2009 Waync Smc Unil'crslly Prcss. lktroit. :-OIl -48101 1309. 211 212 PHILLIP E. WEGNER c N to Lacan, this procedure of reading'X with Y' has a long Marxist lineage"; indeed, Zizek argues, Il ls not the main point of Marx's crit ique of HegeJ's specu-lative idealism precisely to read '; Hcgel with political economy," that is, to discern in the speculati ve circular movemcm of Capital the "obscene secret" of the circula r movement orthe Hegelian N o t i o n ~ ~ GREIMAS AVEC LACAN 213 Furthermore, Zizck maintains that we misread this relationship if we see the latter figure in the couple as "the truth" of lhe former: lOin the contrary, the Sadeian perversion emerges as the result of the Kantian compromise, of Kant 's avoiding the consequences of hi s breakthrough. Sade is the J'ymptom of Knill: ... the space for the fi gure of Sadc is opened up by this compromi se of Kant, by his unwillingness to go to the end, to retain the fu ll fidelity to his philosophical Something simil:1f, I want to :lrgue, occurs when we read Greimas with Lacan. The ianer shows us something new aboul the nature of the for-mer's breakthrough: the always already-existent symptom haunting the illusory closure of the strllcturalist schemas, a materi:.lizing hori zon of di:.lectical possi bilities implicit wi thin the Greim:.sian mapping itself.!' The va lue for any dialect ical criticism of Greimas's work (as wel l as that of Laca n) has been explored in great detail by Jameson, Greimas's si ngle most inAuent ial proponent in the Engli sh-language COnlext, and it will be by way of the shift s that occur in Jameson's usage of Greimas's semiotic rectangle that the device's full di:.lectical force becomes clcar.7 For readers less famil iar with the workings of the semiotic rectangle, Jnmeson's description of it from The Political Unconscious (1981) is sti ll helpful: BrieAy the semioti c rectangle or "elementa ry st ructure of signification" is the representation of a binary oppos ition or of two contraries (5 and -S), along with the si mpl e negations or contradictories of both terms (the so-call ed subcontrar ics -S and S): significant slots are constituted by the various pos-sible combi nati ons of these terms, most notably the "com-plex" term (or ideal synthesis of the two contraries) and the "neutral" term (or ideal synthesis of the two These last two terms, the complex and the neu/ml, will ha ve, as we shall sec, crucial roles to play in the development of Jnmeson 's intellectual proj -ect more generally. Jameson's first extended discussion of Grcimasian semiotics occurs in hi s 1972 book on Russia n Formalism and its structurali st descendants, The Prison-House of umgllage. At th is early j LLnctLL re, Jameson's focus remains primarily on the four internal "5' terms of the sc hema, and the dialectical 214 PHILLIP E. WEGNER movement he notes between them (see figure 2). Here, Jameson suggests that the fourth te rm in the sc hema, the -5 in the bottom-left slot in figure 2, may be identified as nonc other than the negation of a negation" famil iar from dialecti cal philosophy. It is, indeed. because the nega-tion of a neg:Hion is such a decisive leap. such a production or generation of new meaning, th:a we so frequently come upon a system in the incomplete state shown above (onl y three terms out of four given). Unde r such ci rcumstances the negation of the negat ion then becomes the primary work which the mechanism is called upon to accompli sh.9 Jameson goes on to demonstrate how this gene rati ve machinery operates through a brief discussion of Charles Dickens's HtlJd Times (1854), a novel in which "we witness the confrontat ion of what amounts to two intellectual systems: Mr. Gradgrind's utilitarianism ("Fans! Facts!') and the world of anti-facts symbol ized by Sissy Jupe and the circus, or in other words, imag-ination."'u Jameson argues that the narrative's plot is to be unde rstood as "nothing but an attempt to give" the absent fourth term in the schema im:lginative being, to work through faully solLilions :lnd unacceptable hypot heses umil an adequate embodi lllem has been realized in terms of the narrati ve material. With this discovery (Mr. Gradgrind's education. Louisa's belated RAW ____________ ? COOKED Flg/4rt' 2. Frrdric }umr,QII. The Prison House or (197l). J66. GREIMASAVEC LACAN 215 experience of family love). the semiotic rcct:mgle is com-pleted :Ind the novel comes to an end,ll What is wonh underscoring at this early stage is that Jameson already conccplUalizcs the Grcimasian schema in decidedly dynamic terms, as a presentation (Darstellung) of I he labor of narrat ive. "the all inform i ng pro-cess of fIllI'rotive," he will later claim, being "the cent ra 1 function or illS/alice orthe human mind."!! With his next deployments ohhe Grcimasian rectangle, in his essays on Mnx Webe r (1973) and Philip K. Dick (1975), and then, even more spec-tacularly, in the Balzac and Conrad chapters of The Political Unconscious, Jameson's attention sh ifts to the four outer poles of the schema and es-pecially the position at its summit, the "complex" term (C).IJ Greimas's rectangle becomes an ideal means of illustrating the narrative operation Jameson nnmes "n symbolic act, wherehy real social contradictions, insur-mountable in t heir own terms, find a purely formal resolution in the aesthetic realm."H It is in this way, too, that the cuh ural text, conceived he re fundamentally as allegory, makes av:ri lable LO its later readers its historical context, encountered by us, he famously maintains. only in this mediated textual form. Rather than summarizing one of Jameson's discussions, I would like to illustrate this first full deployment of the resources of the Greimasian rect-angle through a brief reading of my own. My case study is one of the most well known English novels of the early nineteenth century, and one of the Ll rtexts of the mode rn gc n rc of sc ience fiction, Mary Shelley's Frtlllkenstlin; 01; The Mode'l"l/ Prometheus (1818). The dilemma this gothic fantasy con-fronts, as numerous comment:ltors have pointed out in different ways, is that of the modern intellccwal and, more specifically, scientific labor. At the roO[ of the problem in the novel is the education, or culture, that Victor Fmnkenstein receives at his modern (i.e., German) universi ty. Early on, Mary Shelley develops a character schema that enables her to divide human knowledge in a proto-Kanti:rn fashion into the spheres of science, ethics, and aesthetics. Viewr observes, Elizabeth was of a calmer and more concentrated disposi-tion; but, with all my ardour, I was capable of a more in-tense application and was more deeply smi tten with the thi rst for knowledge. She busied herself with following the aeri:11 creations of the poets; and in t he majestic ancl won-drous scenes that surrounded ollr Swiss horne .... it W:lS the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn ... my 216 PHILLIP E. WEGNER inquiries were directed [0 the or in its highest s