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  • The Agency of the Anus in the Letter or Reason Since Freud
  • Jon Hodge

An old phantasy of mine, which I should like to recommend to your linguistic penetration, deals with the derivation of our verbs from originally copro-erotic terms.

I can scarcely enumerate for you all the things that I (a new Midas) turn into—excrement. . . . This is quite crazy, but it is entirely analogous to the process by which words take on a transferred meaning as soon as new concepts appear which call for denotation. . . .

(Freud 1950, 273)


Although Freud discusses how the anal stage prefigures genital organization and how genital organization, itself, is coterminous with the subject’s entry into language, he rarely recognizes the syllogistic byproduct of these two premises, a conclusion that, if pursued, would enable a discussion of the anal stage’s relation to language. In general, Freud’s theories of the anal stage do not found or explicate psychoanalytic theories of linguistic signification; as Lacan will remind us “the phallus is the privileged signifier” (1977, 287) for it is both the signified and the signifier of the symbolic, a governing sovereign in need of no anal viceroy. Thus, when images associated with the anus enter Freud’s meditation on language, they are denounced, as exemplified in the above epigraph, as unreal or absurd. The notion of an “old phantasy” that finds etymology in excrement quickly becomes analogous to a “quite crazy” notion of how words develop a transferred meaning. By [End Page 145] invoking phantasy and insanity when suggesting a connection between anal functioning and language, Freud delegitimizes the connection as illogical as he simultaneously offers it for our consideration. For some reason, Freud does not seriously pursue the theoretical potential of this phantasy. Yet, in its renunciation, Freud’s fancy can be taken seriously, especially since its autoclestic structure reminds one of psychoanalytic negation. 1 What if anal functioning represents a symbolic mechanism, the logic of which allows Freud to turn “things” (words, gestures, symptoms) “into—filth” (meaning), as if Das Ding could only be expressed in our phallus-dominated symbolic through a language informed by Das Dung it purports to leave behind?

Freud’s Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis (1909) offers an occasion to examine this crazy 2 relationship between anality and language. It chronicles the Rat Man’s attempt at manipulating phonetics, semantics, pronunciation, and other linguistic components in hope of freeing himself from obsessive thoughts, the most pronounced of which is a phantasy of rats burrowing into both his father’s anus and his beloved’s anus. Freud claims that the anxiety aroused by this phantasy actually expresses his patient’s anal erotism, a claim which supports his more general assertion that all obsessional neurotics suffer from a regression to sadistic-anal organization. By bringing the Rat Man’s unconscious investments in anal erotism into focus with his relation to language, I will argue that when anal organization finds expression in a phallic system of signification, it produces a logic about language which at first appears “quite crazy,” even in writers other than Freud who write about language and its relation to the subject. Repeatedly, this (il)logic expresses itself through images of circular exchange, circular narrative development, and through rhetorical strategies of return such as tautology. 3 We will see, for example, that when Lacan directly addresses language in “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud,” his reasoning is tautological. And again, though Derrida has already explicitly stated that différance produces waste, he has not as clearly articulated how différance is itself waste, or how his discussion of différance plays into an anal logic of [End Page 146] circular reasoning. In short, one witnesses, in the theories of all three writers, an anal component of language at work in the very reasoning and logic used to explain language’s phallic structure and its relation to the subject.

Freud repeatedly brings reason to his analysands, and to himself, through exploring the significance the anus has for his patients. Even as Freud does not acknowledge the anal stage’s contributions to language, he nonetheless values the anus qua...

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pp. 145-180
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