restricted access Toward Bliss: Barthes, Lacan, and Robbe-Grillet
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Toward Bliss:
Barthes, Lacan, and Robbe-Grillet

Jacques Lacan's work provides the basis for a theory of narration within the context of an unconscious discourse that he calls the "discourse of the Other." It derives from the symbolic presence of paternal authority, known as the figure of the Law (le non/nom du père), that is responsible in the early stages of the child's development for the repression of desire. Lacan's focus enables us to understand, as Robert Con Davis phrases it in his Introduction to Lacan and Narration: The Psychoanalytic Difference in Narrative Theory, "how language in literary texts is constituted, buoyed up, permeated, and decentered by the unconscious" (848). This decentering of discourse enables both Roland Barthes and Alain Robbe-Grillet to write autobiography in the guise of fiction. Their two works, Roland Barthes and Le miroir qui revient, foreground the discourse of the Other while also deconstructing the text.

I propose to embed the Roland Barthes and Le miroir qui revient in a Lacanian matrix. The Oedipal connotations of the words "embed" and "matrix" are evident, as is the fact that Lacan's formulation of the Law—the source of authority—constitutes the Father. If the French language is the Mother (tongue) and ideology is the Father, then Barthes and Robbe-Grillet react as a son might whenever they oppose the non/nom du père —ideology encoded in language. Their manhandling of language enables them to experience the bliss (jouissance) of contact with the forbidden, that is, with the mother. Each writer projects his body as text onto the operational field (the matrix) where the textual (sexual) game is played. Their act of writing is a transgression, an act that is all the more audacious because each man consciously impresses himself as body and text on the mother tongue. [End Page 699]

Lacan's analysis of narration begins with language and proceeds to rediscover the discourse of the Other that is embedded in speech. The blockage of desire, along with its corollary, repression, produces a neurosis whose narrative symptoms are metaphorical. In the production of narrative, unconscious content is condensed as metaphor and displaced as metonymy. This narrative process embodies the same characteristics that are found in Sigmund Freud's dream-work, only differently. It devolves onto the reader to determine how the manifest discourse veils the latent meaning, that is, how the signifiers resolve into manifest signifieds (metaphor and metonymy) and latent referents (the repressed), all of which constitute the symptom. These discoveries prompted Lacan, in Écrits, to say that "the symptom is itself structured as a language" (59).

If we accept the premise that the unconscious is structured as a language, then every text contains repressed material that structures a never-ending dialogue with the Other—a fictitious self made up of the confluence of the Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real. The Symbolic is the Law, the restrictive role of the Father, eventually all doxa. Doxa, says Barthes, in Roland Barthes, is "public Opinion, the Mind of the majority, the Consensus of the petit-bourgeois, the Voice of the Natural, the Violence of Prejudice" ("l'Opinion publique, l'Esprit majoritaire, le Consensus petit-bourgeois, la Voix du Naturel, la Violence du Préjugé" [51]). The Imaginary is that displaced self that has to come to terms with the postponement of satisfaction, the repression of desire, and the nurturing of discontent. The Imaginary reinforces the individual's desire for union with the mother while also enabling him to define himself in relation to others. This is his imago. The Real, in terms of discourse, is the individual's unconscious relationship with death. The Real corresponds to primitive and instinctive levels, to whatever lies behind the effects of socialization.

Every narrative, like Oedipus in search of his history and destiny, manifests desire. Freud and Lacan both define desire as the blockage of a need that demands satisfaction. The primal repression postulates a blocked and repressed desire for the mother as well as two fantasized visions of death. One is the father's death (imaginary murder for blocking the child's desire), and the other is the subject's...