restricted access Derrida and Lacan: Another Writing (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael Lewis. Derrida and Lacan: Another Writing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008. xii + 282 pp.

This book is indispensible for anyone with a serious interest in the individual works of Derrida and Lacan, as well as in the complex relations between them. It is closely argued and meticulously documented. The style is remarkably limpid given the complexity of the texts under examination. There are occasional moments when the argument bogs down in a plethora of detail, which may not be necessary for those with a deep familiarity with these thinkers, but this is hardly a major flaw, and it is a positive virtue for those who do not know these texts well.

The basic thesis is easy to summarize but hardly does justice to this book. Derrida always confessed a closeness to Lacan, later even a “love” for him, but he also saw Lacan as imminently deconstructible. For all that, he never seems to have finished with this encounter. There is only one proper deconstruction of a Lacanian text, the famous reading of the seminar on “The Purloined Letter,” “Le facteur de la vérité.” And in his later work, Derrida admits that Lacan’s thought continued to evolve: though he never specifies how, if at all, these later changes would have altered his earlier reading. Lewis sets out precisely to explain both the nature of this incomplete encounter and why the late Lacan is not deconstructible but deconstructive, although not in the same sense as Derrida. [End Page 385]

Lewis argues that Derrida concentrates on the early Lacan because in the latter’s structuralist phase his thought is characterized by an essentially binary opposition between the Symbolic and the Real. Now, it is true that even in the fifties, Lacan’s thought was characterized by a tripartition between the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. But Lewis contends that at this time, although the Imaginary was acknowledged to exist owing to the role it played in the Mirror Stage, its relation to the Symbolic realm of signification and to the Real, as the beyond of signification, was never clearly articulated. As such, the Real comes to function as the opposite of the Symbolic, its limit and beyond, and hence its transcendental guarantor or signified, i.e., the meaning to which every signifier ultimately points. This absolute opposition between the Symbolic and the Real also means that there can be no genetic relation between these two realms, no mediator per se. Rather, the realm of the signifier must have been born at one stroke, and its creation comes into being with the “nom du père,” the simultaneous prohibition of incest and “name of the father” that served as the foundation of the opposition between nature and culture. Such an opposition is deconstructible precisely because every signifier that purports to elude this basic opposition, that claims to be not simply another link in the signifying chain but to partake directly of the Real, is in fact always shown to be simply another in a series of substitutions. The “name of the father” is the transcendental signifier on one level, but on another, it has no existence outside the chain, outside the moment of creation in which the realm of the Symbolic as a whole comes into being, and so the founding opposition between nature and culture is shown to be simply another moment in a system that the “name of the father” must presume in order to exist.

It is precisely on the problem of this contradiction that deconstruction concentrates. “Deconstruction demonstrates that, if the relation between the text and the outside is understood as an opposition, then this very opposition is made possible by textuality itself” (89). Within such a textual system, the truly other cannot be, but everything always exists as part of the same. For that which is other than the constituted textual system can only be figured as oppositional to that system and that opposition is itself ultimately determined by the system. Hence, all such systems are essentially specular or mirroring and therefore self-confirming. Exhibit A in this hall of self-reflection is phallogocentrism, in which the logocentric discourse of the...