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Comparative Literature Studies 40.1 (2003) 1-25

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A. Owen Aldridge Prize Winner 2002

Anagrams in Psychoanalysis:
Retroping Concepts by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Jean-françois Lyotard

Andrea Bachner

Why anagrammatize psychoanalysis?

Compared to the tropes of metaphor and metonymy and the broader theoretical concepts that have been developed under their names, the anagram—until recently—has fared poorly. 1 Problems for its use in wider theorizations lie in its lack of a convenient opposite with which it could form a binary pair, and maybe also in its contiguity—causing the dismissal of the possibility of putting it to "serious" uses—to such "lowly" figures as puns, calembours, and other tropes marginalized for their bawdy excesses and lack of seriousness. 2 Given the fact that metaphor and metonymy—especially in the context of their Lacanian equation with Sigmund Freud's principles of condensation and displacement, then with desire and symptom (derived from the theories of Roman Jakobson built upon the linguistics developed by Ferdinand de Saussure)—still seem to serve as psychoanalytical mastertropes, why should an attempt be made to trace sites of the anagram in psychoanalytical theory?

In fact, the sites of anagrams in Jacques Lacan's works and in the more psychoanalytically oriented works by Jean-François Lyotard consist of more than mere weak traces. Both Lyotard and Lacan—even while seeming to focus on Saussure's "official" theories—are aware of his unpublished work on anagrams, which was made partly accessible by Jean Starobinski in the 1960s and 1970s. Admittedly, this awareness seems to go no further than mentions in footnotes or short textual asides. However, in very different [End Page 1] ways, the anagram is strangely present in Lacan's and Lyotard's works in unavowed uses of the concept of the anagram and also, more evidently, in the stylistic use of them (especially prevalent in Lacan's seminars), though they never openly exploit—despite their drawing extensively on Freud's writings—Freud's anagrammatic tendencies.

In this essay, based on a wider concept of the anagram, I first want to point to the importance of anagrammatic concepts in some of Freud's writings (especially Die Traumdeutung, Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten, Die Fehlleistungen). From these points of departure I will trace sites of the anagram in Lyotard's Discours, figure and Lacan's Encore and "L'instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud" and uncover displacements of the anagram in their theories with a view to addressing the following questions: What is at stake in such displacements of the anagram? What are the underlying theories and concepts of the anagram used? What could a psychoanalytical model gain from including the anagram among its privileged figurations?

Tamed and untamed anagrams

Das ist ein Anagrammgedicht

Ein Anagramm ist das Gedicht
gemacht im Anti-Sarg, im Sande
An Ti gedacht, im Gras, im Sande
stimmt dich der i-aa-Gesang an.

Das singt ein Tiger am am Dach
Das ist mein Rachetag am Ding
Da nagt sein Drama im Gesicht
das ist ein Anagrammgedicht . . .
         Unica Zürn 3

[This is an anagrammatic poem

An anagram is the poem
made in the anti-coffin, in the sand
Thought of Ti, in the grass, in the sand
the i-aa-song turns you on.

This sings a tiger at at the roof
This is my day of vengeance on the thing [End Page 2]
There gnaws his drama in the face
this is an anagrammatic poem . . . ] 4

Unica Zürn's expression "Das ist mein Rachetag am Ding" ["This is my day of vengeance on the thing"] in her meta-anagrammatic poem seems to hint at some of the characteristics attributed to the anagram. Through the combinatorial play with what is conventionally seen as the building blocks of univocal signification, through a spatialization, one (or more) potential text(s) under/in/with a text, the anagram foregrounds the materiality of language and deconstructs conventional notions of signification and representation. 5 These characteristics remain relatively...


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