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Between Ethics and Aesthetics Christopher Fynsk It is, I assume, clear to you all that what I am concerned with this year is situ­ ated somewhere between a Freudian ethics and a Freudian aesthetics. Jacques Lacan, The Ethics o f Psychoanalysis M Y REMARKS HERE will be simple and brief. I would like to point to the presence of a notion of usage at the heart of Lacan’s reflections on art, and sketch rapidly some of the implications of this latter notion for Lacan’s effort to think artistic production (and ultimately all symbolic practice) from that limit that is the relation between language and what he names “ the human.” Via this notion of usage, I would like to follow Lacan to that site where aesthetics opens upon the groundless order to which contemporary thought gestures hesi­ tantly in referring to “the ethico-political.” There is no explicit development of the theme of usage in the long dis­ cussions of art presented in The Ethics o f Psychoanalysis.1But there is a kind of insistence of both the term and the notion in Lacan’s develop­ ment of the topic of creation and the “human factor” that attends it, inasmuch as it involves an ethical dimension. Linguistic usage, Lacan tells us, directs us to speak of creation in designating what occurs in that form of sublimating production by which humankind fashions the sign in artistic representation.2Creation, he emphasizes, is originally produc­ tion, and originally the production of the sign3—a “ fashioning,” a “ manipulation” (EP 144/119). The question of art must be posed from the question of “what man does when he makes a signifier” (EP 144/119), and it is posed in this discussion from the basis of an artistic function that Lacan considers “ perhaps the most primitive” (EP 144/ 119): the potter’s fashioning of a vase (“ perhaps the most primordial ele­ ment of human industry” [EP 144/119]). Lacan would maintain a dis­ tinction between the vase’s signifying function and its instrumental usage (and presumably between each of these and the “usage” [EP 144—the word appears in reference to Heidegger] by which the vase is appropri­ ated in parable, analogy and metaphor for conceiving the mysteries of creation4 ). He would also seem to be thinking the latter from the former: the trait characterizing the signifying function ‘‘characterizes the vase as 80 F a l l 1995 F ynsk such.” But the vase, as Lacan emphasizes, has a signifyingfunction and is a product of homo faber. Language is not being thought here from an instrumental basis in the everyday sense of this term, yet we clearly have to do with an instrumentality of some kind, and I will try to suggest shortly why the term ‘‘usage’’ will help us approach what is at stake here. But let us pause for a moment over the vase. Lacan appears to accept the Heideggerian account of the vase’s instrumental function: it joins earth and sky through the act of libation. The vase is thus a “ thing” in the strong, Heideggerian sense. But Lacan dissociates from this function a signifying process that marks the vase in its artistic nature.5If it really is the first signifier, Lacan asserts, it is, “ in its essence as signifier a signifier of nothing other than of everything that signifies—in other words, of nothing signified in particular” (EP 145/120). It signifies nothing in particular beyond the signifier, and as such (this is in fact the “ as such” of the vase: “ This nothing in particular that characterizes it in its signify­ ing function is that which in its incarnated form characterizes the vase as such” [EP 145/120]), it marks a void that is structurally proper to the organization of the signifier, a signifier that is created, as Lacan reiter­ ates throughout his discussion, ex nihilo. The description of the void o f the signifier introduced by this “ first sign” is worth quoting for its beauty and for its implications: It is indeed the void that it creates, introducing thereby the possibility of filling it. Empti­ ness and fullness are introduced by the vase into a world that by itself knows...


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