Lacan demonstrates in his Seminar The Sinthome that the Joycean text concerns the letter. Here the letter is not a vehicle for truth or desire nor the material basis for the signifier. It is a letter made for jouissance and it is what allows us to touch the singular real of the body as this letter is a residue of speech that can border jouissance. The real is the responsibility of the analyst in a time when Oedipal solutions of meaning and truth are not so prevalent anymore. Something must be fashioned with regards to the singular real of the body and Joyce showed Lacan the way. In the Seminar Lacan says that Joyce didn’t know he was fashioning the sinthome, he was a pure artificer, a man of know-how, an artist.[1] Just before this Lacan said that Joyce’s praxis concerns a saying.[2] This is crucial because a saying is not the said. The fact of a saying ex-ists outside any truth or meaning and is a hole in language. The said of the statement contains meaning and can be true or false.

Why is this important for psychoanalysis? We target the real of symptoms and we do this without recourse to the father and we do this beyond meaning and truth which is not to say that these latter two don’t play a role. It implies that we move beyond truth and meaning because these always miss their target. If saying ex-ists language and yet makes use of it, it can target the letter as that where something of language, lalangue, borders on the singular real. The letter, as Joyce has demonstrated, elides meaning and indexes a hole at the heart of language. Can we say this relates to language as a material, its moteriality? Stephen Dedalus was mesmerized by the materiality of language, by the letter and indeed also by voices and their sound materiality rather than what they said. Two examples: the first epiphany[3] and the incident in Cork when Stephen, struck by his father’s voice, suffered a derealisation he then recovers from by pacifying this body event with a rhythmic repetition with the letter and names.[4] These show that Joyce was extremely sensitive to the jouissance of the letter. Indeed, they were a jouissance object for him whilst for most of us this jouissance remains hidden within established discourses which were not to Joyce’s taste (his nego – his heretical No! to these discourses). However, this jouissance implies that there is an aspect to language, a real jouissance, that is not-all in relation to meaning and truth.

It is on this point that we can say that there is an affinity between Joyce’s special relationship to the letter and the feminine principle. Joyce enjoyed playing with letters and it seems as if he had a lot of freedom here. This is an indication of Joyce’s particular and precarious anchoring in lalangue with the result that the symptom was not embodied and had not clasped onto the real. This is echoed in the tearing apart of his discourse as an attempt to revert back to letters without an appeal to the Other; a movement which produces and condenses his jouissance. This is his symptom and as Lacan said “the pure symptom of what is involved in the relationship to language”.[5] Apart from the fact that Joyce’s body thus requires regulation with his writing, there are two other implications: 1. Not unlike a woman, Joyce is open and sensitive to a jouissance that is Other; 2. If his art-saying was his symptom then a woman could not be a symptom for him according to Lacan’s statement that a woman is a symptom for another body.[6] She could not cause a body-event in him as for an event to register you need an incorporation of language and its material. Joyce was not prone to give himself to the body-event. Lacan: “Joyce takes himself for a woman on occasion only to reach fulfilment as a symptom”.[7] Joyce could not be a woman as he could only be the symptom for himself, Joyce-the-symptom, and thus a woman could not be a symptom for him. Not a woman for Joyce, but The Woman, Nora Barnacle, as she whose skin gave Joyce an envelope for his body. Lacan said: “She was absolutely pointless” and chose her “by virtue of the strongest depreciation”.[8] These are apparently contradictory statements but not if you consider that Joyce absolutely needed Nora, not as a woman and not as a symptom that could cause a jouissance-event in him. You could say that this is the depreciation of a woman as someone who is a symptom for another body.

Why was Joyce so important for Lacan? Because the letter of his writing bordered on a real as a limit to an endless production of meaning and thus as a condition for an end of analysis. But the letter of his writing is also crucial for grasping that every speaking-being is concerned with the feminine principle and that an analysis must aim at a signifier that has the function of a letter as something that skirts around the hole of feminine jouissance which has a feminising effect at the end of an analysis. It pushes him or her to articulate his or her relationship to feminine jouissance.[9] To be a Lacanian after Joyce-with-Lacan means to be a sufferer of language but also to manage some freedom from that by making room for desire.

[1] Lacan, J. (1975-76). The Sinthome, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII (ed. J.-A. Miller, trans. A.R. Price), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016, p. 99.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joyce, J. Poems and Shorter Writings (eds. R. Ellman, et. al.), London: Faber & Faber, 1991, p. 161.

[4] Joyce, J. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in A James Joyce Reader, London: Penguin Books, 1976, pp. 342-3.

[5] Lacan, J. (1975), Joyce the Symptom, in The Sinthome, (trans. A.R. Price), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016, p. 146.

[6] Lacan, J. (1979), Joyce the Symptom, in The Lacanian Review, issue 5, p. 17. 2018.

[7] Lacan, J. (1979). Op. cit. p. 18.

[8] Lacan, J. (1975-76). Op. cit. p. 68.

[9] Monribot, P. (2013). ”There is no sexual relation” in Hurly-Burly issue 10, p. 161.