Meaning and denotation in the psychoanalytic symptom

  • Giuseppe Salzillo
Keywords: symptom, enjoyment, ghost, unconscious, meaning, denotation, reference, denomination


What are we talking about when we talk to a psychoanalyst about our suffering? Starting from this question and through an articulated reading of some key concepts of lacanian psychoanalytic theory (symptom, unconscious, enjoyment, ghost) and other concepts of analytic philosophy (meaning, denotation, reference, denomination), a reflection is proposed between epistemology and clinical theory. Whoever shout or cry show pain but do not communicate anything to anyone, it would be different to say “I have pain”, “I suffer”, which induces the intention to tell “something” about what we feel to someone who listens to us. But suffering is not a message, it has no communication value, it has no recipients, it is out of language and therefore, when we talk about it, what are we really talking about? The psychoanalytic symptom, as Lacan intends it, summarizes this paradox: on the one hand it is a matter of belief, it has meaning (Sinn), it is believed that it can speak, that it means something, that it is explainable and this produces a transference on the symptom itself, on the other hand, it has the status of what is most real for the subject (Bedeutung), is something unassimilable, out of sense, inert, repetitive. The difference between meaning and reference has been the subject of an exciting debate in the philosophical field, starting from the theme of the proper name and denomination that, in this text, is resumed and intertwined with Lacan and Miller’s reflection on the symptom.