The Weight of Words
Yasmine Grasser

Author's Bio

Translated by Jorge Jauregui

In the dictionary the term “infans” refers to someone who does not talk, but its use calls for certain precautions: if indeed the human being is defined as a talking being, or if this word denotes a human state before the human, or if it distinguishes among the human a class of not human individuals — or could it be that neither option is possible?

The first case would immediately presume an origin of lan­guage and the theory of its progressive acquisition. This is belied by experience.

The second case, paradoxically, does not stand from the point of view of the reproduction of the species. Therefore what is left is to play on the equivocality of language for its remains to rever­berate, and for that which determines the human being to be unveiled.

The word infans comes from the latin fari (to say, to speak). This root evokes another word: fatum (that which is spoken; destiny). From a Greek stem we derive the spirit of the verb for the case of absolute saying, whether the words are spoken, sung or chanted in a spell.

Thus a particular fatality seems to bind the condition of being human to what has sedimented in the language through the centuries, and is crystallized as one’s first words. May we presuppose someone for whom this moment of material crystallization of words would not exist? Someone who would not hear, who would not be either human or in­fans? There is there an unthinkable, a limit bound to rejection, which compels us to consider autism from the point of view of this fatum, rather than by the device of a problematical “infans being.”

In all human destiny, this fatum, this fatality, concerns the accomplish­ment of love. Many examples are supplied by classical and modern theatre. Love crystallizes in the tongue and through the tongue its accomplishment. Its failure prompts questions about what disintegrates in silence, lessens the usage relation a subject may establish between his mother tongue and his body.

To grasp this question in autism and psychosis, I propose to depend on two fragments I have extracted from the text of J. Lacan: one from 1953, Ep 819: “Avant les jeux sériels de la parole ( . . .) nous trouvons le sujet dans la mort.” (“Before speech serial games ( . . . ) we find the subject at death.”); the other from 1975, Scilicet 6/7, p. 44-45: autism characterizes “ceux pour qui le poids des mots est très sérieux et qui ne sont pas disposés à en prendre à leur aise avec ces mots.” (“those for whom the weight of words is a very serious matter and who are not ready to be at ease with these words.”) (Cf. also p. 16 and p. 47.)

It’s a matter of putting these two terms into play: serial (sériel) and seriousness (sérieux) to draw conclusions regarding clinical practice.

The serial order is based upon the series, is ruled by a law (language laws, serial numbers’ laws). Seriousness is not set out of the series, is not unlawful; it constitutes what has to be taken into consideration and numbered among the series. It joins the serial order of which it is a particular case, an intermission, a stasis.

Autism’s weight of words corresponds therefore to a serious slowing down of language serial games — and not to a state of the in­fans being — a slowing down which may go as far as to seal itself in a deathly silence. The absolute Master, death, submits the serial to a law which organizes it, whereas seriousness ordains that there be no possible mistake about the Master; in this sense it does not deceive.

Seriousness is that point at which all joking dies, where excessive freedom regarding sexual mores becomes illicit. It opposes the merry and the funny. Word games may converge at flashes of wit, at the so-called witty word which is unanswerable, or they diverge towards the quirky and the comical.

In the first case, asatisfaction conveyed through a word game may have been drawn out of the unconscious while being shared with others (at least three other satisfactions). This convergence of satisfactions, consisting of a formation of the unconscious, short-circuits the imaginary.As for a horizon, in the second case word games diverge without limit. They provoke thehypomaniak’s laughter or the comical side of the scene, which signal none other than the tottering of a subject to whom life shies away since the phallus ceaselessly escapes.

In opposition to the comic, at the heart of the tragic dimension, we find the true nature of desire, only accessible through judgment. The subject’s desire does not assert itself to others except as desire for death. This is why the only possible judgment has the value of last judgment. If we are to locate seriousness between the comic and the tragic, the slowing down of which is thesign the task of the death drive lays hold of the subject called autistic, wards him away from de­ciding to choose between the futility of existence and lightness in wit, thus sparing him the last condemnation. We understand then that, for fear of the weight of the words not bringing the supreme instant, these subjects think twice before letting themselves feel at ease with these words.

Thus, beyond serial word games, desire as desire for death traces in seriousness whatever the real implies, the path of an ethic through the way of judgment. This dimension does not lie and forces our respect. However, what can be done if the lightness which attaches to nonsense as much as the derision which attaches to sense are out of the way? Since they have given way to this new measure where the name — the serious weight of words — exerts on the body its mortal weight, freezes movement, stops speech? When the weight of death has not managed to form part of language through the symbol and has become the yet mortal bulk of the thing which enjoys?

Readily attracting notice in the text of Scilicet (p. 45), Lacan does not talk about autists or about autistic subjects, but about autism. He refers this autism to “people,” that is to say to a succession of persons (a series of cases) not determined, yet all sub­ordinated to a master, in the present case a master-word “not so easy” to say, thus to people “who are not easily prepared to be comfortable” — people too ill at ease to take any pleasure from words (unlike Freud’s grandchild who, out of his Fort-Da, makes up an irresistible children's game). However, let's be more specific: the child makes himself comfortable with the grammatical structure, not with the words. Evidence is that this Fort-Da is already a rhetorical trope. No one has taught the child how to make a game out of this structure, as linguists could remark: in the joy of his solitude, he takes pleasure in making himself appear and disappear, an object, in the image of himself found in the mirror. At the same time an incantation arouses him while betray­ing the presence of a new subject held back, as if by a thread: the signifier, which happens to be even stronger than the thread still in the reel.

Jakobson begged his disciples to record these serial and incanta­tory games, raised in young children’s bedchambers while they are alone, and that cease when the mother returns. Facing Freud’s grandchild, the “serious child, too wise, is not to experimentwith any reel, crushed as he is by the weight of a Fort without Dasein” (Sém. XI p. 216), and this gives the idea a ponderous perpetuity — in the sense of the word Fort in German. The weight might well concern the series of cases which Lacan places under the authority of the holophrased signifier, suggesting the hypothesis that autism in certain of these cases may just be a mode of substitution, in other words a symptom.

If the weight of words hinders the enjoyable handling of the grammatical structure, in concern with the death drive we shall have to distinguish between word and syntax. From then on, the weight of words correlates with the silent disintegration of the grammatical structure whose first rudiments are taught by the mother. We can contend that the moment of material crystalliza­tion of the first words has taken place by way of a symptom. Likewise we might even propose a semantics which aims at referring the slowing down of bodies in the syntactical disintegration, going from motion to immobilization, from a rhetorical mannerism which affects young children to the great pleasure of their parents, to mutism, passing through the parrot language to the correct but empty structure to the word for whatever, sort of portmanteau word which has swallowed all sense, all grammar, all the comical and all the tragical at once.

The word made heavy, it will turn out, shall take its weight from the body, incarnating itself in behaviors and stereotypes of psy­chotic children, in psychosomatic diseases, in organizing neurotics’ structures of discourse.

Apropos of autism, Lacan, in 1975, in a lecture on symptom (Cf. Bloc-notes N° 5), says that if autists do not hear, it is because they are listening to themselves. It is necessary then to unblock their ears to what is said, but not to just anything. Let’s remember Mélanie Klein instilling Dick with the œdipal structure on the first meeting — the child then spoke immediately. Yet to allow him to begin the serial games of incantation, to get him out of where he was nothing at all, out of that seriousness of death, he should still be welcomed, as much as instilled with a way of speech he may appropriate for himself. It is not enough to receive the grammatical structure in order to be at ease with words: Judgment on their weight is needed. Thus a mother responds to her daughter: there isn’t a prettiest girl; it is the best way of investing her with the authority that will enable her to substitute other utter­ances.





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