TRANSLATED BY DANIEL G. COLLINS
0. The All. Outside of which, therefore, nothing. If I say theNothing, it is necessary for me to posit the All that includes them both.
Within this framework, then, these variations:
1. And so the following. Each new All determines a Nothing and requires that one posit a superior All: A0, A1, A2,… That is the schema of stratification.
2. And the Nothing? Am I going to enumerate it? Why not? But I could also just as easily keep it always the same, especially since it always gives rise to the same operation. One could say that N is the cause of stratification, of the multiplication of A.
3. Why not say that it is also the same All that repeats itself, rewrites itself, always one more time? The unique operation that repeats itself is written: A—>N—>A. N causes the reduplication of A. Or rather, it is the interval between A and itself.
4. A and A are the same, with Nothing between them [avec un Rien de difference] One can say, an entity including N is split [clivée], that is to say, at a distance from itself, constrained to repeat itself. Its N unceasingly separates from it, and it unceasingly reabsorbs its N.
5. What is the key to this process? It is that, at the start, I integrated to the entity its negative, its lack (its own disappearance, its effacement). I considered its own absence as being a part of itself. “Its own absence?” What could this be except its place?
6. To inscribe a mark is to posit two things: the mark (its materiality, as a trace of ink, for example) and its place. If one effaces the mark, its trace remains, in the form of place. Thus, aren’t there always at least two series?—that of marks and that of lacks?
7. From this nucleus, one could create a cycle that would indefinitely lead from A to N, from the entity to its disappearance: flickering in eclipse, alteration—the equivalent of two alternating symbols, or rather, of the alteration of a symbol and its lack (that is to say, the repetition of a single symbol).
8. We will easily deduce that Nothing is not All, given that there is no integral All that doesn’t include its own lack. Either the All leaves N outside, and it is not complete, or it includes it, and the lack that it integrates perforates it.
9. Here one grasps the formal equivalence between repetition and splitting [clivage]. What appears in the former as process appears in the latter (condensed and contracted) as entity. Repetition is splitting expanded (explained).
10. There is another conceivable version of this phenomenon—A would neither include nor not include N. A would be a contradictory entity, or N an impossible element. Or, A and N are incompatible in the strong sense—for it is not only that are they mutually exclusive, or that they can’t be members of the same set, but rather that they provoke, as soon as they are put together, an unceasing disruption. They are connected and separated in an antinomy that can only be reduced to a process of alteration in which N is always in more or less a proportion with A.
11. Behold! I hold in the palm of my hand the juncture [connexion] of repetition, splitting, lack, place, alteration, contradiction, antinomy, impossibility.
12. And it is not even necessary to start with the All. Any entity will do just as well, on the condition that it is posited in disjunction, that is to say, as standing out against the All. But to accomplish this disjunction with the All itself assures you right away that nothing escapes from the law…
13 …except the Nothing—for the place is secondary to the mark (mutatis mutandis, the subject is the effect of the signifier).
14. We will begin again from the unary mark—from any entity (but this “any” already supposes the “unary”) of the All (isn’t this equivalent to the mark?).
15. I acknowledge that this assemblage [montage] rests on the confusion between the mark and its place (of the mark as designating itself and the mark as designating its place), or between entities of a different order (A1 and A2). Stratification makes these phenomena, and the aberrant beings that propel themselves by it, vanish. But it is precisely a matter of the origin of stratification—of stratification as infinite repetition.
16. One can also prove that the space that corresponds to the mark as such is, of necessity, unstratifiable. In fact, for stratification, it is necessary that the space of the places be already given. The originary signifier situates itself, and its series develops in a unique dimension, a space without levels. Numbers don’t yet exist at the unfolding of the series of (split, repeated) unary marks. It is only with the addition of the marks that number begins.
In the beginning is the place—or there is nothing. But no place without mark: a concept, an index, a point—a mark of the lack of mark. Yet the mark that lacks and the mark of lack are not of different types, they are not differentiated. There is the mark, that’s… All.
17. Related inference: it is only when the mark disappears that its place appears, and therefore the mark as such. Is this enough to justify our saying that it attains its being only in its disappearance—that it takes hold only on the side of its lack—in a flash? “Side” is only an approximation. One could say that this is the absolute “either/or,” the mark or the lack—and the being of the mark, just like that of lack, “exists” only in the in‑between, incorporeal, ungraspable, or in the difference between the one and the other, in the movement, in the passage, and it is always either too early or too late. Or rather, one could say that mark and lack are not separate, exterior to one another, but entangled, implicated in each other. Lack and mark are like being and signification: it is only by barring all that it is that the signifier could signify its being.
18. The split does not reduce itself. Repetition does not cease. Alteration does not stabilize. In other words, one can’t make an All of this entity, of this set, of these positions. This process—this entity—presents itself as untotalizable—or, as a contradictory totality, which is to say, a totality with its contradiction, or with its nonintegrable element, multiplicity irreducible to a unity. The mark, unary unity, split entity, doesn’t remain stable, it multiplies, it diverges, it dispenses (with) itself, it disseminates. It doesn’t consist (it is inconsistent), it persists, it insists, it is a process. And one can say the same of the corresponding totality. Thus the mark as unity is only the totality concentrated. And the totality is the mark expanded, multiplied.
19. Whoever starts with the disjunction necessarily finds dispersion. In fact, what is a signifier—if not an element that only defines itself in a set of similar entities, and by disjunction (differentiation)? The limiting case is that of a set with one element: the element doesn’t just separate from the set as empty, which is only its own lack (or from its place as such, or from the mark of its place—which amounts to saying that it is split). The element must emerge for the set to exist, must exclude itself, must except itself, must show as a deficit, or a surplus. That is the principle of dispersion. It is only a version of the splitting, or of the antinomy, of mark and lack.
20. The argument is simpler concerning a number n >1 of signifiers. There is no All of signifiers, if it is true that each one defines itself in relation to (for) the set of the others. Each signifier has for its correlate a set n-1, and there are as many of these sets as there are signifiers—without ever reaching the whole set, n. This totality is unclosed, perforated, open, it doesn’t hold together, it is a unity (space, law, function) of dispersion. A proverb: structure isn’t everything [la structure n’est pas un tout].
21. Reflection: The different beings that I have produced—entities, totalities, processes, operations, sequences—are they not all equivalent? According to the account I choose, they are identical or different. The phenomena that I describe either condense or expand, are either concentrated or extended, either dwindle or proliferate. There is only one of them, and there is an infinity. To grasp one is only provisional. It can cancel itself out, make itself disappear, or swell, stretch itself, divide itself, distribute itself. One could completely sum up the existence of a split entity, concentrating in it an irreducible contradiction, but this contradiction would extend to the universe of discourse in its absolute totality, that is, contradictory and split. Are there one or more singular points in that universe? And what if this were “completely” all there were—”singular”? These phenomena are ungraspable by nature. And one grasps one of them only by taking its fluidity away from it for a moment, and placing it elsewhere. The ungraspable could be grasped, on the condition that the ungraspable is isolated as a function, to identify it and concentrate it—for instance, by embodying it in an entity. Example? The twisting of a Möbius strip is everywhere, in other words, it is indeterminate, and only a cut in the strip localizes it—precisely when it makes the Möbius strip disappear. Here we define an essentially indeterminate being, since it disappears in being determined (uncertainly).
22. Statement: There is no universe of discourse, which is to say, there is an essential (constitutive) lack, a hole in the universe of discourse, or better, the universe of discourse is a totality of dispersion [totalité dispersée]. It is a Möbius strip, nonorientable, with one face, without top or bottom, unstratifiable, except if cut at the point where its twist is fixed and effaced. Indivisible, this perhaps divided universe what it loses is not material, it is incorporeal, it is nothing—only its properties disappear, completely. With the fall of lack, the impossible element, the universal stratification of language becomes possible. Seen from the side of stratified language, it is nothing but an illusion, an illegitimate operation, a non‑entity [non‑être], an appearance, a mirage, a semblant of being, that disappears.
23. The categories of more‑than/less‑than, of the inconsistent totality, of the antinomic element give rise, if you will, to those of anticipation, of deferral [l’après-coup], of the lightning flash, of the instant. A theory of time before a theory of space—that is the aesthetic of the signifier.
24. Since the beginning, we are in the too early/too late. We speak, we write, we live in the too early/too late. Does this text come on time? Certainly not. It is untimely. Its production is indeterminate. Neither does it have an end, and when I stop, it will not conclude. Does it remain only to write indefinitely, until death, expanding each phenomenon, the phenomenon, naming it always anew, testing diverse orders, new metaphors? Or else, reduce the all to a unique point—a single description—a single name‑a cry—or silence.
* “Matrice,” Ornicar? 4, Paris, 1975.
The translator wishes to thank Kirsten Stolte and the Buffalo Lacan
Reading Group for reviewing the translation.
Matrix originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 12, 2000.