......• Mechanistics, Grammar & the Locality of Thought
.........Louis Armand

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How do you force the head to let it be conscious of all the registers
—Phillipe Sollers

One of the earliest questions that will have confronted man as a sentient being is the question that is often posed in terms of “why is there something and not nothing,” but which may better be formulated as “why is there consciousness and not nothing”? In one way or another, this represents what can be argued to be the founding question of subjectivity, in which the individual first lays claim, by virtue of discourse, to a “condition of thought”—at least as it has been understood since Descartes, as the premise and underlying assumption of philosophy as a certain discourse regarding knowledge, or selfknowledge, by which thought presupposes any subject whatsoever and hence any epistemological object—and in one sense or another the entire history of thought can be seen as converging upon it. For while this question presupposes that there is such a thing as consciousness, even if this thing is merely a screen separating “man” from “nothingness,” the fact that thought assumes an historical form in the discourse of philosophy prompts us to regard it—thought (and by virtue of thought, a certain grammar)—as somehow objectively located, if not “in the external world” at least with regard to the facticity of consciousness, even if this facticity is attributed solely to its being “in the mind.”


Early in what has come to be known as The Blue Book (1933-4), Ludwig Wittgenstein poses a series of dilemmas regarding thought, language, and locality, in the form of questions
about the means of explanation of meaning and the locality of thinking. These dilemmas, focused as they are upon problems of situating discourse, provide the foundations for an inquiry into the particular material and signifying conditions that are taken to define consciousness.

“It is misleading,” Wittgenstein says, “to talk of thinking as of a ‘mental’ activity. We may say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs. This activity is performed by the hand, when we think by writing; by the mouth and larynx, when we
think by speaking; and if we think by imagining signs or pictures, I can give you no agent that thinks. If then you say that in such cases the mind thinks, I would only draw your attention to the fact that you are using a metaphor, that here the mind is an agent in a different sense from that in which the hand can be said to be an agent in writing.”

The particular relationship Wittgenstein intends, between imagining, metaphor (or analogy), and agency (or “operating with signs”) is made more explicit in what follows, with regard to the question of locality: the assumption that thought, or sign-operation, is locatable in some profound sense outside the materiality of those operations. In other words, that there is something called the mind which, like the Cartesian homunculus, thinks our thoughts in advance of us, and thereby intends them. The basis of Wittgenstein’s argument is that, in order to avoid the reductio ad absurdum of thought thinking itself in the figure of “mind,” it is necessary to investigate the different grammars of the word “to think” and the analogical basis upon which we accord thinking a privileged position as the root of consciousness, and hence of Being.

“If again we talk about the locality where thinking takes place,” Wittgenstein suggests, “we have a right to say that this locality is the piece of paper on which we write or the mouth which speaks. And if we talk of the head or the brain as the locality of thought, this is using the expression ‘locality of thought’ in a different sense.”

But between these senses of agency and locality, how do we say that the page or mouth differ from the brain? For it is not simply that Wittgenstein is arguing against the Cartesian idea of a ghost in the machine, as it were, operating the gears and levers of “mental” activity, just as the little voice in the head—as John Searle figures it—is supposed, by way of intention or command, to direct the hand that holds the pen that writes on the page. Rather, it is primarily a matter of how analogical reasoning has obscured the relationship, as Wittgenstein puts it, between imagining and operating with signs. And this does not mean that something conjures up images of signs inside our heads. To operate with signs (and in this sense “to imagine”) has nothing to do with affecting an analogy between the material conditions of a hand writing on paper and what “takes place inside the brain.” The expression “locality of thought” proceeds, in other words, upon an analogy in the use of the words “locality” and “thought” and the assumptions associated with them— according to which thought “takes place” in the brain, whereas, for example, in observing the operations of the brain we cannot say that we observe thought, even as we assume some form of correlation between these operations and what we must mean by the term to think. Such analogical reasoning is indicative in philosophy of the “realist fallacy,” and in particular of the argumentation of philosophers who, like Searle, insist that neurobiological processes account for thought, or that sense experiences are directly translatable by way of cognitive experiences, which are in turn communicated by way of a purely instrumental system of signs.

Part of the analogical problem, as Wittgenstein points out, is a confusion between the transitive and intransitive grammars of particular terms, and the assumption of an object where no object necessarily obtains. Such expressions as the meaning of a word or the object of thought are indicative of this confusion. Consequently, it is upon the prior assumption of consciousness that a picture of “thought” appears to present itself in the analogy between “mental” activity and the activity of “operating with signs”—even while this picture itself seems to relate to no determinate object or process. This is, in one sense, what Wittgenstein means by saying “if we think by imagining signs”—and it is in the prepositional form of the word “by” (and not merely the conditional “if”) that the agency, means, instrumentality or causation of thought is here rendered ambiguous with regard to an object. To “imagine signs” is thus given to mean “to think” intransitively. But what, then does it mean to imagine? What, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, are the respective grammars of the term, “imagining” if imagining signs is not merely a metaphor, analogue or equation of some form of agency that interposes between consciousness and “thought”? One difficulty with approaching the distinction between such transitive and intransitive grammars—and which has so often tempted philosophy to take human experience as an exceptional case—is the seeming phenomenon of reflexivity. That is, of consciously reflecting upon the experience of thinking. This awareness that “we think”—elevated by Descartes to an ontological and almost theistic condition—complicates the way in which we pose questions about what thinking is. Even if we attribute a material or mechanistic character to the operations of thought “itself,” reflexivity, or self-consciousness, is more often than not presented as inexplicable in any way other than in terms of individual subjectivity, free will, or conscious agency—unless by recourse to some form of deus ex machina. “We feel,” in short, “that in the cases in which ‘I’ is used as a subject, we don’t use it because we recognise a particular person by his bodily characteristics; and this creates the illusion that we use the word to refer to something bodiless, which, however, has its seat in our body. In fact this seems to be the real ego, the one of which it is said, ‘Cogito ergo sum.’—‘Is there then no mind, but only a body?’”


This question of an “agency” beyond the mind-body dichotomy was among the challenges taken up by Sigmund Freud—in the Project (1895) and the “Note on the Mystic Writing- Pad” (1925)—and, later, by Jacques Lacan, in the formulation of a materialist definition of consciousness, and remains the basis of various cognitive and cybernetic approaches to the problem of general intelligence.

In 1954, a series of seminars were presented by Lacan at the Société Française de Psychanalyse, entitled “A Materialist Definition of the Phenomenon of Consciousness,” “Homeostasis and Insistence,” “Freud, Hegel and the Machine,” and “The Circuit.” These seminars form part of a larger treatment of the ego in Freud’s theory, and they represent a new phase in the critique of Cartesian subjectivity initiated in Lacan’s oeuvre with his 1936 paper on the stade du miroir, or “mirror stage,” in which it is asserted that “the formation of the ‘I’ as we experience it in psychoanalysis … leads us to oppose any philosophy issuing directly from the cogito.”

Lacan’s 1954 seminars are organised around a reassessment of Freud’s work between the Project and his 1919 study, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in which the human organism and the structure of the psyche are conceived (in a manner only superficially comparable to Descartes’s “Sixth Meditation”) as a machine—but more specifically as an apparatus of sign operations—according to which the brain operates firstly as what Lacan terms a “homeostat organ” and later as a “dream machine.” This is the moment of Freud’s “rediscovery” of the unconscious—“the most organic and most simple, most immediate and least manageable level” of the psyche, where “sense and speech are revealed and blossom forth in their entirety.” It is by way of the metaphor of the machine that Freud “discovers the operation of the symbol as such, the manifestation of the symbol in the dialectical state, in the semantic state, in its displacements, puns, plays on words, jokes working all on their own in the dream machine.”

The particular mechanical “grammar” that Lacan identifies in Freud’s investigations of language and the unconscious displaces Cartesian subjectivity by way of a dialecticism which becomes increasingly formal and procedural in its logic (working “all on its own,” as it were)—indeed whose formalism is a necessity in order for the subject not to return in the figure of dialectical synthesis, or be rendered substantive, since it is the unconscious which is discovered to be “the unknown subject of the ego.”7 (This displacement of the dialectical subject onto the “figure” of the unconscious is taken by Lacan as a first step in the move away from Cartesianism and the conventional mind-body problem, towards a mechanical or “materialist” understanding of reflexivity.)

“What,” Lacan then asks, “gives consciousness its seeming primordial character? The philosopher does indeed seem to start with an indisputable given when he takes as his starting point the transparency of consciousness to itself. If there is consciousness of something it cannot be, we are told, that this consciousness does not, itself, grasp itself as such. Nothing can be experienced without the subject being able to be aware of himself within this experience in a kind of immediate reflection.”8 The answer for Lacan, as for Wittgenstein, is that while the word “reflection,” like “consciousness” or “mind,” has a meaning for us, “i.e. it has a use in our language,” this meaning—in the context of philosophy or psychology—does not explain those operations to which we would ask it to refer. There is nothing in the meaning of reflexivity, in other words, that helps us to understand the means of explaining the “phenomenon” of reflexivity.9 And this leads, in any assumption of subjecthood or subjective agency, to the Cartesian paradox of decentred self implied in the structure of reflexivity—being, as Lacan characterises it: “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.”10

It remains, Wittgenstein argues, to examine the grammar of those words which describe what are called “mental activities”: “seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. And this comes to the same as saying that we are concerned with the grammar of ‘phrases describing sense data.’”11 We might take this further and say that it is not merely the grammar of phrases, or propositions about the nature of “sense data” or “mental activities”—such as reflexivity—that concerns us here, but structural grammars that describe the operations of reflexivity itself, and, consequently, a particular conception of thought, consciousness or subjectivity. In other words we are concerned with a grammar—or grammatical apparatus—of discursivity, of possibility, of a set of operations of imagining signs affected under base material conditions.

What does it mean, then, to operate with, or imagine, signs? And what does it mean to treat these terms—to operate and to imagine—as “equivalent,” in a material and not metaphysical sense, deriving from the etymology of mechanikos given by Xenephon, namely something full of resources, inventive, ingenious, clever? In his seminar entitled “A Materialist Definition of Consciousness,” Lacan asks us to consider the following scenario, focusing our attention upon a particular intransitive sense of this phrase to operate with or to imagine signs. In a world from which all living beings have vanished, a camera (it is an analogue camera, replete with mirror, shutter and flash) stands on a tripod at the edge of a lake, focused upon the image of a mountain reflected there, and set to operate automatically, recording whatever is framed through its viewfinder:

Once again we’re dealing with a mirror.

What is left in the mirror? The rays which return to the mirror make us locate in an imaginary space the object which moreover is somewhere in reality. The real object isn’t the object that you see in the mirror. So here there’s a phenomenon of consciousness as such. That at any rate is what I would like you to accept, so that I can tell you a little apologue to aid your reflection.

Suppose all men have disappeared from the world. I say men on account of the high value which you attribute to consciousness. That is already enough to raise the question—What is left in the mirror? But let us take it to the point of supposing that all living beings have disappeared. There are only waterfalls and springs left—lightning and thunder too. The image in the mirror, the image in the lake—do they still exist?

The question that Lacan is in process of formulating has to do with the relationship between the image and a process of “imagining” that does not take place in the absence of an object, so much as in the absence of a subject. However, this is not to say that the object is restored in Lacan’s scenario—that a different grammar obtains to the one encountered in Wittgenstein’s discussion of the locality of consciousness—rather, the assumed object here gives way to what is called an image, and what we might also go on to call a sign, insofar as one can speak at all of “imagining signs” in the manner we shall arrive at. Firstly, however, in the absence of a subject (or any formal “observer”), what does it mean to ask if the image still exists? It is quite obvious, Lacan insists, that it does exist, because the image, as we say, can be recorded—this is in fact its mechanical (technological) condition, or conditionality—while the mirror, where we might otherwise be tempted to speak of the image being located, represents not a “locality” in the sense of a locality of thinking, but rather a technē of reflexivity: a surface of operations that link what is called an image to the intransitive condition of thought, of imagining signs through the operation of its being-recorded. The image of which Lacan speaks is thus not the image we expect to find (or not to find) in the mirror, but the imaginary sign that is a mark of this reflexive action we call recording, or re-coding: what is left in the mirror, or in the lake, is nothing more or less than the reflective, transmissional mechanism within whose “agency” a phenomenon of consciousness appears to reside, while palpably residing nowhere.

To further elaborate this effect, Lacan adds to his camera apparatus a photocell which, in setting off a flash at the moment the “image” is recorded, leaves—by way of its superimposed reflection upon the “image reflected in the lake,” or so we may at least deduce—a trail of light, or a blind (a blind reflexivity or a “blind gaze”) as though in place of the image of the mountain reflected in the lake, by which the now composite, obliterated or ruined “recorded image” assumes the tenor of an imaginary sign. What is left in the camera, then, is nothing other than the trace (the implied, insubstantive record) of the reflexive act “itself.”

What Lacan’s scenario thereby presents us with is a type of self-sufficient technology, or we might say techno-logicus—between the mechanised image and the assumption of a system of signs—as a type of reflexive analogue-machine. Hence, “despite all living beings having disappeared, the camera can nonetheless record the image of the mountain in the lake …” and so on and so forth. It is this mechanical tableau of “reflexivity,” then, that Lacan wishes us to consider as being essentially a phenomenon of consciousness, “which won’t have been perceived by any ego, which won’t have been reflected upon in any egolike experience,”15 since there can be no ego in the camera. So is “consciousness” nothing but this reflexive movement?


Given that such a thing as a camera, or even the surface of a lake, demonstrates a blind reflexivity that might normally be considered at best analogous to merely nervous reflex actions in organic bodies, how might we assume to speak of such mechanical phenomena as “essentially” phenomena of consciousness? Is it the case that we are speaking only of imaginary machines, or of an imaginary consciousness, or rather that such questions fall into the trap of assuming sign operations (imagining signs) to be merely epiphenomenal in the philosophical sense: adjuncts to the real with neither consequence nor more than “symbolic” function in that world? It is with regard to the existential function of the “image” that Lacan’s theory needs not only to be referred back to the materiality of the Freudian unconscious, but also to the concept of Gestalteinheit (structure, pattern, whole) and the Gestalt theory of Christian von Ehrenfels who, like Freud, was much influenced by the psychophysics and philosophy of perception of Franz Brentano. Cf., for example, Brentano’s dissertation on “Aristotle’s Psychology, with Special Reference to his Doctrine of Nous Poīetikos” (1866); and Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874).

Lacan’s response to this is that while “the symbolic world is the world of the machine,” it is necessary to recognise that this does not elevate the condition of man, as a being in the “real” world, since “in as much as he is committed to a play of symbols, to a symbolic world, … man is a decentred subject” and “it is with this same … world, that the machine is built. The most complicated machines are made only with words.” But it would be wrong to suppose that we are speaking here about reflexivity and machines in a “merely” rhetorical or normative sense, with no relation to the actual operations of consciousness or thought.

One of the reasons for this supposed dilemma, in the relation of the symbolic to a “phenomenon of consciousness,” is that the machine of which Lacan speaks is not compatible with the assumptions of Cartesian mechanistics, since its determinations of reflexivity devolve not upon an the agency of an ego but upon the unconscious in its fundamental, mechanical and material sense. For neither this machine, nor its reflexivity, is a metaphor—a situation which leads Lacan to what must at first appear simply a provocation: that consciousness occurs each time “there’s a surface such that it can produce what is called an image.”

Between what Lacan terms the symbolic (“system of signs”) and the imaginary (“phenomenon of consciousness”), the real interposes as this mechanism of reflexivity: the liminal space of the mirror, the surface of the lake, and—it follows—the “locality of thought.” The difficulty, as we have seen, is in resisting the fascination analogy exerts upon us, as in confusing “mental activities,” for example, with “the activity of operating with signs,” or of asserting that something must be in the machine (an ego, perhaps, or some other mental avatar). And here lies the basic distinction between Freudian materiality and Cartesian mechanistics: the former being an entirely literalised “account” of the organisation of the psyche and the contingent nature of consciousness; the later being a metaphorical, or rather analogical, figuration of a material condition of Being upon the assumption of the primacy of consciousness. The confusion of these respective grammars rests, as Lacan identifies, in “the situation of impasse which is the constitution of the human object … expressed precisely in traditional psychology by the incompatability of consciousness.”

This distinction is already familiar from Lacan’s paper of 1936 on the mirror stage and the “dialectic of identification.” In his later seminar, on a “materialist definition of consciousness,” the distinction is recapitulated and reinforced. Here Lacan adopts Freud’s parable of the blind man and the paralytic as an additional, parenthetic means of illustrating the problem of subjectivity on the level of the ego (or of any artifex maximus)— the problem which equally underlies the scenario of the camera and the lake. “The subjective half of the pre-mirror experience,” Lacan explains, “is the paralytic, who cannot move about by himself except in an uncoordinated and clumsy way. What masters him is the image of the ego, which is blind and which carries him. Contrary to all appearances, and this is where the entire problem of the dialectic lies, it isn’t, as Plato thinks, the master who rides the horse, that is, the slave, it’s the other way around. And the paralytic, whose perspective this is, can only identify with his unity in a fascinated fashion, in the fundamental immobility whereby he finishes up corresponding to the gaze he is under, the blind gaze.”

It is by consequence of this that the ego remains, for Lacan, an imaginary function, “even if at a certain level it determines the structuration of the subject”—the image of the ego is as “ambiguous as the object itself, of which … it is not only a stage, but the identical correlate.” Once again the difficulty resides in the lure of analogy, since it is the tendency of subjectivity to substantiate itself on the basis of an agency that must be more than “merely” imaginary (keeping in mind the implied reification of the imaginary as a mode of operating with signs).

This is the problem Wittgenstein identifies with regard to the assumption of a locality of thought: the belief that thought in some way precedes itself (there, in the place where we recognise it only seems to be, without being able to say where it is, etcetera), and that the experience of thought is both a private and somehow unique one—as opposed to other, physiological “experiences” that might simply be described by sense data. Evidently we encounter a problem with the grammar of the word “experience” here, and it is the confusion of the various meanings of experience, for example, that create further problems when we pose questions such as: “Is it possible for a machine to think?” As Wittgenstein points out, the trouble which is expressed in this question has less to do with whether or not technological conditions exist that would allow us to build machines that can think—or which, like IBM’s Deep Blue, might approximate thought, or might simulate having cognitive experiences—but that “the sentence, ‘A machine thinks (perceives, wishes)’: seems somehow nonsensical.”

And yet, is it any more nonsensical to say “a machine thinks” than to say “a brain thinks” (or for that matter “a mind thinks”)?

We might similarly ask, where is perception located? In the retina? In the occipital cortex? As though any part of the “visual apparatus” or the operations of “perception” could be separated off from the whole, or the whole given over to a “mind” that magically perceives in place of the eye’s and brain’s “merely” mechanical operations—and which, above all, can provide us with an explanation of perception! This is a conceptual problem that Leibniz had already identified in the Monadology (1840; posthumous). “Suppose,” Leibniz argues, “that there be a machine, the structure of which produces thinking, feeling and perceiving; imagine this machine enlarged but preserving the same proportions, so that you could enter it as if it were a mill. This being supposed, you might visit its inside; but what would you observe there? Nothing but parts which push and move each other, and never anything that could explain perception.” As Wittgenstein says, it is necessary to ask here about the grammar of the word “explain,” and to question the particular demands and expectations we assume when we use that word in this way. However, even in the absence of a means of “explanation” (whatever this means), if Lacan attributes to the apparatus of his camera a “phenomenon of consciousness” is this substance.” then the same as saying that the camera “thinks”? Is the camera’s blind reflexivity commensurate with what Wittgenstein calls operating with or imagining signs? Is the recording of an image—its recordability, even; its mechanical iterability as photo-graphē— however tentative, not in itself experiential? Or, if we accept that the mechanism of reflexivity comprised by Lacan’s apparatus might indeed describe a phenomenon of consciousness—even if this phenomenon assumes the form of a “writing” (graphē) around the liminal space of what cannot be reified as an image—how do we then account for the insistence that there is not “the shadow of an ego in the camera”? Are we yet prepared to accept that thought—even as something strictly delimited in terms of operating with signs— is conditioned by a purely mechanical agency?


Lacan’s image of the lake in the previous scenario of a material or mechanical phenomenon of consciousness is not an accidental one, and we may readily detect in it an allusion to the Virgilian epigraph of Freud’s Traumdeutung (1900), which—by implied association—likens the unconscious to the underworld and to that which cannot be brought up into daylight. For Virgil, the gateway to this underworld, and its literary metonym, is Avernus—the small, once “birdless” volcanic lake on the Tyrrhenian coast at Cumae—and it is what lies below this semi-mythological lake that Freud warns us must remain in the realm of the purely speculative. Which is another way of saying that there is nothing in the lake—meaning no-thing that could be recognisable, no-thing for which “consciousness” possesses any analogue whatsoever. It is for this reason that the dreamwork is described tropically—as a set of structural relations of figures of metaphor and metonymy—and not substantively. If we speak of dream images, there is none the less no image as such in the unconscious, no image in the lake. Nothing, we might say, other than an “effect of liminality.” But what does this mean?

When Wittgenstein speaks of the locality of thought and of the realist fallacy, it is in part to draw our attention to the way in which certain means of picturing the world are bedevilled by analogy. We might identify a similar problem in the confusion that arises whenever we casually compare the machinery of a camera and the “machinery” of the retina and visual cortex, for example, and draw conclusions about the operations of consciousness on these grounds—without considering that it is the grammar, the mechanics, of reflexivity that is at stake, and not a comparison of different types of machines. This is similarly the way in which Wittgenstein uses the term “grammar,” which we might also regard as a mechanism or technē of discourse, of sign structures— indeed, as a particular type of semantic condition. Likewise, we can see that what is at stake in Lacan’s definition of consciousness is the establishing of conditions (the grammar) for talking about a phenomenon of consciousness in the strictest sense. If Lacan’s scenario appears elusive, this has more to do with the necessary ambiguity of such a discourse than with a lack of rigour on the part of the analyst, as it were rather than “optical,” such as the phenomenon of blind sight?

One striking feature of Lacan’s scenario especially requires further scrutiny, and this has to do with a seeming dependency upon analogical, mechanistic structures in the illustration of his argument. Yet we need to be particularly attentive to what the object of this argument is. Firstly, the conjunction of mirror and camera eye serve to bring together the notion of subjectivity, perception, reflection, consciousness, and cognition. Secondly, however, this conjunction should alert us to the fact that here we are dealing with a scenario of consciousness—of a phenomenon of consciousness—that constitutes itself by way of a similar blind to the one we have already remarked with regards to the matter of recording. And this is the blind that, like the surface of the lake or the surface of the mirror, both closes us off from, and orientates us towards, the speculative: between the image projected in the retina and the sense data transmitted to the occipital cortex, and so on. It is, in other words, what separates the phenomenon of consciousness from what Wittgenstein terms the locality of thought, and which separates agency from the assumption of mind. On one hand, this blind is represented in purely mechanical terms. The analogue camera—as a type of mechanical eye—doubles, and re-inverts, the reflection of the image in the lake by the reflection in the mirror situated inside the camera. This image, by association, corresponds to the “real” upside-down image projected on the retina in the last stage of visual perception at which there is anything like an “image” in the straightforward way that there is an image on a cinema screen. That is to say, at which there appears an analogue of something “in the real world.” Two important points arise here. Firstly, in the arbitrary relation between the analogue (the so-called image) and the technics of its transmission—something Lacan draws our attention to when he defines an image as “the effects of energy starting at a given point of the real … reflected at some point on a surface and come to strike the corresponding same point in space. The surface of a lake might just as well be replaced by the area striata of the occipital lobe.” Secondly, in the incompatibility of analogue processes and what Wittgenstein terms sense data—the forms of transmission and mnemonic coding or recording that characterise the combined operations of the central nervous system, cerebral cortex, and other parts of the brain (whether or not these are committed to strictly motor functions or to other mental activities). This incompatibility has been likened to the distinction between analogue and digital processes familiar in computing, and it is relatively uncontroversial to state on this basis that there are no images in the brain.

In effect, the incompatibility of consciousness with the operations of the brain, or between the analogue state of “consciousness” and the digital state of “mental processes,” means that it is nonsensical to speak of an image of thought, as it were. Which also means, that there can be nothing of mental activity which is recognisable in imagistic or analogue terms—there is indeed no analogue of mental activity that we could identify as thought or as such—and hence there can be no sensible way in which we can here speak of a locality of thought. As Lacan says, “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.” Unlike the analogue world, in which we may speak of an image reflected in a lake, there are no corresponding means by which we can locate reflexive thought (in the “mind”), and this leads us to some interesting restatements of the dilemma that confronts us when we approach the meaning of the Freudian unconscious—but perhaps more interestingly, it leads us to place in question the phenomenon of consciousness itself as being other than a discursive materiality on the level of unconscious (non-analogue, mechanically reflexive) processes.

This does not mean, however, that consciousness should be viewed as epiphenomenal. A phenomenon of consciousness, rather, might be considered as arising from a mechanical reflexivity that operates a point of transmission between analogue and non-analogue modes: it is what might be called an integrational effect that in turn is reintegrated into the machine as a notional reflexivity. Thought, or cognition, does not in this way correspond to mental activities—as Wittgenstein makes clear—rather there are cognitive effects: the operations of the brain are of a different order, or for the purpose of a different constitution, to those analogised for the purpose of cognition, or of reflecting upon the apparent processes of cognition. The reflexivity implied here, like that of Lacan’s camera apparatus—between modes of integration and cognition-effects—goes only as far as the image. The surface of the lake, or the mirror, is a film/screen—a non-place, a utopia—by which the reflection of an image, which is not yet the image of reflection, is seen to be “projected.”

Once again the incompatibility of consciousness leads us to bring into doubt the sense of attributing agency to consciousness per se. We can say, for example, that the camera “sees” insofar as we can also say that an eye “sees,” or—as in Wittgenstein’s example, a hand or mouth “thinks,” without recourse to any external agency. (The question is, what does it mean to be aware that one sees, under the illusion of seeing oneself seeing oneself?) This definitional incompatibility prompts us to question the sense in identifying what we call thought with a phenomenon of consciousness. Indeed, rather than speaking of cognitive effects we might do better to speak instead of analogue-effects: the presupposition that “conscious” event S refers to “mental” event P, which it thereby “causes,” and so on. In this way we might also speak of the analogisation of experience by way of sense data transformed into a process of operating with signs—since, in the final analysis, it is by way of a fundamental incompatibility that analogy functions (that it is possible) as a body of sign operations approximating thought.

Collioure, August, 2005


1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books: Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical Investigations (New York: Harper, 1958) 6-7.
2. John Searle, Minds, Brains and Science (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984).
3. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I in Psychoanalytic Experience,” Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridon (New York: Norton, 1977).
4. Jacques Lacan, “Freud, Hegel and the Machine,” The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955, trans. S. Tomaselli (London: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
5. Jacques Lacan, “A Materialist Definition of the Phenomenon of Consciousness,” The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II.
6. Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989).
7. Jacques Lacan, “The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud,” Écrits: A Selection, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridon (New York: Norton, 1977).
8. G.W.F. von Leibniz, "The Monadology," §17, trans. George Montgomery, The Rationalists (New York: Double Day, 1960) 457.


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