The sinthome is a concept introduced by Jacques Lacan in his seminar Le sinthome (1975-76). According to Lacan, sinthome is an archaic way of spelling the French word symptôme, meaning symptom. The seminar is a continuing elaboration of his topology, extending the previous seminar's focus (RSI) on the Borromean Knot and an exploration of the writings of James Joyce. Lacan redefines the psychoanalytic symptom in terms of his topology of the subject.

In "Psychoanalysis and its Teachings" (Écrits) Lacan views the symptom as inscribed in a writing process, not as ciphered message which was the traditional notion. In his seminar "L'angoisse" (1962-63) he states that the symptom does not call for interpretation: in itself it is not a call to the Other but a pure jouissance addressed to no one. This is a shift from the linguistic definition of the symptom - as a signifier - to his assertion that "the symptom can only be defined as the way in which each subject enjoys (jouit) the unconscious in so far as the unconscious determines the subject." He goes from conceiving the symptom as a message which can be deciphered by reference to the unconscious structured like a language to seeing it as the trace of the particular modality of the subject's jouissance. Sinthome then designates a signifying formulation beyond analysis: it is what allows one to live by providing the essential organization of jouissance. The aim of the cure is to identify with the sinthome.

This shift from linguistics to topology constitutes the status of the sinthome as unanalyzable. The seminar extends the theory of the Borromean Knot, which in RSI (Real, Symbolic, Imaginary) had been proposed as the structure of the subject, by adding the sinthome as the fourth ring to the triad already mentioned, tying together a knot which constantly threatens to come undone. Since meaning (sens) is already figured within the knot, at the intersection of the Symbolic and the Imaginary, it follows that the function of the sinthome - knotting together the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic - is beyond meaning.

According to Lacan, faced in his childhood by the absence of the Name of the Father, Joyce managed to avoid psychosis by deploying his art as suppléance, that is a supplementary cord in the subjective knot. Lacan emphasizes Joyce's epiphanies as instances of radical foreclosure (foreclusion) in which the real forecloses meaning. Joyce's texts entailed a special relation to language, a destructive refashioning of it as sinthome: the invasion of the Symbolic order by the subject's private jouissance. The concept of sinthome in its particular relations to creativity is connected to the late Lacanian concept of "feminine supplementary jouissance". To Lacan, topology is conceived as a form of writing, aiming to figure that which escapes the Imaginary. Thus Joyce becomes a saint homme who by refusing any imaginary solution, was able to invent a procedure of using language to organize jouissance.


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