Dreaming the square root of negative one: Jacques Lacan and space-time relativity
(c) 1998 by Daniel du Prie
The resistance of dreams to the transparency of the egoic consciousness, as opposed to structural meaning per se, lies not in their 'objective presentation', that is, in the way in which objects appear phenomenologically in terms of an eidos, under the order of the symbol. It lies, rather, in a noetic resistance, in an opacity on the order of the image, the imaginary: a lacking in the 'narrative' flow of meaning as it flows forwards in time, the non-conformity of the ordered text. Or so it appears at first glance. Dreams seem to hide from imaginary order, protesting against a psychological model of sense/reference. This due to the trieblich (drive-ish) source of dreams' contents.
In this frame, it appears that when I wake from this dream, or that one, confused, it is not so much because there were no recognisable signifiers, symbols or objects: the cat in my dream I know as a cat, that tram I understand as a tram, the gun looked like a gun which shot bullets and killed the monster. To my understanding, it is in the diachronic flow that meaning seems to elude me. In the syntagmatic disjunctions, dislocations and disordering of the 'normal', everyday and waking flow of signifiers' differences and associations. Not these as such, but in the flow thereof.
The diachronic flow of signifiers which appears transparent due to repetitive reification in the meaningful discourse of the everyday is undermined and turned upside down in my night-life. It is because the cat is eating pizza with knife and fork, because the tram has now become a train (while I was not looking), because shooting the monster had 'nothing' to do with 'anything else' in my dream narrative that meaning escapes my consciousness. These alien patterns of flow alienate me from my dreams' meanings.
I am aware, generally, that this lack of meaning is grounded in the manners by which the wish-fulfilments of my Triebe (drives) tend to function, as Freud has variously written, that is, dreams are "disguised fulfilments of repressed wishes" (see endnote 1) [emph. in original]. However, the signifying chain generated by this or that Trieb (drive) in this or that dream by the unconscious is radically obscured in its translation to the symbolic by the censor: that is, in the Trieb's translation subject to law and reality, which need to preserve their own particular order. Reality (see endnote 2) refuses to accommodate the fulfilment in terms of the latent meaning of this or that Trieb, and hence the flow of meaning is, not edited, but rather ciphered altogether. It is not so much that certain sections are 'cut', like a censor might edit a film, but narrative flow itself appears bizarre. The above confusion is, because to my consciousness, where the symbolic or signifying order understood discretely yet remains transparent, analogous meaning is henceforth censored and made secretive and latent.
All this, however, is in fact a clever ruse intended to sustain the 'sanity' or coherence of the symbolic under the real while repression has become the destiny of the disallowed Triebe. In fact, 'in' reality, it is the signifiers (the symbolic - cats and guns and trams) which are always metaphors and metonyms of unconscious signifieds. Dreams have more in common with surrealist
poetry than with a film or play in which the story has been cut into pieces and re-arranged at random. If we were to identify or open the symbols in relation to what is being repressed (the aim of analysis), then, no doubt resisted by the real, the diachronic flow, or narrative process would, without alteration, make complete sense. For, of course, a diachronic 'flow' itself cannot be 'dislocated': it can only move 'forward' in time. Even a re-arranged film while making non-sense, still begins at time one, and ends at time two.
What of dreaming sex? Not frustrated sex, but dreaming sex in a utopian type of dreamy
freedom? Here there could be no proper bar or resistance between the symbolic and the imaginary - for whatever reason or lack, symbolic reality appears to have 'forgotten' to get in the way - the dream becomes real (in a Freudian sense), so to speak: transparent, non-latent, there is nothing to analyse. That is, there's no dialogue of repression - the sign stands un-occulted. If it be possible (and it is not at all sure whether such utopian, uncensored dreaming even be possible), then dreaming orgasmic sex as just that with an ideal ego is not going to involve confusion or narrative rupture, unless the censor moves back in to blip or expurgate it by fucking with associations of the petit objet 'a' : ideal ego - the looked at signifier, symbol for example. Perhaps the ideal ego (ie, who you're doing it with in your naughty dream) turns into a cloud and suddenly you're falling to earth, or whatever. But if that doesn't happen, in this case we could say that the Trieb as articulated demand appears (as closely as seems possible) simply fulfilled. Dreaming sex is then a 'primary' Freudian metaphor, but not of what we have grown up to signify with 'sex'. Dreaming sex is, in the sense that it escapes symbolic metaphor violated by reality, is understood wholly by small 'r' reality (the symbolic order). Transparent, dreamy sex refers rather to none other but,
The promotion of consciousness as being essential to the subject in the historical after-effects of the Cartesian cogito [being] for me the deceptive accentuation of the transparency of the I in action at the expense of the opacity of the signifier that undermines the I; and the sliding movement (glissement) by which the Bewusstsein [Consciousness] serves to cover up the confusion of the Selbst [Self],[which] eventually reveals, with all Hegel's own rigour, the reason for his error in the Phenomenology of Mind.(see endnote 3)
If the operation of the signifier that undermines the I in the capacity of -1 is given already as retarded (past to future), all other signifiers will appear falsely transparent. Falsely 'recognising' the signified, I affirm the reality of the signifier undermining the I, while colluding in my own repression, while in the case of the sex dream I think my desire is fulfilled.
The sex dream transcends need, and the alienating demand, to aim at desire, or rather, nothing taken as desire. It is for this (lack of) concept that the sexual dream is a metaphor, and a metaphor that aims at a prototypical or (if I may) an original Trieb. In other words, it signifies the fundamental action of the 'I' within the obscurity between the synchronicity of the statement, on the one hand, and the signified on the other to exhaust itself in that operation written by Lacan as the square root of negative one(see endnote 4) : an Imaginary number.
The use by Lacan of the square root of negative one in his psychoanalytic theory is controversial and no doubt misunderstood. The "s = √-1" is not just about an operation that is impossible. In relativity theory, "the parameter that represents temporal displacements...is represented by a negative square: [eg] –t 2. But...what does that tell us about t? What is the square root of, say, -9?"(see endnote 5)
This is not analogous to the unconscious ciphering the glow of meaning in a dream, as it is the signifiers which are ciphered: the negative ones. Rather √-1 refers to the 'Real which resists symbolization absolutely' - that is, the retarded historical flow of time (past - future). The way the maths deal with a negative square is to invent an imaginary number: the solution of √-1, signified as i. (It cannot be symbolised any other way, by the way, as this 'solution' does not exist symbolically.) So, if you multiply this imaginary number you get -1. When we add i to time to make imaginary time, or i t, (which physics allows), and do this in psychoanalysis also, we can make time just like space, we can remove its 'flow' which should allow us to do better analysis.
In the case of i t, when time measurements are squared we get units of I 2 x t 2, which is simply (-1) x t 2, or –t 2. Now, we have to multiply this negative number by the minus sign that comes into Einstein's equations themselves, which cancels out the (-1) we got from I 2 and leaves us with just t 2 (remember the old adage 'two negatives make a positive')."(see endnote 6)
Leaving aside the algebra - the crucial factor is that for the symbolic order really to work, it incorporates a symbol, I 2, the meaning of which is wholly imaginary, and literally stands in the place of what it represents, an inexpressible operation. More than that however, this Imaginary symbol also makes historical time symmetric, that is structural and spatial, and in the equations, positive t squared is actually time moving backwards.
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