I begin teaching Jacques Lacan's "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter'" (1954-55, 1966, trans. 1972) in my undergraduate criticism and theory course this week. The passage below is my favorite part of the essay—which (because it is by Lacan) is not among my favorite works of theory.
But, then again, I find that assigning a writer—becoming responsible to the work of someone else as a teacher—often opens me to seeing promising moments and honoring their intellectual labor. Here I sense Lacan trying to convey the shock of psychoanalytic insights. This truth is not just a truth of individual subjects but of "intersubjectivity."
We are not alone in the signifying chain.
We are traversed by this chain. I am possessed by that which I fail to possess. I endlessly repeat the loss of that which I cannot retrieve.