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This article is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

Tradition and the Limits of Poetry Michael Grant

In a recent article in PN Review (PNR 98), Raymond Tallis permitted himself a well-justified outburst of exasperation. Speaking of his two books on the follies of theory, Not Saussure and In Defence of Realism, he wrote: 'I confidently expected that the purveyors of post-Saussurean "theory" would be stopped in their tracks.' Tallis presumably expected absurd and confused ideas to be abandoned when those holding them were shown the· error of their ways. However, the case of psychoanaysis lends no support to such an expectation: despite the revelation of its incoherence by Popper, Crews, Archard, Gellner, Esterson, and many others, it continues undisturbed by the charges laid against it. The power to fascinate exercised by systems such as psychoanalysis and deconstruction will not be dispelled by reasoned argument.

The link between theory and the Lacanian version of psychoanalysis lies in their common tradition of 'philosophical illusionism', deriving from Hegel and finding definitive expression in the poetry of Mallarmé, whose style Lacan reworked to his own ends. 'Philosophical illusionism' is defined by the French philosopher, Clément Rosset, in a devastating critique of Lacan, as follows:

Philosophical illusionism consists of proclaiming a meaning without ever showing it, just as an illusionist uses his powers of suggestion to convince his audience that they see an object that is absent.


In Lacan and Derrida, meaning is announced not as something that is present, but as something 'still to come, as something interminably deferred'. Whether as an effect ...


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