Structuralism repeated the main gesture of Galilean science: it explained language through something that strictly speaking does not exist, the signifier and the system of differences forming a chain-like structure. The same repetition can be found in Freud, who as well explained thought mechanisms through something that strictly speaking does not exist, the unconscious. This inexistence clearly does not imply that we are dealing with simple illusions. On the contrary, what is at stake are ontologically incomplete realities or realities that are not thoroughly constituted (as Žižek would put it). Hence, Lacan incessantly repeated that the big Other does not exist. Language, this object of the science of language, in the first place does not exist in the Aristotelian sense, as a stable and ready-made organ-tool of communication. Language always comes in combination with autonomy and causality. A Koyréian thesis on language would therefore be: language does not exist, but this inexistence does not prevent it from having real consequences, or in Lacan’s wording, “What has a body and does not exist? Answer – the big Other” (Lacan, 1991: 74). Le langage is what the scientific discourse extracts, constructs, fabricates from the “living language” (lalangue), or rather, language, this epistemic fabrication, is in the best case the isolated and formalised logical and efficient autonomy of the symbolic and in the worst case a fictitious collection of grammatical and semantic rules, which presuppose a “someone” (intentional consciousness) and an idealised communicational model. In other words, for the Aristotelian tradition, which is today most openly perpetuated by the analytic philosophy, language is still an inefficient existence (mental or cerebral organ). By contrast, for consequent structuralists, language is an efficient inexistence (logic materialised in the multiplicity of unconscious formations, sexuality, discursive poiesis etc.).
We can understand why Saussure insisted that linguistics, in order to become a (Galilean) science of language and break with the (Aristotelian) philosophy of language, needed to be grounded on the separation of language from speech and treat language as if no living being would speak it, as a language of pure spirits rather than a language of speaking bodies. Speech is not only the realm of uncountable variations and the proliferation of subjective dialects but also the terrain, on which Aristotelianism imposed the organonic conception of language and removed linguistic autonomy from the picture. Saussure’s insistence on the side of the “ideal language” thus missed the material consequences, which perpetually dynamise the linguistic construction. Saussure nevertheless acknowledged that two main features mark the object of linguistics: it is unstable and it does not exist (it is no positive ontological substance). Linguistic structure is organised inexistence (synchronicity) marked by permanent instability (diachronicity).
Lacanian structuralism began with a wager that the discursive consequences registered by psychoanalysis in the speaking body (the unconscious and sexuality) were no less capable of becoming an object of science in Koyré’s sense (science of the real). This means that the discursive consequences registered by psychoanalysis in the speaking body could be treated by means of the apparatus of formalisation, by the autonomy of language, that they indeed actualise in the first place. Lacan’s unification of the Freudian unconscious with the Saussurean signifier implies that the unconscious could become the object of a Galilean science, and consequently that its ontological status is equivalent to the objects of modern science. Just as the latter treats external reality as reified mathematics and geometry, psychoanalysis thinks all unconscious formations as materialised discourse, and in doing so it brings about another return to Plato. Freud baptised his epistemic invention in an openly anti-Aristotelian manner: he rejected the term psychology (logos of psyché, science of the soul) and instead coined psychoanalysis (analysis of psyché, dissolution of the soul). The Freudian invention is only possible in the soulless universe of modern science and provides yet another case of the experimental verification of Platonism, its clinical verification, given that the Freudian laboratory is the psychoanalytic cabinet, in which experimentation, that is, an experience of “the real insofar as it is impossible to sustain” (Lacan, 1977: 11) takes place.