The Sinthomic Blank in Future Bass and Dubstep

In classical psychoanalysis a symptom is roughly a sign of something that ails us, which speaks through us by ‘hooking onto language.’ ‘It’, our unconscious, speaks when we are on the analyst’s couch – and in everyday life – through the now-familiar means of slips of the tongue and pen, and in our dreams, jokes and bungled actions. But Lacan, in his late work, introduces something slightly different, which is yet connected to the symptom: the sinthome. This unfamiliar concept, which is beginning to get some airtime (it’s got an entry on Wikipedia now), has many meanings, and means of meaning, but to try to draw some together in a definition we can say that it is the unanalysable, interminable and irreducible symptom which ties our unconscious together; that inner something without which our mental apparatuses could oscillate out of control. It is not a purely essentialist idea, however, as whereas we all have sinthomes, they are not the same simple thing in all of us, but are little singular meaningless and repetitive bits that link to our ownmost primitive enjoyment; that of life itself. Žižek labels them an ‘elementary matrix of memes’ in his book Organs Without Bodies. Structuring us, it is our sinthomes that we must ‘come to assume’.

So, where can we find examples of them today? In music, among other places, we can argue. Lyricists may have always found an outlet for their ailments through the form of versifying in song, cataloguing their symptoms therein, but in genres like dubstep and future bass we may now be able to discern the emergence of the sinthome too. Pearson Sound’s masterpiece ‘Blanked’, for instance, will give us a first indication. The idea of the blank itself is a good way in: if there is a matrixial measure (a blank) to be filled in the quantised structure of a track, into it may be inserted a sound source that extends that measure, and therefore gets cut down to fill this blank. The cut-up repetitive bits of singing amongst the soundscape of ‘Blanked’, then, are instances of this type of sinthome; the words, their meaning, are no longer there, or are not whole, but their effect, their enjoyment, still is. In Burial too, in his dark tinges of mood made by manipulated fragments (those fragments so dear to Baroque creation Benjamin would remind us) – the transposition of voice into tone, of lyrics into audible glitches and memes – we see a similarly advanced means of composition from the matrix of sinthomic blanks. Thus, in this sinthomicaurality, we meet the unanalysable, interminable and irreducible soul-jazz of our futures head on.

Art by Simon Levy (@cyartes); see more of his work here:


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