What is a Change?

What follows is a presentation that I gave two years ago at Trent University. It provoked some incredible hostility in the audience – notably among older professors – and I was forced to abandon the project. 

I want to begin by posing five crucial questions to you; crucial, because they are pertinent to our situation here today.

First, what is an Audience?

Key: A for Audience


We take this for granted in our experience here today, that there is an audience, but what are you as an audience? Can you be collectively defined by any precise property that will indicate, for me, a shared point of reference? Of course, if there is a shared point of reference then it will be easier for me to transmit something meaningful to all of you because we will have a foundation upon which we can rely. In this case, are you all, collectively, something like a unified object, uniquely situated in space and defined by some precise property of your being here together?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object

(a) ——- A

This is the first group of questions.

Second, what is a Presentation? I presume that it is something that I give to you. Is the presentation then something that comes from me and moves toward you?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’)



(a) ——- A

Is it a relation, emanating as if from another uniquely situated object in space; an object which for the moment goes by the name “Duane”? If a presentation is a relation then can I draw a line from my mouth to all of your ears; a line, such that, if we can visualize it, an image is produced?  

Third, what is a Speaker?

Key: A for Audience, (a) for the audience as a unified object, (a’) for myself as a unified object, // for diagonal line connecting (a) and (a’), S for Speaker

S  ——-  (a’)


(a) ——- A


 In other words, what am I in all of this besides the point that begins the line segment from mouth to ears? Am I also a unified object, uniquely situated in space, armed with particular knowledge acquired through careful study? Am I a supposed subject of knowledge? A subject supposed to demonstrate certain competencies for the university and for all of you here today?

Fourth, what is a Place? Is it the room within which we sit? Or is it the University, conditioned as it is by the rules that govern our original contribution to knowledge? We know that a Speaker always Presents something toward an Audience from within a particular Place. Is a Place the sum total of tacit symbolic rules that furnish the materials that make a presentation possible?

S  ——-  (a’)

        \\  //

(a) ——- A

Finally, what is the Effect of a Presentation? In other words, what sort of Encounter is there when these words hit those ears of yours? Will you feel moved by what I have to say? Will you fall in love with what I have to say? Will your prior research be affirmed by what I have to say such that you will achieve a more perfect consistency in your own thinking. Will you feel provoked by an Encounter of change?

In fact, these five groups of questions are not entirely divorced from my research. I do not address them in this particular way, but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to argue that I’ve constructed, in my paper, the following formula for analyzing a change: I am here as a Speaker, giving a Presentation, to an Audience, in a Place, with the intention of provoking an Encounter.

So, I will admit something to you. I came here today with four different presentations. I wasn’t at all certain which one I would give. I was interested in understanding what kind of Relation would provoke the possibility for a change in the Audience. At one point I simply resolved that I would entertain you. I jotted down several obscene jokes and hoped for the best. If I couldn’t change you then I would at least entertain you. You should know that the sort of entertainment I had in mind was perfectly within the Relation that I originally asked you about – the presentation. To entertain is to keep up appearances, to maintain consistency in thought. Moreover, if we hyphenate the word we find that it is the tain, stretched across the hard surface of the wood, that produces a mirror. I would have entered the tain and perhaps I would have felt quite satisfied with myself. And maybe you would have been satisfied too.

When our goal is to enter the tain we are really partaking in a simple exercise. You can imagine yourselves as objects uniquely situated in space. We can call these objects, collectively, point B. And then there is the other object, me, situated uniquely in space. We can all this object, point A. So now we have the tain – but we must enter it. How do you do this? You take out your favorite colored crayon and draw a line from point A to point B. [At this point I connected (a) to (a’) using a colored marker.] And then you give your image to your mother for her approval. She’ll tell you that you’ve painted the picture that you were supposed to paint and you will feel like the pink panther for having painted the world in your colors. It sounds geometrical, and it is – it is what I’ve called the geometrical relation. [I wrote the word tain and image across the colored line.]

Step outside of our world here tonight and you’ll find this sort of geometry everywhere. In conversations with friends and fellow students, in conversations between activists and governments, in discussions between you and your supervisor or professors, you and your partner, you and your parents, and, most importantly, between you and yourself. When we believe ourselves to be pink panthers of the change, that is, when we believe ourselves to be the masters of change, we begin to notice that change happens. Certainly, change happens but not for a moment will a change of the form of change happen. One hopes that we will stop playing the pink panther and begin to think more like black panthers. Revolutionaries. But we are not masters of the revolution. Too much blood has been spilled pretending that we have been. Yet this geometrical world is the only one that we know, it maintains the consistency of our thinking. It is who we believe ourselves to be: we are Lacanians, Spinozians, Nietzscheans, Marxists, Deleuzians, etc – nobody can break us, we’ll bend our theories to overcome their gaps, lapses, limitations, etc! A philosopher named Laurelle has even gone so far as to claim that Philosophy begins with this sort of primordial decision. To be sure, we are absolutely blind to this decision insofar as it maintains the consistency of our thought.

We have an Object in a Place that shines a Relation to Provoke an Encounter. We know that the transmission or relation that maintains consistency of thinking is the one that shines a relation from one object in space toward another object in space – in other words, it is the one that draws an image and produces a mirror. There are changes that are made within the geometry of our thinking that nonetheless validate our prior decisional structures. This is a transmission that changes the audience, but only to the extent that the audience is changed into a more rigorous validation of the deeper consistency of their thinking. It is always a validation of the primordial decisional structure that hides in our blindspot.

There is a change of the question of change itself – a change of the very consistency of thinking about change. My claim is that Things have a power for the change of the consistency of thinking change. Things can provoke a Revolutionary Encounter. Moreover, my claim is that there are more masters than we have been capable of dreaming about in our philosophies. Certainly, there is the father of the primal horde, there is god, and so on. These are the masters whom set into motion the contradiction of non-castration, which, in turn, gave us our castration. Lacan had a great way of formalizing this. He wrote: there exists an x which is not submitted to castration. On account of this non-castrated master, every x is submitted to castration. So, to summarize, it was because the master was not castrated that the rest of us were castrated. This was Lacan’s description of masculine sexuation.

There are also those who, according to Lacan’s reading of Freud, are not entirely castrated. These people are not entirely castrated because there are not those who are not submitted to castration. It is because not everybody is not submitted to castration that not every x is submitted to castration. This was Lacan’s description of feminine sexuation.

So here we have our basic understanding of the phallic function in the Lacanian field. It is important because it precisely outlines the basic way in which the objet petit a, the object cause of our desire, is situated in relation to human animals. It is only after passing through the phallic function, being castrated, that we can have language. It is a language that is always cut by a shadow, or a trace, that we call objet petit a. The most difficult question you can ask right now is: what is objet petit a? I can’t answer that question today – it is something you can jot down and research yourself later if you are at all interested. The objet petit a undergoes several mutations in Lacan’s work. Yet, I maintain that its place never changes and that is what truly matters. For our purposes what matters is the place that the objet petit a occupies in Lacan’s formulae of the phallic function. To summarize: it is only after passing through the phallic function that the human animal has language; but this language is always cut by objet petit a.

So, some of you are probably beginning to scratch your heads a bit right about now – asking yourself, what does the phallic function have to do with an audience, a presentation, and so on. It has everything to do with it! – without castration, without objet petit a, there could be no transmission of anything from me to you. Moreover, without castration, none of you could be fantasizing about the sex you are or are not going to have after these presentations are finished. This is the point – the phallic function produces the possibility of fantasy. And it is, strictly speaking, the fantasy that there is a geometrical relation from me onto you in the form of this presentation.

Under the phallic function, one of the more promising and yet also more troublesome fantasies always comes from hysterics (promising for the purposes of change). Hysterics are those who ask their Symbolic master [S1] to account for himself in the way of his knowledge. You can imagine a young activist on the street with a sign on hand that reads: “Why so much money for bombs and so little money for education?” Here, his question begs a response. And a response will certainly come from his master. Whether or not that response does come matters very little because in the end it is the relationship that the hysteric paints toward his master that matters – it is his truthful expectation of a knowledgeable response from his master, incarnated in the state, for example. Lacan claims that the hysteric’s real question is: “What am I for the Other?” This is because the hysteric actually desires to be the answer for the enigma of the master’s desire.

In relation to the formulae of the phallic function, the hysteric wants to know: “Am I entirely submitted to castration or am I not entirely submitted to castration?” Traditionally, this has been read as: “Am I a man or am I a woman [other]?” The hysteric is so caught up with trying to satisfy the master, the man, and so on, that he finds himself identifying with him. However, he identifies with the master only because he wants to be desired as his other, as his woman. He identifies with him, as a man, only so that he can remain the object of his desire, his woman.

These traditional hysterical questions are important. The whole point of analysis is to hystericize the analysand into asking, or recognizing that he asks, these types of questions.

Now – I will need to jump ahead to my real argument, which I can not develop at all for you today.

I want to return to my original group of questions. Today I don’t want to assume the position of a point or an object in the game of connect the dots. I want to be more like the analyst who hystericizes the audience into asking the fundamental questions. This is the properly Lacanian position. Rather than shining a geometrical relation I could shine an obscure relation. And I have done thus with my cohort in the seminar room. Numerous times. I’ve learned that this alone doesn’t guarantee a change of the consistency of change. Sometimes you just sound like a psychotic. The problem is that the real analyst doesn’t usually speak that much – he is not a Speaker, not an S. He occupies the place of objet petit a and lets the analysand speak – his biggest challenge is to get the analyst to work. The analyst is the A.

I will put all my cards on the table now.

The new hysterical question, which is not original by any means, but is nonetheless a new question that has been opened up by the revolutionary philosophers of our day, is: “What am I for the Thing?” Again, it is not: “What am I for the [Symbolic] Other?” but “What am I for the [Real] Thing?” This strikes me as being implicated in a mastery that has nothing at all to do with the phallic function or the father of the primal horde, god, etc. Moreover, it is a mastery that is actually quite strange because it is involves the mastery that a Thing has over itself rather than a mastery that we have over objet petit a.

Certainly, the phallic function pulls us into its spell – even those of us whom are not entirely submitted to it. It is on this condition that we can speak – that we can string a few words together and transmit them meaningfully to an audience. The problem is that once the phallic function is set into motion it can not be entirely refused. By foreclosing the pull of the phallic function we also lose the possibility of any meaningful transmission or relation. We become rambling psychotics. People don’t understand us – even if we sound awfully smart! I pass no judgment: a schizophrenic out for a walk is better than one sitting on the analyst’s couch.

But what about a Thing? A Thing is its own master – it withdraws from our mastery. A Thing doesn’t pull, like the object of our phallic function, it withdraws. The Thing is not psychotic because it has not yet been pulled into the phallic function. The Thing withdraws from the phallic function, leaves a trace in our language as objet petit a.

Now I will shine an obscure relation for you: There exists a Thing which is not submitted to the phallic function and yet every x is submitted to the phallic function. It is on this condition that we can speak of Things and Subjects. The Conjunction. Or, rather, Subjects as Things.

I’ll give you a childish example. We know that chairs are for sitting on. This is what they are for us. But what are we for the chair? This is a very different question than what the chair is for us. Moreover, what is a chair for the floor below it? You can imagine a chair, quite like the one I use in my seminar room, which forces me to arch my back and place my arms on the table (or else let them dangle beside me). The chairs in this room force us to sit at a certain distance from one another, and so on. So there are relationships that emanate from the Thing, to us, from the Thing to another Thing, and from the Thing to us as another Thing.

Finally, instead of “Am I a Man or a Woman [Other]?,” we ask: “Am I a Subject or a Thing?” “Am I a Subject with my own little objet petit a, or, am I a Thing with my own little Subject?”

The new hysterical question changes the priority of the phallic function, pushing it to a secondary operation. Do we live in a world where there is a subject whom is the master, who has objects that are like little holes in his being, like objet petit a‘s, that allow him to put language to productive use? Or, do we live in reality where subjects are just particular types of Things among other Things?

Then we must ask how a change is possible between Things and also from a Thing toward a Subject. What is their Encounter with one another?

Can revolutions be built this way?

I heard a rumor that the French Revolution began because there was a diamond necklace, worth several million dollars, that seduced Marie Antoinette so much that she had to have it (even while the people of France had to save up for a month just to afford a loaf of bread). Apparently, the American revolution started over a bunch of tea. A revolution in northeastern Italy began in 49BC because of a river named the Rubicon. According to some research, the path of the 1917 Oklahoma rebellion was entirely dictated by the geographical availability of green corn. Imagine that – the availability of green corn dictating the fate of your uprising? It was salt that provoked a change in Gandhi and the people of colonized India.

Without a doubt, all of these are examples of man’s valuation of Things – for example, we have turned salt, bread, and tea into lost object’s of desire through taxation – however, the Things themselves, outside of taxation, outside of their status as objet petit a, certainly must have moved us as well. They moved us without at all being a product of the phallic function of taxation.

Are we prepared to write the history of Thing Revolutions? Moreover, are we prepared to begin to answer the question about whether Things in the world exist independent of us? This is about more than just chairs, salt, bread, and rivers. It is about the possibility of Things provoking an obscure relation in an effort to produce the encounter of change that answers to no human master.

These are among the many new hysterical questions.


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