NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 6 MARCH 1963

Lacan has been harping on the same point. In a sense, he is circling around something, something that keeps forcing him to reorient himself. His orientation is the object of the real, namely, object a. Indeed, at one point Lacan claims that we must use the concept of the real to orient our pursuits.

We return to the formula:

Anxiety is not without object

I notice that the indefinite article “an” has now been removed from the formula. Lacan does not explain why this is the case. Perhaps it is an issue with the translation, or perhaps it is intentional. In any case, an indefinite article (such as “a” or “an”) denotes one of two things: (1) that something is being referred to for the first time, and (2) that something is a member of a class or set of something larger, in other words that it is an element of a set. If it is in fact the case that Lacan intentionally dropped the indefinite article then this could be because (1) object is not something that is referred to at the beginning, rather it is a residue or remainder; and (2) object is something that can not be identified as an element of a set since it is much rather something that persists as a remainder in any and all sets. We discussed this in relation to the 30 JANUARY 1963 class: there is no way for the Euler diagram to represent lack. We need to add another dimension for this, the third dimension, so that the surface can bend back upon itself as it does with the mobius strip.

So object is here object a, and if I use the indefinite or definite articles you will forgive me.

We have also discussed in relation to the 16 JANUARY 1963 class the fact that there is a cause to desire. This is, of course, a lost cause, a cause which is missing by necessity. Object a is the cause of desire because it stands behind desire, it is behind desire perhaps at the level of drive. We know that in drive object a is itself that which provides the source of enjoyment. Lacan notes that Freud’s problem was that he placed the cause of desire to the front of desire rather than behind desire. Similarly, anxiety is not ‘the result of something’ but rather it is ‘there behind desire’. This has dramatic implications, as we shall see. It means that anxiety is itself a motive or cause for desire. It is not that anxiety is necessarily on the side of the defense of the ego, that we feel anxiety as a signal that we must defend ourselves from something.

Now we have in front of us the question of the relationship between fear and anxiety. Do they represent the same phenomena or are they far away from each other? In either case, the error, Lacan claims, is that the concepts are distinguished from their objects. This is a double error because there is a problematic notion of the object involved. The object is not, as we typically suggest, this or that chair, this or that breast, this or that person, this or that toy. This is a limited view of the object. The object is what causes desire. It is an error to presume that fear has an object. Lacan provides us with a reference to a simple piece of literature to demonstrate this point, something Chekhov wrote called “Panic Fears” [the text is very short]. Chekhov, of course, had something like a panic disorder.

So when we claim that fear has an object we are in effect arguing that fear is oriented toward something. But this is not the case for Chekhov. Chekhov describes three examples and in each case his fear came from something that did not seem to have a source or cause to it. It was a general disorientation, if I may say so, in an environment within which he presumed to be well oriented. This feeling seems like what Freud described as unheimliche, the uncanny, but there is something else going on here. I want to note before moving on that Freud’s much abused text on the uncanny was really not meant to be published. Freud had it sitting in his desk for quite some time and then pulled it out. A considerable portion of Freud’s text concerns matters of definition – he litters his text with signifiers. It is almost unbearable to read the first half of the text precisely because it seems like what today we would call an extensive “cut-and-paste”. So, I think that, much like Lacan’s concept of the gaze, we use the text on the uncanny as a way to orient ourselves, as a way of avoiding even the anxiety of having to actually do the work. I try to stay away from discussions on the uncanny and on the gaze for precisely this reason – it leads those to comment who are not prepared to do the work of having a real dialogue about the material. And isn’t this what Freud himself did with the text? He failed to do most of the work. Instead he just described the definitions he found elsewhere. And, when the stakes were high he simply pointed to other works he did. This is why the uncanny is not an essay that engages with the uncanny.

With this cautionary note about Freud’s text, I will inevitably make a few remarks.

I said that what Chekhov experienced was not anxiety. It was terror. This is what Lacan calls it, he writes: “What is involved here is not anxiety but fear [or terror]. What he is afraid of is not anything that threatens him, but something that has the character of being referred to the unknown aspect of what is making itself felt.” Yes – what I experience during my panic attacks – which do not occur very often anymore – is not anxiety. It is terror, absolute terror. I’ve read a review or two of Lacan’s tenth seminar today, one’s that refer to his distinction between “fear” and “anxiety”, and they note that ‘anxiety is without an object’ while ‘fear itself has an object.’ In the current class, Lacan’s class, it seems that fear is without an object. It seems to occur within an environment, a familiar environment, a stage of sorts, and yet it is the inability to locate the cause or source of something within that environment, it is a general disorientation within the orientation of the stage – it is the (a) within the i. So I am forced to conclude that those who note that Lacan made this distinction simply get it wrong (cf., this review). It seems to me that anxiety and fear are in fact very close.

Anxiety is not without an object. But maybe – I’m making a huge leap here – fear, terror even, is without an object. This implies that fear is in need of an object, it is in need of an orientation, of sense, of a reason, of a signifier, of an Other.  But anxiety is not without an object – it needs to be without the Other, it’s too close. So fear is closer to perversion, in a sense. I’m not sure. Perhaps we will see Lacan work out the difference in more detail in a later chapter. For now we can say, provisionally and minimally, that fear is intensified or focused anxiety. And I hazard to guess that fear, as “focused anxiety”, is “focused” precisely because it is focused more on that which is out of focus, namely the object a. Fear focuses on its own lack of support whereas anxiety is without focus on that which provides its support, namely the big Other.

We keep returning to the point: anxiety operates as a signal. If it operates as a signal it is a signal of something irreducible which has its basis in the real.  Anxiety, Lacan claims, is a signal that does not deceive, and it does not deceive precisely because it hits the real. We can see that Lacan is really prioritizing anxiety over all other affects because it (alone?) is a signal of the object of the real. More precisely, the real hits us through experience. Anxiety signals that the real has intruded into our experience. Lacan really wants us to grasp this point, or, at least, to hold onto it. He is alerting us to the fact that he will keep coming back to this point: “this guiding thread I ask you to hold onto in order to see where it leads us.”

But now we have two competing definitions of anxiety: (1) anxiety is at the source, it is the cause of desire, and (2) anxiety is a signal of the real. I think that perhaps the way to resolve this is to state that the first is relegated most typically to the perverse structure while the latter is relegated most typically to the neurotic structure.

And now we reach a point of further obscurity. Lacan introduces a “third table of long division”. I want to put it beside a variation of the other two tables so that we can note the difference (Lacan does not discuss why this table is different from the previous ones). The top table is the old table of division and the bottom table is the new, third, table of division.

A S
$ Ø
a

 

A S
a Ø
$

Immediately, we can see the following differences: (1) the top row now has a focus to indicate that they are “headers” of two columns in the table, (2) the $ and have switched places. Regarding the first difference, we can make some sense of it: Lacan has for too long been discussing the two columns in terms of the respective first terms. The left column is thus the column of the Other, the “A”. The right column is thus the column of the subject, S. And yet we also know that these two names are mythical. In reality, all that really exists exists beneath the headings. We’ll return to this point in a moment.

The and $, though now in different places, remain nonetheless within the column of the Other, A. The barred-subject, which is the only subjectivity we really have, is barred by the signifier. This is why in a previous class Lacan stated that the signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. It is because the subject is caught up in the signifier, trapped, in effect, by it, divided within it. So, in other words, the subject is inescapably implicated in the signifier and the column of the Other. Lacan also stresses the point that the signifier is there before the subject, within the locus of the Other. So, before the subject exists, there are only signifiers. [In the beginning was the word.]

Within the new table of long division: the subject, S, is an operation performed on the Other, A. It is something like an interrogation or demand. And then something is left over from any response to this demand, the a. We saw this logic at play from the very beginning in the graph of desire.

Graph of Desire

The subject is an operation performed on the Other – the Other responds to the interrogation – and something is left over from this response, the a. [See graph of desire again]. “The a is what remains of the irreducible in the complete operation of the subject’s advent in the locus of the Other and it is from this that it will derive its function.” However, the new long division, with the $ at the end, does not follow the trajectory of the graph of desire, which begins with the $. So things are more complex here. I am missing something. Perhaps it is the case that one gets the $, that is, the barred-subject, at the end – since signifiers await the subject – and yet, nonetheless, one always begins as a barred-subject. This accounts for the fact that the barred-subject, which we are, makes a demand, and then something is left over from this interrogation: the a, which follows the route of in the graph of desire above.

We should clarify things further, it seems to me that the two charts align with the registers or orders in the following way: (1) The top line, the “mythical” A and S, are “imaginary” – since they do not actually exist. The middle line, the and the barred-Other, is the real, since this is how things actually are. And the $, the subject of the signifier, is the symbolic. If this is true then it means that a fundamental reorientation is taking place. Lacan is shifting the anxiety from the imaginary register to the real register. It should be mentioned that Lacan did not provide this way of framing the long divisions. I could be way off in my interpretation.

The middle line of the new table – the and the barred-Other – certainly seems to be real. Lacan states that the is in fact what represents the subject in its irreducible real dimension. So this returns us to the mobius strip: the subject is on one side and yet that which is at the heart of him, the a, is in the field of the Other, A, on the back side. After all, the is truly the remainder – this is something Lacan has been going on about for a few classes. We now see that the a is the irreducible remainder, the real – and, perhaps even, also, the real as it appears within the image/imaginary. But we are not at this point yet.

So the shift in the table seems to have occurred because the a has come to the center stage. Whereas before it was the subject, $, which came to center stage. It is now clear that we have an object for our study, an object of psychoanalysis, and that object is not the subject but rather what is irreducible within the subject, which is, paradoxically, also outside of the subject, namely object a.

Now, what is left over is the barred-subject since the subject, precisely because of this irreducible real, can not have access to his mythical origins. He is separated from top to bottom. This explains the formula that Lacan provides:

$ = a / S

This is a new formula. It states something like: the barred-subject is the irreducible remainder divided by or split by the mythical original autonomous subject. So, in this sense, the barred-subject is his own alienation, by way of the real of a, to himself as autonomous subject. Spontaneously, this interpretation makes a great deal of sense to me so I am going to run with it.

Lacan goes further.

The top row of the new table of long division relates to “x”. We’ve seen this “x” somewhere before. I’ll post the photo below.

Mirror Schema (ego-nonego)

Mirror Schema (ego-nonego)

We can see that the “x” refers to what is on the other side of the mirror before there is an ego. In other words, the is the non-ego, the pre-subjective subject. The mythical subject and the mythical Other behind the mirror. So Lacan’s manner of relating the “x” with the top line of the third table of long division does indeed make a lot of sense. The “x” is where the ego will come to be. We can only know the x retroactively.

The second line, the and the barred-A, relates to anxiety. But now this is the dimension of the real and not necessarily, or, to be more precise, not purely, the image. Anxiety is not without an object and this object which it is not without is the object a. However, and here arises a complication, Lacan also claims that the a always belongs to the realm of the image. So we have two conflicting statements from Lacan: first the the a is the dimension of the real, and second that the a always belongs to the realm of the image? Well, which is it? In fact it is both and neither. We must remember what it means to bracket. The image always by necessity brackets and what it brackets is what it both conceals and carries along with it as a trace, namely, the object of the real.

Finally, desire occurs on the bottom line, in the division of our subjectivity by the signifier. It occurs as castration. Here we have another level of blindness, in the image. So the complications are mounting up about the interrelations of the three levels (imaginary, symbolic, real). I expect that Lacan will clarify this soon. If not, we at least know the answer (borromean knot). In any case, castration, which seems to be at the symbolic level here, relates also to the fear of going blind. Lacan states that anxiety is the possibility of that action of tearing out one’s eyes, of not seeing. At one time we thought that this was anxiety from the imaginary but now we know that it is only encased in the imaginary through the brackets. This is an anxiety from the real, in fact. However, castration happens at the symbolic, it seems. So what is the relation between castration and the anxiety of losing one’s eyes?

I want to return for a moment to Freud’s essay on unheimliche. It is seldom noted that the text ends with a discussion of the relationship between castration and lack of vision. Freud wrote:

A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration. In blinding himself, Oedipus, that mythical law-breaking, was simply carrying out a mitigated form of the punishment of castration […]. We may try to reject the derivation of fears about the eye from the fear of castration on rationalistic grounds, and say that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread; indeed, we might go further and say that the fear of castration itself contains no other significance and no deeper secret than a justifiable dread of this kind. But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male member which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies […]

Lacan puts it like this: anxiety is the fact of having one’s eyes lying on the ground. It is linked with castration, and this is why minus-phi of the mirror schema is also referred to as imaginary castration.

If we return to some of the clinical structures then we can note that neurotics can never get rid of this castration, this minus-phi. It is stuck to the heel of their shoe like gum or toilet paper. For the pervert on the other hand, it is something that must be “hunted out”, made to occur, discovered even. Put differently, anxiety is what the pervert longs for, hunts for, aims to discover, while anxiety is what the neurotic actively tries to avoid and escape. The neurotic can not get outside of his castration, can not get outside of his anxiety, and the pervert can not make castration happen enough.

If we return to the two perverse structures – namely masochism and sadism – we will see that both concern the same ‘hunt’. This is why they are not opposed to one another (i.e., sadism is not the opposite of masochism is not the opposite of sadism). The masochist has a fantasy which is to be the object of the jouissance of the Other. This is similar to the hysteric in one sense. The hysteric aims to be the object of enjoyment of the Other as well. However, the difference between the hysteric and the masochist is that the latter never in fact meets up with the Other whereas the former is never satisfied with this meeting up. Lacan does not actually distinguish between hysteria and perversion at this level just yet, but we are perfectly in the right to draw these conclusions if we so wish. Lacan says that “[w]hat is sought out is the response in the Other to the subject’s essential downfall into his final misery, and this response is anxiety.” Put simply, the masochist wants to provoke anxiety – in a sense he gets off on anxiety – in the Other by making himself the object of the Other’s anxiety. Yet, just like the neurotic, there is a fantasy which masks this fundamental relation.

Things are less obscure for the sadist. The sadists fantasy is closer to the truth of his hunt. Lacan even suggests that the sadist’s intentions is almost explicitly there within the fantasy: the victim’s anxiety is required. The sadist, like the masochist, wants the Other to experience anxiety. However, the sadist, unlike the masochist, achieves this anxiety not by making himself the object but by making the Other the object. And so the sadist torments the Other by bringing him to the limit, to the threshold of his experience, to the rim – that is, to anxiety. For reference: this was discussed in the 16 JANUARY 1963 class where I wrote:

The sadist aims to introduce a split in the Other at $ by imposing upon him that which he can not tolerate – he brings the Other to a threshold experience, he pushes the Other to the point of suffering, inflicting pain on his body. What is the cause of this desire? The anxiety of the Other – the sadist wants to cause anxiety in the Other. This is why Lacan links Sadeanism, Sadism, to Kant’s moral law. We can see that often sadistic acts are like rituals, rituals of sacrifice – but the sadist doesn’t know his cause and he doesn’t know what he is seeking from these rituals.

So, in the case of perversion, it seems that Lacan is intent on making it to the point at which he can state that the pervert, unlike the neurotic, has as his cause the infliction of anxiety on the Other so as to effectively make the Other exist. On the other hand, the neurotic has as his cause the avoidances of the intrusion of the Other – his drama is one of shaking off the toilet paper from his shoe.

We often think that enjoyment has to do with completed something, for example the orgasm. But anxiety – more to the point, object a – demonstrates to us that falling away is a serious part of enjoyment. The pervert enjoys falling away because it means that the stage, his stage, can be made to exist. Lacan’s notes one of Freud’s intuitions: the source of anxiety is sometimes coitus interruptus (the interruption of sexual orgasm or intercourse). There are a lot of new questions opened up by this, such as: what is the relationship between enjoyment and anxiety for each clinical structure?, at what level does the neurotic enjoy anxiety or falling away? Can this model sustain a thorough theory of enjoyment?

It seems that this is the direction we are heading. Lacan notes, without dwelling on it any further for the time being, that many people ejaculate at the height of their anxiety. At the risk of revealing too much on this stage, I will think back to my first ejaculation. I hit puberty fairly late. I believe that I found myself masturbating before I was even capable of enjoying it. I awaiting the feeling of pleasure. Instead I received a feeling of anxiety. I was scared to finish. Each night I would try to push it a little further. I tried. It took me quite some time before I was capable of bringing it to the fascinating heights. But I would not say that it was enjoyment per se. At the height it was enjoyable but also anxiety provoking. I am talking about a general anxiety, something that is not so serious as panic. It is like the feeling of jumping into cold water, at standing at the rim of the bridge before meeting the refreshing waters of the river. It was only when I faced up to the courage of pushing further that I ejaculated for the first time. In this case, then, experience demonstrates, at the formative moment of my entrance into mature sexuality, anxiety was the basis.

This leads us to question what it means when a subject eroticses anxiety itself.

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