NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 29 MAY 1963

There are two major topics that Lacan concerns himself with during this short class: (1) teaching, and (2) drive.

With respect to the first topic: he notes that teaching certain systems of thought – such as the Copernican system or Einstein’s system – can be accomplished with minimal effort and exceptional clarity. It can be relatively easy to transmit a teaching in the field of Physics and Mathematics – depending on the audience – because the foundations of the field have already been established, certain thresholds for understanding have been passed, and so one is already prepared for the teaching, already opened up to it. Thus, much of Einstein’s teaching has already been opened up by Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus. Despite what we’ve been told – it is a seductive narrative for those who desire to know – there is no real revolution here.

Today, at the cafe, I discussed with a new-found friend, my admiration for Cornel West’s style of teaching, and also for Zizek’s performances. I called Zizek’s work a performance as a lure – if one calls it a performance than one opens up the possibility for the audience to state up front their reservations. I quickly retracted my statement because I’m not sure it was admiration that I had for them per say, rather it concerned the strategic effectiveness of their technique. Afterall, it is easy to dismiss West or Zizek on the grounds that seduction is not the proper way to transmit a teaching, as if passion alone establishes truth or validity. Those who care about such things are surely repelled from the discourse. Yet, if psychoanalysis teaches us anything at all it is quite simply that passion is the port of access through which truth passes into the field.

We often hear from Zizekians – there are fewer of them than we are led to believe – that Zizek introduced Lacan to the world. It is as if he was our gateway drug. He was the port of access. And for many, this port permitted us the possibility to move onto more serious pursuits. At least, this is how many of us have phrased it. More serious pursuits means that we are above all that hysterical bullshit, the performances, the passionate rhetoric, and so on and so on. We can at least admit that there is something to this, but surely it is not enough to claim that the teaching allows us to return home again.

Does Zizek bring us back home? That is the question. Zizek’s presented absence – the popular judgment of his work before reading – certainly seems to operate as a tactical rallying-point, around which we can situate our more serious and perhaps even moral teaching. And even former Zizek scholars – those who have moved onto more serious pursuits – seem to return back home – after a layover in France – to Lacan or Hegel. Todd McGowen tells us to spend more time doing philosophy in the bedroom, to look under our bed for monsters: he named this serious theory. I could continue on this track but I fear that I am digressing too much.

Psychoanalysis as a field is similar to the field of Physics and Mathematics. It makes its break without necessarily abandoning that which came before. Revolutions, we are told by Lacan (in a future seminar, namely seminar 17), occur by turning everything at 90 degree angles. Near the very beginning, we know that Pythagoras did this with the hypotenuse (a word which means to stretch out underneath) and revolutionized Geometry. It seems to me that Lacan does something similar to the Freudian tradition. He did not abandon it and move onto to better things, neither did he embrace it as the tradition already stood – he went at it across the hypotenuse, turning everything at 90 degree angles. He stretched out his discourse beneath Freud’s own discourse. The revolutionary break, Lacan’s revolutionary break, is with the object a. It was already there within Freud’s work, but we are pursuing it along a new angle. An angle has two meanings here, the latter has to do with catching a few fish. With Neitzsche, I wonder if there are any fish left in the water. The break, however, the break of the revolution, where it hits the breaks, is in castration anxiety.

In castration anxiety we reach the end-point of our understanding within the field of psychoanalysis. Lacan attempts to overcome this limit, to advance further, and by working at the limits of understanding itself. What is the relationship between understanding a teaching and castration anxiety? This is a question which is not yet raised, but it has been hinted at. It is in the air. In any case, Lacan needs to adopt a certain pedagogy. This indicates – it is certain – that Lacan’s teaching is strategic. He is conscious of it. Chomsky once found that it was not enough to name Lacan a charlatan, he had to be called a “perfectly conscious” charlatan. At the very least, we know that Lacan was aware – whether it was consciousness or not which fuelled his discourse remains to be seen.

We begin with what Lacan’s pedagogy is not. It is not the pedagogy of William Stern. I know nothing of William Stern so I am solely basing this discussion on what Lacan has to say, which is that for Stern everything is determined by the maturation of the intellect. Thus, when the intellect is mature, it is open to certain things, to certain discoveries, to certain advancements in knowledge, and so on and so on. For Jean Paiget, there is a movement toward scientific knowledge – and a gap between the capabilities of the child’s intellect and the capabilities of the scientific intellect. But in both cases, teaching opens up to nobody – there is no and so on and so on because the teaching is reduced to zero, it can have no effect on its audience.

Lacan is more hopeful than all of that. He claims that something like a teaching does exist. Teaching, as a way of opening up an audience to knowledge and so and so on exists. What sort of theatrical performances are involved in teaching, then? We see, for example, in Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek’s work – a teaching which evokes something, which opens up its audience to something. It may not open the audience up to the profound truth of 1+1=2 – a hard proof – but it nonetheless opens them up to a brief encounter with the operation which sustains the equation: what is the operation of the count? What is it to succeed from the first one to the second 1, which is a 2 (ie., a number with the name of the previous number, one, with something new – the name of two). Put differently, at this level we become aware of something. We become aware of the monster under the bed – some people use passion to make a point, but me, I do something much more serious. It won’t be long until we return back home.

The point is that scientific teaching – mathematical teaching – occurs to those who have already been admitted without any real obstacle. Unless, of course, an obstacle becomes the bases for revolution. But teaching in psychoanalysis has to chart a different path because the obstacle for its field can also be the obstacle for its teaching. With mathematics, Lacan claims, “[c]oncepts that might have once seemed extremely complicated at a previous stage […] are now immediately accessible to very young minds.” But within psychoanalysis, the very concepts which are now accepted become the basis for complications, and the ensuing tracing of the contours of what the teaching itself offers. All of this is simply to bring us back to Lacan’s rebuttal to Paiget and Stern: we can help children, we can open them up to something. At least, I think that this is what Lacan is going on about.

We inevitably reach a limit. For Freud, we have seen, the limit was what Lacan designates as minus-phi, namely, castration anxiety. Maybe, Lacan thinks, if we can not move beyond castration anxiety, if we can not understand any further, the best approach is to move around it, in a “roundabout way.” I can’t help but focus on this phrasing – I have to appeal to those who speak the language better than I again – it can not be a mistake that Lacan described approaching what exists beyond castration anxiety as something that must be approached in a roundabout way. After all, we have seen that what we are dealing with is something which is round like a rim, which is round like the eyes, lips, and ass-hole. We move around castration anxiety because we do not want to jump off of the stage.

The minus-phi is castration anxiety but only at first; forever after, so it seems, it is the imaginary phallus. The imaginary phallus thus finds itself everywhere and at all levels. For example, we see it in the Wolf Man’s image. I’ll return to this in a moment, after a brief detour. The primal scene happens in the visual field – it is a scene, and things are present and absent from this scene. We can think of it in less particular terms and just imagine it as a painting of black and white. The primal scene is a painting of black and white, of absence and presence, and of the whiteness or presence of the phallus. There is something traumatic about the presence of the phallus in the primal scene. It evokes anxiety – perhaps more than anxiety. For the Wolf Man, after the primal scene, the phallus was everywhere. At this point Lacan gets quite abstract, but we should be able to follow it: the phallus is everywhere in his diagram, it is in the trees, it is everywhere.

The Wolf Man’s Diagram

How can the phallus be everywhere? It is everywhere because it is constituted by the gaze. The wolves, for example, are looking at us. Everything in the image looks back at us, gazes at us, and yet from an invisible place. In this way we can say that the phallus is invisible and yet everywhere, and the gaze is here equivalent to the phallus, but in the visual field. However, this is where I get somewhat lost. Lacan claims that jouissance is presented within the image in an erect form – the subject himself is his erection, this phallus – and this is what freezes the subject from head to toe. Thus, jouissance is linked here to the phallus, linked to his own gaze, and this immobilizes. What could this mean? It seems that it has something to do with the connection between the Other and the Subject, between jouissance and phallus, to such an extent that the subject is the Other. After all, this is the hallmark of psychosis.

The primal scene triggers defecation. Here we are dealing with the excremental object, what Freud described as the gift. More to the point, Freud described the excremental object as a gift to God, to what Lacan names the big Other. It is also linked to sacrifice, and sacrifice is thereby linked to psychosis – even if it has an obsessional flare to it. Or so it seems.

On the other side there is orgasm. We’ve seen that orgasm is related to anxiety. Lacan is now most sure about this, he claims that “orgasm [is] in its equivalence to anxiety.” Orgasm, then, like anxiety, does not deceive. The question we are pursuing is how this all relates to jouissance. I feel that we are approaching this point, we are moving toward an examination of jouissance and drive. Indeed, in the next seminar, seminar 11, Lacan turns to an even closer examination of the “mysteries of drive.” Lacan does not want to suggest that the satisfaction of orgasm is to be linked with jouissance. That would be too simple, something else is going on here. For example, to complete the orgasm is sometimes not enough. Much of jouissance also comes from prolongation. At the extreme, for example, we’ve heard of men who do horrible things to women who they’ve never even said so much as “hello” to – without ever so much as obtaining an erection. Jouissance can not be reduced to the satisfaction of orgasm – that is not what is at stake in much of sexual life.

What is the relationship between desire and demand, $<>D. If we return to the graph of desire, below, we can see where it is situated. At the top left, after desire slips away from need, after an address has been made to the Other, at A. It is that extra, that remainder, that object a. This is one path. A path that is very near to castration, as we can see, but remains on the line of jouissance nonetheless.

Completed Graph of Desire

Recall that $ is in the bottom level of the table of long division, the position from which desire situates itself. At this point we are at death drive. Desire poses itself to demand at the point of castration, of the little death. Drive, Lacan claims, is “tightly entwined with the demand of lovemaking – to do it until death, or to die laughing.” This perhaps is the other face of Don Juan, whose name has all the letters of Duane, without the e. On Duan. To take the Gaelic, in full darkness. When desire poses itself in the face of Demand we enter into the satisfaction that death obtains within life – a satisfaction that comes from little death, a death we can tolerate – and a death we desire to tolerate for who knows how long. This is a form of death that helps us get off the hook for real death, for the big death. Or, at least, that is my initial interpretation. This also happens at the level of coitus interruptus, withdrawal from orgasm – or prolongation of foreplay. All the pleasure, none of the risk. It is a form of jouissance which ignores the Other and what it asks.

This is why Lacan names it little death: because there is really no risk. In fact, there seems to be a beneficial aspect to this for the Subject, death as the renewal of life. Or, perhaps put differently, a renewal of the I, the ego. The point is that something stops, or slows down, prematurely at this level. One sacrifices before the time is right – repetitively, I would presume – so that when the real sacrifice has to be made, he does not have to deal with the risk.

Lacan implies that this is largely a possible part of man’s domain. Woman, on the other hand, has a different relation to orgasm. She can finish the sexual act without orgasm and be pleased with her understanding of the relationship between her and her partner. Lacan puts this rather well: “she can now be quite easy in her mind as to her partner’s intentions.” Lacan quotes T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to get to the root of what is at stake in Woman’s relation to anxiety and orgasm:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

and puts a record on the gramophone.

So here we can see that Woman’s desire is determined by a certain jouissance which is not ultimately linked to the orgasm. Lacan makes an explicit link between feminine jouissance and hysteria. What woman, unlike man, asks for at the limit of analysis – at the limit of understanding – is the phallus. The only way to get it is to offer it, as masquerade, to man as that which can sustain his desire so as to make her feminine masquerade the basis for man’s almightiness. What can we make of this?

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