NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 19 JUNE 1963

Lacan points out that his understanding of the object a in relation to the various stages of ‘development’ is best approached by plotting each stage along an arch. At every level on the line of the arch the object a is clasped onto a different object. So it seems as though the object a is the real object here, and all these other objects are ways of thinking the object as a partial object. In every level, at every ‘stage’, as it were, the object a is what is involved. More to the point, it is the object a constituted in some respect via the locus of the Other.

The Forms of the Object in Stages

Lacan makes some vague connection between the left side and the right side of the arch. The oral stage is somehow linked to the superegoic stage, and the anal to the scopic. But at the height of the arch is the phallic stage. He also claims that all progression comes with its own regression, and all regression comes with its own progression. I take this to mean that the progress to the scopic stage brings us back to an issue encountered in the anal stage. But the phallic stage is at the height – it takes object a as lack.

Within the anal stage the object that object a substantializes into is the shit itself. Within the anal stage it is excrement which serves as the cause of desire. The anal stage has an obsessional dimension inasmuch as the object of obsession is quite often excrement. The obsessional demonstrates an interest in his excrement, in the shit that he produces. I wrote produces, but this goes against what we traditionally think about when we think about excrement. We like to think of excrement as waste, as refuse, as what is itself refused. Minimally, excrement is what the body as machine refuses. So we think that most individuals are not interested, refuse to be interested in this thing which they reject. Lacan goes on to describe the way in which an individual, at this stage, can make excrement into an object.

Excrement enters into the constitution of the subject – for the obsessional at least – through the intermediary of the Other’s demand. We can think of the Other as the mother during childhood. This happens during potty training – the toddler is instructed to hold onto the shit, to wait it out, to keep it inside. Sometimes the toddler is even made to hold it inside for far too long, since a potty can not be found in time. In holding the excrement in his body for too long he in effect [or is it by result?] makes it a part of his own body. I want to emphasize this phrasing: he makes it a part of his own body. This is key because the partial object, in this case excrement – but in other cases it could be the breast or nipple – is never actually the Other’s object. It is always one’s own object. In any case, the toddler holds it in so that it can not be lost, so that, minimally, the moment can not be lost. After which point, the demand from the Other arises. The mother demands that he let it out. At this point the toddler notices that he is being acknowledged, that he is being acknowledged for letting it out. And so the toddler recognizes that he can be recognized by the Other, that he can respond to the Other’s demand and make the Other satisfied.

The excrement then, when released, can come to symbolize castration. So, at the anal stage he the subject can recognize himself as the object, as the object of a certain demand for instance. There seem to be two stages implied here: in the first stage, the poop is admired when it is released. But in the second stage the child is taught not to get too close to the poop. He is taught this because the mother wears gloves, covers her nose, and so on. So things get more ambiguous, the demand is ambiguous. Lacan offers a formula:

<> $

The object a is the cause of ambivalence and ambiguity, it leads to the barred-subject. Is this the opposite of the formula of the scopic dimension: $<>a. Maybe I’m making things too clean by stating this.

Lacan wants us to note this chart:

Voice a Desire of the Other
Image The Other’s might
Desire Anxiety (minus-phi) The Other’s jouissance
Trace The Other’s demand
Anxiety a Desire x of the Other

It seems to me that the left column indicates the substantialized object a, the object of object a. The middle column seems to have to do with something like the question posed at that level – for example, at the level of the image, we are dealing with a question of might, at the obsessional level of the trace we are dealing with a question of demand. The right column seems to imply what ultimately provokes this question. I would like help deciphering this – perhaps it will be picked up again in one of the last two classes. At the level of desire we know that minus-phi is what unites the sexes at that moment when it seems as though the Other’s jouissance has entered the field. Recall that male desire reduces object a to his possession and woman’s desire finds the Other through love.

Returning to obsession, it is often the case that the anxiety that one confronts is covered over by the Almighty presence of the Ego Ideal. We often believe that obsession and religion go hand in hand precisely because of the belief in God. But this is too simple. All of this happens on a stage, and at the level of obsession, the belief in God occurs in the real. This is what allows Lacan to say such incredible things as: “The gods are an element of the real, whether we like it or not, even if we no longer have anything more to do with them. This implies that, if they’re still there, it’s quite clear that they go about incognito.” And does this not explain why some of the most exceptional obsessionals in history – Isaac Newton, and the earlier pioneers of light and particle physics – had a private life which involved decoding biblical passages, finding the date of the apocalypse, entering into covenants at the mystical level, or, like Freud, joining the freemasons. Many of the early light physicists believed that it was by rationally explaining the phenomena of light, by observing nature and conducting empirical observations and so on, that they could paradoxically bring themselves closer to god in their private lives. For them, it was science, physics, formulae, and nature, that provided the bases for their own covenant with the Almighty.

Lacan once again puts this rather well: part of believing is also not believing. If believing were visible then it might not be true belief, real believe must occur in the real, it must go unnoticed, it must be invisible. This is why atheists are often true believers. The revolutionary atheist is not the one who denies God, but rather the one who affirms himself as not serving any God [publicly]. This implies that they are self-made, complete onto themselves, unified – not-split! – subjects. He is perhaps himself a God, or, better, he denies in public the extent to which he believes in private.

I want to return to what I was writing about the early light physicists. Many of them spoke through formulae, early mathemes. Formulae held things together, secured a bond to their work. Lacan claims that man believes that he can reach the concept, that he cal grasp the real by way of a signifier that controls the real. We see this with prayer. I recall the confessional ritual that I conducted once a month at my church when I was a boy. The priest would inform me to say some large number of such and such a prayer (repeat that prayer so many times) and another dozen other repetitions of a different prayer. It is through the repetition of the prayer that I was able to access God’s forgiveness, through the repetition of signifiers or divine formulae.

This is man’s distinct ability. Lacan claims that the signifier is the transcendental location itself, it is what allows us to go beyond the environment in which we find ourselves. He compares this to the transcendental realm opened up to non-human animals. Apparently many animals find themselves aware – through anxiety! – of upcoming ecological disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Other animals, like cats, can detect the death of their kittens long before a human is able. This seems to confirm the argument that anxiety is that which does not deceive.

The proof is that when you see animals becoming agitated in this way, in those parts of the world where such incidents can occur, you would do well to take this into account as a way of being forewarned of what is in the offing. For them, like us, this is a manifestation of a locus of the Other. An Other thing evinced as such.

Perhaps, then, when Noah built his ark and brought the animals on board, this is why the animals came running.

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