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

This is the final class from the tenth seminar of Lacan. He opens the class by informing us that he will fill in all the holes, that he will provide us with some sense of closure. Of course, this is not what he does at all. He fills in some holes, opens many others, and leaves many holes as holes.

He brings us back to Freud’s late work, wherein he described anxiety as a signal, and, moreover, anxiety as a signal of danger. At this point Lacan is able to claim that this danger which is signalled by anxiety is bound at some level to the question of the cession of object a. Recall that Lacan spent a great deal of time in the last class discussing the anal stage and its respective object, excrement. It is the moment one one can no longer hold in, hold on, that one finally lets go. One gives up, one lets go. And when one lets go – perhaps by accident, perhaps on the way to the potty – one feels the dangerous effect. So what one is really holding onto behind the anal object, behind excrement, is precisely object a. It is behind it all.

We’ve also seen in the previous class that human desire at the anal stage is already a function of the desire of the Other. The toddler holds in the object, the object a, precisely so that he can gain recognition, an acknowledgement, encouragement, from the Other. It is by holding it in that he gains approval. Every parent knows this to be the case: my son sits on the potty for the first time and we clap and give him a high five, he sits a second time, again, and so on until finally he goes to the potty himself without shitting on the way. It is always a risk. Once, it broke my heart, Soren used the potty and looked up at me and said: “Do you love me now Dad?”

And then we discussed the scopic relation. Recall that Lacan placed the various stages of ‘development’ (from oral stage through to phallic and onward to superegoic) along an archway which progresses upward and then regresses downward. In this way he demonstrated that even as one progresses one regresses on another level. Thus, the anal stage is parallel to the scopic stage – and so there is a relationship between the two here. In the scopic field we turn back on ourselves and how we are viewed by the Other – at least for the case of obsession. The subject is here linked to the Other by virtue of the semblable, his own ego ideal. It is at this level that the subject encounters what we can refer to as alienation. Recall that one version of Marx’s theory of alienation was that species-being becomes alienated from itself, it was to this process that alienation referred. The concept of alienation thereafter became an essential starting point for many of the German philosophers; notably, Max Stirner, who brought the theory of alienation to its limit by positing that species-being is a radical nothingness, and that one must essentially traverse the fantasy of all ‘spooks’ which attempt to transform this nothingness into something which is against our own interests. Thus, one can finally become the creative nothing which in turn creates everything. The Alpha Male.

The problem at this level is therefore that I don’t know what object I am. So I must rather be nothing at all. Am I nothing or am I something? This is the question, and this is the source of great anxiety. The problem is that we do not have access to the Other’s reality – we only have access to what is perceived as his or her demand. So, there is something detached at this level. Something is not there, something is lacking. The anal stage fulfils the function of making the Other’s demand occur in a clear cut fashion. The Other pinches out a demand, if I can put it that way.

Next, we discussed the fact that there is a desire of desire, a recursion, or a layering of desire, that occurs for obsessional neurosis. Desire is hidden behind so many things, including, for example, aggression. Apparently this is where the formula which eluded my understanding from the very beginning designates:

d(a): 0 > d(0)

Lacan claims that we should read this as follows: desire as object a is determined by a ‘yieldable’ object such that the subject is faced with the impossibility of coexistent self-consciousness. There can only be one desire, and this is why he does not ever get to the cause of desire. There can only be one, as Stirner put it: the Unique one. There is only one egoist, only one within the schizophrenia of the Herd. There can not be another speaking in and through me. And so I must empty this place of all foreign consciousnesses, of all spooks, and reduce myself to the only one, the unique, the creative nothing.

So, since we are dealing with self-consciousness, we can see why we are essentially confronted with a question of existence. We are dealing with the existence of one or else none. There can only be one: so be or not to be. If obsession is articulated in this way then the end of analysis can only be a question of the analysand’s oneness – that is, a question of castration and of the analyst’s position in this fantasy as the agent of castration. This is why the end of analysis seems to have something to do with castration anxiety. This is the level at which Oedipus is situated, according to Lacan. Oedipus wanted to see what existed beyond the satisfaction of his desire and so his sin was that he had a passionate thirst [is thirst the right word here?] for intellectual certainty. He wanted to know and so he paid for this knowledge with his own eyes, with castration. And is this not what we’ve seen with some of the other great obsessionals of history. Isaac Newton and other physicists (such as John Dalton), were notable scientists (who, it should be mentioned, held serious private theological convictions) who sacrificed their eyes for knowledge, for certainty. How else could they come to know?

With the obsessional neurotic still in mind, we return to the Inhibition-Symptom-Anxiety chart, this time with some adjustments.

I Desire not to see Powerlessness Concept of Anxiety (embarrassment)
S Misrecognition (not wanting to know) Almightiness (fantasy) Suicide (passage a l’acte)
A Ego Ideal (turmoil) Mourning (acting-out) Anxiety

I’d like to compare this with the last chart:

Inhibition Impediment (Not Being Able) Embarrassment
Emotion (Not Knowing) Symptom Passage a l’Acte
Turmoil (emoi) Acting-out Anxiety

We’ve been using the bottom chart over since the very first course. Now, on the last class, Lacan seems to make a number of changes. To be sure, these are not serious changes. The staggered Inhibition, Symptom, Anxiety are now headings for each row. In place of “Inhibition” is the Desire not to see – and yet it is still inhibition. Yet, at this point, Inhibition comes to stand for powerlessness and embarrassment as well. This is a significant revision. Powerlessness, which is another way of saying not being able or impediment, is also, truth be told, an inhibition. And so too is embarrassment.

The only additional thing worth mentioning about his chart is that the anxiety at the bottom right, in the row of anxiety is now a second-level form of anxiety. It is masked anxiety, or anxiety concealed. As I wrote above, the obsessional can not handle the possibility that there is a desire to his desire, that there is another anxiety beyond the anxiety that he thinks he feels. Ultimately, this is because the obsessional can only think in terms of the Kierkegaardian either/or: either I hold onto some concept or formula at the symbolic level to cleave into the real or I am held by anxiety in perceiving the real as such. This is sort of logic has to do with the number 1: the obsessional seems to think that he is 1, indivisible, absolutely unique, and so on. Otherwise, he must be nothing at all.

At the end of the class Lacan sets out to hint at the next topic he will cover, in future seminars. It is the name, and, more to the point, the names-of-the-father. He gives us a taste of what the stakes are about: at the mythical level, the father intervenes so as to crush the desires of all others – the brothers, for example. It’s not for nothing that the first question a candidate is asked when undergoing initiation in a masonic lodge is about their fear of God. It is the fear of God which conditions the possibility of there being brothers. In any case, I thought it was not for nothing that Lacan finished his tenth seminar with the follow statement: “The analyst certainly ought to be the one who, however little, from some angle, from some line of approach, has merged his desire back into this irreducible a sufficiently to offer the question of the concept of anxiety a real guarantee.” We have here the question of the analyst as the object petit a. What could this mean?

 

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