The Port of Access – and “lack of lack”

A S (Jouissance)
a Ø (anxiety)
$ (desire)


Within Lacan’s table of long division: he places anxiety between Jouissance and desire. If it is in the middle it is not because it mediates between desire and jouissance but rather because it must be passed through. One can not do otherwise but pass through the field of anxiety. This is why Lacan refers to it as the “port of access”. Here, anxiety seems to connect it with two lacks. There is a lack in the Other (the barred O) and a lack in the subject (objet a).

From the position of desire ($) we use the port of access to arrive at fantasy. Thus, the matheme of fantasy expresses: $<>a (the barred-subject faces objet petit a). At this point we can not admit the thesis that the objet a is that which we avoid. Rather, we must admit that it is that which we must deal with. And so fantasy is one way of facing it. Another is jumping off stage, passage a l’Acte.  It is for this reason that objet a, in seminar 10, seems to have two faces. It is the mobius strip. It is, that which we can not face, or, avoid, and yet that which we must deal with nonetheless. The objet a is a port of access and not solely that which we avoid.

A lot of seminar X seems to deal with obsessional neurosis. And what the obsessional neurotic can not bare is that he or the Other is lacking. The obsessional’s fundamental problem, we are told, has to do with the problem of the *is*: the obsessional is not. His question concerns being itself. And so imposture has to do with being where there is lack of being. It seems to me that it is only the pervert who confronts anxiety as a lack of lack – his attempt is to make lack appear. And he does this by bringing the Other (or himself) to the anxiety-point.

And so anxiety arises here in a confrontation with lack and not, as it were, with lack of lack. This is something I’m struggling with because I can not find any support for the thesis of lack of lack. For example, on page 234 of Seminar X, Lacan says: “The anxiety-point lies at the level of the mother. In the child, the anxiety of the mother’s lack is the anxiety of the breast drying up. The locus of the anxiety-point does not merge with the locus at which the relation to the object of desire is established.” So here it seems clear that it is not when there is a lack of lack, namely, an overburdening presence of the breast, but rather, when the child realizes that the breast could suddenly stop working/providing. This is not to claim that anxiety occurs from separation – but from the ambiguity of objet a itself. The same occurs in the case of the homosexual woman. It is not the over-presence of the father’s gaze which provokes a passage a l’acte but rather the very ambiguity of the gaze – no? On page 236 we see that Lacan claims that the anxiety-point “lies at the level of the Other.” So this gives more support to my thesis that anxiety resides in a privileged domain – the domain not of objet a specifically, but of the lack in the Other. 


2 thoughts on “The Port of Access – and “lack of lack”

  1. I found an occurrence of this idea of “lack of lack” at the end of the seminar of November 28th, 1962.

    Anxiety emerges when minus-phi is replaced. When lack is lacking. But it seems to me that it is not all that clear. We know that the specular relation i(a) is always a lack of lack – it is always an image in place of a lack, for example. So we are always within the specular relation. What Lacan seems to be describing then is the mechanism that brings about the entrance into neurosis, into the specular relation, as that which sets off the objet a – sets off a lack of lack by effacing the trace.

    Does this make sense?

    • These passages from Zizek’s book on Hegel, ‘Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism,’ may be helpful in considering what is meant by ‘lack of lack’ in the context of anxiety. Technically it’s more of a redoubling of lack, where the object a is the imaginary/specular/phantasmatic positivization of the lack that stands in the place of the lack in the Other. Zizek likes to refer to it mathematically as the ‘zero-level of imagination’. I like his description of object a as being in a relation of diffraction (rather than differentiation) in relation to the One (of the master signifier) – as blurred virtuality, supplementing rather than complementing the lack in the Other. I also like the idea that the object a ‘coalesces’ with the master signifier, but remains on the side of the signifier rather than the signified. Perhaps this coalescence links the real and the imaginary, and exceeds and surrounds the crisper quilting of symbolic intervention with its gooey insistence. In some ways, I think anxiety may be situated between the real and the imaginary, while the phallus/phallic signification is situated between the symbolic and the imaginary. If anxiety is not itself an object, as Levi suggested, perhaps it functions similarly to the phantasm as a structuring device. I would like to explore the difference between the two. For now I will propose that the urgency of the restless lamella as pure libido is ‘signaled,’ felt and expressed through an interplay of impingement and improvisation in the context of anxiety, whereas the slimy amoeba is dessicated/tamed/bound in the context of the phantasm. Perhaps anxiety, like jazz, produces something exceeding an economics of measured flesh, while the phantasm, as a compromise formation performs a ritualized calculus of payables and recievables that results in neurotic misery. Perhaps we can play anxiety, while we can only read/interpret/know how to do with (savoir faire) the phantasm. At one point I remember being intrigued by the proposition that the real is made of pieces of the imaginary – I am uncertain of the reference, but I believe it is later Lacan – this also suggests a more playful/expressive/inflammatory/excessive relation to drive and its partial objects. What do you think of my positioning of anxiety between the real and the imaginary – does it make sense to think of anxiety as a way of bypassing the symbolic – like a creative psychosis? I suppose thinking of it this way takes us outside of the holy trinity of RSI for a moment – the phantasm seems to be based on the dominance of the symbolic universe and its incidental relations with the real and the imaginary = would you agree? So before I forget, here are the 2 passages from Zizek:


      “Freud deploys a whole series, a system even, of negations in the unconscious: throwing-out of the Ego ( Ausstossung), rejection (Verwerfung), repression (Verdrängung, itself divided into primordial repression— Ur-Verdrängung—and “normal” repression), disavowal (Verleugnung), denial (Verneinung), up to the complex ways in which acceptance itself can function as a mode of denial, as in so-called “isolation” (Isolierung), where a traumatic fact is rationally accepted, but isolated from its libidinal-symbolic context . What further complicates the scheme are objects and signifiers which somehow overlap with their own lack: for Lacan, the phallus is itself the signifier of castration (this introduces all the paradoxes of the signifier of the lack of signifier, of how the lack of a signifier is itself “remarked” in a signifier of this lack), not to mention l’objet petit a, the object-cause of desire which is nothing but the embodiment of lack, its place-holder. The relationship between object and lack is here turned around: far from lack being reducible to the lack of an object, the object itself is a spectral positivization of a lack. And one has to extrapolate this mechanism into the very (pre-) ontological foundation of all being: the primordial gesture of creation is not that of an excessive giving, of assertion, but a negative gesture of withdrawal, of subtracting, which alone opens up the space for the creation of positive entities. This is how “there is something rather than nothing”: in order to arrive at something , one has to subtract from nothing its nothing( ness) itself, that is, one has to posit the primordial pre-ontological Abyss “as such,” as nothing, so that, in contrast to (or against the background of) nothing, something can appear. What precedes Nothing is less than nothing, the pre-ontological multiplicity whose names range from Democritus’s den to Lacan’s objet a. The space of this pre-ontological multiplicity is not between Nothing and Something (more than nothing but less than something); den is, on the contrary, more than Something but less than Nothing.”


      “Miller generates the notion of the subject without any reference to the imaginary level: this “subject of the signifier” involves no lived experience, consciousness, or any other predicates we usually associate with subjectivity.

      The basic operation of suture is thus that 0 is counted as one: the absence of a determination is counted as a positive determination of its own, as in Borges’s famous classification of dogs which includes, as a species, all the dogs not included among the previous species, in other words, the “part of no-part” of the canine genus. While all this is well known, what is usually left out of consideration is the formal homology (as well as substantial difference) between this reflexive logic of the Master-Signifier— the signifier of the lack of the signifier, the signifier which functions as a stand-in (filler) of a lack—and the logic of the objet petit a which is also repeatedly defined by Lacan as the filler of a lack: an object whose status is purely virtual, with no positive consistency of its own, only a positivization of a lack in the symbolic order. Something escapes the symbolic order , and this X is positivized as the objet a, the je ne sais quoi which makes me desire a certain thing or person. It is all too easy to counter the hermeneutic circle of Meaning with reference to the external reality of the voice (or some other material medium) itself, emphasizing how the presence of this external reality is an a priori condition of every re-presentation— every hermeneutician will fully endorse this point, adding only that we should repeat the same move in the opposite direction and concede that every such presence always already appears to us within a certain symbolic horizon of understanding, never in its virgin factuality. The true task is to see how Meaning is corroded from within by an ex-timate object, an object inherent to it, a stranger within.

      However, this formal parallel between the Master-Signifier and the objet petit a should not deceive us: although, in both cases, we seem to be dealing with an entity which fills in the lack, what differentiates the objet a from the Master -Signifier is that, in the case of the former, the lack is redoubled , that is, the objet a is the result of the overlapping of the two lacks, the lack in the Other (the symbolic order) and the lack in the object— in the visual field, say, the objet a is what we cannot see, our blind spot in relation to the picture. Each of the two lacks can operate independently of the other: we can have the lack of the signifier, as when we have a rich experience for which “words are missing,” or we can have the lack in the visible for which, precisely, there is a signifier, namely the Master-Signifier, the mysterious signifier which seems to recapture the invisible dimension of the object. Therein resides the illusion of the Master-Signifier: it coalesces with the objet a, so that it appears that the subject’s Other/ Master possesses what the subject lacks. This is what Lacan calls alienation: the confrontation of the subject with a figure of the Other possessing what the subject lacks. In separation, which follows alienation, the objet a is separated also from the Other, from the Master-Signifier; that is, the subject discovers that the Other also does not have what he is lacking. The axiom Lacan follows is “no I without a”: wherever an I (unary feature, signifying mark that represents the subject) emerges, it is followed by an a, the stand-in for what was lost in the signification of the real.

      Is, then, the objet a the signified of the S1, of the Master-Signifier? It may appear so, since the Master-Signifier signifies precisely that imponderable X which eludes the series of positive properties signified by the chain of “ordinary” signifiers (S 2). But, upon a closer look, we see that the relationship is exactly the inverse: with regard to the division between signifier and signified, the objet a is on the side of the signifier, it fills in the lack in/ of the signifier, while the Master-Signifier is the “quilting point” between the signifier and the signified, the point at which the signifier falls into the signified.

      How, then, does One divide into Two? Gilbert Ryle once played with the idea that the only way to bring to an end the interminable division of an entity into smaller and smaller parts would be to reach the point of the “last division ,” the point at which One no longer divides into two positive parts, but into a part and nothingness. For Lacan, this nothingness positivizes itself as the objet a. This nothingness which supplements every positive identity is not to be confused with the differentiality constitutive of every identity: the relation between the One and the objet a is not that of differentiality, but that of diffraction at its most elementary: the One (the clearly delineated object) plus its teleiosis, its blurred virtual supplement, “more than one but less than two.” This two-ness, the doubling of an entity into itself and its teleiosis, the nothingness of its objectal shadow, precedes any relationship to the big Other (the symbolic order) as well as to a complementary other (a polar opposite: masculine and feminine, light and darkness, left and right …). The objet a is not complementary to the One, but its supplement; a strange supplement which makes the One to which it is attached not so much more as less than One, corroding it from within; it is an excess which subtracts.

      This nothingness which attaches itself to every entity as its shadowy double is the zero-level of negativity and is as such inaccessible to Hegel, as the non-thematized presupposition of his entire deployment of negativity. Hegel does formulate the overlapping of two lacks, the subject’s lack and the lack of/ in the substance itself (recall his famous statement that the secrets of the Ancient Egyptians were secrets also for the Egyptians themselves); however, he does not see this overlapping (dis-alienation ) as separation, but as a cancellation of the lack— for example, if my distance from God is God’s distance from himself, then there is a reconciliation between me and God. In other words, what Hegel misses is the objet a, the object produced by the overlapping of the two lacks. Furthermore, it is because of his inability to think the objet a that Hegel cannot conceive pure repetition: pure repetition is sustained by the nothingness of the objet a which haunts every One, for the One repeats itself in the attempt to recapture its shadow. Although the objet a is the non-signifying glitch within a symbolic edifice, it can thus only be conceived against the background of the gap that separates a formal structure from the elements that fill in its places. Jacques-Alain Miller recently elaborated this gap apropos the topic of structure and change.”

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