Notes from Lecture 2: Levi Bryant’s Object that can not be Oriented


Anxiety as signal – as sign.

-signs represent something for someone

-where there is smoke there is fire, or a smoker (from pierce)

-a hole in the wall is an index of a gun shot

-tracks in snow, signs of the path persons took


-signifier on the other hand

-lacan says that the signifier represents a subject for another signifier.

-JUDITH: “i feel like im a loser” – loser is the first signifier. In the same session they’ll refer to some part of themselves as damaged. “Damaged is the signifier” .. neither is the person but we start listening to the next signifier that comes along in the chain.. it will eventually take us to something like “physically injured” … at the end of the chain.. they don’t know when they are starting out that “loser” and all the words have anything to do with any kind of early physical injury. When at age of 3 they knocked out two front teeth.

-Levi: grade represents the student. Status as a citizen, ex-con.. represented to the rest of the country that you live in.. etc.

-at the level of the subject, two constraints:

-biological constraints: in the mountains, I will have constraints because I am not used to it physically – I can not exert my body in certain ways. On Mars there will be different gravitational constraints.

-symbolic constraints as well: nature of signifier, not physical but organize our lives in all sorts of ways.

-JUDITH: patient says “Hello I am manic depressive” .. there is a subject in there. People refer to themselves as “Hello I am an ex-con..” or now it is even “Hello, I am a man..” the theory says: don’t stick there. These are only signifiers. The whole of Freudian theory is only a set of signifiers.


Axiom of signifier representing subject for another signifier:

S1 -> S2 (Master’s discourse)


Contrast between subject and ego. Subject: It is a kind of non-being, a kind of absence in the chain of signifiers. The subject rises up to say no to these signifiers.


It is like the signifier erasure the subject (not the person).


Why does the signifier have the effect of erasure on the subject?


  1. the signifier can not signify itself.

    (S1 points to S2, there always have to be a second for signification to take place)


The moment the subject is named, how its situated in the symbolic order, it’s already passing on to another signifier – this is the metonymy of desire. Another signifier is always needed, it’s always elsewhere, we never get to that final point.


  1. the signifier is the field of substitution and exchange.


Sem 1 or 2, night and day or the presence of a star, these can be signifiers. As long as we have a binary coding of absence/presence, this is a signifier. The symbolic colonizes these features of nature and transforms it into signifiers – traffic signals, on and off, 0 and 1.


Money is a commodity that can be substituted.


The word kills the thing. When I say the word elephant, the elephant has been destroyed. Something is always lost in this elephant.


Elementary structures of kinship – exchange between tribes, only possible if the person is reduced to the signifier.


Capitalism renders everything exchangable and substitutable for anything else.


(3) The features of absence


      1. signifier presupposes the absence of the object [b/c signifier/symbolic exists, it is possible for an object to be absent] [there is no lack within the real, this is the mythical real before the symbolic – before the lack to take place you need a symbolic system … nothing is absent in a world without humans] – there is a lack at the heart of being produced by the symbolic – it can never be filled. It is the condition for all of our symbolic or significations existence. .. it is an absence which is topological, not something lost and can be refound.
      2. Presupposition of the absence of the speaker. Language presupposes the possibility of my death. A death that is already always taken place when we speak. I can be quoted in my own absence. My absence can be signified, I can be erased. I am never master of my speech.
      3. Presupposes the absence of the receiver. My speech can be addressed to somebody who isn’t there. I thought i was talking about my boss when in fact my speech is really addressed to a lost lover, transferred over to my boss for whatever reason.


Cecilia: we are also always saying less than the truth. Something always slips away, there is a remainder, less than 1 – excessive, and maybe this is objet a.


These are formal paradoxes.


Can not form a set of all sets = cantor. B/c the subsets are always going to be greater in number than the initial set we began with. Some there is a constitutive incompleteness. The body of signifiers is also a set – we can not totalize it. Russel’s paradox: can not form a set of all sets that are not members of themselves. The symbolic has its own constitutive incompleteness, it is built into it this way.


Early Lacan believed that the symptom could be resolved completely through interpretation without remainder, that it could be entirely put into words. That would be a cure. This presupposes a big Other who exists – a big Other as a set of all sets without gap or remainder. This is because he is circling around the real as the order…


cecilia: is the unconscious made out of signifiers. Levi: It activates signifiers but its structured like a language.



Table of long division


$ barred-A



[why does $ and a switch places after the early part and stick that way for the majority of the seminar?]


new innovation – a barred Other, incomplete Other.

The subject is constituted in the locus of the Other. The Symbolic Order is the locus of the Other. (A is in the Symbolic Order). Producing the remainder, objet a.


Ven diagram.


Either/Or, forced decision. Infant is forced with decision: money or your life. Forced vel of alienation.


Benjamin: no good answer to the question. Give up money, live life of lack. Give up life and you lose money anyway. So only way to live is with forced lack.


Being is on one side in ven diagram. No bar in S. Circle of jouissance (money).

Other side: circle of thinking, circle of the Other (no bar) or Symbolic or signifier.


This happens before the infant is even born. Already born as a member in the symbolic, with all of the constraints built in already.


Choose jouissance, enjoyment, or enter the field of the Other of the symbolic order. No you are going to be alienated in the signifier and undergo all those 3 features of absence. You will sacrifice your jouissance.


– Break –


the subject as such doesn’t appear within language. Lower left hand corner of the discourse of the master.


S1 -> S2



Something is always excluded from language, constitutively. The subject disappears in this discourse of the master. It is not an exclusion that occurs without residue. The signifier doesnt capture everything. There is always a left-over residue, something that is in excess of the signifiers. Objet a, the cause of desire.


We could call this seminar the seminar of the Lacanian object. A new theory of the object. The objet a. It is not the empirical object, not books, rocks, trees – experienced objects. It is not the object of epistemology – he says that this object can only be referred to metaphorically. We can not capture or hold the object.


This seminar is in a transitional point. Objet a is now a residue or remainder in a process of alienation, that can’t be symbolized.










Rahna: page 174, metaphor passage is there. Metaphor in relation to objet a.


Features of objet a:

-can not be symbolized (pg 174). It is at odds with signifiers, disrupts signifiers in a variety of ways.

-can not be specularized. It falls away in the visual field.


Toward the end of Freud’s career – he noticed that analysis goes on forever, there is no end. Longer and longer until they cum, it is sort of a life-time thing. This might be because the neurotic can never come to terms with something – the rock of castration. The neurotic can never integrate castration. It seems that Lacan is trying to think something beyond castration.


Two terms appearing in Lacan’s discourse:


desire -> jouissance



Desire and law are identical.

Desire is endless metonymy that never finds its objects or final terms. Desire pertains to dimension of symbolic.


Now Lacan is articulating another dimension, jouissance – which is not desire. This is counter-intuitive. Lacan seems to think that the symptom has a dual structure:


  1. symptom as signifier (can be resolved through interpretation). Once symptoms have been put into speech, the speech can replace the symptom. The symptom is something that was trying to speak. We have the speech we don’t need the symptom any longer.
  2. He is increasingly recognizing the other dimension of the symptom, jouissance. Freud always emphasized this. Symptom is a form of enjoyment.


Repression always comes with return of repressed.


Lacan increasingly comes to recognize that in addition to the SIGNIFYING dimension[desire] of the symptom, there is an enjoyment, jouissance, which is not of the order of the signifier, but is a remainder.


Gaze, voice, faeces, breast, phallus – which objet a? Objet a within the symptom, as jouissance.


It is not enough to resolve the symptom in the signifier. If we work at the level of the signifier the treatment/analysis becomes infinite. There is no final signifier, this is why, there is no final signifier in the order of the symbolic or the order of language.


AND SO: The subject’s relation – in the course of analysis – to objet a must be transformed during the course of analysis. The subject must enter into a new relationship with objet a over the course of analysis.


Benjamin: is this traversing the fantasy?


Levi: it could be. The end of analysis opens up along two paths: (1) is identify with the symptom – that which repeats endlessly, (2) believing in the symptom, the path to be avoided, belief that there will be a secret of being revealed – remaining at the level of the signifier.


Michael: Jouissance – is it lost? What jouissance is the subject defending against? Against his or her own? Against the jouissance of the Other?


Pleasure and Jouissance are two different things. Sem. 7, on the ethics, Lacan equated pleasure principle with symbolic order. Reduction in tension for Freud. Pleasure is what we experience when a build up of tension is reduced, when we no longer suffer from build up. Displacement of build up in the neuronal system. Jouissance by contrast is closer to death drive. It repeats itself, it asks for more. It is experienced as unpleasurable. It is polyvalent term in Lacan’s teaching. Difficult to pin down.


What Lacan says about hysteric – desire is a desire to sustain itself. Hysteric’s desire is desire for unsatisfied desire. Obsessional, impossible desire. Both positions are working to practically avoid jouissance. Jouissance is what they don’t want to take place.


Judith: desire could also be on the left with desire, on symbolic, in ven diagram. On the right could be the drive, so it tends to be drive that’s related to jouissance. My understanding, to answer Michael, the idea is that the baby as a physical being has a great deal of jouissance. Gradually that jouissance is extracted – jouissance is dropped in favor of language and desire. Which is working under the pleasure principle. By the time you are a teen or adult, all of jouissance is located in the genitals – jouissance in the body, whole body was excitable, is now localized in the genitals. Jouissance is – clinically – pleasure to the point of pain. Everybody wants excitement and passion – they get so much that they detroy their lives. If they seek too much jouissance it pulls their lives apart.




in jouissance, the subject fades or dissappears.


We need to distinguish between Joui of subject and Joui of Other (page 46, Polity). “What the neurotic shrinks from is not castration…” Castration can be a relief. Somewhere there is Joui and not necessarily in the subject.


Judith: when a mid-aged man and talks about the rel to his mother, whom he is avoiding but also seeking. Obliged to help her and keeps track of her. He can see that she is a worried state all the time. Controlling, manipulating him, demanding of him.. so on. He can see that he is giving her joui, she is the one with the joui and he comes to therapy and tries to get that experience into language and face her again. So intense when with her that he loses his language and gets caught up in joui.


Patient feels reduced to her joui.


Judith: psychotic is completed submitted to demand of Other but can’t describe it. Neurotic is somehow outside it.


Judith: He is her objet a. She wants to eat him up. His subjectivity is disappearing, trying never to get eaten up. He tries to retaliate.


Page fifty-three: “don’t you know that it’s not longing for the maternal breasts but its immanence..” Lacan seems to suggest that we don’t suffer from separation anxiety. But that separation is a kind of relief. “What promotes anxiety is everything that …”


Mother’s overwhelming presence. Lack of Lack. There needs to be a stopper that brings about distance.


Judith: Freud and mainstream analysis is about loss of the object, loss of love of object. Lacan’s insight is that we are worried about being eaten by or managed or looked at by the Other. The ways in which we are used as the objet a for the Other person. That is when anxiety comes. This contradicts Freud’s idea of loss as the main source of anxiety.


Pg fifty-four: Experience teaches that prohibition is temptation. Anxiety is not about loss of object but its presence. The objects are not missing. Lacan suggests that anxiety is not without an object. The presence of an object. Page 61: third paragraph. Lacan says – one wonders why analysts have taken little interest in it…


objet a = object cause of desire


Lot of confusion with object cause of desire – it is not agalma, object of desire.


Objet a is behind desire.


Zizek on the German Kinder Egg: it is the objet a. Well, that’s not objet a, it is agalma. It is not something that you desire, it is cause of desire.


The shine off of a woman’s nose. That wasn’t what he desired – it was what caused his desire. This shine is gaze in this instance, it evokes the gaze. The main desires is not the shine on the woman’s nose


objet a -> desire -> object desired [In that order!]


Judith: in clinical case, it could be the shine of the woman’s nose could end up with the breast. It could represent the objet a of the breast, and there is something about that shine on the nose that keeps him attracted to her …


It is not true that any time we get objet a we get anxiety. That’s not true. It is an instigator, a stain, a shine on a nose as breast or gaze, beauty mark.. that drives the person, not as a signifier, but drives as toward something. On other hand, we have this other thing. The presence of objet a – the notorious passage we’ve all been debating about: anxiety-point. When the objet a becomes present that is when the signal or anxiety-point manifests itself, that the lack is lacking. This is a surprising thesis.


Lack lacking passage is page 42. Why is lack lacking the point of anxiety. Reference to uncanny is illuminating as well. Vol. 17 of Freud’s standard edition, in a footnote, on page 248. He gives this example of a lack lacking. Doubles as instances of the uncanny, he describes his own experience. Face before him is his own … intruder was his own reflection in the looking glass. Freud thoroughly disliked his appearance. He failed to recognize himself.


He sees himself as somebody he doesn’t want to identify with – encounters himself as Other. Lack Lacking – what is lacking in this example from Freud? What has become present that should normally be absent?


Michael: The gaze?


Levi: the image we identify with. We encounter our double as our selves, we see ourselves through the gaze of the Other. Something normally off-stage, out of the picture, and this becomes anxiety-point with respect to gaze.


– discussion –


Lacan is carrying out a critique of Hegel. Hegelian desire of Other is at the level of the imaginary. Struggle between master and slave, I get double to desire and submit to me. Lacan’s desire of the Other refers not to the mirror image but to this symbolic system which usurps be in all sorts of ways and can never be totalized. Desire of big Other.







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