Lacan has been demonstrating that anxiety resides, essentially on the side of the Other, where the other is lacking, perhaps even as a signal that something is lacking there. However, we know by now that the Other is not the Other as such, at least not at the level of anxiety, it is much rather the Other as it is in its relation to the Subject. Anxiety is there where the desire of the Other is a question. So this means that desire, which is always desire of the Other, opens up at some level to anxiety, at those times when the question surfaces as such. At least, I think this is the correct interpretation.

Desire is in a sense revealed by anxiety, precisely because anxiety is that which does not deceive. We can be sure that we are not deceived when anxiety is in the picture. We also know – at least, we presume that we know since this was not articulated in any depth during the last two years (1962-3) of classes – that the Other is the place of the signifier. We discussed in previous classes that, quite obviously, we are not born with language, it comes from some place, it is transferred from the Other. So, we get our signifiers from the Other and, when this comes through to us, we become barred-subjects, subjects barred into the signifier to signifier relation. At this point I want to be clear about what Lacan seems to mean by the barred-subject. It is not that the subject is somehow hiding behind signifiers, or that anything at all is hiding behind the signifiers, it is that the subject is nothing but this signifier to signifier relation, at least at a certain level. Desire, object a as the object cause of desire, is a gap in the signifier to signifier relation, a residue, it is what is left over after the subject becomes caught into this signifier to signifier relation.

When anxiety appears, at the level of object a, from the position of the barred-subject, that is, through the matheme of fantasy $<>a, it does so, then, necessarily, in some relation to the desire of the Other – precisely because it comes after, in some sense, subjectification to the bar. This is why Lacan always places the object a on the side of the big Other. The object a is dependent upon the subject vis-a-vis the big Other, it is at the intermediary position, in between, to some extent. Thus, the object a is also, in effect, prior to the constitution of the Subject. It comes before precisely because it is on the side of the Other. This is where things could get complicated real fast. I’m going to slow down so that I don’t get lost.

The object a is also the cause of desire, it is the subject’s cause of desire inasmuch as it is caused from the Other. In other seminars Lacan will describe this, with hysterical neurosis as its support, using the formula: desire is desire of the Other. You can see that the subject’s desire is caused by something Other.

Lacan seems particularly interested in Obsessional Neurosis at this point. The emphasis on cause, with respect to object a, is crucial at the level of obsession and compulsion, as we shall see. At some level the obsessional who suffers from compulsions is confronted by anxiety at that moment when he fails to act with respect to his desire. In other words, if the compulsion concerns checking that the stove is shut off, or that the front door is in fact locked, then anxiety sets in when he fails to check. It is his own inability to act that causes obsession, in this case. You can see here that it is when the Other – the message from the Other – is not addressed that the possibility of its lack sets in, the possibility of anxiety as such.

The obsessional must be brought to recognize that that’s how it works. It is schematic, it is a mechanism, the machine perhaps, that he must come to understand. Thus, the crucial first step of analysis consists of simply having the obsessional realize at some level that there is such a thing as an unconscious, at the level of a system, at the level of the machine, at the level of formulae, topology, whatever. The obsessional is quite often even aware of his symptoms, but even here he might fail to address them, to subjectify them. There is only one way through and it is to “grab the symptom by the ears […] [that is, it is to grab] the unassimilated side of the symptom, unassimilated by the subject, [by the ears.” You grab him, you force him to see that this is how it works. At some level, what you are really doing is demonstrating that there’s a cause behind this. This there’s a cause behind this is enough to open up the point at which he can in fact open himself up to his pact with the Other.

Thus, many times the wrong move is to spell out what the problem is, to articulate it, put it into words, come to understand it, and so on. More often, I believe, the more effective move is to merely bring others (as well as oneself) to recognize the fact that, as Lacan puts it, there’s a cause behind this. This is why the technique of free association is not enough with obsessionals. Learning to speak, fully, is, in this conception, essential. But learning to speak is much more difficult for the obsessional. Free speech, despite what early Brauer and Freud believed, is never anything like free for the obsessional. Imagine, for example, these rap superstars who produce videos of themselves on youtube, freestyling. We all know that those lines are rehearsed, that there are certain formulae guiding the process of their speech. It is precisely the same in the clinic. It is not enough to simply verbalize, if the cause doesn’t slip it. This is not how it works, there is a cause behind all of this. The obsessional needs to recognize that the unconscious works, even while all his postures aim to demonstrate this possibility. This is why we need to bring out the object a relation as cause of desire.

We must take seriously the question of cause. The point is that causality does exist. And we need to begin to think about it in terms of what Lacan calls his “transcendental ethics”. We know that space is not an a priori sense perception. Our understanding or intuition concerning space develops. It is not as simple as the point that subjective experience is inside and thing-in-itself is outside. Space is a part of the real, in all cases, for Lacan. At this point, I think Lacan’s argument is itself limited. The ontological twists he develops here with respect to the mobius-strip and the cross-cap are precisely on the side of the subject, ultimately. It is psychical, at base. Yet, there is another dimension here which is per-embryonic, which is before the subject, and which generates the very embryonic structure which comes to define the life of desire. In any case, the twisting of the strip is itself a way of organizing life lodged in real space, but what about real space lodged within life? This is not even a question. Three dimensional space – unlike, in many ways, the two dimensional space of the Eulerian model – allows us to understand the presence of desire at the scopic level, in fantasy.

Cause can not be grasphed. It evades, withdraws, and so on. And yet everything is caused. Cause is also quite literally a question. Lacan was explicit about this, even if he didn’t dwell on it. Cause is a question. Is it, then, perhaps, the question that being – jouissance – asks? At this point Lacan makes a number of distinctions:

  1. Cause = object cause, object a
  2. Effect = desire (but there is nothing effectuated about desire)
  3. Result = Symptom (result of a question, not the effect of a question)

I can’t tell you what headaches this gave me trying to figure out – even if I’ve only dedicated a few moments to it. I’m still somewhat at a loss. We see three distinctions: cause, effect, and result. The object a is literally the cause of desire, the support of desire and fantasy. And yet it is also ungraspable, unknowable, and yet entirely causal. Desire is the effect of the object a, but it is not “effectuated” – which must mean that it is not forced. There is no strict forcing of desire by the cause of desire. There is something ungraspable and so there is a way of moving around in relation to this ungraspable cause. Finally, result is the symptom. I wonder if this means that the symptom is the question itself, the question asked as a result of the effect of the cause. This makes some sense for me so I’m going to roll with it. I’m going to, for now – until I see evidence to the contrary – presume that symptom relates to the question, desire to the fantasy, and object a to the ungraspable cause. The cause itself introduces a gap in the effect, and produces a result which, eventually, can fade away. It fades away because new questions get asked. Take, for example, the case of science. In science we have a cause of desire which effects something and results in a question. We ask the question – obtain some progress – and the question fades away precisely because the gap gets filled in. We obtain an answer for the cause. Put differently, whenever we make a discovery in the field of science we often forget to ask about waht it was that drove us to ask that question in the first place. Why do we care about the nature of light, for example? Why was the Atom Bomb discovered? What drove Einstein to his famous formula of relativity? Lacan puts it like this: “the cause vanishes into thin air – what we didn’t know vanishes into thin air.”

Now, we can latch onto some more diagrams. I can’t reproduce them here due to limitations of the medium but I will try to describe them. Actually, I will produce them using symbols, where parentheses should be taken for circles. We have five levels. I’ll put them all here right away:

  1. (S (a) barred-A)
  2. (a ($) barred-A)
  3. (M (-phi) W)
  4. (S (x) +phi)

Lacan describes these are five “levels” in the constitution of the a in the relation between S and A. In the first operation, we can see, the Subject is in some relation to the barred-Other. The Subject is not barred here, for some reason. He is the mythical subject, or, at least, he must be. The Other is split open, and split open to reveal the lack, the signal of anxiety. And this lack, this object a, is transferred, or so it seems, onto the Subject. So the subject is, thus, split between himself as mythical subject and himself as desire of the Other. In this sense, he is in need in the Other. The subject has his support in the Other, and at the level of the Other. His desire is literally the desire of the Other. It is the oral dimension.

In the second phase, the object a is split from the Other entirely and what is between is the barred-subject. There is a passage from the S into $, moving from left to right, from mythical subject to its operation on the Other, whereby the subject enters the world of the signifier. Here, via the signifier, there is demand in the Other. There is a concern here with the remainder in the Other’s demand, that which is left over from the demand. I suppose this is why the object a is in the place of the mythical subject. Who knows.

The third level is the phallic dimension. Lacan brings us back to his discussion of the relation between the sexes, constituted as it is by the minus-phi. What we are dealing here is always with imposture and masquerade, with the lack of an object, and with how one relates to this lack. At this level it is not demand but jouissance in the Other which matters. This is the level of true castration anxiety.

The fourth level concerns the eye. It seems to be the most “mature” level, in a sense. The subject is confronted with fantasy, the x from early in the year, and it is the might in the Other which matters. The subject is here doomed toward nonrecognition. I presume that Lacan will go over all of these again very soon, because he does not spell them out in much detail.

The final operation concerns the desire of the Other in its purest form. We see it in obsession, where anxiety is at the fore. As I wrote at the beginning of this blog, the obsessional is always repressing the desire of the Other. Object a is thus reduced to angst, to anxiety. And through this reduction the obsessional must move toward Demand, as a cover for anxiety. The obsessional requires authorization – the other needs to demand him to do something. You can imagine, then, that, for example, someone writing a blog, collecting notes, about the 10th seminar of Lacan’s, who wanted to exit the stage, required a certain somebody, or a certain number of somebodies, to demand that he continue. The Other has to ask him to do something.

The obsessional covers over the desire of the Other by means of the demand of the Other. The object a is situated here at the anal level – at the level where the gift, excrement, must be demanded of him. Here it is, my shit – for you. And so this opens up the field of anal anxiety. Anal anxiety which, I wonder, must have some relation, lets hope not in its psychotic dimension, to fear and trembling, to panic


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