NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 13 MARCH 1963

This class (much like the previous two classes) seems to be devoted to a summary of important points that preceded it. At first I thought Lacan was summarizing so as to change his important points. This is something Slavoj Zizek warned me to look out for in Lacan’s seminars. If I can paraphrase what Zizek said it would be: “whenever Lacan claims that he is going to remind you of what he already taught you, be cautious! He is going to change everything he already taught you.” We also heard this advice in Zizek’s lecture on the different figures of the big Other in Lacan’s work. So, is this what we are dealing with in this class with Lacan? Is Lacan reorienting or revising his thoughts? Perhaps I am missing something but this does not seem to be the case. It much rather seems to me that Lacan is looking for something to hold onto. He is trying to reorient himself (and not his position) and this explains why it is that he keeps repeating points. It is because these points have been making his own teaching somewhat fuzzy. It is not, as it were, because these points have been fuzzy to his students (us).

So we are questioning the teacher. Indeed, this is what Lacan wants us to do at this point. He links the teacher’s desire with the analyst’s desire. He is clear on this point: he does not want to limit the discussion to only the analyst’s desire because something similar can be found at play within the university and within the seminar room. He states: “I said to myself that reminding you that there is such a thing as a teacher’s desire wasn’t such a bad angle from which to introduce the analyst’s desire.” What happens in the university when we do not ask this question, when we do not ask about the teacher’s desire? Quite simply, we have our answer in the figure of the professor. It is in the capacity of the teacher as professor that he adopts the function as pure transmitter of knowledge. The professor is thereby defined as the one who teaches about teachings. In other words, he teaches us what other people have taught him. Dramatically, Lacan notes that the professor comes into existence each time the response to the question of the teacher’s desire is absent.

Lacan seems to want teachers to be aware of the way they cut teachings and paste them back together in new and innovative ways. He states that this is similar to the artistic practice of collage. I don’t think it is for nothing that today the method of the bricoleur is championed. Yet, it goes without saying that during Lacan’s time this method was not in vogue. More to the point, cultural studies, interdisciplinary studies, sociology, theory departments, philosophy departments, were not using the bricolage as the basis for their ‘discipline’ as they are today. We’ve moved more toward the Lacanian orientation than we want to believe. Today we are perfectly aware that this is what we do as teachers, as professors, and as researchers. We celebrate it, champion it, and anybody who does otherwise is dogmatic or nihilist. I would go even further and suggest that we all champion bricolage today, we are all bricoleurs today, in much the same way that we are all Marxists or “radicals” today: we all get to call ourselves this, we all get to have the pretense involved in being on the cutting edge, the avant-garde, the revolutionary front.

So what is Lacan’s point? Lacan says “were [researchers/teachers] to make their collage in a way that was less concerned with the join, less tempered, they would stand a chance of achieving the same result that collage aims at, namely, to evoke the lack that makes for the entire work of the figurative work itself, when it is an accomplished one, of course. And along this path, they would thereby manage to meet up with the effect that is specific to what, precisely teaching is.” I must say, I strongly disagree with Lacan on this point. It is the fact that one no longer produces any “points” (to use a Badiouian concept) or “quilting points” (to borrow a Lacanian concept) that we can no longer hold together anything like a revolutionary project. Certainly, it is one thing to borrow the logic that Lacan implies here – but it is quite another to steer it toward different conclusions, with different stakes, and, moreover, to hide behind bricolage precisely so that we never have to act in the world.

Is it not the case that the collage-maker – today’s bricoleur at least – never has to risk anything, never has to take a position, a stance, and have a conviction, and never has to see this conviction to fruition? I doubt the extent that Lacan was aware that the bricoleur would become the figure of opinion within the land of knowledge, academia. He wasn’t up against this trend in the same way that we are today. But this is precisely what we are up against today. Today’s bricoleur must discover through the collage something worth holding on to, something which is not transient or fleeting, but which has the real promise of change. More to the point, collage today has come to mean: you can say whatever you want about anything and you can change your opinion on it tomorrow, you do not have to sustain a position, you do not have to take on the responsibility of drawing your own image of an alternative world. This is a sort of freedom which precludes the necessity of conviction. If today one believed that revolution is possible, tomorrow, when in front of one’s parents, one doesn’t. This is a very complex problem.

So, by cutting-and-pasting a few things here of my own I would take two points from a friend Levi Bryant. He wrote, in a blog post titled “There’s Only Bricolage”, that (1) “the bricoleur is the person that works with the materials that are available.  Cognitively, physically, and affectively they have a pile of odd shaped wood, rusty nails in that wood, some duct tape, and some rocks and clay in their back yard.” (2) ” The bricoleur begins with her own aim, but quickly discovers that the composition she’s participated in has “ideas” of its own.  This is another way of saying that the bricoleur is that tinkerer that’s willing to be surprised by her own work and to discover aims and goals that the junk pile she works with dictate, rather than those she envisioned.” If we return to something Lacan discussed about the object a in previous classes, we will note that the “pile of odd shaped wood, rusty nails … duct tape,” and so on, are spare parts. And Lacan at one time named the object a spare part.

The problem is that Lacan’s conception of the spare part as object a is such that it can not be reduced to any of these objects in the world – the nail, the wood, and so on. The object a as spare part is a spare part to even these objects. This is the first problem. The second problem is that the bricoleur can only discover that the composition that she’s participated in has “ideas” of its own if, in fact, s/he is open to that sort of discovery. And being open to such a discovery is a difficult thing to do. This sort of openness threatens to swallow the subject, threatens to remove the bolts holding together the trap door beneath the subjects feet. So the question of the bricoleur is nothing without the more fundamental question of change and discovery. How can the bricoleur be sure that s/he is open to the new ideas that come from his or her discovery? This is where the key question resides because we have a number of options. We won’t trouble ourselves with a discussion of what these options are right now but we can at the very least point out that the question of the agent of change is central. In the case of the bricoleur we seem to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that we are responsible for the possibility of change. This position has the potential to bring us back to the assertion of self-mastery. And yet psychoanalysis teaches us that we are far from the masters of ourselves, and of change. More often we are masters of the barrier to change. A lot can be said here. Perhaps we/I will return to it.

In any case, Lacan now claims that he is going to become the professor of his own teaching. This signals that he is summarizing.

So, Lacan returns to his discussion of Chekhov’s short piece on fear. After consulting a colleague who speaks Russian, he informs us that he was – Lacan, I mean – correct when he suggested to us in the previous class that Chekhov’s fear was not the same as what we typically call anxiety. Lacan states up front, that, according to the word Chekhov used, it surely concerned something different. What is happening to Chekhov is not anxiety, this concept does not cover enough ground to describe Chekhov’s experience. Lacan uses many other words: fear, terror, frights. I would add “panic” to this. In any case, all of these words cover more ground than anxiety. Something bigger is happening.

Yet there is something similar in fear that is also in anxiety. Recall the formula for anxiety: anxiety is not without an object [I note that the indefinite article has returned]. Lacan claims that it is just as legitimate to say that fear has no object. But does Lacan not remember that just a few classes ago he was pushing against this manner of phrasing things? We do not say that anxiety has no object, because that is not true. We also do not say that anxiety has an object. Things are more obscure: anxiety is not without an object. But in this case Lacan repeatedly claims that fear also has no object. Is this not a contradiction? It is a contradiction because he claims that fear, like anxiety, has no object.. Clearly, this is not consistent.

Chekhov’s Russian word for fear equates to something like “I fear it will come” in English. So this is an interesting form of negation inasmuch as it is a negation of that which will come in the present. In other words, that which will come in the near future (positive) is not here now (negative). We know that this is a negative because Lacan has been emphasizing the synchronic dimension for the last two years. There is a fear that something will come and a simultaneous hope that something will not come. All of this occurs in the moment. Put another way, in Russian there is this additional “it will come” in the language of the negation, and this “it will come” describes a fear of something that is not there at the current time and yet may at any time come to be there. The French negation, or English negation, ne or not, is much more simple than the Russian negation in this respect. The French and English negations do not have the added condition of the Russian. What is the significance of this? I do not know. Perhaps we can only figure it out by thinking further on how fear is distinguished from anxiety, even while they share a negation.

Maybe it goes like this:

anxiety is not without an object

fear is soon not without an object 

This is my own formulation. At the very least, the top formula is consistent. The bottom formula is a way of suggesting that fear is not without an object but later. Put another way,

fear is anticipation not without an object

It strikes me that this latter formula is more accurate because it emphasizes the synchronic dimension. It claims that the subject fears because he anticipates not being without an object. I can’t be sure about this and I can barely spell out the implications.

What we can be sure of is that Lacan intends to overturn the distinction between fear and anxiety currently accepted by psychoanalysts. Lacan notes that although Freud claimed that fear is related to object-loss he also seems to suggest that it is fear of something. So fear could perhaps be something like anxiety when faced with something. But what is this something that one is faced with when there is fear? At first I thought that maybe fear was more attuned to the real than anxiety but this is not the case because Lacan claims that anxiety is on the side of the real. As such, anxiety is not a defence. It is rather that which does not deceive. Anxiety presents a signal to the ego of something in the real.

Perhaps the signal is one of anticipating not being without an object in the case of fear.

So there are two conflicting stories here: (1) anxiety is in the real, and (2) anxiety presents a signal from the real. Is it possible to resolve this conflict by stating that anxiety presents a signal from the real to the imaginary of the ego? This seems to make sense to me but Lacan does not provide us with very much clarification at this point. My question is: where is anxiety located? 

We know from the discussion of masochism and sadism that anxiety can be located in the Other as well as in the Subject. So anxiety seems to be a synonym, of sorts, for the object a. 

Lacan returns to his table of division from the last class, and so should we:

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

The subject, S, is mythical. It is the “subject of jouissance” because it can not be isolated, unless mythically. So this jouissance – this pure access to jouissance, whether it be on the side of the Subject or the Other – is mythical. We are talking about pure enjoyment here. We also noted that anxiety occurs within the specular dimension of and barred-Other. And, finally, at the level of the subject barred by the signifier, there is desire.

So we are trapped, as neurotics, within desire, at the bottom of the table of long division. We also long for jouissance. We long to be Subjects of jouissance. However, something stands in our way – anxiety. It is not that object a necessarily “stands in the way” but rather than it is the only way to the mythical column of jouissance. Lacan provides us with a new formula:

jouissance shall know nothing of the Other except by this remainder, [object] a

This is the first operation in the top row. The subject is divided from the Other. All of this occurs at the mythical level. And comes to know the Other through object a. This becomes the source of anxiety.

At the bottom we can see the barred-subject. This is where we end up after all is said and done. We can only see things from the end, from $.  The barred-subject is the subject implied in fantasy. The matheme of fantasy, as we know, is $<>a. So there is a relationship of sorts between the bottom level, where we are at, and the middle level, the source of anxiety. We are learning how to move from the mythical dimension to our current place in the world but we are also learning how it is that we read history backwards, through our desire and fantasy.

The object a is a spare part. Lacan notes that there is no way of operating with the a. We can not use the to stitch together some collage, but rather, the is what necessitates the stitching together in the first place such that there is nothing but collage. 

Okay, now we’ve run into another problem. If the there is no way of operating with the a then how can we implicate it in our table of long division as an element that does not occur at the end? If the can not be further divided then we can no longer retain the pretense that this is a “table of long division.” This has become another beast. To borrow Levi Bryant’s phrase about the bricoleur, Lacan, as bricoleur, seems to have invented frankenstein – a monster that has lived on beyond his control and intentions.

So we have to learn how to read backwards now. It is no longer enough to read this as a table of division. If we begin with the barred-subject, $, we know that, within fantasy, we are dealing with symbolic coordinates – the signifier. The signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. This is why the subject is barred – it is somewhere in between two signifiers. If I may, logically, we are not dealing here, then, with a subject that exists before the signifier, cut by it. Rather, it is that the subject is nothing but this signifier to signifier relation.

In the middle row, in the column of the Other, A, there is the a, and this has nothing to do with the signifier. In fact, this is the other side of the subject, the side that gets lost in signifierization. So again: it is not that the subject gets lost in signifiers it is that the signifier to signifier relation is all that the subject is – what gets lost is something altogether different, it is the object a. The a, then, can not be in any way a signifier. If at all, it is what absolutely resists signifierization.

Notice how Lacan described the as what gets lost in signifierization. Now we are moving toward a tighter collage: the object a was once described as lost, a lost cause, and so on. So when the subject in on the road to discovery it is always the discovery of the object a. It is emphatically not in search of the mythical subject of jouissance – the top row. The top row is mythical, problematic, and, if anything, an alibi for conservation.

The a, as that which is lost, injects a gap between the row of desire (our starting point) and the row of jouissance (our mythical origins). And this gap – rim even – is where anxiety occurs.

Lacan seems to shift between beginning in myth and beginning in desire. For example, he claims that once we get through anxiety we hit desire. But, if we move backwards we can note that once we move through anxiety we do not hit the mythical subject of jouissance. It seems to me, though, that we can hit something else, drive. I’ll leave this for now. If this sounds like a discussion of “phases” then it is because Lacan wants to quickly dive into a discussion of the “End of Desire”. So we are clearly linked up with a discussion of time or phases.

We limit ourselves with the final stage, the end of desire and the end of analysis. Lacan notes that desire can not be satisfied, so this can not be the end. This route is also a fictitious one, a false one. The object falls away from the subject in his passage toward desire. Indeed, it seems that the object is very often nothing but this falling away itself. Freud at times seemed to imply that castration anxiety is the end of analysis. But Lacan believes that it is not necessary that we remain suspended in this phase of the threat of castration.

Lacan ends the class with three plus one aphorisms:

(1) Only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire

(2) To put myself forward as the one who desires … is to put myself forward as the want of a, and it is by this path that I open the door to the jouissance of my Being.

(3) Any requirement of on the path of this enterprise to encounter woman … can only trigger the Other’s anxiety, precisely because I don’t make any more of the Other than a, because my desires ays the Other, as it were.

(plus 1) On the path that condescends to my desire, what the Other wants, what he wants even if he doesn’t know in the slightest what he wants, is nevertheless, necessarily, my anxiety.

It seems to me that Lacan is trying to think about the relations that move vertically on the new table. For example, we begin with only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire. How is it that from our subject position, $, within fantasy, we allow Being, that is, jouissance, to have the final answer? Put another way, the top row is “mythical”, it postures at autonomy of sorts, at completion, at access to itself, and at self-mastery. This is posturing because it is mythical. Yet, from the bottom position of desire, we allow this posturing in our view precisely because of love. So here love seems to suture the gap between the top and bottom row. It is fashionable today to call this love by another name: “mansplaining” – I use the phrase “mansplaining” because what we are dealing with – it is clear because Lacan seems intent to begin to use the word “man” and “woman” – is a masculine position. This is the “condescension.” But crucially, we are dealing with a masculine position in the relation that woman has to this position.

We are starting to see how it is that the middle row, the gap, with the object a, is the “port of access” (Lacan’s phrase). We can not get around it, anxiety that is. And yet we never fail to try. It seems that Lacan is suggesting that love is one of the ways of deceiving ourselves. Love is deception, and anxiety is that which never deceives. Love, through the port of access of the a, conjoins tightly the Subject to his object of desire. This is why Lacan is forever suspicious of love – as he should be, since he is an analyst. Love, for Lacan, can never be something at the beginning or the end of our thinking. It is always in between, through the port of access. If we make it the end of our thinking (by, for example, claiming that “love is all we need”) we fail to deal with anxiety properly. Lacan says: “we really cannot use love as either the first or the last term, however primordial it looks to be in our theorization. Love is a cultural fact. […] love would be out of the question were it not for culture”

It seems to that the second aphorism moves in the opposite direction. Whereas the first aphorism seemed to deal with the feminine falling for the masculine, the second aphorism seems to deal with the masculine falling in with the feminine. What is the difference between falling in and falling for. On the one hand, the falling for, occurs to the one who finds something for which to fall, an object of wonder – and willingly falls. I shall follow this rabbit down this hole!, says Alice. On the other hand, falling in happens when one attempts to resist the inevitable – I tried not to let it happen, but she seduced me! The second aphorism seems to deal with the latter. From the mythical starting point, there is one who thinks he can complete himself by allowing himself to give up resisting the fall toward another. In this way, he achieves greater access to his jouissance. But this can only ever happen through the port of access.

The third aphorism seems to be a perverse structure. We are dealing with triggering the Other’s anxiety. In other words, making the Other come into being for me.

Lacan then maintains that his aphorisms chase their own tail. They are circular. I’m not entirely sure how they are circular – perhaps if we return to the table we could see this better. The first position seems to move from bottom through the port of access to the middle ($<>a) without ever touching the mythical point at the beginning. The second position seems to move from the top to the middle port of access (S<>a, if I can put it like that), without ever breaking out of the mythical origin story. The third position seems to move from somewhere like the top to the middle but on the other side of the column. It is a connection to the barred-Other, an attempt to precisely bar the Other so as to deduce the a.

Then Lacan seems to want to stop. But he quickly picks it up again. I think because his audience seemed capitvated by it. He thought maybe his audience thought he was being heroic by stating what he stated when he in fact expected them to laugh at him or think he was preachy or dogmatic. He suddenly adds the fourth (plus one) aphorism. This aphorism seems to be the other perversion. The sadistic one, I believe. In this case what the Other wants is for my anxiety, for my a.