NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 16 JANUARY 1963

 I planned to drop off the stage. I marked yesterday as my last day of writing up these notes, for my own benefit. However, I was encouraged to keep pushing through. And so that is what I will do. I will see how long I can sustain this sort of practice.

We continue our discussion of the object of psychoanalysis, namely object a. We get the sense that Lacan reached a “Eureka!” moment, and that he wanted to sustain this line of thought further. We return to the formula:

anxiety is not without an object

We’ve discussed this at length and yet we haven’t exhausted our discussion. Lacan wants the object a to take “center stage.” He does not remark upon this manner of phrasing it, but it seems clear to me that it was not accidental. After all, we have been discussing the concept of “world” and “stage” since the very beginning. For example, in 19 December 1962, Lacan noted that the stage is the fantasy, and that there is nothing off of the stage. It is not simply coincidental that Lacan described the mirror schema as a “stage” – it is the mirror stage and not the mirror phase (but I will need a translator to verify this). It is not “stage” in the sense of a phase, developmentally, but “stage” in the more refined sense I am describing here. Everything happens on the stage. The world, which is on the other side of the stage, is something like the real qua real. It is not accessible. The world withdraws from the stage. Without this withdrawal the performances that occur on the stage would be boring, without power, without attraction – we simply wouldn’t watch or play the game.

To place the object a at “center stage” means, at the very least: (1) to place it at the center of our discussion (indeed, Lacan is on to something with object a, he wants to develop it – we are on the road to discovery here), (2) to position it where it occurs, namely, in i’(a), the specular image – bracketed as it is.

To be at the center of the stage is perhaps to be standing above the trap door – a door that is hidden from the spectators but which can open up at a moments notice and swallow the subject. This is the a which is bracketed by the stage of the i. Now, this trap door is nonetheless covered, concealed. You can detect it there, there is an outlined. If you were feeling childish you would probably trace the line with your finger, and look down into the crack to see how deep of a hole there is beneath you. If you are walking in the city, on the sidewalk, you might walk above a metal platform. You can see right down beneath you – a giant hole. It provokes some anxiety. And this is the next point Lacan made: when you stand at center stage, as a subject, you translate the object into anxiety.

Sidewalk Grating

The object can only be translated by the subject as anxiety. I like this, and I think it is a formula:

the object can only be translated by the subject as anxiety

But perhaps Lacan was not being as precise as he can. It should rather be:

the object can not be without translation by the subject as anxiety

The later formula allows for some necessary obscurity. We noted that Lacan liked to use the phrase “not without” for very specific reasons (see the 16 January 1963 class). After all, anxiety can sometimes be couched between parentheses. This is why Lacan later claimed that object a also arises within fantasy ($<>a). Fantasy is a way of responding to, or couching, desire.

We must return to our previous discussion of subjectivity. I previously stated that it is possible to detect a non-Kantian moment in Lacan’s elaboration of the relationship between the subject and the object. More specifically, there is a possibility to construct a trajectory from Lacan’s notion of subjectivity to Badiou’s notion of subjectivity. As far as I know, this is not a project that anybody has felt worth taking up (I could very well be wrong – I wouldn’t be surprised if Badiou took this project up himself). In any case, we must think further about the Lacanian subject.

The concept of intentionality problematizes Lacan’s notion of the subject. I write “problematizes” but I do not mean to say that it is a victory. Indeed, Lacan defeated Husserl’s and Sartre’s notion of subjective intention. In only two sentences Lacan obscured a point which is actually quite simple. I’m only going to focus on Sartre here because he is easier to work with, it is easier, through Sartre, to demonstrate the point of all of this. I do not want to get lost in a digression on Husserl. When Sartre discussed intention he was referring to the intentions of the subject of consciousness. This is the “subjectivism” that Lacan wanted to avoid, so blatantly. Lacan was interested in the subject of the unconscious. And so we can not retain the concept of intention because for Lacan intentionality always finds itself within the mode of consciousness and thus depicts the subject problematically. Lets dive deeper into this.

In Sartre’s 1940 book on the imaginary we can see that he claimed that imagination and perception are two distinct things. No doubt this is an important distinction, but it also leads to problematic conclusions. So this is very important for us, especially if we want to make a case for such new developments in the field of psychoanalysis for such things as “affect theory”, “Humean scholarship”, and so on. Perception involves the senses, and it by necessity brings with it a blind-spot. But imagination in this sense is akin to the logic of the cubists. Indeed, the cubists took the imagination as the basis for their work. The cubists wanted to see an object from every side. This is why cubism is sometimes referred to as “art from every side”. See, for example, Picasso’s “The Weeping Woman”:

Pablo Picasso – The Weeping Woman

If you look closely you’ll notice that the entire face of the woman is portrayed. You see it from every angle. You can see each eye, the entire face. This is total, it is a total image. Nothing is really left out. But with our feeble sense perceptions, the other side of the face remains obscured. The cubists turned imagination into its own object precisely because they filled in the blind-spot of perception with their images. Perhaps this has also been a problem that object oriented philosophers have had to think about. To properly defend against filling in the blind-spot of objects we must always, in some way, include a notion of “withdrawal” – otherwise we lapse into something that might be called naive scientism, or what I might call “specular realism” (rather than “speculative realism”). To be sure, imagination is very close to Lacan’s concept of the imaginary. I wonder the extent to which Sartre’s work on imagination and Lacan’s work are in discussion with one another.

The problem of course is that there are objects of perception (as well as objects of imagination) which are not oriented, which can not be seen from every side. This is the pitfall of cubism. Cubists immerse themselves into the total image, filling in their anxiety of the lack in the Other. There is a further critique that Lacan made: the object does not exist outside of our ears and eyes as it does for cubism. This is perhaps also a problem with “affect theory” and “Humean” scholarship: the object is not somewhere, however paradoxically, on the inside for them. There is no concept of the mirage, of the authenticity (a word that will no doubt scare most scholars) of the image or the object. And, to bring up a familiar target: object relations psychologists are also trapped in this mirage or imagination of the external object, via their obsession with the other object as such.

Finally, we arrive at the formula – the one we’ve probably all been waiting for:

the object a is the case of desire

To be the cause means that the object is behind desire. This is not a temporal distinction. It seems to me that this means that the object exists not only within the stage of desire but also within the trap-door of drive. We can see here that Lacan was trying to continually broach the mysteries of the drive. Thus, he states that in Freud’s 32nd lecture there was a distinction between the goal of the drive and the object of the drive. So – we know that later Lacan will distinguish between the aim and the goal. Freud noted that the object seems to insert itself somewhere – it is out of the grasp of the goal of the drive.

There was also a distinction in Freud’s work between “inside/internal” and “outside/external”. For Freud, the object was on the outside and the aim was in a direction which returns to the inside. This is how the aim finds satisfaction – not on moving outside but on returning inward. And, more specifically, it returns in to the body (the rim). Lacan’s discussion on this gets much clearer in future seminars.

But we need to continue this thinking about the “inside” and “outside”. We can turn to a new simplified version of the mirror schema which includes within it a notion of ego and non-ego:

Mirror Schema (ego-nonego)

Mirror Schema (ego & non-ego)

So where is the “outside”? Lacan stated that the notion of an outside exists before there is any internalization of the a. So, we begin with the Other. This might also be a good time to return to the ‘long division’ from the class on November 21st 1962:

A S
$ Ø
a

We begin at the top left with the big Other (A). And if we read from left to right then everything in the left is the field of the Other (including, as we shall see, the object a). Before the subject grasps himself in the mirror via the specular image i(a), or, in the new schema, x, he is already in the locus of the Other. So if object a is the cause of desire then cause belongs to the outside, to the field of the Other. We can see that the first outside for Lacan, at least in this seminar, is the Symbolic Outside, the field of the big Other. This can get confusing really quickly. For now I will just say that this wasn’t the case for Freud’s early work. In Freud’s early work he referred to the reality principle not as an internal principle but rather as an absolutely external principle – and one that might not necessarily involve the symbolic. If we pursue this line we might be capable of transforming Lacan’s work so that it takes into account another notion of the outside, an outside that is absolutely real. This is delicate, complicated, and I’m not prepared to work it through today.

We can see how the object a is the cause of desire inasmuch as cause is outside when we think about the fetish object. The fetish object might be a shoe or silk underwear. But the fetish object is also not simply these things – it is enough to point out that it is an object outside which causes desire on the inside. The fetishist, to sustain his desire, can not reduce the object to simply silk or shoes, because this will not preserve libido – it can easily lead to satisfaction. There needs to be something more. I’m not entirely clear on this point and Lacan did not devote a lot of time to it.

In any case – where is the subject when he falls down the trap door? The subject is there where the object a is, where the source of the aim is. And this source is not conscious and it is not intentional but rather it is unconscious. It is what makes each of us “I” in the most primitive sense. Reduced down to its purest, we are an object a. You are the a, you are the object. And this is what is intolerable for us – we can not tolerate our own object, a.

Trap Door

We need to take a short detour to get to an important point related to this. Lacan did not spend a lot of time discussing masochism and sadism, he is always much more interested in the neuroses and psychoses than in other clinical structures, but here he did offer a little something. When we discuss sadism and masochism we are to a large extent in the field of perversion.

The sadist aims to introduce a split in the Other at $ by imposing upon him that which he can not tolerate – he brings the Other to a threshold experience, he pushes the Other to the point of suffering, inflicting pain on his body. What is the cause of this desire? The anxiety of the Other – the sadist wants to cause anxiety in the Other. This is why Lacan links Sadeanism, Sadism, to Kant’s moral law. We can see that often sadistic acts are like rituals, rituals of sacrifice – but the sadist doesn’t know his cause and he doesn’t know what he is seeking from these rituals. All we know is that the sadist wants to make himself appear on the stage for the Other, as an object, an a, for the Other. He wants to be the source of anxiety for the Other.

We can see the way that desire and law are linked in Sadean thought by examining Man Ray’s portrait:

Man Ray – Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade

In the painting, Sade is made up of the very walls that imprisoned him. Kant and Sade are in cahoots because desire and law are in cahoots – in fact, they are the same thing. They share an object, a common object. This notion of a common object was discussed in the previous class. We can see something like this logic at play in the recent craze over e-cigarettes. I recall a Deleuzean friend of mine who was sitting in a cafe, discretely smoking one of these e-cigarettes. Every now and again some white smoke would puff into the air. He was hiding it (and yet smoking it in plain view) because he thought that he was somehow breaking the law of the cafe. And yet, as it happens, the e-cigarette smoke does not hurt anybody – that is the point. So here he is puffing away at transgressing the law even while the cigarette is perfectly within the spectrum of the law. There is no need to puff a real cigarette here, because the complicity of law and desire is completed. And is this not how much of revolutionary thinking functions today?: we are encouraged to puff away at a revolution while causing no real damage to the surrounding environment, and yet we still get to feel as though, somehow, we are doing something really great.

E-Cigarette

Lacan stated something quite powerful: the Oedipus myth means nothing if it not that at the very beginning desire and the father’s law are one and the same thing. The desire for the mother, as a result of the father’s law, is identical with the law. The law in fact imposes the desire for the mother because, as Lacan put it, “in and of herself, the mother is not the most desirable object there is.” So one desires via the commandment – the commandment which is the glory of the father.

As for the masochist, he seeks to be identified with the common object – he wants to be reduced to the common object, the dog food, the dog shit, and so on. But, just like the sadist, he wants to be reduced to this on the stage itself. Lacan derived a formula to explain this:

to recognize oneself as the object of one’s desire is always masochistic

This time Lacan even named it a “formula”. It is too easy, claimed Lacan, to describe masochism as the result of a “meanie” superego. It is also too easy to begin a catalogue of different masochisms without finding a standard – a formula – valid across the board. This is what we are approaching. What we know is that we need to begin with an analysis of the cause of desire and that this necessitates a thinking about the object cause of desire, and, finally, that masochism is to recognize oneself as the object of one’s desire [on the stage].

The masochist, on the stage, wants to show – precisely as a part of his performance – that the desire of the Other is responsible for laying down the law. This is what he wants to prove, to demonstrate, to perform. The masochist knows that when he is not on the stage he must confront lack, which is illustrated in the mirror schema as x. We must return to the original x, which is, as far as I can tell, the a bracketed by the i, in the specular image. The a is that which opens up in the image, it is like a rim or a gap – it is the limit of the specular image and it is the source of anxiety.

We need to ask ourselves why, in clinical analysis, this a can suddenly cause one to jump out of a window, kill themselves, end analysis, or so on. This happens when a small thing, perhaps a glance by the analyst, causes the analysand to jump or leap. This is otherwise referred to as the passage a l’Acte. We can see it in the chart we’ve been thinking about since the very beginning of the seminar:

Inhibition Impediment Embarrassment ($)
Emotion Symptom Passage à l’Acte
Turmoil Acting-Out Anxiety

In Freud’s case with the “homosexual woman” we say that the passage a l’Acte occurred when her father cast her an irritated glance. In a sense, she offered herself as a sacrifice and thereby made herself the support of what lacks in the field of the Other, her father’s desire. Moreover, when she saw her father she felt embarrassed. And then, after that, there was emotion. I’m not sure how to spell how this movement, this logic. She felt split, powerless, at embarrassment perhaps. And then, she moved to emotion, as a way of making things less difficult. And then Lacan claimed that she absolutely identified with the object a to which she was reduced. What could this mean? I’m not entirely sure. What I know is that she felt herself to be the cause of her father’s glance. She internalized that and made herself feel as though she somehow deserved it. Her desire here became aligned with the father’s law, the father’s gaze. This is what made her jump off of stage. And this jumping off of stage is what Lacan describes as the passage a l’Acte.

We can see some of this logic played out in hypnosis. I find this incredibly helpful: within hypnosis one allows oneself to become the instrument of the Other’s gaze. This is why mirrors, clocks, or hands are often used within hypnosis – because the Other hides himself behind the image of his mastery. He is like a master-puppeteer. During hypnosis, the only thing that one does not begin to discuss is the cause of this willingness to be the instrument.

Hypnosis