NoteIt is important to point out at the beginning that these notes should not be read as independent blogs. They are to be read in order, beginning at the first set of notes for the first class of this seminar on anxiety.

In the last class, Lacan emphasized the point that our methodology or teaching must ensure that the audience or analysand not cheat (his) truth. He picked this argument up again, so it is worth repeating: we must teach using a method that will teach about what presents itself in our own intimate experiences. For example, Lacan found that Sándor Ferenczi’s book Research on a Theory of Genitality aimed to arrive at an “altogether too harmonizing, too totalizing notion of his object.” Ferenczi’s error was that he reduced the object of his investigation to that which was an erroneous standard against which many clinical diagnoses are made possible. The problem is that this standard, namely, “genital realization” or “genital maturation”, is fallacious. One notes, then, that woman’s genital development is interrupted, but only when compared with man’s. It is as if woman’s genital development occurs before the presumed synthesis of man’s genital synthesis or harmony.

Ferenczi follows Freud in arguing that the interruption occurs when the erogenous clitoris – the female penis – displaces to the vaginal cavity. Then, Ferenczi writes that the displacement occurs across other parts of the body, other parts which become ‘genitalized’. We see this markedly in hysterical patients. But jouissance is ordinarily found in an organ that is non-sensitive. For example, there are organs that can not be stimulated even, and especially, when they are provoked by an outside source. We know that Lacan made this point in another class – when the system is brought to a certain limit it runs aground in anxiety. It can not respond to demands or provocations anymore.

Lacan reformulates the problem. Genital maturation is, according to Lacan, a myth. Maturation is not a synthesis, a final accomplishment or arrival – it is not the locus of a convergence. It rather presents itself as partial. This frees us from the problem of mythical constructions which place the origin at a site, and, moreover, at the site from which various displacements occur. If we begin with the empty place as the site of jouissance then we necessarily avoid the reduction of clinical diagnoses to origins in erogenous zones. We also thereby avoid the reduction of the analysand’s ‘growth’ to genital maturation. Here, it is striking, there is a third correction which Lacan does not mention: we, through this method, also avoid beginning with a masculine standard (phallic) for psychoanalytic treatment.

To return to the question of hysteria, then, we must note that it is a particularly feminine neuroses. It is feminine not because it has anything to do with the sexual organs but rather because of the question which the being of this neurosis asks: “who am I?,” “what gender am I?” My struggle has always been: why does Freud maintain that hysteria comes first, developmentally, while also, clinically, moving toward the position that it is the pinnacle of the neuroses – that it has the most to offer and the most promise for the field of psychoanalysis itself? There is a diachronic logic at play here which is perhaps unfounded. There is no reason to chart the developmental movement of the neuroses – this will lead us toward a number of problems. We can see here that hysteria must be put at the end point of infantile maturation but also at the beginning. Hysteria is the pinnacle but it is also there inside of obsession, before obsession. And yet, the point of treatment is to hystericize the obsessional; and so hysteria comes after obsession once again.

The point is that we should not get hung up on diachronic logic. This is why we need to avoid any discussion of genital ‘maturation’. It presumes a telos to clinical treatment, to neurotic onset, etc. But we know that the relationships between the clinical structures are complicated. There are strong relations between hysteria and psychosis/schizophrenia, for example. And this complicates even more the diachronic logic. We must therefore move to a synchronic logic. This is a logic which begins at the beginning, at the void, and the subject’s relationship to the big Other and to his object a. This is what Lacan means when he describes neurosis as a “clinical structure” – it is a “structure” because it is synchronic in its logic and constitutive of desire as such. The emphasis on the void necessitates this ‘structuralist’ approach. Neurosis is a clinical structure precisely because it is a structure of anxiety.

Neurosis is a structure of desire inasmuch as it “frames” anxiety. What does this mean? Consider the fact that any mirror has edges or limits. Surely, no mirror covers eternity, nor does it stretch through the infinite. And yet this is exactly how we treat the mirror which structures our desire. We treat the images we see in the mirror as if they are infinite and eternal. This is how our anxiety is framed. We do this to avoid seeing what is behind the mirror – or, if you like, behind the curtain. What is behind the curtain is nothing, nothing at all … nothing but the show, the stage! When Plato’s prisoner leaves the cave, sees the outside – the beyond of the mirror, through the window itself – and returns, he is rejected. What is he rejected by, if not the system of signifiers, language itself Fantasy plays itself out on this stage. And within that play we can, if you work for it, discern a purely schematic form of our fantasy. Lacan notes that the Wolf Man’s dream was important for Freud because it reoccurred – it was the pure form of his fantasy, unveiled in its structure. In a sense, we could say that the Wolf Man’s dream, and the diagram that Sergei Pankejeff, the Wolf Man, produced from it, was the signifier-ication, the putting-into-signifiers, of what was behind the mirror.

The Wolf Man’s Dream Drawing

Similarly, and to make this point most dramatic, Lacan invites us to look at a drawing by an Italian schizophrenic woman. I’ve included a photo of it below:

Isabella's Schizophrenic Drawing
Isabella’s Schizophrenic Drawing

What you can see, in dramatic form are the signifiers that hang from the tips of the branches. In Italian it reads: io sono sempre vista, or, I’m always in view. This, claims Lacan, is the groundbreaking moment that the schizophrenic analysand formulates via signifiers as that which reoccurs in secret for her – she was not able to articulate it until the moment of drawing it. This is how the field of anxiety is situated as something “framed”, as something presented, however dreadful or disturbing, on the window, in place of the window, through the mirror, framed.

Lacan notes that we usually feel the most anxious, when we visit the theatre, at the moment when the curtain goes up. Indeed, I’ve noticed this while attending movie screenings: the moment when people shuffle the most, when they dig ever so deep in their popcorn bags, is when the “feature presentation” phrase hits the screen. It is a moment that passes ever so quickly, but, claims Lacan, it is never lacking in the theatre. The curtain rises, something opens up, and that space that opens up is immediately filled so that the anxiety dies away, and then, we are lucky if something tragic or comic happens on the screen/stage.

Anxiety occurs when something which was already there at Heim (home) appears on the stage. In Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, Adam, played by Jake Gyllenhall, breaks out of his humdrum life by his chance encounter with a b-list actor. In the film, Adam spots an actor who looks just like himself – a character who, he later finds out, gets his kicks from crushing animals and having brutal sex with women. Could we not suggest that this is the level of the Unheimliche, the uncanny, in its cinematic form?

Enemy (2013)

Anxiety occurs when there is a sudden appearance of the Heimliche, within the frame – and this is why it is incorrect to claim that anxiety is without an object. Objects do provoke anxiety. In this case, it is Anthony, a sex addicted b-list actor – Adam’s double – who provokes anxiety. But even this is merely a stand-in object. It is an “object whose perception is prepared and structured.” We see this as the unary trait – there it is! We can point at it, we can see it, we can identify it – even if we can not put our finger on what precisely makes it so uncanny.

Anxiety is the cut. It occurs when the curtains cut away from the integrity of the room and introduce us to the appearances on the screen. Anxiety has no signifier – it is lacking that. It is unexpected, it stands before all feelings, all thinking. And from anxiety things branch off into any number of directions. They branch off as if like the Wolf Man’s tree, or Isabella’s tree. We combat anxiety through the screen, through the lures, through Anthony, through Adam [who is, after all, the first man].

In the class on 14 November 1962, Lacan produced the following graph [I can not go over it again here so I invite you to follow the link]:

Inhibition Impediment Embarrassment ($)
Emotion Symptom X
Turmoil X Anxiety

He now fills in the X’s with their proper terms:

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

Lacan does not get into detail about why these concepts are placed in these boxes. Perhaps he will return to this next semester [we are now finishing the first semester for this seminar]. Recall that the chart organizes, properly, the following Freudian terms: inhibition, symptom, anxiety. We also know that the chart runs more difficult as we move from left to right and more “movement” occurs as we move from top to bottom. Finally, we know, from the last class on this topic, that emotion, turmoil, impediment, and embarrassment are situated properly in the chart.

Acting-Out, if we deduce things properly, occurs as a symptom, or impediment, which is more difficult than turmoil but less difficult than anxiety. It is also more of a “movement” than a symptom and an impediment. Finally, the passage à l’acte is a quite “difficult” form of symptom. There is too much difficulty in embarrassment precisely because it is difficulty without movement. It is castration itself. For turmoil, there is too much movement but too little difficulty.

There is a jump here which I can not account for – Lacan begins to discuss the paradoxical nature of ‘having’ or ‘not having’ the phallus. Little Hans, claims Lacan, was as much of a logician as Aristotle because he claimed that all animate beings have a phallus. This is strange because, as we know, mom doesn’t have a phallus. The next step is thus: even those who do not have a phallus have a phallus. This must mean that there are different phalli in question.

And then there is another jump: in Ecclesiastes, we learn that God commands us to enjoy. Lacan thereby distinguishes the God of the Jews from the God of Plato and Aristotle. The latter described God as an unmoved mover, a universal mover, who is the sovereign Good. The God of the Jews, on the other hand, is a God that one can speak to, and that one can receive a demand from, and who, moreover, demands that you enjoy. Lacan does something counter-intuitive here and argues that it is God’s commandment to have his chosen followers circumcised that leads to a source of enjoyment. Here, there are instructions on how to enjoy which involve isolating and cutting our object. Afterall, Lacan claims that we can not doubt the elegant result of circumcision. Aesthetically speaking, for Lacan, it is not even a question: the circumcised penis is more enjoyable to look at.


But circumcision relates also to circumscription – it involves circumscribing the object through the function of the cut. The cut, as the source of anxiety, is itself the route of enjoyment. And so God demands an offering, an isolated object, which is circumscribed, and, we enjoy giving this object up to him. We can therefore see the first formulation of a relationship between desire and the law.

The second formulation: desire and law are one and the same barrier which bar our access to das Ding. This is why, for example, Freud, when locating the origin of the law, traces it back to the desire of the father.

Over all, this class continued the major theme of anxiety as the object of enjoyment in the drive. I’ve managed to figure out why the cut is the source of enjoyment, relate it to the various rings of the traditional erogenous zones, and locate the object a, as void, as enjoyment – the enjoyment of anxiety itself. I’m sure I made some mistakes along the way, and perhaps drew some poor conclusions. It is all I can do at this point, if progress is to be made.


Blog at

Up ↑