In previous classes I noted that I sensed something about woman’s jouissance was in the air. It seemed to me that Lacan kept rubbing up against the question of sex when discussing the so-called table of long division. Indeed, he claimed, in passing, that the table of long-division allows for “rotations” to occur. What are these rotations? By rotations – consisting of 90 degrees, as he said – did he mean to imply the same logic of rotations we find in seminar 17 (7 years later). I think that by rotations Lacan meant that one can read the chart across many different axes, in a layered or multi-dimensional way. For example, in the last class I started reading the chart backwards (because we are always at the level of desire at the beginning, at $). No doubt, this layered way of reading a chart or table can also be found in his inhibition, symptom, anxiety chart, but the possibilities do not seem as strong. This is probably because we are dealing with Freudian concepts – and, more specifically, we are dealing with concepts that Lacan has not spent a lot of time obscuring. Thus, things are different with the table of long division, if only because we are dealing with very Lacanian concepts (object a, barred-subject, barred-Other, etc). Another point of difference between the table and the chart is that the chart seems to discuss, principally, affective states of the analysand within the transference. It seems as though the chart deals with the level of movement or difficulty in relation to anxiety. However, in the table we can combine transference and fantasy with jouissance, that is, with being itself.

With the current table of long division (which is really no longer about division, since the object a is now in the middle) we can begin to think about the differences between the sexes. So lets return to the table: 

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

We’ve noted that the top two positions, the top two relations, the Subject and the Other, are mythical positions. Indeed, the relation between them is mythical. The Subject (and also the Other) is never autonomous, complete unto itself, outside of the split of the signifier, $. We always begin from desire, from $. We have also claimed that the field of desire always substitutes the mythical A for object a. This is why the matheme for fantasy is $<>a. It is because the is what bars the subject of the signifier from the mythical subject of jouissance. But now we are thinking about this table from the position of the two neurotic structures of man and woman. This is where things begin to change a little bit.

Now I want to highlight Lacan’s point about women. 

Woman is superior in the field of jouissance

Superior to whom? To man. This means that woman begins with much more access to jouissance  than man because she is less bound up, less ‘knotted’, by her desire than man. So the fantasy $<>a is a bit different here. If the man is inextricably knotted into the signifier – while discussing the last class I wrote that the subject of the signifier is not cut and therefore outside of the signifier but rather cut into the signifier to signifier relation itself. All men have to pass through the castration complex, the minus-phi we discussed in previous classes, all men are cut into the signifier to signifier relation. This sounds to me like a formula:

All men must pass through the castration complex

This formula remains essentially the same for 10 more years, at which time it reappears in Lacan’s well known seminar on feminine sexuation. 10 years from now Lacan will note the logical operators at play in this formula (the “universal quantifier” here denoted by the phrase “All men must pass….” and the “phallic function”, or the “castration complex”, which is minus-phi here, but becomes phi of “x” later). The point is that no men are excluded from castration. All men, universally, are submitted to the signifier to signifier relation. We can also see the extent to which the concept of lack is hard-linked to the castration complex here. It should be said that lack is the minus-phi form of castration, a castration which, as I noted in the last class, occurs in the visual field. After being implicated into the 180 degree turnSo, it is the minus-phi or the castration complex which man passes through in his relation to the Other.

Woman also has some relation to the desire of the Other. However, her desire is configured in a different way. Lacan truly privileges this different configuration. Indeed, it would be a challenge not to see the fact that Lacan privileges the configuration of woman’s desire and jouissance over man’s. Lacan even claims that woman has more freedom precisely because she is not so fixed on the relation to the Other. Conversely, man seems to impose limitations upon himself in his relation to the Other. In a sense, he seems to not allow himself to be open to his relation to the Other. At this point Lacan goes off on a wild line of thought that is difficult to follow because it is so almost poetic in its delivery. He seems to claim that man dreams of fucking the real, of putting holes into the real. He likens this to finger-fucking the sand. Moreover, he claims that this, for Freud, was a fantasy of returning to the mother’s womb – the fantasy of impotent men. This goes against my initial understanding: man fucks to fill in holes. But Lacan seems to be claiming that man fucks to produce holes, to produce lack. It is not that he wants to be with the lack but rather that he wants to produce the Other as lacking. I’m not sure this makes sense because the real is never lacking. At this point I am thoroughly confused.

The real is not always full, even if it is never lacking. These are two different things. Lack, recall, has to do with castration – and so that within the real is without castration. We can thereby deduce that woman, who has her place in the real, is to some extent without castration. I hope I am interpreting this next part right, I can not be sure: Lacan claims that a pot can be defined, its identity can be reduced, to the void around which the pot is formed. To construct a vase is to shape the void itself. In this way, by shaping the void itself, one can ensure an identity for oneself. And perhaps this is what man does – he shapes himself into the phallic object by way of the void itself. This will be his identity and this identity will be truly distinct. Recall John Cage’s thoughts about the distinctiveness of coke bottles:

John Cage says:

There is a remark by Marcel Duchamp which I love very much. He states it as a goal. To reach the impossibility of transferring from one like image to another the memory in print, we don’t have to have tradition if we somehow free ourself [Cage’s own slip] from our memories. Then each thing that we see is new, it is as though we have become tourists and that we’re living in countries that were [another slip] very exciting because we don’t know them. […] If I look at a Coca Cola bottle and then look at another Coca Cola bottle, I want to forget the first Coca Cola bottle. In order to see the second Coca Cola bottle as being original, and it is original, because it is in a different position in space and time, and light is shining on it differently. So that no two Coca Cola bottles are the same.

Here, we can see that Cage has secured an identity for himself through the unique Coca Cola bottle. He has molded the void into something absolutely distinct, unique (the catchword of egoists), something which can stand there in the sun light, on the stage, without ever being reduced to anything else. John Cage becomes a human precisely by taking the void and barring it, filling it in with all that light, all that space and time, so that it can be different from any other Coca Cola bottle that stands near it. Perhaps we could even claim that John Cage is here reliving the castration complex.

Lacan seems quite taken by the question of woman’s relation to desire and to jouissance. He spends a considerable amount of time on this question. He even seems to use woman’s desire to orient his discussion of man’s desire. For the woman, nothing is lacking. If man shapes himself out of the void then woman is herself within the void. Here, this phrasing “nothing is lacking” should strike us as being the exact same way that Lacan describes the real. Nothing is lacking in the real. We can see, then, that the woman is closer to the real insofar as nothing is lacking for her and, moreover, this is what gives her a privileged access to jouissance. In a strange sort of way, she can inhabit the top row of the table of long division – even if her fantasy begins from the bottom ($) up (a) as $<>a.

Man, on the other hand, is not able to be. Lacan puts this different: not being able. But I prefer my phrasing because it better encapsulates what is at stake, namely, being – man is not able to be, not able to access jouissance or the real. Lacan calls our attention to the biblical myth of Adam:

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

In this account, the rib is something like a lost object. Clearly, all men have ribs. Today, the missing rib is itself missing. For man, woman is fashioned out of the missing rib, the missing object – which is indeed still missing, since, we can not find from which rib woman was made. The point is that, at the level of reality, the rib was never missing at all.

But woman tempts the Other because she is interested in the Other’s desire. Man is only ever interested in his own ribs, out of which he constructs woman. If man fantasizes about woman then it is always a masochistic woman in the fantasy: a woman who inflicts self-harm. This is the man’s only way of sustaining desire, covering over anxiety. Now we approach two formulas:

man, imposture

woman, masquerade

Man always postures at being. He pretends at being something. He postures. Woman, on the other hand, partakes in a game of pretend. We can see that pretending is closer to knowing about the game than posturing. If I could put it like this, imposture seems more like a defense, it involves stronger will, it is a more tense situation. Masquerade is always experienced as such. It is closer to acting-out, closer to putting on a performance and being fully aware of the game. Woman therefore detests being condescended to, because she is aware that it is all a game, a pretense. Man, by his very nature, can only exhibit pretense.

Lacan notes three positions:



letting something be seen

You can see that these three positions are different. Lacan wants us tot notice that letting something be seen is entirely different than simply showing or seeing. For man and woman, this is what we are up against: woman lets something be seen, man lets something not be seen.

But what does woman desire? Lacan employs the story of Don Juan. Don Juan is a man “who would lack nothing.” This is what woman desires – put different, a man who has the phallus, who is uncastrated. This is what we can call the pure feminine image. Don Juan effaces the trace, but does this at the price of radical imposture. So, by effacing his trace, rejecting his object of anxiety, he ends up at imposture. The problem is that Don Juan is nothing but a fantasy for woman, he does not provoke anxiety in woman – he comforts them. Don Juan is just doing what he has to do – he is not interested in woman as the object of desire. And yet that is what is at the base of Woman’s being in the world. So, when Don Juan cares about woman as object of desire, anxiety sets in and woman takes flight.


Blog at

Up ↑