NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 21 NOVEMBER 1962

This seminar deals with, among other things, the question of a teaching: what is a teaching, what is the function of a teaching? In the previous class, of 14 November 1962, Lacan stated up front that a teaching is not a discourse. In effect, a teaching and analysis are similar in that the analyst plays at ‘not knowing’. Yet, Lacan is perfectly happy to claim that the analyst knows something (as Lacan puts it, ‘the analyst certainly knows a thing or two’). [It is worth pointing out that when Lacan returns to Sainte-Anne in 1971 he also returns to this question about the knowledge of the analyst.] The problem is not whether or not the teacher or analyst knows something but whether or not he can teach what he knows. There is a necessity here of making-things-understood, a necessity forced upon him by the audience to which he addresses his teaching: psychiatrists, analysts. But, after all, there are more than just analysts in his audience – there are those who expect him to make extra-analytic references (to Hegel, Kierkegaard, and so on).

It is a well-known Lacanian axiom that making-things-understood implies a stumbling block for analysis. And so we return to the problem of anxiety. It is a stumbling block to teach about anxiety precisely because teaching about anxiety through understanding means resolving the anxiety. As soon as you attempt to capture the object of anxiety, it flies away again. So how might a teaching about anxiety be addressed? At this time all we really know is that anxiety is an affect. We’ve discussed what an affect is (and what anxiety is not) in the notes from the last class. Lacan claims that we can make some headway in all of this by ruling out two teaching methodologies on the topic of anxiety and affects: (1) that of the catalogue, and (2) that of the analogue.

The path of the catalogue leads us to the problem of grasping anxiety as our object. Lacan recalls that Saint Thomas Aquinas made use of a division between concupiscent and irascible. I had to look these words up because they are new to me. In Christian theology concupiscent refers to the selfish human desire for an (earthly) object, person, or experience. Aquinas linked this desire to that of the pursuit or avoidance of instincts, and these are associated with joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance. On the other hand, irascible concerns competition and aggression in the instincts, and these are associated with fear, hope, despair, and anger. Aquinas, Lacan notes, suggested that the irascible always gets inserted into the chain of the concupiscent such that the concupiscent stands in as a first relation. Lacan quite likes this position but finds its grounding in the supposition of a Sovereign Good off-putting.

In any case, you can see that the two words simply catalogue various affects. The drawback of this position is that it forces us toward the classification of affects – and, we shall see, this leads to an aporia. Aquinas’ position is like a catalogue. Lacan cited the title of a report by Dr. Rapaport (whose name I am not familiar with – but whose Rapport is well heard) which was published in 1953 titled “On a Psychoanalytic Theory of Affect.” The title reads much more promising than the report itself. The reason for this is because the title hints at offering something new/original. But it does nothing of the sort: the author limits himself to cataloguing the accepted uses of the term (affect) and then his conclusion is that he can not choose one index to stand above the others. Rapaport’s catalogue included: (1) affect as drive discharge, (2) affect as a variation of tension across different phases, and (3) affect as a signal at the level of the ego of a danger coming from elsewhere. The problem with this method – cataloguing, or indexing – and with Rapaport’s rapport, is that it always ends up stopping at a dead end, unable to provide new insight.

The second method, that of analogue, involves ‘rounding up’ or providing analogous accounts. Whereas cataloguing involves indexing all of the possible positions on the topic, the concept of analogue seems to imply a remapping of the same underlying position across may possible independent fields. For example, anxiety could be discussed in terms of biology in one chapter, as a social problem in another, as a cultural mechanism in another, and so on. Lacan claims that the problem with the analogue method is that it ends up as anthropology, and anthropology “entails the greatest number of the most hazardous presuppositions.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that statement – he does not provide any insight about this remark.

Finally, we are at the method championed by Lacan, which he refers to as “the function of the key.” A key unlocks rather than indexes or arranges. Lacan claims that the key is inherent to all authentic teachings whether it is psychoanalytic or not. So what is the key? The key is what permits the signifying function as such to operate – it unlocks the function, and opens the door to meaning. In a way, we could say that it stands above the signifying function. In the same way, the teacher stands above the classroom. The ideal, here, Lacan says, is ‘straight-forwardness of teaching.’ The method of the key is straight-forward because it is simple, singular, and so on.

Lacan adopts another name for this key: unary trait. The unary trait precedes the subject because it precedes the signifying function. It is through the unary trait that subjects are constituted as such. This particular class (21 Nov 1962) does not offer a lot of discussion about the unary trait and this is truly unfortunate. The importance of the unary trait – what makes it essential at the level of identification in hysterical neurosis – is skipped over. Instead, the unary trait is here described in a way that relates very closely to the master signifier and the name-of-the-father. It would be important to eventually distinguish these concepts from one another.

From Saint John 1: “In the beginning was the Word [note the capitalization], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”). Similarly, in the beginning there is the Teacher or the Analyst, who functions as the big Other. And, because the Teacher, as the big Other, is there in the beginning, then she is there before everything we can understand (this is what we mean by the fact that the key is there before the signifying function). If you look once again at the graph of desire you can see the two tracks: the signifying function moves from left to right (bottom track) and the barred subject moves up and backwards through the big Other (A). So, you can see, then, that it is through the big Other (who comes first) that meaning is articulated around the signifying chain.

Completed Graph of Desire

We return to the definition of desire, derived, as such, from hysterical neurotics: ‘man’s desire is the desire of the Other’ [an interesting question to ponder would be: why does Lacan say “man” and not “woman” when referring to desire in this way?] What is the relationship between this formula of desire and Hegel’s? The answer is really not all that important – and yet we shall try to make some understanding of it.

For Hegel the dependence of desire on the one who is Other does not operate according to the unconscious. No doubt, the Other is the one who sees me, but he is also the one who is seen seeing me – and Hegel misses this point. The Other always concerns one’s own desire as that which the Other lacks. For hysterics it is what the Other does not know that provides the impetus for desire as such. And yet we do not see any of this in Hegel’s formula of desire (see below). Thus, the barred-subject, $, is essentially another way of writing the dependence of the subject’s to the Other. Recall that there is a distinction between the (little) other as my semblable (image), and the Other as the locus of the signifier – the key.

Lacan provides four formulae which I will reproduce below:

Formula 1: d(a) : d(O) < a
(Hegel’s Formula)
(begin with object a, “an object a which desires”)
(desire vis-a-vis the desire of the Other who institutes my desire)

Formula 2: d(a) < i(a) : d(Ø)
(Lacan’s Formula)
(begin with object a, “an object a which desires”)
(desire instituted by image-support of desire of the Other, or the ideal-ego vis-a-vis the lack in the Other)

Formula 3: d(x) : d(O) < x
(Kierkegaard’s Formula)

Formula 4:

d(0) < 0 : d(Ø)

d(a) : 0 > d(0)

(Lacan’s Formulae)

The first formula represents Hegel’s model of desire whereby desire is always the desire for a an Other desirer to respond to our appeal or demand. In this model, desire is always a desire for there to be a person who desires. According to Hegel, the subject needs a person who will desire, a person who will respond to her appeal/demand, so that she can be acknowledged. The Other institutes something – designated by a – and this is where there is an impasse: it is precisely through this interaction with the Other that I get acknowledged only as an object. I get exactly what I desire, namely, to be recognized, but I am only recognized as an object. We can’t stand being recognized as objects! The only way out of this sort of acknowledgement, of this objectification, is violence. A fight to the death.

The second formula states that desire is always a desire of the Other. Here, a sort of mediation is permitted (but wasn’t permitted in Hegel’s formula). After the semi-colon there is the symbol for the relation of the desire of the Other. Before the semi-colon there is an image-support of the relation of the desire of the Other. The subject’s desire exists inasmuch as it has an image-support which is equivalent to the desire of the Other. The other is connoted by the barred O (i.e., the Ø) because it’s the Other at the point where he’s characterized as lack. The first formula highlighted the fact Hegel’s conception of desire is too tightly imaginary: “It’s very nice to say that the slave’s servitude is brimming with the whole future right up to absolute knowledge, but politically this means that till the end of time the slave will remain a slave.”

Lacan does not have more to say about the other formulae at this point. So we must attempt to figure them out ourselves for now. We can see that Kierkegaard’s formula is the same as Hegel’s, but with x’s instead of the object of desire. The truth of Hegel’s desire is supposedly articulated in this formula which Lacan provides to account for Kierkegaard’s desire. However, I can not figure out what these x’s mean. Finally, the fourth formulae are Lacan’s own invention. He notes the zeros and claims that he will come back to this – I’ve spent a few moments thinking about the formulae and can not figure it out.

Lacan then moves onto elementary division. You draw a vertical line to demarcate two spaces of operation (left and right). You begin with the big Other, as A, and place it in the left space. The big Other – whom is the locus of the unary trait – is always interacting with the Subject and so we place the subject in the right column. At this point the subject is not yet existent because the interaction with the unary trait has not happened. Upon interaction, the barred-subject is produced as $ – a result of the dependence of his desire on the Other. Of course, this takes a toll out on the Other who, for his part, is also barred. Through this interaction something is left over, something remains: the objet petit a, desire as such. You can see, then, how it is that objet petit a, as desire, is always desire coming from the lack in the Other.

A S
$ Ø
a

One final point: it is with good reason that the $ and the a are situated within the left column (recall, for example, that $<>a is the matheme for fantasy): this is because fantasy is on the side of the Other. And a lacking Other is what stands on the side of the subject as such.

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