I have not yet dropped off of the stage. I should admit that this week’s class brought me to the edge of the stage. I was pressed not only for time and energy – key resources the system needs in order to function – but also by acknowledging the depths waiting beneath the thin trap door which separates me and the stage from the boundless depths of anxiety.
As some of you know, I have an eating disorder as well as a panic disorder. I do not think that it is for nothing that these are two types of anxiety-disorders. They are related – they are not separate puzzles to be solved. However, regarding the latter, it has been quite some time since I’ve had an attack. I came close to falling off of the stage last year while contemplating my fate on the toilet, holding back what later turned out to be dizzying sickness. Yet the intensity of the panic has retreated, there are signs that the anxiety has moved to back stage.
In any case, what we are all dealing with here, in our own way, is the object a. But we are also dealing with this phenomenon Lacan names the passage a l’Acte. It would be crucial to distinguish between the passage a l’Acte and acting-out. As we shall see, these are not mutually exclusive categories but neither are they describing the same phenomenon. To get to this point, to the point of being capable of articulating the difference between the two concepts, we must return to our discussion of the object a, the subject, and the big Other. If we return to the “long division” we note that the a is the remainder of the subject’s relation to the big Other. There is something hollowed out of the Other (noted by the crossed out O) by the subject, and this occurs in the field of the Other (left column) to give us the remainder a.
Lacan returns to his “zeros” – this is a topic that has remained obscure for me since the second class. It is reassuring to see that Lacan has not forgotten about this point, however things have not gotten much clearer for me. The new chart has a zero at the end:
So, at the origin of the dialect between subject and Other there is the Other as such – the capital A. And then there is the top right, the subject. This is a “hypothetical” point of departure for the subject. Lacan is not interested in origins, as we have seen, because psychoanalysis is ultimately synchronic and not diachronic. We know that, at least from the clinical point of view, the barred-subject ($) is all we ever really have access to, and that this is because the barred-subject is the subject of and within language. The barred-subject is the subject marked by the signifier within the field of the Other (A). We can understand this very simply – even if this is not entirely correct – using Sartre’s logic, here adopted via Bob Black: “names name me not”. As subjects we are all named, designated, understood by others, author-ized, and so on – and yet we also know that these names do not entirely get to the root of who we are, what our desires are, and so on. So something is missing from these names, something we can not articulated in language. Similarly, the Other, the signifier for example, is something like a guarantee for meaning, for naming, designating, us. And yet we find that this is a guarantee that has not bases – something is missing from the field of the Other in the column of the Subject.
Okay, all of this – the long division – gives us a foundation of sorts for understanding the two concepts that matter for today: passage a l’Acte and acting-out.
I will point out immediately that dropping off of the stage is another way of writing passage a l’Acte. There are two main ways to drop off the stage: you can be pushed or you can fling yourself, as Deleuze did. What did Deleuze do? In The Independent, Deleuze’s Obituary reads:
Deleuze shortly before his death – he committed suicide by throwing himself from his flat in Paris – recorded one of the Arte Channel’s most fascinating philosophical programmes, Abecedaire (“Alphabet”), in which he introduced a subject starting with a letter of the alphabet. “A” was for “animal”, “G” for “gauche” (left-wing), and B was for “boisson” (drink). The “S” for “suicide” has yet to be broadcast.
There are two things that stand out for me: first, Deleuze, like Freud’s patient from the case of the homosexual woman, jumped over a rim. In this case, Deleuze jumped through that rim we call a window. Incidentally, the word “window” has its basis in vindauga which means the wind on the eye. I suspect that Deleuze felt a great deal of wind on his eyes when he exited the stage and flew into the world. The word window also means “eye hole”, and so we can not escape from a discussion of this rim that surrounds the eyes or any of the other essential zones of enjoyment in the body.
There is a second thing that remains to be addressed in Deleuze’s suicide: the letter S which, according to the obituary, has not yet been broadcast. S is the for Suicide, but it is a special type of suicide – we are not dealing with the S of the passage a l’Acte but rather the S of the primordial, perhaps even mythical, subject (at the top right of the “long division” above). Before the drop, then, Deleuze’s S was unable to situate itself in the field of the Other. We shall see the significance of this momentarily.
All of this concerns the drop of the subject. There is another drop which happens on behalf of the Other, the analyst. Freud, for example, dropped the homosexual woman when he felt that the negative transference was too strong. He did this, Lacan claims, because he sensed that she was going to drop herself. So: the analyst drops and the analysand drops. These are variations on the passage a l’Acte.
We’ve seen these two terms before (passage a l’Acte and acting-out):
|Emotion||Symptom||Passage à l’Acte|
You can see that the passage a l’Acte is just beneath embarrassment, where the subject is revealed as barred. But it also occurs with great emotion, when there is a disorder of movement. We are now learning that we can read the chart according to columns and rows and in relation to other terms within those columns and rows (and not just in relation to the axis of “movement” and the axis of “difficulty”). When the subject is on the stage, embarrassed and emotional, he rushes and “topples off of the stage” and out of the scene. This is the structure of the passage a l’Acte. This is what happened when the female homosexual jumped over the barrier – no, the rim – separating her from the train tracks. This is also what happened when she felt embarrassed and slapped Freud.
All of these are signals that something has changed for the analysand, that s/he is on a new track. All of this concerns the passage a l’Acte. But what about acting-out, which, as we can see, occurs in a different register (in a different column and row). We can deduce that acting-out occurs when there is more movement but less difficulty than the passage a l’Acte., when there is turmoil and impediments. As we’ve seen, Lacan relates the passage a l’Acte to fugue, which means “to flee”, or, a period of the loss of an awareness of one’s identity along with a flight from the environment/stage. Interestingly, it is also associated, claims Lacan, with forms of hysteria.
The hysteric, we know from formulae Lacan develops in later seminars, is the one who goes in search of something (never satisfied by any of her discoveries). This is what makes the hysteric jump off of the stage: “[she] goes into the pure world in search of something that’s been rejected and refused everywhere.” You can see why it was important for Lacan to distinguish, from the very beginning, between the stage and the world. We have some formulas (these should not be thought as hard formulas):
world is where the real bears down
Stage is place of the Other, where the subject has been constituted
Whereas the passage a l’Acte is a step directly into anxiety, acting-out is an avoidance of anxiety.
Recall that anxiety is a signal. Freud seems to indicate that anxiety is a signal that arises within the ego. But which ego? Within this class, Lacan has distinguished between the ego-ideal and the ideal-ego, and even the moi. If the signal of anxiety occurs in the ego then it must, Lacan thinks, be somewhere within the locus of the ideal-ego. In the mirror schema, the ideal-ego is the x:
The x, the minus-phi, is the place of anxiety. It is the absence of an image in the mirror. This absence is necessarily a rim phenomenon because it occurs, as we have said, within the image and therefore within the imaginary. This is why I’ve been using my own phraseology by stating that it is bracketed. We can see this easily some of the mirror schemas (and indeed in the graph of desire) as i(a). The object a is bracketed by the i, or image. Indeed, the brackets even look like a rim. Deleuze and the young homosexual woman jumped into the trap-door, into the brackets, through the rim, and, if you like, down the rabbit hole. We are permitted to explore this concept of the rim because Freud himself stated that the ego is a surface projection which is constituted through a series of identifications with certain objects.
We are approaching something significant here, we can sense it, but we can’t yet put our finger on what it is. Lacan takes a leap of his own: there is a relationship between identification and love, between being and having. And this somehow relates to the object within the rim, the object of the rim, the object a. The object a can be an object of identification – this is what we’ve been pursuing quite a bit in the previous classes – but it can also be an object of love. The hysteric, we know, constitutes the a into an instrument of love, taking advantage of the formula: to love is to love with what one hasn’t got. The a is the cause of desire (we discussed this in the last class), and it is a cause which is lost. We don’t have it anymore, we are missing the a.
Well, one of the ways to re-find the lost object a is through identification: you can identify with it, you can be the object a. But we never truly have the lost object a. Freud called this type of identification regression. When the analysand is regressing he or she makes object a into an instrument. The object a is what one makes use of as an instrument of being. With the object a one can have or not have. I’m not entirely sure I have this part nailed down – so please correct me if I’m not being as precise as I should.
But now we have the additional claim, a claim not really demonstrated in the mirror schema: before the i(a) of the mirror stage, there is a disorder of objects (in the plural) a. There are many objects. I’m somewhat surprised by this claim – we are talking about a multiplicity of objects – a multiplicity of objects in the world perhaps, off of the stage. So, when we discuss the multiplicity of objects (multiple a) we are not implying that one lacks touch with the outside world, with reality, but rather, and more precisely, we mean that one lacks oneself. This is an important point because we often say, when dealing with schizophrenics or psychotics, that they lack grounding in reality. The point, Lacan claims, is that they are too grounded in reality, in the world – they touch it in ways that the rest of us normal neurotics can not.
When we discuss the fragmented body of schizophrenics what we are really going on about is the intrusion of reality for schizophrenics – they are off of the stage, prior to the emergence of the i(a), specular image, ideal-ego. In other words, the object a has not yet been bracketed by the i, image, and so, in its place, is the world of objects without remainder.
Here, finally, we get the description of the object a as remainder that is so crucial for contemporary Lacanian political thought. We see it quite notably in the work of Slavoj Zizek and Alenka Zupancic, and others. However, what they miss, it seems to me, is the dimension of objects prior to bracketting, prior to the specular image.
In any case, Freud claims that anxiety is a rim phenomenon. We can now approach a better understanding of this claim: it is a signal produced at the limit of the ego, the limit being marked by parentheses, at the limit of the i, within the brackets, at the beginning of the brackets, in the a. But Freud also noted that anxiety has its source in something that comes before the emergence of the specular image, and perhaps even before birth. Lacan comes to terms with this by stating that he must mean before the constitution of the ego. This gives credibility to our previous claim, does it not? Anxiety, which is signaled by the object a, exists before there is even a signal, before a signal can arises within the ego, and so it occurs within the anxiety of objects.
We can think about this further, then. Anxiety can also occur through depersonalization, through the absolute fragmentation of the body, and, more specifically, through the schizophrenic experience – the psychotic episode – that dissolves of the image which wraps around, which provides the rim, for the object a signal of anxiety. Depersonalization is therefore outside of the ego, and not wrapped up within it like the trap door. I want to go back to my experiences with panic disorder. When I took an “attack” I often described it as “depersonalization”. This was because I was taught in my clinical psychology courses to phrase it this way so that I could get the medicine I needed to end the attack. However, it now occurs to me that what I felt was not necessarily depersonalization. It is much more subtle: it was a questioning of my mental sanity. I’ll need to think on it further.
When I took one of my biggest panic attacks I remember screaming out for the doctor as he left the room. What could this mean? This meant that I was screaming out for somebody in the know, somebody who could provide some security, somebody who could hold everything together for me. This certainly seems like depersonalization to me. However, it also seemed to me that my problem was precisely the longing for control over my mental body. I wanted it all to hold together. I remember exploring some delusional thoughts (I was, after all, high on marijuana): if, within this world, I would increase my heart beat, kill myself, or bring myself to the edge of the stage, I would, within my other, my secure world, awaken out of the comma, or, at the least, return to the security of the stable easy life. Here, it seemed to me that my system induced panic precisely to return to security, to return to the stage.
For Lacan, depersonalization is a question of distance. He notes that we need to achieve a distance from the mirror in order to properly see the images. It is therefore a distance from the self so that we can establish a self in the first place. Getting too close to the image is not going to work for us – that implies erasing the self. So, it is by means of establishing distance that the self can be better established. This brings to mind Descartes’ method. Is it not the case that by negating the entire world, by negating the intrusions of the world of extension and bodies, that the self, as the nothing that it is, can more firmly establish itself as the nothing that it is? Descartes calls for depersonalization, he asks us to drop off of the stage in search of the object a, and then he asks us to return to the stage, changed. And it is by being changed by the world that we can present our findings to the rest of the world: we went down the rabbit hole, and we made it all the way back. I’m not sure. It is a difficult question, a difficult problem, I can not be sure that I’m making the right moves with my argument.
What we can be sure about is Lacan’s provocative argument: objects are not invasive during psychosis, rather objects are not invasive enough. The problem is not the intrusion of reality, although this is certainly what happens, but rather the fact that these objects, which seem foreign and new to the subject, can not be integrated into the ego, onto the stage. Depersonalization happens when we can no longer recognize ourselves in the mirror, when we can no longer find the security of the mirror, the doctor of the world. When our condition is not acknowledged by the doctor, by the mirror, we can not understand ourselves. And so this was Descartes’ error perhaps: he can not negate the body, extension, and so on – he needs some measure of his body precisely to affirm the nothingness that he is.
We should return for a moment to Lacan’s point regarding Freud’s search for a source of anxiety before birth. Lacan does not want us to get hung up on this quest for origins. We need to discuss things in a more formulaic and synchronic dimension: we need to discuss the “cut”. To be sure, by “cut” Lacan does not mean to bring to mind the cut which separates the mother from the child. Rather, Lacan means the object a as the cut, as the intrusion into the specular image of the mother in the first place. The first a is a bundle of objects, enveloped, bracketed. We’ve seen this in the cross-cap – the cross-cap in fact is a lot like the body cavity which holds the fetus. If you think about it, the cross-cap is perfectly this cavity – there is an inside-outside and outside-inside topology here: something must be transmitted from the inside-out and something must be transmitted from the outside-in, otherwise no waste or food can pass through and keep the fetus alive.
At this point, it seems like we are going off of our track a little bit. We need to return to the current track concerning acting-out. What is the relationship between the object a and acting-out? We know that suicide – something I contemplated a decade ago when I had a serious panic attack – is a form of the passage a l’Acte. But the affair that the homosexual woman has is clearly a form of acting-out. We know that when Dora slapped Freud there was a passage a l’Acte but when she was acting strange in her household, this is clearly acting-out.
If the passage a l’Acte is a jumping off of the stage then acting-out is standing on the stage, erect, in performance costumes, on display. We can see the relation that the subject has to the big Other on the stage – the stage is the place of the big Other, the mirror, the doctor, the analyst – inasmuch as the subject wants to make a show of her symptom. What is put on display when one is acting-out? It is the symptom – what is put on show is something other than what is put on show. This is a crucial point. We know that when teenagers – if I may be permitted this – who dye their hair and cut it into a mohawk are putting themselves on show, in the same way as a peacock erects the feathers to attract a mate, are putting on a show. What we all know is that what these people are putting on show is something other than what they are showing.
When one is acting-out, putting on a performance, putting themselves on display, they are transforming themselves into lovers. They transform themselves into somebody who should be loved for having something – a costume, something mysterious perhaps. This was a term we discussed earlier. To love is to give what one hasn’t got, and what one hasn’t got is an explanation for one’s acting-out. So the subject who acts-out is one who makes believe that she’s got what she hasn’t got. She shows that she’s got the object of desire. This is why Lacan names it monstration, because it is showing. What these subjects are really showing is that which is cut off from them, the lost object, object a.
The object a is also a bit like the “pound of flesh”. We first heard this in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a loan shark, demands a “pound of flesh” as payment for Antonio’s default loan. It so happens that Shylock is Jewish, and Lacan notes, curiously, that the Jewish faith demands, among all followers, that they sacrifice another type of “pound of flesh”. The pound of flesh is that which we give which pays off our debts. More precisely, the pound of flesh is the cut off of the penis to give it that distinguishing badge of the ‘nothing’ which puts on show the commitment of followers of a particular creed.
Ernst Kris once described a patient of his who claimed to not be a plagiarist (note: this was fully discussed in Lacan’s 1958 paper “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power”). Lacan, in another essay, wrote:
[This case] concerns a subject inhibited in his intellectual life and particularly incapable of completing his research by publishing it – this is because of an impulse to plagiarise, which, he seems unable to master. […] In short, having assured himself that his patient is not a plagiarist when he thinks he is, he sets out to show him that he wants to be one in order to prevent himself from really being one. […] [The patient] day-dreaming for a moment, replies that for some time, on leaving the session, he has wandered along a street full of attractive little restaurants, scutinising the menus in search of his favorite dish, fresh brains.
Lacan links this statement – “in search of his favorite dish, fresh brains” – on the part of Kris’s patient, with acting-out. It is a confession of the symptom hidden in plain sight on the stage of his speech. It is a hint that there is something else going on, without stating openly what that something else is: as Lacan put it in that 1958 paper, “it is a hint; a transitory symptom no doubt, but it warns the analyst: you’ve got it wrong.” So Lacan claims that the crucial thing to be taken from this patient from his acting-out is not that he does not steal, that he does not plagiarize, but rather that he steals the nothing itself – in the same way, I should add for my own case, that the anorexic eats the nothing. I will not get into what this means because Lacan does not want to get distracted by this point (eating the nothing – of course, it would be important for me to follow this thread and by all accounts I have been).
So acting-out consists of speech on the stage which essentially states the following, as Lacan put it: “Everything you say is true, only it leaves the question unscathed. There are still the fresh brains. To make a point of it, I’m going to eat some right afterwards so that I can tell you about it in the next session.”
Acting-out is close to the symptom. And we should be cautious about interpreting this symptom. Lacan notes that this is especially the case “in analytic practice and analytic theory alike.” You can see here that Lacan is making a commentary on his own style of teaching psychoanalytic theory. Sometimes interpretation leaves the analysand desiring more fresh brains elsewhere on the street. Acting-out calls for interpretation. But the symptom does not call for interpretation. Acting-out occurs on the stage, as an appeal to the big Other, but the symptom does not make such appeals. The symptom hides, deceives. The symptom is jouissance and it has absolutely no need of the big Other – it is sufficient onto itself. The symptom, and its jouissance, is absolutely distinguished from desire.
Acting-out, then, occurs within the transference. It is a “wild” form of transference. Lacan provides us with something like a formula:
transference without analysis is acting out
acting-out without analysis is transference
The first formula seems to imply that all transference requires analysis otherwise it is simply a form of acting-out. And yet the second formula seems to imply that acting-out without analysis is pure transference. The second formula gives us a ground to orient ourselves as analysts and the first seems to rob of us ground, it seems to imply that transference without analysis results in the impotence of acting-out. So, if we are going to include analysis in the equation then we will need to know how to domesticate it. This is the question Lacan now turns to: how do we properly domesticate the transference within analysis? We know that it exists, in a sort of pure form, via acting-out. Acting-out screams for interpretation, this is what we mean when we say that it exists on the stage for the Other.
Lacan cites another analyst who claims that there are three ways to respond to acting-out: (1) interpretation, (2) prohibition, and (3) strengthening of the ego.
(1) Interpretation: We already discussed this point. We can see that acting-out is a form of demanding attention in the form of interpretation from the big Other, from the doctor. But the problem, as we have seen, is that interpretation does not hit the remainder, the object a. We interpret but we do not hit anxiety – interpretation is a way of avoiding anxiety. Lacan calls this method of dealing with acting-out as a “dead-end”.
(2) Prohibition: The problem with prohibition is that we are already doing it – so the call for prohibition (“Don’t act out in this room!”) already exists in a dramatic form. For example, patients are often instructed not to make any essential life decisions as a result of analysis. Another example: there are life/health insurance plans that structure the clinical setting. Moreover, we often come to analysis, as analysts, with a great deal of baggage: we want them to confide in us, to like us, to remain on the stage, and to remain on the stage so that our production can get paid. Prohibition even seems to make impossible a great deal of transference, transference which we require for analysis to have any success.
(3) Strengthening the Ego: this is something that Lacan has been up against for a long time. We know that Lacan has many critical remarks about this approach. And so Lacan does not want to talk about it here, except to state that things are a more obscure than they seem. I hope that I am not reading too much into his work here, but it seems to me that Lacan is suggesting that – contrary to our initial impressions – it is sometimes important to strengthen the ego, and, especially when we are dealing with underlying psychosis.