Lacan wants to continue to think about the relation between the obsessional’s desire and anxiety. He begins by returning to the first chart he proposed in this seminar series, a chart developed by ‘staggering’ the terms from Freud’s Inhibition, Symptom, Anxiety.

Inhibition (the act) Impediment (not being able) Embarrassment
Emotion (not knowing) Symptom Passage a l’acte
Turmoil (Emoi / poised outward) Acting-Out Anxiety

Lacan claims that it may have been impossible for us to figure out the entire chart by ourselves. He didn’t provide us with everything we needed. He seems to want to fill in the blanks a bit here. But he won’t do so in any clean or organized way.

He begins by noting that the emoi of turmoil is quite distinct from that which precedes it on the vertical axis, namely emotion. Emotion, from the Latin emovere means “to move out[ward]” and this is what Lacan first picks up on. So we are dealing with a certain type of outward “movement”. Recall that the vertical axis of the chart indicates movement, movement which increases as one moves to the base of the chart. But emoi from turmoil relates to something that is “poised outside” in the first place. I believe that we are supposed to get the sense that emoi is about the ego ideal. The ego ideal is poised outside isn’t it? It is a view of oneself from the outside, from the side of the big Other. This is why emoi sounds like et moi – “and me?” – since it is fundamentally about the me, the ego. Lacan for some reason claims that we are dealing with a pun – but isn’t it the case that this is a homophony?  The emoi is beside the ego, beside oneself. 

So, when we are dealing with turmoil we are necessarily dealing with the object a in its relation to anxiety from the place of desire. Turmoil is one way of moving outward to that place where anxiety itself resides – in the lack of the Other which is, in the case of the obsessional, at the lack in the ego ideal itself.

Anxiety is not lined to turmoil it is rather what determines it. Lacan states this because it is important for us to realize that anxiety exists at all levels. Well, this is my reading. Either it exists at all levels or else it exists especially, in exposed form, on that axis – whether vertical or horizontal – on which the category is placed (thus connecting turmoil, acting-out, passage a l’acte, and embarrassment). Anxiety pre-exists all relations to the object cause of desire, object a, inasmuch as anxiety is hat is uncovered at certain modes of the treatment. It is probably linked to cause because there are various ways of filling in the cause, of removing the gap that separates cause from effect and result. Yet, turmoil also can not really get a hold of the cause of desire precisely because anxiety stands in the way. So, for example, when we look at the Wolf Man’s turmoil, as an obsessional, we can see it as anal turmoil.

We can see the way obsession is linked at the anal stage here. It is because in some way obsession brings object a into the picture in its first form through the anal stage. For the obsessional, it is when the field of the Other splits open, when anxiety suddenly appears there, that trauma occurs – a trauma which is none other than turmoil. And this is where the trauma occurred for the Wolf Man, in the primal scene. But we need to be sure to be very precise here when we describe the opening up of anxiety from the place of the Other, of the primal scene for example. This has nothing at all to do with the Other qua Other – the absolute Other, the mother for example. It has to do with the Other as the part of the subject himself. This is very important. For example, some obsessionals, who are staging the drama of the Other, of the ideal ego, will most likely post many things on facebook, on their blog, will google their own name, will reread their sent emails from their sent folder. Daniel Tutt wrote on his twitter feed that it is when one reads their own sent mail from the sent folder itself that they are viewing themselves from the frame of the big Other. This is no doubt obsessional behavior. But you can see how it is connected to the subject himself, and how the subject views himself from the position of the Other, from the gaze of the Other. It is the same with the breast or nipple: during breastfeeding, claims Lacan, the breast is merely stuck onto the mother, stuck onto the mother because it is in all actuality a part of the individual who is being fed. Objects are always more than just objects, they are the subject himself.

This helps us to understand how it is that the object a for the obsessional can be that which he separates from himself in order to constitute an identity for himself. We have to be careful here because it can be easy to think about the as something that is a result, or an effect, inasmuch as it is something that the obsessional casts off from himself. Rather, it is the very cause of his desire – the obsessional desires because he doesn’t know what to do with this part that he casts off from himself.

In the previous class we discussed that the obsessional subject, at the anal stage, holds back. It is in the holding back that desire is situated as cause. The desire to hold back during potty training reaches a more general level for the obsessional who holds back from much in life. We see this in the practice of middle age males who sometimes find more pleasure in holding back on their orgasm, sometimes for many hours. This is the level of inhibition, above. Inhibition means quite obviously, to hold back. It is something like a defense, one holds back to keep from losing the Other’s recognition.

At this point, Lacan introduces something quite interesting. Inhibition is what introduces another desire into the picture, a desire at another level. One can imagine that desires are here stacked like cups on top of one another, in layers. The layered desire conceals the other desire behind itself, through inhibition.

I’m not sure why, but it is at this stage that Lacan introduces the concept of the act. The act is at the locus of inhibition – somehow, and for some reason which I can not discern. Yet to act means to go against inhibition, it means to cease evadingor layering, desire and to accept the presence of the a, to no longer cast it off.

you can not act while evading the presence of object a

Whenever we act we are always leaving the gap from the cause of desire there where it stands. We do not fill it in, and we do not layer onto it another top-level desire. The gap of desire is always written in an act. Thus, there where inhibition sets in the obsessional must make the gap itself felt. This sounds easy enough for clinicians to figure out and yet the obsessional always seems to make this process difficult. There are always so many defenses in obsession, so many stories, so many displacements. The layered desire is always introduced because the obsessional wants to hold back on his original desire, on his original object – excrement. So:

for the obsessional: there is desire behind desire

Desire thus operates as a defense against desire within obsession. At the top level, where there is little movement and little difficulty, there is the possibility for the act. There where movement remains little, and difficulty increases, we have the impediment. An impediment is quite simply the obsessional’s not being able. The obsessional is not able to hold back, because he is not there in being. This is why compulsions set in, it is because he cannot hold himself back. 

Emotion is the result of not knowing. We know very well that emotion is often the result of not knowing. I’m going to give an example from something I’ve witnessed recently in my life as an academic. I write this and hope to keep the person’s name confidential, as well as his identity – I am fairly confident that nobody from my university will read this post. There was a symposium wherein upper year PhD students were invited to present their work to professors and students. One student presented his research and was met by a critical response from a professor who meant a lot to him. The student defended his research, almost to the point of inhibition. Yet, he remained stuck at emotion. The truth is that he didn’t know how to respond to the critique – I’m not sure any of us would have been able to respond. In place of a response, the student moved into a discussion about why the research was so important to him. He said that it was so important because he finds it difficult to critique the subjects of his research. He was fighting tears and found himself vocalizing his emotion, stating that he wants to cry when he thinks about it. This, I believe, was displaced emotion.

Emotion has to do with not knowing, and not knowing when confronted with a task – when the subject does not know how to respond. Rather than impeding himself he lets himself go into emotion. And to go into the emotion response, claims Lacan, is to find the path toward the primal trace again. Recall that the obsessional means to efface the trace, and so emotion is a way of effacing the trace by reconstituting it. The obsession aims to locate the authentic cause of everything, it is an impossible search, and so the search turns around and around without amounting to much. The trouble is that by reconstituting the trace, the object a, by making discovery impossible, the obsessional approaches the possibility of acting-out. He will find that anxiety keeps emerging, keeps poking its head, and, moreover, that is keeps escalating. One hopes that this doesn’t bring the obsessional to passage a l’acte or to embarrassment.

The obsessional sometimes prefers to not even look into any of this. Love for him is an exalted bond. He expects a certain image of himself to be loved, an image which he gives as a divine gift to the Other. The obsessional removes the distance from the cause of desire by chaining himself to the image of himself, to ego ideal. This is a distance between himself and himself, between himself and that kernel of the Other within himself.


Blog at

Up ↑