NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 27 MARCH 1963

We are now into the fifteenth class of the seminar on anxiety. In the last class Lacan identified man with not being able. What is at stake in this not being able is the imposture of man. Man is not able and so postures at being able. He is not able to be so he postures at being. Thus, he can not access the level of jouissance. He is too tightly bound. This is one characteristic of man. Another is the object of his search. Man is not interested in the Other but rather in the object a, his own object a. In this respect we can say that man is only interested in himself. We know that this is not the case for women because, according to Lacan, they are in search of something else – something that concerns the Other, and, more to the point, something that concerns the Other’s desire. But man is in search of what the Other lacks, namely the object a – what he is as minus-phi.

Women seek out man’s desire. We saw this in Lacan’s earlier discussion of Don Juan. Don Juan is women’s fantasy, according to Lacan. It is not, then, man’s fantasy: man does not fantasize about seducing many women. Rather, Don Juan is the image of man that women want – a misrecognition nonetheless – which consists of a man who has it, and never loses it; Don Juan is a man who is able to have it. This, I think, is what Lacan means when he states that woman wants the object even if she doesn’t have it. She fantasizes about having the object, about having the man, even if she doesn’t have him. This is another way of thinking about penis envy. The woman demands a penis, she wants the object – she wants the object that man himself doesn’t even have. She begins without having – so castration is a secondary occurrence. It is not that she begins with castration. Initially, it is what she doesn’t have, that constitutes her desire.

For man, it is what he is not that begins the point of departure.

woman, doesn’t have 

man, is not

It seems to me that we are dealing with two logics. On the one hand, woman is not in possession of something and on the other hand man is not at the level of being.

woman, doesn’t have (a question of possession)

man, is not (a question of being)

I want to add also that in the last class we found that the woman desires through masquerade and the man through imposture.

woman: doesn’t have (Question of Possession) – Masquerade

man: is not (Question of Being) – Imposture

We can see how it is that the woman’s question of possession allows her a certain degree of wiggle-room inasmuch as she maintains the trace – the object a – without attempting to efface it. Man, on the other hand, through imposture, effaces the trace, pretends it doesn’t exist. He is concerned only with himself, and yet the object a is in the column of the Other. Finally, I can add another characteristic to produce my own chart:

Sex Question Performance Direction
Woman Possession (does not have)  Masquerade  Other
Man Being (is not)  Imposture  Self

To return to the discussion of vases – Lacan now claims that it is related to minus-phi. In fact, he no longer calls it a vase, he calls it a “pot”, and a “pot of castration.” The pot of castration, then, contains the object a, or, at least, that is what man seeks. Male desire blends with the emptiness of his primary castration when the of secondary narcissism [the i(a)] falls away from the image and into his very being. There is a lot of stuff relating to the pot in this class that I can not make heads nor tails of – so I am going to skip over it, rather than talk about it. On an ordinary occasion I would spend more time thinking about it, but time is not on my side. What I can say for sure is that the falls away to fill – or, at least “half-fill” – the hollow of originative castration. The hollow of primary castration is thereby filled by the object a within itself, and the subject uses the object a to get back to his first castration.

We’ve been following the strange Lacanian topologies, and, to some extent, to no avail. It seems to me that this discussion of topology is what links the previous discussion of the vase or pot to the current one: Lacan invites us to compare circumcision to the twisting object of the mobius strip (which further came from a central cut in the cross-cap). The cross-cap is cut so as to bring out the mobius-strip and to isolate it as something that is non-specularizable. It is non-specularizable because we are dealing with the autonomy of the object a. The object a is therefore this mobius strip.

What is circumcision? It is the embodiment of the mobius strip – the cut of the foreskin represents the cut which brings out the mobius strip as an isolatable object, object a. Lacan puts it like this: circumcision normativizes the object a. Thereafter the man, being circumcised, becomes subject to a “certain relation” to the Other. As I’ve said above this “certain relation” is a strange one because the direction of his fantasy, his relation to object a, is such that he brings himself to the center of the search. What is the Other in this conception? Lacan claims that it is the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Well, then, the fantasy of man’s relation is such that he brings himself to the center of the search. Can it be, then, that the dark night of the soul, for example, consists in man’s ultimate fantasy – so much so that we could also claim something similar in the work of Kierkegaard – that he be the object endowed with God’s gift. He searches, then, for the object a within himself – the search of many great mystics and existentialists.

Lacan surveys various sources to get to the bottom of this, beginning with Chapter 17 of Genesis. I shall reproduce the important part:

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

We see the covenant here that brings the practice of circumcision back to Abraham’s time. This is, of course, the popular reference to circumcision in the Bible. But we see it again in Genesis 34:

13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males.16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”

18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. […]

24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.

We can see here that the man who abducted Dinah – namely, Shechem – was circumcised. In fact, it seems that I’ve quoted only one version of the passage “every male in the city was circumcised” – some accounts claim that only Shachem was circumcised. However, presuming the first translation accurate, circumcision was used here as a weapon of attack, a weapon to take something from the other city. Thus, one uses circumcision, here, to obtain something that one desires for oneself. If we think about this through an anarchist lens: this is ultimately about property. We traditionally think that property – more to the point, I am talking about private property – is about posession. But I am claiming that it has nothing to do with possession – it has to do with the search for the center of man, the question of his being. One searches for what is within one’s own property. It is no coincidence that the word property has to do with ownership, and, as etymology validates, it has to do with ownership of own’s being and nature. Thus, Max Stirner’s great work is variously translated as “The Ego and Its Own” or “The Ego and His Property”. We can see here that we are dealing with a question of property. The Egoist and the Cartesian both begin from nothing, from the question of one’s own non-existence, to attempt to validate one’s being in the world. It certainly seems that the question of property can be asked in different ways. It can be asked, as Descartes and Stirner did, as a question about the fundamental nature and source of property. Afterall, what is the nature of being? What can being know? What can being obtain as knowledge? What is being in relation to non-being? And so on.

Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary, in the passage on circumcision, wrote many very interesting things. Two thoughts are worth repeating:

Clement of Alexandria relates that Pythagoras, when travelling among the Egyptians, was obliged to be circumcised in order to be admitted to their mysteries. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to be circumcised to be a priest in Egypt.

We can see that there is here a covenant not with God, necessarily, but with knowledge, that is, knowledge from the mystery schools. What we have here is a mark, an indent, which  consecrated the immanent relationship of Man to the Other. This is a mark that helps to validate – in man’s relation to the master priests – that one has got what it takes, namely, that one is able to do it at the level of being. Voltaire continues, in another passage to which for some reason Lacan also did not allude:

We must acknowledge that this ceremony [circumcision] appears at first a very strange one; but we should remember that, from the earliest times, the oriental priests consecrated themselves to their deities by peculiar marks. An ivy leaf was indented with a graver on the priests of Bacchus. Lucian tells us that those devoted to the goddess Isis impressed characters upon their wrist and neck. The priests of Cybele made themselves eunuchs.

However, what we can note is that there is evidence of this practice consisting in Egypt, and even as far back as neolithic times. We can also note, if we are so inclined, that this is the practice of those whose lives have been taken away from them. Locked in a cage for who knows how many years, behind bars, one surely must begin to wonder: is this living? Am I alive or am I dead? And so, to affirm that one is still alive all one has to do is make a notch on the bedpost, or on the wall – counting the days.