NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 5 DECEMBER 1962

At this point Lacan can no longer avoid the relationship between anxiety and the object proper of psychoanalysis, namely, object a. To begin with, the object is a bit like a “spare part” in that it persists beyond any of its possible uses and shifts haphazardly between functionality and obsolescence.

Object a, as “Spare Part”

We have good reason to continue our discussion of the object’s relationship within the completed graph of desire, since Lacan warned us in the first class that we will find great value in doing so. The completed graph is something like the skeleton for the seminar, at least up until this point, and so I risk posting it again below:

Completed Graph of Desire

We have, finally, a very clear definition for I(A) [alternatively, this is listed as i’(a)]: it is the locus of the Other reflected through the image of ourselves. This is why it comes after a pass through “m” (which, in French, is “moi” or, the ego as such). We see, then, the centrality of the mirror schema for the graph of desire. In a sense, portions of the graph of desire offer a ‘flattened’ version of the more imaginary mirror schema.

Simplified Mirror Schema

Simplified Mirror Schema

Without attempting to explain all aspects of the mirror schema – of which, it should be noted, there is a ‘simplified’ version which does not appear anywhere online to my knowledge, so I snapped of photo of it and placed it above – I will note the placement of the big A (for big Other). The image is authenticated by the Other – but, as we can see from the full mirror schema, the image is problematic and “fallacious” (see complicated version, below). You can see why it is fallacious by noting the difference in the relationship between the flowers, shelf, and vase on the left and the right of the mirror. At the level of i’(a) there is an image, a coherent image, which brings the two together, upright, sitting on a floating shelf. You can see that this image – i'(a) – is seen only via a reflection of my own image reflected back through two mirrors (curved and flat mirrors).

Mirror Schema

There is, on the one side of the mirror, the opposite side to the subject, nothing really there. The eye looks straight over the mirror, from above it, to see that there is nothing there (eg., the dotted line extended from $ to S,I).  The image is characterized by a lack, or, put another way, it is an absence which provides the possibility for an appearance. I think of it like this: on the “other side” of the mirror there is an absence made to appear, and to appear coherent, precisely by way of my looking at it and with the help and authorization of the big Other. There is another absence here, the more obvious one, which is the subject before looking into the mirror. This is the place of object a. The object a, here, takes its place as a function for fantasy.

These two places, which are characterized by lack, are inscribed, in keeping to some extent with Freudian thought, as minus-phi. The minus-phi is written, in the simplified diagram, in lower case to signify the imaginary phallus, and, more precisely, the lack of imaginary phallus. Thus, this is the sort of castration which occurs via the imaginary register. Minus-phi is the lack or absence where something can appear. This, moreover, is the place signalled by anxiety – what we can now call castration anxiety.

Castration anxiety seems to be a limit term, or, at least, a limit experience within analysis. In fact, Freud claimed that neurosis hits its ground via castration anxiety.

Lacan amends Freud’s understanding to note that anxiety is not just castration anxiety, or, at least, not primarily about the lack at the heart – or, if you like, in the home – of the subject, but rather, and more precisely, it is about the lack in the heart of the Other as well. There are two minus-phis that we need to take into account. To understand this we need to spend more time on the mirror schema – at the imaginary dimension. For example, we must note that the primal scene is important – and that this largely occurs via the dimension of others. Afterall, this is where trauma stems. Put another way: the neurotic’s anxiety concerns not simply castration but also the castration of the Other (i.e., what the Other lacks). The subject can not deal with the fact that the Other is not castrated and so the subject’s fantasy concerns the lack in the Other.

So, anxiety is a signal concerning anything that appears in place of the lack in the Other, minus-phi. Lacan’s straightforwardness is incredible: The Freudian notion of the unheimliche [uncanny] is constituted by several other words: heimliche [secret] as well as heim [home]. The interesting thing about this is that Freud never explains why he chose the word, but, to any native German speaker it will appear obvious – this is why, speculates Lacan, Freud did not explain the choice of word.

Minus-phi is man’s home [heim]. It is that point which ‘exists’ beyond the image and from which we fashion an image of ourselves: “this place represents the absence where we stand.” What this reveals is the non-autonomy of the subject, and the divergence of Lacan’s theory of identification from Hegel’s theory of recognition.

At this point Lacan launches into a discussion about the matheme of fantasy, namely $<>a. The matheme formalizes the split-subject’s relation to the object of desire. There are two main phases of this relation: neurotic and perverted. The pervert’s fantasy can be plotted like this:

a | $

We must think the “|” that exists between a and $ as the big Other, or A. In a couple of more years Lacan will differentiate between the matheme of fantasy, $<>a, and the matheme of perversion, a<>$. For the pervert, things are in their proper place – the object of desire is on one side of the big Other and the barred-subject is on the other side of the big Other. Thus, the pervert, who is oblivious to the function of his fantasy, is loyal (I am tempted to spell this another way, but will hold back any discussion, “Loyol-a”) to the big Other’s enjoyment.

The neurotic’s fantasy is plotted like this:

S | a$

We see the “|” that exists between S and a as the big Other (A). We can see the obsessional structure of this fantasy: the subject – pre-linguistic subject – is on one side of the wall. On the other side is the object of desire and the split-subject. The wall – which is really the mirror of the big Other – reflects back to the subject his desire and his own castration. On the other hand, the wall, as mirror, reflects back to the pervert as object of the other’s desire his own split. The fantasy, then, for the pervert, is to be split for the enjoyment of the Other. The fantasy for the neurotic is to see reflected back at him as subject himself as object of desire along with his own fundamental lack.

I am not entirely sure that I have interpreted these two formulas correctly. If any one of you has any insight that you would like to add – corrections – please do so in the comments section. It would be most helpful for me. Thank you.

The important point, the point to which Lacan now turns, is the use of fantasy. It is truly interesting that the neurotic makes use of his fantasy for particular ends. I can see here an argument that Lacan will pick up again in his later seminars on the sinthome, and on traversing the fantasy. So that is the first point. The second point has to do with the relationship between perverse fantasy and neurotic fantasy. It is not that the two clinical structures exist together – indeed, they are distinct clinical structures – but rather that the neurotic’s fantasy is supported by a certain perversion. Why? Lacan claims that this is because the neurotic’s fantasy is entirely situated in the locus of the Other. You can see it above in the plotted diagram: the a$ are on the other side of the big Other’s mirror.

We return to the question of the relationship between anxiety, or, more to the point, the appearance of anxiety, and the place of object a. The neurotic, through the mirror of the big Other, makes use of his fantasy to defend himself against – or to ‘keep a lid on’ – anxiety. The neurotic makes himself the object of desire, object a, through the big Other, to defend against anxiety. It is by making himself the object of desire, the a, that he defends against anxiety – and yet we know that object a is the “home” of anxiety – so what, by implication, does this mean? It means that the neurotic make themselves an extension wig [postiche”] out of object a. It is an “extension” insofar as it is an extension of the self through the lack of the Other, and it is a wig, insofar as it is that which conceals anxiety.

How does this work for Freud’s account of the dream of the Butcher’s wife? The wife refuses to eat caviar, even though she loves the food. It is clear that she deprives herself of the enjoyment of eating cavier. It is by eating the nothing itself that she sustains, through her fantasy, the desire of her husband. More to the point, it is by eating the nothing that she sustains, through her fantasy, her own position as object of desire. The object a, then, is actually the “bait with which [the neurotic] hold[s] onto the Other.” We see something similar with the case of Anna O who presented, seemingly without hesitation, all of her fantasies to Breuer and Freud. This was all bait – she gave all of her narrative, her story, her psyche even, up to Freud and Bruer precisely because she wanted to maintain her fantasy role as object of desire. And, claims Lacan, Breuer swallowed it all! But, “it took him a while to regurgitate it.”

I like what Lacan did here with this last phrase. You can see that the problem Breuer had during the Anna O case was that he swallowed all of her stories. What he needed to do, though, was probably swallow the nothing. This implies that the analyst must to some extent inhabit, make a “home”, out of their own desire via the hysterical circuit of desire. It is the hysteric who refuses to eat – recall the original nosology: anorexia hysterica, which later turned to anorexia nervosa. This was precisely what Freud did, according to Lacan: he was both “intelligent and courageous” [this is important – why does “courage” come into it? What theory of “courage” can we string from this?] in that he made use of his anxiety, made use of his fantasy even, when faced with desire [since anxiety faced with desire is another way of spelling out the matheme of fantasy] to relate to the woman in front of him. Freud did not swallow everything.

It seems to me that, following through the completed graph of desire, it is through the big Other (A) that one moves, as if retroactively, to have the response of the Other to one’s demand [s(A)]. Put another way: this is what gives meaning to our voice, it is signification. However, there is something left over here that moves upward [d] and this is desire as such, object a. Thus, “the true object sought by the neurotic is a demand that he wants to be asked of him. He wants to be begged.” If I may, this seems to be the operation of the path that extends from the big Other (A) to the matheme of fantasy [$<>a].

We can see that it is just one quick move that brings the subject from this position to that of castration anxiety – from jouissance to castration. To return to the position of the big Other in the graph, you can see that there are two trajectories: one moves toward the signification of the Other vis-a-vis the demand, the other leads to, possibly, the matheme of fantasy. (There is in fact another possibility, but I can’t speak to it right now.) What, then, happens when the analyst, as big Other, leaves the demand without a reply? Obviously, the analysand constructs his own interpretation of your response – or, perhaps, he shifts tracks to one of the other tracks. When every demand is exhausted we reach the possibility of castration anxiety. We can see castration anxiety on both points ([S(A-barred) as well as $<>D]. This whole plane, from left to right, of the graph seems to indicate that one has anxiety either about one’s own split (thus, the dimension of the drive comes into play as a form of enjoyment of one’s own castration) and about the split of the Other (thus, the dimension of the traversal of the fantasy occurs here).

Anxiety concerns the failing of the support that lack provides – it is not, Lacan states quite pointedly, the signal of a lack. This is why the traversal of the fantasy occurs at the top left of the graph and not at the top right. The top right of the graph falls into a dangerous circuit, the circuit of drive, which, being being’s bare basis, sustains a repetitious circuit of failure, of castration, of enjoyment of one’s own castration. To put this first point another way, Lacan asks a rhetorical question: “Don’t you know that it’s not longing for the maternal breast that provokes anxiety, but its imminence?” It is the loss of the support of the maternal lack, which is a negative formulation of the imminence of the breast (the asphyxiating over-presence of the Other). We feel anxiety precisely in those moments when we feel as though we might be overcome by the intrusion of the Other and not, as it were, in those moments when we separate from the Other. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the fort-da game. We know this because the infant enjoys repeating the game of the mother’s absence and presence.

This brings us to a crucial point. It is a point that I understand but always forget. One whose implications I persistently fail to follow through in my own thinking. It is one that complicates the whole mess: anxiety occurs when the lack that sustains his desire, namely, the lack in the Other, is disrupted, when it is filled in, or, put another way, when the possibility of there being a lack is carefully denied or avoided. So anxiety is fundamentally about the presence of an object and not its absence. You can see the pivotal role of the object which is not missing in the life and mind of the subject.

Lacan claims that just because the object of desire, namely object a, is difficult to locate does not mean that it is not there, that is does not exist. It does exist, and its function is absolutely decisive for the life and mind of the subject.

I apologize for some sloppiness in my notes this time around. I found this class quite puzzling at times since it seemed to complicated – obscure even – everything I thought I knew about certain formulas and ideas. I haven’t yet resolved this problem.