NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 5 JUNE 1963

Lacan is working through at least two things concurrently: the relations between the sexes, and the role of the voice in coming to understand the function of both the object a and the Other. Lacan cites the ambiguity of the biblical passage, from Genesis 1:27, which reads:

27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Lacan does not go on to explain the other account – at least not in this class, he has referred to it in previous classes from this seminar – found in Gensis 2:21-23, which reads:

21. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22. And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man.

So, in the first account Adam and Eve were created at the same time. In the second account, Adam was created first. Perhaps there is no contradiction here. Perhaps it is the case that it is only in the second moment that we can think of something which happens concurrently as in fact happening across multiple moments. For example, I listened to the new Arcade Fire album. Rather, I listened to the first disc of the New Arcade Fire album, and then I listened to the second.

In previous classes Lacan seemed to be opposed to Euler’s diagrams. He claimed that these diagrams made it impossible to represent lack. He wanted to add the third dimension, the dimension of the cross-cap and the mobius strip, to bring into play the place of lack. Where Lacan once seemed to believe that the Euler model was only capable of representing the relations between sets of concrete elements, now he seems to be open to using the model to describe the place of lack in the relations between the sexes. The diagram consists of two circles, intersecting, with “M” on one side and “W” on the other, and, where they converge, there is the minus-phi.

We can see that at this point Man and Woman are represented as circles of relatively the same size, and in somewhat of an opposition to one another. Of course, Lacan eventually demonstrates that things are much more complicated than all of this – much more asymmetrical, for example. It is not as simple as thinking in terms of washroom doors: Man’s washroom and Woman’s washroom, where what stands between them is a wall, and for no good reason. Yet that is precisely what we are up against with this diagram. So, with all of its problems, let’s move on. We see that minus-phi, the imaginary phallus, or, put another way, lack, is what relates Man to Woman. So – Lacan does not come out and say this – there is no relation between the sexes.

There is no relation between the sexes except through the phallus and the phallus, because one doesn’t have it – because it is lacking – is what alienates the sexes. This is a fundamental point, I’ll quote Lacan: “The phallus is what, for everybody [my emphasis], when it is reached, precisely alienates one from the other.” At this point we can see that Lacan clearly suggests that the phallus is there somewhere for everybody. The function of the phallus is not only man’s business – and neither is it only woman’s – it is there as a condition of relating at all, even if that relation is alienation.

Woman’s fantasy has to do with what she imagines of the Other’s jouissance such that she strays away from her own jouissance. Woman is in some real relation to the Other, in a way that Man does not seem to be. She enjoys minus-phi only because she doesn’t have to deal with it – it is in another place, in the place where her jouissance is, that is, in the place of the fantasy of the Other’s jouissance. It is precisely by finding minus-phi there where the Man is that she can avoid dealing with anxiety. The imaginary phallus thus stands in place of anxiety even while that phallus is already minus, already castrated. It can only ever appear as castrated, as lack in the field of the Other, in Man’s place in her fantasy, and in its link with avoiding anxiety.

What about homosexuality? This question, it seems to me, deserves much more than a passing discussion. It is actually somewhat odd that Lacan passed over it so quickly without pointing to its real significance in terms of the diagram above. Nonetheless, he claims, and I’m going to write this as a formula:

homosexuality is man’s privilege

This is striking. What could it mean? A conjecture: man is only ever in love with himself, with the object a as his own business – a person who would like to be known as a “real man”, an alpha male perhaps, in my university department, for example, frequently torments himself by trying to figure out who among all of the lesser males dares to pry into his business. Men are homosexuals, not because they like men, but rather because their love of women is subject to what they bring out in his own search for his object a. I won’t spend a lot of time on this for now, but it is of great interest to me; why is it that the stereotypical male holds his supermodel girlfriend beside him like an accessory – in front of his car, or his big house, as if all his work has paid off for him?

Homosexuality

I discussed in some of my previous notes the fact that Don Juan is woman’s fantasy. He is a guy with the phallus, but which can only ever be presented to her as a fantasy figure who in reality is castrated. This is because the phallus can only ever be obtained as minus-phi, there is no other way to have it than to not have it at all. Idealistic love, then, is essentially this minus-phi standing as phi.

We return to the Eulerian diagram above. Minus-phi appears there where the one set, whether it be Man or Woman, intersects with the other opposite set. Minus-phi then is intimately linked up with lack, with castration, and with anxiety, precisely because it stands at the intersection of the subject with the Other. This is the point, and this is why Lacan argues that desire’s support is not cut out for sexual union. He goes on to argue that the two sexes – man or woman – have nothing to do with what is really at stake: one and the Other. What is really at stake in the sexes is that one either connect with the Other – in what is missing in the Other – or else one put something in its place, namely the phallus as minus-phi.

There is thus no way to achieve harmony between the sexes. Really, harmony, in Man’s domain, is something like homosexuality. It is just as much of an illusion of harmony as any other sexual position. Lacan is using his own discourse here to respond to questions about Hegel. He seems to think that Hegel’s work, the work of dialectics, has something to do with the movement toward synthesis. But Lacan claims that there is always antinomy, unless the synthesis conceals this.

So we are returning again to the discussion of the relation between the Subject, S, and the Other, A, principally as represented in the table of long division from previous classes. In my notes for the class on December 19th, 1962, I noted that the unheimliche had something to do with the subject’s seeing himself outside of himself. I wrote the following:

In Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, Adam, played by Jake Gyllenhall, breaks out of his humdrum life through his chance encounter with a B-list actor. Adam spots an actor who looks just like himself, a character who he later finds out gets his kicks from crushing animals and having brutal sex with women. Could we not suggest that this is the level of the unheimliche, the uncanny, in its cinematic form? Anxiety occurs when there is a sudden appearance of the heimliche within the frame – and this is why it is incorect to claim that anxiety is without an object. Object’s do provoke anxiety. In this case, it is Anthony, a sex addicted B-list actor – Adam’s double – who provokes anxiety. But even this is merely a stand-in object. It is an ‘object whose perception is prepared and structured.’ We can point at it, we can see it, we can identify it – even if we can not put our finger on what precisely makes it so uncanny.

In the film, there is something of the Other outside of himself and this is uncanny. But there is another movement we missed. How, Adam must have wondered to himself, does Anthony also see Adam as Anthony? You can understand the point then: one can see oneself, one’s own double, outside of oneself but one can also see oneself reflected back at oneself through the other. This is how we can approach the concept of the gaze. Lacan describes it as an all seeing eye. It looks at us from everywhere – we are seen from every direction. Incidentally, you know that seeing something from every direction was precisely what the cubists had in mind with their artwork. It is this being seen from every direction that also constitutes the unheimliche. Lacan gives us what he calls a formula to describe this version of the unheimliche:

what could be more unheimliche than to witness the most divine statue come to life

When we see a statue, a desirable statue – one that we are drawn to, come to life, we see it shift from being desirable to being a desirer. This is what is at stake in the gaze, in this version of the unheimliche. The Other looks at us and we feel its judgment on us, we feel its desires suddenly come to life before us. Adam suddenly witnesses that Anthony, who is himself, also has desires which Adam himself couldn’t stomach.

The gaze is there before we arrive on the scene. If we think about it in terms of communication then we can see that we are born in the world without words. The words have to come to us, and they come to us from the Other. It is from the Other that the subject receives the tools of communication. This is how we can claim that the subject receives his own message from the Other. We can see this at work very early in the formation of the unconscious. Toddlers – I know this – often talk to themselves before they fall asleep. Lacan likens this to the dream-state, and we all know that the dream-state is the state of the unconscious. So here we can situate the Other at the place of the unconscious and we can see also that the toddler’s unconscious is already quite well formed.

Advertisements