NOTES – LACAN’S SEMINAR ON ANXIETY (X): 8 MAY 1963

The book allows us to pass through the wait. Nearly two months have passed since the last class. The last class concerned the question of circumcision. Notably, Lacan linked circumcision with the logic concerning man’s desire and, moreover, man’s object.

We begin with Jeremiah, chapter 9:24-5, which reads:

24. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

25. Behold the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised;

Before moving ahead with this, I want to stop to note some of the various sources that Lacan cited on circumcision, from the Bible – there have been others – which we have already covered. We began with Genesis 17:9-14, which describes the covenant onto Abraham, and moved onto Genesis 34:13-25, which describes the use of circumcision as a weapon against Shechem and every male in a city. I also mentioned two interesting passages from Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary: (1) circumcision as an initiation rite by Pythagoras in Egypt when attempting to be admitted to the mysteries of the priesthood, and (2) I deduced the logic of the mark or indent and thereby noted the way in which circumcision is a way of marking one’s being, of imposture.

In any case, what Jeramiah 9:24-5, above, illustrates is that there is some permanent relation to the lost object as such. This, at least, is Lacan’s reading. The object a presents us with something which is cut off, the foreskin in this case, and this is also a relation of separation – we see above that the LORD saith that he will punish those who are separated out by way of circumcision. The next line, which Lacan later alludes to, ends with this phrase: “for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Isreal are uncircumcised in the heart.” What a stunning phrase, to be “uncircumcised in the heart.” This implies that there is something else going on here, to be uncircumcised in the heart is like being uncircumcised in the soul, in the very depths of one’s being. This is indeed what Lacan picks up on, he says: “the essential separation from a particular part of the body, a particular appendage [the penis], comes to symbolize for the now alienated subject a fundamental relationship with his body.”

Lacan informs us that he just returned from a trip. He has been afforded the opportunity to think further about Buddhism.

Lacan claims that the a, which is the “object of objects”, takes shape in the field of desire. The term “object” can be used in conjunction with “objectality” which is in contrast to “objectivity”. Though, just a few classes ago, he was happy to use the term objectivity, it was clear that he did not mean objectivity as we use the word today. Objectivity is an ultimate term in scientific discourse, claims Lacan. It equates to something like logical formalism. Objectality is something else. Objectality is “a correlate to the pathos of the cut.” It seems to me that Lacan is finding what, within the imposture of objectivity, amounts to objectality, that is, to the cut which sustains the whole enterprise. This cut, no doubt, is the object a. Thus, we turn, as Lacan quickly does in his class – with basically no justification – to the study of causality. Objectality brings causality back to the fore, and causality via the lost object.

We also know that cause is irreducible. We can sense this from the way in which the object cause of desire, namely object a, is the “object of objects”. This implies that any object we have in front of us – whether it be a tree, a rock, another person, etc – always conceals the real object behind it. Moreover, there is an obscure cause to each of these objects. So, when some of the object oriented philosophers – such as Ian Bogost (and apologies for singling him out, I respect his written work very much) – claim that any old object is worth analysis, I claim, further: well what is the real object behind that object? It is here that, I think, Graham Harman’s objects advance upon the naive objectivity of some object theorists. I link this naive objectivity with those who discuss the object without taking into account causality, the object of the object.

Lacan goes a step further here and claims that every object – indeed, every machine – and this includes the logical formulas of science along with its traditional imposture, … every object carries along with it that piece of flesh taken from man. The flesh is caught in the machine, torn from us, and brought along through every formula as part of its causality. I admit that this claim is fairly obscure, and, once again I can not be sure that I ‘got the interpretation correct’, but what I do know is that, put simply, there is no formalization without the desiring-machine behind said formalization. No formalization is pure. Not even staunch formalizers such as Alain Badiou would claim that formalization – mathemes – are allow pure access to something real in nature. This is an interesting connection, so I’ll follow it through a little bit. Badiou, in his debate with Slavoj Zizek on Lacan’s anti-philosophy, claimed:

Lacan [claimed] that knowledge of the real can exist, but the price we pay for it is with rigorous formalization. This is the point of the matheme. It is through the strict form of the letter that we perform the operation of separating the real from its common imaginary presentation.

It is not by coincidence that Badiou claims that the “price we pay for knowledge” is “with rigorous formalization.” Isn’t this another way of stating what Lacan just said, namely, that the we pay for objectivity and formalization through objectality, through the piece of flesh – the cut? At this point Lacan makes a detour, or switches tracks, to make the claim that just as all formalization is tied to the piece of flesh, all desire is tied to some part of the body. And, more precisely, desire is always tied, somehow, to some part of the Other’s body.

Parts of the body need to be protected, so that they do not get put into the service of another. Lacan means this both literally – someone can take us by the wrist and arrest us, for example – and figuratively – the Other, that is, that part of the psychical apparatus – can reach out through our limbs and take possession against our will. We’ve seen this in cases of hysteria, for example. Somewhere Lacan even once claimed that in cases of hysteria we see signifiers breaking out onto the parts of the body. We can see here how the cause comes to the surface of the body itself. Indeed, Lacan claims that the cause always comes to the surface like this – and this is why, for example, we can claim that objectality is superior to objectivity. It is a question that insists on being asked.

What is this cause, this objectality? Lacan puts it rather well so I won’t try to adapt it to suit my frame: it is the blindspot or shadow of thinking. I’ve been using this phrase “blindspot” as a concept for some time. I’m not convinced that it is a Lacanian concept, but I’ve been developing it in a rather Lacanian way. I think of it a bit like the use made by Levi Bryant (who in turn borrowed it from a rather famous late Analytic Philosopher), it is a bit like the “unmarked space of distinction”.

Lacan seems to worry about causality reduced to myth, which, when given too much credit, transforms into religion, and then, even worse, grows into fanaticism. Objectality is causality which necessitates a certain blindspot in the structure of logic and formalization. Perhaps this is why, then, if I may think spontaneously, that topology affords us the ability to become acquainted with, even if a bit perplexed by, what this is all about. In any case, at the level of formula, we have the object a. And, more to the point, we have the matheme of fantasy: $<>a. Here, we can see, the blindspot has been included into the function of fantasy and desire. The cause has been taken into account. I wrote taken into account because that was what was at steak in Leonardo da Vinco’s notes – he took all the debits and credits into account – and it was also what was at stake in an earlier class, when we discussed the stereotype of the Jew who takes everything into account. His piece of flesh is in his formulas.

As soon as man speaks – or, rather, as soon as man is capable of speaking – he is already implicated in his body. Put differently, through speech man is tied to his body. This is where Lacan picks up on his so-called solution to the mind/body dualism. This dualism sees the body as a kind of double of the function of the mind. Lacan says: “we should not be satisfied with this, however, because there is still some sleight of hand going on.” We are interested in the way in which the body becomes a functioning totality. In the body there is something that is always separated off by way of the signifying dialectic, something that is sacrificed, circumcised, something that is, to bring us back to a very early class, like a pound of flesh. In any pact – contract – what is at stake is the pound of flesh, to be cut off, nearest to the heart. This brings to mind the master-slave dialectic, as read by Lacan in other seminars. The slaves sustains a contract with the master by giving up something, a bit of his surplus value for example. Recall that in a previous class we found that Shylock wanted debts paid with the pound of flesh. All debts are paid in this way.

Anti-semitism has its source in this remainder – in this cut off object. The remainder is what “survives the ordeal of the division of the field of the Other through the presence of the Subject.” We’ve noted this with respect to the table of long division. The object a is the remainder, it is irreducible, it can not be divided any further. Recall that the remainder, the object a, exists on the other side of the row of desire. It occurs within the row of anxiety. It survives, insists on surviving even, across the dimension of anxiety. This is something like the inverse of the barred-subject, on the row of desire. The barred-subject is always within the field of the signifier, and more precisely, the field of the signifier-to-signifier relation. The barred-subject is always caught inside of these signifiers, but the object a is never caught within them.

So, what about this circumcision of the heart? Lacan claims that the christian “always thinks he puts more heart into things than anyone else. And, good Lord, why ever does he think that?” This is the sort of imposture of christians who follow through on their covenant with God.

We can find in great works of art a profoundly religious function. There are, for example, statues that were not made to represent works of art. Of course, this may have been their intention, their purpose, the aim, the objective. Lacan is here discussing Buddhist statues (not statues of Buddha, but Buddhist statues). Buddhism claims at base, Lacan claims at least, the following formula: desire is an illusion. This implies that there is something not real about desire, something lacking truth perhaps. The negation of Buddhism – mu – means not having. The mu is the negative of Japanese and Korean (similar, in effect, to the Chinese wu). So here, within Buddhism, we have the movement away from – or perhaps it is just lacking entirely – dualistic thought. It is not that there is desire and being. Rather, it is that desire is purely negative, it is without or does not have truth or reality. You can see the radical non-duality of Buddhist doctrine in the motto: “that which thou dost recognize in the other is thyself.” This, of course, sounds very similar to Lacan’s mirror stage. But there are some differences here. It seems to me that Buddhism intends to describe a truth that only exists outside of the specular relation. This is simplified thought.

When we think about the object a as the cut which forms the mobius strip then we can no longer thing in the simple opposition between dualism and non-dualism, between mind/body and Buddhism. You can get rid of the mirror, the tain, the reflective surface, but the eye remains as a mirror. This is why Lacan, in previous classes, made sure to mention that his mirror schema could be thought of as occurring inside of the eye itself. But there is always a One that supports the multiplicity of the world, and permits the images to form coherently. Within Buddhism, there is a multiplicity of Ones and yet this is no different from the One of monotheism. Lacan points out that the thousand and one statues of Buddha all look the same. There is something similar between the multiple subjective Ones of buddhism and the single One of monotheism. He does not at this point spell out why this is the case. But he raises it as a thought experiment. Of course, we’ve seen this distinction made by Alain Badiou when he discussed the way in which atomistic thought – democratic thought – is similar to the thought of the One (cf., The Subject of Change).

In one statue there was no openings for eyes. Traditionally, the statues of Buddha have lowered eyelids – but not closed. One learned individual noted that the eyes on the statue have disappeared with age.