On the Question of Mastery: Is a Lacanian / Anarchist Intervention Possible?

I would like to offer two stories from my personal life.

First, while attending the European Graduate School in Switzerland I was honored to have met some of the other students of Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou. I quickly came to realize that these individuals took Lacan seriously. They established reading cartels that operated according to very precise principles and met regularly to engage thoroughly with the written word. I met two of these students for coffee. They asked me to articulate the relationship, as I saw it, between anarchist political philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is a fair question. However, it occurs to me that this question was derived from an insistence that Lacan was – if anything at all – at heart a bit of a communist. Well, that’s how students of Zizek and Badiou would put it. It is simply a matter for them of demonstrating that this is the case. (To be fair, one doesn’t get the sense that Lacan is a communist in clinical circles.) The obscure relation between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxian theory has already been settled by students of Zizek and Badiou. It is the answer. The problem is simply to discover the proper question.

I struggled to find the connection between anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. I always have struggled to find the connection. Anarchism in some way led me to Lacan’s work. However, this precisely is the value of Lacanian psychoanalysis for anarchist political philosophy: the question is not yet settled, there are no answers – there are only possibilities and impossibilities. In other words, there are still plenty of points of intervention and points of discovery. The field has not yet been overcoded. In any case, all of the valuable insights that Badiou has provided for political analyses seemed to me to be already present in a less articulated form within anarchist political philosophy – if only anarchists would see these seeds beneath their snow instead of harping on about their own moral autonomy.

Second: while attending Trent University, I was briefly under the supervision of an anarchist. In one way or another, I was also surrounded by anarchists. What passed for conversation in the class-room (some days) was: “Why is ‘X’ not included within ‘X’ theory? (where ‘X’ was a placeholder for any number of social, cultural, and political identifications). The supervisor, in front of this crowd, asked me: “How is Lacan an anarchist?” As is often the case, the question had its own answer: he wasn’t … but surely he needed to be! There is an imperative not only that Lacan be easily understandable but that his moral considerations should be worn on his sleeve.

I learned very quick that it was better to leave the question unsettled. There is no need to respond to the demand to be understood and to be a moral agent. For his part, Saul Newman (in From Bakunin to Lacan) attempted to provide an answer: he insisted that Lacan, unlike Bakunin and other anarchists, provided a privileged point of departure for political intervention through his notion of subjectivity. Without an ‘uncontaminated’ point of departure outside of power (or, if you like, outside of the symbolic chain of signifiers) politics is pointless. Of course, Newman’s reading of Lacan was not deep and faithful to Lacan. For example, the subject is not an uncontaminated point of departure – quite the reverse! The subject is absolutely contaminated; so much so that it is split between one signifier and another… the signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. It seemed to me that Newman wanted so much a place of subjective mastery over the political field that he discovered it in the most master-less place: a place where the subject is nothing but an empty place within the system of signifiers. Newman discovered an ‘outside’ to political power that was paradoxically inherent to political power itself.

The matter was not settled. Zizek noted the problem of the desire for an uncontaminated point of departure for politics: it is as if before the political subject is capable of acting he needs some security that he is acting from the right agency, from the correct place and at the correct time. Who could secure this agency for him but the big Other, that is, a master? This is why it is important to demonstrate, as I have in my recent book, that there are all kinds of places from which one is capable of acting – and the real is not privileged here.

So, I held onto Lacan. There was more to be said. It became increasingly clear that Lacan’s value was precisely to create this disjuncture between politics and theory. Lacan never fails to interrupt interpretive or diagnostical political interventions. Lacan will not respond to the demand to be understood and to be put to political purposes. To paraphrase the punchline to a joke told to me recently from a psychoanalyst: Lacan fell asleep during our political theorization of the place of pure political agency and then woke up and said “Please . . . continue . . . ”

We must continue. With or without Lacan. For many anarchists, this will always mean without Lacan. In fact, most anarchists will fail to read an article on Lacan and anarchism except to confirm or develop an already established critical response. The anarchist needs this opposition to what they detect as a master – all the more to establish their own passive mastery. Lacan teaches us that passive mastery is an all the more cruel form of mastery. Recall the analogy of the ‘postmodern father’ developed by Zizek: the traditional father will tell you ‘go to see your grandmother!’ and if you don’t like it, you can transfer all your anger onto your father: ‘He is MAKING me go!’ The postmodern father says: ‘do you want to see your grandmother?’ Here, the ruthless authoritarian father is forcing you to be responsible for your failure to want to see your grandmother. You have failed in your moral obligation to be a good grandson.

Anarchists are the postmodern fathers of theory and practice.

There is one avenue through which we can approach the question of anarchism and Lacanian psychoanalysis — through the question of ‘mastery.’ Not so long ago the anarchist journal I manage (ADCS) started receiving articles that dealt with the question of ‘voluntary in-servitude.’ The idea put forward was that the political task was to voluntarily withdraw from oppressive and exploitative relations. Recall Gustav Landaeur’s famous suggestion that the state is a relationship and that the best way to destroy the state is therefore to change our close social relationships, to reroute them, etc. Many anarchists in Canada took this to mean that they had to disengage from the militant confrontational political work of revolution and partake in autonomous community-based organizing. The key principles were ‘groundless solidarity’ and ‘mutual aid.’ I call this the ‘long revolution’ to invoke the spirit of Raymond Williams.

By the time we’ve constructed our revolutionary communities, the master won’t even know that we cut his balls off! Ironically, this principle was first put forward by the Lacanian anarchist Richard J.F. Day in his book Gramsci is Dead. The idea was that it broke the loop-back circuit of demand. (But did it replace the loop-back circuit of the drive?)

What we soon discover is that we can only run away from the problem of mastery precisely by returning to it as a question. What anarchist studies rightfully convinces Lacanians about is that the desire to live without a master is itself an important desire. It is important because it highlights the essential question through which some knowledge might be had. Lacanian psychoanalysis teaches us that the effort to run away from the master is itself a form of passive mastery. Recall, for example, Freud’s discussion of “Little Hans” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Was it not the case that this little boy mastered his mother’s absence precisely by making his own little toy disappear from view? The problem of mastery is here much more pronounced because it has entered into the symbolic apparatus – one controls through the symbolic what one couldn’t control in the real.

We must become aware of the fact that mastery is not always exercised actively. More often, and this is especially the case for anarchists, mastery is exercised passively. Who reading this who calls himself an anarchist has not witnessed the attempt by other anarchists to control a situation by acting passively? We see it in consensus decision making, through calm and quiet speech, and so on. For example, I once co-owned an anarchist cafe. There was a proposal to add non-vegan muffins to the stock. It was blocked by a person during consensus decision making. At the next meeting, the proposition was raised as a negative proposal: “can we NOT include non-vegan muffins?” The proposer’s friend blocked the motion and the non-vegan muffins were added to the stock.

This attitude toward passive mastery is particularly prominent among inexperienced therapists who, like many Yoga instructors in this country, believe to be rid of the problem of mastery simply by lowering the tone and cadence of the voice. This is nothing but a pretense at liberation. During my own personal analysis I blurted out, unexpectedly: “I could be the master by pretending not to be!” Is this not my life story as an anarchist? It was a condition made particularly noticeable by an American Lacanian named Bruce Fink, who wrote: “[O]ne might have to watch out for a tendency to present oneself as a master at non-mastery like that found in certain spiritual practices, and akin to the tendency to promote oneself as the most humble of the humble in certain religious groups.” Anarchists are among the best in the political world of presenting themselves in this way.

How to avoid the problem of mastery? Confront it! Anarchists have at least this correct: they must raise the question of mastery overtly. For those who suffer from involuntary servitude it is not even a question: the difficulty is always to make these slaves aware that they are voluntarily serving a master. What, then, about the possibility of voluntary servitude? This is certainly what many Lacanians present themselves as, voluntary slaves: they choose to be ‘unfree’ and to follow the master, Lacan.

We are not yet rid of the question of mastery. In some sense, we have only avoided it by retreating into passive mastery. We must think through the end of the question of mastery, and of our implication in the situation of slavery. In addition to active and passive slavery, we must also be attentive to: (1) the mastery of death as a real intervention which can not be imagined but from which we derive some excitement, (2) the mastery of ‘figures’ and ‘bodies’ which are often incarnated in the figure of the state, in political masters, in corporations — these are the fake masters which are given more power than they in fact have, and; (3) the mastery which must be present in order for thinking and political action to occur at all (without which there is no possibility for the question of mastery to occur).

Newman was wrong, then. It is not that we need an uncontaminated point of departure for politics – the subject – for there to be any political intervention worthwhile. Rather, it is precisely the opposite: without a master, that is, without the third type of master, there is no possibility for subjectivity.


Very quick response to a friend: on non-monogamy and love

There are three positions that I am interested in exploring.

First, there is the position which claims that love is something to be shared, something which must forever be open to an encounter, and which is something that can never be pinned down to One decision. I name this position the love of the market.

It is the love of the market because we are dealing with encounters which are never made significant through the exclusion of temptation. To forever open oneself to an encounter, without recognizing that encounters are provocations, is to partake in the love one has for the products one might encounter at the supermarket. Against this, I claim that Love is not something one seeks, it is not something one can be prepared for, it is rather something that radically provokes a world already made complete. Thus, the love of the market, love which encounters any possibility as a pure possibility, is the love of anything, and thus, of everything.

Multiplicity is not enough to escape the logic of the One. Rather, it is, more than anything, the security of the logic of the One. Multiplicity, like the infinity of potential partners which one may make oneself available to (if only in the hope that this, unlike the others, might be the One), is forever put in the service of the One. We see this very clearly in the logic of number. It is infinity, the n+1, which secures the continuation of the system of numbers – it is always possible to count One more number, and to thereby extend finitude.

Love is not something that one seeks as if in a supermarket. Love is a provocation, and perhaps an unhappy one. It is a twisting of the lover’s world into a new decision and a new truth. Love by necessity is a decisive response to a provocation. One must choose to go through love, and, to the great exclusion of temptation to be in love others. Or else one rejects love. Without struggle, love is nothing. The marketplace is not a place of struggle, it is a place of many false choices. The only struggle within the marketplace is the struggle against the choices of the marketplace. And so the marketplace invites you to fall in love with one more product, and the marketplace of love invites you to fall in love with one more partner.

Love is a decision against the market, a decision to move away from temptation, and to redefine history.

Love is always the love of two.

The love of multiplicity is always also the love of One.

I should be clear. I see nothing inherently wrong with the love of One. The number one can also be thought of as a point, a new foundation for a new history between lovers. It ought not always be thought of as a contract. It can also be thought of as the coming into existence of a new way of viewing the world and oneself in it. This may very well be secured by one new idea. But the number of love is not itself one – it is always two.

The love of two does not have to mean that there are only two people involved. To be sure, two people cannot be thought of as simply two ones (eg., 1+1). The love of two is the love of the movement of the new world, the new love, inside and against the old world, which is the marketplace of love (eg., 1+0). So long as the minimal conditions are met it seems to me that the love of two could occur among any number of people. We could have a love of various scales and intensities. However, this is a love which responds to a provocation which has already happened, and not, as it were, something which could happen.

The love of a love to come, of deferred love, is the love of impossible love. Lacan was fond of claiming that the obsessional neurotic harbors an impossible desire, and so, because it is impossible, nothing can ever compare to it. And so it goes with impossible love. Impossible love may be an endless encounter with failure, one which, to be certain, sustains a certain enjoyment for all of those involved.

It seems to me that the more appropriate point of departure is unsatisfied love. Unsatisfied love is love which can always be better, can always be reorganized and reignited. Unsatisfied love is love without limits, love which desires more than anything else an entirely new meaning to come into the world.

And so the second position is the love of two.

The third position is the love of one, the marriage of love or the love of marriage. Whereas genuine love is the construction of a new possibility in the world of the sexual market, the love of marriage can only be a perverse love which forbids temptation – but in the name of a higher power. This is the great love of slaves.

Anarchism: Real Politics or Politics of the Act?

This is a bit of a response to a post made earlier this evening on Levi Bryant’s blog about anarchism. Apologies for the scattered ideas and the poor writing.

I’ve been an anarchist for more than half of my life. While I am often charged with being an “armchair anarchist,” the truth is that I spent the greater part of my life on the front lines tossing bricks, building autonomous spaces, and experimenting with different anarchist practices. I’ve been arrested, I’ve hiked the country, I’ve grown gardens, I’ve had dinner parties, I’ve worn black masks, I’ve fought with police officers, I’ve disrupted the meetings of members of the power elite, and I’ve participated in conspiracies against the government, and so on. I write this knowing very well that it marks me as a target. However, I also say it knowing very well that these are no longer practices that I find compelling as an anarchist. I suggest that these are reified forms of political activity which are every bit as recuperated as voting. As it happens, I’ve also spent a significant part of my life reading through the works of the great anarchists of our tradition. I write this so that it can be known that I am fully aware that many people will not recognize the anarchist tradition that I offer for them here. The point is that I recognize it, and, moreover, I am capable of defending it. Anarchism is a tradition, and a tradition which is well worth defending. Moreover, the point is that I see great value in thinking about our tradition, and in thinking itself as a form of direct action.

In a book I wrote many years ago now, namely After Post-Anarchism, I argued that most of anarchist thinking has centred around an influential text by Peter Kropotkin (his “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution”). Kropotkin went on to write an unfinished volumes on Ethics. The importance of Kropotkin’s work can not be overstated. He is at the centred of the popular tradition, and unavoidable for thinking anarchists. Moreover, his point of departure, that is, ethics, has defined a trajectory of thought. As a result, many anarchists in this continent, including Uri Gordon, Andrej Grubacic, Simon Critcley, Richard J. F. Day, etc, have argued, in each their own way, that anarchism has been to ethics what Marxism has been to strategy. The point that I am trying to make is that Levi Bryant is correct to suggest that ethics has been central to the anarchist tradition. And so as anarchists we can make a choice: we can accept the tradition as it has been popularly read through Kropotkin, we can reject that tradition (and, perhaps, build our own), or we can reread that tradition to discover entirely new ethical orientations. In After Post-Anarchism, I attempted to do all of the above. I rejected the anarchist tradition and found that at its base it was really a nihilist ethical tradition. But I also offered new readings of the tradition, through Kropotkin and Stirner.

I have argued that anarchism is not itself an ideal form of society, and that it does not necessarily teach us how to act in the world. It does not make prescriptions about action in the world. It does not suggest that building a commune or connecting the syndicates is the way to an ideal society. Anarchists have always tried to distance themselves from lofty ideals and normative abstractions. And so I attempt to demonstrate that anarchism does not necessarily signify “without law” or even “without masters.” Both of these conceptions share a similar utopian presumption about the anarchist tradition. Some of the most interesting and ignored contemporary texts in our continent have reread Kropotkin’s work to discover something similar to what I am outlining here. For example, Brian Morris and Allan Antliff have discovered that Kropotkin was, like Stirner, against these ideals. Allan Antliff has written that Kropotkin’s ethics offer a “refusal to model individuals according to an abstract idea.” This certainly sounds like something Stirner could have written. At base, then, the abstract ideal of freedom, of life without a master, would also be subject to intense anarchist scrutiny.

Some thinkers, notably Larry Gambone, have demonstrated that Proudhon and Kropotkin were against utopia because it was restrictive of personal liberty. Utopia was something that was too violent for the individual, and even for the collective. I think that a more interesting reading would argue that Kropotkin, being against abstract normative ideals, was against utopia precisely because it wasn’t violent enough. In this understanding, the problem is not that anarchism has been understood as an ethics of living without a master but that it suffers from ignoring the properly violent and traumatic dimension of the real. And this is what a politics of the real also suffers from – the real is traumatic, and we do not want to live within it. Moreover, there are times when the symbolic dimension of life collapses into the real, hides out there, and reemerges as the zone of freedom. I recall a painting by Ad Reinhardt named Abstract Painting which presents to us what immediate appears to be pure black. I maintain that this is the space of the real, of freedom, of thinking. I also note that if one remains in front of the appearance for long enough, one might discern the various shades of black that separate and give structure to the painting (see here). Reinhardt explained: “[In this painting,] there is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.” Well, this is precisely what happens in the real. Sometimes when the distribution of the sensible gives rise to the real, the uncounted, there emerges, deep in the shadows, the hegemony of the straight line. We discover that nothing has really changed. And this is what I find so disconcerting about an anarchism which begins with the assumption that life without a master is possible.

On the contrary, we negotiate with the real. We want to work something out from it, to work through the anxiety that it produces. And we want to do so with courage and conviction. We must be prepared to do the long a difficult work of thinking, of staring at the real and discovering what within it has the structure of the old world. Finally, we must seek a new justice. We must recognize that utopian interpretations of the anarchist tradition go against a deeper and more interesting reading which argues that anarchism is about seeking out and uncovering the masters concealed from the world but which nonetheless subject us to their laws (even and especially when we believe ourselves to be free of them). But anarchism, if it is to be a political doctrine, must also forever find a way to renew a sense of the subject. As Saul Newman argued so many years ago, there is no genuine political philosophy without a point of departure, uncontaminated by power, outside. This outside could be something rather paradoxical: an outside that exists deeply on the inside. We can not lose this sense of the nothing which resists suture, which forces itself inside of the world.

Finally, Levi’s conception of anarchism is that it is always at odds with the vanguard party. On this point, I am in agreement. However, when he employs a particular reading of the Lacanian plus-one as the empty place, he seems to reintroduce the possibility for the reemergence of the vanguard party. As it happens, Jodi Dean and others have already described the vanguard party as the empty place or plus-one of politics. This is why we can not model anarchist politics on the plus-one in practice. We must instead rethink the plus-one from the standpoint of the Lacanian tradition. The first thing we notice is that the plus-one has the power of achieving a sort of direct action at the level of thought: it compels us to think of the master, of all masters, as castrated. But it does not compel us toward utopian presumptions that the master does not or can not in fact exist. The master is the minimal possibility of freedom. Without the master, nothing is permitted. Anarchists know this more than any other – they get off on interrogating the master, without whom they would have no proper existence, or identity. They require the master at the level of thought. The task of anarchism is, then, to castrate the master, and then, moreover, to discover new masters. Who are the masters today? Are they the same as yesterday? Anarchism is the process of thinking and castrating the master and not, as it were, the development of a fantasy about a world without masters.

Is the Mentor supposed-to-know?

An unlikely series of proposals this week have me reflecting on the nature of mentorship.

In the first case, a young student who took a class with me began to meet me at the cafe often. She was interested in receiving scholarly advice from me and yet the discussion seldom strayed from her own personal (romantic and mental health) issues. Of course I was happy to oblige until the situation escalated and I was forced to inject some distance between us. I’m not sure to what degree this could be a case of transference.

In the second case, a woman from the other side of Canada asked me to be a mentor to her after she friended me on facebook. She refuses to reveal her identity and she speaks often of her struggle to socialize with others. She is concerned about the fact that she has no ‘spirit’ or ‘passion’. She is concerned about her own inabilities as a student and thinker, and yet she carefully crafts her sentences with expensive words. I have found some ‘spirit’ in her when I deliberately provoke her, when I confront her with her own words and plays on words.

In the third case, an older man, older than myself, who has been a facebook friend for quite some time has approached me for mentoring. He insists on paying me and on my imposing upon him a strict system of milestones. He further insists that he requires somebody to be very harsh on his writing. He wants somebody to impose a reading routine on him so that he can get his work done – he feels he needs lose something (money, time, etc) in order to progress in his work.

Here, I am prone to argue that the task of the mentor is resolutely not to impose knowledge or curricula. Neither is it to necessarily assist a student with their writing, their marketability, their know-how, and their professional development. Certainly, some degree of that is necessary, but far more important is it to regularly confront the student with their own desire.

Of the three students, I can feel, already, some ‘spirit’ coming out of the second student. This is a student I would have least suspected of change – indeed, she least suspects herself capable of change. I believe that the first student needs distance from mentors, for fear of deepening the transference beyond analytic intervention. Unfortunately, I responded to the lures much too soon and this is what accounted for the breaking of the relationship.

All of this is simply to suggest that the first responsibility of a mentor is not to be a subject supposed to know.


There are two major topics that Lacan concerns himself with during this short class: (1) teaching, and (2) drive.

With respect to the first topic: he notes that teaching certain systems of thought – such as the Copernican system or Einstein’s system – can be accomplished with minimal effort and exceptional clarity. It can be relatively easy to transmit a teaching in the field of Physics and Mathematics – depending on the audience – because the foundations of the field have already been established, certain thresholds for understanding have been passed, and so one is already prepared for the teaching, already opened up to it. Thus, much of Einstein’s teaching has already been opened up by Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus. Despite what we’ve been told – it is a seductive narrative for those who desire to know – there is no real revolution here.

Today, at the cafe, I discussed with a new-found friend, my admiration for Cornel West’s style of teaching, and also for Zizek’s performances. I called Zizek’s work a performance as a lure – if one calls it a performance than one opens up the possibility for the audience to state up front their reservations. I quickly retracted my statement because I’m not sure it was admiration that I had for them per say, rather it concerned the strategic effectiveness of their technique. Afterall, it is easy to dismiss West or Zizek on the grounds that seduction is not the proper way to transmit a teaching, as if passion alone establishes truth or validity. Those who care about such things are surely repelled from the discourse. Yet, if psychoanalysis teaches us anything at all it is quite simply that passion is the port of access through which truth passes into the field.

We often hear from Zizekians – there are fewer of them than we are led to believe – that Zizek introduced Lacan to the world. It is as if he was our gateway drug. He was the port of access. And for many, this port permitted us the possibility to move onto more serious pursuits. At least, this is how many of us have phrased it. More serious pursuits means that we are above all that hysterical bullshit, the performances, the passionate rhetoric, and so on and so on. We can at least admit that there is something to this, but surely it is not enough to claim that the teaching allows us to return home again.

Does Zizek bring us back home? That is the question. Zizek’s presented absence – the popular judgment of his work before reading – certainly seems to operate as a tactical rallying-point, around which we can situate our more serious and perhaps even moral teaching. And even former Zizek scholars – those who have moved onto more serious pursuits – seem to return back home – after a layover in France – to Lacan or Hegel. Todd McGowen tells us to spend more time doing philosophy in the bedroom, to look under our bed for monsters: he named this serious theory. I could continue on this track but I fear that I am digressing too much.

Psychoanalysis as a field is similar to the field of Physics and Mathematics. It makes its break without necessarily abandoning that which came before. Revolutions, we are told by Lacan (in a future seminar, namely seminar 17), occur by turning everything at 90 degree angles. Near the very beginning, we know that Pythagoras did this with the hypotenuse (a word which means to stretch out underneath) and revolutionized Geometry. It seems to me that Lacan does something similar to the Freudian tradition. He did not abandon it and move onto to better things, neither did he embrace it as the tradition already stood – he went at it across the hypotenuse, turning everything at 90 degree angles. He stretched out his discourse beneath Freud’s own discourse. The revolutionary break, Lacan’s revolutionary break, is with the object a. It was already there within Freud’s work, but we are pursuing it along a new angle. An angle has two meanings here, the latter has to do with catching a few fish. With Neitzsche, I wonder if there are any fish left in the water. The break, however, the break of the revolution, where it hits the breaks, is in castration anxiety.

In castration anxiety we reach the end-point of our understanding within the field of psychoanalysis. Lacan attempts to overcome this limit, to advance further, and by working at the limits of understanding itself. What is the relationship between understanding a teaching and castration anxiety? This is a question which is not yet raised, but it has been hinted at. It is in the air. In any case, Lacan needs to adopt a certain pedagogy. This indicates – it is certain – that Lacan’s teaching is strategic. He is conscious of it. Chomsky once found that it was not enough to name Lacan a charlatan, he had to be called a “perfectly conscious” charlatan. At the very least, we know that Lacan was aware – whether it was consciousness or not which fuelled his discourse remains to be seen.

We begin with what Lacan’s pedagogy is not. It is not the pedagogy of William Stern. I know nothing of William Stern so I am solely basing this discussion on what Lacan has to say, which is that for Stern everything is determined by the maturation of the intellect. Thus, when the intellect is mature, it is open to certain things, to certain discoveries, to certain advancements in knowledge, and so on and so on. For Jean Paiget, there is a movement toward scientific knowledge – and a gap between the capabilities of the child’s intellect and the capabilities of the scientific intellect. But in both cases, teaching opens up to nobody – there is no and so on and so on because the teaching is reduced to zero, it can have no effect on its audience.

Lacan is more hopeful than all of that. He claims that something like a teaching does exist. Teaching, as a way of opening up an audience to knowledge and so and so on exists. What sort of theatrical performances are involved in teaching, then? We see, for example, in Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek’s work – a teaching which evokes something, which opens up its audience to something. It may not open the audience up to the profound truth of 1+1=2 – a hard proof – but it nonetheless opens them up to a brief encounter with the operation which sustains the equation: what is the operation of the count? What is it to succeed from the first one to the second 1, which is a 2 (ie., a number with the name of the previous number, one, with something new – the name of two). Put differently, at this level we become aware of something. We become aware of the monster under the bed – some people use passion to make a point, but me, I do something much more serious. It won’t be long until we return back home.

The point is that scientific teaching – mathematical teaching – occurs to those who have already been admitted without any real obstacle. Unless, of course, an obstacle becomes the bases for revolution. But teaching in psychoanalysis has to chart a different path because the obstacle for its field can also be the obstacle for its teaching. With mathematics, Lacan claims, “[c]oncepts that might have once seemed extremely complicated at a previous stage […] are now immediately accessible to very young minds.” But within psychoanalysis, the very concepts which are now accepted become the basis for complications, and the ensuing tracing of the contours of what the teaching itself offers. All of this is simply to bring us back to Lacan’s rebuttal to Paiget and Stern: we can help children, we can open them up to something. At least, I think that this is what Lacan is going on about.

We inevitably reach a limit. For Freud, we have seen, the limit was what Lacan designates as minus-phi, namely, castration anxiety. Maybe, Lacan thinks, if we can not move beyond castration anxiety, if we can not understand any further, the best approach is to move around it, in a “roundabout way.” I can’t help but focus on this phrasing – I have to appeal to those who speak the language better than I again – it can not be a mistake that Lacan described approaching what exists beyond castration anxiety as something that must be approached in a roundabout way. After all, we have seen that what we are dealing with is something which is round like a rim, which is round like the eyes, lips, and ass-hole. We move around castration anxiety because we do not want to jump off of the stage.

The minus-phi is castration anxiety but only at first; forever after, so it seems, it is the imaginary phallus. The imaginary phallus thus finds itself everywhere and at all levels. For example, we see it in the Wolf Man’s image. I’ll return to this in a moment, after a brief detour. The primal scene happens in the visual field – it is a scene, and things are present and absent from this scene. We can think of it in less particular terms and just imagine it as a painting of black and white. The primal scene is a painting of black and white, of absence and presence, and of the whiteness or presence of the phallus. There is something traumatic about the presence of the phallus in the primal scene. It evokes anxiety – perhaps more than anxiety. For the Wolf Man, after the primal scene, the phallus was everywhere. At this point Lacan gets quite abstract, but we should be able to follow it: the phallus is everywhere in his diagram, it is in the trees, it is everywhere.

The Wolf Man’s Diagram

How can the phallus be everywhere? It is everywhere because it is constituted by the gaze. The wolves, for example, are looking at us. Everything in the image looks back at us, gazes at us, and yet from an invisible place. In this way we can say that the phallus is invisible and yet everywhere, and the gaze is here equivalent to the phallus, but in the visual field. However, this is where I get somewhat lost. Lacan claims that jouissance is presented within the image in an erect form – the subject himself is his erection, this phallus – and this is what freezes the subject from head to toe. Thus, jouissance is linked here to the phallus, linked to his own gaze, and this immobilizes. What could this mean? It seems that it has something to do with the connection between the Other and the Subject, between jouissance and phallus, to such an extent that the subject is the Other. After all, this is the hallmark of psychosis.

The primal scene triggers defecation. Here we are dealing with the excremental object, what Freud described as the gift. More to the point, Freud described the excremental object as a gift to God, to what Lacan names the big Other. It is also linked to sacrifice, and sacrifice is thereby linked to psychosis – even if it has an obsessional flare to it. Or so it seems.

On the other side there is orgasm. We’ve seen that orgasm is related to anxiety. Lacan is now most sure about this, he claims that “orgasm [is] in its equivalence to anxiety.” Orgasm, then, like anxiety, does not deceive. The question we are pursuing is how this all relates to jouissance. I feel that we are approaching this point, we are moving toward an examination of jouissance and drive. Indeed, in the next seminar, seminar 11, Lacan turns to an even closer examination of the “mysteries of drive.” Lacan does not want to suggest that the satisfaction of orgasm is to be linked with jouissance. That would be too simple, something else is going on here. For example, to complete the orgasm is sometimes not enough. Much of jouissance also comes from prolongation. At the extreme, for example, we’ve heard of men who do horrible things to women who they’ve never even said so much as “hello” to – without ever so much as obtaining an erection. Jouissance can not be reduced to the satisfaction of orgasm – that is not what is at stake in much of sexual life.

What is the relationship between desire and demand, $<>D. If we return to the graph of desire, below, we can see where it is situated. At the top left, after desire slips away from need, after an address has been made to the Other, at A. It is that extra, that remainder, that object a. This is one path. A path that is very near to castration, as we can see, but remains on the line of jouissance nonetheless.

Completed Graph of Desire

Recall that $ is in the bottom level of the table of long division, the position from which desire situates itself. At this point we are at death drive. Desire poses itself to demand at the point of castration, of the little death. Drive, Lacan claims, is “tightly entwined with the demand of lovemaking – to do it until death, or to die laughing.” This perhaps is the other face of Don Juan, whose name has all the letters of Duane, without the e. On Duan. To take the Gaelic, in full darkness. When desire poses itself in the face of Demand we enter into the satisfaction that death obtains within life – a satisfaction that comes from little death, a death we can tolerate – and a death we desire to tolerate for who knows how long. This is a form of death that helps us get off the hook for real death, for the big death. Or, at least, that is my initial interpretation. This also happens at the level of coitus interruptus, withdrawal from orgasm – or prolongation of foreplay. All the pleasure, none of the risk. It is a form of jouissance which ignores the Other and what it asks.

This is why Lacan names it little death: because there is really no risk. In fact, there seems to be a beneficial aspect to this for the Subject, death as the renewal of life. Or, perhaps put differently, a renewal of the I, the ego. The point is that something stops, or slows down, prematurely at this level. One sacrifices before the time is right – repetitively, I would presume – so that when the real sacrifice has to be made, he does not have to deal with the risk.

Lacan implies that this is largely a possible part of man’s domain. Woman, on the other hand, has a different relation to orgasm. She can finish the sexual act without orgasm and be pleased with her understanding of the relationship between her and her partner. Lacan puts this rather well: “she can now be quite easy in her mind as to her partner’s intentions.” Lacan quotes T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to get to the root of what is at stake in Woman’s relation to anxiety and orgasm:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

and puts a record on the gramophone.

So here we can see that Woman’s desire is determined by a certain jouissance which is not ultimately linked to the orgasm. Lacan makes an explicit link between feminine jouissance and hysteria. What woman, unlike man, asks for at the limit of analysis – at the limit of understanding – is the phallus. The only way to get it is to offer it, as masquerade, to man as that which can sustain his desire so as to make her feminine masquerade the basis for man’s almightiness. What can we make of this?


Lacan has been harping on the same point. In a sense, he is circling around something, something that keeps forcing him to reorient himself. His orientation is the object of the real, namely, object a. Indeed, at one point Lacan claims that we must use the concept of the real to orient our pursuits.

We return to the formula:

Anxiety is not without object

I notice that the indefinite article “an” has now been removed from the formula. Lacan does not explain why this is the case. Perhaps it is an issue with the translation, or perhaps it is intentional. In any case, an indefinite article (such as “a” or “an”) denotes one of two things: (1) that something is being referred to for the first time, and (2) that something is a member of a class or set of something larger, in other words that it is an element of a set. If it is in fact the case that Lacan intentionally dropped the indefinite article then this could be because (1) object is not something that is referred to at the beginning, rather it is a residue or remainder; and (2) object is something that can not be identified as an element of a set since it is much rather something that persists as a remainder in any and all sets. We discussed this in relation to the 30 JANUARY 1963 class: there is no way for the Euler diagram to represent lack. We need to add another dimension for this, the third dimension, so that the surface can bend back upon itself as it does with the mobius strip.

So object is here object a, and if I use the indefinite or definite articles you will forgive me.

We have also discussed in relation to the 16 JANUARY 1963 class the fact that there is a cause to desire. This is, of course, a lost cause, a cause which is missing by necessity. Object a is the cause of desire because it stands behind desire, it is behind desire perhaps at the level of drive. We know that in drive object a is itself that which provides the source of enjoyment. Lacan notes that Freud’s problem was that he placed the cause of desire to the front of desire rather than behind desire. Similarly, anxiety is not ‘the result of something’ but rather it is ‘there behind desire’. This has dramatic implications, as we shall see. It means that anxiety is itself a motive or cause for desire. It is not that anxiety is necessarily on the side of the defense of the ego, that we feel anxiety as a signal that we must defend ourselves from something.

Now we have in front of us the question of the relationship between fear and anxiety. Do they represent the same phenomena or are they far away from each other? In either case, the error, Lacan claims, is that the concepts are distinguished from their objects. This is a double error because there is a problematic notion of the object involved. The object is not, as we typically suggest, this or that chair, this or that breast, this or that person, this or that toy. This is a limited view of the object. The object is what causes desire. It is an error to presume that fear has an object. Lacan provides us with a reference to a simple piece of literature to demonstrate this point, something Chekhov wrote called “Panic Fears” [the text is very short]. Chekhov, of course, had something like a panic disorder.

So when we claim that fear has an object we are in effect arguing that fear is oriented toward something. But this is not the case for Chekhov. Chekhov describes three examples and in each case his fear came from something that did not seem to have a source or cause to it. It was a general disorientation, if I may say so, in an environment within which he presumed to be well oriented. This feeling seems like what Freud described as unheimliche, the uncanny, but there is something else going on here. I want to note before moving on that Freud’s much abused text on the uncanny was really not meant to be published. Freud had it sitting in his desk for quite some time and then pulled it out. A considerable portion of Freud’s text concerns matters of definition – he litters his text with signifiers. It is almost unbearable to read the first half of the text precisely because it seems like what today we would call an extensive “cut-and-paste”. So, I think that, much like Lacan’s concept of the gaze, we use the text on the uncanny as a way to orient ourselves, as a way of avoiding even the anxiety of having to actually do the work. I try to stay away from discussions on the uncanny and on the gaze for precisely this reason – it leads those to comment who are not prepared to do the work of having a real dialogue about the material. And isn’t this what Freud himself did with the text? He failed to do most of the work. Instead he just described the definitions he found elsewhere. And, when the stakes were high he simply pointed to other works he did. This is why the uncanny is not an essay that engages with the uncanny.

With this cautionary note about Freud’s text, I will inevitably make a few remarks.

I said that what Chekhov experienced was not anxiety. It was terror. This is what Lacan calls it, he writes: “What is involved here is not anxiety but fear [or terror]. What he is afraid of is not anything that threatens him, but something that has the character of being referred to the unknown aspect of what is making itself felt.” Yes – what I experience during my panic attacks – which do not occur very often anymore – is not anxiety. It is terror, absolute terror. I’ve read a review or two of Lacan’s tenth seminar today, one’s that refer to his distinction between “fear” and “anxiety”, and they note that ‘anxiety is without an object’ while ‘fear itself has an object.’ In the current class, Lacan’s class, it seems that fear is without an object. It seems to occur within an environment, a familiar environment, a stage of sorts, and yet it is the inability to locate the cause or source of something within that environment, it is a general disorientation within the orientation of the stage – it is the (a) within the i. So I am forced to conclude that those who note that Lacan made this distinction simply get it wrong (cf., this review). It seems to me that anxiety and fear are in fact very close.

Anxiety is not without an object. But maybe – I’m making a huge leap here – fear, terror even, is without an object. This implies that fear is in need of an object, it is in need of an orientation, of sense, of a reason, of a signifier, of an Other.  But anxiety is not without an object – it needs to be without the Other, it’s too close. So fear is closer to perversion, in a sense. I’m not sure. Perhaps we will see Lacan work out the difference in more detail in a later chapter. For now we can say, provisionally and minimally, that fear is intensified or focused anxiety. And I hazard to guess that fear, as “focused anxiety”, is “focused” precisely because it is focused more on that which is out of focus, namely the object a. Fear focuses on its own lack of support whereas anxiety is without focus on that which provides its support, namely the big Other.

We keep returning to the point: anxiety operates as a signal. If it operates as a signal it is a signal of something irreducible which has its basis in the real.  Anxiety, Lacan claims, is a signal that does not deceive, and it does not deceive precisely because it hits the real. We can see that Lacan is really prioritizing anxiety over all other affects because it (alone?) is a signal of the object of the real. More precisely, the real hits us through experience. Anxiety signals that the real has intruded into our experience. Lacan really wants us to grasp this point, or, at least, to hold onto it. He is alerting us to the fact that he will keep coming back to this point: “this guiding thread I ask you to hold onto in order to see where it leads us.”

But now we have two competing definitions of anxiety: (1) anxiety is at the source, it is the cause of desire, and (2) anxiety is a signal of the real. I think that perhaps the way to resolve this is to state that the first is relegated most typically to the perverse structure while the latter is relegated most typically to the neurotic structure.

And now we reach a point of further obscurity. Lacan introduces a “third table of long division”. I want to put it beside a variation of the other two tables so that we can note the difference (Lacan does not discuss why this table is different from the previous ones). The top table is the old table of division and the bottom table is the new, third, table of division.

$ Ø


a Ø

Immediately, we can see the following differences: (1) the top row now has a focus to indicate that they are “headers” of two columns in the table, (2) the $ and have switched places. Regarding the first difference, we can make some sense of it: Lacan has for too long been discussing the two columns in terms of the respective first terms. The left column is thus the column of the Other, the “A”. The right column is thus the column of the subject, S. And yet we also know that these two names are mythical. In reality, all that really exists exists beneath the headings. We’ll return to this point in a moment.

The and $, though now in different places, remain nonetheless within the column of the Other, A. The barred-subject, which is the only subjectivity we really have, is barred by the signifier. This is why in a previous class Lacan stated that the signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. It is because the subject is caught up in the signifier, trapped, in effect, by it, divided within it. So, in other words, the subject is inescapably implicated in the signifier and the column of the Other. Lacan also stresses the point that the signifier is there before the subject, within the locus of the Other. So, before the subject exists, there are only signifiers. [In the beginning was the word.]

Within the new table of long division: the subject, S, is an operation performed on the Other, A. It is something like an interrogation or demand. And then something is left over from any response to this demand, the a. We saw this logic at play from the very beginning in the graph of desire.

Graph of Desire

The subject is an operation performed on the Other – the Other responds to the interrogation – and something is left over from this response, the a. [See graph of desire again]. “The a is what remains of the irreducible in the complete operation of the subject’s advent in the locus of the Other and it is from this that it will derive its function.” However, the new long division, with the $ at the end, does not follow the trajectory of the graph of desire, which begins with the $. So things are more complex here. I am missing something. Perhaps it is the case that one gets the $, that is, the barred-subject, at the end – since signifiers await the subject – and yet, nonetheless, one always begins as a barred-subject. This accounts for the fact that the barred-subject, which we are, makes a demand, and then something is left over from this interrogation: the a, which follows the route of in the graph of desire above.

We should clarify things further, it seems to me that the two charts align with the registers or orders in the following way: (1) The top line, the “mythical” A and S, are “imaginary” – since they do not actually exist. The middle line, the and the barred-Other, is the real, since this is how things actually are. And the $, the subject of the signifier, is the symbolic. If this is true then it means that a fundamental reorientation is taking place. Lacan is shifting the anxiety from the imaginary register to the real register. It should be mentioned that Lacan did not provide this way of framing the long divisions. I could be way off in my interpretation.

The middle line of the new table – the and the barred-Other – certainly seems to be real. Lacan states that the is in fact what represents the subject in its irreducible real dimension. So this returns us to the mobius strip: the subject is on one side and yet that which is at the heart of him, the a, is in the field of the Other, A, on the back side. After all, the is truly the remainder – this is something Lacan has been going on about for a few classes. We now see that the a is the irreducible remainder, the real – and, perhaps even, also, the real as it appears within the image/imaginary. But we are not at this point yet.

So the shift in the table seems to have occurred because the a has come to the center stage. Whereas before it was the subject, $, which came to center stage. It is now clear that we have an object for our study, an object of psychoanalysis, and that object is not the subject but rather what is irreducible within the subject, which is, paradoxically, also outside of the subject, namely object a.

Now, what is left over is the barred-subject since the subject, precisely because of this irreducible real, can not have access to his mythical origins. He is separated from top to bottom. This explains the formula that Lacan provides:

$ = a / S

This is a new formula. It states something like: the barred-subject is the irreducible remainder divided by or split by the mythical original autonomous subject. So, in this sense, the barred-subject is his own alienation, by way of the real of a, to himself as autonomous subject. Spontaneously, this interpretation makes a great deal of sense to me so I am going to run with it.

Lacan goes further.

The top row of the new table of long division relates to “x”. We’ve seen this “x” somewhere before. I’ll post the photo below.

Mirror Schema (ego-nonego)

Mirror Schema (ego-nonego)

We can see that the “x” refers to what is on the other side of the mirror before there is an ego. In other words, the is the non-ego, the pre-subjective subject. The mythical subject and the mythical Other behind the mirror. So Lacan’s manner of relating the “x” with the top line of the third table of long division does indeed make a lot of sense. The “x” is where the ego will come to be. We can only know the x retroactively.

The second line, the and the barred-A, relates to anxiety. But now this is the dimension of the real and not necessarily, or, to be more precise, not purely, the image. Anxiety is not without an object and this object which it is not without is the object a. However, and here arises a complication, Lacan also claims that the a always belongs to the realm of the image. So we have two conflicting statements from Lacan: first the the a is the dimension of the real, and second that the a always belongs to the realm of the image? Well, which is it? In fact it is both and neither. We must remember what it means to bracket. The image always by necessity brackets and what it brackets is what it both conceals and carries along with it as a trace, namely, the object of the real.

Finally, desire occurs on the bottom line, in the division of our subjectivity by the signifier. It occurs as castration. Here we have another level of blindness, in the image. So the complications are mounting up about the interrelations of the three levels (imaginary, symbolic, real). I expect that Lacan will clarify this soon. If not, we at least know the answer (borromean knot). In any case, castration, which seems to be at the symbolic level here, relates also to the fear of going blind. Lacan states that anxiety is the possibility of that action of tearing out one’s eyes, of not seeing. At one time we thought that this was anxiety from the imaginary but now we know that it is only encased in the imaginary through the brackets. This is an anxiety from the real, in fact. However, castration happens at the symbolic, it seems. So what is the relation between castration and the anxiety of losing one’s eyes?

I want to return for a moment to Freud’s essay on unheimliche. It is seldom noted that the text ends with a discussion of the relationship between castration and lack of vision. Freud wrote:

A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration. In blinding himself, Oedipus, that mythical law-breaking, was simply carrying out a mitigated form of the punishment of castration […]. We may try to reject the derivation of fears about the eye from the fear of castration on rationalistic grounds, and say that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread; indeed, we might go further and say that the fear of castration itself contains no other significance and no deeper secret than a justifiable dread of this kind. But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male member which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies […]

Lacan puts it like this: anxiety is the fact of having one’s eyes lying on the ground. It is linked with castration, and this is why minus-phi of the mirror schema is also referred to as imaginary castration.

If we return to some of the clinical structures then we can note that neurotics can never get rid of this castration, this minus-phi. It is stuck to the heel of their shoe like gum or toilet paper. For the pervert on the other hand, it is something that must be “hunted out”, made to occur, discovered even. Put differently, anxiety is what the pervert longs for, hunts for, aims to discover, while anxiety is what the neurotic actively tries to avoid and escape. The neurotic can not get outside of his castration, can not get outside of his anxiety, and the pervert can not make castration happen enough.

If we return to the two perverse structures – namely masochism and sadism – we will see that both concern the same ‘hunt’. This is why they are not opposed to one another (i.e., sadism is not the opposite of masochism is not the opposite of sadism). The masochist has a fantasy which is to be the object of the jouissance of the Other. This is similar to the hysteric in one sense. The hysteric aims to be the object of enjoyment of the Other as well. However, the difference between the hysteric and the masochist is that the latter never in fact meets up with the Other whereas the former is never satisfied with this meeting up. Lacan does not actually distinguish between hysteria and perversion at this level just yet, but we are perfectly in the right to draw these conclusions if we so wish. Lacan says that “[w]hat is sought out is the response in the Other to the subject’s essential downfall into his final misery, and this response is anxiety.” Put simply, the masochist wants to provoke anxiety – in a sense he gets off on anxiety – in the Other by making himself the object of the Other’s anxiety. Yet, just like the neurotic, there is a fantasy which masks this fundamental relation.

Things are less obscure for the sadist. The sadists fantasy is closer to the truth of his hunt. Lacan even suggests that the sadist’s intentions is almost explicitly there within the fantasy: the victim’s anxiety is required. The sadist, like the masochist, wants the Other to experience anxiety. However, the sadist, unlike the masochist, achieves this anxiety not by making himself the object but by making the Other the object. And so the sadist torments the Other by bringing him to the limit, to the threshold of his experience, to the rim – that is, to anxiety. For reference: this was discussed in the 16 JANUARY 1963 class where I wrote:

The sadist aims to introduce a split in the Other at $ by imposing upon him that which he can not tolerate – he brings the Other to a threshold experience, he pushes the Other to the point of suffering, inflicting pain on his body. What is the cause of this desire? The anxiety of the Other – the sadist wants to cause anxiety in the Other. This is why Lacan links Sadeanism, Sadism, to Kant’s moral law. We can see that often sadistic acts are like rituals, rituals of sacrifice – but the sadist doesn’t know his cause and he doesn’t know what he is seeking from these rituals.

So, in the case of perversion, it seems that Lacan is intent on making it to the point at which he can state that the pervert, unlike the neurotic, has as his cause the infliction of anxiety on the Other so as to effectively make the Other exist. On the other hand, the neurotic has as his cause the avoidances of the intrusion of the Other – his drama is one of shaking off the toilet paper from his shoe.

We often think that enjoyment has to do with completed something, for example the orgasm. But anxiety – more to the point, object a – demonstrates to us that falling away is a serious part of enjoyment. The pervert enjoys falling away because it means that the stage, his stage, can be made to exist. Lacan’s notes one of Freud’s intuitions: the source of anxiety is sometimes coitus interruptus (the interruption of sexual orgasm or intercourse). There are a lot of new questions opened up by this, such as: what is the relationship between enjoyment and anxiety for each clinical structure?, at what level does the neurotic enjoy anxiety or falling away? Can this model sustain a thorough theory of enjoyment?

It seems that this is the direction we are heading. Lacan notes, without dwelling on it any further for the time being, that many people ejaculate at the height of their anxiety. At the risk of revealing too much on this stage, I will think back to my first ejaculation. I hit puberty fairly late. I believe that I found myself masturbating before I was even capable of enjoying it. I awaiting the feeling of pleasure. Instead I received a feeling of anxiety. I was scared to finish. Each night I would try to push it a little further. I tried. It took me quite some time before I was capable of bringing it to the fascinating heights. But I would not say that it was enjoyment per se. At the height it was enjoyable but also anxiety provoking. I am talking about a general anxiety, something that is not so serious as panic. It is like the feeling of jumping into cold water, at standing at the rim of the bridge before meeting the refreshing waters of the river. It was only when I faced up to the courage of pushing further that I ejaculated for the first time. In this case, then, experience demonstrates, at the formative moment of my entrance into mature sexuality, anxiety was the basis.

This leads us to question what it means when a subject eroticses anxiety itself.