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.

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.


This is the final class from the tenth seminar of Lacan. He opens the class by informing us that he will fill in all the holes, that he will provide us with some sense of closure. Of course, this is not what he does at all. He fills in some holes, opens many others, and leaves many holes as holes.

He brings us back to Freud’s late work, wherein he described anxiety as a signal, and, moreover, anxiety as a signal of danger. At this point Lacan is able to claim that this danger which is signalled by anxiety is bound at some level to the question of the cession of object a. Recall that Lacan spent a great deal of time in the last class discussing the anal stage and its respective object, excrement. It is the moment one one can no longer hold in, hold on, that one finally lets go. One gives up, one lets go. And when one lets go – perhaps by accident, perhaps on the way to the potty – one feels the dangerous effect. So what one is really holding onto behind the anal object, behind excrement, is precisely object a. It is behind it all.

We’ve also seen in the previous class that human desire at the anal stage is already a function of the desire of the Other. The toddler holds in the object, the object a, precisely so that he can gain recognition, an acknowledgement, encouragement, from the Other. It is by holding it in that he gains approval. Every parent knows this to be the case: my son sits on the potty for the first time and we clap and give him a high five, he sits a second time, again, and so on until finally he goes to the potty himself without shitting on the way. It is always a risk. Once, it broke my heart, Soren used the potty and looked up at me and said: “Do you love me now Dad?”

And then we discussed the scopic relation. Recall that Lacan placed the various stages of ‘development’ (from oral stage through to phallic and onward to superegoic) along an archway which progresses upward and then regresses downward. In this way he demonstrated that even as one progresses one regresses on another level. Thus, the anal stage is parallel to the scopic stage – and so there is a relationship between the two here. In the scopic field we turn back on ourselves and how we are viewed by the Other – at least for the case of obsession. The subject is here linked to the Other by virtue of the semblable, his own ego ideal. It is at this level that the subject encounters what we can refer to as alienation. Recall that one version of Marx’s theory of alienation was that species-being becomes alienated from itself, it was to this process that alienation referred. The concept of alienation thereafter became an essential starting point for many of the German philosophers; notably, Max Stirner, who brought the theory of alienation to its limit by positing that species-being is a radical nothingness, and that one must essentially traverse the fantasy of all ‘spooks’ which attempt to transform this nothingness into something which is against our own interests. Thus, one can finally become the creative nothing which in turn creates everything. The Alpha Male.

The problem at this level is therefore that I don’t know what object I am. So I must rather be nothing at all. Am I nothing or am I something? This is the question, and this is the source of great anxiety. The problem is that we do not have access to the Other’s reality – we only have access to what is perceived as his or her demand. So, there is something detached at this level. Something is not there, something is lacking. The anal stage fulfils the function of making the Other’s demand occur in a clear cut fashion. The Other pinches out a demand, if I can put it that way.

Next, we discussed the fact that there is a desire of desire, a recursion, or a layering of desire, that occurs for obsessional neurosis. Desire is hidden behind so many things, including, for example, aggression. Apparently this is where the formula which eluded my understanding from the very beginning designates:

d(a): 0 > d(0)

Lacan claims that we should read this as follows: desire as object a is determined by a ‘yieldable’ object such that the subject is faced with the impossibility of coexistent self-consciousness. There can only be one desire, and this is why he does not ever get to the cause of desire. There can only be one, as Stirner put it: the Unique one. There is only one egoist, only one within the schizophrenia of the Herd. There can not be another speaking in and through me. And so I must empty this place of all foreign consciousnesses, of all spooks, and reduce myself to the only one, the unique, the creative nothing.

So, since we are dealing with self-consciousness, we can see why we are essentially confronted with a question of existence. We are dealing with the existence of one or else none. There can only be one: so be or not to be. If obsession is articulated in this way then the end of analysis can only be a question of the analysand’s oneness – that is, a question of castration and of the analyst’s position in this fantasy as the agent of castration. This is why the end of analysis seems to have something to do with castration anxiety. This is the level at which Oedipus is situated, according to Lacan. Oedipus wanted to see what existed beyond the satisfaction of his desire and so his sin was that he had a passionate thirst [is thirst the right word here?] for intellectual certainty. He wanted to know and so he paid for this knowledge with his own eyes, with castration. And is this not what we’ve seen with some of the other great obsessionals of history. Isaac Newton and other physicists (such as John Dalton), were notable scientists (who, it should be mentioned, held serious private theological convictions) who sacrificed their eyes for knowledge, for certainty. How else could they come to know?

With the obsessional neurotic still in mind, we return to the Inhibition-Symptom-Anxiety chart, this time with some adjustments.

I Desire not to see Powerlessness Concept of Anxiety (embarrassment)
S Misrecognition (not wanting to know) Almightiness (fantasy) Suicide (passage a l’acte)
A Ego Ideal (turmoil) Mourning (acting-out) Anxiety

I’d like to compare this with the last chart:

Inhibition Impediment (Not Being Able) Embarrassment
Emotion (Not Knowing) Symptom Passage a l’Acte
Turmoil (emoi) Acting-out Anxiety

We’ve been using the bottom chart over since the very first course. Now, on the last class, Lacan seems to make a number of changes. To be sure, these are not serious changes. The staggered Inhibition, Symptom, Anxiety are now headings for each row. In place of “Inhibition” is the Desire not to see – and yet it is still inhibition. Yet, at this point, Inhibition comes to stand for powerlessness and embarrassment as well. This is a significant revision. Powerlessness, which is another way of saying not being able or impediment, is also, truth be told, an inhibition. And so too is embarrassment.

The only additional thing worth mentioning about his chart is that the anxiety at the bottom right, in the row of anxiety is now a second-level form of anxiety. It is masked anxiety, or anxiety concealed. As I wrote above, the obsessional can not handle the possibility that there is a desire to his desire, that there is another anxiety beyond the anxiety that he thinks he feels. Ultimately, this is because the obsessional can only think in terms of the Kierkegaardian either/or: either I hold onto some concept or formula at the symbolic level to cleave into the real or I am held by anxiety in perceiving the real as such. This is sort of logic has to do with the number 1: the obsessional seems to think that he is 1, indivisible, absolutely unique, and so on. Otherwise, he must be nothing at all.

At the end of the class Lacan sets out to hint at the next topic he will cover, in future seminars. It is the name, and, more to the point, the names-of-the-father. He gives us a taste of what the stakes are about: at the mythical level, the father intervenes so as to crush the desires of all others – the brothers, for example. It’s not for nothing that the first question a candidate is asked when undergoing initiation in a masonic lodge is about their fear of God. It is the fear of God which conditions the possibility of there being brothers. In any case, I thought it was not for nothing that Lacan finished his tenth seminar with the follow statement: “The analyst certainly ought to be the one who, however little, from some angle, from some line of approach, has merged his desire back into this irreducible a sufficiently to offer the question of the concept of anxiety a real guarantee.” We have here the question of the analyst as the object petit a. What could this mean?



Lacan wants to continue to think about the relation between the obsessional’s desire and anxiety. He begins by returning to the first chart he proposed in this seminar series, a chart developed by ‘staggering’ the terms from Freud’s Inhibition, Symptom, Anxiety.

Inhibition (the act) Impediment (not being able) Embarrassment
Emotion (not knowing) Symptom Passage a l’acte
Turmoil (Emoi / poised outward) Acting-Out Anxiety

Lacan claims that it may have been impossible for us to figure out the entire chart by ourselves. He didn’t provide us with everything we needed. He seems to want to fill in the blanks a bit here. But he won’t do so in any clean or organized way.

He begins by noting that the emoi of turmoil is quite distinct from that which precedes it on the vertical axis, namely emotion. Emotion, from the Latin emovere means “to move out[ward]” and this is what Lacan first picks up on. So we are dealing with a certain type of outward “movement”. Recall that the vertical axis of the chart indicates movement, movement which increases as one moves to the base of the chart. But emoi from turmoil relates to something that is “poised outside” in the first place. I believe that we are supposed to get the sense that emoi is about the ego ideal. The ego ideal is poised outside isn’t it? It is a view of oneself from the outside, from the side of the big Other. This is why emoi sounds like et moi – “and me?” – since it is fundamentally about the me, the ego. Lacan for some reason claims that we are dealing with a pun – but isn’t it the case that this is a homophony?  The emoi is beside the ego, beside oneself. 

So, when we are dealing with turmoil we are necessarily dealing with the object a in its relation to anxiety from the place of desire. Turmoil is one way of moving outward to that place where anxiety itself resides – in the lack of the Other which is, in the case of the obsessional, at the lack in the ego ideal itself.

Anxiety is not lined to turmoil it is rather what determines it. Lacan states this because it is important for us to realize that anxiety exists at all levels. Well, this is my reading. Either it exists at all levels or else it exists especially, in exposed form, on that axis – whether vertical or horizontal – on which the category is placed (thus connecting turmoil, acting-out, passage a l’acte, and embarrassment). Anxiety pre-exists all relations to the object cause of desire, object a, inasmuch as anxiety is hat is uncovered at certain modes of the treatment. It is probably linked to cause because there are various ways of filling in the cause, of removing the gap that separates cause from effect and result. Yet, turmoil also can not really get a hold of the cause of desire precisely because anxiety stands in the way. So, for example, when we look at the Wolf Man’s turmoil, as an obsessional, we can see it as anal turmoil.

We can see the way obsession is linked at the anal stage here. It is because in some way obsession brings object a into the picture in its first form through the anal stage. For the obsessional, it is when the field of the Other splits open, when anxiety suddenly appears there, that trauma occurs – a trauma which is none other than turmoil. And this is where the trauma occurred for the Wolf Man, in the primal scene. But we need to be sure to be very precise here when we describe the opening up of anxiety from the place of the Other, of the primal scene for example. This has nothing at all to do with the Other qua Other – the absolute Other, the mother for example. It has to do with the Other as the part of the subject himself. This is very important. For example, some obsessionals, who are staging the drama of the Other, of the ideal ego, will most likely post many things on facebook, on their blog, will google their own name, will reread their sent emails from their sent folder. Daniel Tutt wrote on his twitter feed that it is when one reads their own sent mail from the sent folder itself that they are viewing themselves from the frame of the big Other. This is no doubt obsessional behavior. But you can see how it is connected to the subject himself, and how the subject views himself from the position of the Other, from the gaze of the Other. It is the same with the breast or nipple: during breastfeeding, claims Lacan, the breast is merely stuck onto the mother, stuck onto the mother because it is in all actuality a part of the individual who is being fed. Objects are always more than just objects, they are the subject himself.

This helps us to understand how it is that the object a for the obsessional can be that which he separates from himself in order to constitute an identity for himself. We have to be careful here because it can be easy to think about the as something that is a result, or an effect, inasmuch as it is something that the obsessional casts off from himself. Rather, it is the very cause of his desire – the obsessional desires because he doesn’t know what to do with this part that he casts off from himself.

In the previous class we discussed that the obsessional subject, at the anal stage, holds back. It is in the holding back that desire is situated as cause. The desire to hold back during potty training reaches a more general level for the obsessional who holds back from much in life. We see this in the practice of middle age males who sometimes find more pleasure in holding back on their orgasm, sometimes for many hours. This is the level of inhibition, above. Inhibition means quite obviously, to hold back. It is something like a defense, one holds back to keep from losing the Other’s recognition.

At this point, Lacan introduces something quite interesting. Inhibition is what introduces another desire into the picture, a desire at another level. One can imagine that desires are here stacked like cups on top of one another, in layers. The layered desire conceals the other desire behind itself, through inhibition.

I’m not sure why, but it is at this stage that Lacan introduces the concept of the act. The act is at the locus of inhibition – somehow, and for some reason which I can not discern. Yet to act means to go against inhibition, it means to cease evadingor layering, desire and to accept the presence of the a, to no longer cast it off.

you can not act while evading the presence of object a

Whenever we act we are always leaving the gap from the cause of desire there where it stands. We do not fill it in, and we do not layer onto it another top-level desire. The gap of desire is always written in an act. Thus, there where inhibition sets in the obsessional must make the gap itself felt. This sounds easy enough for clinicians to figure out and yet the obsessional always seems to make this process difficult. There are always so many defenses in obsession, so many stories, so many displacements. The layered desire is always introduced because the obsessional wants to hold back on his original desire, on his original object – excrement. So:

for the obsessional: there is desire behind desire

Desire thus operates as a defense against desire within obsession. At the top level, where there is little movement and little difficulty, there is the possibility for the act. There where movement remains little, and difficulty increases, we have the impediment. An impediment is quite simply the obsessional’s not being able. The obsessional is not able to hold back, because he is not there in being. This is why compulsions set in, it is because he cannot hold himself back. 

Emotion is the result of not knowing. We know very well that emotion is often the result of not knowing. I’m going to give an example from something I’ve witnessed recently in my life as an academic. I write this and hope to keep the person’s name confidential, as well as his identity – I am fairly confident that nobody from my university will read this post. There was a symposium wherein upper year PhD students were invited to present their work to professors and students. One student presented his research and was met by a critical response from a professor who meant a lot to him. The student defended his research, almost to the point of inhibition. Yet, he remained stuck at emotion. The truth is that he didn’t know how to respond to the critique – I’m not sure any of us would have been able to respond. In place of a response, the student moved into a discussion about why the research was so important to him. He said that it was so important because he finds it difficult to critique the subjects of his research. He was fighting tears and found himself vocalizing his emotion, stating that he wants to cry when he thinks about it. This, I believe, was displaced emotion.

Emotion has to do with not knowing, and not knowing when confronted with a task – when the subject does not know how to respond. Rather than impeding himself he lets himself go into emotion. And to go into the emotion response, claims Lacan, is to find the path toward the primal trace again. Recall that the obsessional means to efface the trace, and so emotion is a way of effacing the trace by reconstituting it. The obsession aims to locate the authentic cause of everything, it is an impossible search, and so the search turns around and around without amounting to much. The trouble is that by reconstituting the trace, the object a, by making discovery impossible, the obsessional approaches the possibility of acting-out. He will find that anxiety keeps emerging, keeps poking its head, and, moreover, that is keeps escalating. One hopes that this doesn’t bring the obsessional to passage a l’acte or to embarrassment.

The obsessional sometimes prefers to not even look into any of this. Love for him is an exalted bond. He expects a certain image of himself to be loved, an image which he gives as a divine gift to the Other. The obsessional removes the distance from the cause of desire by chaining himself to the image of himself, to ego ideal. This is a distance between himself and himself, between himself and that kernel of the Other within himself.


Lacan points out that his understanding of the object a in relation to the various stages of ‘development’ is best approached by plotting each stage along an arch. At every level on the line of the arch the object a is clasped onto a different object. So it seems as though the object a is the real object here, and all these other objects are ways of thinking the object as a partial object. In every level, at every ‘stage’, as it were, the object a is what is involved. More to the point, it is the object a constituted in some respect via the locus of the Other.

The Forms of the Object in Stages

Lacan makes some vague connection between the left side and the right side of the arch. The oral stage is somehow linked to the superegoic stage, and the anal to the scopic. But at the height of the arch is the phallic stage. He also claims that all progression comes with its own regression, and all regression comes with its own progression. I take this to mean that the progress to the scopic stage brings us back to an issue encountered in the anal stage. But the phallic stage is at the height – it takes object a as lack.

Within the anal stage the object that object a substantializes into is the shit itself. Within the anal stage it is excrement which serves as the cause of desire. The anal stage has an obsessional dimension inasmuch as the object of obsession is quite often excrement. The obsessional demonstrates an interest in his excrement, in the shit that he produces. I wrote produces, but this goes against what we traditionally think about when we think about excrement. We like to think of excrement as waste, as refuse, as what is itself refused. Minimally, excrement is what the body as machine refuses. So we think that most individuals are not interested, refuse to be interested in this thing which they reject. Lacan goes on to describe the way in which an individual, at this stage, can make excrement into an object.

Excrement enters into the constitution of the subject – for the obsessional at least – through the intermediary of the Other’s demand. We can think of the Other as the mother during childhood. This happens during potty training – the toddler is instructed to hold onto the shit, to wait it out, to keep it inside. Sometimes the toddler is even made to hold it inside for far too long, since a potty can not be found in time. In holding the excrement in his body for too long he in effect [or is it by result?] makes it a part of his own body. I want to emphasize this phrasing: he makes it a part of his own body. This is key because the partial object, in this case excrement – but in other cases it could be the breast or nipple – is never actually the Other’s object. It is always one’s own object. In any case, the toddler holds it in so that it can not be lost, so that, minimally, the moment can not be lost. After which point, the demand from the Other arises. The mother demands that he let it out. At this point the toddler notices that he is being acknowledged, that he is being acknowledged for letting it out. And so the toddler recognizes that he can be recognized by the Other, that he can respond to the Other’s demand and make the Other satisfied.

The excrement then, when released, can come to symbolize castration. So, at the anal stage he the subject can recognize himself as the object, as the object of a certain demand for instance. There seem to be two stages implied here: in the first stage, the poop is admired when it is released. But in the second stage the child is taught not to get too close to the poop. He is taught this because the mother wears gloves, covers her nose, and so on. So things get more ambiguous, the demand is ambiguous. Lacan offers a formula:

<> $

The object a is the cause of ambivalence and ambiguity, it leads to the barred-subject. Is this the opposite of the formula of the scopic dimension: $<>a. Maybe I’m making things too clean by stating this.

Lacan wants us to note this chart:

Voice a Desire of the Other
Image The Other’s might
Desire Anxiety (minus-phi) The Other’s jouissance
Trace The Other’s demand
Anxiety a Desire x of the Other

It seems to me that the left column indicates the substantialized object a, the object of object a. The middle column seems to have to do with something like the question posed at that level – for example, at the level of the image, we are dealing with a question of might, at the obsessional level of the trace we are dealing with a question of demand. The right column seems to imply what ultimately provokes this question. I would like help deciphering this – perhaps it will be picked up again in one of the last two classes. At the level of desire we know that minus-phi is what unites the sexes at that moment when it seems as though the Other’s jouissance has entered the field. Recall that male desire reduces object a to his possession and woman’s desire finds the Other through love.

Returning to obsession, it is often the case that the anxiety that one confronts is covered over by the Almighty presence of the Ego Ideal. We often believe that obsession and religion go hand in hand precisely because of the belief in God. But this is too simple. All of this happens on a stage, and at the level of obsession, the belief in God occurs in the real. This is what allows Lacan to say such incredible things as: “The gods are an element of the real, whether we like it or not, even if we no longer have anything more to do with them. This implies that, if they’re still there, it’s quite clear that they go about incognito.” And does this not explain why some of the most exceptional obsessionals in history – Isaac Newton, and the earlier pioneers of light and particle physics – had a private life which involved decoding biblical passages, finding the date of the apocalypse, entering into covenants at the mystical level, or, like Freud, joining the freemasons. Many of the early light physicists believed that it was by rationally explaining the phenomena of light, by observing nature and conducting empirical observations and so on, that they could paradoxically bring themselves closer to god in their private lives. For them, it was science, physics, formulae, and nature, that provided the bases for their own covenant with the Almighty.

Lacan once again puts this rather well: part of believing is also not believing. If believing were visible then it might not be true belief, real believe must occur in the real, it must go unnoticed, it must be invisible. This is why atheists are often true believers. The revolutionary atheist is not the one who denies God, but rather the one who affirms himself as not serving any God [publicly]. This implies that they are self-made, complete onto themselves, unified – not-split! – subjects. He is perhaps himself a God, or, better, he denies in public the extent to which he believes in private.

I want to return to what I was writing about the early light physicists. Many of them spoke through formulae, early mathemes. Formulae held things together, secured a bond to their work. Lacan claims that man believes that he can reach the concept, that he cal grasp the real by way of a signifier that controls the real. We see this with prayer. I recall the confessional ritual that I conducted once a month at my church when I was a boy. The priest would inform me to say some large number of such and such a prayer (repeat that prayer so many times) and another dozen other repetitions of a different prayer. It is through the repetition of the prayer that I was able to access God’s forgiveness, through the repetition of signifiers or divine formulae.

This is man’s distinct ability. Lacan claims that the signifier is the transcendental location itself, it is what allows us to go beyond the environment in which we find ourselves. He compares this to the transcendental realm opened up to non-human animals. Apparently many animals find themselves aware – through anxiety! – of upcoming ecological disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Other animals, like cats, can detect the death of their kittens long before a human is able. This seems to confirm the argument that anxiety is that which does not deceive.

The proof is that when you see animals becoming agitated in this way, in those parts of the world where such incidents can occur, you would do well to take this into account as a way of being forewarned of what is in the offing. For them, like us, this is a manifestation of a locus of the Other. An Other thing evinced as such.

Perhaps, then, when Noah built his ark and brought the animals on board, this is why the animals came running.


Lacan has been demonstrating that anxiety resides, essentially on the side of the Other, where the other is lacking, perhaps even as a signal that something is lacking there. However, we know by now that the Other is not the Other as such, at least not at the level of anxiety, it is much rather the Other as it is in its relation to the Subject. Anxiety is there where the desire of the Other is a question. So this means that desire, which is always desire of the Other, opens up at some level to anxiety, at those times when the question surfaces as such. At least, I think this is the correct interpretation.

Desire is in a sense revealed by anxiety, precisely because anxiety is that which does not deceive. We can be sure that we are not deceived when anxiety is in the picture. We also know – at least, we presume that we know since this was not articulated in any depth during the last two years (1962-3) of classes – that the Other is the place of the signifier. We discussed in previous classes that, quite obviously, we are not born with language, it comes from some place, it is transferred from the Other. So, we get our signifiers from the Other and, when this comes through to us, we become barred-subjects, subjects barred into the signifier to signifier relation. At this point I want to be clear about what Lacan seems to mean by the barred-subject. It is not that the subject is somehow hiding behind signifiers, or that anything at all is hiding behind the signifiers, it is that the subject is nothing but this signifier to signifier relation, at least at a certain level. Desire, object a as the object cause of desire, is a gap in the signifier to signifier relation, a residue, it is what is left over after the subject becomes caught into this signifier to signifier relation.

When anxiety appears, at the level of object a, from the position of the barred-subject, that is, through the matheme of fantasy $<>a, it does so, then, necessarily, in some relation to the desire of the Other – precisely because it comes after, in some sense, subjectification to the bar. This is why Lacan always places the object a on the side of the big Other. The object a is dependent upon the subject vis-a-vis the big Other, it is at the intermediary position, in between, to some extent. Thus, the object a is also, in effect, prior to the constitution of the Subject. It comes before precisely because it is on the side of the Other. This is where things could get complicated real fast. I’m going to slow down so that I don’t get lost.

The object a is also the cause of desire, it is the subject’s cause of desire inasmuch as it is caused from the Other. In other seminars Lacan will describe this, with hysterical neurosis as its support, using the formula: desire is desire of the Other. You can see that the subject’s desire is caused by something Other.

Lacan seems particularly interested in Obsessional Neurosis at this point. The emphasis on cause, with respect to object a, is crucial at the level of obsession and compulsion, as we shall see. At some level the obsessional who suffers from compulsions is confronted by anxiety at that moment when he fails to act with respect to his desire. In other words, if the compulsion concerns checking that the stove is shut off, or that the front door is in fact locked, then anxiety sets in when he fails to check. It is his own inability to act that causes obsession, in this case. You can see here that it is when the Other – the message from the Other – is not addressed that the possibility of its lack sets in, the possibility of anxiety as such.

The obsessional must be brought to recognize that that’s how it works. It is schematic, it is a mechanism, the machine perhaps, that he must come to understand. Thus, the crucial first step of analysis consists of simply having the obsessional realize at some level that there is such a thing as an unconscious, at the level of a system, at the level of the machine, at the level of formulae, topology, whatever. The obsessional is quite often even aware of his symptoms, but even here he might fail to address them, to subjectify them. There is only one way through and it is to “grab the symptom by the ears […] [that is, it is to grab] the unassimilated side of the symptom, unassimilated by the subject, [by the ears.” You grab him, you force him to see that this is how it works. At some level, what you are really doing is demonstrating that there’s a cause behind this. This there’s a cause behind this is enough to open up the point at which he can in fact open himself up to his pact with the Other.

Thus, many times the wrong move is to spell out what the problem is, to articulate it, put it into words, come to understand it, and so on. More often, I believe, the more effective move is to merely bring others (as well as oneself) to recognize the fact that, as Lacan puts it, there’s a cause behind this. This is why the technique of free association is not enough with obsessionals. Learning to speak, fully, is, in this conception, essential. But learning to speak is much more difficult for the obsessional. Free speech, despite what early Brauer and Freud believed, is never anything like free for the obsessional. Imagine, for example, these rap superstars who produce videos of themselves on youtube, freestyling. We all know that those lines are rehearsed, that there are certain formulae guiding the process of their speech. It is precisely the same in the clinic. It is not enough to simply verbalize, if the cause doesn’t slip it. This is not how it works, there is a cause behind all of this. The obsessional needs to recognize that the unconscious works, even while all his postures aim to demonstrate this possibility. This is why we need to bring out the object a relation as cause of desire.

We must take seriously the question of cause. The point is that causality does exist. And we need to begin to think about it in terms of what Lacan calls his “transcendental ethics”. We know that space is not an a priori sense perception. Our understanding or intuition concerning space develops. It is not as simple as the point that subjective experience is inside and thing-in-itself is outside. Space is a part of the real, in all cases, for Lacan. At this point, I think Lacan’s argument is itself limited. The ontological twists he develops here with respect to the mobius-strip and the cross-cap are precisely on the side of the subject, ultimately. It is psychical, at base. Yet, there is another dimension here which is per-embryonic, which is before the subject, and which generates the very embryonic structure which comes to define the life of desire. In any case, the twisting of the strip is itself a way of organizing life lodged in real space, but what about real space lodged within life? This is not even a question. Three dimensional space – unlike, in many ways, the two dimensional space of the Eulerian model – allows us to understand the presence of desire at the scopic level, in fantasy.

Cause can not be grasphed. It evades, withdraws, and so on. And yet everything is caused. Cause is also quite literally a question. Lacan was explicit about this, even if he didn’t dwell on it. Cause is a question. Is it, then, perhaps, the question that being – jouissance – asks? At this point Lacan makes a number of distinctions:

  1. Cause = object cause, object a
  2. Effect = desire (but there is nothing effectuated about desire)
  3. Result = Symptom (result of a question, not the effect of a question)

I can’t tell you what headaches this gave me trying to figure out – even if I’ve only dedicated a few moments to it. I’m still somewhat at a loss. We see three distinctions: cause, effect, and result. The object a is literally the cause of desire, the support of desire and fantasy. And yet it is also ungraspable, unknowable, and yet entirely causal. Desire is the effect of the object a, but it is not “effectuated” – which must mean that it is not forced. There is no strict forcing of desire by the cause of desire. There is something ungraspable and so there is a way of moving around in relation to this ungraspable cause. Finally, result is the symptom. I wonder if this means that the symptom is the question itself, the question asked as a result of the effect of the cause. This makes some sense for me so I’m going to roll with it. I’m going to, for now – until I see evidence to the contrary – presume that symptom relates to the question, desire to the fantasy, and object a to the ungraspable cause. The cause itself introduces a gap in the effect, and produces a result which, eventually, can fade away. It fades away because new questions get asked. Take, for example, the case of science. In science we have a cause of desire which effects something and results in a question. We ask the question – obtain some progress – and the question fades away precisely because the gap gets filled in. We obtain an answer for the cause. Put differently, whenever we make a discovery in the field of science we often forget to ask about waht it was that drove us to ask that question in the first place. Why do we care about the nature of light, for example? Why was the Atom Bomb discovered? What drove Einstein to his famous formula of relativity? Lacan puts it like this: “the cause vanishes into thin air – what we didn’t know vanishes into thin air.”

Now, we can latch onto some more diagrams. I can’t reproduce them here due to limitations of the medium but I will try to describe them. Actually, I will produce them using symbols, where parentheses should be taken for circles. We have five levels. I’ll put them all here right away:

  1. (S (a) barred-A)
  2. (a ($) barred-A)
  3. (M (-phi) W)
  4. (S (x) +phi)

Lacan describes these are five “levels” in the constitution of the a in the relation between S and A. In the first operation, we can see, the Subject is in some relation to the barred-Other. The Subject is not barred here, for some reason. He is the mythical subject, or, at least, he must be. The Other is split open, and split open to reveal the lack, the signal of anxiety. And this lack, this object a, is transferred, or so it seems, onto the Subject. So the subject is, thus, split between himself as mythical subject and himself as desire of the Other. In this sense, he is in need in the Other. The subject has his support in the Other, and at the level of the Other. His desire is literally the desire of the Other. It is the oral dimension.

In the second phase, the object a is split from the Other entirely and what is between is the barred-subject. There is a passage from the S into $, moving from left to right, from mythical subject to its operation on the Other, whereby the subject enters the world of the signifier. Here, via the signifier, there is demand in the Other. There is a concern here with the remainder in the Other’s demand, that which is left over from the demand. I suppose this is why the object a is in the place of the mythical subject. Who knows.

The third level is the phallic dimension. Lacan brings us back to his discussion of the relation between the sexes, constituted as it is by the minus-phi. What we are dealing here is always with imposture and masquerade, with the lack of an object, and with how one relates to this lack. At this level it is not demand but jouissance in the Other which matters. This is the level of true castration anxiety.

The fourth level concerns the eye. It seems to be the most “mature” level, in a sense. The subject is confronted with fantasy, the x from early in the year, and it is the might in the Other which matters. The subject is here doomed toward nonrecognition. I presume that Lacan will go over all of these again very soon, because he does not spell them out in much detail.

The final operation concerns the desire of the Other in its purest form. We see it in obsession, where anxiety is at the fore. As I wrote at the beginning of this blog, the obsessional is always repressing the desire of the Other. Object a is thus reduced to angst, to anxiety. And through this reduction the obsessional must move toward Demand, as a cover for anxiety. The obsessional requires authorization – the other needs to demand him to do something. You can imagine, then, that, for example, someone writing a blog, collecting notes, about the 10th seminar of Lacan’s, who wanted to exit the stage, required a certain somebody, or a certain number of somebodies, to demand that he continue. The Other has to ask him to do something.

The obsessional covers over the desire of the Other by means of the demand of the Other. The object a is situated here at the anal level – at the level where the gift, excrement, must be demanded of him. Here it is, my shit – for you. And so this opens up the field of anal anxiety. Anal anxiety which, I wonder, must have some relation, lets hope not in its psychotic dimension, to fear and trembling, to panic


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?


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.