The Port of Access – and “lack of lack”

A S (Jouissance)
a Ø (anxiety)
$ (desire)


Within Lacan’s table of long division: he places anxiety between Jouissance and desire. If it is in the middle it is not because it mediates between desire and jouissance but rather because it must be passed through. One can not do otherwise but pass through the field of anxiety. This is why Lacan refers to it as the “port of access”. Here, anxiety seems to connect it with two lacks. There is a lack in the Other (the barred O) and a lack in the subject (objet a).

From the position of desire ($) we use the port of access to arrive at fantasy. Thus, the matheme of fantasy expresses: $<>a (the barred-subject faces objet petit a). At this point we can not admit the thesis that the objet a is that which we avoid. Rather, we must admit that it is that which we must deal with. And so fantasy is one way of facing it. Another is jumping off stage, passage a l’Acte.  It is for this reason that objet a, in seminar 10, seems to have two faces. It is the mobius strip. It is, that which we can not face, or, avoid, and yet that which we must deal with nonetheless. The objet a is a port of access and not solely that which we avoid.

A lot of seminar X seems to deal with obsessional neurosis. And what the obsessional neurotic can not bare is that he or the Other is lacking. The obsessional’s fundamental problem, we are told, has to do with the problem of the *is*: the obsessional is not. His question concerns being itself. And so imposture has to do with being where there is lack of being. It seems to me that it is only the pervert who confronts anxiety as a lack of lack – his attempt is to make lack appear. And he does this by bringing the Other (or himself) to the anxiety-point.

And so anxiety arises here in a confrontation with lack and not, as it were, with lack of lack. This is something I’m struggling with because I can not find any support for the thesis of lack of lack. For example, on page 234 of Seminar X, Lacan says: “The anxiety-point lies at the level of the mother. In the child, the anxiety of the mother’s lack is the anxiety of the breast drying up. The locus of the anxiety-point does not merge with the locus at which the relation to the object of desire is established.” So here it seems clear that it is not when there is a lack of lack, namely, an overburdening presence of the breast, but rather, when the child realizes that the breast could suddenly stop working/providing. This is not to claim that anxiety occurs from separation – but from the ambiguity of objet a itself. The same occurs in the case of the homosexual woman. It is not the over-presence of the father’s gaze which provokes a passage a l’acte but rather the very ambiguity of the gaze – no? On page 236 we see that Lacan claims that the anxiety-point “lies at the level of the Other.” So this gives more support to my thesis that anxiety resides in a privileged domain – the domain not of objet a specifically, but of the lack in the Other. 



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.


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?


In this seminar, Lacan discusses and expands upon Theodor Reik’s work concerning the shofar. In a sense, Lacan aims to extract the descriptive work that Reik provided without reducing his own analysis to one of ritual. There is something else about the shofar which is of interest to us: it represents the object in the field of the ear. It seems basic, but it is worth pointing out that the shofar is an object. It is an object that serves a very important function within the Jewish faith. The fact that the shofar is an object of ritual does not lead us any closer to understanding its essential function from a psychoanalytic point of view. Lacan puts it all on the line at the very beginning: the shofar gives substance to the object a at that point where desire and anxiety are bound together.

Shofar used in Jewish Ritual

What does it mean to say that shofar gives substance to the object a at that point where desire and anxiety are bound together? I hazard a guess: in the previous class Lacan was at pains to demonstrate that anxiety is always on the side of lack and the Other – but desire on the other hand is on the side of the barred-subject. Moreover, object a was on the side of the subject as well. All of this was outlined in the table of long division. So – when desire, the subject, and anxiety, the lack in the Other, are bound together, the distinctions between them cease to be operative. This must be none other than the field of perversion, the field of play wherein the subject makes an attempt to conjure up the lack in the Other, to make the Other exist as such through anxiety.

So now we bring our analysis to the field of the ear. The shofar is none other than a horn – a real horn inasmuch as it is the horn from an animal, a ram or wild goat – which can be blown to make a sound. I’ve included a short video so that you can hear it for yourself, below:

You can see that it is used in synagogues during ritual Jewish festivals that follow the new year rosh hashanah which ends the great atonement yom kippur. What we see in many rituals today is a short horn, however I’ve been told that longer horns were more common at one time. I believe that the length was an important aspect of the ritual, not because of its spatial dimension but because of the sound that must have found its way out of the larger horn. The resulting sound seems to have a real effect on people who are capable of hearing it. We’ve seen this, for example, written in the bible. What Reik failed to do – according to Lacan – was link Yahweh himself with the object, as if the horn was itself the voice of God.

There are a few passages which are worth replicating here. The first is Exodus 19:16-19, which reads:

16. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

17. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

18. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

What do we notice here? We notice that all those who were capable of hearing the horn “trembled” – these people were at the base of the mountain. And the horn grew louder and louder, and “God answered him by a voice.” Could it be, then, that the voice is the horn itself? This seems to be what Lacan is going on about. Lets look further into Exodus 20:1819, which reads:

18. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

19. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Lacan does not include verse 19 in his citation, but I believe that it is essential. We see that in the first case, the horn made everybody tremble and in the second case the horn – God’s voice, if we can be so bold – could make everybody die. The people were afraid of the voice. [I do not want to even begin to explore the question, which is no doubt relevant, as to how, in verse 18, the people could see the noise of the horn].

What could provoke such trembles, such anxiety, among the people if not the substantialization of the object a via the shofar? The object a in the field of the ear is always something like the shofar. So, its function within ritual, and within the bible even, seems to be, according to Reik as well as Lacan, as a way to remember or reintroduce the covenant. It was used, for example, when Spinoza was excommunicated in 1656 at the Amsterdam synagogue, when he was declared a heretic.

At this point I want to merely make mention of something that seems slightly out of place: Lacan dedicates a considerable amount to time to establishing a basis for the shofar as being the voice of God. It is truly much more than necessary. In fact, it seems to me at least, Lacan more often makes a point – such as one linking the shofar to the object within the field of the ear – quickly, and then he leaves it to us, his students, to assess the validity of the claim. Why does he here take such pains to spell it all out for us? I do not know the answer to this. However, Lacan does explain why it is that he turned to the shofar rather than any other instrument (the tuba, trumpet, drums, etc). It is simply because it is somewhere at the beginning of a tradition, and not just one tradition. At the beginning of a tradition, in the bible, the shofar is the “roar of God”.

At this point we can begin to ask about the place of the shofar in Lacanian schemata. The shofar is a voice that is separated from us, made complete inside of an object. The sound that is made from the shofar happens only during those moments when a pact or covenant is to be renewed. It is a sound-form of the pact itself, and it returns us, within the field of the ear, to that sacrifice made by Abraham – the ram. Now we can move a bit further and ask about this covenant, this memory of the pact. We would presume that the sound is made to memorialize the pact made by Abraham onto God, but this has it entirely in reverse. The pact is really made so that God can remember the sacrifice that Abraham made for him. It is as if by blowing the horn one is demonstrating one’s pound of flesh, one’s sacrifice, to the God so that the God can then approve of one’s good work. So we can say then that the sound is made to bring the Other, namely God, into existence – and this is what signals anxiety among the people.

We return to the field of the eye – the dimension of space. We are dealing with space as it relates to desire when we discuss the eye. Later, in another seminar, Lacan will go so far as to claim that the field of the eye has nothing at all to do with eyes. A person without eyes can just as easily map space using his cane. Space has some strange relation to the eye which we are finally coming to understand. The eye is something like an exception within space. It is not like the body of physics. Within everyday (naive) physics, we deal with bodies as points. A body is a point in space, localized. Yet it is localized in space by something which is exceptional to that very space.  This is why, in one of the earlier classes I went back to Euclid – because it seems to me that a point is worth rescuing as a concept precisely because it has this property of exception. Indeed, it seems to me that this is what Alain Badiou picks up in his work as well (on the concept of the “point” ; a point is for him something like an exception, minus temptation, to the prevailing order of the world).

A body, or a point, is irreducible, it can not be divided any further. It is like our object a. The philosopher Democritus described an atom in much the same way: everything in the world is composed of atoms which can not be broken down any further. The problem, of course, is that many centuries later physicists adopted the term atom and then broke it down. We all know the story about Einstein’s letters to the president during the second world war. Lacan says something truly profound, which, on first read, seems naive: an atom can not be in two points at once. Here, we are using the classical definition of an atom, which is akin to the point. This type of atom, this point, stands resolute. It can not be in two places because it remains irreducibly tied to its own place. A point can not be in two worlds, it can only be in one world. A point is not tempted by other worlds or other positions. But, of course, there can be more than one point. At this point, object a no longer remains tied to the concept of a point. The object a can be in more than one place at a time.

This is why the point seems to be closer – in the Lacanian perspective – to the imaginary. We can see that the specular relation is similarly in that it appears to not be reducible. In the i(a) the is bracketed and the image presumes to be coherent, closed in upon itself, without any remainder.At this point Lacan points us to a diagram on the blackboard – unfortunately, the diagram was not reproduced in the book. He says that the diagram grounds the function of the ideal ego and the Ego ideal, to show us how the subject’s relation to the Other functions when the specular relation is dominant there, a relation that on this occasion is being called the mirror of the big Other. So the image is a lot like the atom. The only difference, and it seems that Lacan fails to mention this, is that the atom, the point, occur as a symbol. The point, put differently, can be quilted. In any case, if we remain within the visual field of the i(a) we now see the possibility for something to blur our vision.

Whatever blurs our vision is called a “stain”. This will not be the first time that Lacan uses this concept. The stain is the place of the object a. Yet, it can be quickly overcome by the beauty spot. I know this. As a child I had a large mole on my right ear. I remember asking my mother about it. I asked her if it was ugly. She responded: “no, no.. it is a beauty mark!” I could detect the sarcasm in her voice. The stain, the mole, is something from which you can not look away, once you finally see it. And when you see it a choice is made: either you accept the disfigurement, transforming it into something “beautiful” – or else you feel the signal of anxiety. From that point on there can only be slips…

The beauty spot, the mole, the stain, looks at me. It looks at me but it also makes itself “my business”. Here we see the development of a theory of the gaze. There is something behind the image which gazes at me – we know this if ever we encounter a truly blind individual. There is something behind the eyes, looking, judging perhaps. In the visual field, our desire conceals the anxiety of this gaze, of this stain [the two concepts seem to be equated with one another at this point].


The object of objects is the object a. It is the remainder or the left-over in the table of long division. It remains after the subject and the Other stand against one another. When the subject is born from the field of the Other there is something left over, that is, the object a. But this object, unlike the other Freudian objects (phallic, anal, scopic, invocatory), arises as a result of the cut – the mobius strip – and this, moreover, occurs within the field of the eye, the visual or scopic field.

A S (jouissance)
a Ø (anxiety)
$ (desire)

Anxiety, claims Lacan, is the only path by which we can approach the question of the relation between the object a and desire. We have seen that anxiety is what mediates or comes between the barred-subject and jouissance. Anxiety is a signal, and this signal can be transformed, problematically, into a sign, vis-a-vis the fantasmatic port of access. Anxiety can be avoided any number of ways and, more to the point, fantasy, which occurs from the row of desire itself, is a way of achieving a distance from anxiety. In this case the object a stands in place of jouissance as, through the specular image [i(a)].

We have further seen that the Buddhist doctrine presents itself with the claim that desire is illusion. I explored this a little bit in the notes for the last class but not nearly enough. Lacan seems to imply that there is something about this that is not entirely problematic: desire is illusion. I wrote above that desire is illusion implies that the matheme of fantasy [$<>a] allows the subject to gain entry to the “port of access” but only through a sort of fantasy or illusion. Lacan wants us to think desire as the cut itself – so, we can see that desire is itself the mobius strip. This means that it has two sides which are paradoxically connected to one another (such that at any one point there is still an opposite side). The remainder, the object a, is what keeps desire as desire, it grounds desire somehow.

But lack is something else. Lack has to do with castration. But so too does the object a. So it remains to be seen how Lacan means to distinguish lack from object a. This is something I want to figure out immediately. To being with, Lacan says something that appears quite cryptic, cryptic inasmuch as it is compressed-thought:

The gulf between lack and the function of desire in action, structured by the fantasy and by the subject’s vacillation in his relation to the partial object, indicates the non-concurrence that creates anxiety, and anxiety is the only thing to target the truth of this lack.

Lacan is suggesting that there is a “gulf” between lack and the function of desire, which I take to be the object a. However, this leads me to ask: how, exactly, can a cause, such as object a (the cause of desire), be taken for a function? This is a truly complicated question, one that Lacan does not answer or even provide any indication that we are on the right track in asking it. We can conclude that (1) Lacan did not actually say function (poor translation?), or (2) there is no reason to dwell on the question of why he selected this word, or (3) it was a slip on his part, or (4) there is something to this use of the word function. I can’t answer this but I am deeply interested in the question.

Lack seems to be on the side of being, and what Lacan names “desire in action” seems to be on the side of fantasy, that is, the barred-subject in relation to the object a. And so there is something “non-concurrent” about this which creates anxiety. This can only mean that when fantasy is out of sync with being there is, somehow, anxiety. If somebody can alert me to the French word that Lacan used for “non-concurrent” it would be most helpful. In any case, something truly becomes confusing here. Anxiety is the truth of lack. Finally, we can say this with certainty. But the confusion stems from the implication noted above, the implication that if we were only to approach the truth of our lack, our being, jouissance, then we would be absolved of anxiety. Yet, this goes against the claim that anxiety is the signal of truth. I wonder if this is a poor translation, slip on Lacan’s part, or, more probably, a misunderstanding on my own part. Anyway, at this point, when lack and the function of desire (structured by fantasy) do not collide, we have the “anxiety-point.” Could it be that it is when fantasy can no longer succeed that the anxiety-point is reached?

Lacan finds it strange that psychoanalysis began with a discussion of the sexual foundations of desire and somehow remained caught up in the oral drive as the principal stumbling block for human development vis-a-vis desire. Why is it that all psychodevelopmental problems are reduced to the oral drive? As it happens, it appears to Lacan that everything discussed at the level of the oral drive is metaphorically linked to that which occurs at the level of the phallic object, in the castration complex. This explains why Lacan has been able to discuss, in previous classes, the cut within the oral drive itself. But why is it that the discussion of the oral drive as implicated in the impasse of psychodevelopment is metaphorical? It is our task to find the point at which this metaphor is made most apparent.

Another step would be to introduce a connection between the minus-phi a, the castration complex, and the visual or spatial field. We’ve already been on this path for some time. This next step comes after the oral step. So that is why we must talk about the oral step. We can talk about sucking, sucking during infancy. When sucking, it is all about the lips. This reminds us of the rim, from previous classes. The rim that encases the object a. Lacan wants us to remember something he mentioned early in 1962, namely that the lips are involved in the construction of certain phonemes: what we call consonants. Recall that a consonant, for example the sound-pattern for “P”, is used at the front of the mouth, with the lips. Others are made with the tongue quickly cutting the flow of air at the front of the mouth, like the sound-pattern for “T”. Consonants, broadly, are sound-patterns made by closing the vocal tract. So any sound-pattern that is made using the lips is a “labial consonant”. Lacan remarks that it can not be for nothing that the sound-pattern for baby’s first words begin with labial consonants: “mama” and “papa”.

There is something similar at play in the separation of the oral rim from the nipple as partial object, and the separation of the child from the mother. Lacan goes a little bit further than we typically do in our everyday lives: the cut of birth is made not between the child and the mother but rather between the child and the envelopes that contain him. The child has a primordial relation with the placenta, even before the mother. But to return to the oral drive, the object of the oral drive, it has been said, is the breast (along with the nipple). But beyond the relation between the oral rim and the breast or nipple there is an anxiety-point. In the relation between the oral rim and the nipple there is something else in question, which is the mother. So this means that the object a and the anxiety-point are in two different places.

I’m still trying to sort out this problem. It was the original problem I set out to settle in these notes for this class. It seems that Lacan is making a distinction between object a and the anxiety-point on the basis of a previous distinction between object a and lack. Lack seems to be on the side of the anxiety-point, or in some relation to it. We have a diagram, of sorts:

a anxiety

Lacan names this diagram, the “anxiety-point.” We can see here something very interesting. If the seminar began by linking anxiety with the object a, anxiety signalling, to some extent, some relation to the object, now, we can be sure of this, the object a and anxiety are further classified in relation to the mythical subject and the mythical Other. The Subject and Other, being mythical, and having some relation to jouissance, stand like two strong columns. They designate the “side” on which each the two obscure concepts that are causing some problems for me are situated: the object a is on the side of the mythical Subject, the side which leaves him holding onto the Other in a sense; anxiety is on the side of the mythical Other, demonstrating that it is the lack in the Other which is the locus of anxiety. Now I am approaching a real understanding. We can now say that anxiety and lack are related to the Other – but we need to be careful here, it is not the Other as an independent being outside of the subject, it is the Other as psychic apparatus, as the dimension of the Other for the subject. We can see why the discussions of masochism and sadism – perversion – have helped to open up the way for this diagram: there is a question of making the Other exist, and to make the other exist is to produce anxiety for the Other.

anxiety is related to the lack in the Other

The object a is not what is separated from the mother, the Other, but rather what is separated from the child. The object a is on the side of the castration complex. It is what is taken from us whenever we form an attachment, a covenant, with the Other – it is “the price we pay.” However, returning to the oral drive, we can see the object a at play. What happens with the fantasy of vampirism? What happens is precisely that the child, as vampire, finds nourishment, using the teeth through the lips, in the mother’s neck. The vampire calls the mother’s function into question – are you really the Other? To find this out it is enough to inflict anxiety, to target the lack in the Other, by using teeth and lips. The anxiety-point is thus at the level of the Other, even here in the oral drive. [Interestingly, I searched google for an image of vampires biting necks and I couldn’t find a single image of an Other without a smile. This demonstrates something of the times, I presume.]

Freud once wrote that anatomy is destiny. Lacan wants to remind us that the word anatomy comes from “cutting up”, and the body is what is “cut up”. It is not for nothing that knowledge of the body, of medicine itself, of biology, can only be made by cutting the body up, dissecting it. In a recent movie directed by Philipp Stolzl called “The Physician” we follow an apprentice “barber” in the 11th century who fights against everything – his mother’s death, the master who made him apprentice, religious dogma – to obtain knowledge of the body. At one point he decided that it was for the greater good to make a few cuts on the body. This was considered blasphemy so he did it in private. He looked at the body as a beautiful machine and jotted down diagrams. I doubt it was for nothing that he was attempting, through the movie, to learn the wisdom of how the eyes function and how to cure blindness – but that is another story. The movie, based on a novel by Noah Gordon, is well worth watching, if only to understand that what is at stake in the cut concerns the search for the self, for inner knowledge and inner growth. Finally, what the young physician did was expose the anxiety-point of the establishment, where it was fundamentally lacking. He pushed things to their limit, and so too did his master who, it seems, was forever waiting for an apprentice such as him.

The Physician (2013)

And isn’t this ‘cutting of the body’ for the sake of knowledge what is at stake in Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man? This is a topic I would like to spend more time exploring – the relationship between the cut, the body, and knowledge – but I must stick to the line.

Vitriuvian Man (Leonardo da Vinci)

Returning to the point, what we can see here is a topological division between anxiety and desire. However, this poses a problem with respect to Lacan’s previous table of long division. He claimed that anxiety occurs in the middle row, there where object a is located. Yet, where it really seems to occur is on the side of the lack in the Other – which is beside the object a. We can see that things are forever shifting around, ideas are finding their place. But something strange happens here – or, at least, it is only initially strange. The object a, related as it is to the castration complex, can only occur via the Other. For example, we’ve seen this in the logic of the covenant. So, we could say it like this: it is only by and through the Other that the castration complex, and object a, comes into play. Similarly, the oral drive, the enjoyment proffered, occurs in the same way that the enjoyment might occur through orgasm – through prolongation, for example.

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