Is the Mentor supposed-to-know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wolf Man’s Diagram

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

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

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

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

Completed Graph of Desire

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

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

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

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

and puts a record on the gramophone.

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

Dingpolitik & Lacanian Sexuation

I just drafted an abstract for an upcoming symposium on technology and politics. Here it is.



This class (much like the previous two classes) seems to be devoted to a summary of important points that preceded it. At first I thought Lacan was summarizing so as to change his important points. This is something Slavoj Zizek warned me to look out for in Lacan’s seminars. If I can paraphrase what Zizek said it would be: “whenever Lacan claims that he is going to remind you of what he already taught you, be cautious! He is going to change everything he already taught you.” We also heard this advice in Zizek’s lecture on the different figures of the big Other in Lacan’s work. So, is this what we are dealing with in this class with Lacan? Is Lacan reorienting or revising his thoughts? Perhaps I am missing something but this does not seem to be the case. It much rather seems to me that Lacan is looking for something to hold onto. He is trying to reorient himself (and not his position) and this explains why it is that he keeps repeating points. It is because these points have been making his own teaching somewhat fuzzy. It is not, as it were, because these points have been fuzzy to his students (us).

So we are questioning the teacher. Indeed, this is what Lacan wants us to do at this point. He links the teacher’s desire with the analyst’s desire. He is clear on this point: he does not want to limit the discussion to only the analyst’s desire because something similar can be found at play within the university and within the seminar room. He states: “I said to myself that reminding you that there is such a thing as a teacher’s desire wasn’t such a bad angle from which to introduce the analyst’s desire.” What happens in the university when we do not ask this question, when we do not ask about the teacher’s desire? Quite simply, we have our answer in the figure of the professor. It is in the capacity of the teacher as professor that he adopts the function as pure transmitter of knowledge. The professor is thereby defined as the one who teaches about teachings. In other words, he teaches us what other people have taught him. Dramatically, Lacan notes that the professor comes into existence each time the response to the question of the teacher’s desire is absent.

Lacan seems to want teachers to be aware of the way they cut teachings and paste them back together in new and innovative ways. He states that this is similar to the artistic practice of collage. I don’t think it is for nothing that today the method of the bricoleur is championed. Yet, it goes without saying that during Lacan’s time this method was not in vogue. More to the point, cultural studies, interdisciplinary studies, sociology, theory departments, philosophy departments, were not using the bricolage as the basis for their ‘discipline’ as they are today. We’ve moved more toward the Lacanian orientation than we want to believe. Today we are perfectly aware that this is what we do as teachers, as professors, and as researchers. We celebrate it, champion it, and anybody who does otherwise is dogmatic or nihilist. I would go even further and suggest that we all champion bricolage today, we are all bricoleurs today, in much the same way that we are all Marxists or “radicals” today: we all get to call ourselves this, we all get to have the pretense involved in being on the cutting edge, the avant-garde, the revolutionary front.

So what is Lacan’s point? Lacan says “were [researchers/teachers] to make their collage in a way that was less concerned with the join, less tempered, they would stand a chance of achieving the same result that collage aims at, namely, to evoke the lack that makes for the entire work of the figurative work itself, when it is an accomplished one, of course. And along this path, they would thereby manage to meet up with the effect that is specific to what, precisely teaching is.” I must say, I strongly disagree with Lacan on this point. It is the fact that one no longer produces any “points” (to use a Badiouian concept) or “quilting points” (to borrow a Lacanian concept) that we can no longer hold together anything like a revolutionary project. Certainly, it is one thing to borrow the logic that Lacan implies here – but it is quite another to steer it toward different conclusions, with different stakes, and, moreover, to hide behind bricolage precisely so that we never have to act in the world.

Is it not the case that the collage-maker – today’s bricoleur at least – never has to risk anything, never has to take a position, a stance, and have a conviction, and never has to see this conviction to fruition? I doubt the extent that Lacan was aware that the bricoleur would become the figure of opinion within the land of knowledge, academia. He wasn’t up against this trend in the same way that we are today. But this is precisely what we are up against today. Today’s bricoleur must discover through the collage something worth holding on to, something which is not transient or fleeting, but which has the real promise of change. More to the point, collage today has come to mean: you can say whatever you want about anything and you can change your opinion on it tomorrow, you do not have to sustain a position, you do not have to take on the responsibility of drawing your own image of an alternative world. This is a sort of freedom which precludes the necessity of conviction. If today one believed that revolution is possible, tomorrow, when in front of one’s parents, one doesn’t. This is a very complex problem.

So, by cutting-and-pasting a few things here of my own I would take two points from a friend Levi Bryant. He wrote, in a blog post titled “There’s Only Bricolage”, that (1) “the bricoleur is the person that works with the materials that are available.  Cognitively, physically, and affectively they have a pile of odd shaped wood, rusty nails in that wood, some duct tape, and some rocks and clay in their back yard.” (2) ” The bricoleur begins with her own aim, but quickly discovers that the composition she’s participated in has “ideas” of its own.  This is another way of saying that the bricoleur is that tinkerer that’s willing to be surprised by her own work and to discover aims and goals that the junk pile she works with dictate, rather than those she envisioned.” If we return to something Lacan discussed about the object a in previous classes, we will note that the “pile of odd shaped wood, rusty nails … duct tape,” and so on, are spare parts. And Lacan at one time named the object a spare part.

The problem is that Lacan’s conception of the spare part as object a is such that it can not be reduced to any of these objects in the world – the nail, the wood, and so on. The object a as spare part is a spare part to even these objects. This is the first problem. The second problem is that the bricoleur can only discover that the composition that she’s participated in has “ideas” of its own if, in fact, s/he is open to that sort of discovery. And being open to such a discovery is a difficult thing to do. This sort of openness threatens to swallow the subject, threatens to remove the bolts holding together the trap door beneath the subjects feet. So the question of the bricoleur is nothing without the more fundamental question of change and discovery. How can the bricoleur be sure that s/he is open to the new ideas that come from his or her discovery? This is where the key question resides because we have a number of options. We won’t trouble ourselves with a discussion of what these options are right now but we can at the very least point out that the question of the agent of change is central. In the case of the bricoleur we seem to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that we are responsible for the possibility of change. This position has the potential to bring us back to the assertion of self-mastery. And yet psychoanalysis teaches us that we are far from the masters of ourselves, and of change. More often we are masters of the barrier to change. A lot can be said here. Perhaps we/I will return to it.

In any case, Lacan now claims that he is going to become the professor of his own teaching. This signals that he is summarizing.

So, Lacan returns to his discussion of Chekhov’s short piece on fear. After consulting a colleague who speaks Russian, he informs us that he was – Lacan, I mean – correct when he suggested to us in the previous class that Chekhov’s fear was not the same as what we typically call anxiety. Lacan states up front, that, according to the word Chekhov used, it surely concerned something different. What is happening to Chekhov is not anxiety, this concept does not cover enough ground to describe Chekhov’s experience. Lacan uses many other words: fear, terror, frights. I would add “panic” to this. In any case, all of these words cover more ground than anxiety. Something bigger is happening.

Yet there is something similar in fear that is also in anxiety. Recall the formula for anxiety: anxiety is not without an object [I note that the indefinite article has returned]. Lacan claims that it is just as legitimate to say that fear has no object. But does Lacan not remember that just a few classes ago he was pushing against this manner of phrasing things? We do not say that anxiety has no object, because that is not true. We also do not say that anxiety has an object. Things are more obscure: anxiety is not without an object. But in this case Lacan repeatedly claims that fear also has no object. Is this not a contradiction? It is a contradiction because he claims that fear, like anxiety, has no object.. Clearly, this is not consistent.

Chekhov’s Russian word for fear equates to something like “I fear it will come” in English. So this is an interesting form of negation inasmuch as it is a negation of that which will come in the present. In other words, that which will come in the near future (positive) is not here now (negative). We know that this is a negative because Lacan has been emphasizing the synchronic dimension for the last two years. There is a fear that something will come and a simultaneous hope that something will not come. All of this occurs in the moment. Put another way, in Russian there is this additional “it will come” in the language of the negation, and this “it will come” describes a fear of something that is not there at the current time and yet may at any time come to be there. The French negation, or English negation, ne or not, is much more simple than the Russian negation in this respect. The French and English negations do not have the added condition of the Russian. What is the significance of this? I do not know. Perhaps we can only figure it out by thinking further on how fear is distinguished from anxiety, even while they share a negation.

Maybe it goes like this:

anxiety is not without an object

fear is soon not without an object 

This is my own formulation. At the very least, the top formula is consistent. The bottom formula is a way of suggesting that fear is not without an object but later. Put another way,

fear is anticipation not without an object

It strikes me that this latter formula is more accurate because it emphasizes the synchronic dimension. It claims that the subject fears because he anticipates not being without an object. I can’t be sure about this and I can barely spell out the implications.

What we can be sure of is that Lacan intends to overturn the distinction between fear and anxiety currently accepted by psychoanalysts. Lacan notes that although Freud claimed that fear is related to object-loss he also seems to suggest that it is fear of something. So fear could perhaps be something like anxiety when faced with something. But what is this something that one is faced with when there is fear? At first I thought that maybe fear was more attuned to the real than anxiety but this is not the case because Lacan claims that anxiety is on the side of the real. As such, anxiety is not a defence. It is rather that which does not deceive. Anxiety presents a signal to the ego of something in the real.

Perhaps the signal is one of anticipating not being without an object in the case of fear.

So there are two conflicting stories here: (1) anxiety is in the real, and (2) anxiety presents a signal from the real. Is it possible to resolve this conflict by stating that anxiety presents a signal from the real to the imaginary of the ego? This seems to make sense to me but Lacan does not provide us with very much clarification at this point. My question is: where is anxiety located? 

We know from the discussion of masochism and sadism that anxiety can be located in the Other as well as in the Subject. So anxiety seems to be a synonym, of sorts, for the object a. 

Lacan returns to his table of division from the last class, and so should we:

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

The subject, S, is mythical. It is the “subject of jouissance” because it can not be isolated, unless mythically. So this jouissance – this pure access to jouissance, whether it be on the side of the Subject or the Other – is mythical. We are talking about pure enjoyment here. We also noted that anxiety occurs within the specular dimension of and barred-Other. And, finally, at the level of the subject barred by the signifier, there is desire.

So we are trapped, as neurotics, within desire, at the bottom of the table of long division. We also long for jouissance. We long to be Subjects of jouissance. However, something stands in our way – anxiety. It is not that object a necessarily “stands in the way” but rather than it is the only way to the mythical column of jouissance. Lacan provides us with a new formula:

jouissance shall know nothing of the Other except by this remainder, [object] a

This is the first operation in the top row. The subject is divided from the Other. All of this occurs at the mythical level. And comes to know the Other through object a. This becomes the source of anxiety.

At the bottom we can see the barred-subject. This is where we end up after all is said and done. We can only see things from the end, from $.  The barred-subject is the subject implied in fantasy. The matheme of fantasy, as we know, is $<>a. So there is a relationship of sorts between the bottom level, where we are at, and the middle level, the source of anxiety. We are learning how to move from the mythical dimension to our current place in the world but we are also learning how it is that we read history backwards, through our desire and fantasy.

The object a is a spare part. Lacan notes that there is no way of operating with the a. We can not use the to stitch together some collage, but rather, the is what necessitates the stitching together in the first place such that there is nothing but collage. 

Okay, now we’ve run into another problem. If the there is no way of operating with the a then how can we implicate it in our table of long division as an element that does not occur at the end? If the can not be further divided then we can no longer retain the pretense that this is a “table of long division.” This has become another beast. To borrow Levi Bryant’s phrase about the bricoleur, Lacan, as bricoleur, seems to have invented frankenstein – a monster that has lived on beyond his control and intentions.

So we have to learn how to read backwards now. It is no longer enough to read this as a table of division. If we begin with the barred-subject, $, we know that, within fantasy, we are dealing with symbolic coordinates – the signifier. The signifier is what represents a subject for another signifier. This is why the subject is barred – it is somewhere in between two signifiers. If I may, logically, we are not dealing here, then, with a subject that exists before the signifier, cut by it. Rather, it is that the subject is nothing but this signifier to signifier relation.

In the middle row, in the column of the Other, A, there is the a, and this has nothing to do with the signifier. In fact, this is the other side of the subject, the side that gets lost in signifierization. So again: it is not that the subject gets lost in signifiers it is that the signifier to signifier relation is all that the subject is – what gets lost is something altogether different, it is the object a. The a, then, can not be in any way a signifier. If at all, it is what absolutely resists signifierization.

Notice how Lacan described the as what gets lost in signifierization. Now we are moving toward a tighter collage: the object a was once described as lost, a lost cause, and so on. So when the subject in on the road to discovery it is always the discovery of the object a. It is emphatically not in search of the mythical subject of jouissance – the top row. The top row is mythical, problematic, and, if anything, an alibi for conservation.

The a, as that which is lost, injects a gap between the row of desire (our starting point) and the row of jouissance (our mythical origins). And this gap – rim even – is where anxiety occurs.

Lacan seems to shift between beginning in myth and beginning in desire. For example, he claims that once we get through anxiety we hit desire. But, if we move backwards we can note that once we move through anxiety we do not hit the mythical subject of jouissance. It seems to me, though, that we can hit something else, drive. I’ll leave this for now. If this sounds like a discussion of “phases” then it is because Lacan wants to quickly dive into a discussion of the “End of Desire”. So we are clearly linked up with a discussion of time or phases.

We limit ourselves with the final stage, the end of desire and the end of analysis. Lacan notes that desire can not be satisfied, so this can not be the end. This route is also a fictitious one, a false one. The object falls away from the subject in his passage toward desire. Indeed, it seems that the object is very often nothing but this falling away itself. Freud at times seemed to imply that castration anxiety is the end of analysis. But Lacan believes that it is not necessary that we remain suspended in this phase of the threat of castration.

Lacan ends the class with three plus one aphorisms:

(1) Only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire

(2) To put myself forward as the one who desires … is to put myself forward as the want of a, and it is by this path that I open the door to the jouissance of my Being.

(3) Any requirement of on the path of this enterprise to encounter woman … can only trigger the Other’s anxiety, precisely because I don’t make any more of the Other than a, because my desires ays the Other, as it were.

(plus 1) On the path that condescends to my desire, what the Other wants, what he wants even if he doesn’t know in the slightest what he wants, is nevertheless, necessarily, my anxiety.

It seems to me that Lacan is trying to think about the relations that move vertically on the new table. For example, we begin with only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire. How is it that from our subject position, $, within fantasy, we allow Being, that is, jouissance, to have the final answer? Put another way, the top row is “mythical”, it postures at autonomy of sorts, at completion, at access to itself, and at self-mastery. This is posturing because it is mythical. Yet, from the bottom position of desire, we allow this posturing in our view precisely because of love. So here love seems to suture the gap between the top and bottom row. It is fashionable today to call this love by another name: “mansplaining” – I use the phrase “mansplaining” because what we are dealing with – it is clear because Lacan seems intent to begin to use the word “man” and “woman” – is a masculine position. This is the “condescension.” But crucially, we are dealing with a masculine position in the relation that woman has to this position.

We are starting to see how it is that the middle row, the gap, with the object a, is the “port of access” (Lacan’s phrase). We can not get around it, anxiety that is. And yet we never fail to try. It seems that Lacan is suggesting that love is one of the ways of deceiving ourselves. Love is deception, and anxiety is that which never deceives. Love, through the port of access of the a, conjoins tightly the Subject to his object of desire. This is why Lacan is forever suspicious of love – as he should be, since he is an analyst. Love, for Lacan, can never be something at the beginning or the end of our thinking. It is always in between, through the port of access. If we make it the end of our thinking (by, for example, claiming that “love is all we need”) we fail to deal with anxiety properly. Lacan says: “we really cannot use love as either the first or the last term, however primordial it looks to be in our theorization. Love is a cultural fact. […] love would be out of the question were it not for culture”

It seems to that the second aphorism moves in the opposite direction. Whereas the first aphorism seemed to deal with the feminine falling for the masculine, the second aphorism seems to deal with the masculine falling in with the feminine. What is the difference between falling in and falling for. On the one hand, the falling for, occurs to the one who finds something for which to fall, an object of wonder – and willingly falls. I shall follow this rabbit down this hole!, says Alice. On the other hand, falling in happens when one attempts to resist the inevitable – I tried not to let it happen, but she seduced me! The second aphorism seems to deal with the latter. From the mythical starting point, there is one who thinks he can complete himself by allowing himself to give up resisting the fall toward another. In this way, he achieves greater access to his jouissance. But this can only ever happen through the port of access.

The third aphorism seems to be a perverse structure. We are dealing with triggering the Other’s anxiety. In other words, making the Other come into being for me.

Lacan then maintains that his aphorisms chase their own tail. They are circular. I’m not entirely sure how they are circular – perhaps if we return to the table we could see this better. The first position seems to move from bottom through the port of access to the middle ($<>a) without ever touching the mythical point at the beginning. The second position seems to move from the top to the middle port of access (S<>a, if I can put it like that), without ever breaking out of the mythical origin story. The third position seems to move from somewhere like the top to the middle but on the other side of the column. It is a connection to the barred-Other, an attempt to precisely bar the Other so as to deduce the a.

Then Lacan seems to want to stop. But he quickly picks it up again. I think because his audience seemed capitvated by it. He thought maybe his audience thought he was being heroic by stating what he stated when he in fact expected them to laugh at him or think he was preachy or dogmatic. He suddenly adds the fourth (plus one) aphorism. This aphorism seems to be the other perversion. The sadistic one, I believe. In this case what the Other wants is for my anxiety, for my a.



NoteIt is important to point out at the beginning that these notes should not be read as independent blogs. They are to be read in order, beginning at the first set of notes for the first class of this seminar on anxiety.

In the last class, Lacan emphasized the point that our methodology or teaching must ensure that the audience or analysand not cheat (his) truth. He picked this argument up again, so it is worth repeating: we must teach using a method that will teach about what presents itself in our own intimate experiences. For example, Lacan found that Sándor Ferenczi’s book Research on a Theory of Genitality aimed to arrive at an “altogether too harmonizing, too totalizing notion of his object.” Ferenczi’s error was that he reduced the object of his investigation to that which was an erroneous standard against which many clinical diagnoses are made possible. The problem is that this standard, namely, “genital realization” or “genital maturation”, is fallacious. One notes, then, that woman’s genital development is interrupted, but only when compared with man’s. It is as if woman’s genital development occurs before the presumed synthesis of man’s genital synthesis or harmony.

Ferenczi follows Freud in arguing that the interruption occurs when the erogenous clitoris – the female penis – displaces to the vaginal cavity. Then, Ferenczi writes that the displacement occurs across other parts of the body, other parts which become ‘genitalized’. We see this markedly in hysterical patients. But jouissance is ordinarily found in an organ that is non-sensitive. For example, there are organs that can not be stimulated even, and especially, when they are provoked by an outside source. We know that Lacan made this point in another class – when the system is brought to a certain limit it runs aground in anxiety. It can not respond to demands or provocations anymore.

Lacan reformulates the problem. Genital maturation is, according to Lacan, a myth. Maturation is not a synthesis, a final accomplishment or arrival – it is not the locus of a convergence. It rather presents itself as partial. This frees us from the problem of mythical constructions which place the origin at a site, and, moreover, at the site from which various displacements occur. If we begin with the empty place as the site of jouissance then we necessarily avoid the reduction of clinical diagnoses to origins in erogenous zones. We also thereby avoid the reduction of the analysand’s ‘growth’ to genital maturation. Here, it is striking, there is a third correction which Lacan does not mention: we, through this method, also avoid beginning with a masculine standard (phallic) for psychoanalytic treatment.

To return to the question of hysteria, then, we must note that it is a particularly feminine neuroses. It is feminine not because it has anything to do with the sexual organs but rather because of the question which the being of this neurosis asks: “who am I?,” “what gender am I?” My struggle has always been: why does Freud maintain that hysteria comes first, developmentally, while also, clinically, moving toward the position that it is the pinnacle of the neuroses – that it has the most to offer and the most promise for the field of psychoanalysis itself? There is a diachronic logic at play here which is perhaps unfounded. There is no reason to chart the developmental movement of the neuroses – this will lead us toward a number of problems. We can see here that hysteria must be put at the end point of infantile maturation but also at the beginning. Hysteria is the pinnacle but it is also there inside of obsession, before obsession. And yet, the point of treatment is to hystericize the obsessional; and so hysteria comes after obsession once again.

The point is that we should not get hung up on diachronic logic. This is why we need to avoid any discussion of genital ‘maturation’. It presumes a telos to clinical treatment, to neurotic onset, etc. But we know that the relationships between the clinical structures are complicated. There are strong relations between hysteria and psychosis/schizophrenia, for example. And this complicates even more the diachronic logic. We must therefore move to a synchronic logic. This is a logic which begins at the beginning, at the void, and the subject’s relationship to the big Other and to his object a. This is what Lacan means when he describes neurosis as a “clinical structure” – it is a “structure” because it is synchronic in its logic and constitutive of desire as such. The emphasis on the void necessitates this ‘structuralist’ approach. Neurosis is a clinical structure precisely because it is a structure of anxiety.

Neurosis is a structure of desire inasmuch as it “frames” anxiety. What does this mean? Consider the fact that any mirror has edges or limits. Surely, no mirror covers eternity, nor does it stretch through the infinite. And yet this is exactly how we treat the mirror which structures our desire. We treat the images we see in the mirror as if they are infinite and eternal. This is how our anxiety is framed. We do this to avoid seeing what is behind the mirror – or, if you like, behind the curtain. What is behind the curtain is nothing, nothing at all … nothing but the show, the stage! When Plato’s prisoner leaves the cave, sees the outside – the beyond of the mirror, through the window itself – and returns, he is rejected. What is he rejected by, if not the system of signifiers, language itself Fantasy plays itself out on this stage. And within that play we can, if you work for it, discern a purely schematic form of our fantasy. Lacan notes that the Wolf Man’s dream was important for Freud because it reoccurred – it was the pure form of his fantasy, unveiled in its structure. In a sense, we could say that the Wolf Man’s dream, and the diagram that Sergei Pankejeff, the Wolf Man, produced from it, was the signifier-ication, the putting-into-signifiers, of what was behind the mirror.

The Wolf Man’s Dream Drawing

Similarly, and to make this point most dramatic, Lacan invites us to look at a drawing by an Italian schizophrenic woman. I’ve included a photo of it below:

Isabella's Schizophrenic Drawing

Isabella’s Schizophrenic Drawing

What you can see, in dramatic form are the signifiers that hang from the tips of the branches. In Italian it reads: io sono sempre vista, or, I’m always in view. This, claims Lacan, is the groundbreaking moment that the schizophrenic analysand formulates via signifiers as that which reoccurs in secret for her – she was not able to articulate it until the moment of drawing it. This is how the field of anxiety is situated as something “framed”, as something presented, however dreadful or disturbing, on the window, in place of the window, through the mirror, framed.

Lacan notes that we usually feel the most anxious, when we visit the theatre, at the moment when the curtain goes up. Indeed, I’ve noticed this while attending movie screenings: the moment when people shuffle the most, when they dig ever so deep in their popcorn bags, is when the “feature presentation” phrase hits the screen. It is a moment that passes ever so quickly, but, claims Lacan, it is never lacking in the theatre. The curtain rises, something opens up, and that space that opens up is immediately filled so that the anxiety dies away, and then, we are lucky if something tragic or comic happens on the screen/stage.

Anxiety occurs when something which was already there at Heim (home) appears on the stage. In Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, Adam, played by Jake Gyllenhall, breaks out of his humdrum life by his chance encounter with a b-list actor. In the film, 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?

Enemy (2013)

Anxiety occurs when there is a sudden appearance of the Heimliche, within the frame – and this is why it is incorrect to claim that anxiety is without an object. Objects 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 see this as the unary trait – there it is! 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.

Anxiety is the cut. It occurs when the curtains cut away from the integrity of the room and introduce us to the appearances on the screen. Anxiety has no signifier – it is lacking that. It is unexpected, it stands before all feelings, all thinking. And from anxiety things branch off into any number of directions. They branch off as if like the Wolf Man’s tree, or Isabella’s tree. We combat anxiety through the screen, through the lures, through Anthony, through Adam [who is, after all, the first man].

In the class on 14 November 1962, Lacan produced the following graph [I can not go over it again here so I invite you to follow the link]:

Inhibition Impediment Embarrassment ($)
Emotion Symptom X
Turmoil X Anxiety

He now fills in the X’s with their proper terms:

Inhibition Impediment Embarrassment ($)
Emotion Symptom Passage à l’Acte
Turmoil Acting-Out Anxiety

Lacan does not get into detail about why these concepts are placed in these boxes. Perhaps he will return to this next semester [we are now finishing the first semester for this seminar]. Recall that the chart organizes, properly, the following Freudian terms: inhibition, symptom, anxiety. We also know that the chart runs more difficult as we move from left to right and more “movement” occurs as we move from top to bottom. Finally, we know, from the last class on this topic, that emotion, turmoil, impediment, and embarrassment are situated properly in the chart.

Acting-Out, if we deduce things properly, occurs as a symptom, or impediment, which is more difficult than turmoil but less difficult than anxiety. It is also more of a “movement” than a symptom and an impediment. Finally, the passage à l’acte is a quite “difficult” form of symptom. There is too much difficulty in embarrassment precisely because it is difficulty without movement. It is castration itself. For turmoil, there is too much movement but too little difficulty.

There is a jump here which I can not account for – Lacan begins to discuss the paradoxical nature of ‘having’ or ‘not having’ the phallus. Little Hans, claims Lacan, was as much of a logician as Aristotle because he claimed that all animate beings have a phallus. This is strange because, as we know, mom doesn’t have a phallus. The next step is thus: even those who do not have a phallus have a phallus. This must mean that there are different phalli in question.

And then there is another jump: in Ecclesiastes, we learn that God commands us to enjoy. Lacan thereby distinguishes the God of the Jews from the God of Plato and Aristotle. The latter described God as an unmoved mover, a universal mover, who is the sovereign Good. The God of the Jews, on the other hand, is a God that one can speak to, and that one can receive a demand from, and who, moreover, demands that you enjoy. Lacan does something counter-intuitive here and argues that it is God’s commandment to have his chosen followers circumcised that leads to a source of enjoyment. Here, there are instructions on how to enjoy which involve isolating and cutting our object. Afterall, Lacan claims that we can not doubt the elegant result of circumcision. Aesthetically speaking, for Lacan, it is not even a question: the circumcised penis is more enjoyable to look at.


But circumcision relates also to circumscription – it involves circumscribing the object through the function of the cut. The cut, as the source of anxiety, is itself the route of enjoyment. And so God demands an offering, an isolated object, which is circumscribed, and, we enjoy giving this object up to him. We can therefore see the first formulation of a relationship between desire and the law.

The second formulation: desire and law are one and the same barrier which bar our access to das Ding. This is why, for example, Freud, when locating the origin of the law, traces it back to the desire of the father.

Over all, this class continued the major theme of anxiety as the object of enjoyment in the drive. I’ve managed to figure out why the cut is the source of enjoyment, relate it to the various rings of the traditional erogenous zones, and locate the object a, as void, as enjoyment – the enjoyment of anxiety itself. I’m sure I made some mistakes along the way, and perhaps drew some poor conclusions. It is all I can do at this point, if progress is to be made.


Notes – Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety (X): 12 December 1962

Note: It is important to point out at the beginning that these notes should not be read as independent blogs. They are to be read in order, beginning at the first set of notes for the first class of this seminar on anxiety.

Who’s afraid of object a? Lacan seems to intimate that there is a relationship between the void and object a. The English word “void” has a close relationship to the word “vacuum” (vacuus in Latin, for “void”). It makes sense, then, that Lacan finishes the seminar by mentioning Blaise Pascal’s courage when faced with the void. Indeed, it seems that Pascal carried out his experiments on the vacuum precisely because he was interested at some level in his own desire. I called his pursuit “courageous” for two reasons. First, because it lends itself to a Badiouian analysis of the subject’s relationship to the void:

We must also have an affect which goes against anxiety, and this affect is courage. Courage gives the human animal the means to go beyond anxiety. There is a dialectical relationship between courage and anxiety and it is at the very core […] [of subjectivation]. Anxiety is something like a new subjective knowledge of the situation, and courage is the affect that goes against anxiety in the direction which exists by the anxiety itself. […] Only when anxiety exists can the therapy for anxiety provide us with courage (Alain Badiou, The Subject of Change).

Courage, as a political, existential, and, indeed, clinical category was developed with considerable energy by Alain Badiou. I find this compelling and I want to pursue it in the Lacanian context. Second, I use the word “courage” here because it brings us back to Lacan’s discussion of Freud. Recall that Lacan described Freud as “courageous” precisely because he, unlike Breuer, made use of his anxiety (it was in 5th of December 1962 seminar). Pascal’s courage was therefore the courage to go beyond the anxiety that others had when faced with ‘nature’. Okay, okay – but what is this “nature”? Lacan adopts a broader definition of nature (broader than the standpoint of physics). “Nature abhors a vacuum,” Pascal famously stated. Lacan groups all of human civilization into “nature” such that Pascal was up against everything and everybody in his articulation of the void; nature, then, is something like the reality principle. It pressures us to change our path of pleasure. The abhorrence of the void – which, to be sure, is a desire – came from all learned men surrounding Pascal. Indeed, there is always atmospheric pressure when faced with the void.

The same pressure exists within the psychoanalytic community – and, indeed, within the academic community. There is a tremendous anxiety concerning the void. Rather than face the void, rather than face the “spare part” as such (Lacan called object a a “spare part” in the previous class), scholars obsess themselves with scholastic junk. I recall an article from a high impact journal that made a distinction between the “museum of ideas” and the “garage sale of junk”. At the time I thought this was displaced snobbery (a resurgence of the “high art” / “low art” division). However, now, after having spent more than 14 years in the world of higher education, I notice the prevalence of junk scholarship. It brings to mind Baudelaire’s rag-picker: we pick up the refuse of our times and with so much passion we “pour our hearts out into stupendous schemes”. Similarly, and more to the point, students of culture today promote, with excessive pride and principle, the virtues of bricolage research (eg., the students of Denzin & Lincoln, and Levi Strauss): the aim is to pick out spare parts from the junk pile of theory and collect them into a bag that sits atop our frail backs, until the weight is too much to continue to bear. And then what?: we turn to our masters for support, because we become the spare parts of higher education and, indeed, neo-liberal capitalism.

Are they not surprised when they find exactly what they’ve been boasting for so many years, namely that there are no masters to be found? The point is that there is no cure for anxiety. Lacan states this as a provocation. Indeed, he extends the principle: a cure is an “additional bonus” of treatment. This troubled people considerably, but only because they missed the crucial point: the longing for a cure is sometimes precisely the principle by which the subject can avoid his truth, namely that the pill – the easy way out – is his way of escaping from the study of that which matters most: his anxiety. Lacan does not want the subject to turn back after consuming the pill and say to himself: how easy it all was, was it worth it? The point is that the methodology, our style of writing/teaching/analyzing must ensure that the subject can not cheat (his) truth.

We now have a certain congruence of concepts: anxiety is occupied by minus-phi and constitutes a certain void. And if, through our methodology, we replace an encounter with the void for an encounter with the pill, we by necessity allow the subject to avoid the route of proper subjective advancement – until the weight is too much to continue to bear. I write “we” here because it is we, as analysts (teachers, writers, etc) who are implicated in the possible route around anxiety that the subject takes. Lacan is very clear at this point: we can not write ourselves out of the experience of analysis. Analysts occupy the position of the big Other – we are a part of that which provokes anxiety in the analysand (and also in ourselves through the analysand). We need to make sure that our desire does not make this dimension, the dimension of the big Other, shrink such that the analysand can cheat truth.

Even Pavlov demonstrates that dogs react to a stimulus which belongs in a different register. Lacan called this a “different register” because it is distinguished from the register of reaction. That which reactions is distinguished from that which provokes the reaction. The big Other is in a different register than the subject. If you press the system hard enough it will no longer respond – this occurs even with animals. This is why we need to be away of our relationship to the analysand. The big Other is there in every dimension. This is a radical claim. Lacan is not claiming that somehow we as human animals are there at all dimensions. Rather, it is the function of the big Other, of that which provokes anxiety – the possibility for change itself – in a subject, which is always there. It is there at the level of animals, of Pavlov’s dog, but also at the level of objects, of plants, trees, particles, etc. To summarize this point: we must note our own presence in the experiments of animals. And wasn’t this the break-through of the ‘observer principle’ derived from Heisenberg in quantum mechanics during the late 1920s? This might be refuted by stating that the animal or rock knows nothing about the dimension of the big Other. Lacan’s response is powerful: it is the same for us as subjects, we do not know anything about what constitutes us.

This is why the subject-supposed-to-know position is always a deceptive one. This states nothing about its necessity. The point is that there is no subject radically transparent to itself, that knows its own object, its own anxiety, enough to master it and to, therefore, master another subject’s object. Something always remains, something is always impossible to imagine, and this is the object of anxiety. Lacan makes a giant step and asks why it is that psychoanalysts rarely discuss nightmares? He hazards to suggest that nightmares involve the anxiety felt as the Other’s jouissance. We note this in the figure of the incubus or succubus, which is, as Lacan puts it, “the creature that bears down on your chest with all its opaque weight of foreign jouissance, which crushes you beneath its jouissance.” What’s more, Lacan claims that the incubus weighs down on the subject via the asphyxiating imposition of a question (and, moreover, a question that can not be answered, a riddle).


The incubus thus constitutes the overwhelming dimension of the Demand of the big Other, when it is too much to bear. 

Next, Lacan discusses the signifier as that which represents a subject for another signifier. He names it an “effaced trace.” I tried to figure out why these words were chosen: effaced means “erase a mark from a surface” but it also could imply “effacement” as if the process through which the cervix prepares for delivery. All of this concerns the signifier. On the other hand, there is a sign. A sign is what represents something for somebody.

signifier: what represents a subject for another signifier

sign: what represents something for somebody.

You can see the difference between a signifier and a sign. Whereas a signifier involves displacement, a sign involves condensation. The sign presumes to represent something for somebody. Things are coherent and in their place. A signifier represents a subject but only for another signifier. The subject is represented by something which came before for something which comes after. What is at stake in all of this is the following: the subject is anxious because he has a relationship to something lost, something which came before.

The effaced trace is something that animals do – not just humans. Cats, for example, are involved in complex behaviors surrounding their shit. They bury it as if ritualistically. Lacan says: “one part of animal behavior consists in structuring a certain field of its umwelt [environment], its surroundings, by way of traces that punctuate this field and define its limits for the animal. This is what is called the constitution of territory” Thus, to “efface a trace” must mean something like erasing (by presuming to give birth to) one’s own desire. I am presuming, then, that Lacan means by “trace” that “spare part” which he has more formally named object a.

Effacing Trace


How do we distinguish between animals/objects and – without necessarily giving primacy to – humans? Even here, we are distinguishing between only certain humans, namely, neurotic humans [otherwise referred to as ‘normal humans’]. Lacan does something very clever here. He notes that animals can not lay “false traces” that make us believe they are false. To provide an example: a cat can not cover his shit so that we will see his shit. But humans can do this: very often we cover ourselves up in a mask precisely so that we can hide from the fact that the mask is of our actual face. As Lacan puts it: “that’s where the limit is [between neurotic humans and the rest of the world].

At the beginning there is an object, object a. There is also a big Other. The subject, via his birth through the signifier, is barred and produced. All of the subject’s life he will attempt to conquer what has been lost, the unknown dimension. He will do so with the help of the big Other. He makes a demand to the big Other and this demand always carries some anxiety with it. Any false response to this demand also has some anxiety to it. Every demand carries with it a void which is neither positive nor negative, but simply void. The source of anxiety occurs when this void is filled in.

Finally, Lacan introduces the matheme of the drive: $<>D [to be read: barred-S in relation to Demand]. We also have the matheme of fantasy: $<>a. There is some relationship between the two mathemes. The matheme of drive or demand is privileged in neurosis somehow. We can quickly see that this is a topic to which Lacan will now spend considerable time. He will most likely keep returning to the topic of the drive for, minimally, the next few years. First of all, it is important to distinguish drive [triebe] from instinct. Some translations have incorrectly conflated these terms.  Lacan has no problem with the concept of instinct, but rather with the way in which the dimension of drive has been occluded. Drive has nothing to do with instinct.

We see the dimension of drive in Hegel when he claims, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, that language is work. It is precisely through language that the subject makes his “inside pass outside” (as Hegel put it). But it is clear, Lacan claims, that Hegel means “inside-out”. One imagines a glove turned inside out. Lacan points out that at each stage of inverted the glove there is always a residue, a part of the glove, which can not be turned inside out. These are “partial” elements of the glove, like partial drives. The object a is also this partial drive. We see it similarly in the mouth and the anus: it is the ring itself. Object a as the ring itself secures the enjoyment of the cut. The decisive function of the sphincter is that it “cuts the object” – and this is on the side of identity itself, the subject’s identity.

Playdough Sphincter as Object “a” of the Drive



This seminar deals with, among other things, the question of a teaching: what is a teaching, what is the function of a teaching? In the previous class, of 14 November 1962, Lacan stated up front that a teaching is not a discourse. In effect, a teaching and analysis are similar in that the analyst plays at ‘not knowing’. Yet, Lacan is perfectly happy to claim that the analyst knows something (as Lacan puts it, ‘the analyst certainly knows a thing or two’). [It is worth pointing out that when Lacan returns to Sainte-Anne in 1971 he also returns to this question about the knowledge of the analyst.] The problem is not whether or not the teacher or analyst knows something but whether or not he can teach what he knows. There is a necessity here of making-things-understood, a necessity forced upon him by the audience to which he addresses his teaching: psychiatrists, analysts. But, after all, there are more than just analysts in his audience – there are those who expect him to make extra-analytic references (to Hegel, Kierkegaard, and so on).

It is a well-known Lacanian axiom that making-things-understood implies a stumbling block for analysis. And so we return to the problem of anxiety. It is a stumbling block to teach about anxiety precisely because teaching about anxiety through understanding means resolving the anxiety. As soon as you attempt to capture the object of anxiety, it flies away again. So how might a teaching about anxiety be addressed? At this time all we really know is that anxiety is an affect. We’ve discussed what an affect is (and what anxiety is not) in the notes from the last class. Lacan claims that we can make some headway in all of this by ruling out two teaching methodologies on the topic of anxiety and affects: (1) that of the catalogue, and (2) that of the analogue.

The path of the catalogue leads us to the problem of grasping anxiety as our object. Lacan recalls that Saint Thomas Aquinas made use of a division between concupiscent and irascible. I had to look these words up because they are new to me. In Christian theology concupiscent refers to the selfish human desire for an (earthly) object, person, or experience. Aquinas linked this desire to that of the pursuit or avoidance of instincts, and these are associated with joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance. On the other hand, irascible concerns competition and aggression in the instincts, and these are associated with fear, hope, despair, and anger. Aquinas, Lacan notes, suggested that the irascible always gets inserted into the chain of the concupiscent such that the concupiscent stands in as a first relation. Lacan quite likes this position but finds its grounding in the supposition of a Sovereign Good off-putting.

In any case, you can see that the two words simply catalogue various affects. The drawback of this position is that it forces us toward the classification of affects – and, we shall see, this leads to an aporia. Aquinas’ position is like a catalogue. Lacan cited the title of a report by Dr. Rapaport (whose name I am not familiar with – but whose Rapport is well heard) which was published in 1953 titled “On a Psychoanalytic Theory of Affect.” The title reads much more promising than the report itself. The reason for this is because the title hints at offering something new/original. But it does nothing of the sort: the author limits himself to cataloguing the accepted uses of the term (affect) and then his conclusion is that he can not choose one index to stand above the others. Rapaport’s catalogue included: (1) affect as drive discharge, (2) affect as a variation of tension across different phases, and (3) affect as a signal at the level of the ego of a danger coming from elsewhere. The problem with this method – cataloguing, or indexing – and with Rapaport’s rapport, is that it always ends up stopping at a dead end, unable to provide new insight.

The second method, that of analogue, involves ‘rounding up’ or providing analogous accounts. Whereas cataloguing involves indexing all of the possible positions on the topic, the concept of analogue seems to imply a remapping of the same underlying position across may possible independent fields. For example, anxiety could be discussed in terms of biology in one chapter, as a social problem in another, as a cultural mechanism in another, and so on. Lacan claims that the problem with the analogue method is that it ends up as anthropology, and anthropology “entails the greatest number of the most hazardous presuppositions.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that statement – he does not provide any insight about this remark.

Finally, we are at the method championed by Lacan, which he refers to as “the function of the key.” A key unlocks rather than indexes or arranges. Lacan claims that the key is inherent to all authentic teachings whether it is psychoanalytic or not. So what is the key? The key is what permits the signifying function as such to operate – it unlocks the function, and opens the door to meaning. In a way, we could say that it stands above the signifying function. In the same way, the teacher stands above the classroom. The ideal, here, Lacan says, is ‘straight-forwardness of teaching.’ The method of the key is straight-forward because it is simple, singular, and so on.

Lacan adopts another name for this key: unary trait. The unary trait precedes the subject because it precedes the signifying function. It is through the unary trait that subjects are constituted as such. This particular class (21 Nov 1962) does not offer a lot of discussion about the unary trait and this is truly unfortunate. The importance of the unary trait – what makes it essential at the level of identification in hysterical neurosis – is skipped over. Instead, the unary trait is here described in a way that relates very closely to the master signifier and the name-of-the-father. It would be important to eventually distinguish these concepts from one another.

From Saint John 1: “In the beginning was the Word [note the capitalization], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”). Similarly, in the beginning there is the Teacher or the Analyst, who functions as the big Other. And, because the Teacher, as the big Other, is there in the beginning, then she is there before everything we can understand (this is what we mean by the fact that the key is there before the signifying function). If you look once again at the graph of desire you can see the two tracks: the signifying function moves from left to right (bottom track) and the barred subject moves up and backwards through the big Other (A). So, you can see, then, that it is through the big Other (who comes first) that meaning is articulated around the signifying chain.

Completed Graph of Desire

We return to the definition of desire, derived, as such, from hysterical neurotics: ‘man’s desire is the desire of the Other’ [an interesting question to ponder would be: why does Lacan say “man” and not “woman” when referring to desire in this way?] What is the relationship between this formula of desire and Hegel’s? The answer is really not all that important – and yet we shall try to make some understanding of it.

For Hegel the dependence of desire on the one who is Other does not operate according to the unconscious. No doubt, the Other is the one who sees me, but he is also the one who is seen seeing me – and Hegel misses this point. The Other always concerns one’s own desire as that which the Other lacks. For hysterics it is what the Other does not know that provides the impetus for desire as such. And yet we do not see any of this in Hegel’s formula of desire (see below). Thus, the barred-subject, $, is essentially another way of writing the dependence of the subject’s to the Other. Recall that there is a distinction between the (little) other as my semblable (image), and the Other as the locus of the signifier – the key.

Lacan provides four formulae which I will reproduce below:

Formula 1: d(a) : d(O) < a
(Hegel’s Formula)
(begin with object a, “an object a which desires”)
(desire vis-a-vis the desire of the Other who institutes my desire)

Formula 2: d(a) < i(a) : d(Ø)
(Lacan’s Formula)
(begin with object a, “an object a which desires”)
(desire instituted by image-support of desire of the Other, or the ideal-ego vis-a-vis the lack in the Other)

Formula 3: d(x) : d(O) < x
(Kierkegaard’s Formula)

Formula 4:

d(0) < 0 : d(Ø)

d(a) : 0 > d(0)

(Lacan’s Formulae)

The first formula represents Hegel’s model of desire whereby desire is always the desire for a an Other desirer to respond to our appeal or demand. In this model, desire is always a desire for there to be a person who desires. According to Hegel, the subject needs a person who will desire, a person who will respond to her appeal/demand, so that she can be acknowledged. The Other institutes something – designated by a – and this is where there is an impasse: it is precisely through this interaction with the Other that I get acknowledged only as an object. I get exactly what I desire, namely, to be recognized, but I am only recognized as an object. We can’t stand being recognized as objects! The only way out of this sort of acknowledgement, of this objectification, is violence. A fight to the death.

The second formula states that desire is always a desire of the Other. Here, a sort of mediation is permitted (but wasn’t permitted in Hegel’s formula). After the semi-colon there is the symbol for the relation of the desire of the Other. Before the semi-colon there is an image-support of the relation of the desire of the Other. The subject’s desire exists inasmuch as it has an image-support which is equivalent to the desire of the Other. The other is connoted by the barred O (i.e., the Ø) because it’s the Other at the point where he’s characterized as lack. The first formula highlighted the fact Hegel’s conception of desire is too tightly imaginary: “It’s very nice to say that the slave’s servitude is brimming with the whole future right up to absolute knowledge, but politically this means that till the end of time the slave will remain a slave.”

Lacan does not have more to say about the other formulae at this point. So we must attempt to figure them out ourselves for now. We can see that Kierkegaard’s formula is the same as Hegel’s, but with x’s instead of the object of desire. The truth of Hegel’s desire is supposedly articulated in this formula which Lacan provides to account for Kierkegaard’s desire. However, I can not figure out what these x’s mean. Finally, the fourth formulae are Lacan’s own invention. He notes the zeros and claims that he will come back to this – I’ve spent a few moments thinking about the formulae and can not figure it out.

Lacan then moves onto elementary division. You draw a vertical line to demarcate two spaces of operation (left and right). You begin with the big Other, as A, and place it in the left space. The big Other – whom is the locus of the unary trait – is always interacting with the Subject and so we place the subject in the right column. At this point the subject is not yet existent because the interaction with the unary trait has not happened. Upon interaction, the barred-subject is produced as $ – a result of the dependence of his desire on the Other. Of course, this takes a toll out on the Other who, for his part, is also barred. Through this interaction something is left over, something remains: the objet petit a, desire as such. You can see, then, how it is that objet petit a, as desire, is always desire coming from the lack in the Other.

$ Ø

One final point: it is with good reason that the $ and the a are situated within the left column (recall, for example, that $<>a is the matheme for fantasy): this is because fantasy is on the side of the Other. And a lacking Other is what stands on the side of the subject as such.