November 20, 2006
In his introduction to Badiou’s Polemics, Steve Corcoran makes a couple of statements that strike me as very nicely capturing the spirit of Badiou’s political thought. First, Corcoran remarks,
In order to maintain this structure in dominance, certain elements must remain uncounted or excluded, elements that inhabit what Badiou calls the edge of the situations void. The void cannot, of course, be localed or presented in the sitaution, it is scattered throughout it (the capitalist situation, for example, is structurally incapable of recognizing the capcity for proletarian innovation which inhabits everyone). But those on the edge of the void, those with ‘nothing to lose but their chains’, are situated in it, but as a sort of negative magnitude, the living lack of positive qualities that define the way the situation is re-presented. In Badiou’s terms, then, they are presented in it, and hence belong to, the situation, but are not re-presented in it. So long as the elements of a situation do not radically deviate from their assigned places, or lack therof, this gap will normally not show. To the always total structure of knowledge, which knows neither void nor excess, this element will simply appear as a non-essential or contingent disturbance to the situation, not as a symptom of the structural ‘lie’ of the situation itself. From the standpoint of the state of the situation, this inconsistent multiplicity simply appears as nothing, as non-being.
Then, every so often, in a completely unpredictable fashion, a Truth-Event comes to peirce a hole in the totalizing, static structure of knowledge. An Event for Badiou is a properly contingent and unaccountable occurance, exceeding everything that can be known in the situation– its identity conflicts, ideological struggles, fluxes of people and money, etc. An event cannot, Badiou argues, be generated nor deduced from the situation; but that it exceeds the terms of the situation does not mean that it arrives from some beyond or outside. There is no transcendence here; the Event attaches itself precisely to the void of the situation, revealing its inherent inconsistency… But what can come to be counted, and what links each specific situation to this inconsistency, are those that inhabit the edge of the void. Politics, in so far as it is universal and democratic, is for Badiou a process that comes to count those who are uncounted. Stigmatizing the uncounted as backward, dangerous, etc., then, is the best way to ward off a more profound ‘evil’: the emergence of a popular subjective force that would be capable of opposing the sterility of comfortable self-perpetuation, capable of developing the latent possibilities for democratic action that are immanent to the situation; a subjective force that, as subtracted from all sociological categories and classifications (‘illegal immigrants’, ‘citizens’), is grounded in the simple norm of belonging to the situation. (xii-xiv
Badiou’s conception of politics as “counting those who are uncounted” is perfectly analogous to analysis (as opposed to therapy) and the shift from early consultations to “putting one on the couch”. Analysis counts what is uncounted, which is to say the desire embodied in the symptom and parapraxes, that embodies the fundamental lie of the analysand’s life (the betrayal of their desire). By contrast, therapy seeks to maintain the normality of the ego by treating the symptom as an “illness” from which the subject must be separated so as to return to normal family, marital, and work relations. I will refer to “politics” as that praxis that engages with the constitutive exception to social organizations, while I will refer to “governance” as that activity concerned with counting, power, how social institutions should be organized, identities, and so on. “Governance” is a wide term that denotes sociological phenomena such as social systems, power-structures, epistemes, apparati of state capture, the logic of the signifier, and any explicit systems of governance such as bureaucracies. However, governance need not be presided over by legislators or conscious intentions to count as governance.
Corcoran goes on to remark that,
In terms of Being and Event, what the Paris Commune succeeded in doing was making pure presentation, i.e. pure and simple belonging to a situation irrespective of all cultural predicates, the principle of its politics. It succeeded in rupturing with all relation and creating a new set that was subtracted from the existing classifications and nominations structuring the preceding situation. Badiou’s more recent work does not go back over this point, but sets out to grasp the way that an event comes to transform the logic of the situation, that is, the way that its elements appear in it or the intensity with which they are endowed. For not having any objective foothold in the situation, a truth will succeed in imposing itself on the situation only in so far as it manages to transvaluate the intensity of its elements– or come to impose a different regime for their appearing. So, a truth proceeds as a subtraction from the classifications and distributions of the state, but it does so by altering the appearing, or the intensity, of the elements composing the situation. As Peter Hallward says, ‘the key point of reference remains the anarchic disorder of inconsistent multiplicity’; but because the being of the situation must be made to be there (i.e. experienced as connected, related) it must be made subject to the logical constraints of a particular situation. As Badiou figures it, these logical constraints mean that there will always be, in any situation, elements that exist maximally (politically speaking, those whose voices are sanctioned, whose speech leads to action), elements that are less intense, and elements that, like those on the edge of the void, are effectively invisible (whose speech registers as pure noise, and who as such constitute the ‘non-existent’ element of this situation). (xvii-xviii)
By way of example, it could be said adjunct or part time professors (I’m not one) are a potential site of the political in the situation characterizing American universities. Adjuncts clearly belong to this situation, but are not re-presented within that situation. Rather, those who have the greatest degree of intensity in this situation would be professors and administrators, whereas adjuncts are almost non-existent in this situation, having little or no voice. Badiou’s point isn’t that we should find a way to include the voice of adjuncts, but rather that those elements of the situation that are on the edge of the void have the potential to transform all the elements of the situation by revealing the constitutive arbitrariness of the system of governance or organization of the particular question. The question of the political is that of how to shift something that has a very low degree of intensity with respect to appearing to having a high degree of intensity that transforms all elements of the situation (i.e., it’s not a question of identity politics).
November 19, 2006
In Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan remarks that no one is interested in another person’s symptom. This moment marks a substantial transition from Lacan’s earlier work, a transition that he’d been approaching for a number of years. In earlier seminars, following on the wake of the famous Rome Discourse, Lacan had argued that the symptom could be entirely resolved at the level of the signifier through interpretation. This position was not unlike that of the early Freud, who believed that the neurotics symptom could be entirely eradicated through interpretation. However, just as Freud eventually encountered the death drive or the compulsion to repeat, so too would Lacan discover that there’s something that resists over the course of analysis, a remainder that can’t be eradicated. In some circumstances, the so-called “negative therapeutic reaction” would take place, and analysis would suddenly take a left-turn for the worse, characterized by extreme hostility towards the analyst. In other cases, the analysand would leave analysis only to have the symptom flare up once again with all the force and drama that it had possessed prior to analysis. Or, as Freud had worried in his late essay Analysis Terminable and Interminable, the work of analysis could go on infinitely, with analysand and analyst (it’s always the analysand that does the majority of interpreting in genuine analysis) endlessly interpreting new slips of the tongue, symptoms, dreams, etc.
Lacan would discover this as well– crushing the happy dream of analysis in confronting an analysis that goes on for years, even decades –leading him to rethink the end of analysis. In Seminar 22, RSI, Lacan will present two options: Either the analysand believes in the symptom (in which case analysis has failed), or the analysand identifies with the symptom. If the first option marks a failure of analysis, then this is because it marks a residue of transference that has not fallen away over the course of analysis. To believe in the symptom is to believe that there is a final signifier, a last interpretant. Yet this is equivalent to believing that the Other exists, that there is an answer to the symptom that could tell us what we are once and for all. On the other hand, identification with the symptom would consist, perhaps, of two things: 1) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that says “I am that”, and 2) the subject that identifies with the symptom is the subject that identifies with the process by which symptoms are produced, with the nonsense and the activity of meaning making that is called for in this nonsense. In other words, the late Lacan has carried out a separation of the symptom from the field of meaning, from the field of the Other, which is what will lead him to create the new concept of “sinthome” as a sort of symptom purified of all meaning with respect to the Other, a pure process, such as what we find in the literature of Joyce. I identify with this nonsense at the heart of my being. This is the Lacan that will begin to focus on writing and the letter, in contrast to the signifier and the signified. It is the literality of the letter as opposed to the play of the signifier, and it is a literality that promises the subtraction of a mute jouissance of the letter, no longer caught up in the web of the Other. For more on this, I refer readers to the extraordinary collection of essays edited by Luke Thurston in Re-Inventing the Symptom.
If no one is interested in the symptom of another, then this is because the sinthome is nonsensical, a silent jouissance, a jouissance that has been subtracted from the field of meaning and the Other. Sinthome is symptom that has become drive. I find it impossible to be interested in Joyce, for even when I’m interested in Joyce, I am interested in myself. The jouissance of the letter embodied in Joyce’s text functions as a rorschach for my own symptom, which is why interpretations of Joyce are always the pet projects of their authors. One might say something similar of Lacan’s reading of Freud or any reading of Lacan. The beauty of any reading of Lacan is that one is singularly responsible for what Lacan will have been. In this regard, Lacan’s writing performatively enacts his theory of “oracular interpretation”– interpretations that can be taken in a variety of different ways –making the reader, like the analysand, responsible for what they find in the text.
It is this inability to maintain interest in any other’s symptom that leads me to surprise when I read Spurious’ diary today. There, in an uncharacteristic vein, Lars writes,
Do you see – I’ve cursed myself now, and this will be a bad post, I will have confided too much and at too great a length and should lead it home now, like a horse by its nose. Home: you have been out, and now it’s time to come home; the Law opens to enclose you. The Law welcomes you back.
Such an astonishing thing to say! I suspect that there’s an element of seduction or challenge in such remarks, perhaps even a wish. These fragments that Spurious has been writing lately have less the feel of illumination, than walking into the room of someone you hardly know, a room filled with all sorts of random, yet ordinary things, and wondering what they are all about. In other words, in their very act of confiding, they seem to confide nothing, but only multiply questions. A few months ago, on a beautiful post written by Blah-feme, Lars had responded to some remarks I had made that were quite obviously attempting to display some intellectual muscle (as Blah-feme rightly pointed out over at his blog where I posted the same comment). There I wrote,
What I find myself wondering is how we can get at this materiality at all or how we can even speak of it. It always seems to escape. I believe I referenced Hegel’s account of sense-certainty over at your blog. As I’m sure you’re aware– and please forgive my obsessive spelling out of details or “tutorial style”, I have a tendency to go into too much detail in responding to anything, as my blog amply demonstrates, not out of any attribution of ignorance –the opening of the Phenomenology begins with sense-certainty or the sensuous-immediacy of the things itself as the ground of knowledge (and clearly you’re not talking of knowledge but the thing itself). However, the moment I attempt to *say* this sensuous-immediacy, I find it slips away in the universals of language. I say “this” thing here, but “this” can just as easily be used for something else. I try to fix it with “now”, “here”, “I”, etc., but I find myself in the same dilemma each time. I am thus unable to say sensuous immediacy but always feel to the formal and universal. The materiality thus seems to perpetually elude our attempt to indicate it, always slipping elsewhere. Doesn’t precisely the same thing happen in the case of voice? I agree that all of the features you describe (in this and your more recent post) are central to the uncanny phenomenon of voice, yet they slip away in one and the same moment I try to articulate them.
Returning to my pet example of the trauma of the paternal voice that shatters the calm and pleasant world of the young child, this same child, when an analysand years later, tries to articulate the materiality, the trauma, the uncanniness, of those ringing knocks at his bedroom door, or the muffled, stern voice behind the wood, yet encounters himself as frustrated and defeated, unable to quite explain it or convey it. The materiality perpetually eludes him yet it is also perpetually there. How do we escape this Hegelian deadlock?
Very interesting stuff and beautiful writing.
To which Lars responded,
How, as Sinthome puts it, to write about the singular, or (from the perspective of ‘Sense Certainity’ for Hegel) the immediate without losing the materiality of the voice? By allowing that materiality to carry through into writing – to emphasise, in language, its musical aspects – sonority, rhythm – as it repeats (in Kierkegaard’s sense) the thickness of the voice. Without this repetition, there is always the risk of an arid formalism, an endemic problem to philosophy and to philosophical discussions of the voice, of art etc.
I think Blah-Feme is right to suggest that engagement with specific voices is necessary. And I think Blah-Feme is also right to invoke the materiality of the voice in a language that thickens itself.
I will not say that Lars is trying to write the specific, the singular, but rather that his writing is specific. It is for this reason that there can be little or no interest in Lars’ writing, though that writing might generate a good deal of interest (here I hope someone gets the double entendre, the homonym). It is a writing that has no small amount of “sinthome” in it.
All of this, I think, poses, in very vague form, a philosophical question I’ve been revolving about: How is it possible for an analyst to be a philosopher? Lacan, of course, is legendary for his critiques of philosophy. For Lacan philosophy is a discourse of the imaginary, an attempt to totalize the world, a discipline that disavows the constitutive split of the subject. Yet when Lars evokes “specific voices”– so many of which we find here: Spurious, Blah-feme, Jodi Dean, Yusef, Glen, the Yak, N.Pepperell, K-Punk, $, IT, and so on –there is already a challenge to thought, for a specific voice is precisely that which evades the determination of the conceptual. A few months ago I wrote a post asking whether or not Badiou could be called a materialist. There the argument was that something is added to a mathematical space when it is materially instantiated, and this seems lost in Badiou’s onto-logy. The issue is the same with philosophy in general. In the analytic setting you are concerned with the specific voice of the analysand, sans conceptuality… With it’s pure materiality, it’s saying, and its having been said. Lacanian concepts do not appear in the analytic setting, unless the analysand evokes them. Indeed, it’s not unusual to undergo an entire analysis without being told whether you’re obsessional, hysteric, psychotic, perverse, phobic, etc. All of this is irrelevant to the analysand’s act of saying and to what the analysand says. Yet philosophy, it seems, institutes the regime of the exchangable and the equivalent through its formation of the concept. It effaces the singularity of the event of saying so as to institute that which might be comparable in the said. It seems to me that this is one reason that philosophy must always be at odds with literature, for literature sings the psalm of the remainder, of the materiality of the voice and the event, or of that which cannot be exchanged under the umbrella of a concept. A literary event can only be a spur for thought. What is always lost in philosophy is the event. Is it possible for philosophy to preserve the event?
November 18, 2006
N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a truly terrific post musing on some of my recent attempts to work out Lacan’s logic of fantasy. Apart from the fact that it responds to things that I’ve recently written and therefore affords me narcissistic gratification and provides some evidence that I exist, I think what I like most about this post is the way that its both generous in its reading while also remaining critical in a productive way. Responding to some of my comments about objet a and the remainder, N.P. writes,
Sinthome then relates the persistence of this “remainder” to the possibility for critique, arguing, if I’m understanding correctly, that the remainder retains the residue of a presymbolic realm from which the symbolic realm is necessarily constructed. The symbolic realm – including fantasy as desire expressed in symbolic form – therefore necessarily drags along in its wake its own “outside”.
I’d like to suggest that there’s another way of understanding Lacan’s concept of the remainder that doesn’t resort to treating it as a sort of pre-symbolic residue. Rather than treating the remainder as a residue of the pre-symbolic that resists symbolic integration, remainder could be taken in a much more literal mathematical sense as the result of an operation. Suppose we take a simple act of division such as the division of 3 by 5. Our solution is 1.666666667. Here there’s something that escapes the operation, something that is left over when 3 is subjected to 5. Lacan often liked to liken objet a or the remainder to the golden ratio and irrational numbers. He develops this comparison or analogy in detail beginning with the unpublished Seminar 14, The Logic of Fantasy, and makes passing allusion to it in Seminar 20, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, when he remarks that,
If there is something in my Ecrits that shows that my fine orientation, since it is of that fine orientation that I try to convince you, is not such a recent development, it is the fact that right after the war, where nothing obviously seemed to promise a pretty future, I wrote “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty.” One can quite easily read therein– if one writes and not only if one has a good ear –that it is already little a that thetisizes the function of hast. In that article, I highlighted the fact that something like intersubjectivity can lead to a salutary solution. But what warrants a closer look is what each of the subjects sustains, not insofar as he is one among others, but insofar as he is, in relation to the two others, what is at stake in their thinking. Each intervenes in this ternary only as the objet a that he is in the gaze of the others.
In other words, there are three of them, but in reality, there are two plus a. This two plus a, from the standpoint of a, can be reduced, not to the two others, but to a One plus a. You know, moreover, that I have already used these functions to try to represent to you the inadequacy of the relationship between the One and teh Other, and that I have already provided as a basis for this little a, the irrational number known as the golden number. It is insofar as, starting from little a, the two others are taken as One plus a, that what can lead to an exit in haste functions. (48-9)
I cannot get into a careful analysis of this dense passage at present, as my mind is mush and it would require a close commentary on Plato’s various dialectics of the One and the Other in the Parmenides, along with a discussion of certain elements of set theory. Perhaps Bobo or Austin are up to this work. I do give an extremely simplified version of what Lacan is referring to with respect to logical time in a comment replying to Anon, where I discuss the intersubjectivity at stake in mowing my lawn. In addition to this, the Japanese analyst Shingu Kazushige has written a very nice book meditating on this enigmatic line entitled Being Irrational: Lacan, the Objet a, and the Golden Mean. What is interesting about this metaphor of objet a as an irrational number or the golden ratio is that it evokes the notion of a twist, distortion, or ripple in the symbolic that isn’t a hold-over from a mythological pre-symbolic past (how could such a past fail to be mythological, given that we can only approach the world through language?), and that results from operations in the symbolic itself. Perhaps the “cash value” of this concept would be that it offers the possibility of a form of resistance immanent to the symbolic itself… Which is to say, that it shows the manner in which the symbolic is unable to produce closure.
November 17, 2006
Glen, over at Event Mechanics has written a nice diary entitled Parallax of Nihilism, or Nihilism as a Pure Event, dealing with some of the themes I’ve been discussing with regard to fantasy lately. When Glen writes, “[n]ow the obvious point is that for a nihilist, or most of my generation, or pretty much every teenager, every activity is an idiotic activity”, in response to an earlier post where I describe fantasy as an idiotic activity that looks for no reason beyond itself, I confess that I’m a bit disturbed as I didn’t realize I had become a part of a generation or had become dated. I suppose this had to happen sometime.
Glen goes on to write,
The entire universe and especially human existence is singular idiotic activity (chaosmos). There is no essential cultural or discursive threshold that differentiates non-idiotic activity from idiotic activity. The question of idiocy is instead precisely one of enthusiasm or the affective associations and qualitative consistency of those associations that implicates us in various assemblages in action. I call idiocy stupidity. As I constantly rant on about here I try to have an intimate relationship with my stupidities.
Here I find myself wondering whether, in psychoanalytic terms, this too couldn’t be a certain sort of fantasy. That is, couldn’t conceiving the universe in terms of meaninglessness be a way of mastering the universe and all self-Other relations by knowing in advance what those relations are? Moreover, in a universe where everything is meaningless, haven’t I profoundly undermined any potential for anxiety by forestalling the possibility that there could be anything meaningful, and by having surrendered any reason to act or do? Or, to put it a bit differently, isn’t this the ultimate way of defending against the enigma of the Other’s desire, by negating any sort of belief in the Other altogether?
This, I think, can be situated in terms of religious belief. It is sometimes suggested that the religious are weak or soft of mind as they require the reassurance of God to make it through life. However, what if, following Kierkegaard, it is not belief that pacifies anxiety, but rather a lack of belief that pacifies anxiety. While it’s certainly true that there’s a kind of horror in recognizing that you simply drop out of existence altogether with death, isn’t it far more horrifying to imagine, in folk-theological terms, an all-seeing god that knows your every thought and deed, who’s will is inscrutable, and who desires for you to live a particular life without telling you precisely what that particular life should be? Isn’t this what Kierkegaard is getting at in Fear and Trembling, when he talks about being siezed in one’s singularity, knowing that God has called upon you for something, without knowing what that something is? There’s a way in which the absence of God is far more reassuring than the presence of God (we don’t defend against the Other for nothing), and there’s a way in which it’s far more reassuring to believe that it’s all meaningless, that nothing ultimately matters, that we can make no difference, than it is to believe that there is a bit of meaning, that some things do matter, and that what we do does make a difference. Perhaps the Lacanian prescription would be to be capable of affirming meaning or action, even when all meaning has collapsed. None of this, of course, is to chastise Glen, only to point out that fantasy can be a wily thing.
November 16, 2006
Continuing with our discussion started a couple days ago and regarding concerns about Zizek’s suggestion that traversing the fantasy entails a certain politics as articulated in my post The Beyond of Fantasy, Anon goes on to remark,
Levi, the way I see it, the subject having traversed the fantasy recognizes that there is no a final destination to their desire – what if, then, performing acts that mark their own intrinsic failure like Kinsey’s idiotic collecting the incollectable is all there is to the subject of drive? But then, what about pottering or dedicating one’s life to studying NFL statistics? Drive or desire? Stavrakakis envisages the traversing of the fantasy in terms of identifying with objet a – something akin to proclaiming “we are all Jews!” in the Hitlerian Germany. What he does not address is why the subject having traversed their fantasy should have any intrinsic motivation to perform any such feats. Why not stick to collecting wasp galls instead?
While I agree with Anon’s claim that post-fantasy desire has no final destination, I’m a bit more hesitant regarding his remarks about identification with objet a. Admittedly my thoughts are vague here, so I’ll try simply to formulate a way in which this question might begin to be addressed. As I tried to emphasize in a previous post, traversing the fantasy is not simply the recognition that desire has no final destination, but also involves what Lacan refers to as a “subjective destitution”. If this is so, then it is because the identity of the subject is dependent on the Other in a sort of topological projective space, such that if the Other falls (when we come to recognize the Other does not exist), the identifications of the subject fall as well, as these identifications require the gaze of the Other in order to sustain itself. It is this relationship between ideal ego and ego ideal that Lacan represents in the second cell of his graph of desire, in the vector running from O to i(o) to e and s(O). As Lacan will remark in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analaysis,
…the identification in question is not specular, immediate identification. It is its support. It supports the perspective chosen by the subject in the field of the Other, from which specular identification may be seen in a satisfactory light. The point of the ego ideal is that from which the subject will see himself, as one says, as others see him –which will enable him to support himself in a dual situation that is satisfactory for him from the point of view of love.
As a specular mirage, love is essentially deception. It is situated in the field established at the level of the pleasure reference, of that sole signifier necessary to introduce a perspective centered on the Ideal point, capital I, placed somewhere in the Other, from which the Other sees me, in the form I liked to be seen. (268)
In short, identification is never a dyadic relation in which I identify with another person and begin to imitate them. Rather, identification is first and foremost an identification with a particular gaze from which I see myself being seen, and which then leads me to embody particular signifiers that would render me lovable to the Other from the standpoint of this gaze. If traversing the fantasy is often so painful, then this is because the collapse of the Other, the discovery that the Other does not exist, also undermines that locus around which the analysand constructs his ideal ego. There is no longer a guarantee of those signifiers that define the subject’s being, and the analysand is forced to confront both the void of the Other and the void of himself with regard to the symbolic. Here I think it’s worthwhile to carefully think through the function that God serves for Descartes in the third meditation, in securing the trustworthiness of clear and distinct ideas and guaranteeing the very being of the subject. The third meditation is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand both the function of fantasy as it relates to the Other and guaranteeing one’s identity.
The identifications of the analysand are, at one level, symbolic identifications or identifications with particularly charged signifiers… The so-called “master-signifiers”. In an amusing passage earlier in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Lacan remarks that,
Before any experience, before any individual deduction, even before those collective experiences that may be related only to social needs are inscribed in it, something organizes this field, inscribes its initial lines of force. This is the function that Claude Levi-Strauss shows us to be the truth of the totem function, and which reduces its appearance– the primary classificatory function.
Before strictly human relations are established, certain relations have already been determined. They are taken from whatever nature may offer as supports, supports that are arranged in themes of opposition. Nature provides– I must use the word –signifiers, and these signifiers organize human relations in a creative way, providing them with structures and shaping them.
The important thing, for us, is that we are seeking here– before any formation of the subject, of a subject who thinks, who situates himself in it –the level at which there is counting, things are counted, and in this counting he who counts is already included. It is only later that the subject has to recognize himself as such, recognize himself as he who counts. Remember the naive failure of the simpleton’s delighted attempt to grasp the little fellow who declares– I have three brothers, Paul, Ernest and me. But it is quite natural– first the three brothers, Paul, Ernest and I are counted, and then there is I at the level at which I am to reflect the first I, that is to say, the I who counts. (20)
Lacan’s language here– no doubt as a result of Jacques-Alain Miller’s editing –is extremely precise (especially his set theoretical reference to counting and inclusion). This is actually a slip of the tongue I myself made in analysis once, when I referred to my “brothers”, when, in fact, I only have one brother. I was counting myself as a brother or according to my position in the network of signifiers. The point here is that we must distinguish between the count and what is counted. As Badiou argues in Being and Event, the state does not count individuals, but rather classes of individuals:
Marxist thought relates the State directly to sub-multiples rather than to terms of the situation. It posits that the count-as-one insured by the State is not originally that of the multiple of individuals, but that of the multiple of classes, the formal idea that the State– which is the state of the historico-social situation –deals with collective subsets and not with individuals remains essential. This idea must be understood: the essence of the State is that of not being obliged to recognize individuals– when it is obliged to recognize them, in concrete cases, it is always according to a principle of counting which does not concern the individual as such. (105)
As a subject of language, I am not counted as the individual that I am, but according to the various symbolic positions embodied by the signifier. It is this difference between the count and the counted that the simpleton above brings about. This, in part, is what Lacan refers to by the “aphanisis of the subject”, where the subject never appears, but perpetually “fades behind the signifier”. Now, this feature of counting in the symbolic creates a number of challenges for the subject. On the one hand, it is impossible for me to coincide with the signifier. I am always non-identical to the signifiers in which I find myself enmeshed, as signifiers are general whereas I am always singular. Here it’s worthwhile to recall Hegel’s joke about the man at the market who tries to buy “fruit”. You cannot buy “fruit” as such, only this or that type of fruit. At the level of the signifier I am exchangeable with any other person falling under that signifier (i.e., “the average voter”), but at the level of my own being I am singular and irreplaceable, without measure or equivalent. It is impossible to capture this with the signifier. This is one of the meanings of the discourse of the master:
For any signifier I adopt to signify myself (“male”, “American”, “professor”, “white”, etc), there is a remainder that escapes or eludes the articulation of the signifier, something that cannot be signified. And it is for this reason that I am a “barred subject”. Between myself and my signifiers there will always be a minimal opacity, not just for the Other (i.e., the Other can’t read my mind and I can’t read the Other’s mind), but for myself as well: “why do these particular characterize me? Am i really a professor? Don’t I always fall short of these signifiers? Don’t I perpetually fail to embody them (hence a priori guilt)?”
However, we also note that this discourse writes the signifier S1–>S2, which is to say that the signifier represents the subject for another signifier. This problem is perhaps more crucial, for as Lacan will say in Seminar 14, The Logic of Fantasy, “the signifier cannot signify itself”. The logic of the signifier follows the logic of Russell’s paradox, in that signifiers have the property of not being members of themselves. In order to articulate a signifier, there must immediately be another signifier, a second signifier. This entails that 1) there can be no first or last signifier as the law ~(S1 belongs to S1) holds for all signifiers, and 2) that there cannot be a totality or complete set of all signifiers. As Lacan will say in Seminar 14, “there is no universe of discourse”, meaning that there cannot be a complete set of signifiers.
This property of the signifier creates an internal instability where identification is concerned, for insofar as no signifier can signify itself it follows that every signifier requires another signifier in order to articulate itself. But if this is the case, it follows that identification, based as it is on signifiers, perpetually finds itself in a state of instability, as each identification I might take on requires another signifier to establish itself, and so on ad infinitum. As Peirce would say, my identifications are doomed to infinite semiosis. It is this instability internal to the nature of the signifier that simultaneously 1) precipitates the mad dash to identify (I perpetually strive to identify as a way of trying to halt the sliding of the signifier), 2) renders every identification precarious or unstable, and 3) calls forth the necessity of the symptom as that which anchors the sliding of the signifier. As Lacan will remark much later in seminar 22, RSI, there is no subject without a symptom, indicating that the symptom is a formally necessary feature of the subject’s topology, not an accident resulting from childhood trauma that Other subjects might escape. In short, the symptom is that which marks the excess of the signifier over the being of the subject, or that wards off the undoing of identity.
It seems to me that it is precisely here that we find the support for Stavrakakis’ thesis that in Nazi Germany, having traversed the fantasy, the only legitimate stance is identification with the figure of the Jew. Those principles that hold for the subject also hold for the social system, as there is no such thing as a subject that isn’t already a social subject. The position of that the figure of the Jew occupies within Nazi Germany is that of the impossibility of a universe of discourse; which is to say that the figure of the Jew (not to be confused with actual Jews) is the suture that projects German identity from the precariousness of its identity. As Badiou will express a somewhat similar idea in Being and Event,
All multiple-presentation is exposed to the danger of the void: the void is its being. The consistency of the multiple amounts to the following: the void, which is the name of inconsistency in the situation (under the law of the count-as-one), cannot, in itself, be presented or fixed. What Heidegger names the care of being, which is the ecstasy of beings, could also be terms the situational anxiety of the void, or the necessity of warding off the void. The apparent solidity of the world of presentation is merely a result of the action of structure, even if nothing is outside such a result. It is necessary to prohibit that catastrophe of presentation which would be its encounter with its own void,, the presentational occurence of inconsistency as such, or the ruin of the One. (93)
The subject that has traversed the fantasy is the subject that faces this void or inconsistency at the heart of being; or, is effectively, the figure of the Jew (where the “Jew” is understood in functional terms as the supplement to the impossibility of forming a One out of the social system). Such a subject is a subject that has separated objet a, the endless metonymical displacement of desire embodied in drive, from all identifications, and thus effectively identifies with the position embodied by the excess signalled by the Jew. The Jew is precisely that figure that is not counted in the Nazi situation, that can only appear as excess or deficiency, and which thus marks the excess of inclusion over the symbolic’s attempt to master inclusion. As such, the Jew is the figure of the symptom, the truth. Along these lines, Lacan will remark that “…the fundamental mainspring of the analytic operation is the maintainance of the distance between the I– identification –and the a” (Seminar 11, 273). Yet this is just to say that over and above any identifications with master-signifiers, the analytic operation consists in identification with the symptom or the inability of these signifiers to totalize the social field. I’m not sure how much sense these remarks make, but they seem to be a stab in the right direction in understanding why Zizek and Stavrakakis make the claims they do about the social subject. Perhaps the question of “motive” isn’t the right question to ask. It is not so much an issue of motives as a question of becoming an acephalous subject or undergoing subjective destitution.
November 16, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Lars Watch
, Spurious Leave a Comment
There’s something painful in a non-encounter. I watch Spurious from afar and delight in his prose. Sometimes I find it over-wrought and too indebted to my love Blanchot, whom I’ll never write about, or Levinas, or perhaps even Benjamin, and I’ll feel superior. And so from that I can take a narcissistic gratification and feel a sense of superiority from my mysterious British neighbor. At other times I am dwarfed by some dance of prose he or she (I don’t really care, it’s sexy and enthralling either way) has engaged in, and I can only stare with my jaw wide open. I experience awe at his narcissitic resistance to narcissism at how its had the courage to close its comments and so thoroughly cloth or hide its identity. What “Socrates-like” humility is this? And isn’t it really the ultimate indulgence? I smile at its single minded devotion to a single question, its obsession, to the question of writing. Oh, I can tell you, the pleasure I took in its compliment it gave me in acknowledging my reading of Kafka. Such beautiful words to say “for Sinthome Kafka is…”, and to gracefully overlook the omission of my memory pertaining to the ending of The Castle.
Lately Lars has taken to writing about some mysterious character named “W”, has reformatted its blog, and has the image of a woman peering out behind a mesh curtain. The conversations between this W and Spurious are often of a pedestrian and facile nature, yet are profound and intense for this very reason. They are very basic conversations that we have with those whom we love, when we are able to surrender our apparatus, and when the world presents itself before us once again. There’s something a little scandalous and indecent about presenting such intimacy this way. Yet Spurious is kind enough to hide itself, so that it’s not quite so pornographic. Spurious is telling us the tale of a friendship and love, of idle conversations that are banal and inspiring. I’m sure it would read things differently, but it also knows enough to know that it is not master of its signifiers.
I think Spurious is exhausted, tired. Apparently it’s written two books, and used to burn with a fire that would keep it up late up into the night, taking notes over various intensities and singularities that have occasionally populated the world. This voice that emerging is a voice that’s grown sick of all that and that wants to say something plainly. Or maybe I just don’t understand. But I think there’s a certain grain of something– I won’t call it life even though that was the name of a recent post –that it’s trying to touch. Is it boredom? Is it tenure? Is it nothing left to lose? Is it a moment of faith and conviction, a recognition of death and passing youth? I fear that Lars might be a bit of an objet a for me, a Rorschach. It’s nice to watch though. I’m sure I’ll have regretted writing this, which makes it all worthwhile.
November 16, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized  Comments
In a post responding to my remarks on fantasy earlier today, Anon writes:
Levi, I know flattering leftist homologies have been made by Zizek and others between Lacan’s subject of drive and Badiou’s subject of the truth procedure, but to me, there is also a conservative side to the traversing of the fantasy. Once you forget the Big Revolution and changing the world and all that (an elusive object of the metonymy of desire par excellence), what is left for you than to turn…pragmatic and utilitarian, perhaps? I couldn’t care less about changing the world politics though I go to elections every now and then, I still pay taxes, enjoy my daily lunch and a drink with friends after the hard day’s work not to mention some good screwing with my wife a few times a week. Should I traverse my petty bourgeois fantasy? But what if I’m already on the other side?
I think Anon here makes a very good observation pertaining to the difference between the practice of Lacanian psychoanalysis in the clinic and Zizek’s political project. Ideally (both Freud and Lacan talked about the impossibility of analysis as a profession), the analyst has no particular stance on the outcome of analysis. Traversing the fantasy in analysis does not entail that someone is going to become a revolutionary subject, that they’ll become leftist, or that they’ll accomplish anything in particular. An analyst is an advocate of the analysand’s desire, not of a preconceived agenda or conception of the good. Indeed, Lacan warned against the desire to do good as this desire inevitably smuggles in the analyst’s own imaginary and desires. Or as Lacan put it much earlier in the Rome Discourse, the analyst agrees to play dead. At most, traversing the fantasy entails that the analysand encounters the non-existence of the big Other and discovers the impossibility of complete or total jouissance which, in turn, opens the possibility of enjoying those bits and remainders of jouissance that are available.
I don’t know that I would describe this in the sort of pragmatic, bourgeois, and utilitarian terms Anon describes it in terms of (the Bourgeois strike me as very concerned with what the Other thinks, as can be discerned in Kierkegaard’s astute psychological descriptions in The Sickness unto Death), but he does have a point. Take Zizek’s description of drive as a sort of parallex shift in how we view desire. The subject experiences desire teleologically as aiming at some state of completeness that somehow we perpetually fail to acheive. I never get the right girl. I never write the right book. I never get the right job. Etc. However, if we anamorphically shift our perspective on desire, we discern drive, where the whole point of the activity is precisely its repetition without ever reaching the goal. The jouissance lies not in the goal, but in the repetition of the failure or the activity itself. Now if the outcome of analysis is a shift from being a subject of desire to a subject of drive, we can very well imagine post-analyzed subjects who draw their enjoyment precisely from some idiotic activity like Kinsey collecting his gall wasps or Husserl producing ever refined phenomenological descriptions of minutiae, without entertaining a belief that these activities are undertaken for the sake of some grand goal that might someday complete itself. The telos of such activity and its jouissance lies in the activity itself, and the subject feels no need to call on the approval of the Other to engage in this enjoyment, nor does he see this enjoyment as an act of transgression attempting to steal jouissance back from the Other.
Along these lines, Dermot Moran, in his Introduction to Phenomenology, relates an anecdote of a very young Husserl being given a pocket-knife one year as a gift. Believing the knife to be too dull, little Edmund sharpened and sharpened the blade until it disappeared entirely. Later in life he came to see his phenomenological descriptions in these terms, wehre the descriptions became ever more precise, drawing all sorts of nuanced scholastic distinctions, until the phenomenon itself often became lost. Now Husserl did entertain world-historical pretensions for the value of phenomenology, but in reading him– especially his lectures or works like Ideas –one gets the sense that the jouissance lies in the activity of drawing distinctions and describing itself, without these descriptions having any particular use or value. Indeed, Husserl sometimes spoke of something like an “epistemic drive” in his discussions of “Ideas” as a telos of knowledge. There’s hardly anything revolutionary in all of this, though Husserl’s jouissance was certainly revolutionary in birthing a thriving philosophical movement with entirely new questions.
By contrast, when Zizek speaks of traversing the social fantasy, something very different is at stake. That is, Zizek envisions a particular outcome of this traversal of the fantasy that produces a particular type of subjectivity. But to what degree can this be said within a Lacanian framework, which strives to suspend any normative criteria in approaching the analysands desire? I’m prepared to say that there are some things that are impossible to continue after traversing the fantasy: I find it very difficult to conceive of a Lacanian that believes in a standard “folk psychological” conception of God, for reasons that I set out in an earlier post on desire and fantasy. This does not entail that other relations to the divine might not be possible within a Lacanian framework. As Bobo once pointed out to me, Lacan, somewhere in seminar 20, names femine jouissance as opening on to the divine. This is a theme that deserves rich and careful exploration. Likewise, I find it difficult to imagine a post-analyzed subject that continues to be racist or sexist. Insofar as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., are imaginary stances towards the Other designed to account for the absence of jouissance through the theft of jouissance, it does not seem possible for a subject who has traversed the fantasy and encountered the non-existence of the Other and the impossibility of jouissance to continue in the belief that another group has stolen their jouissance. But it seems very difficult to say just why traversing the fantasy would necessarily have to produce a revolutionary subject. It’s suspicious that Zizek was only in analysis for a few weeks and is often downright hostile to Lacan’s clinical orientation. Could we be dealing here with Zizek’s desire writ large? Do others have thoughts on this?
CAUTIONARY NOTE (Since they seem necessary today when interacting with the disciples or true believers where questions are generally unwelcome and experimental larvae are generally disliked, i.e., those who must defend against the void as articulated by Badiou in BE 8): Raising these questions is not a dismissal of Zizek, but a challenge to be addressed, posing the question of just why psychoanalytic categories should produce a certain outcome or subjective position vis a vis the political. It’s well known that Lacan was fairly “conservative” in his own outlook, and, like Freud, suspicious of utopian, emancipatory movements due to his understanding of psychic structures. Is this cynicism unfounded? Why? Posing a question is a first step.
November 15, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized Leave a Comment
Apparently the war on Christmas has started early this year. Note the suprise from the manufacturer of this doll. And just in case someone doesn’t get it, this post is sarcasm!
November 15, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized  Comments
I was amused to awake this morning to this post in response to a recent diary on Badiou:
While it is certainly true that his most recent work, Logiques des mondes, is designed to account for being-there or appearing (the “one-ing” of being), Badiou’s discussion of Dasein here strikes me as disappointing as it is primarily descriptive of consistent multiplicities, without giving us an account of how the operations that produce Dasein operate.
How could you possibly have missed the point about the “unspecified operational field made up of ‘objects’ on which one can define operations similar to addition and multiplication” (LdM 21) — ?? — Unless, of course, you’ve neglected to read the whole of the book itself, let alone approach something resembling what Plato calls “close thinking” in relation to an object. Supposing you’ve read the book, does the enveloppe not appear familiar to you, or have you forgotten everything you read in this 630 page tome–giving it the old heave ho–in favour of merely repeating this vain art of yours whereby, time and again, you recapitulate the silliest of the most widely recognizable readings of Lacan, Deleuze, Zizek, etc.; doing so whenever it seems you have gathered something to rekindle this bemusing attempt at closing the book on the only one who earnestly calls Lacan “his master.”
You’ve also committed a foul by mingling together l’etre-la with Dasein. Sure, both translate as being-there, but that’s completely arbitrary (thanks Saussure or Freud): not to rigourously distinguish between them not only forgets something every sociologist knows, but it makes you into a conceptual idealist.
I wonder what the point of such a post is. Am I being punished, chastized? Am I being told to throw in the towel and cease to write? Have I committed some horrible moral wrong by failing to summarize a 600 page book? I’m told that I “recapitulate the silliest of the most widely recognizable readings” of the thinkers I commonly discuss. I wasn’t aware that I’m so commonplace, but apparently I’m just cluttering up the world. At any rate, I wonder what sort of desire makes such remarks and for what possible reason. There doesn’t seem to be any desire here to produce a dialogue or discussion. There seems to be a great deal of anger in the remarks, as if I’m done some sort of horrible wrong. I even get the sense that the writer would like to hit me or kill me for some imagined wrong. I draw the connection between Dasein and l’etre-la from Peter Hallward’s Badiou: A Subject to Truth (293), who draws it from Badiou’s article “L’Etre-la: Mathematique du transcendental”.
November 13, 2006
Posted by larvalsubjects under Uncategorized  Comments
One of the unique features of Lacan’s account of desire revolves around his theory of fantasy. As Zizek has pointed out, ordinarily, when we think of fantasy, we think of it as a sort of scenario or image in which we envision the satisfaction of our desire or wants. A fantasy, under this model, is a sort of wish. Thus, for example, when I am frantically working to complete some unpleasant task, I might fantasize about sitting in my favorite chair, reading a book that I’ve been excited to explore. The fantasy consists in my image of satisfaction or of what it would mean to be satisfied. Similarly in the case of my desire for a man or woman. My fantasy might consist of the scenarios I concoct as I imagine finally achieving the sexual bliss or union with the beloved. While, no doubt, this conception of fantasy is related to the Lacanian conception of fantasy, it is not properly Lacan’s account of fantasy. If this were all fantasy were, then it would be difficult to see why traversing the fantasy or working through the fantasy could have the therapeutic effects which it has. Anyone who has done serious work engaging with fantasy knows that the traversal of the fantasy effects the very nature of desire itself.
One of the problems with this account of fantasy is that it treats desire as anterior to fantasy. Here I have in mind the idea that there is, on the one hand, basic desires characterizing what it is to be human, while there is, on the other hand, a set of fantasies constructed around these desires which envision their satisfaction. In short, this conceptualization tends to heirarchialize the relationship between fantasy and desire such that desire is treated as being more fundamental or primordial than fantasy. We can very quickly see where this line of reasoning will lead. In conceiving that desire is more primordial than fantasy we will be led to argue that there are natural desires and perverse fantasies… That somehow fantasy departs from universal desire, such that if we only get rid of fantasy we will be on our way to a rectification of desire.
Needless to say, this is not the Lacanian conception of fantasy. We go astray when we conceive desire as anterior to fantasy. As can be seen in the third cell of Lacan’s famous graph of desire in “Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire”, fantasy is not so much the imagined fulfillment of desire, as it is the frame through which we desire. We must remember that desire, for Lacan and Freud, has no natural object, that strictly speaking there is no object of desire. Rather, as Lacan puts it in Seminar V, The Formations of Desire, desire is characterized by an endless metonymy or movement from one object to another without ever alighting on a final object. Could this not be yet another signification of what Lacan has in mind when he claims that “desire is the desire of the Other”? To say that desire is the desire of the Other would not simply be to say that desire is structured by language, or that desire is the desire to be desired, or that I desire as an-other desires, but also that I perpetually desire what is other. I perpetually desire something else. This reading, of course, is far fetched and departs from what Lacan had in mind with his aphorism. But, nonetheless, it captures the effective metonymy or displacement that endlessly characterizes desire.
Thus, as Zizek has put it, we do not know what we desire. Damned if I know, one might say. I desire without knowing what, exactly, it is that I desire. And so I alight from object to object on the basis of my identifications, seeking that object that would finally stuff my lack full without ever filling it. And it is here that fantasy is involved. For one of the functions of fantasy is to give me a frame through which to desire. Fantasy isn’t simply imagined satisfaction of a pre-existent desire, but rather fantasy gives form to my desire, selecting for it an object, in much the same way that a window selects a view for my regard. Simply put, we do not know what it is we desire and it is fantasy that thus functions to structure or in-form our desire.
We can see the relationship between non-knowledge and desire very clearly in the vulgar and commonplace desire of the person eating at the foreign restaurant. If the experience of eating at a foreign restaurant is often intimidating, then this isn’t because one has any special attachment to their own national cuisine, but because we no longer know what it is we want within such a space. “Which dish is the dish for me?” we ask ourselves as we break into a sweat wondering whether we’ll order the wrong thing or humiliate ourselves by ordering a dish disgusting or less than appetizing even to those familiar with it. What, then, is our first response in such a situation? Well, it is likely that we either ask the person that we are with or the server for advice on what to order.
I like this example because it’s so basic and down to earth. While it risks overly simplifying Lacanian theory, it also gives us a nice model for uncovering certain salient relationships at work in the structure of desire. If our first response to the non-knowledge of our desire is to ask the person we are with or the server for advice, then we can very clearly see how desire is bound up with identification. The fact that I refer my desire to these other positions means that I identify with them at some level, that I recognize them as the ones who know. The fact that I trust in their judgment indicates that I take them to have a desire to please or satisfy me in some way. What I ultimately come to choose is bound up with an identification. I very literally come to desire as the other desires, as my companion desires. Thus, as Bourdieau has argued, taste is deeply bound up in social identification. What I desire will, in part, be tied up with those with whom I identify. A judgment of taste is also a judgment regarding the sort of person (group identification) I take myself to be, as well as the sort of person I want others to take me to be. It cannot therefore be said that desire is first anterior to fantasy (though we still need to clarify fantasy). Rather, the two are intimately bound up with one another.
It is this sort of observation that led Deleuze and Guattari to contest the concept of fantasy based on lack. It is my view that Deleuze and Guattari go too far in their critique insofar as there is certainly an experience of lack in the everyday life of any subject. However, Deleuze and Guattari’s point is well taken if we bear in mind that there are no originary desires, that desire has to be produced, or that what we come to desire is ultimately the product of a desiring synthesis. Taking a cue from Deleuze and Guattari’s influence from English empiricism, we might point out that there’s nothing about the brown liquid in my coffee that makes it inherently appealing to a subject such as myself. If I see this brown liquid (coffee) as an appealing object, then this must result from a complex synthesis that connects it to certain experiences of satisfaction and social value, rather than intrinsic features of my desire. In other words, the problem that arises when we begin with characterizing desire as lack, lies in the fact that we tend to thereby naturalize desire, rather than seeing it as the result of a complex synthesis (primarily symbolic in character) that precedes my experience of lack. As Lacan remarks in his “Reply to Hyppolite” in the Ecrits, every act of negation is first based on an affirmation. One revolutionary feature of Lacan’s distinction between need, demand and desire is that it allows us to overcome the naturalizing and essentializing tendency of those approaches that tend to equate need and desire, by showing how our desires are themselves produced or fabricated. If desire is the discourse of the Other, then this is in part because the manner in which I become a subject gives form to a desire that did not itself exist before. Although sometimes giving the impression that they are rejecting Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari ought to instead be understood as drawing our attention to the symbolic networks of relations that come to structure and inform our desire. The affirmation which they teach as the mark of a schizo subject is that affirmation that would strive to produce new networks of relations (and therefore new ways of feeling and desire) on the basis of the resources of the network within which we find ourselves. Insofar as the psychoanalyst feels that we are able to transform the very nature of our desire through speech, this must be a deeply psychoanalytic notion despite its occasional romanticism.
Back to fantasy. Fantasy is the frame through which we desire. It is not an image of the object that we desire, but rather is a structure that in-forms or gives form to what we desire. My desire for a particular car, for example, isn’t based on the fantasy of me imagining myself related to a particular car, but rather I treat this car as an object of my fantasy on the basis of a fantasy that sanctions this car as an object of desire. In and of itself, fantasies are always intersubjective. They are responses to the question of what I am for the Other and of what the Other wants from me. Thus, although I desire the car it is not the car that figures into the fantasy, rather my desire for this car is an elaboration of this intersubjective fantasy. Perhaps, for instance, by owning this car I will increase my social status and thereby be the kind of man desirable by a particular sort of woman. We must therefore resist the urge to equate the object desired with the fantasy structure. We must not assume that because someone desires this particular object the fantasy is organized around that object. The object might not appear in the fantasy at all. We can refer to this practice of treating the object of desire as equivalent to the fantasy as the fallacy of tracing the transcendental from the empirical. The empirical, of course, is the particular object that I desire. The transcendental is the fantasy insofar as fantasy serves as a condition for my desire. I trace the transcendental from the empirical when I assume that the transcendental must somehow resemble the empirical or the realized states of desire.
This point, obscure as it is, gives insight into how not to understand Lacan’s matheme for fantasy ($ a), read “the divided subject related to objet a. Generally when one speaks of Lacan’s matheme for fantasy it is suggested that it expresses the subject related to the object of its desire. Thus, in the example of the car, we might articulate the fantasy as the statement “Levi related to such and such a car”. The problem with this characterization is that it equates objet a, the object-cause of desire, with the object of desire. The object-cause of desire and the object of desire are different, extremely so.
One way of thinking the relationship between objet a and the object of desire is to think it as a relation between cause and effect. Objet a causes my desire, it elicits my desire, it excites my desire, while the object of desire is an effect of that desire. It is that thing that I come to desire. Objet a is thus the occasion of desire while the object of desire is that which comes to be desired as a result of desire. Over the course of his teaching Lacan came to increasingly think of objet a as a remainder, a scrap, a bit of waste, an excess, or shit. These developments are highly significant, because they allow us to better think both why we desire at all and why we cannot draw a strict opposition between fantasy and desire.
If fantasy is the frame of my desire, then this is not because it presents me with a scenario of what it is I desire, but because it relates the subject to that which escapes the subject and prevents it from being complete. In other words, it is a certain moment of incompleteness that evokes my desire at all. Lacan illustrates this point in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, when he relates the cryptic story of seeing a sardine can floating in the water while working as a young man on a fishing boat. As the can floated upon the waves, glistening in the sunlight, one of Lacan’s fellow fishermen remarked “Look at that sardine can! You can see it, but it cannot see you!” The fisherman found this highly amusing, while Lacan experienced discomfort and anxiety with respect to the observation. What we have here is an example of gaze, one of the possible manifestations of objet a. However, the crucial feature not to be overlooked is that the gaze in question is not the gaze that we actually experience or that we encounter in the look of the other, but rather it is the gaze that escapes us, that we cannot capture. This is why Lacan works so diligently to distinguish the eye from the gaze. It is not the eye that escapes my desire, but rather the object-cause of my desire is precisely that gaze that exceeds me or which I cannot apprehend.
Is she gazing at me or not? Did she just look my way? Here Sartre’s examples of the farm house that stares at the soldiers in Being and Nothingness immediately come to mind. We might also think of the way the heroin of The Secretary experiences herself perpetually under the gaze of her boss. It is this gaze, a gaze of which she is never certain, a gaze which she is forever unable to determine as to whether it is truly taking place, that ultimately wins her love. She does not feel gazed upon because she loves her boss, but rather she loves her boss because she wonders whether she is gazed upon. The gaze is the object-cause of her desire. Her desire for her boss is the effect of this cause. This, then, is the crucial, not to be missed, point: The fantasy does not conjoin the woman with her boss, but rather conjoins the woman with the gaze… She is conjoined with that remainder, that point of excess that always escapes within her signifying economy.
In this regard, there is often precious little said about the losange () relating the subject to the object-cause of desire in the formula for fantasy. According to Lacan, the losange does not simply mean “related to” but rather, in a number of places Lacan remarks that the losange is to be read as being equivalent to the mathematical symbols for “greater than” and “less than” (>, Objet a does not simply express the object-cause of desire, but is also a way of formalizing Freud’s so-called lost object of desire or that object of desire that we desire without ever having had it. Freud first develops this account of the lost object in his unpublished Project essay, but it can be detected in one way or another throughout his writings. The unique feature of this lost object is that it is an object that we only come to desire as a result of having been submitted to some prohibition or law. In other words, the object was never an object that I, in fact, had, but rather I only come to desire this object as a result of having been submitted to the symbolic. Lacan’s graph of desire clearly captures this point as can be seen from the fourth cell of the graph where we are given to see the relationship between castration and fantasy. The function of fantasy is to cover over the horrifying truth of castration or the manner in which the big Other doesn’t exist or is itself barred. Fantasy gives body and substantiality to the non-existent big Other.
Now it is a mistake to understand Lacan’s concept of castration as pertaining to the penis and the threat of having the penis cut off. One major differences that separates Freud and Lacan is that whereas Freud seems to treat castration as a mere threat that empirically took place at some point, Lacan holds that insofar as one is a subject one is always already castrated. Castration has already taken place. Under the Lacanian model castration pertains not to the penis, but rather to the sacrifice of enjoyment I experience in being subjected to the symbolic order. If I am to enter into the symbolic order, then I must sacrifice some of my enjoyment. We see this very clearly, for example, in Mill’s essay Utilitarianism, where my employment of the greatest happiness principle invites me to evaluate not my own personal happiness, but to impartially calculate the happiness for the greatest number of people even if it contributes to my own happiness. In other words, entering into the symbolic requires a sacrifice of enjoyment… An enjoyment that I never had to begin with (since the state before this contract was even worse than the one after this contract). Freud makes exactly this point in Civilization and its Discontents, when he speaks of the unhappiness we experience as a result of being members of society. If the individual continuously bites at the bit of the social, then this is because the individual sees the social as having stolen his happiness despite the fact that he couldn’t exist at all without this collective.
However, despite the fact that I sacrifice some of my happiness in entering into society, bits of this enjoyment continue to persist in fractured forms. In short, there is a remainder that the symbolic cannot quite integrate, that always escapes, that functions as excessive waste. It is, in fact, this remainder that ties me to the social in the first place since my enjoyment of this remainder functions as the motive of my identification: I(a). Now it is precisely here that we can read the variations on fantasy. Most commonly we read fantasy under the model of conjunction. We read fantasy as consisting of the conjunction of the subject with his object of desire. Yet fantasy can also be read as disjunction (me or them), or as the subject greater than the object of desire (domination) or the subject as less than the object-cause of desire (subjection). In each of these cases different desiring relations are effected between the subject and the world. We see, for example, these various permutations of fantasy in Freud’s article “A Child Is Being Beaten” where it is first a scene witnessed by an onlooker ($ > a), then me being beaten ($ “less than” objet a), then perhaps me and the child being beaten ($ and objet a), and so on. Each one of these variations is a response to the question of what the other wants and how the other desires me and is therefore a response to the non-existence of the Other or the way in which the Other is barred. The common feature in all of these examples is that the subject is thought in some relation to the lost object, to the object-cause of desire. Or better yet, the subject thinks itself in some relation to this remainder or bit of excess that resists integration into the symbolic.
Yet it is precisely this relation that is at issue. For what the fantasy covers over is the the non-existence of the symbolic order or castration. Fantasy treats this non-existence or this thing which is rotten in Denmark as if it were a contingent feature of the symbolic universe, failing to see that it is instead constitutive of the symbolic. We thus get a better sense of what is at stake in traversing the fantasy. My fantasy produces a symptom insofar as it attenuates objet a in the functioning of the symbolic as a way of producing my desire as an effect. In traversing the fantasy I am led back from the object of my desire to the object-cause of my desire to the castration or separation out of which this object-cause emerges. But in this movement of tracing, my fundamental relation to the object-cause is itself transformed, such that the object-cause is no longer something that I am superior or inferior to, something that I am conjoined or disjoined to. Rather, in traversing the fantasy I identify with the object-cause itself, recognizing the object-cause as my true subject, and thereby dis-identifying the object-cause with the various identifications under which it has been hid. In traversing the fantasy I shift from being a subject of desire to a subject of drive insofar as my relationship to the object is no longer determined in terms of prohibition and transgression of the law such that my object of desire is formed in an identification, but rather I now relate to this excess as the very being of my subject.
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