With respect to this Other, depending on this Other, the subject is inscribed as a quotient, he is marked by the unary trait of the signifier in the field of the Other. Well, it is not for all that, as I might say, that he cuts the Other into slices. There is a remainder in the sense of division, a residue. This remainder, this final other, this irrational, this proof and sole guaranteee when all is said and done of the otherness of the Other, is the o [objet a]. And this is why the two terms, $ and o [objet a], the subject as marked by the bar of the signifier, the little objet o as residue of the putting into condition, if I can express myself in this way, of the Other, are on the same side, both on the objective side of the bar [my emphasis], both on the side of the Other. The phantasy, the support of my desire, is in its totality on the side of the Other, $ and o. What is on my side now, is precisely what constitutes me as unconscious, namely -O- [the barred Other], the Other in so far as I do not reach it. (Seminar of 21 November 1962, Gallagher translation)
What is interesting in this passage is Lacan’s thesis that $, the barred subject, and objet a belong to the objective rather than “my side”. By contrast, it is the “barred Other”, the Other as divided, desiring, enigmatic, and opaque, that belongs to my side? What are we to make of this?
The thesis that analytic practice consists in “traversing the phantasy” is, by now, familiar, but why should the end of analysis consist in traversing the phantasy? What is it about phantasy that plays such a crucial role in the symptom from which a subject suffers? In earlier seminars such as Seminar 6, Desire and its Interpretation, Lacan had analyzed phantasy as a response to the enigma of the Other. At the top of Lacan’s graph of desire (represented in the diagram to the left above) we see this represented in the question “Che vuoi?” Phantasy, represented by the matheme ($ * a, read “barred subject punch “object a” ) above provides an answer to the enigmatic question we encounter in relation to the Other: “You’re telling me this, but what do you really want?” “What am I for you?”
In the parlance of Lacan, the Other is constitutively withdrawn, such that regardless of how clear their “enunciations of their desire”, that desire still appears to “my side” of the equation as enigmatic and mysterious. This is a familiar experience in the case of compliments, which has also been well analyzed by Adam Kotsko in his book Awkwardness. In this example, someone else gives us a complement, perhaps telling us that we gave a good presentation or that we’re nicely dressed on a particular day, etc. Yet oddly, this compliment has the effect of “hystericizing” us. “Was the person being sincere?”, we wonder. “Were they being sarcastic?” “Is this a joke at my expense?” “Are they trying to advance themselves and their own agenda in some obscure way?” “Are they trying to seduce us?” “Are they trying to soften us up so they can take us down later?” Etc. Regardless of how clear the articulation of the Other is, regardless of how clear the action and behavior of the Other is, we still encounter the actions and speech of the Other as enigmatic. The speech and action of the Other is never sufficient to pin down the enigmatic desire of the Other.
[Aside: Lacan argues that this enigma of the Other (or withdrawal) is an effect of our entrance into language or the symbolic order. Language creates a “bar” between what is intended and what is said, such that 1) we can never know whether what someone says is identical to what they intend, and 2) we can never know whether what we intend is identical to what we say (the effects of our speech always exceed what we intend, and this is part of why we’re divided or barred subject… The meaning of what I say isn’t up to me). OOO, by contrast, argues that this isn’t a special feature of speaking-beings, but is constitutive of all beings as such: No being has access to another being.]
The phantasy, then, is what fills out this lacuna or withdrawal in the Other, providing an answer to the question “what do you want?” In Latour’s language, we could express this otherwise by saying that the phantasy is what translates the Other. Phantasy is the manner in which one singular subject translates Other subjects. Here we must proceed with caution. Phantasy does not merely refer to what people do in the shower, under the sheets, or in the primacy of their bathrooms. Phantasies are not necessarily “masturbatory”, though masturbatory fantasies do always refer to phantasies in the broader sense intended by Lacan. In this respect, “phantasy” certainly includes ones “onanistic” fantasies, but it also refers to things such as the response I might like to read from this post or what one believes another driver is thinking about them in a particular traffic existence. In other words, fantasy is any answer to what the Other is thinking about you, regardless of how unpleasant that answer might be.
Here, then, we begin to get a sense of why objet a and the barred subject ($) appears on the side of the Other, on the side of the “objective”, rather than on “my side”. The phantasy ($ * a) functions as an attractor of how “self” is lived. If, by contrast, -O-, the “barred subject”, withdrawal, perpetually appears on “my side”, then this is because this lacuna is what phantasy, the objective side, is trying to stave off, foreclose, and cover over. As an attractor, phantasy evokes all sorts of “local manifestations’ on my side at the level of my behavior. Based on what I believe the Other wants from me (phantasy), I begin to act in a way that evokes the Other to actually act in this way and thereby confirm my phantasy. This can be done even when the actions and interpretations with respect to the Other are extremely painful.
Take the following example. A person continuously has violent rape fantasies. These might strike that person as innocent onanistic fantasies, yet how might this function at the level of phantasy? In the clinic, we would probably begin to notice that this particular person interprets the actions of everyone else as “out to get him”. He interprets an ironic comments as an attack on his person. He believes that all of his colleagues have little respect for him and would like to see him lose his position or job. He perpetually acts in such a way as to actually get himself abused. In every circumstance where the person has the opportunity to either interpret the Other or compel the Other to act, the person finds a way either to interpret himself as being beaten and exploited or to get himself beaten. In other words, the phantasy, regardless of how unpleasant it is, is a way of fitting the -O-, the barred Other, within the framework of his phantasy. He finds a way to get himself raped at all levels of his life. In this respect, the phantasy is a fractal, a pattern, that structures the person’s symptom.
This, then, is why traversing the phantasy is a liberatory act. The recognition that I didn’t know what the Other wanted, that I didn’t know what the Other meant, gives me the space to begin to what I desire, hell or high water. And I could not know what the Other wants precisely because the Other is withdrawn. It is precisely where a free space of interpretation is opened up, precisely where one faces the enigma of the Other and embraces it, that freedom becomes possible; because there one becomes capable of defining one's own desire in the absence of the oppressive question "is this what they want?" You'll never know. You'll never get the answer. So in this brief flicker of life that you're given for sometimes less than a decade (the nine year old girl gunned down this weekend) or decades (other lives), you should affirm your Life and be your desire. Insofar as all Other's are withdrawn you'll never know. Invert the scales.