Objet a

David1-744682.gifPaul Ennis has a terrific post up on his experience reading psychoanalytic thought, the dis-ease it generates in him, and how he encounters something similar when reading the speculative realists:

Reading psychoanalysis generates a sense of uneasiness in me. To borrow Zizek’s voice for a moment ‘I mean it quite literally’. When I’m sitting there reading about gaps and Others and Fathers I feel anxious. What is Metaphysics style anxiety.

There seems to be a direct psychological impulse behind what speculative realism wants to do. If my more informed readers will allow me to make a crude analysis: speculative realism wants to ‘allow’ the real in. It wants to collapse some symbolic order that we are not supposed to collapse.

Read the rest of the post here. Paul hits on something fascinating with his observation about collapsing something in the symbolic order that is not supposed to be collapsed. In the subsequent discussion in the comments revolving around the “heimlich” or “being-at-home”, I think the point of the unheimlich is somewhat missed in the discussions that somehow it is constitutively impossible for us to not be at home.

read on!

catboxinggif2.gif Well Thursday morning I head off to Ohio for my whirlwind on-campus interview, returning late Friday afternoon. Hopefully I will perform well. I’ll be presenting on Deleuze’s concept of individuation to the students. I’m feeling pretty confident, which makes me suspicious and a little leery. I suppose I just feel that I’m a good fit for this position. Moreover, if this position doesn’t work out, I feel pretty strongly that there will be other opportunities. Right now what I need is more time for writing and research, upper level students, and an environment supportive and respectful of scholarship. A 5/5 load coupled with analytic work isn’t exactly conducive to writing. At any rate, wish me luck or get out your voodoo dolls. Ouch! Anthony, was that your needle I just felt!?!

Every semester I begin my introductory courses with Plato’s Euthyphro. There are a number of reasons for this. On the one hand, the Euthyphro is exemplary as a model of philosophical analysis, argumentation, and critique. On the other hand, this dialogue stages the manner in which action and belief interpenetrate, such that actions are based on beliefs and false belief leads to false action. Additionally, there are geographical reasons as well. Teaching in the Dallas Texas area– home of the megachurch and the central hub of apocalyptic variants of Evangelical Christianity –teaching the Euthyphro exposes students to questions of religion and faith that perhaps they have never before encountered. Finally, the Euthyphro inaugurates some basic and fundamental distinctions as to how all subsequent ethical and political philosophy will be conducted. However, it is also possible to see the Euthyphro as a criticism of ideology and as a sort of therapy strategically designed to both reveal Euthyphro’s attachments and precipitate a separation from those attachments. Socrates aims at nothing less than producing a sort of void in Euthyphro… A void, perhaps, that would have the effect of producing the possibility of freedom.

NOTE: HTML and Lacanian mathemes don’t mix very well. In what follows I’ve used “*” to represent the “losange”, “punch”, or diamond in Lacan’s formulas for fantasy.

Filled with exhaustion from the excitement of last night and the lack of sleep it engendered, I don’t really have much to say today, but I simply wanted to post this passage from Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies as it so nicely encapsulates the Lacanian theory of fantasy, first developed in Seminar 6, Le desir et son interpretation, and culminating in Seminar 14, La logique du fantasme.

There’s a nice article on transference and the recently published Seminar 16 over at the World Association of Psychoanalysis by the analyst Lieve Billiet that’s well worth the read. The final paragraphs on objet a, capitalism and shifts in the structure of subjectivity are brilliant.

In the Seminar XVI Lacan puts a step in the conceptualisation of the object, and thus in the approach of the libidinal dimension. In his course Illuminations profanes Jacques-Alain Miller elucidates Lacans step in Seminar XVI. The object appears no longer as the object taken from the body but as a logical function. That explains why Lacan speaks now about the other (with determined article – cfr. The title of the seminar). Considered as a part of the body (the breast, the faeces, the voice, the gaze), the object was multiple. Considered as a logical function, the object is one. It is the object conceptualised without reference to the phantasm, out of the realm of the phantasm. What does this mean? The phantasm is the way the subject makes the Other exist via the object. It installs via the object the semblant of a relation as a veil over the non existence of the sexual relation. So it questions jouissance, satisfaction, in relation to the Other. As the phantasm makes the Other exist, the phantasm is linked to the demand of love. In Seminar XVI the object is no longer conceptualised as the object, part of the body but as the object plus-de-jouir. This implies an approach of the question of jouissance beyond the relation to the Other, beyond the phantasm, beyond the question of love.

Enjoy! (and no, that’s not a command)

During the semester I dream of the happy days of Winter and Summer break, where finally I’ll have the time to sit down and do some sustained reading, writing, and blogging. Yet strangely, when some vacation comes along– right now it’s Thanksgiving break in the States –I find it very difficult to motivate myself to do anything, and generally fall into a dark malaise. I’ll wake up late in the morning, have my coffee, and surf about the various blogs to see what’s being discussed. Perhaps someone will have responded to me, yet I won’t respond back as I’ll worry about disappointing them (I suppose I’m still a bit glum about the article, even though another article was recently published and I have another journal breathing down my neck for an article on Zizek and Badiou), feeling as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Suspiciously I’ll look at the books sitting on the table next to me, unable to bring myself to pick them up. “I’m still waking up, I’m hungry, I should cut back the foilage in my yard, I don’t feel up to concentrating.” So then I’ll make myself something to eat with the intention of giving myself the intention to concentrate. Yet having eaten, I then need to digest, so I’ll either find myself before the television searching cable for a bad movie that perhaps I’ll be able to overinterpret so as to justify my poor taste, or before the computer playing Civilization III as per the suggestion of the scary and wicked N.Pepperell, feeling stupid because I don’t have the patience to evolve my kingdom much beyond the stage of monarchy. Inevitably these activities lead me to take a nap, losing yet more time with respect to doing the things I would genuinely like to be doing.

In a very nice passage from The Fragile Absolute, Zizek gives a lucid account of the objet a. Speaking in the context of Marx’s account of capitalism being propelled by its own internal antagonisms, Zizek writes,

So where, precisely, did Marx go wrong with regard to surplus-value? One is tempted to search for an answer in the key Lacanian distinction between the object of desire and surplus-enjoyment as its cause. Henry Krips evokes the lovely example of the chaperone in seduction: the chaperone is an ugly elderly lady who is officially the obstacle to the direct goal– object (the woman the suitor is courting); but precisely as such, she is the key intermediary moment that effectively makes the beloved woman desirable– without her the whole economy of seduction would collapse. Or, take another example from a different level: the lock of curly blond hair, that fatal detail of Madeleine in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When, in the love scene in the barn towards the end of the film, Scottie passionately embraces Judy refashioned into the dead Madeleine, during their famous 360-degree kiss, he stops kissing her and withdraws just long enough to steal a look at her newly blonde hair, as if to reassure himself that the particular feature which transforms her into the object of desire is still there… Crucial here is the opposition between the vortex that threatens to engulf Scottie (the ‘vertigo’ of the film’s title, the deadly Thing) and the blonde curl that imitates the vertigo of the Thing, but in a miniaturized, gentrified form.

This curl is the objet petit a which condenses the impossible-deadly Thing, serving as its stand-in and thus enabling us to entertain a livable relationship with it, wihtout being swallowed up by it. As Jewish children put it when they play gently aggressive games: ‘Please, bite me, but not too hard…’ [? I must be Jewish as I enjoy these games]. This is the difference between ‘normal’ sexual repression and fetishism: in ‘normal’ sexuality, we think that the detail-feature that serves as the cause of desire is just a secondary obstacle that prevents our direct access to the Thing– that is, we overlook its key role; while in fetishism we simply make the cause of desire directly into our object of desire: a fetishist in Vertigo would not care about Madeleine, but simply focus his desire directly on the lock of hair; a fetishist suitor would engage directly with the chaperone and forget about the lady herself, the official goal of his endeavours.

So there is always a gap between the object of desire itself and its cause, the mediating feature or element that makes this object desirable. What happens in melancholy is that we get the object of desire deprived of its cause. For the melancholic, the object is there but what is missing is the specific intermediary feature that makes it desirable. For that reason there is always at least a trace of melancholy in every true love: in love, the object is not deprived of its cause; it is, rather, that the very distance between object and cause collapses. This, precisely, is what distinguishes love from desire: in desire, as we have just seen, cause is distinct from object; while in love, the two inexplicably coincide— I magically love the beloved one for itself, finding in it the very point from which I find it worthy of love. (20-21)

So I suppose that I’m experiencing a bit of melancholy, having been deprived of the cause of my desire by not having teaching, grading, and committee work interfere with my writing and research. Why can’t I simply enjoy these activities of research and writing without these obstacles? Why am I unable to go directly to the enjoyment? Why must my enjoyment take the form of a theft from my symbolically sanctioned duties and obligations? I shudder to think of what would happen were I ever to get a nice academic position with a 2/2 or 3/3 load.

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.