Drawing the Impossible
Jamieson Webster

Author’s Bio

“The object is a failure,” Lacan says in Encore. And the conditions of its barely succeeding, are, by always failing, by learning how to live there. Taking Lacan at his word, could we say that love, like the analyst’s love of the unconscious, is also a love of failure, giving what one does not have, till we are blue in the face, full of shame, but nonetheless, continue to play at this game?

No one would say that love is easy, but perhaps what we forget is the demand that it be so, which leads us astray from its “essence as failure”. Only in this failure, the particular failure of the object, does love approach the infinite. This, Lacan made clear in Encore, when he links infinity to a question of jouissance and the woman who is also this failed object. The solution he marks at this place is wholly in the line of the feminine. We will come back to her.

As an analyst, these dilemmas of love and the necessity of an ethics weigh heavily, like a body that refuses to slough off, and it seems, perhaps in the youth of my practice, an almost constant failure and near impossibility. And yet, within that minimal distance, I will say that the work “just barely succeeds” hearing juste in the just of just barely.

The move from failure to fall is quick, like trying to find the center of an ellipse where one must drop down to an imaginary point. It is this which must be heard in what Lacan will always say about the analyst, with a slight smirk on his face—that we are dead, that we are masochists, that we are women, that we are prostitutes, but moreover, that we occupy the place of pure semblance. In other words, his object a, upon which the entire act of analysis will turn round.

So it is that I as an analyst hover incessantly between being the object as failure and a woman who falls. The fateful hysterical wish heard most clearly in the fantasy of degradation implied by the latter becomes part and parcel of the problem, but it is one, which, god willing, contains a solution. And so to the question of God. It is after all to this Other that we address our concerns about knowledge, love, and the feminine. For Lacan, knowledge does not progress through critique or filter or force but through an audacious leap through artifice in which we give truth back to God. Strange atheism of the analyst. Even stranger the faith of the patient.

What is now to be added to this real, given back its place (as if one could add anything there), is the subject forced to love the impossibility of not being able to die from shame and impossibility. This is the same as loving one’s unconscious. So we find out from there where we are to go. This is what he says that psychoanalysis comes to delimit.

The shame I experience, in particular as an analyst that happens to be a woman goes something like this: after sessions I turn around between a shame that asks ‘what have I done’, or wonders, ‘why, in God’s name did that work?’ In centering on this object that can only fail, just barely succeeds, perhaps this shame can be drawn to its outermost limit where knowledge progresses precisely as a radical semblance. This is why for Lacan the analyst is not only the dummy but also the dupe. Maintaining such a position is the subversive power of the analytic discourse and charts out that elusive passing at the termination point of a cure.

So by virtue of what do we proceed by such leaps and bounds? I will not say love, which is the answer I most easily want to give, but will instead first venture that it is by way of this shame. Its presence is already implied both in the failure of the sexual relation and in the fallen woman. It is the affect for Freud of both women and children in the Three Essays, particularly in relation to their body and the pleasures it emits, now here, now there.

But it, shame, also exerts a decisive force of reversal for the subject with respect to the Other. It does so in the direction of the infinite, in particular in the impasse found in the formal hiatus between truth and knowledge, which forces the latter to function in the register of the former. By putting the object a in the place of the semblance, the analyst through this shame, is in the best position to do what should rightfully, justly even, be done, namely, to force the analysand to investigate the status of knowledge, particularly in the power it yields in being always directed towards jouissance.

So Lacan suggests in Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, that one go in the direction of shame to get out from under the discourse of the master. This was how we could concern ourselves with the dimension of the Real. Others have likewise drawn this conclusion. Levinas says of shame and its value in relation to infinity: “The first consciousness of my immorality is not my subordination to facts, but to the Other, to the Infinite… The freedom that can be ashamed of itself founds truth … and is desired in my shame.” So begins ethical consciousness for Levinas.

Shame has the power of reorienting the subject in his act in relation to this Other who is for Lacan always an affaire, a doing that escape us. As Joyce said in Finnegans Wake: “Its something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall.” Joyce was certainly no stranger to shame in the throws of a love come jouissance, written everywhere in his love letters to Nora. Like a glove being turned inside out, he said to her, and man, woman, things start to barely just fit. For Lacan, it was because of his shame, even his disgust with his own body, that he held out this idea of a woman. A woman, in this Joycean regard, transforms the function of the Father, not the reverse Oedipal expectation. I’ll come back to Joyce as well.

Genet, the child criminal, unwittingly says, “in the presence of the person I adore… here am I turning inside out like a glove”… my death in danger of being the knowledge of my shame. With Lacan can we say that “what appears from this whole survey is that in short, all that subsists of the sexual relationship is the geometry alluded to in the inside out glove?” If there is anything to grasp there, we must do it through reckoning with shame. Shame stands for me as the truth of the analytic discourse, an opening onto the infinite.

I turn now to a case of mine almost impossible from the start, and so fitting in that regard. It is this patient that has shown me, perhaps more than any other, the importance of shame in analytic work. The impossibility, nay shame, of speaking about one’s cases, particularly when they still trudge on, seems right to attempt. Let me hope that I barely succeed in doing so in just the right way.

The child who fate will have it is named Delilah, is both a criminalized child and the child of a criminals. In her way she obviates that we are all nothing more than hanged men and brings this truth to bear. She is as powerful as her name decrees outstripping my every move in her uncanny sensitivity to hypocrisy. With her, what I gain by way of knowledge I instantly lose, truth being on her side. She has this ability to make me ashamed in this dimension where knowledge and truth are separated, which forces, as I said, my tact as an analyst. If anything this is what has the most bearing on the articulation of her truth and an ethics that can be read there—my act must be absolutely sound, at best, in its very stupidity and shame. Otherwise, it is rightfully the indication of a hierarchy that she will instantly reverse on me. Such is the movement of failure in this analysis.

What is important to understand and stands as what I can see for now as the guiding question of her analysis, is the impossible status of the object, its failure, tied directly into a question of feminine sexuality and love.

The object for Delilah has many incarnations which she plays at—the body, the child, the woman, the spouse, the victim, the discarded, the loser, the analyst. In some way, these all fall equivalent. Knowing the hazards of the object means to know the power of truth over what stands as a hypocritical value placed on knowledge of which she as child is ejected. “You don’t know about that” being what is and has been said to her. The “don’t know” here concealing the “shouldn’t” of the adult ashamed in the face of the truth that the child speaks like a symptom. “No, you don’t know about that,” is her response, without even a hint of searching or professing to have an answer herself.

She shows me this radical position of speech in our very first session, saying to me— “you know my parents threw me away. Not really but that is how I feel”. A child just six years old. This identification with the discarded object, the question of what it means to be thrown away, concerns the very status of being an object for another. It concerns the question of love and the failure of the sexual relationship. For now, let us say that what she doesn’t know is what ‘love’ can and cannot do, not because she is mistrustful, misguided, or mistaken, but because she isn’t.

The child is first an object for the parents echoing that more primordial object that one is when one has a body. The subject is a signifier for another signifier—that oft repeated Lacanian mantra— meaning the subject risks vanishing before the Other. Behind the signifier the subject fades and only in an elusive and indeed illusory game of desire, do we refuse that fading. The neurotic, when most sick, protects their desire in order to avoid such moments, only to lapse into a series of complaints about dissatisfaction, jouissance always prohibited. So we spend a lifetime of symptoms investigating the status of the object, perhaps all too passively. Delilah begins with its hopeful endpoint—assumed failure—and acts there from. She uncannily asks me in a number of sessions, “if I die will I ever have a life,” her eyes fixed on the impossibility, the paradox, and finally, hopefully, the necessity. She voices it like a sphinx.

So while neurotics fail to play at being objects for one another and then escape too soon from any realization of this by way of insular fantasies, they are light years behind this little girl. Never getting as far as a psychotic delusion of hallucinated satisfaction, in either case —neurotic, psychotic—there is the status quo of a desire little known, barely assumed, along with the traps of narcissistic illusion. Psychosis is, as Lacan said, not a privilege, and neurosis, on the other hand, is a banal one.

It is this particular delineation of love in the illusions of the neurotic and even in the psychotic delusion that Delilah refuses and rather locates herself in the place of the hole that opens up like an abyss. Delilah, indeed like Joyce and the child criminal Genet, underlines the failure of the system whereby sickness seems the only possible redemption. Certainly for her, adaptation sounds like one more condemnation. This is, once again, Lacan’s not being able to die from a shame that the system perpetuates in its very perversity. Her magnificent albeit symptomatic solution is to play at refusing to play the game.

The truth is, if we were ever to truly become an object, we die—we are in fact, just barely, not discarded. So she will not partake in the illusions that we use to pass over this truth in silence on a day to day basis. Its truth is too palpable to her. She obviates it in the most severe of fashions in both a refusal and a direct mockery.

I watch her say I love you to her paternal grandmother (her caretaker). The words “I love you” are voiced by her with the chilling instability that belongs to them every time they are uttered. She uses pure intonation to add the ellipse most of us cover over—“…for the time being”, “… as myself”, “… when you behave the way I like”, “… until I no longer do”, and so on and so forth. One would be naïve to call this cynicism, or failure, or fear.

The truth of her question—“if I die will I ever have a life” speaks to the truth that death is the condition of life. What we are left with is very little, almost nothing. It is with that we manage to carry on. She stares into the void with a bravery I envy. The profound position of this child is that she starts on that edge where it may take years to get an adult to even begin to approach that limit. For now though, the stakes of this game, since she is a child and the consequence of her life is not entirely hers to assume, will have to be born out later. Nevertheless, she tries to force the consequences in real time and it is startling to watch. One might say, in a reversal of the acts of Antigone, that for Delilah the murder has been committed and she will not let the corpse be buried.

How has she become so? It is impossible to know. But one sense that she has given me has to do with her relation to shame. She has gone to the depths of a shame in her radical identification with the object of refuse. At times this brings about a shamelessness and impudence. Such is her hysteria and it is true that she terrifies almost everyone around her. She had her school up in arms declaring that she had overturned the entire order of the second grade. Surely this is not the impotence of a neurotic who holds onto all sorts of illusions beneath manifest failure. This impotence is always the denial of the lack of sexual rapport implicit in an understanding of what it means to be an object, in particular the horror of the sacrifice and shame implicit in the fantasy of the loved Other. But we are quite somewhere else with Delilah.