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Lacanian Compass

AMP 2008. Objects a in the analytic experience1
by Jacques-Alain Miller

I am going to bring an end to the secret: the title of the next Congress of the WAP. I will bring this to an end with the indulgence of the Delegate General. After the “Name-of-the-Father,” it will be “The objects a in the analytic experience.” From One (the Name-ofthe-Father) to others (the objects a), this is a good sequence. No less good because it is the flip side of the sequence that is laid out at the end of the seminar L’angoisse and that goes from the a, in the singular, to the “Names-of-the-Father” in the plural.

Freudian Father, Lacanian Father

The final pages of the seminar L’angoisse resonate in a very singular homage to the father, a very singular praising of the father. The Name-of-the-Father there embellishes a function that seems to be rather that of the analyst. You must reread it to believe it. The father — I cite Lacan in the final pages of his Seminar X — is that “subject who was far enough in the realization of his desire to reintegrate it with his cause,” to reintegrate it “to that which is irreducible in the function of the a.”2 This phrase is sufficient to take note that the Lacanian father is not in any way the Freudian Father. The Freudian Father is he who appears on the scene in Totem and Taboo and who on this scene squashes the desire of everyone, dominates desire, annihilates it. It is truly a myth. Whereas the Lacanian father is meant to be something truly closer to experience. The Lacanian Father is he who accomplishes normalization, the humanization of desire in the paths traced by the Law, and that supposes in effect that he had ceased to misrecognize the function that the object a takes in his desire. Is it scandalous to say this? The Father that rises at the end of L’angoisse is he who we now call the Analyst of the School. Nowhere is it said that Lacan did not conceive of the Analyst of the School as a Father of the School, in the sense that there are Fathers of the Church. It is an homage to the place were we are, in Rome. It isn’t at all necessary to take it literally, but as for this “subject who was far enough in the realization of his desire to reintegrate it to his cause,” I do not see a better definition of that which we hope of those that we name the Analysts of the School.

At first, Lacan encountered and extracted the Name-of-the-Father from anthropology under the standard of Lévi-Strauss, as the support of the symbolic functions which, from the beginning of historical time, was identified with the figure of the Law. One retained that, but we see what that implies in a short-circuit when one remembers that desire and the Law stick together. The father of the Law is also necessarily the father of desire, and the Law at stake is that which is the condition itself of the prosperity of desire. Certainly in evoking these phrases of Lacan that we read today, we are truly far from the calling into question of the paternal function that has been noted for so long in our societies.

Lacanian formalism

Who doesn’t know that the Name-of-the-Father was inserted by Lacan in a linguistic formula of his invention, that of the metaphor? This inscription has the value, as such, of a formalization. Certainly, this formalization is, if you like, still in power, but it already leads to the distinction between place and element. First, the place denotes the function; second, the element can be substituted for, at the same place, by any other element. And one might say that already we find there the potential inscription of the Name-of-the-Father as a function of the sinthome. Thus, the Name-of-the-Father, if we were able to make a sign out of it, with the little dashes that make a signifier “blocal” out of it, it is because it is already a formalized function.

It is there that it is necessary to notice that in L’angoisse, where the five primordial forms of the object a are deployed in the fourth part, one finds a theory of formalism that is truly made to shake up the common notion of formalism. Formalism, Lacan says, would be, for us, absolutely nothing other that that part of our flesh that remains
necessarily taken in the formal machine. This part, if you want, circulates in a formal logic. It is a point of oneself that is taken in the machine and that finds itself forever irretrievable.

This part, that we name a, calls into question all of formalism as such. It
delineates an irreducible internal limit to the powers of formalism. We say in our language that this part — a — inscribes itself in formalism, in logic, in as much as it is extimate, that is to say that a means the informalisable of structure.

This limit, that he had posed, that he had demonstrated — in spite of that, Lacan went beyond it. And one might say that the ten seminars that followed, from Seminar XI to Seminar XX, were dedicated to the edification of a logic proper to the object a. What a reversal!

And I said to myself that I might surely show that Lacan lost his way after Seminar X, that this seminar designated a limit to the powers of formalization that were imprudently superceded. But I don’t say that, because that isn’t what I think.

In the seminar L’angoisse, we already have the coordinates of a possible formalization of object a, that would be by the intersections of the circles of Euler that he uses to distinguish the five forms of the object a and about which Lacan will give in Seminar XI, with the construction of alienation and separation, the properly logical form of that which is
already brought together in Seminar X. Nevertheless, up to Seminar X and especially in this seminar, the object a in its five forms shines in a particular light precisely because it still is not caught up in the system of the logical machinery and, to the contrary, represents the irreducible part of that formalism.

You know that the object a was used in Seminar XVI and XVII in a permutative game of discourse where all the heterogeneity of a disappeared, and that Lacan will pay the price in his teaching with a
vacillation, a repudiation, that consists in finding, when all is said and done in Seminar XX, Encore, that a is a function too pale, too shrunken, too signifying, too feeble to designate that which is the jouissance in it. I gave a course on that chapter in Seminar XX where it’s there to be read in black and white that object a is insufficient to account for jouissance and thus that, in the middle of a triangle, a protuberance will come to inscribe itself, a shapeless protuberance on which is written solely jouissance. And the seminars that follow this Seminar XX will no longer have recourse to the formalization patiently constructed during the twenty previous years. There remains only parts of it, scattered pieces, as if Lacan took up again a perspective that he sketched out in his Seminar X.

Logic incarnated in the objects a

Thus, for our next Congress, we will be in the midst of this collection of writings, since it is in Lacan that we are going to find what to do with the symbols that he left us.

Well, I propose that for this Congress, we let ourselves rather be guided by the seminar L’angoisse, and in particular by the fourth part, “The five forms of the object a.”

There, each of its forms is spelled out, but each is spelled out in the body. Each of these forms of object a is spelled out as a part of the body. The a does not appear as the product of an articulated structure, but as the product of a fragmented body. Without doubt,
these objects respond to a common structure, a structure of the rim, a structure of cuts, but in L’angoisse, they are rooted in the body.

One might go further still noting that the body is cut up by linguistic structure, one might note the isomorphisms between the body and the structure, but it is in L’angoisse that one sees the objects a captured by Lacan right on the body. Thus, if we are going to talk about the objects a in analytic experience, we are going to take account of the presence of the body in the discourse of analysis.

It is not less logical, but an incarnated logic.

Seminar XI that I alluded to proposes a formalization of object a and a division that places on one side the symbolic functions of identification
and repression (that’s what I recognize in the term alienation), and on the other side responds the inscription in the intersection of the object a. It is from there, in this construction of alienation and separation which is like the summary of the results of the seminar L’angoisse and of its Eulerian circles, that the saga of a logified object a begins.

The five natural objects a

In L’angoisse, if we take ourselves before this limit, the list of
the five objects is made up of the three Freudian objects — oral object, anal object, phallic object — and the two Lacanian objects — the scopic object and the vocal object — and these five are the group that Lacan calls the “natural” objects a. Lacan shook up our comprehension of nature so much that one has to specify what is understood by that, without losing the advantage of this word “natural.” It is necessary to understand that they come from a fragmented body, of which they are the scraps. Here, I am not going to redo the list of these five objects with my own grain of salt, I will content myself with identifying in Lacan’s elaborations a few spots that are out of focus, since it is often the interstices that we draw from in identifying something new.

For example, the oral object. In L’angoisse, the cleavage is made for Lacan between the nipple, the point of the breast, and the breast as nourishing. There are two original points: linked to the nipple, the point of erotic desire, and linked to the nourishing breast (I add
“nourishing,” but in the end it goes without saying), the point of anguish that arises from the satisfaction of the nourishment hoped for of the breast. Thus it is here the lack of satisfaction that distinguishes the point where anguish will surge from the point where desire finds itself caught. You can find this in its place in L’angoisse, but in the written version that Lacan gave of this passage in his text “Position of the Unconscious,” one no longer finds the nipple, but it is the breast as such that appears as that part of the body that the infant latches onto at the moment of weaning and from the perspective of castration. These two versions don’t exactly match, and besides I want to still delineate that as far as the list of objects a is concerned, the nipple in as much as different from the breast, continues to figure in the preceding text, “Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire.”

As for the anal object, I will only recall here that Lacan privileges an approach to it from the perspective of the ideal, that is to say, sublimation. For the phallic object, it is so much a part of the body that Lacan presents in L’angoisse a physiology of the penis and links its construction to the evanescent nature of erections.

The two other objects that we owe to Lacan are, themselves, situated in the dialectic of desire and not at the level of demand and as being, in some way, directly in sync with the division of the subject, in the sense of a body effect of this division, as making the libidinal part that evaded it present in the field of perception. It is necessary to note here a vacillation between the eye and the gaze: it is the function of the eye that is privileged in L’angoisse, while in Seminar XI, it is the object as gaze that is detached, as immanent object of the scopic drive. That includes for Lacan a critique of the mirror stage, for the value of the gaze, as well as that of the voice, is covered over by the specular relation. And if Lacan, with a sort of predilection, so often comes back to the scopic, it is because it is there that we see — I dare to say — the most deceptive relation of the subject with regard to the object a, which finds itself vanished, eclipsed in vision, and in such a way that more than ever the subject fails to recognize that he is lost in that which he believes to be contemplation.

And thus Lacan, from seminar to seminar, pursued this scopic object, immanent to the drive, and this object, in the most open field, that of vision, finds itself to be truly its hidden part. One also finds with Lacan a precise critique of the specular position, the position where I recognize myself, me, in the mirror, and where I recognize myself with an other sharing the qualities of similar beings. This recognition that we take part in as our quality of being similar beings has as a logical consequence the misrecognition of the a, of the “I don’t know what object I am for the Other.” On this point, I send you back precisely to the last chapter of L’angoisse.

And there is also the vocal object, about which Lacan indicated that the major example, the guide for its exploration, is given by the psychotic voice, precisely by the inaudible voice.

Well, there are the five objects a, we say, of nature. There we find one of the registers of the objects a.

Objects of culture, objects of sublimation

The second register is made of the equivalents of the first register in culture. Beside the natural objects of the fragmented body, each gives place to a fabrication of transferable objects which are made from the natural objects.

And it is just as one reproduces images, one stockpiles them; in the same way one transmits the voice, one records it, and great industries are built today on the basis of the eye and of the voice.

The anal object is the most transferable object, and one might say that all that is stockpiled, stored, and taken together in groups becomes the anal object.

As for the oral object, one knows well enough the derailing of the relation of the subject to the oral object introduced by the eating habits of contemporary modernity.

And finally, one might add now concerning the phallic object the complement that this list calls for: a great pharmaceutical industry is now being constructed on the phenomena of detumescence, which Lacan placed at the heart of his elaboration of the evanescent phallus.

In a third register, after the natural objects a and the equivalents of the first in culture, we bring forth all the objects of sublimation, the objects that fill the place of the object as lost object, that is to say that can come to the place of the Thing. There, it is necessary to recognize in Duchamp the genius of the concept of the ready-made that shows that art must be recognized in a context.

These are the three registers that seem to me to distinguish themselvesin the approach to the object a.

The object cause

And the object cause, where is it? That which Lacan called the “object cause” in its difference with the object of intention, which maintains its value at the level of consciousness, at the level of that which in Freud is named the erogenous zones. In contrast to the object of intention, the object cause is by structure hidden and misrecognized.

And, one will also speak of the analyst. If the analyst might be assimilated to the object a, it is as the object cause of an analysis and as far as he lifted the misrecognition of the object a, that is to say here the misrecognition of his act.

The object a, as such, has the priority in the field of subjective realization, and the first of the objects given up, concerning the act, is that which always, Lacan notes, in moral theology, is called the works.

Well, to return to the beginning of this presentation, for an analyst, his analysands, even if crowned with the title of Analysts of the School, are not his works.

The work, if there is one, the opus, the opus is in the beyond.

Thank you.

1. Presentation, made in Rome, July 15, 2006, on the theme of the next Congress of the WAP. This text originally appeared as “AMP 2008. "Les objets a dans l’expérience analytique” in La Lettre mensuelle, 252, Novembre 2006, pages 8-12. English translation by Thomas Svolos.
2. Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre X, L’angoisse, Paris: Seuil, 2004, p. 389.

Jacques-Alain Miller's Bibliography