The Conformity of Perversion
It is a common idea that a perverse practice undermines laws, conventional norms, and morals, that the perverse subject is some sort of avant-garde against a bigoted heterosexual hegemony. In the following I would like to argue that perversion, if anything, represents a conservatory factor by disavowing what psychoanalysis calls the lack of the Other, that, on the contrary, it is a neurotic structure that makes room for the possibility of change. The question is presented in connection with a discussion of how to apply one of Lacan's most famous sentences and propositions, namely "desire is the desire of the Other" to both perversion and neurosis. The challenge is especially how to apply the sentence to perversion, in what sense can perversion be thought of as a variation on the theme of desire being the desire of the Other? In a popular and moralistic understanding of the issue the distinctive feature of perversion consists both in disregarding the other's desire, - be it the exhibitionist, the pederast, or the sadist - and in disregarding norms, morals, and social rules. If this diagnosis of perversion is accepted the question of perversion will only hold clinical and/or criminological interest. Given this, perversion would consist in what phenomenology calls "a deficient mode," i.e. a deviation from a more original and fundamental form and norm.
It is not altogether clear in Lacanian psychoanalysis whether the three basic structures - neurosis, perversion, and psychoses - are equally original or whether the neurotic, and to be even more precise hysterical structure is the most original. But what is clear is that there are basic structural differences between neurosis and perversion; differences that cannot be restricted to questions of norms, morals, or criminology; distinctive features that are not primarily a question of practice, of what the subject does or refrains from doing to himself and to others. As in neurosis, where the symptom should not be confused with the structure, the 'perverse' practice should not be identified with the structure. A textbook example would be homosexuality, which can be an element in both a neurotic, a perverse, and a psychotic structure.
The definition of man's being as 'desire' and desire as 'desire of the other' are fairly well-known philosophical points. According to Kojève1 desire is only human, that is distinguishable from animal desire, when desire is directed towards a non-natural object, and the only object that is not an element of the set of natural objects is desire itself. Kojève's example of the difference between animal and human desire is desire between man and woman. This desire can only be considered human if desire is directed towards the other's desire and not just towards the other's body. The human quality of desire is that man desires to be desired by the other. Now, this could make one think that prostitution and pornography represent examples of the animal quality of human desire and sexual practice. But the curious fact that simulation is an essential part of prostitutes' and porno models' practice - they always 'desire' energetically and loudly; and the tenacious myth of "the happy hooker": that the prostitute is a prostitute because she likes it - shows that also as far as prostitution is concerned the fantasy of the other's desire is essential, not just the other's manipulative body.
The psychoanalytic concept of desire, however, is unconscious; a demand and a wish may be (pre)conscious, wherefore a lacanian translation of Kojève's proposition or axiom would be: the demand/wish is the demand/wish of the other. The originality of Lacan consists in desire and lack being a question of the lack of the Other, not of the lack of the subject. According to Lacan the question is what is meant by desiring the other's desire. Does it mean that 'I' desire that the other desires 'me', that 'I' desire to be the object of the other's desire? To Lacan the other is the Other and the point of the capital O is, firstly, that the question is raised: what is the object of the Other's desire? Desire is not determined by the other desiring me but by the Other's being raising the question of what the Other desires, of what the Other lacks. There has to be an enigma, a question before the particular other can be put in the Other's position: what does the Other want, what does the Other want from me, how is the Other's desire orientated. An example of this could be the significant number of images of so-called narcissistic women in literature and paintings: women who decorate chaise-lounges where the only kinds of objects they seem to desire are sweets. This recurring image of woman is apt to raise the other's desire and not necessarily women who actively make man the object of desire. The latter is usually called a vamp, and apart from images on the pornographic retina, the vamp is likely to be considered vulgar and repulsive, simply because she does not raise the fundamental and famous question posed by Freud "what does a woman want?"2 She cannot be raised to the level of incarnating the enigma, the mystery; she cannot be put in the position of the Other. In order to raise desire, the possibility of raising the question of what he or she desires must be present.
Now, this is undoubtedly all very plausible as far as the common idea and ideal of a loving and affectionate relationship is concerned, an idea of the 'kick' consisting in raising the Other's desire and in the effort to guess and fulfil the Other's wishes by the effort of being everything the Other could possibly wish for. But this is hardly a satisfactory horizon for an analysis of what is going on both in ordinary neurotic relationships and especially not considering the question of perversion and the perverse couple.
In perversion the other's desire does not raise a question, or to be more precise, the other's desire must not force such a question. Rather, the other is a puppet in that scenery which is an imperative necessity for the perverse subject's fulfilment of satisfaction. If the other forgets his or her part, or is incapable of playing his or her part in the subject's fantasy about the other - for instance as a frothing greedy vamp or the reverse, an innocent, asexual Lolita who can be corrupted by the pervert - then the scene or the setting collapses. This is one of the reasons why perverts are often compelled to seek out the professionals, i.e., the prostitutes, as these are paid in order that desire should not crop up as a question. This is probably the definition of, and a precondition for, professionalism altogether.
That the prostitute or the other in general is a puppet in the perverse subject's fantasy can explain why the question - of how the obvious simulation of the prostitute can have an effect - is naive and beside the point; it is an irrelevant question. In the perverse scenery the seemingly naive illusion dominates. Authenticity is neither an issue nor a problem in perversion. Only the neurotic worries whether the Other's, meaning the lover's, desire and manifestation of lust is authentic. The Other's desire is never occasion for knowledge, only occasion for doubt and supposition in a neurotic structure.
In contrast to the neurotic, the pervert knows what he desires. The pervert's relation to the other's desire is, or must be, a relation of knowledge, not of question, not of lack of knowledge. The masochist must be able to control the situation, he must be able to instruct the scenery either explicitly by detailed prescriptions of clothing, lines etc. or by manipulating the other to humiliate him or her. The masochist's climax is reached when he can prompt the other to think that it is her desire to kick, beat up and humiliate him; when he can make her think that she is not a puppet on a string, but a true sovereign, and act accordingly. This is the reason why sadists and masochists cannot form an ideal couple, as the agent of both parts is knowledge, the key word is control, the other must never be the Other, never be the occasion of anxious doubt.
The sadist must seek out what the other desires in order to be able to hit the soft spots, to humiliate the other's desire. The sadist can disregard the other's desire by being able to answer the question of what the other desires. He can humiliate the other's desire, e.g. by faking great interest in and showing seemingly loving attentiveness to the other's desire and thus manage to figure out in which direction the other's desire is turned and tuned. Then he can hit with precision, humiliate, and refuse to satisfy the other's demand.
The fame of one of the intensely unpleasant scenes in David Lynch's Wild at Heart is justified. By threatening Lula (Laura Dern) Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) prompts her to say, "fuck me." The scene can serve as an example of how sadism is not about forcing the other to do something against his or her will (rape, inflict physical pain on, or force the other to simulate desire). The scene more than insinuates that Lula does desire to be fucked when she whispers the prompted words. The sadism consists in Bobby Peru jumping back with an obscene grin saying: "Some day, honey, I will. But I gotta get going. Sing, don't cry." He thereby disregards the other's desire, not by forcing the other to do something she does not want to do, but on the contrary, by calling forward the other's desire he can thereafter refuse to satisfy the demand. What the scene shows is a refined version of the ancient joke about the sadist refusing to satisfy the masochist's demand to be humiliated. The sadist triumphs or gloats over the other's lack, the other's desire. He knows what the other lacks and more important, he does not lack anything, he does not desire. He "gotta get going"; something forces him 'unfortunately' to leave the scene. It is knowledge that is the agent of the pervert's practice, not a lack of knowledge and demand that is turned towards the Other. In short: the other is not the Other to the pervert.
A quotation from Nabokov's Lolita could summarize the issue: "I discovered there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on; never letting them see that you know all the tricks of the trade; inventing for them elaborate dreams, pure classics in style (which make them, the dream-extortionists, dream and wake up shrieking); teasing them with fake "primal scenes"; and never allowing them the slightest glimpse of one's real sexual predicament. By bribing a nurse I won access to some files and discovered, with glee, cards calling me 'potentially homosexual' and 'totally impotent.'"3
Sartre on Love and Sadomasochism
Sartre's description of the Other's gaze in Being and Nothingness provides an exposition of the need to distinguish between the other as Other with a capital 'O' (i.e. the other as subject of the gaze), and the other as other (i.e. the other as object). According to Sartre, the other is an object, which (in distinction to all other objects in the world) presents the permanent possibility of turning the situation upside down (of creating a 'haemorrhage') by making the subject into an object of the Other's gaze (regard). The Other is 'a hole in the world' in the sense that the Other as gaze is not necessarily represented by another concrete object, a particular objective other; he is, rather, a mere possibility, a supposition. The Other's being subject of the gaze can never be a question of knowledge, as this would imply an object. Knowledge concerns objects. The Other is an immediate experience rather than a question of cognition as in the famous example of the shame experienced when looking through a keyhole and hearing the sound of footsteps in the hallway. Being caught in flagranti presents the immediate experience of being an object for the Other. The Other's gaze is 'an intermediary which refers from me to myself.' The Other's gaze overwhelms me and creates the recognition of being what the Other might see in me, this shameful creature caught with my fingers in the cookie jar.
The Other is an immediate experience of malaise, an "uneasy indetermination' in a concrete meeting. The Other's desire gives cause for anxiety. This description of the relation to the Other would be equivalent to a neurotic structure in Lacan. In a neurotic structure, the concrete other is put in the position of the big Other, and thus the other is not just a manipulable object to be transcended, meaning that the neurotic does not presume to know what the Other wants and what he is, if anything, to the Other.
'Conflict is the original meaning of being for Others' according to Sartre.4 This includes love. The central theme in Sartre's presentation of the relation to the Other is in a love relationship and in general the failure of reciprocity, the lack of mutuality, the lack of a 'relation.' The other is either an object, an instrument to be transcended, or gives rise to the anxious apprehension of the subject being an object for the Other in the form of the question 'what am I to the Other?' Ontological solipsism rules. 'Unity with the Other is [...] in fact unrealizable. It is also unrealizable in theory, for the assimilation of the for-itself and the Other in a single transcendence would necessarily involve the disappearance of the characteristic of otherness in the Other.'5 In other words, recognition of the alterity or otherness of the Other cannot be achieved from a third, external position, it can only be experienced from 'within.'
The unrealizable ideal of unification with the other is nevertheless the ideal of love, its motivation and its end, its unique value. Love is necessarily a desire to be loved, a desire to possess freedom as freedom. This does not equal a banal lust for power. It is the desire for the Other to freely choose to make one the centre of reference to him, that he freely chooses to play the part of being determined. The fundamental conflict of love consists in the conflict between contingency and necessity.
'But if the Other loves me then I become the unsurpassable, which means that I must be the absolute end. In this sense I am saved from instrumentality,'6 and 'as soon as he loves me he experiences me as a subject and is swallowed up in his objectivity confronting my subjectivity.'7 This is the impasse of love. And a perfect illustration of what seduction is all about.
But if love is the desire to be loved, it constitutes a reference to infinity because desiring to be loved is desiring the Other's desire to be loved by me. Hence the fundamental dissatisfaction. Love is an ideal out of reach, the fundamental failure of a relation, hence the talk about the relation being 'sadomasochistic.' It oscillates between the other being an object for me, the 'sadistic' position, and me being an object for the Other being a subject, the 'masochistic' position.
But what is the difference between this fundamental sado-masochistic nature of any so-called relationship and sadomasochism in the traditional sense, i.e. as a variation on the theme of perversion, what Sartre calls 'vice.' The difference between a neurotic and a perverse relation is according to Sartre that failure is not just an effect of the sexual encounter in perversion but its very goal. Vice is the love of failure.8
Reciprocity is an ideal of love, an impossible ideal, which could be Sartre's version of Lacan's proposition that the sexual relationship doesn't stop not writing itself.' But it is nevertheless a necessary ideal. Not everybody shares this ideal. 'Vice' or perversion does not recognize this ideal. The sadist wants to be pure transcendence, he refuses to be incarnated. Incarnation means the body as flesh, which again means the body deprived of consciousness, without purpose, without a project, without transcendence, the body of pleasure and pain. Incarnation is rather a humiliating position in perversion. Therefore the ideal for and the enjoyment of the sadist is to stay cool and in control - he has all the time in the world - and thereby provoke anxious reactions from the other. He claims that he does not perform the acts because he takes pleasure in them. And just like his own incarnation would be a humiliating position for the sadist, he must look upon the other's pleasurable or painful incarnation with contempt, even spite. Sadism is a flight from all pleasure of the facticity of the flesh and at the same time an effort to control the Other's facticity. Sadism is a blind alley for it not only enjoys pleasure and enjoyment is not the same - the possession of the Other's flesh, it enjoys its own non-incarnation in direct connection with this flesh. It wants the non-reciprocity of sexual relations.9
Masochism, on the other hand, is the fascinated observation of oneself as an object, thereby excluding the experience of the concrete Other and the Other's lack. In the standard example of the masochist who pays a woman to whip him, he is treating her as an instrument and therefore puts himself in a position of transcendence in relation to her. In other words, the masochist is the subject treating the other as an object. The masochist's goal is not to fascinate the concrete Other by means of his objectivity the procedure of seduction - but to cause himself to be fascinated by his own objectivity-for-others. The experience of Otherness, the desire of the concrete other, is radically excluded.
Neither the sadist nor the masochist encounter symptoms and affects, the lack of the Other. Perversion is one solution among many to the impossibility of a sexual relationship and love; it is an effort to disavow being haunted by this impossibility.
The anxious question of what the sadist and the masochist are, if anything, to the Other is thereby avoided. In Lacanian terminology: the desire of the Other is disavowed. Masochism, sadism and perversion in general exclude the possibility of love because of its disavowal of the lack of the Other and thereby the lack of the subject. In perversion, the otherness of the concrete other is disavowed.
In what sense, then, can the proposition that desire is the desire of the Other be applied to the case of the perverse subject? The difference consists in perversion never putting the concrete, particular other in the position of the Other. The particular other is an object of manipulation and of knowledge, not of "uneasy indetermination" - the sadist must know what the other lacks, whereby he can refuse to satisfy an explicit or implicit demand - the other is an object of manipulation, a means or instrument. The other is immediately replaceable or something that the perverse subject can do without altogether, as in some variations on the theme of fetishism. The Other, however, is an abstract being that demands submission or is summoned to be a witness to the subject's practice. The pervert needs a witness. The perverse subject is forced to act according to the Other's demands; not the particular other's demands. It is like a God's voice calling to prayer. The Other's gaze is, for example, always present to, and a condition to, the transvestite, by taking the other as a witness when revealing that he is a woman with a penis by letting his voice drop so the interlocutor surprised or horrified - suddenly realizes that he or she is speaking to a man.
Another basic definition of perversion is that it disavows the lack of the Other. Freud's term is "Verleugnung" in contrast to the neurotic "Verneinung." In a traditional psycho-genetic exposition the disavowal consists in the subject being constituted when the question of the (M)Other's desire, the (M)Other's lack is raised; and not lack of just anything, but lack of the primary sexual characteristic, the penis. This knowledge of a lack is disavowed in perversion. The stress on this issue shows that according to psychoanalysis, the question of sexual difference, the ability to discriminate between, and thereby recognize the difference between the sexes, is a question of learning to discriminate altogether. To learn to discriminate is to submit to the symbolic law and order called castration. The Other lacks something; the mother's desire is turned towards something else. The m(O)ther is lost to something else. To become a subject one has to loose the Other. The Other is only Other when she/it is lost. Loss and lack are preconditions for the subject. She has got another. There must be an Other to the Other. The point of Lacan's thesis that there is no Other for the Other consists in the question of what the Other lacks being undecidable. There is no place where the answer to the Other's lack can be achieved. Sexual difference is not one difference among so many others, but an impossibility, a cause for malaise, a precarious question in relation to which the subject is constituted, and a question that can have its neurotic, perverse, or psychotic solution. Fetishism is a textbook example of a practice where an object steps in, covers up, and thereby disavows the lack of the Other. The object is the cause of desire in perversion, not the lack as in neurosis.10 An exposition of the structural difference between neurosis and perversion is therefore centred on the question of recognition of the lack of the Other. Is the Other's lack recognized or not? To recognize the lack of the Other presupposes that the particular other can hold the position of the Other.
Disavowal of the lack of the Other affects the anatomical sexual difference as an indispensable condition for achieving sexual pleasure, i.e. homosexuality, fetishism, and sodomy, and as a question that can be endowed with any significance at all. The distinction between "Verleugnung" and "Verneinung" means that the perverse subject does, in fact, know about sexual difference; but at the same time he disavows this knowledge. Sexual difference is neither denied nor repressed, knowledge exists in a relatively peaceful coexistence with a situation in which this knowledge is disavowed.
The point concerning the Other's lack as far as the example from Wild at Heart is concerned is that Bobby Peru can disavow the Other's lack by emphasizing the other's lack. Bobby Peru identifies with the non-lacking position by not desiring. He does not desire, he does not lack anything, but he knows, on the other hand, what the other lacks. He is not the one that is duped.
Neurosis and Perversion
Only the sadist can focus on the other's lack and drive bodily or psychic mutilation to extremes. He can provoke the other's lack in order that the other can give him what she has not, in order that he can accentuate the other's lack by refusing to satisfy a lack. The sadistic subject seeks to disavow the lack by attributing the lack to the other, the other being the dirt on which he can stamp. The perverse subject identifies with the non-lacking Other.
The Lacanian twist of Kojève's fundamental axiom consists indeed in desire being determined by the Other's desire both as far as the neurotic and the pervert are concerned, but the difference between a neurotic and a perverse subject is that the neurotic must put the particular other in the position of the Other. Not just any particular other can be the occasion for interest, doubt, malaise, and worry for the average neurotic; the Other is indeed someone met in particular, concrete circumstances, as Sartre stressed. The neurotic cannot articulate his desire as being unsatisfied to just anybody. In other words, it is not everyone that can be supposed to possess what the subject lacks - knowledge, power, social status, whatever. Consequently it is not to everyone that the subject can give his lack. The question is why someone's desire and not everyone's desire can be of concern to the subject, why the other is not an immediately exchangeable object. The answer to this lies in fantasy, and not in the object being the foundation of desire. More about this later.
In contrast to the neurotic, the pervert does not direct his demand, his lack, his question, towards the other but is nevertheless submitted to the Other's desire in the sense that the pervert's practise is compulsive, the exhibitionist is for example compelled to expose himself to the other's unwilling gaze. In the case of the neurotic, the Other's desire is cause for alarm, anxiety; he is compelled to flee desire in contrast to the pervert who is forced to act. As far as the pervert is concerned, desire is an imperative that cannot be refused no matter whether he is an otherwise model citizen with all the highest and best moral standards. It is an imperative that comes from somewhere else; he is remote-controlled by something. In this sense the pervert is submitted to the Other's desire, "The Lord's will be done" could be the motto of perversion.11
The criteria by which to decide whether an act or practice is either perverse or neurotic is not a question of actual acts, of what the subject does. As already mentioned, homosexuality can be an element in a neurotic, perverse, and psychotic structure (for example the case of "Schreber"). The symptom and the act must not be confused with the structure. The element makes only sense in the structure.
Disavowal is traditionally considered to be a trait of perversion. Confronted with accusations of sadism, the teacher will claim that he is only doing his duty. It is his calling to care for the pupils' education; it is only for the benefit of the other. It is a vocation, a calling, he is called by the Other, he is a humble instrument serving the Other. The pervert is just a willing instrument - for the institution, the political cause, 'we all have our cross to bear.' The discourse of power must always disavow desire, disavow any 'lust for power.' A perverse trait can be found in the spiteful sentence 'he had it coming,' 'it served him right' when witnessing the other's pain and misery with pleasure. The pedophile's disavowal can take form of a claim to the reciprocity of the sexual relationship, or to be more precise: the claim that the intercourse is a 'relationship.'
The neurotic can fantasize about, and entertain friends with 'perverse' speech; the neurotic's statements can be 'perverse' according to conventional standards of the depraved and the vulgar. To the pervert, at the level of enunciation, however, the fantasy rests in silence. Fantasy compels to act. For the pervert there is no contradiction between depraved acts in the night, and outspoken and eloquent moral crusades in the daytime, as the chairman of the parish council. Hypocrisy is not cause for guilt or shame; hypocrisy as commonly understood, i.e. as the image the subject wants to create of himself, his 'subjectivity,' cannot be supported by the conventional value of his actual acts. It is a relatively peaceful coexistence between two contradictory propositions: that the mother has not a penis and that she has a penis, that the Other does not lack and that the Other does lack. Freud called it an "Ichspaltung" that should be distinguished from the neurotic's repression, the latter consisting of a conflict between what Freud called the "ego" and the "id." In Lacanian terminology there is a conflict between desire and the law as far as the neurotic is concerned. As far as the pervert is concerned, this conflict is resolved by making desire the law of his acts.12 The difference between the neurotic's and the pervert's fantasy is not that the former is more morally acceptable, less sleazy than that of the latter. As far as the content of fantasy is concerned, there is not much to choose between them.
The pervert can be a pillar of Society and be well adapted to the hierarchies of institutions. His transgression of social and moral laws is not occasioned by the desire for reform or the revolution of these laws. The pervert's enjoyment consists in challenging the law, but not with the intention of changing it. The pervert is not a revolutionary.
The neurotic, however, is badly adjusted, has difficulties submitting to higher levels of the hierarchy, and difficulties dominating lower stratums. The neurotic finds it difficult to accept status quo. To him, there is a discordance between desire and the law. The average neurotic submits to the law in the sense that the Other is the premise for speech; the neurotic must take into consideration what the particular other understands and what he wants from him. The Other's demand for coherence, the question of what the Other understands, is cause for worry for the neurotic and governs his speech. The neurotic worries about whether they have got anything to talk to each other about at all - as the hostess is concerned about the seating arrangements. But due to the discordance between law and desire, and despite all the best intentions, a symptom can occur in speech at any time and unpredictably: symptoms that are a witness to a desire that cannot be recognized and assimilated in the law's guidelines for good form, for the done thing in this or that particular company. Stuttering and, for the good company, embarrassing slips of the tongue show how the neurotic is submitted to the discordance between desire and law and show the neurotic's constitutional lack of adaptation or adjustment. The neurotic's submission to the law/the Other or the effort to do so is blocked by his desire not complying to the given guide lines for what the Other lays down as desirable. This allows nevertheless for the possibility of something new happening, something out of the ordinary.
To the pervert, the problem is not repressed desire; desire is, rather, the law to the pervert, and therefore there is no discordance between desire and law. The Other's desire is the law. The Other is therefore not just the place of morals and the cultural law but also the reverse side of morals in the form of the demand: enjoy, thou shalt covet thy neighbor's house. The law is the reason for its own transgression.13 The pervert can stay cool and make his moves elegantly and equilibristically in society, because the compulsive transgression of the law goes on in secret and at other times. Therefore Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are recurring metaphors to describe the pervert.14 'There is a time and a place for every thing' could be the motto of the pervert, in contrast to the neurotic, who is rather ill-timed, who precipitates and is an embarrassment, awkward, and irritating. The lack of guilt in perverts is striking: they obey orders. Guilt and doubt are dubious privileges of neurosis. The bizarre logic which psychoanalysis has shown consists in that the fewer actual actions, the more renunciation, the more the thumbscrew of guilt is haunting the neurotic.15
Humour and joking are, on the other hand, the neurotic's breathing hole and playground in the social. Here he can let loose all that the good society would rather was left unsaid and unheard. Laughter and humour is a pleasure or enjoyment that is never innocent, as it is dependent on being in conflict with the law, as Freud describes it in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. A joke has to have a latent "tendency" consisting of hatred, obscenity, and cynicism in order to create the enjoyment of a roaring laugh. There has to be a conflict in order to create a joke and make the other laugh at it. The idea that prohibition, law and order can never eliminate the socially unacceptable is a constant theme in Freud's work, but especially in his work on the jokes. The unacceptable will always find a way to express itself, be it in dreams, slips of the tongue, neurotic symptoms or jokes. The neurotic symptoms and jokes are acceptable ways of articulating the forbidden. They are a compromise. Being a compromise they presuppose a conflict, namely between desire and law. The neurotic symptom is both considered being something which inhibits life, but also something which makes it possible. Pleasure is always at odds with the law, but not in the sense of the goal being emancipation from the coercion of the law, as pleasure presupposes the law. Without prohibition, no pleasure. A state of total permissiveness would be a state devoid of pleasure.
That the pronouns 'he,' 'him,' his' are used here should not be understood as an acceptance of the tacit recognition of the current view that perversion is predominantly a trait of the biological male. It may be correct that perverts in the sexological sense of the word first and foremost are men, but as Lacan (and Gillespie) remark: women are perverts as mothers.16 There is no more masterful and, in the fortunate cases, enlightened despotism than a mother's relation to her child. In this case lack and castration can be disavowed. She is Everything to the helpless child, she has unlimited power to either recognize or ignore the other's desire. Hence Freud's scandalous proposition that women's desire for motherhood was just one variation on the theme of penis envy, that femininity in general was variations on the theme of not recognizing castration, and the often observed patriarchal inclination in Lacan as far as 'the name of the father' and the father's crucial importance for civilization was concerned. The father must save the child from and limit the mother's absolutism and tendency to perverse enjoyment of the child. This is undoubtedly another way of explaining the desire for motherhood than by an untameable, genetically determined urge to continue the species.
The neurotic symptom is always a proof of, or indication of, the incoherence of the image the neurotic seeks to create of himself: that the idea of the self, of subjectivity is always a dissimulation, a misrecognition. The symptom is a message that is unheard, the symptom is like trash or secretion from the orifices of the body that cannot be assimilated. The secretion comes from the inner of the body and the idea is to keep it out and to endure the other's demands for discretion in the form of closed doors, handkerchiefs, and downcast eyes. The secretion is both the most intimate and at the same time that which cannot be assimilated: that which should be cast out. Waste and secretion is the real.
So, as far as the neurotic is concerned, the problem is lack of knowledge about desire: that lack is the cause of desire. This lack implies the idea that an Other is supposed to contain such a knowledge. To the pervert the problem is not lack of knowledge about desire. Lack is not the cause of desire, he is not a dupe. The pervert's problem is, rather, that he is forced to act as if he knew what he desired, as if his wishes and demands were identical with desire. This lack of lack of knowledge implies that the other is not supposed to know, or to be more precise, the other must not know about the pervert's desire. This is the reason why the provocation of the other's anxiety is characteristic of a perverse practice as anxiety testifies to the fact that the other does not know what the perverse subject wants. The other is kept in suspense.
The fascinated shuddering at the pervert's daring to do what the neurotic only dares to dream about, or the repulsed ostracism of the pervert, only confirms the pervert's challenge of the law. Hence the striking contradiction between the secrecy (in public toilets and parks after dark) and the demonstrative yearly "gay pride" parades where the alleged purpose is the demand for respect for human rights and where the summoned TV-cameras are ready to be a witness to extravagant conduct to thrill or repulse viewers. Only the naive wonders why a political demand for the universalization of human rights is mediated by a demonstrative provocation of conformist morals. The pervert's enjoyment is submitted to this thrill or repulsion of the Other, he must forever compulsively challenge the law. That is his law. He must compulsively challenge and thereby submit himself to the Other's gaze. As Sartre (and Lacan) showed: the voyeur at the famous keyhole is an object for the Other's gaze.
In England a phenomenon called "outing" consisted in gay people making public bishops,' politicians,' and other high-ranking citizens' lifelong frequentation of male prostitutes. Homosexuals' attention to the question of whether they and others have come out of the closet is striking. Whether desire is public or not, whether the Other or the public 1) does not know, 2) pretends not to know, or 3) knows are apparently significant questions for the pervert, and are variations on manipulation with the other's knowledge or lack of knowledge about desire. This is in contrast to the neurotic, who does not know how to enjoy, apart from through symptoms. Sartre judges such a project to be an example of "bad faith" in L'être et le néant, and the moral crusader of "outing" would be the answer of our time to what he calls a "champion de la sincérité": the alleged heterosexual invites the closet gay to come out of the closet. But thereby the other will be reduced to one seemingly well-defined particular trait of character, namely homosexuality, as if it were self-evident what this inclination might mean. The other is defined as an object, comparable to a broom being defined as a brush on a stick. As already mentioned, this demand comes today primarily from gay organizations. We have ignored an inquisitorial demand from avowed homosexuals of making public our sexual orientation in the lecture room. Sartre asks rhetorically: Who is in bad faith: The closet gay who will not accept his being identified with one trait of character, that his homosexuality is destiny, that his desire is a quality along the lines of an object? Or is it the moralist who is in bad faith, as his demand must imply that homosexual inclinations are foreign to his character? Or if the moralist is an avowed homosexual: 'My being, my desire is beyond ambiguity, I know who I am and what I desire.' To define one's being as an object is to be in bad faith. To be in bad faith must imply that sincerity - to know oneself, to be oneself - is impossible, a lie, in Lacanian terminology: misrecognition. According to Sartre, when defining oneself as an object, one is identifying with the perspective of the Other, with someone one is not: 'You are what you are not, and are not what you are.' These are textbook examples of how "connaissance," (self) knowledge is a "me-connaisance," a mis-recognition. Misrecognition does not consist in having false, erroneous ideas of one's own and others' being, but consists in the very idea of knowing who one self is and how desire is orientated, for example a homosexual desire, or not to be in doubt about what the other and thereby the subject desires.
The pervert's manipulation with knowledge, closet-activities, and demonstrative provocation of conformist morals respectively cannot only be explained by a repressive and puritanical culture, but is rather a desire that is supported by the alleged repressive guardians of morals. This could be the reason for the striking fact that perverts are often the guardians of law and order in the capacity of being parents, teachers, priests, and judges.
Sado-masochistic practice seems to be a highly photogenic practice, considering the fact that hardly any of the many documentaries on television - sex in Hollywood, sex in ... - miss the opportunity to display the utensils of this particular practice. This fashionable practice is yet another example of how it is impossible to make conceptual distinctions on the ground of what is 'done,' because the rhetorical question must sound: which practice, even the most sleepy, relaxed heterosexual missionary position, does not contain an element of dominance and submission?
According to analysts the pervert is usually not inclined to start an analysis, as a minimal precondition for this is lack, lack of knowledge as far as desire is concerned. The pervert's problem is not necessarily lack of coherence and continuity in life; he imagines that he knows how to enjoy or how he is forced to enjoy. If the pervert does approach an analyst, it is, according to analysts17, because 1) he is not a pervert in the structural sense, 2) there is not a desire to be 'cured' of his inclination but rather the problem that the irresistible inclination makes life hard to live because of fear of being caught and the fear of ostracism, 3) because the analytic setting is to be perverted. The pervert thinks he knows what he desires, so both the pervert and the neurotic think that desire can be a question of knowledge. The perverse fantasy is an answer to the question: 'what do 'I' desire?' and hereby the fundamental lack of knowledge about desire is covered up. This could imply that the neurotic "Verdrängung" and the perverse "Verleugnung" are not co-ordinated, i.e. that the disavowal is not a question of repression. But the conclusion to be drawn could also be that this disavowal and the perverse fantasy that compels to act are the condition of an even more relentless and thereby even more successful repression. The neurotic symptom asks at least for an interpretation and is therefore not a completely successful repression; a hand is reached out for a possible shaking of the power of the fantasy.
It is a common fantasy of neurotics that perverts are supposed to have more privileged access to satisfaction. But an actual 'mise-en-scène' of the fundamental fantasy will always be an incomplete and thus an unsatisfactory copy of the fantasy of total satisfaction and total enjoyment. This fundamental fantasy demands, as already mentioned, that very specific and necessary conditions be fulfilled in order for relief and satisfaction to be achieved: the other is given detailed descriptions of how to dress and what to say and do at any given time. It takes a professional to be rehearsed. Due to the thesis of lack being the cause of desire to the neurotic the conditions for satisfaction can in this case never be anything but sufficient, never necessary.
The question of perversion in analysis is not one way traffic, since the rule of abstinence not only applies as far as the well-rehearsed proofs of love are concerned, but also as far as the less discussed abstaining from any sadistic inclinations, since the idea of analysis is a focus on how desire and lack are structured. The subject's foundation is to be shaken; and in this sense an analysis can be said to create anxiety.
There is a disturbing isomorphism between this and an especially refined technique of the torturer. In torture it is not only a question of inflicting pain on the other, making him suffer etc., but rather of undermining the other's ideas of himself as a victim, to create doubt in the minds of both the other prisoners and the victim himself as to whether the torture has taken place at all. If this succeeds the victim is lost. Apparently a subject can survive being an innocent victim of unimaginable physical pain, but he cannot survive if this idea of who is guilty and who is innocent is questioned. To cast doubt on the victim's imaginary status as victim recurs in sexual assaults, rape, and incest where disavowal ("Verleugnung") can receive its guarantee of trustworthiness in Freud's discussion of "fantasy" and "psychic reality." Fantasy is understood as something that in Freud should be contrasted to a reality where it can be decided that nothing has taken place. Or, on the contrary, Freud is accused of "assault on the truth," i.e. his alleged disavowal of sexual assaults having taken place at all. The basis of this accusation and the reason for the misunderstandings is, of course, that fantasy is understood as correlative to reality. In Freud these problems are discussed in connection with the question of the "primal scenes" and "primal fantasies'" either actual historical existence or their status as constructions.18
These primal scenes, these primal fantasies, these relics of Lamarckism, this "phylogenetic inheritance" - the idea that acquired characteristics can be inherited, is in Lacan replaced by the concept of fantasy and the symbolic. One could leave it to Freud to define the concept of fantasy, as it is a framework "Schemata" that are like philosophische 'Kategorien'", a formal condition of possibility for experience.19
Back to the question of the pervert. A perverse act should not automatically be confused with a perverse structure, and a symptom should not be confused with the structure. An example of a perverse position that does not imply any acts in the traditional sense, i.e. to 'do' something, could be what is called "a faghag," a strongly derogative term for a middle-aged woman who is served by and worshipped as a feudal queen by one or several young homosexuals. There is no sexual practice in any traditional, carnal sense of the word between the woman and the young men. She is outside the game, an asexual subject, much like a queen bee. She does not lack anything; she is the Other, the Other who can be a witness to and simulate ignorance of the young men's practice.
To take action
When the perverse subject acts, the question is whether his acts can be distinguished from the neurotic's "acting out" which in Freud ("agieren") and Lacan designates the subject acting instead of reminiscing. Instead of continuing or to prevent the continuation of the analysis the analysand takes action, an action which nevertheless asks for an analysis and therefore is destined to the Other - just as the young homosexual girl in Freud's case of "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman"20 always demonstratively promenaded her lady friend at times and in places where she would be most likely to meet her father. Such an act is a symptom in the sense that it offers itself to or begs for an analysis. The intention is to make her father see her and understand her conduct as an insult; her acts are messages that are to come across and are unheard of in at least two senses of the expression.
The perverse act, however, is not such an 'acting out,' as it does not address itself to an Other in order to be analyzed or just understood. In this case there is no question of failed repression. And if an attempt to analyze is made, because the pervert is made into an enigma, he will usually not, as a good neurotic deny an interpretation, but will be forthcoming or indifferent to the attempt, being convinced that the other does not know after all, that the other does not hit the mark - like the priceless comparison Freud makes between the homosexual woman's indifferent remark to his subtle interpretation: "'How very interesting!' as though she were a grande dame being taken over a museum and glancing through her lorgnon at objects to which she was completely indifferent."21 This differs entirely from the neurotic. Lacan remarks somewhere on his own famous sentence of "the subject supposed to know" that this is not just a question of attributing a superior knowledge to the Other, but rather that the neurotic worries about the Other's knowledge, in the sense that he worries whether the Other is mistaken, worries about mistaken ideas and images that the analyst may have about the analysand. When the analysand holds back information about his ideas, his doings, it is not, like the pervert, in order to keep desire a secret, but to avoid the other being mistaken as in: 'if I tell him this he will only think that it is all about ...' Unlike the pervert, it is important to the neurotic that the knowledge he supposes that one can have of the desire is correct. The neurotic worries about his reputation, about what ideas and impressions the Other has of him. He anxiously puts the fundamental question: 'what am I to the Other?'
We do not get a definite answer in Freud's case of the young homosexual woman to the question of whether her acts, her inclination towards and infatuation with objects of the same sex, were to be understood as the neurotic's acting out. In other words, was the homosexuality an element in a neurotic or in a perverse structure? This is a textbook example of how psychoanalysis is not symptomatology or sexology. No symptom, no act can be translated to a definite sense. When psychoanalysts speak of structures they are not making diagnosis. Symptoms or acts are not traits: qualitative distinctions that can enlist the subject in a set.
Not to Give Way to Your Desire is to do Your Duty22
This sentence could be interpreted as if Lacan was making perversion into an ideal and the goal of an analysis. According to Freud the purpose of an analysis is to transform neurotic misery into ordinary misery. An analysis can have as its effect a recognition of desire, for instance a homosexual desire. Such a recognition does not necessarily imply that the subject should take action or refrain from action. Abstinence from an act that desire incites would not, according to Freud, be identical with giving way to desire.23 Recognition can result in various consequences: Ordinary misery, political work in defence of minority rights etc. To give way to desire means here to give way to an analysis of the way desire is orientated. An analysis is the subject's recognition of desire via the Other's/the analyst's recognition, by there being an Other that makes room for desire to be articulated and heard no matter how trivial, banal, or repulsive it may be. An analysis may have the effect that it becomes possible to take action at all, for instance making it possible to initiate sexual relationships at all, but such a consequence can never be the analysis' goal as such. The goal of analysis and the question of 'not giving way to desire is to do your duty' reminds one of the Lacanian interpretation of the concept of sublimation: "In the definition of sublimation as satisfaction without repression there is, implicitly or explicitly, a passage from non-knowledge to knowledge, recognition of the fact that desire is nothing other than the metonymy of the discourse of demand. It is the change as such. I insist this metonymic relation of one signifier to the other that we call desire it is not the new object nor the former object but the change itself ..."24
Desire is nothing but the metonymic discourse of the demand; its essence is to be displaced, which means not to be fixated on a particular object. The fundamental mechanism of metonymy is displacement, displacement between signifiers, the reference of one signifier to the other. As a consequence of this, Lacan can talk about desire as the signified of the chain of signifiers, and sublimation as "satisfaction without repression."25 This must imply that the most efficient way of giving way to desire is to declare a particular object to be the object of desire - a material object, the love of your life, a calling - as the necessary condition for satisfaction, or preferably an object that is impossible to reach, an object that is lost once and for all, whereafter the subject can spend the rest of his life in grief and bitterness at not possessing this particular object - 'My baby has left me, I don't want nobody else' is the stuff that the blues is made of. This is to give way to desire. The metonymic slide of desire has been arrested, bound hand and foot to one particular object. It is impossible to love and desire another or something else. The particular object is an indispensable condition, a sine qua non for satisfaction.
If the sentence "not to give way to desire ..." is understood as a recommendation of perversion the sentence has been translated to 'not to give way to your fantasy, is to do your duty,' which would be yet an extra confirmation of the restraints of desire. What the fantasy limits is the metonymy. In this sense the pervert also gives way to desire as he is submitted to the Other's desire by being forced to perform definite acts toward a specific, though exchangeable object. A specific scenery is a necessary condition for obtaining some kind of satisfaction. The fluctuation of desire has been stopped. It is not a question of 'liberating' desire, of emancipation, of 'overcoming one's inhibitions' as it was once prescribed. Psychoanalysis does not give instructions to act in the form of making one's fantasy 'come true.' This would be just another cementation of the power of fantasy. In Freud perversion does not solve any conflicts, as 'neurosis is the negative of perversion,' and as he goes on: "The contents of the clearly conscious phantasies of the perverts (which in favorable circumstances can be transformed into manifest behavior), of the delusional fears of paranoics (which are projected in a hostile sense on to other people) and of the unconscious phantasies of hysterics (which psycho-analysis reveals behind their symptoms) - all of these coincide with one another even down to their details."26
The wish to act out erotic fantasies, to take action, to overcome inhibitions could be an ideal within a psychological and emancipatory horizon. In a psychoanalytical perspective a resistance to the acting out of fantasies, a resistance that is often attributed to women, could be understood as a recognition of castration, that the full, total enjoyment is impossible, that the fantasy serves the purpose of covering up the lack. The attempt to realize the fantasy is usually doomed to be a disappointment or to be unsuccessful; the scenario with a willing partner who has kindly accepted being subject to an experiment ends up in non-intended laughter; the attempt only shows the inevitable status of castration. To believe that full and total enjoyment is possible, is to believe in the possibility of avoiding castration, an illusion that the lack can be overcome, that the fantasy might be a compensation for a lack that under more favorable conditions could be fulfilled. As already mentioned it is a common illusion that the pervert has access to full satisfaction. But the actual mise-en-scène of the fantasy will always be only a reproduction, never the real thing. The specific details of the scene - the prostitute or the partner is instructed to say specific sentences at specific times but is not capable of hitting the right tone of voice; or in the case of masochism, he has not been able to provoke his 'domina' into convincingly acting as if it were her desire to humiliate the masochist.
If anyone has anything to reproach anyone it cannot be as far as the content of fantasy is concerned. Moralism has no say as far as fantasies are concerned. At the imaginary level there is no difference between repressing a fantasy, followed by neurotic symptoms, attributing all sorts of dubious intentions and lack of 'honourable intentions' in paranoid, erotomaniac ideas, and to taking action as a pervert. The difference is rather a question of the subjects's position towards the Other, that is a question of the symbolic. 'Perverse' fantasies do not necessarily indicate perversion understood as a question of structure. An important difference between the neurotic's and the pervert's fantasies is that last-mentioned fantasy submits the subject to acting, forces him to act and by this makes the other 1) an object, 2) the silent, tolerant acomplice who simulates ignorance or 3) a moralizer, disowner, or ostraciser. Therefore it is a delicate and undecided question what one does as an analyst if or when the analysand turns out to be a pervert, or, for that matter, in general. The question is how to avoid being an 1) object, 2) being an accomplice by faking ignorance, or 3) submitting the pervert to ostracism, imprisonment, discrimination and violation of basic human rights in general. The question is whether there is a fourth possibility where one does not constitute a couple with the pervert.
Not to give way to desire is more a question of the analysis of the founding fantasy and thereby a recognition of desire. It is about a "passage du non-savoir au savoir." In this sense there is an essential difference between repression of a fantasy and abstinence regarding the inclination to act out a fantasy for moral or other reasons.27
Psychoanalysis as a True Act
Lacan's distinction between an "acte" and "acting out" can further clarify in what sense perversion is not idealized. The difference between an "acte" and "acting out" is that the latter mimes what cannot be articulated, mimes that which cannot be integrated in chains of signifiers; it is that which is unheard. A "psychoanalytic act," however has nothing to do with 'doing' anything . An act is only a psychoanalytic act if or when it brings about an analysis that recognizes that you could talk about a symptomatic act and a repressed desire. Anyone can stumble, forget, and misplace things, but such acts are only acts in the psychoanalytical sense of the word if they occasion an analysis and it is shown via this analysis that it is a metaphor for a repressed connection between signifiers. "L'acte psychanalytique" is only such if it is significant in the sense of implying a new start. An act must be an event, an unexpected and unpredictable occurrence. There are no 'acts' that are in themselves acts; no act means anything specific. The most banal example could be leaving one's husband; the act could be considered an acting out, an act that wants to be heard by the Other, whereafter she can return and it is business as usual; and it can be a new beginning, a true act. To start and end an analysis can be a true act, and it can be just another lap on the nomadic route of therapy. The criteria for deciding whether an act is a true act is that desire no longer lets itself be limited by the fundamental fantasy, and this means again that the matrix, the cliché is broken. A true act is not a repetition. Both the neurotic and the perverse acts are repetitive. The analytic intervention or interpretation of speech is a true act if, and only if, it is not repetitive. An interpretation is a singular act; it cannot be generalized in manuals or methods of analysis. It is a singular experience, and its very singularity creates the problem as far as the question of transmittance is concerned: of transference of the thinking in psychoanalysis, what kind of thinking psychoanalysis is, and in what sense a discourse is "analytic." The point here is that it is only appropriate to talk about a discourse being analytic as far as the singular act is concerned. The analytic discourse exists only in the singular, non-generalisable moment: this point of no return where the bond between the analysand and the analyst has reached a point of no return - as in the example of Freud's interpretation of the young homosexual's dream as being hypocritical and false. The analyst's acts cannot always be analytical, his interventions can be in the discourse of the university - explanatory, giving sense to this, that, or the other - and hysterical - questioning, demanding.
Psychoanalysis is only analytic in these moments. In these moments the truth of the subject occurs, he is shaken to his very foundation, as the expression goes. A true act contests the power of the fundamental fantasy. Perverse acts are never "acts" in the sense of a challenge and transgression of the law, a new beginning, that new elements pop up and find their place in the chain and thereby change the cliché. Perverse acts are clichés; but they should not be identified with the neurotic's no more original "acting out," although they are hardly distinguishable. The crucial difference lies in the perverse act not asking for an interpretation or for being understood, the difference being in disavowing any question, and thereby disavowing any lack.
If it is possible, and if it makes sense to criticize a perverse practise, which here means to tackle the issue of perversion in another way than the indifference or complicity of tolerance on the one hand or the repulsed ostracism on the other, it must be a critique of its conformity. It is not a question of acts, events that bring the subject out of the old groove; perversion does not make room for or leave a small gap open for a point of no return.
That psychoanalysis claims a discordance between law and desire and between desire and knowledge, and that this discordance is fundamental, must imply that psychoanalysis is a discourse for neurotics. At least it must imply that a neurotic structure furthers accessibility to psychoanalysis as a mode of thought, a mode that forms the way the subject perceives the world, in short: reality. If this fundamental discordance between desire and law is not recognized, a lack of recognition which characterized perversion as desire was the law in perversion, a perverse structure must be unappreciative of and impervious to psychoanalysis. A utilitarian subject, in its pursuit of happiness, does not experience a conflict between desire and law as anything but a clash between other subjects' equally self-transparent pursuit of happiness. The claim of psychoanalysis concerning the difference between demand and desire can help to explain why subjects do not always in ordinary cynical fashion want what is best for them but can instead act in contradiction of any sound reason for the benefit of survival.
If neurosis and perversion are understood as categories, as formal conditions of the possibility of cognition or for being in the world - like "Existentialen" - then they are understood beyond a clinical, pathological and/or criminological perspective. The clinical will necessarily be understood as a 'deficient mode' or variation on the ontological, formal condition of the possibility of being in the world. The consequence of this must be that there is no preferential, 'intimate' issue that asks for an analysis. That neurosis and perversion do not concern the intimate means that they concern the structure. If the structure is an ontological and not a clinical issue, the structure is to be heard and consequently be shown no matter what the content of the enunciation may be. Therefore neurosis and perversion can be shown in relation to philosophy, scientific practice, and in relation to knowledge in general. This means here the question of the Other and the lack of the Other as a question of a relation to lack in knowledge. Discretion and intimidation will serve as examples.
Discretion and Intimidation
For the discreet, knowledge is embarrassing. Knowledge of the other's lack with regard to family troubles and unfulfilled professional ambitions is embarrassing. The discreet worries about the lack of the particular other. This is an embarrassment when it is put into speech and it is covered up by turning the conversation towards other topics when it comes dangerously close to the lack of the other. In the company of the discreet one is not at risk of being submitted to wild, intimidating analysis.
When intimidating, the perverse subject focuses on the lack of the other. He drops a hint: drops a seemingly innocent, casual remark that testifies to knowledge of the other's vulnerability, which means in which direction the other's desire is directed, be it family trouble, unhappy love affairs, or yet unfulfilled professional ambitions. The perverse subject enjoys knowledge, and enjoys thereby the lack of the other. It is not a question of painful, embarrassed awkwardness with regard to making the lack of the other public. On the contrary, the perverse subject can be extraordinarily discreet about his desire, but not necessarily discreet about the desire of the other. The pervert is rather extraordinarily attentive to the other's enjoyment, how or whether the other enjoys at all, as distinguished from the neurotic who does not want to know about the Other's enjoyment, who flees the Other's desire and enjoyment, where signs of the Other's desire are either repulsive or calls forward anxiety. To put the woman on a pedestal is the classic example of preventing the Other's enjoyment. To the neurotic the desire of the Other and the Other's enjoyment are sources of anxiety, and therefore the neurotic does not want any knowledge of and consequently must prevent the Other's enjoyment, ignore and deny any sign of the Other's lack. The Other must be pure and above common desires and common vice.
To make one's desire and shortcomings an issue of public concern is in contradiction to a perverse structure, but it is not contradictory to make the other's desire an issue of public concern, on the contrary. This is instead a tactic that serves the purpose of hiding his desire, for instance by pretending a lack of desire. Knowledge is power and control to the pervert and the making public of this knowledge about the other can be vital to the pervert: the humiliation is like a close up in wide screen.
The creeping malaise of intimidating "wild analysis" consists in the other directing his attention towards the level of the enunciation and not the level of the statement. It can be compared to a subtle threat. In a threat there is often no clearly defined element with a fixed semantic meaning connected to it, like the mob member's: 'If you don't pay me tomorrow you will end up in East River.' It is rather a question of an uncanny hinting at knowledge and its possible consequences. An example could be the head of the university department reminding the assistant professor that it is never automatic that an assistant professor becomes associate professor. What is peculiar to this experience of a subtle threat is, first of all, that, taken at the level of the statement, it is a stating of matters of fact. Sense, meaning is common, it can be generalized. But taken at the level of enunciation; that is, the level of the individual act performed by a particular speaker at a specific time and place and in a specific situation - that is, as a question of discourse, of that dimension in speech that creates the social bond - this is where the threat is, and not in any particular semantic unit. This is the reason why it is virtually impossible to find a good, convincing example of this as, just like the most successful jokes are virtually impossible to explain to an outsider - none of Freud's jokes in The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious are particularly funny - the threat is dependent on an infinite, detailed account of the particular circumstances of the enunciation. It is problematic to turn to someone else and say that he or she said this, that, and the other, because the enunciation can be interpreted as a perfectly innocent piece of information, a stating of a perfectly unambiguous fact, and the subject can in return be diagnosed as a paranoiac who is suffering from a sad lack of trust in his/her fellow citizens. At the level of the statement, the semantic content there is really no cause for believing it to be a threat. But, still, such a statement creates a peculiar and uncanny certainty of threat. As Lacan states somewhere: anxiety never lies.
This also testifies to Lacan's point that it is when the analysand is in doubt about whether his own memory is correct or not, that is, in doubt about the correctness of the semantic content, that Freud is certain that this is a sign of unconscious thoughts. Freud is not in doubt, he is certain when the analysand is hesitant as to meaning.28 The doubt is a sign of resistance to recognition of unconscious thoughts. The examples of the false tone and the subtle threat testify to the same. One is sure the other is false or is threatening one. There is no doubt. The fundamental doubt and question about what the subject is to the other is brought to the fore; it is the very point of the threat that the subject be brought to a state of uncertainty of what kind of object he is to the Other, and this point creates its opposite, namely certainty as to his not being able to trust the other. It is a certainty that changes the social bond. He may try to tell himself that he shouldn't judge too quickly; and that he knows from experience that he can be wrong about the other; and that fundamentally he can never know what he is to the Other. And isn't the paranoiac characterized by everything making sense? To him there is always a hidden agenda, no matter what the other does or doesn't do. So he is trying to give himself a consoling pep talk about not being paranoid; and hasn't he learned from psychoanalysis that being certain about who he is and who the other is, in short, being certain about identity, is a sign of madness? And this pep talk is without effect. He knows the other is not sincere, he knows the other is trying to force him to do or behave in a way that is against his own inclination, interest, and wishes. If he does rely on his so-called intuition he also knows that this is a point of no return. The relation to the other is changed for good. An analysis does not consist in the analyst sitting down in his armchair and saying to himself: Now I'm going to do a good day's work of analysis. An analysis happens, it is performative, it disrupts; he has lost faith and trust in the other, or he realizes with certainty that he did not know what it was all about, that he had been duped. It is a point of no return. There is a 'before' and 'after' an analysis, it is not a question of accumulation of psychological and sociological knowledge about the other considered as an object, but rather of an experience of misrecognition being misrecognition as such; or in Sartre's terminology: bad faith. The analytic act is the reverse of any knowledge. He thought he knew who the other was and what his relationship to him or her consisted of, which code or rules his relationship was determined by. He was wrong. This could be one reason why Freud published his fiascoes. As is so often remarked, most of his canonical case studies are fiascoes as far as the cure is concerned. They are broken off prematurely (like 'Dora' and 'the young homosexual'). Their canonical status cannot be derived from their success as far as the cure is concerned, but probably more from their showing what analysis is all about. And analysis is about breakdown of knowledge. The successful analysis always reaches a point where it is impossible to go any further, a point called "Urphantasien," "Urszenen," "the navel of the dream," and these impossibilities - called the "sinthome" in Lacan - are 'symptoms' that neither asks for nor are accessible to an analysis; they are fundamental stumbling blocks of analysis. Freud's failures were a privileged place for showing what analysis is all about.
The distinction between a neurotic and a perverse relation to knowledge can be further expounded in connection with the question of whether lack of knowledge/the Other's lack is disavowed or recognized. That lack is the cause of desire, and that the Other's lack is first and foremost cause for anxiety: something from which the neurotic can flee, of which he can stay in unshakable, stubborn ignorance, is, after all, a structure that is the precondition for something new to happen, for a new element to appear. The discourse of the scientist is hysterical: it is the one that does not know, the one that demands knowledge and therefore is troubled by lacks in the given, handed down traditions, the storehouse of knowledge. Basic research is only basic if it is hysterical. The hysterical scientist has difficulties sticking to his last; he must always, due to his doubt about the delimitation of the scientific object and tested methods, go elsewhere. His praxis is usually condemned by colleagues as being unscientific, sooner philosophical, and by professional philosophers judged to be poor, primitive speculation. Comparably, the philosopher - if he is a philosopher and not just a 'professional,' a 'savant' - listens to and looks for new elements in politics, art, and the sciences, elements that cannot find their place in the given order, alien elements that cannot be assimilated. Thinking demands the desire of the neurotic, the lack of knowledge of the neurotic. The neurotic is troubled by lack of knowledge, by the Other's lack. It is lack that is the driving force of desire and thereby cognition.
The pervert, however, disavows the lack of the Other; lack of knowledge is not the cause of desire. As soon as he is confronted with something that could indicate such a lack, it is immediately disavowed and covered up by already well-known knowledge, with extension of the already existing paradigm. The perverse subject supplements. The pervert's relation to knowledge is that of the professional, the savant. He is defined as the one who knows, the one who can give the answers when asked, the one who has a well-defined and carefully delimited scientific object where the task is to know as much as possible about as little as possible. Anything outside this carefully delimited object is not supposed to trouble the savant. And when something happens that shakes the given horizon - a colleague seeks inspiration outside the prescribed field - the lack arisen is disavowed by calling it unreadable, esoteric or 'literature.' Examples of this could be professional philosophers' condescending labelling of philosophers as 'poets' or 'authors' - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche. The savant will, with frenetic energy, refuse to recognize any lack as anything but that which can be filled out and will never recognize lacks as something that cannot be covered up.
The perverse structure is conservatory with regard to tradition; the neurotic structure offers the possibility of innovation. The hysteric is the castrator in relation to knowledge and thereby the precondition for thinking.
When the neurotic succeeds in naming an alien element, naming an occurrence, an event and opening a new field of research, then the savant or the professional can be a stand-in and fill out holes, supplement and confirm the new law and order as if this new order has always been. The perverse subject takes charge when revolutions - scientific, political, artistic - have taken place.
The perverse subject leaves room for the Other to exist. The perverse subject is either the subject who is supposed to know in the disguise of encyclopaedic knowledge or he is just another humble, abject tool in the hands of the Other, be it a political, military, or scientific leader. The perverse subject obeys orders. This is the reason why identification with the non-lacking Other is not to be understood as psychological traits of character by the name of megalomania. The savant can quite well be a humble, modest human being who is a quiet, sociable tool in knowledge/the Other's service. He is put here on earth to do his job. The disavowal is not directed towards the existence of the Other, the disavowal concerns the lack of the Other. It is not from here aphorisms about 'God's death' are trumpeted.
1. See Introduction à la lecture de Hegel, Gallimard 1947.
2. A question put to Marie Bonaparte. See Jones, Ernest The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Penguin Books 1987 p. 474.
3. Penguin Books, London 1980 (1955). p. 34.
4. Being and Nothingness, London, Routledge, 1998, p. 364
5. Ibid. p. 365
6. Ibid. p. 369.
7. Ibid. p. 376.
8. Ibid. p. 379.
9. Ibid. p. 399.
10. See Jean Clavreul: "Le couple pervers," p. 91ff. in Le désir et la perversion, Seuil, Paris 1967
11. Cf. Seminar XI, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Seuil, Paris 1973, p. 229.
12. Clavreul, Jean: Le désir et la loi, p. 204.
13. I owe this point to Slavoj Zizek's work.
14. Cf. Clavreul, Jean: Le désir et la loi, Denoël, Paris 1987 and also Gillespie, W. H., Life, Sex and Death, Routledge, London/New York 1995
15. Cf. Freud: "Das Unbehagen in der Kultur", Gesammelte Werke XIV, especially chapter VII.
16. Le désir et son interprétation, Séance du 17 juin 1959, Gillespie op. cit. p. 85: "This reminds one of Sadger's view of over thirty years ago about how women have no need of perversion because they have ample opportunity to gratify their pregenital sexuality in their relations with children."
17. Cf. Clavreul, Jean: Le désir et la loi, p. 144.
18. "Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose," Gesammelte Werke XII, p. 131.
19. ibid. p. 155.
20. In The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.Volume XVIII, London 1974, pp. 145-172, Gesammelte Werke XII, p. 291
21. Ibid. p. 163
22. L'éthique de la psychanalyse, livre VII p. 368, Seuil, Paris 1986.
23. To keep the record straight: there is no satisfactory equivalent or translation of the concept of desire in Freud. Neither the concept of 'Trieb' nor 'Wunsch' covers the point. The by now widely accepted distinction between the asocial drive (as autoerotic) and the social desire (as the Others) is central to the current debate, but will not be an issue of discussion in this paper.
24. Op. cit. p. 340.
25. "L'instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud," in Ecrits p. 493ff.
26. "Three Essays on Sexuality" in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.Volume XVIII, London 1974, pp. 165-166, "Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, Gesammelte Werke V, p. 65
27. C.f. Miller, J.-A.: Extimité, Cours du 18 juin 1986, unpublished manuscript.
28. See Lacan: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Seuil, Paris 1973.