Joyce avec Lacan—Préface
Jacques-Alain Miller
Tacita Dean

Author’s Bio


Joyce avec Lacan doesn’t mean James Joyce and Jacques Lacan walking arm in arm down rue de Lille as I have often seen Jacques Lacan and Jacques Aubert, when the former brought the latter the most recent books of the third. No, Joyce avec Lacan echoes the singular title of a piece by Lacan, Kant avec Sade, where the already numerous readers of l’Éthique de la psychanalyse could find, if they made the effort of tracing it, the major topic of this seminar, developed, or further illuminated.

Kant avec Sade means for Lacan that the Philosophie dans le boudoir is in accordance with the Critique de la raison pratique, insofar as it completes it and makes it truthful. More precisely it reveals the object that fails to appear against the experience of the moral law. Thus in formulating the principle de Sade “à la mode du Kant,” be it the right to jouissance in the way of a universal law, you verify that the will of the-law-for-the-law is homologous to the will of jouissance: both divide the subject, $ to be shared between its well-being and an unpleasing wellness (morality, jouissance).

This impeccable demonstration does not work; you doubt, without humor—like each time the rational was forced to its extreme consequences without consideration for the reasonable. Everything here is in its place, because the case is the super-ego, Freud in short pointing to this presence in every effect of humor, and because the clinical thesis it discloses may be stated in the simplest terms: the post-Oedipal super-ego that Freud nails is the inheritor of the pre-Oedipal super-ego that Melanie Klein discovers. That is to say: Kant avec Sade packages a more secret Freud avec Klein.

But it’s not less true that a procedure arises, generalizable to X avec Y. This way of reading through interference may well dignify the paranoid critical method of illustrious memory.

I don’t want to say that the essays gathered (in Joyce avec Lacan) respond or do not respond to the astuteness of this title; I whispered it to Jacques Aubert before reading them, therefore it’s him I call on for its relevance. Without doubt they speak of Joyce in the terms of Lacan more than they talk of Lacan in the mode of Joyce. And I—even if it means patting myself on the back—what else do I do in my courses in the Department of Psychoanalysis but talk of Lacan in the mode of Lacan? This would not make a lot of sense if there were not more than one Lacan.

This line of thought brings us to ponder on how Joyce came to be considered by Lacan (…).

I will go right to that A letter, a litter which he invokes since 1956 in his Seminaire sur la lettre volée [1] to emphasize that there is nothing but signifier in a letter. A letter is a message; but it is also an object.

What in fact is a signifier? It is the word with which we designate a sign, insofar as it takes up the effect of signified. But the wholeness of the sign is not there. While speaking you could believe it (since the sound dissipates let’s consider it in spite of what the Freudian unconscious attests), but not when writing: a letter that has been read stays. Will it go in the trash? Will it be torn, filed, shown, lost, sold, stolen? In any case the destiny of the letter disjoins from the function of the signifier; the recipient of the one is not the recipient of the other. What then will we call a letter as such? A sign, defining not its effect of signified, but its nature as an object.

Hitherto one must read the Poë of Lacan avec his Gide (Jeunesse de Gide, ou la lettre et le désir) [2]: Madeleine burns the letters of André which had no duplicates, thereupon she reveals the signification of jouissance, their fetishistic nature. The effect of signified is no longer the case, rather it is what the sign as written bears of a jouissance invariably subtracted from the sender—and this is why whatever happens to the substructure of the letter, the debt settlement always returns to the sender.

To rephrase: the function of the word does not use up what there is to the field of language. Why not go as far as to rewrite the title through which Lacan introduces his teaching, in compliance with the complement that he brings about four years later?—“Fonction, instance et champ de la parole, de la lettre, et du langage en psychanalyse.[3]

Let’s watch for the clinical, its complement, to impose it. Thereupon the symptom—how to render it without implicating the letter in the structure of language? The psychoanalyzable symptom can be interpreted: it is certainly a message, but its consistency is only semantic: it includes this jouissance discovered by Freud as a limit to the power of interpretation, in the so called “negative therapeutic reaction.” In this the symptom, if supported by a structure identical to the one of language, is not articulated in a spoken process, but “inscribed in a process of writing.”[4] This was explicitly formulated by Lacan since 1957.

How do jouissance and sense conjoin in the writing of the symptom? (…) The big graph proposes a Freudian solution, through the interference of the fantasme ( $<>a ) in the signification of need, s (A); Lacan formulates this interference again in his Télévision as the sens joui (or jouis-sens); and this is what takes him to Joyce-le-Symptôme, in order to question psychoanalysis in the field of language from the written.

Thus the schema of communication itself loses its prevalence; if the unconscious is structured like a langage, it is not right away discours of the Other: it only becomes discours of the Other through the artifice of the analytic experience. At the place where there was an always autistic jouissance, analysis causes the effects of the signified to arise; it operates on the symptom while introducing a special effect of signification, called “the subject-supposed-to-know,” but in itself, the symptom says nothing to anyone: it is ciphering and jouissance, it is pure jouissance of such writing.

So I could have expounded at length this year on the definition of the symptom through which Lacan breached the last moment of his teaching: “façon dont chacun jouit de l’inconscient, en tant que l’inconscient le détermine.”[5] This seminar, R.S.I., delivered from 1974-1975, should have been finished with the conference Joyce-le-Symptôme where the next seminar, le Sinthôme gets announced (…).

At that time the question for Lacan was—had anybody grasped it?—the most radical question ever formulated from the very fundament of psychoanalysis, conducted from the symptom as hors-discours. From there came the departing from previous constructions established in different ways on the structure of discourse, and the appeal to a topology in which the symbolic does neither overhang, as place of the Other, the imaginary, nor does it even encircle the real as impossible but enters in the rank as one of the three. From there the reference to the Joyce insignia, manipulating the letter outside the effects of the signifier to the ends of pure jouissance. To evoke psychosis was not anymore applied psychoanalysis but on the contrary, with the Joyce-symptom taken for unanalyzable, it was the discourse of the analyst put into question, insofar as the subject identified with the symptom closes up in its artifice. And it could be that an analysis does not have a better ending…

I hope these lines sufficiently convey the fact that there is not a single phrase of Lacan, as opaque as it may seem on the reader’s first approach, that is not explainable in an actual “order of reasons,” again illuminating the yet unperceived—at once with the analytic experience.

Not to inspire contempt for the artist, rather inviting the analyst to profit from the
analyst to profit from the example.

March 30, 1987

The préface from Miller’s Joyce avec Lacan appeared in lacanian ink 11, 1995

[1] Lacan, Jacques, Écrits: Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966, p.25.
[2] Ibid, p. 739-764.
[3] “The function and field of speech and language in pyschoanalysis.”
[4] Ibid, p. 445.
[5] “the way in which each one enjoys the unconscious, insofar as the unconscious determines him.”

Magic and the Link Compliment of the Borromean Rings in America
Albert Herter

Nathalie Djurberg

Author’s Bio

A salvo

The Lacanian want-to-be-analyst in America is not unlike John the Baptist who, when asked to identify himself, said “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…” There is a wildness in the cry of those who cannot be but amateurs (in the sense of lovers and without financial benefit) but on the other slope we have the fate of a tamed and harnessed Lacan, in the stable with all the other thinkers waiting to become usable in American universities, servicing the humanities. One receives a credential with a sigh of defeat. But despite this wildness the amateurs would like to contribute to the edifice being constructed across the Atlantic, and in South America. Eventually we would like to build on New York bedrock.

Marie-Hélène Brousse, during the Paris-USA Lacan Seminar at Barnard College this past September, said that when Lacanian analysis comes to the States it falls flat. Only in the Arts, specifically directors such as the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, etc., is Lacanian analysis alive and well. It is alive in so much as it is ‘subversive’ and ‘creative’. This is in fact my own history, coming from an arts background and education, I found Lacan through a gallery. I now belong to a reading group that is currently reading Miller’s address to the congress and the group consists primarily of musicians. There is a dearth of ‘men of letters’ here, no symbolic fortress to support us. As Lacan already noted during his sojourn in the States—there is a deficiency in the symbolic. We are adrift in a soup of imaginary phosphorescence, bursting, oozing, continually reconfigured. No wonder the Health Care Industry compensates with an obsessive reliance on statistics and categories—that makes everything appear impossible. So this is the field one wishes to practice Lacanian analysis on. An amorphous threat of litigation is pervasive. As far as I understand, the bare minimum in order to practice legally is a two-year social worker program. In some senses two years is not a long time, but in terms of an ethics of desire it is a very long time. Presumably one learns more than how to call the police if the patient mentions suicide, but still. I considered making analysis my art practice. At one point I investigated what sort of credential a fortune-teller requires. Perhaps we are the new magicians. W.H. Auden wrote, “To believe that a world of nature exists, i.e., of things which happen of themselves, is not however invariably made. Magicians do not make it.” Just as the Imaginary after the Symbolic is not the same, Magic after Science would not be the same. One need only conjure up the image of CERN, the 27 km circumference circular tunnel located 100 metres underground with its 2,400 full-time employees searching for the God particle to get a sense of the desperate need to make nature cough up another signifier.

There is a magician in England named Derren Brown who is ‘a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behavior, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism’. He is essentially a cognitive behavioralist suggesting actions to weak-willed volunteers. In addition to his stage show he has a series where he exposes frauds who claim to speak to the dead or heal the sick. He keeps company with men like Richard Dawkins. What I would call the missionaries of science—Brian Greene, Daniel Dennett? The prevalent magic of today is the magic of suggestion, hypnotism, nudges. Algorithmic magic. Everyone knows that the birth of psychoanalysis was tied to the renunciation of hypnosis.

Rogue analysis, Black Market analysis

The practice of Lacanian analysis in America is irredeemably political, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ego psychology fit very well within the American program of forging individuals, harnessing their desires to the wagon of capitalist growth. A positivism and naivité which wanted to know nothing of lack or castration. The New Yorker reports that Freud has finally landed on Chinese soil and will hopefully work the same magic, to reinvigorate the engine of endless expansion. The article asks ‘Does psychoanalysis have a future in an authoritarian state?’ It tells about the suicides of workers at Foxconn factories, which make iPhones and other electronics, and a series of murderous attacks on young children by middle-aged men. According to The Lancet, nearly one-in-five-adults in China has a mental disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As regards the USA, perhaps Lacanian analysis has no relevance to a country that has not yet experienced a sort of ‘historical narcissistic disaster’. Which has not yet been truly occupied. And it may yet be awhile before the ground is fully prepared.

A certain school of thought in physics ends in the many-worlds hypothesis. One can see in the movie ‘Source Code’ what sort of philosophy this leads to. Never mind that in this reality you are a war veteran without an abdomen or legs, in another reality you get the girl. In effect it feeds the fantasm, till it balloons up and competes with the real. Thus the proliferation of gadgets which are auxillary components to amplify the imaginary and the symbolic. The real erupts with actual combustion. Soon it will be our symbols that will be under cyber-attack, our databanks. What will the ordinary psychotics do when their phones, which are their true supports, are taken away?

I have been enamored with a video since university, which is called “Not Knot” that was made under the direction of Bill Thurston who is at UC Davis and is one of preeminent topologists in the world. It is essentially a guided tour from Euclidian 2 space into hyperbolic 4-space, specifically a rhombic dodecahedron. This space is defined by the Borromean rings taken as an axis. Every knot or link, with some simple exceptions, emits hyperbolic spaces. I will just say that Roger Penrose used to admit a bias towards hyperbolic space in terms of the actual universe i.e. that the cosmological constant was negative. In fact the rings are shrunk down and disappear to infinity ‘where light can never reach them’. Perhaps psychosis can be thought of as a flirtation or proximity to the pure zero of the ring. The neurotics float about in the more or less flat and uniform areas defined by the extremes of the rings. The idea of the link compliment is a way of deriving one world from the three of the Borromean ring. There is such a thing as One. This Borromean ring also has some similiarities to Penrose’s twistor (one can see the three rings in the twistor pictured above) which Edward Whitten, one of the premiere string theorists has since taken up with the hope that it may provide an escape from the proliferation of dimensions string theory has required in the past. Could one say that the knot is on the side of being and the space defined by the knot is on the side of existence? The videos narrator says the space around the knot is just as real as the knot itself and asks the question ‘What is life like in a space with a single line missing, or in a plane with a single point removed?’

Miller ends his rumination at the congress on Oedipus at Colonus, which was Sophocles last play written when he was eighty-nine years old and only performed four years after his death. The Peloponesian Wars between Athens and Sparta had persisted for twenty-five years at the time the play was written. It was a tribute to his birthplace. Fitzgerald’s commentary reads ‘Oedipus has indeed endured his suffering with courage, but it is not until he has acted, and acted as the agent of divine justice, that the passionate man is fit to embody and to symbolize human divinity.’ ‘His rage and sternness in his last hours are the means of an affirmation.’ In New York we wondered if this was the harbinger of the end of psychoanalysis proper.

The Certainty of Hysteria
Éric Laurent

Author’s Bio

translated by Marguerite C. Laporte

Since only hysteria, as a clinical type, raises itself to the level of discourse, it introduces a series of questions. The first aporia that this writing deploys is located be­tween the identification with the hysteric’s desire, and the place of sexual meaning, centered around the object.

This aporia was formulated in 1975 by Jacques Lacan, in these terms: “There is no common meaning for the hysteric, and what identification plays on him or her is structure and not sense, as is well shown in the fact that it bears on desire, that is on lack taken as an object and not on the cause of lack.”[1]

This identification with the lack in hysteria, points out the distance with regard to sense, distance other than the one introduced by the obsessional.

Here I would like to isolate two limits to hysterical identification: one introduces the relation between hysteria and obsession, and the other seems to be a problem internal to hysteria. These two issues will also al­low me to clarify some obscure theses circulating in the I.P.A. (International Psychoanalytic Association).

My remarks will be grounded on the treatment of two hysteri­cal subjects, both women. One puts into question the rela­tion of identification with the symptom—identification by the fantasme—the other emphasizes a phenomenon no­ticed clinically, but badly elaborated on, the ‘ob­sessionalization’ of the hysteric in analysis.

I will introduce the first of these issues by what I have learned about it from a subject, an uptight patient, Y.A.R.V.I.S., as the Americans say: Young, Attractive, Rich, Verbal, Intelligent, and Sociable. She is young enough, indeed she is four years old. She came to see me be­cause she was going through an uneasy stage crystallized around a fear of falling and by a series of nightmares about which she cannot really describe the contents. She has a little sis­ter, two years old, who is according to the mother, the trouble. About this trouble there are two interpreta­tions: for the mother the cause of the uneasiness is linked to an involuntary miscarriage that occurred between the two children’s births; that dead child would recurrently disturb the sleep of the subject, whom we shall call Hélène. Hélène herself tells me that she is afraid, but afraid of falling from a little bench. She also informs me that she is named Hélène—and she is very proud of it—after her grandmother, a prominent figure in her family, who had just died. When I asked her how her grandmother had died, she specifies that it was in falling from a stepladder. And she explains to me this difficult word, in case I didn’t know it: a stepladder is a little bench. There ended our first meeting.

I would like to make two immediate remarks: the first is that the so-called familial discourse gets misplaced in the belief that it is about facts—it’s about interpretations. And the subject may have another. That’s the case here. We may agree that both versions seem right, but we should place them correctly. What the little girl says to me is that she situates her trouble in an identification with a trait levied from the Other, the dead grandmother. Her mother locates her daughter’s trouble on the horizon of an Imaginary axis where a dead child is found in relation to whom she positions herself.
Thanks to what this little girl says to me, I con­sider the symptom should assuredly not be taken as phobic, but strictly speaking as hysteric.

The transferential bearing confirms this: at the end of the session the girl’s mother will report to me what Hélène confides to her: “The Gentleman is very nice, but too old for me to marry.” The mother/daughter rivalry is thus firmly in place.

Three stages deserve to be differentiated in this analysis. In the first Hélène constantly brings to the ses­sions a stuffed animal as big as she is, which she beats, thrashes, mistreats in all possible ways—the stuffed ani­mal clearly is identified with her sister. This game is alle­viated at one session. Identified with her sister she plays the two year old girl, as only a four and a half year old girl may imagine it. It is only at the end of the session that she is willing to admit that she would always be two years older than her sister — and she is really sorry about that. She could now articulate her nightmare: “Thieves find their way into the house and throw objects out the window, pencils, paper, pens,” she says—listing the objects she sees on my desk. The story comes to an end on a negation: “The thieves don’t throw my little sister out the window.”

Second stage. The après coup of the above negation in­troduces a new sequence. At the outcome of a session, where she is just empty word, she snatches a scrap of paper from my desk, scribbling on it, and dashes, tri­umphantly towards her awaiting mother, handing her the paper: “I made a drawing for you: it’s a dead child in a box.” The mother instantly pales with anxiety; the child is delighted to send back to its destination this message weighing upon her.

Then a new sequence opens, during which she endlessly draws boxes, bellies of mother animals. She enumerates the bestiary recognized by our urban children, which contains a good number of exotic animals. The baby, sometimes next to the box-belly, or still in an ambu­lance, where one puts children who are about to be born or who are injured for example from falling out windows. The animal sequence is enriched by a character who sums up the thieves, the bad guy. In fact in her building, as in many buildings, there are problems with the doorman. This door­man doesn’t like animals, and is suspected of leaving out poisoned meat which has an effect on all the cats able to wander around there. This guy has just killed the cat from an apartment familiar to Hélène. She introduces, in the après-coup of this fact, a drawing: it is a box in which there is a birth­day cake and a dog—a dog whose tail she is about to cut.

The calculation allowing for the introduction of the de­tachable object, linked however to the oral object in this poisoned birthday gift, introduces the third sequence. She could now speak of her father, who “wouldn’t be happy” if she didn’t draw better. This father is introduced in a posi­tion of essential discontent. These boxes containing live animals, she finally begins to present them as containing living children. She said, besides, these boxes are trees at the foot of which mushrooms grow. In the little mush­room which sprouts at the foot of the trees she recognizes easily the lit­tle organ she saw at her cousins and boys—which brings her to dream of a white onion: this onion is an egg; from it emerges a chicken, a swallow. After that presentation of the couple of imaginary children she promises herself, she will stop drawing boxes. She will now draw semblances of writing.

Symptoms are relieved. She is well, according to her entourage. Summer vacation separates us. I didn’t see her again for a year. She returned to see me in a short mo­ment of anxiety: encountering some boys in a square she asks herself if they weren’t thieves. And with her best friend, they both became intensely restless.

This incident therefore starts a new series of short ses­sions, in which she insists in bringing her father with her, distracting him from his many occupations in order to interest him in her. This sequence ends by the fact that one fine day she announces that she would prefer to attend the birthday of the chosen one of her heart, rather than come to her session. So that she could devote herself to the task of detaching her minion from the group of boys who diverts him about his true occupations.

I don’t really see what can prevent me from saying in this case that the subject is an hysteric. And I don’t see how else to designate this support which she draws on the desire of the Other. She took this support, centered on the love of such a father, thoroughly unsatisfied, to whom she avows to sustain the desire—it is around this that she reaches a conclusion about her choice of desire.

Moreover I don’t see why we should fall back to consider whether the matheme of this neurosis is the dis­course of the hysteric, or whether this discourse is the math­eme of hysteric neurosis in the analytic experience. But that’s absolutely not the question. Hysteria, simply, is at its place in the discourses. A neurosis making a discourse poses a problem—we will take this up again at the conclusion.

This case introduces therefore an hysteric subject of four and a half years old. Well, there is a thesis circulating in the I.P.A., variously modulated. You have traces of it in the doxographic collection, entitled Encyclopédie médico-chirurgicale, where there are three articles and three dif­ferent positions, each one almost refuting the other, but all three covering a well articulated field. I am going to take up an article from 1971, which the Strasbourgers are well acquainted with, since it was written from there. The thesis is: “It is exceptional, that an hysteric child remains thus until adulthood. There is no continuity between the child’s hysteria and the adult’s. All the same it is exceptional to find, in the anamnesis of adult hysterics, a history of in­fantile hysteria, while the existence of infantile neurosis, in the most vague sense of the term, is constant.” Well, I should say the contrary: I have never known an adult hys­teric who, not from anamnesis but in analysis, doesn’t bring for­th identification phenomena, typical among hysteric children. One simply shouldn’t take as a guide line anamnesis and manifest neurosis. As a rule we find, each time in ana­lytic treatment of adults—if anyone has a counter example I would be happy to hear about it—these identification phenomena.

Lebovici’s article argues that “there are some dangers re­garding clinical efficacy to assemble under the term of in­fantile hysteria, a certain number of manifestations which have a meaning, but will become greatly different.” And you know that Lebovici’s thesis is to oppose personality to symptom. It is from there that Strasbourgers of 1971 take their distances. The existence of an hysteric personality is more debatable, so they say.

Well, it seems to me—and here I’m following a Kleinian psychoanalyst who wrote in 1983 about the above, con­sidering that the dimension of infantile hysteria should be maintained as such. Lacan’s teaching also carries forward on this. Simply, we need to articulate effectively the relation between symptom and personality. Infancy is the period of choice about desire, but leaves in suspension in the best case, a choice about the fantasme—or better said, of its use. Michel Silvestre, in an article on infantile neurosis, differ­entiates between neurosis in the child and neurosis fully deployed: with the child it is a question about the mother’s desire, but with the full neurosis the question is about jouissance of the woman. I should add to this that infantile neurosis is surely a choice about perfectly decided desire. Neurosis as such sends us back to the choice about the use of fantasme. In this sense one should wait for verification of the desire by the treatment of jouissance which breaks in. In this sense, the Real at stake in castration is awaiting verification. Since the difficulties of gluing together the choices of desire and the choice of jouissance, according to Jacques-Alain Miller’s expression, pose difficulties, that effectively lead clinicians to distinguish between child­hood neurosis and personality. Now: simply I think that to organize the phenomenon, we must speak strictly of the opposite thesis to the one pre­sented by Dr. Lebovici, that is to admit to an identification to the symptom inasmuch as this identification bears on desire, and to reserve instead the hysteric personality, to the extent that personality is a deployment of the fantasme. The choice of the use of the fantasme is decided in the après coup of the trial of verification, which is simply not puberty as biological maturation, but as the en­try into a new dimension of jouissance, including the veri­fication that love games bring (déduit), according to this beautiful French word that underlines the degree of logic played out here. It seems to me that the study Lacan made of Gide’s choice, postponing it to the extreme limit, appears to verify this distinction between the choice of desire and the choice ofjouissance, and the usefulness to be intro­duced here.

The second problem in hysteric identification I would like to discuss, is produced by an obses­sionalization of a hysteric in analysis. I use the term to designate the following phenomenon: it concerns a subject who came to see me after a long analysis to take it up again. Besides she didn’t think that her analysis was over when she stopped it. She is troubled because she just had an abortion. She asks herself what has she done. Ex­pressed in another way, she treats it as an acting out: the truth has spoken, but she doesn’t know what this means.

What she retained from her previous analysis—and this is what I believe allows me to speak of obsession­alization—is a formula. She remembers a dream in which—let’s take only this sequence—she discovers herself in front of a landscape, a shining expense, about which she wonders if it’s made of snow or if it’s the sea. The interpretation she remembers is that snow (neige) transforms into “have I not” (n’ai-je), or into “born am I” (nais -je). And it’s a genuine formula obsessing her re­flections: it turns ceaselessly in her mind, and she is not able to put to an end to it. Indeed, only by acting out a birthing, throws back the question. It was necessary during the pre­liminary sessions for us to discover what were the remain­ing, enduring identifications with her intimate rival of childhood, who just being married, told her about his upcoming fatherhood. She became pregnant, figuring things in an unconscious sort of way. So that she would bear her own child at the same time as this man. It would take the whole part of the analysis to restore the function of the subject supposed to know and to dislodge that repetitive return around this “have I not” (n’ai je). The restoration of this function goes through the situating of the object gaze, for of all things she considers in herself successful—she says with much modesty, especially in her dreams—it’s her gaze. She thinks that her eyes equal the most precious jewelry. Her childhood troubles of accommodation, of hysteric nature, will be recognized and put back in place through a series of stagings. Only after this series will she take up again her dream and say: “What I remember of it as the essential, it’s that it’s a dream of optical illusion.”

I would say that in this case there was an installa­tion of a quasi Zwang by the analysis, but that the après coup of the false Zwang, is the Agieren. It’s not Zwang und Zweifel; it’s Zwang und Agieren. Her acting out comes here as the response to this quasi obsession, to this suture pro­duced between signifying constructions.

We see how a new tightening of the subject can operate around her desire, situating the body as the place of the Other, which in hysteria is imagined as such, although presentified. This body as the place of the Other is not in­tersubjective but place of the Other, “these scars on the tegumentary, peduncle to hold themselves on the orifices to be used as taken, ancestral artifices and techniques which gnaw on it.” Lacan notes that this establishment of the body as place of the Other allows for the dismissal from their position the pretensions of masochism. As Danièle Sil­vestre has underlined in her lecture, the relation of the hys­teric to the body as place of the Other displaces the ques­tion of this particular masochism which, as Lacan notes, gives the highest price to psychoanalytic discourse.

This re-tightening of the subject around its desire al­lows us to resume the use of the new word Lacan in­troduced in order to speak about the masochism in hys­teria: cowardice,—the term levied from The Rat Man, as he notes. It is this faint-heartedness, this weak rela­tionship to desire, which is to be picked up — as Colette Soler emphasized—in analysis, to re-center the subject on its fantasme.

I’ll say that what enables us to address the second sub­ject, is what someone such as Elizabeth Zetzel may have introduced in the I.P.A. She supported in the 1970’s, that hysterics, contrary to what we might believe could not undergo a psychoanalysis; there was a limit to identifica­tion which always renders them unanalyzable. She verified that, finally, only those hysterics who had sufficiently obsessional traits, were analyzable. This is not false—but it’s necessary of course to put this thesis back on its feet. When the subject presents itself in the position of the di­vided subject, strictly speaking in the agent’s position, one then has a subject out of order, and practically misfitting in ana­lytic discourse. The same thing happens when the subject assumes a posi­tion of distance concerning the master signifier, a position of erotized defiance, for the subject itself camouflages and conceals the object around which the sexual meaning re­volves. Then the analyst may find himself reduced to the ridiculous position of resorting to his psychoanalytic knowl­edge.

I’ll conclude with two points about this cowardly re­la­tionship of the neurotic subject, especially hysteric, to its desire: what can this teach us about hysteria as a social link and its limitation? Hysteria—qualified by Lacan of admirable theoretician, when the subject is feminine—al­lows Freud to take up the question left in the lurch by man as man of pleasure, who himself has succeeded in giv­ing birth to the desire for, what we should call to its limit, revolution, linked to “that attempt to the natural eman­cipa­tion of desire” produced in the 18th Century. Hysteria, by the quarter turn that analysis may pro­duce, foreshadows its contribution to the establishing of a new desire, which allows for the envisioning of an exit from the master’s ambient discourse, which is the so called capitalist dis­course.

Then, there is for the female hysteric this mounting of de­sire, if analysis could operate in her this quar­ter turn. There is also on her part a marked refusal regarding the master. Actually, one can ridicule the ideal­ism witnessed with certain hysteric subjects, from Florence Nightingale to Anna O. and others. Never­theless, it effectually embodies this refusal to “eat your Dasein,” such as the master would like her to swallow. There is in hys­teric identification, a call to a new desire, which enables her to fight back in her own fashion, with dignity, against what Lacan could have called at a given moment “the communal degradation of the social enter­prise.”


Suzanne Hommel: The little girl, Hélène, discovers that there will always be the same difference in age, two years, between her and her sister. Is it not a confrontation to the Real that brings castration into play?

Eric Laurent: Actually it is the Real of the Symbolic that introduces the counting. It is in the links of the Symbolic net to which she consents, with negation, that she ap­proaches the place of her sister, not simply as Imaginary, and with another Real, than that of death.

Colette Soler: A question to Eric Laurent brought about in the conclusion concerning the little hysteric of four and a half years old. From the youngest age we have a choice about desire which allows us to name it hysteria. You consider however that the choice of jouissance, in a subject so young, awaits verification at the moment of puberty, at the effective encounter with the other sex. Isn’t it that even for the choice of jouissance this is already resolved? Shouldn’t we distinguish between phallic jouis­sance and the jouissance of the Other? If we retrieve all that in hysteria appears as trauma, as encounter, it is, all the same, quite precocious. Don’t we have a choice already made which, surely, is to be re-actualized while repeated in puberty?

Eric Laurent: The distinction made by Jacques-Alain Miller “on the choice of jouissance,” seems to me interesting to preserve. Thus, I recalled the example of Gide where Lacan considers that the decision on his homosexuality was only made at a very late stage. Basically, we are not only dealing with puberty, with the encounter of love games and series, there also is the spontaneous construction of the fantasme and its use at a certain moment. There is a choice, in Lacan’s sense, not a volition, but a volition of jouissance, for an acephalous subject. It seems useful then, to preserve that distinction, and we see how we can thus clarify certain phenomena, especially on the side of the feminine subject: i. e. decisions apparently made on feminine sexual­ity, decisions which can tilt in the course of analysis with­out this coming as an effect of suggestion, and conse­quently from moral prohibition. On the other hand, it could be that the choice of the subject wavers when faced with the position of the desire of the Other. Actually, these encounters with the forms of the desire of the Other appear decisive, and imply a choice by the subject, more than puberty as biological maturation, even if it simply introduces a new jouissance. In hysteria the distinction between phallic jouissance and jouissance of the Other is to be registered. What appears as decisive is the articulation of the subject to the Other, that is, the encounter made by the hysteric subject with this Other who is not a desert of jouissance: she encounters an Other that jouit—even if it be too little. This keeps her going in this encounter. And the articulation to this Other, through the fantasme, leaves its use open, a use which, perhaps, at a given moment, if the requirement of a new love imposes on her as a response, could lead her to make the choice said to be homosexual, and on occasion, cause the revision of her decision.

The Certainty of Hysteria originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 3, 1991

[1] Scilicet #5, “Introduction à l’édition allemande d’un premier volume des Écrits.” Seuil, Paris, 1975, p.15. (“Il n’y a pas de sens commun de l’hystérique, et ce dont joue chez eux ou elles l’identification, c’est la structure, et non le sens comme ça se lit bien au fait qu’elle porte sur le désir, c’est-à-dire sur le manque pris comme objet, pas sur la cause du manque.”).

Nancy Barton

Nancy Barton

Author’s Bio

When we repeat Simone de Beauvoir’s famous insight that “one is not born a woman,” we imply that the process of feminine masquerade may be false, but also suggest that it is—at least—an option. Somehow, this was never the case for me, I could not imagine adulthood. When I was in college, women lecturers would appear elegantly before us with matching shoes and handbags, and I would silently despair—how did they do it? But one day in the late 80s, I undertook a pilgrimage—driving for hours to a vast and unfamiliar university in Southern California to see Helene Cixous speak. I arrived tired, lost, and late, but, squeezing into the back of the room, I looked up and saw the form of a vibrantly alive figure with sweeping eyeliner and close cropped hair. Perhaps it was possible to be become an adult, somehow…I’m still trying…

In the intervening years, I have seen this same story told to Helene many times by young women—her writing has given birth to possibility and productive work for so many who wish to acknowledge her gift. And I have seen her gracious, yet slightly exhausted response. She and her texts have been mothers many thousands of times over. Last night, she described “The Laugh of the Medusa” as a monster, which had gotten out of her control. As we ourselves reach a certain age, the always familiar closeness between mothers and monsters takes a turn. We see conclusions and finalities along with hopes and possibilities. The Medusas who are our mothers become frail, yet their power endures in a paradox which cannot be shut down even in death.

Nancy Barton

Donald Winnicott has famously said, “there is no such thing as a baby.” Without a mother, or something which can hold this place, the baby cannot exist. Those of us who have been daughters, know the depth of this debt, and the ambivalence it engenders… It is not only men who have been paralyzed by the power of the Medusa.

In a return that many of us know well, Helene’s one hundred year old mother has also become her daughter. We who have been new mothers to our mothers share an unspoken understanding that these frail daughters are the children we will bury. The Medusa who is both mother and daughter will be beheaded. And as Helene reminded us, at that moment of beheading, the Medusa will give birth to Pegasus—the horse with wings—which may also be us. But having become pack-horses, it is sometimes not so easy for us to fly.

Nancy Barton



The above has been adapted from a speech given at NYU’s Maison Français at a symposium in honor of the 30th anniversary of the publication of Helen Cixous’ Le Rire de la Medusa

Exposed Intimacy, Extorted Intimacy
Gérard Wajcman
Stanya Kahn

Author’s Bio

translated by Asunción Alvarez

It wasn’t me who came up with this title—The Frontiers of Intimacy—it was Murielle Gagnebin. As sometimes happens between close friends, she saw more quickly and better than me what might matter to me—and what, I believe, matters. Intimacy, of course, hasn’t come out of the blue, given that a book I wrote on windows precisely tended to define the conditions of possibility for this subjective node that is known as intimacy. Indeed, I suppose that it wasn’t a given, but rather that intimacy had a singular structure, and a history, thus that intimacy hadn’t always existed—nor need it exist forever. I finally circumscribed it as a place, whose essence is both architectural and scopic: the space where the subject can hold himself and experience himself outside the Other’s gaze. A space in internal exclusion, an island, what is known as “at home,” where the subject escapes the very supposition of being gazed at. It’s the possibility of hiddenness. Things can be arranged so that there is no longer a place where a subject can thus escape this supposition. This is an idea of Hell. Although its essence is architectural, this place is not necessarily incarnated in architecture. And one can feel at home in several ways, in a crowd (why not?), in a hotel, in nature. The fact that it is obvious that the subject can feel at home with the Other requires a slightly more sophisticated notion of intimacy.

Regarding the historical birth of intimacy, my hypothesis concerns the fact that it took place in an unexpected domain—not in the domain of law, where the idea of “privacy” was partly created, or in philosophy, but in art. I have already mentioned architecture; and yet it wasn’t there that intimacy was conceived and thought of. It was in painting. This took place in the Renaissance. Briefly put: intimacy was established when modern painting, defined by Alberti as “an open window,” was established. Extending this idea as far as possible, I think that the modern painting at the same time established the Cartesian idea that man had henceforth the right to gaze on the world, together with God, and defined intimacy as the place in the world where man can stand separately from the world, from which he can secretly contemplate it through the window, and where, out of every sight, he can look at himself. If this is what I am describing, both the source of man’s power appropriating the world through the gaze, and the cradle for the internal territory where interiority unfolds, it will be agreed that I was somewhat right to regard the establishment of the Albertian painting as an upheaval that founded a new era. This era is still our own. But for how long? Sticking to intimacy, we must bring up its tragic, crucial key. This is what is currently at stake.

For the possibility of hiddenness should not be merely conceived of as a gain or a conquest, in terms of more or less: it is an absolute condition of the subject. I would say that there is no subject if he cannot be unseen. Let us understand here the modern subject, who thinks and thus is—which amounts to saying that the subject that is looked at does not think. Thus, in modern times, intimacy, the secret territory of shadow and opacity, is the very place of the subject.

Talking about intimacy in terms of a territory necessarily poses a question about frontiers. This question is being currently posed. But if it is important to reflect on it, it is not to refine a topology of intimacy (along the line established by Lacan, who invented an antonym for intimacy that doesn’t exist: extimacy), it is due to the urgency of a threat. Weighing upon intimacy, it currently weighs upon every subject.

There is a politics of intimacy. Intimacy may be under threat. It must be defended.

Invoking a right to hiddenness leads to giving intimacy a definition that goes beyond the architectural and scopic definition, as well as beyond psychology and anthropology: intimacy takes on a political dimension, based on force. For the definition I am giving, a place free of all gaze, implies a power relationship, or more exactly a separation from power. In fact, the point is to keep a territory outside the always totalitarian power of the Other. This constitutes the real condition of intimacy, which can be related to the right to secrecy. Intimacy is silhouetted against the background of a Benthamian Other, under an importune, intrusive or invasive gaze—which wants to see all and know all, all the time. Thus the point is to establish what might place a limit on this limitless desire. The law can be invoked. But the law preserves privacy; or rather, privacy is the part that can be protected by the law. Intimacy exceeds this, as it cannot arise from the law, it only arises from the real possibility that a subject has of hiding and remaining silent. His guarantee is material, that is to say that the right to secrecy is only supported by the subject himself, only by his force, and not by the Other, by the law. It is an act by the subject that keeps the subject free. This political dimension is consubstantial to the notion of intimacy, which names only what is most interior (the Latin intimus is the superlative of interior), but which comprises the idea of secrecy in its very definition.

Thus we can see that intimacy, secrecy and freedom are tied together. Again, we must understand that we are talking about real freedom, about material freedom. For, as Jean-Claude Milner claims, the real question about freedom is saying how it can be possible for the weakest to be effectively free with respect to the strongest. Although legal and institutional guarantees are precious, they remain rather illusory. That is to say, like intimacy, the doctrine of freedom is not based on the law, but on force. Actually, says Milner, we are all convinced of one thing: leaving aside fairy tales in which the weak become strong (that is to say the revolutionary dream), there is only one guarantee for real freedom: the right to secrecy, the only material limit to the power of the Other—be it the state, institutions or society.

On this basis, I will make six remarks to define the current state of intimacy.

The first one concerns what I would call the interest of psychoanalysis. It can be pointed out that in the Romantic age the notion of intimacy acquired a coloring that clearly influenced Freud’s invention. By delimiting what is strictly personal and kept hidden, it isolates sexuality as what is most personal and hidden. Sexuality is designated as the opaque core of intimacy. Intimacy has always had this coloring to a greater or lesser degree. But this interest is even more radical in that intimacy only delimits the location of what is most subjective about the subject: it is, as I said, the very condition of the subject. There could be no subject without secrecy, that is to say, no entirely transparent subject. Any dream of transparency entails, with the dissolution of all opacity, that of the subject itself. Of course democracy is moved by an ideal of transparency, but in principle it concerns power, not subjects. Not only does it place the subject’s opacity in opposition to the transparency of the Other, of the state, but it is also supposed to defend this opacity against all intrusions, which also amounts to defending their freedom. This is where the problem lies nowadays. In practice, our democracy seems to be moved by a completely opposite desire: firstly, the Other tends to become ever more opaque, and secondly, subjects are made increasingly transparent. In fact, we know less and less about the power machine, and yet, by extracting all kind of information, power knows more and more about each of us.

Psychoanalysis must take a position on this basis. Which gives rise to an apparently strange situation: psychoanalysis, which seeks to elucidate, stands on the side of obscurity, the dark side of subjects’ weakness in the face of power. Psychoanalysis, which tends to make people speak, is on the side of secrecy. This can be easily deduced from what was previously said, namely that any threat to the right of secrecy does not only threaten intimacy and freedom, but it also threatens the very existence of the subject. With no right to secrecy, with nothing hidden, there is no thinking subject, and thus no existing subject. Thus we can understand that we are not dealing only with the interest of psychoanalysis, but that the defense of intimacy and secrecy is properly a cause of psychoanalysis.

This is the political dimension of psychoanalysis. It does not cover a new form of “application,” its involvement in the political field armed with its concepts, but the laying bare of an internal political dimension proper to psychoanalysis, simply because the possibility of intimacy is ultimately the very possibility of psychoanalysis.

Be it video surveillance, medical histories or procedures aimed at evaluating children’s future dangerousness, any measure which endangers intimacy and the right to secrecy constitutes a threat to psychoanalysis—which is also directly threatened. Hence the need for political vigilance, and even, nowadays, a state of alert.

My second remark concerns the nature of the threats to the borders of intimacy. The right to hiddenness is a barrier: it constitutes the frontier of intimacy. If there is reason to talk of borders in the plural it is not because this border is various or variable, because there are so many or so few of them, degrees of secrecy or intimacy: the rights to secrecy and intimacy are absolutes—either they exist or they don’t. Moreover, like any border, it delimits two spaces: intimacy, the space of the subject, and the field of the Other. Thus the border may be seen from two sides. This yields three possible states of the border. It may remain watertight and preserve intimacy against all intrusions. This is what defines a certain state of real democracy. There may be a crossing, but this crossing may be conceived in both senses. There may be an invasion of intimacy, or there may be a waiver of intimacy. The former is the fact of the Other, the latter the fact of the subject.

Let us consider first the act of power. That is the fact that the Other pokes his nose into our intimacy. It is a strong tendency. This is massively shown by the fact that we are living in a time of video surveillance. Police, urban, or military surveillance, it is currently more than generalized: it is planetary, as now eyes orbit day and night around the Earth—this can be easily seen by clicking on Google Earth. We have entered a paranoid time. But the serious question posed by the presence of cameras on every street corner is that it is not only technical progress that enables power to extend and invade public space, it is the fact that, with this technical progress, a change has imperceptibly taken place. In the past, surveillance techniques were developed to disclose criminals’ secrets. Yet current techniques are now used to serve utterly opposite purposes: they are there to watch the innocent and control their secrets. The control society which Deleuze spoke about is a society where the innocent are controlled. This gives rise to the diffuse feeling of criminalization of society in which we are all regarded as potentially guilty or as the guilty whose guilt is overlooked.

In this sense of a generalized, rampant criminalization of society, we can highlight certain current procedures in the service of so-called crime prevention policies. Prevention has become a master word in our times. To such an extent that Foucault’s “Surveillance and punishment” has been replaced by “Surveillance and prevention.” Suddenly, the novelty comes from the fact that current procedures for crime prevention tend, seeking maximum effectiveness, to go as far back as possible. That is to say, they do not seek to influence so-called environmental factors in the emergence of crime, but rather are aimed at the very being of subjects. That is to say, beyond social, school or educational measures, preventive measures are now based on medicine and are designed by mental health experts. So they appear with the face of science and the guarantee of national science institutions. Which is supposed to make them spotless, given that science, as is well known, can only seek our good.

More specifically, I can mention the Inserm report on crime prevention, “Behavioral disorders in children and teenagers,” a “collective expertise” which was made official in 2005. Crime, a sociological-legal-police notion, is approached as a “behavioral disorder,” a psychiatric notion taken from the American DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) classification. Its “predictive” indexes are arranged into four categories: aggressive behaviors against people or animals, destruction of material goods with no physical aggression, fraud or theft, serious violations of the established rules. I will cut straight to the chase. The report warns us about the astounding precociousness of signs of this disorder: “Aggressiveness, rebelliousness and weak emotional control in childhood have been described as predictive of behavioral disorders in adolescence.” It is specified that these behaviors must be distinguished from what are called “normal behaviors.” I would like to stop here for a moment, as this involves a certain way of conceiving the individual, namely that a subject’s behavior is directly connected to group normality. Thus we see that the field of psychology is invaded by a thought that reasons not in terms of persons but of a “population.” This is a threat that was detected by Foucault, when he described statistics as the new Leviathan (DSM, the global psychiatric reference, is itself a statistical treatise on disorders). These expert psychiatrists and psychologists are not reasoning about individuated, singular persons, in terms of cases, but in terms of types, in terms of statistical beings where the subject as an absolute singularity is reabsorbed, abolished–in Lacanian terms, I would say forecluded. Now we know that these experts deal with abnormality by retaining the age criterion. It is claimed that such manifestations as physical aggressions, lies or theft, which are relatively frequent in small children, only become “abnormal” if they are very frequent and persist beyond the age of 4. As a consequence, the group experts proposed a systematic medical tracking of each child after the age of 36 months, given that “at this age, a difficult character, hyperactivity and the first symptoms of behavioral disorders can first be detected.” Which leads them to recommend that all health professionals learn how to recognize the criteria that define behavioral disorders—that is, professionals in child services, medical, psychological and educational centers, and medical personnel in the National Health Service. Of course, these Inserm experts have identified risk factors in the prenatal and perinatal stages, such as, for instance, a very young mother, consumption of psychoactive substances during pregnancy, a low weight at birth or birthing problems… As a consequence, the experts recommend that families that display these risk factors during medical surveillance of pregnancy be monitored. To make a long story short, this report illustrates and justifies in the clearest possible way Foucault’s insight on biopower, namely the fact that life and bodies have become objects for power. The report can be found on the Inserm website.

The children evaluation and classification system recommended by the Inserm experts bears witness to the fact that we have entered a time of a Master’s gaze that is limitless, an intrusive gaze, supported by science and technique. The subject that used to be gazed at by God in his soul is now scrutinized in his body by experts, even to the most secret folds of his mind—even in his mother’s womb, even before that. Intimacy, which used to be defined as an open window for the subject and a closed window for the Other, is incessantly plumbed and forced.

A huge setup now sieges the borders of intimacy.

The point of view must now be displaced, reversed. For there is another way of crossing the border of intimacy: in the other sense. This concerns those who, with no constraints, open up their intimacy, confess or expose it. In fact, this is the most immediate sense of the “shameful images” which are not stolen images, but rather images that are deliberately exhibited. It should be understood that the subject does not give up the right to secrecy, but rather it is a free action, the exercise of that right. The right to remain silent, which is ritually invoked in American police films whenever someone is arrested, does not force us to shut up—then we would fall into totalitarianism according to Lacan: what is not forbidden is compulsory. We can note in passing that this right to silence incarnates the spirit of America, a nation founded by the persecuted, which, as Jacques-Alain Miller points out, has given itself an unheard-of constitution, based on the principle not of prohibition but of permission. This does not keep censorship from existing, but it should be pointed out that it doesn’t arise from the Constitution.

In any case, art and literature are the places where this freedom to display intimacy can be exercised. This can take all kinds of forms: pornography, exhibition, confidence, confession, account, memoir: be it The Sexual Life of Catherine M., Larry Clark’s films, Araki’s or Nan Goldin’s pictures. Of course, we might say that intimacy was exposed before these, but it should be pointed out that in the 18th century, for instance, when Rousseau published his Confessions, this was not strictly speaking an intimate work, because what is now called an intimate diary is a diary that remains secret, unpublished.

Our time is characterized by the fact that, beyond being said within the secrecy of the analyst’s office, intimacy is nowadays published, displayed on screens and exhibited on museum walls. I would like to add: shamelessly. We have entered a time of unveiling, which is also a shame free time. This does not signal a total absence of modesty, which would lead to limitless provocation, but the mere fact of a lowering or dissolution of the feeling of shame. Let us admit that we would have reason to rejoice in such a shedding. In certain ways, this is what distinguishes this exhibition from the category of “shameful images”—namely, that nowadays they are exhibited with no shame. Shameful images no longer bring shame. These are hard times for pornographers. That is to say, the crossing of which I speak in the arts can no longer be conceived now in terms of subversion, scandal, provocation, profanation, or outrage. The fall of prohibitions does lead to sacrilege or blasphemy, but to the short term. Scandal passes so lightly nowadays that it seeks the least publicity. For this reason, works of art meant to be provocative must overdo it, enter an exhausting process of inflation, and finally seem rather ridiculous, sometimes verging on the grotesque or the pitiful. Luckily, there remain a few unnerved censors who can add sulfur fumes to some works, which, without these appeals to the forbidden, would be nothing to get worked up about. It must be said: nowadays, we have seen everything. How can one be scandalous then? The inquisitorial ardor of a certain moral minority is only the sign of the collapse of prohibitions, and the desire to restore values is the best sign that times have changed, that shameful images no longer bring shame, that their destabilizing power is extremely faded. This should make us think.

We might talk about more about the idea of the novel nature of shameless shameful images, bringing up historical precedents. For example, after reading Daniel Arrase, Titian’s Venus of Urbino might be regarded as the paradigm of “shameful images.” This lying, naked woman who touches herself while smiling at us is a shameful image that is shameless in some respects. Except that—and this is the point—this intimate image was intended only for the intimacy of a single gaze: that of Guidobaldo della Rovere, who commissioned Titian to paint this pinup girl for his exclusive use. This poses a real problem, not concerning the exhibition of this painting nowadays, but its meaning in a public art space. Intimate things used to be found in intimacy back then. Now they go to the museum, this great place of the democracy of gaze, which is based on the principle that every visible work should be seen by all—which determines a slight structural dislike on the part of museums for guys like Guidobaldo della Rovere and private collectors.

So this is the situation nowadays. We have established two facts. Firstly, in our times, which advance under the banner of human rights, the material right to secrecy is materially threatened from all sides. So we would be somewhat right to argue that the first human right is the right to secrecy. The second fact is that of the generalized exhibition of intimacy. The very theme of “shameful images” seems to be located on this side, which essentially orients the debate towards the various modalities under which these images are received—the moral panic which Ruwen Ogien talks about, for example.

As for me, I suggest that the question should be considered by opposing it to the other side, that of the general threat against intimacy. I believe that this might be useful to discuss the statute of “shameful images.” Namely, there are two sides: exposed intimacy and extorted intimacy. The question which I am stirring, and which stirs me, concerns the eventual relationship between both sides.

My hypothesis is that the current exhibition of intimate images is not only the result of modern exercise of a freedom, but paradoxically constitutes a response to a threat against intimacy. Of course, we might argue that the veil is a response to the hypermodern threat of a limitless gaze upon intimacy. Thus we see an unveiling movement in art, which would after all fit perfectly the modern master’s desire to see all. But artistic images truly stop it short. It must be explained how and why.

This means that, in order to understand what “shameful images” are today, we must not consider prohibition, but on the contrary the all-seeing machine, the machine that extorts intimacy which is nowadays in the hands of the hypermodern master. “Shameful images” are current in the sense that threats against intimacy are current. Although one function of art is showing what cannot be seen, we cannot limit ourselves to thinking that what cannot be seen is what is forbidden, that the “bad sort” would be a response to the “good sort” of a moral majority that aimed to hide what should not be seen. Not because intimacy is less related to prohibition than to confession, as Foucault believed, but rather because it is purely and simply threatened with its dissolution.

Let us simply pose the question: what can be the sense and the value of exhibiting pornographic images in a world where we are all seen everywhere and under all aspects, plumbed to the depths of our bodies and souls?

As I said, our time is haunted by a new figure, a ghost or a phantasm: that of the transparent subject. It is the correlative of what I called the master’s limitless gaze. The invention of radiography, in the late 19th century, gave rise to a scientific dream of transparency of the body—which went so far as to inspire the belief that, thanks to Röntgen, even the most secret thoughts would no longer be secret to doctors. It is clear that the deployment of technique currently seems aimed at extending the power of the machine until a shadowless man is created, a totally transparent subject in body and in soul. Between the boom in medical imagery, constant innovation in police and spying surveillance techniques, the triumph of legal medicine and anatomical pathology, or the strange displacement of psychiatric expertise toward what is known as “psychological autopsy,” it seems that power is currently focused on gaze, and that the exercise of power consists mainly in multiplying its powers of surveillance over subjects and bodily inquiries. One is tempted to think that what used to be a divine attribute, God’s all-seeing, his power of seeing all while unseen, has now become an attribute of secular power armed by science and technique. For this reason it is important to look at what looks at us—what turns us, unseen, into subjects under control—and to unveil to all gazes.

There is no need to force things to superpose this phantasm of science to a police idea—photography has clearly played a historic role. I would like to bring up a fact about television as a sign that this covering process is currently being performed: I would like to talk about recent TV police series in which the main characters—the cop, the detective or investigator—has been progressively replaced by experts and forensic doctors. The police, whose goal is to serve the living, mostly develops its research techniques on corpses, objects and substances. When doctors believe that they are developing “psychological autopsy” as expert knowledge, we may well worry that this means that the subject as such is now thought of as a corpse, each of its nooks and crannies can be penetrated to find out the truth. Upheld by the scientific phantasm of transparency, this right to the gaze that power has, opposed to the subject’s right to secrecy, is a major, urgent, political problem.

The same goes for reflections about art nowadays. Not that the question is specifically posed for art but rather that, following my idea of art, I believe that it is now a place where the question of the phantasm of sciences is posited and exposed, in the sense that it is unveiled, it is shown as such. Art is a place where the phantasm of science and of the modern master can be thought out in more depth perhaps, as well as answer the threat which such a phantasm brings. I will give an example. When Wim Delvoye takes radiographic images of fucking or of sexual acts, or when Bernard Venet exposes his self-portrait to a scanner, these artists are just aesthetically appropriating scientific techniques, sometimes stealthily, as art has done for a long time—it seems to me that it was Meret Oppenheim who first took X-ray portraits in 1964, a self-portrait more exactly. By exposing the scientific hyper-intimacy of the body, these artists’ images really constitute a critical response to science’s phantasm of a transparent subject—that is to say, a wholly knowable subject. These scientific images warn us about science’s desires and its pretension of an entirely calculable subject, evaluable as is now said, that is to say, an entirely predictable subject. In truth, what these images of transparency show, what the artists show by showing scientific images of transparency, is, together with the phantasm of science, that there is nonetheless an irreducible opacity. There is a limit to science. I will say what it is later on.

To return again to the notion of critical or resistance art, I cannot but mention a piece by Bruce Nauman. I should say that I absolutely regard Bruce Nauman as a sort of universal thinker. In my view, he is a sort of Swiss knife for our times. He is the great revelator of the new discontent in civilization. I have even made up a law that I call the Law of TIAABNWTSTS—There Is Always A Bruce Nauman Work To Suit The Situation.

This time, I would like to talk about the sound piece which was exhibited in Paris and more recently in London, at the Tate Modern. You freely enter a little, dark, empty, quilted room, and when you move near the walls, you can vaguely hear something. Then, when you move near the partitions, you clearly hear a voice muttering: Get out of my mind, get out of this room. It’s Bruce Nauman’s own voice. Thus you go to the museum, you merely enter a space to see, as usual, and once inside you find first that there is nothing to see, then that you are inside the mind of Bruce Nauman, and that you’d better get out quick. A work of art that kicks you out—something quite unheard of in a museum piece. If I wanted to give an Art Award against “psychological autopsy” to the work that has best denounced experts’ desire to enter our minds, the public health work announcing that evaluators are already in our heads, the work which has most stalwartly defended intimacy, I would without a doubt choose this piece by Bruce Nauman.

I would now like to start to close while answering certain questions still in the air. Thus I must face a paradox that will not have gone unnoticed by attentive minds.

For I speak here on my own behalf but also, whether I like it or not, on behalf of psychoanalysis, and thus I am supposed to represent a discourse of which it has been said that it also tends toward the extortion of intimacy. This is what Foucault said. Saying everything would be directly related to confession—the Church and communism practiced it; by suspecting that psychoanalysis is on the side of the inquisitorial gaze, I can give ill-thinking minds another suspicious sign—the fact that Freud invented the material device of psychoanalysis, the relationship between the chair and the couch, by invoking that power it gave him of “seeing unseen,” thus rather innocently referring, I think, to a divine attribute. In such a way that by taking his place in his chair, the psychoanalyst would be sitting on the throne of an all-seeing god.

The entire problem is thus circumscribed to two questions which entail two barriers. The first one is ethical: if the analyst has the capacity to see, the fact that he does not make use of it gives it all its value. This is based on an ethical choice made by the analyst: in his role as a listener, the analyst is non-seeing (which is perhaps what gives him the power, like Tiresias, of being far seeing). The second barrier is a real one: does the power of seeing all mean that everything can be seen? In truth, the problem lies there, because this brings up the question of a limit to the gaze, based not on prohibition, on choice, or on any contingency, but rather on an impossibility, on the real.

All this only makes sense if we place psychoanalysis in perspective, in the world. Jacques-Alain Miller did so brilliantly in a recent radio broadcast. It must be said indeed that the first effect that psychoanalysis had on our world was that if modified common sense by crying out loud it is good to say it all. In any case, that’s how society interpreted it. Nowadays, we can assume that the idea of the benefits of saying everything has entered the common sense. Before, in the past, there used to be things that could not be said. What was sacred could be offended by something that was said. This gave speech all its value. The agency of censorship has played a significant role throughout the ages, and Freud did not fail to recognize this significance, by giving censorship a place in his theory. Writers were aware of the problem, back when saying something meant something. Censorship was the writer’s partner. Léo Strauss highlighted the role of persecution in the art of writing, which forced writers to practice a writing of dissimulation, an art of writing “between the lines,” in such a way that all writings were encoded messages. Even Rousseau, in his Confessions, which I mentioned before, and who claimed that there were no limits to his frankness, confessed that he practiced a certain art of writing so as not to disclose what he really thought to wicked readers. Nowadays, of course, saying everything has triumphed. We live in the age of the Internet, which apparently moves towards saying everything.

This is the point—that is to say, we must conclude that we are no longer living in Freud’s time. Freud belonged to the Victorian age, when the focus was one repression of speech, through censorship or repression. That is to say, in a way he took these notions from his times. Suddenly, in this world of censorship and repression, psychoanalysis clearly launched the liberation of speech. As Jacques-Alain Miller points out, Dada and Surrealism follow this line.

This liberation of speech led to a deep change in the 20th century, correlative to a weakening of the sacred. Psychoanalysis, he says, must declare its guilt in this regard: it dissolved the sacred. Suddenly, in its first century, psychoanalysis was the contemporary of an art that was caught in a Bataillean dialectic between the sacred, the forbidden, and transgression. By acting against censorship and repression, psychoanalysis aligned itself with the provocative exhibition of shameful images.

Only that the contemporary triumph of Freud and the Internet, the triumph of saying everything, has created an apparently more melancholy landscape for 21st-century psychoanalysis: what can we expect now that saying everything has triumphed? Obviously, there are still moral panics and censors, there are still freedom battles to fight. But concluding here would be a flat ending—a false one, actually. The new result of the social saying everything is that it dissolves the field of language. That is to say that Freud’s triumph is also a defeat.

But another question is posed against the background of this flat ending. Namely: can you really say everything? Saying everything is supposed to solve everything. But even though you can wish to say everything, you cannot say everything, luckily for psychoanalysis—there is something that won’t work, that will never work, and that I can prophesize will never work at all. Something to do with sexuality. Something in human sexuality never works. Thus we must work with what won’t work. This is the perspective for psychoanalysis in hypermodern times. What doesn’t work is very exactly what Lacan calls “the impossible sexual relationship,” which obviously doesn’t mean — as should be known since the time when Lacan brought it up in the 70s—that people don’t have sexual relationships, but rather that in the human species there is no regulated knowledge about relationships between the sexes. Pink flamingos know it very well, guinea pigs know it very well, but man doesn’t, nor does woman. That’s why mankind has invented all kinds of knowledge, such as marriage or Kama Sutra, to mitigate the lack of this knowledge.

That is to say, apparently there is something beyond prohibition. Prohibition is a barrier that calls for transgression. Art has been a place for freedom against prohibition. Nowadays, it is found that prohibition is not the ultimate barrier, that it actually is a way of humanizing through the law, through the symbolic, through language, the real of an impossibility—thus following Cocteau’s logic in The Eiffel Tower Wedding Party: “Given that these mysteries surpass us, let us pretend that we set them up…” Prohibition takes over from impossibility.

Which brings me to my last remark. I would like to say that contemporary art is lodged there, on the side of this real, that shameful images are inscribed precisely where there is something that won’t work in sexuality, something that cannot be said or seen in its entirety. Art opens up a space no longer for sexuality, but for discontent in sexuality, discontent in enjoyment.

This is also an opening for an art for the post-Freudian age. We now have the idea that it is good to confess all our enjoyments, but there is something in the face of which words fail, whatever you do. When you read Catherine Millet’s novel, that’s what she is talking about, a certain silence of enjoyment. Nan Goldin is a great artist of discontent in enjoyment, the disorder of love. She is also an artist of contemporary psychoanalysis, of the ultimate truth of psychoanalysis which is that of impossibility. Her images of beaten up transvestites at four in the morning, with their running mascara and beautiful clothes in disarray, are images of the unveiling of the truth about sex—and about the phallus: everything’s in disarray and droopy, not sexy. It’s the time of the exhausted phallus. It’s an art of punk sex, that is to say, a no future of sex. Images have lost all their flashiness. These are deliberately unsexy images. Not ugly or provocative or disgusting or anything like that: simply true. Thus they can be moving, beautiful, fascinating, disturbing, anything at all, because there is no reason for truth to be always ugly and unpleasant. Because what these images show is that there is something behind the flashiness, behind the images and everything, that is to say the great, hopeless disorder of love. As for Larry Clark, who films American teenagers, he shows a liberated sexuality, belonging to the time of the triumph of psychoanalysis, a sexuality which has said everything about itself, that is to say, an exhausted sexuality. These children are, in a way, the children of Freud and Coca-Cola.

This is how I would describe things: images show discontent in enjoyment, what doesn’t work in sexuality. Here I find the Lacanian-Wittgensteinian machine that drives me as regards the question of images, following the proposition in the Tractatus that states that there is such a thing as the inexpressible, that there are some things that cannot be said, and that what cannot be said can be shown. I simply deduce that shameful images should not be now placed in the register of subversion and liberation: they are not aimed at prohibition, but rather face impossibility, the non-existent sexual relationship.

Which finally leads me to show two radiographic images by Wim Delvoye. These X-ray images, which should be classified as X-rated images, have an extreme force of truth. But not, as one might believe, in what is seen. Showing a fuck or a blowjob, they can be seen, of course, like any image. But on the one hand these images show what cannot be seen by the naked eye, namely the inside of the active body. On the other hand, they show something that cannot be seen: how it works. Finally, the show that we don’t see. And it’s normal that we don’t see it. We can photograph the intimate functioning of the sexual organs, mobilize science and the latest techniques—but that will not yield the secret of sex, how human desire works, and the astounding machinery of the sexes, whose plans nobody owns. Unlike the shitting machine which, as if by chance, Wim Delvoye himself has managed to build, with utter success. In such a way that the Cloaca-Turbo (which also gives a view of a mechanism inside the body) and X-ray images of a sexual act would be the inverted sides of each other: the image of a machine that works on one side, the image of a machine that doesn’t work on the other. More exactly, I would say that these X-ray images, which resemble Leonardo’s famous anatomical drawing of a couple in coition, show above all that there is something that cannot be seen: how love works, which would be the secret of sexuality. This is their critical dimension: they are aimed also at doctors and at everyone to say: the search for the transparency of the body is a phantasm, as there is something that will never be seen, never be known, and thus never be mastered: the sexual relationship. You can X-ray the body, perform autopsies on the body, make it as transparent as you like, but you will never see the secret of the sexual relationship. This is what, after all, finally resists the master’s desire for “things to work.” Expert knowledge breaking its teeth against the sexual relationship might be the title of Wim Delvoye’s series of images.

It is also quite amusing to point out that the first X-ray image made by Röntgen, the inventor of radiography in 1895—the same year when psychoanalysis and the cinema were invented—was the image of his wife’s hand, and what is first seen in it is the black shadow of her marriage band. What the first image of the inside of a woman’s body first shows is the presence of a man, more exactly, a husband—for whom she should have no secrets. No doubt this explains that image. Indeed, one wonders what Röntgen had in mind when he decided to take a radiograph of his wife’s body as the first image. We might say that Wim Delvoye shows what Röntgen had in mind. No dreaming.

The above originally appeared in French [Intime exposé, intime extorqué] in The Symptom 8, 2007

His Master’s Voice
Mladen Dolar

Author’s Bio

There is a story that goes like this: In the middle of a war, in the middle of a battle, there is a company of Italian soldiers in the trenches. And there is an Italian commander who issues the command “Soldiers, attack!” But nothing happens, nobody moves. So the commander gets angry and shouts even louder “Soldiers, attack!” At which point there is a response, a voice rising from the trenches saying Che bella voce!

This story can serve as a good entry into the problem of the voice. On the first level this is a story of a failed interpellation. The soldiers fail to recognize themselves in the appeal, the call of the other, the call of duty, and they don’t act accordingly. Surely the fact that they are Italian soldiers plays a great role in it, they do act according to their image of not the most courageous soldiers in the world, as legend has it, and the story is most certainly not a model of political correctness, it indulges in tacit chauvinism and national stereotypes. So the command fails, the addressees don’t recognize themselves in the meaning being conveyed, they concentrate instead on the medium, which is the voice. The attention paid to the voice hinders the interpellation and the transmission of a symbolic mandate, the transmission of a mission.

But on a second level another interpellation works in the place of the failed one: if the soldiers don’t recognize themselves in their mission as the soldiers in the middle of a battle, they do recognize themselves as addressees of another message, they constitute a community as a response to the call, the community of people who can appreciate the aesthetics of a beautiful voice. Who can appreciate it when it is hardly the moment, and especially when it is hardly the moment to do so? So if in one respect they act as stereotypical Italian soldiers, they also act as stereotypical Italians in this other respect, namely as opera lovers. They constitute themselves as the community of “the friends of the Italian opera” (to take the immortal line from Some Like It Hot), living up to their reputation of connoisseurs, people of refined taste who have amply trained their ears with bel canto, so they can tell a beautiful voice when they hear one, even among the canon fire.

The soldiers have done the right thing, from our biased present perspective, at least in an incipient way, when they have concentrated on the voice instead of on the message, although, to be sure, for the wrong reasons. They are seized by a sudden aesthetic interest precisely when they would have had to attack, they concentrate on the voice because they have grasped the meaning all too well. But quite apart from their feigned artistic inclination they have also bungled the voice the moment they isolated it, they immediately turned it into an object of aesthetic pleasure, an object of veneration and worship, the bearer of a meaning beyond the ordinary meanings. The aesthetic concentration on the voice loses the voice precisely by turning it into a fetish-object.

I will try to argue that there is a third level: an object voice which doesn’t go up in smoke in conveyance of meaning and which doesn’t solidify either in an object of fetish reverence, but an object which functions as a blind spot in the call and a disturbance of aesthetic appreciation. One shows fidelity to the first by running to the attack, one shows fidelity to the second by running to the opera. But fidelity to the third is far more difficult to achieve. I will try to pursue it on three different levels: linguistics, ethics and politics.

The linguistics of the voice

Let us start by considering the voice as it appears in the most common use and in its most massive presence. It is the voice which functions as the bearer of an utterance, the support of a word, a sentence, a discourse, any kind of linguistic expression.

The moment we start looking at it more closely, we can see that even this most commonplace and ordinary use is full of paradoxes. The voice may well be the quasi-natural bearer of speech, but it also proves to be strangely recalcitrant. If we speak in order to make sense, to produce meaning, to convey something, then the voice is the material support of that production of meaning, yet it doesn’t itself contribute to it. It is rather something like “the vanishing mediator,” to use Fredric Jameson’s expression, it makes the utterance possible, but it disappears in the meaning being produced. When we listen to someone speak, we may at first be very much aware of his/her voice and its particular qualities, its color and accent, but soon we accommodate to it and concentrate only on the meaning that is conveyed. The voice is like the Wittgensteinian ladder to be discarded when we have successfully climbed to the top, when we have made our ascent to the peak of meaning. The voice is the instrument, the vehicle, the way, and the meaning is the goal.[1]

Hence one can make a provisional definition of the voice (in its linguistic aspect): it is what doesn’t contribute to making sense.[2] It is the material element recalcitrant to meaning, and if we speak in order to say something, then the voice is precisely that what cannot be said. It is there, in the very act of saying, but one cannot say it, it is evasive, it eludes any pinning down. It is the non-linguistic, the extra-linguistic element which enables speech phenomena but cannot be itself discerned by linguistics.

To use a more technical language, there is an antinomy, a dichotomy of the voice and the signifier. The signifier possesses its own logic, it can be dissected, it can be pinned down and fixed—fixed in view of its repetition, for every signifier is a signifier by virtue of being repeatable. It functions through and by differences, through differential oppositions, it can be tracked down to a series of binary oppositions (as in Saussure and Jakobson), and those oppositions enable it to produce meaning. It is a strange creature that possesses no identity of its own, being just a bundle of differences in relation to other signifiers, while its material support and its particular qualities are irrelevant, it is not endowed with any positivity, any quality definable on its own, its only existence is a negative one (following the Saussurean dictum that in language there are only differences without any positive terms). Yet its mechanisms can be disentangled and explained in that very negativity, its negative nature produces positive effects of signification. Despite its traps and pitfalls, the signifier possesses a logic with which we can make sense, or more modestly, with which we can make do in making sense, or at least nonsense.

The voice is a very different matter. Of course one can dissect the voice into discrete units, the phonemes, the vowels, the consonants etc., but this is the part of the voice which has been seized and moulded by the signifier. One produces the sounds of a language in such a way so as to satisfy its differential matrix, the phoneme is the voice captured by the signifier, the voice caught in the matrix, and only insofar it has been caught in the matrix can it make sense, follow the tenacious rules of the difference on its route towards meaning. Hence the difference between phonetics and phonology: phonetics concentrating on the positive production of the sounds of a particular language, and phonology concentrating on the matrix of oppositions, for which the material production of sounds is irrelevant.[3] Phonology kills the voice, it stabs it with the signifying dagger, it does away with its living presence, with its flesh and blood.

The phoneme is the part of the voice which contributes to signification, so this is not the voice we are after, the voice that cannot be said. The problem is that there is a rest which cannot quite disappear in meaning, or which cannot be made a signifier, the rest that doesn’t make sense, a left-over, a refuse. One can say: the word silences the voice, but not quite.

One can have some inkling of the voice if we listen to a particular intonation of the utterance—indeed the intonation can turn the meaning upside down; or if we listen to someone with an accent, ad cantum, which appears as a distraction or even an obstacle to the smooth flow of the signifiers, to the hermeneutics of understanding. But both the intonation and the accent can be discerned by linguistic means, although somewhat more complicated ones. Or one can be aware of the voice through its individuality, for one can almost unfailingly identify a person by the voice, the particular individual timbre, resonance, pitch, cadence, melody, the peculiar way of pronouncing certain sounds. Indeed, the voice is like a fingerprint, instantly recognizable and identifiable, and this fingerprint quality of the voice is something that doesn’t contribute to meaning nor can it be linguistically described—but it can be physically, phonographically defined. Its features are not linguistically relevant, they are the slight fluctuations and variations, they do not violate the norm, but rather the norm itself cannot be implemented without some “personal touch,” the slight trespassing which is the mark of individuality. But all of these, intonation, accent, individual timbre, all complement the meaning, they are the necessary side effects of that teleological progression, the seeming distraction contributes to the better fulfillment of the goal.

The most obvious case is singing: it brings the voice energetically to the forefront, on purpose, at the expense of meaning. Indeed, singing is bad communication, it prevents the clear understanding of the text (one needs supertitles in the opera, a rather distasteful institution but one cannot help reading them nevertheless). Singing takes the distraction of the voice seriously and turns the tables on the signifier—let the voice take the upper hand, let the voice be the bearer of what cannot be expressed by the signifier, as the expression versus meaning, expression beyond meaning, expression which is more than meaning, yet expression which functions only in tension with meaning (it needs a signifier as the limit to transcend and to reveal its beyond). Primo la musica, e poi le parole, or the other way round? The entire history of the opera, from Monteverdi to Strauss (Capriccio), can be written through the spyglass of this dilemma. Yet by its massive concentration on the voice it introduces codes and standards of its own, more difficult to define and elusive than the linguistic ones, but nevertheless highly structured. Expression beyond language is another highly structured and sophisticated language. And by focusing on the voice it actually runs the risk of losing the voice that it tries to worship and revere: it turns it into a fetish-object, one could say, the highest rampart, the most formidable wall against the voice.[4] Bringing the voice from the background to the forefront entails a reversal or a structural illusion: the voice appears as the locus of true expression, as the place where what cannot be said can nevertheless be expressed. It endows the voice with profundity; by not meaning anything it appears to mean more than mere words, it becomes the bearer of some unfathomable primary meaning which, supposedly, got lost with the language. It seems to still maintain the link with nature, on the one hand, the nature of a paradise lost, and on the other hand it seems to transcend the language, the cultural and symbolic barriers, in the opposite direction, as it were: it promises an ascent towards divinity, an elevation above the empirical, the mediated, the limited, the worldly human concerns. Hence the highly acclaimed role of music as an ambiguous link with both nature and divinity. But the state of some primordial fusion that the voice should bear witness to is always a retroactive construction, a structural delusion. It is only through language, via language, by the symbolic, that there is voice,[5] and the illusion of the voice as the bearer of a deeper sense, of some more fundamental message, is the core of a fantasy. The voice that we are after is not some profound meaning, but precisely what is utterly meaningless; not the transcendent, but the cumbersome.

If those were not the right ways to deal with the voice, what then would be a better one? The voice, as we have seen, is a non-signifier, something that doesn’t concur to meaning, it is a non-signifying remainder, a leftover heterogeneous to the structural logic. If materiality is irrelevant to the signifier, it doesn’t seem to be irrelevant to the voice. Indeed, the voice seems to be the link that ties the signifier to the body, it indicates that the signifier, however purely logical and differential, must have a point of origin and emission in the body. There must be a body to support it and to assume it, its disembodied network must be pinned to a body, if only in its most intangible and “sublimated” form, the mere oscillation of air which keeps vanishing the moment it is produced. Still, this almost disembodied body is enough to be embarrassing, it is like the undead dead, the corpse that one cannot dispose of (like in Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry). The voice pertains to the body, but to a disembodied body, a dismembered body—or it pertains to a wrong body, or better still, it doesn’t fit the body. Hence all the troubles with what Michel Chion has called the acousmatic voice, the voice whose source remains unidentified—when the acousmatic voice finds its body, it turns out that it doesn’t work, the voice doesn’t stick to the body, it is an excrescence which doesn’t match the body at all. If you want a massive example of this, think of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which revolves entirely around the question of “where does the mother’s voice come from? To which body can it be assigned?” And it proves that the voice without a body can be a most haunting thing indeed.[6]

To cut a long story short, one could see the antinomy of meaning and the voice as the antinomy between the signifier and the object—the object as the object of the drive. There is one mechanism which strives towards meaning and understanding, and on the way there obfuscates the voice, and there is, in the very same place, another mechanism which has nothing to do with meaning, but rather with enjoyment. It is an enjoyment normally covered by meaning, steered by meaning, framed by meaning, and only when it becomes divorced from meaning can it appear as the pivotal object of drive. One could say: the voice is the excrement of meaning. To put it schematically, in every utterance one has a dimension of signification, which is ultimately the dimension of desire—this is where Freud pinpointed the dream as the wish-fulfillment, Wunscherfllung, the satisfaction of desire in what apparently runs counter to signification, but actually accomplishes its course; and on the other hand the dimension of the drive which turns around the object, the object voice, something entirely evasive and ambiguous. So that in every spoken utterance one could see a miniature drama, a contest, a diminished model of what psychoanalysis has tried to conceive as the rival dimensions of desire and drive. In desire, we have the fireworks of what Lacan has called “the unconscious structured like a language,” but the drive, says Freud, is silent—insofar as it turns around the object voice, it is a silent voice, a voice that doesn’t speak, not at all structured like a language.

The voice ties language to the body, but it doesn’t belong to either. It is not part of linguistics, but it is not a part of the body either—it detaches itself from the body, it doesn’t fit the body, it floats, it is like a bodily missile which has detached itself from its source, emancipated itself. So it stands at a paradoxical and ambiguous point, the intersection of language and body, belonging to neither and yet at the point they have in common. The voice stems from the body, but doesn’t belong to it, and it upholds the language without belonging to it either, yet, in this paradoxical topology, this is the only point they have in common.

Ultimately, it is not even the voice that can be heard. In order to conceive its function as the object of the drive, one must deprive it of sonority, divorce it from the empirical voices to be heard. Inside the voices heard there is a voice unheard of, the silent voice. One has to detach the object voice from sonority, one has to devise an aphonic voice. For what Lacan called objet a, to put it simply, is not an object of this world. It is not an existing thing that could be the object of a “sense certainty.” To be sure, it is always evoked only by bits of materiality, attached to them as an invisible appendage, yet not coinciding with them, it is both evoked and covered, enveloped by them, for “in itself” it is just a void. So sonority both evokes and conceals the void of the voice.

One could put it in these terms: the drive reaches its aim without attaining its goal, it is satisfied through its being thwarted, without attaining its end, it is “inhibited in its goal,” zielgehemmt, but nevertheless not missing its aim; the aim is merely the path taken, and the drive is entirely “on the way.”[7] So if the goal of the utterance is the production of meaning, then the voice, the mere instrument, is the aim attained on the way, the side-product of the way to the goal, the object around which the drive turns. Hence, the problem with music is that it tries to turn the aim into the goal, it takes the object of the drive as the object of immediate enjoyment, and thus misses it—it obtains aesthetic pleasure and runs the risk of being stuck with a fetish instead of the object. One can make a brief remark here that the entire work of Adorno is a massive warning against this—Adorno’s wager is that there is an object other than the fetish, a musical object has to undo the ties of the fetish-object.

The linguistics of the voice? There is none. There is merely the linguistics of the signifier, and its counterpart is the drive circumscribing the voice which can occasionally run amok when separated from meaning as its signifying anchorage. Yet, this strangely persistent remainder cannot be done away with easily, it seems to have a close link to the subject of enunciation. Couldn’t we say that the voice coincides with the very process of enunciation, something that cannot be found anywhere in the statement, in the sentences proffered, in the meaning conveyed? The voice as the voice of enunciation sustains the signifiers and is actually what holds them together like on a string; it is what makes of the signifying chain out of signifiers a paradoxical counterpart to subjectivity.

The ethics of the voice

Let me now approach the voice from an entirely different angle, under the heading of the ethics of the voice. If the first understanding of voice—as the support of speech—is omnipresent and trivial, then the second one is not uncommon either. There is a figure of speech, a metaphor which associates the voice and conscience. Strangely, ethics always had to deal with the voice, the voice has been the red thread of reflections on moral questions, both in the popular reasoning and in the grand philosophical tradition. Is this voice, this internal voice of a moral injunction, simply a metaphor? Its metaphoricity is perhaps doubtful and should be put into question. Is the internal voice still a voice, or is a voice that has no empirical manifestation perhaps the voice in the proper sense, closer to the voice than the sounds that one can hear? What is the tenuous and tenacious connection between voice and conscience? Is ethics about hearing voices?

One can recall its brief history (here Baas is a sure guide). It all starts with one of the best known voices, the Socratic voice, the daemon which accompanies Socrates wherever he goes. In Apology, Socrates states in his defense in front of the tribunal: “…I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience. It began in my early childhood—a sort of voice which comes to me, and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do, and never urges me on.” The voice, this daemon, is like Socrates’ shadow, or his guardian angel. (1) Its origin is supposed to be divine and supernatural, it is at the innermost of his consciousness but originating from beyond, it is an “atopical voice,” coming from another space while being at the same time most intimate. (2) Furthermore, it is not a prescriptive voice, it is not a voice telling him what to do—he has to decide about that himself—but merely a prohibitive, dissuasive voice, preventing him from doing wrong but not advising him how to do good. (3) It is a voice with which one cannot argue, it is not a matter of argument. (4) One should also point out that this voice actually dissuaded him from taking part in the active political life: the voice pertains to the moral law as opposed to the positive written laws of the community, the voice sustains “the unwritten law.”

The theme will then be taken up by an entire tradition: the voice of conscience as a firm guide in ethical matters—the bearer of a moral injunction, an imperative voice which compels in its immediacy, a voice which one cannot silence or deny, or one can do this only at the price of catastrophic consequences. It is a voice which circumvents discursive argument, it provides a firm ground for moral decisions beyond discursivity, beyond the intricacy of deductions and justifications. Its pure commanding authority is supposedly unfailing.

One can see this mechanism perhaps at its purest with Rousseau who speaks of “the immortal and celestial voice,” “the sacred voice of nature,” “the interior voice” which is “infallible.”[8] Other voices can try to tamper with it, “the shrill voice” of prejudice, “the voice of the body” (“conscience is the voice of the soul, passions are the voice of the body”), yet it imposes itself, it gains the upper hand, the true voice against the false voices. However much one can reason, calculate and argue about morality, all this is groundless without a firm footing in the voice, its immediate intuition and the sentiment it carries.

It may be strange, and perhaps symptomatic, that one can find this line also in Kant. Strange, because Kant is at the opposite end of Rousseau on the question of ethics: firm ground can only be provided by the moral law, which, in its universality, or in its injunction to universalization, is purely formal. Every moral action should be submitted to the test of universality, and there doesn’t seem to be any place for the voice or for moral feelings. Ethics should be grounded in reason alone, yet we find at a certain point that even reason is endowed with a voice. When debating what appears to him as the monstrous proposal to promote one’s own happiness as the supreme moral goal, he says that this principle would entirely destroy morality “if the voice of reason in relation to the will was not so clear, so piercing, so discernible even for the most common man.” /…/ die Stimme der Vernunft in Beziehung auf den Willen (ist) so deutlich, so unüberschreibar (unovercryable) selbst für den gemeinsten Menschen so vernehmlich. /…/ The proponents of false morals can continue their confused speculations only if they plug their ears against that “heavenly voice.” So there is not merely the voice of the heart, or the voice of nature, there is also the voice of reason, which, while being silent, is nevertheless so loud that no matter how loud one tries to cry, one can never cover it or silence it. “The voice of intellect is a soft one, but it will not rest till it has gained a hearing,” Freud will say in The Future of an Illusion in strange accordance with Kant.

Yet with Kant the voice acquires a subtler form: for Socrates, the voice merely dissuaded him from doing wrong, for Rousseau, the divine and natural voice was the guide telling the subject how to act, a compass in every situation. For Kant, the voice doesn’t command or prevent anything—it is merely a voice which imposes the submission of the will to the rationality and formality of the moral law, the categorical imperative. The voice of reason is merely the injunction to submit to reason, it has no other content. It is a purely formal voice imposing formality. Reason itself is powerless (something that Kant will develop at great length in The Contest of Faculties), its voice, silent as it may be, is the power of the powerless, the mysterious force which compels us to observe reason.

Finally, the voice which says nothing in particular but insists as a pure injunction finds its last and perhaps purest form in Heidegger. Very briefly: in the paragraphs of Being and Time dealing with Gewissen, “the existential-ontological foundations of conscience”, one can find the whole phenomenology of the call of conscience (der Ruf—the cry, the appeal?).

What does the conscience call to its addressee? Strictly speaking nothing. The call doesn’t say anything, it doesn’t deliver a message about worldly events, it has nothing to tell. Least of all does it strive to open in the addressee some “monologue” within the self. “Nothing” is called (zu-gerufen) to the self which is called upon, but the self is called (aufgerufen) to /him/self, that is, to its most proper possibility of being (Seinkönnen). The conscience speaks exclusively and persistently in the mode of silence. [My translation]

So there is a pure call, not commanding anything, a mere convocation and provocation, the call to an opening to being, to get out of the closure of one’s self-presence. And the notion of responsibility—ethical, moral responsibility—is precisely a response to this call—it is impossible not to respond to this call, one is always called upon. The very notion of responsibility has the voice at its core, it is a response to a voice.

Where does the voice come from? It stems from the innermost of our being but at the same time it is something that surpasses us, it is a beyond at the most intimate. (“The call comes from me and yet transcends me.” “It calls, against expectation and against my will.”) The intimacy from which the call comes is constantly described as unheimlich, uncanny, with all the ambiguity that Freud has given to the word: that which is the most intimate and external at the same time, the internal externality, the expropriated intimacy, the extimacy—the excellent Lacanian word for das Unheimliche. So the call is the call to exposure, the opening to Being which is precisely opposed to a self-reflective monologue with oneself, it hinges on that which, within oneself, one cannot appropriate. The voice is pure alterity, it prevents the self-reflexivity of a Selbstbewusstsein.[9]

Through all these attempts, we have an opposition between the voice, its pure injunction, its imperative resonance, on the one hand, and on the other, the argument, the particular prescriptions or prohibitions or moral judgements. Strangely, here we find again our initial division into the voice—as the object—and the signifier. One could say that in this view of morality, the signifying chain cannot be sustained by-itself and in-itself, it needs a footing in something which is not a signifier, but the object, the voice which doesn’t say anything, but is precisely through this all the louder, an absolute convocation which one cannot escape, a silence which cannot be silenced.

A good way to conceive it is to connect it with the voice as pure enunciation which we detected already in linguistic utterances—it can be seen as the enunciation without a statement.[10] And one could say that there lies the crucial point, the touchstone of morality: one has to supply the statement oneself. The moral voice is like a suspended sentence, a sentence left in suspense, a sentence to be completed by the subject, by his moral decision, by the act. The enunciation is there, but the subject has to deliver the statement and thus assume the enunciation, respond to it and take it on his shoulders.

Yet, if the voice is at the very core of the ethical—the voice of the pure injunction which doesn’t command anything, an enunciation without a statement—it is also at the core of straying away from the ethical in the name of ethics itself. The psychoanalytic name for this is the superego.

It can easily be seen that the superego stems from a voice and is endowed with a voice. Freud: “…it is as impossible for the super-ego as for the ego to disclaim its origin from things heard” (seine Herkunft aus Gehörtem). If for Freud the vocality of the superego is just one of its features, then for Lacan it is the essential feature constitutive of the superego: “the superego in its intimate imperative is above all a voice and very vocal, and with no other authority than that of being the fat voice” (sans plus d’autorité que d’être la grosse voix). One can already surmise the difference: it is a fat voice, not the voice of pure enunciation, and it always comes up with statements and directions.

Essentially, it is a voice that one cannot measure up to, it is not a suspended sentence that one would have to resume, it is the voice of a moral agency in relation to which one is always deficient: however much one tries, one will always fall short, or better: the more one tries to live up to it, the more one fails. It is a voice that always reduces the subject to guilt, and the guiltier one is the guiltier one will become—it is a self-propelling property. There lies the obscene side of the superego, its malevolent neutrality, its Schadenfreude, its malicious indifference to the subject’s well-being. To put it in Kantian terms: the voice of the superego is not the voice of reason, but rather the voice of reason run amok, reason berserk.

The dividing line is very thin and tenuous. One can see it in Kant (see Alenka Zupancic): there is a slide leading from what Kant calls the respect, die Achtung, for moral law on one side to awe, die Ehrfurcht, on the other, the prostration in the face of it. Respect is the drive, der Triebfeder, of the moral law, the condition of its assumption by the subject, and it presents the paradox of being an a priori feeling—the only non-pathological feeling, as it were. Moral law can become effective only because we are driven by respect for it. But a couple of pages later Kant says:

In the boundless esteem for the pure moral law, whose voice makes even the boldest sinner tremble and forces him to hide himself from its gaze, there is something so singular that we cannot wonder at finding this influence of a merely intellectual Idea on feeling to be inexplicable to speculative reason.

He describes the effect of moral law on the subject as essentially that of humiliation. Suddenly we have a law endowed with a voice which makes one tremble, a gaze from which one cannot hide, the humiliation, die Ehrfurcht, which is not just respect but above all fear, awe, dread: all the elements that can be connected, by a single stroke, under the heading of superego. The superego is not the Other of a pure enunciation which demands a continuation, the accomplishment of the act, but the awesome and horrendous figure of “the Other of the Other,” the Other without a lack: and what makes it so frightful is precisely the voice which obfuscates its lack.

The obscene part of the superego is always entrusted to the voice: one can think of the secret rules and rituals which effectively hold together gated communities—the rules of initiation, of belonging to some in-group etc. Those are the rules which could never be put down in writing, they are always whispered, hinted at and remain confined to the voice. The voice is what distinguishes the superego from the law—for the law has to be underpinned by the letter, there is no law without a letter, and the letter is something publicly accessible, in principle available at all times to everyone. In contravention and in supplement to the law there are rules entrusted to the voice, the superegoic rules but which actually and effectively hold together communities and constitute their glue. The voice is precisely what cannot be universalized, it is the non-universal par excellence.

So with the ethics of the voice we can see again that the voice plays a pivotal role and is by virtue of that placed in an ambiguous position. If its divinity and alterity can be provisionally put under the heading of the Other, then the voice is unheimlich by virtue of its link with the Other, with the extimate Other within. Yet it doesn’t simply belong to either the subject or the Other, it is not the subject’s proper voice which he could master, but it is also not simply a divine command, it cannot be simply placed in a transcendence. The voice comes from the Other but doesn’t belong to the Other, it is not its part. It circumscribes, yet again, the object as a void, a void in the Other, it is devoid of any positivity.

We can see that we find again the ambiguous ontology—or rather the topology—of the status of the voice as “between the two,” being placed precisely in the curious intersection of the subject and the Other, just as it was before placed at the intersection of the body and the language, circumscribing a certain lack in both. “Pure enunciation” can be taken as a red thread which connects the linguistic and the ethical aspect of the voice. If the status of the voice at the intersection of the two is taken as something positive, if it gains an existence, if it grows fat, as it were, then the moral law turns into the superego. The positivation of the intersection turns the Other into the frightful figure of jouissance, the echo of the primal father which always haunts the law.[11] Lacan gave the formula: “The superego is at the same time the law and its destruction.” To follow the superego is not to follow the moral law, it is a way of avoiding it. If the superego is the supplement of the (paternal, positive) law, its shadow, its obscure and obscene double, then one should add that the alternative, or the disjunction, between the law and the superego is not exhaustive: the moral law, at the interstice of both, doesn’t coincide with either, and it is there that the object voice is to be situated.

The politics of the voice

The political dimension of the voice can perhaps best be approached at the origin, at the very beginning of political philosophy, on the first pages of Aristotle’s Politics.

Now why is the man more of a political animal than any bee or other gregarious creature? The reason is obvious: nature, as the saying goes, does nothing in vain, and man is the only animal endowed with speech. Mere voice (phone) is indicative of pleasure or pain, and therefore belongs also to the rest of the animal world. But the power of speech is intended to express what is advantageous and what harmful, what is just and what unjust. It is precisely in this that man differs from other animals: he alone has any notion of good and evil, of justice and injustice; and an association of living beings possessed of this gift makes a household and a state.

There is maybe a surprise to see that the very institution of the political dimension depends on a certain division of the voice, a division within the voice. For in order to understand the political, one has to discern the mere voice on the one hand and speech, the intelligible voice on the other. There is the massive divide between phone and logos—everything follows from there—and it seems that on a different level we find here again the divide between the word and the voice that we got familiar with in the part about linguistics.

Strangely and incidentally, two, perhaps most, books of political philosophy at the end of the past century, two discoveries of the last decade, both start off with a discussion of this passage: Rancière’s La Mésentente and Agamben’s Homo sacer.

To follow Aristotle, mere voice is what animals and men have in common, it is the animal part of man. It can only indicate pleasure and pain, experience shared by both animals and humans. But speech, logos, doesn’t merely indicate, it manifests the advantageous (useful) and the harmful, and consequently the just and the unjust, the good and the evil. If one receives a blow, one may well scream, emit a voice to vent one’s pain, and that is what a horse or a dog would also do. But at the same time one can say “I have been wronged” and thereby the speech introduces the measure of just and unjust. It doesn’t just give outlet to feelings, it introduces a standard of judgement.

At the bottom of this there is the opposition between two forms of life: zoe and bios. Zoe is the naked life, the bare life, life reduced to animality, and bios is the life in community, in the polis, the political life.

The tie between the naked life and politics is the same as the tie that the metaphysical definition of man as “the living being endowed with language” is looking for in the articulation between phone and logos. The question “How does the living being have language?” exactly corresponds to the question “How does the naked life inhabit the polis?” The living being possesses logos by suppressing and retaining in it its own voice, just as it inhabits the polis by letting its own naked life be ex-cepted by it (Homo Sacer).

This dense quote by Agamben points exactly to the crucial juncture: the analogy, which is more than an analogy, a parallel, which is not just parallel, between the articulation voice-logos and zoe-bios. Voice is like the supposed bare life, the supposed exterior of the political, while logos is the counterpart of the polis, of the social life ruled by laws and a common good. But the whole point is, of course—the point of Agamben’s book—that there is no such externality: the basic structure, the topology of the political, is for Agamben that of “inclusive exclusion” of the naked life. The very exclusion places zoe in a central and paradoxical place, the exception falls into interiority. (“Let us call the relation of exception the extreme form of relation which includes something by its exclusion.”) And this is precisely the place that we were pursuing all along in dealing with the voice: the topology of extimacy, the inclusion/exclusion. For what presents a problem is not that zoe is simply pre-social, the animality, the outside of social, but that it persists, in its very exclusion/inclusion, at the heart of the social—just as the voice is not simply an element external to speech, but persists at its core. And even more: the voice is not some remnant of a previous pre-cultural state, or a remnant of some happy primordial fusion when one was not yet plagued by language and its calamities, it is the product of logos itself, what sustains logos while being at the same time what troubles it.

One can see that the voice, in its function of the internal outside of logos, the apparent extra-logos, is called upon and necessary in certain well-defined and crucial social situations. A more detailed phenomenology and analysis of those would have to be made, but here are just some examples which are taken from very different levels.

The voice is intimately linked with the dimension of the sacred and the ritual, highly codified social situations where using the voice, as the voice beyond meaning, makes it possible to perform a certain act. One cannot perform a religious ritual without recurring to the voice in that sense (one has to say prayers and sacred formulas labialiter, viva voce, in order to assume them and make them effective, although they are all written in the sacred texts and everybody knows them by heart) and it is the use of the voice which endows it with the ritualistic character. This is where this voice echoes the supposedly archaic voice, the seemingly primordial voice not bound by logos.[12] The three great “religions of the Book” all rely on holy scriptures where the truth is manifested, yet the scripture, the holy letter, can only become effective if and when it is assumed by a living voice. It can only function as a social tie, the link of the community of believers, it can only become enacted if and when a voice pronounces what has been written ever since the foundational moment of origin and what all believers keep in their memories anyway.

The secular examples observe the same structure: the proceedings of the court have very strict rules as to the parts of the proceedings and the depositions that have to be made by voice. A guide for the jurors in the French court says:

The orality of the debates is the fundamental rule of the court. This rule imposes that the court can only form its conviction on the basis of the elements orally and contradictorily debated in the court. This is why the court and the jurors cannot consult the files (dossiers) during the sessions. This is also why one cannot read the deposition of a witness which is going to testify before she has testified: the file is always secondary. (Quoted by Poizat).

There are, to be sure, various exceptions to the rule, but the living presence of the voice is the element which defines the ritual nature of court proceedings. The most technical depositions by experts have to be read aloud by them, and only the voice makes them effective, transforms them from mere constative statements into performatives. And this is where even the president of the USA couldn’t get away with a written deposition but had to take the witness stand. Here again we have the scripture, the written law on the basis of which the court has to decide, yet for the law to become effective, for the law to be enacted, one has to have recourse to the voice. If the court is to decide whether the present case can be subsumed under the law, how the letter of the law applies to it, if the court is to determine the truth of the present case and relate it to the law, then it can only do it by the voice. Viva voce. (And we should mark in passing the link between the voice and establishing the truth; there is a point where truth has to be vocal.)

Another example: within the Anglo-American academia, there is the institution actually called viva voce, or just viva, i.e. the defence of a dissertation, of a doctoral thesis, which has to be made “in the living voice.” In most universities all examinations and tests are done by writing (and then anonymously examined by a couple of independent examiners), so in theory one could actually survive the entire academic life and get a degree without ever opening one’s mouth. Up to the viva: at this point, when passing the key initiating ritual, one has to “give voice,” one must not just display one’s knowledge but perform one’s knowledge. The corpus of a candidate’s knowledge has been written down in the dissertation, but this is not enough, it has to be enacted through the voice and only thus made effective.

And the last example (as in Poizat): elections, in a great number of languages, have retained a connection with the voice: giving one’s voice for a candidate, counting the voices (in English the link is weak—one counts the ballots; German: für jemanden stimmen, seine Stimme abgeben, Abstimmung, Stimmabgabe; French: compter les voix, donner sa voix; Swedish: att rösta på; in all Slav languages: glasovanje, etc.). Again this is a metaphor whose metaphoricity has uncertain borders and cannot be quite contained. It has a historic origin in voting by the voice, i. e. by acclamation—Catholic bishops were voted that way and there was an element of acclamation ritually accompanying every coronation of a monarch. Monarchs, God forbid, were never elected, but nevertheless the people had to “give its voice” (think of the opening scene of Moussorgsky’s Boris Godunov which entirely revolves around the problem of the acclamation of the monarch). The coronation, the inauguration of a monarch, couldn’t be properly accomplished without the formal acclamation of vox populi, vox Dei? In a strange connection, God’s will, manifesting itself in the choice of the monarch, could only be implemented by expressing itself through the voice of the people, although the people had no say.

Elections have retained an element of this ritualistic use of the voice. In this highly technically sophisticated society, one still has to give one’s voice, or one has to ritually perform, as it were, the myth of a society organized and tied together by the voice, where the people are still called upon to give their voice in favor of the ruler. The fantasy is that of a Gemeinschaft, a community in which all members can hear each other and the fundamental social tie is the vocal tie. But the electoral voice has to be a silent voice (a silenced voice?): it has to be given by writing, it has to be performed in a small cabin, a cell-like cubicle, in complete isolation (in French it’s called l’isoloir), in complete silence. Furthermore, it has to be done one by one, so that the collective outburst of the acclamational voice is broken down, nipped in the bud, seemingly deprived of its quality of the object of the drive. It is the voice measured and counted, the voice submitted to arithmetic, the voice entrusted to a written sign, but no matter how hard they try to kill it and dismember it, it is still a voice. If the letter of the constitution is to be enacted, in democratic societies, it has yet again to be enacted by the voice.

But this use of the voice is not the only story or the whole story, far from it. All the cases which were briefly used here as examples rely on a division of labor, as it were: there is a coexistence of the letter and the voice and it is quite clear where and when the voice should intervene in order to enact the letter. The two functions are clearly delimited and circumscribed, and the intervention of the voice is called upon in well-defined places and times. This division gives an impression of a peaceful coexistence, a complementarity, as if the letter would find in the use of the voice its Platonic missing half it has been seeking. The voice is only used at the place and at the time that was allotted to it, and all depends on this (problematic) boundary being maintained.

In a sharp contrast to this, there is another kind of voice, a very different use and function of voice which has the effect not of enacting the letter, but of putting into question the letter itself and its authority. It is precisely the (appropriately called) authoritarian voice, voice as authoritarian, the voice as the source of authority against the letter, or the voice not supplementing but supplanting the letter. Most tellingly, all phenomena of totalitarianism tend to overbearingly hinge on the voice, the voice which in a quid pro quo tends to replace the authority of the letter, or seriously put into question its validity. The voice which appears limitless and unbound, i.e., not bound by the letter.

To give a light-hearted and entertaining example of what is rather sinister in itself, one can think of Chaplin’s rendition in The Great Dictator. Indeed, the structural use of the voice in “totalitarianism” has never been depicted more convincingly. Several things have to be noted.[13]

1. What we hear in the opening speech by the Tomanian dictator Hynkel (this was actually the first time that people could hear Chaplin speak) is a non-existent language with all the makings of German (some ludicrous identifiable German words are mixed in). We don’t understand a word (or quite literally, just a word here and there), it is the voice and its theatre which are isolated as the essential feature of the dictator, the voice beyond meaning. The whole speech is but a staging and choreography of the voice.

2. At the same time, we have an invisible English translator interpreting the speech, providing the senseless voice with a meaning. This mechanism is formidable and striking, it seems to be literally ubiquitous: the anthropologist Junzo Kawada, who has studied the political role of the voice in various societies, tells us that in Mosi tribe in Burkina Faso the chief-king always speaks in an incomprehensible low voice and needs an interpreter who explains to the people what the chief really said.[14] But it is essential that the chief is there as the source of the voice, he has to emit the voice, pure voice without signification, and some second-in-command then takes care of the meaning. This device seems to have functioned in many societies. Philippe-Joseph Salazar has detected it in the France of the 17th century, a society very much ruled by “the cult of the voice,” as the title of his book runs. The same device is now enacted here, in this caricature: the master as the source of funny voices, side by side with what is then technically called the voice-over, the invisible interpreter in charge of the meaning.

3. But it is quite clear that what the interpreter is saying is not an accurate translation of the speech, but rather its transformation into something “politically correct,” fit for the ears of the outsiders. It is clear that for the insiders the dictator is saying something that can only be entrusted to the voice and doesn’t bear translation. And we can surmise that he is promising them relief from the strict laws, the “licence to kill,” there is an implied promise of spoils, loot, plunder, an orgy, a promise to suspend the law—something that couldn’t possibly be put into public words. While the interpreter is presenting the whole thing for the historic record, and consequently playing it down, providing it with a rationale, unsuccessfully struggling to put it into a good perspective. The paradox of the scene is that we have two versions, the dictator’s speech and its translation, but we don’t understand the one and yet nevertheless know that the other one is false, but the very discrepancy of the two versions provides the exact clue—precisely the discrepancy between the voice and the signifier.

4. The speech at the beginning—the speech of the dictator Hynkel—is then mirrored by the final speech, the speech made by the Jewish barber in the disguise of Hynkel, the barber who is the exact double of the dictator, who is mistaken for the dictator and has to address the masses in that role. His speech is the very opposite of the initial speech, it is filled with humanism, the appeal to humanity and brotherhood. Yet, in a final irony, the response of the masses appears to be the same, there is the same enthusiasm in spite of the fact that the conveyed meaning is the very opposite. The thing is intriguing, since the masses don’t know that this is not the real Hynkel but his Jewish double—are we to understand that the masses are infinitely gullible, apt to any manipulation? On top of that, the final scene is accompanied by music from Lohengrin, of all things, a gesture that can only heighten the final ambivalence. Can the final scene cancel, obliterate, retroactively undo, aufheben, the effects of the first one, of which it is a remake? Or does the voice resound beyond the alleged humanist message, irreducible to it?

The totalitarian use of the voice is not at all in the same line with the instances of the division of labor. One shouldn’t read it as an invocation of the sacred and the ritual. Or rather: precisely because this is not the dimension of the sacred and of the ritual, it has to make all the more a pretence of it, it has to mimic, to emulate the ritual, as massively and as spectacularly as it can. The voice, although put at the very core, has a very different function here: the Führer may well be the chancellor of the Third Reich, the commander in chief of the army and occupy many political functions, yet he is not the Führer by virtue of the political functions he happens to be charged with, not by being elected and also not on the basis of his abilities. It is the relationship of the voice which makes him the Führer, and the tie that links the subjects to him is enacted as a vocal tie, it exists as the answer to the voice by acclamation which is an essential feature of the speech. It is the voice that makes the law—Führerworte haben Gesetzkraft, as Eichmann will say in Jerusalem, his words supported by the mere voice make the law, the voice immediately turns them into the law, that is, the voice suspends the law. In his person zoe and bios coincide.[15] He represents the unity of Volk and its biopolitical ambition and endeavour—Foucault’s term, biopolitics, aims precisely at the annihilation of the distinction between zoe and bios, that is, in our particular perspective, at the same time between voice and logos. Agamben, on the first pages of his book, defines sovereignty, after Carl Schmitt, as a paradox:

The sovereign is at the same time outside and inside the juridical order. The sovereign, having the legal power to suspend the validity of the law, is legally situated outside the law. This means that the paradox can equally be formulated in this way: “The law is exterior to itself,” or rather: “I, the sovereign, who am outside the law, declare that there is no outside of the law.”

So sovereignty is structurally based on exception. The sovereign is the one who can suspend the legal order and proclaim the state of emergency where the usual laws are no longer valid and the exception becomes the rule. The state of emergency has the most intimate link with the dimension of bare life: indeed it is proclaimed when our bare lives are endangered (natural catastrophes, wars, September 11…) and when one is obliged, in the name of the bare life, to cancel the validity of the normal rule of law. But it is up to the sovereign to decide whether the danger is indeed such that it calls for this extreme measure, so the very rule of law depends on the decision and the judgement emanating from a point outside the law. And the very moment when it is declared that this is now a matter of our bare lives, the survival, therefore a non-political matter, we are dealing with sovereignty and politics in their pure forms, with the showcase of the political.

One can see that this paradox largely coincides with the relationship between the voice and the letter that we have been examining. The letter of the law, in order to acquire authority, has to rely, at a certain point, on the tacitly presupposed voice, it is the structural element of the voice which makes that the letter is not “the dead letter” but exerts power and can be enacted. This can take the shape of a division of labor and a peaceful coexistence, but the voice is structurally in the same position as sovereignty, as pinpointed above, which means that it can suspend the validity of the law and inaugurate the state of emergency. The voice stands at the point of exception which threatens to become the rule, where it suddenly displays its profound complicity with the bare life, zoe as opposed to bios, that Aristotle was talking about. The emergency is the emergence of the voice in the commanding position, its concealed existence suddenly becoming overwhelming and devastating. The voice is precisely at the unplaceable spot at the same time in the interior and the exterior of the law, and hence a permanent threat of the state of emergency.

A politics of the voice follows from there, displaying the voice as pivotal and ambivalent. There is a point where the letter has to rely on a tacitly presupposed voice for its authority, and this invisible, inaudible part of the voice re-emerges with quite a bit of glamour in the ritualistic use of the voice in many codified social situations, those where the voice is called upon to enact the letter and where the hidden voice appears in a positive sonority, as a stand-in for itself, as it were. The paradoxical topology of the voice as essentially between the two can be extended: it is between body and language, the subject and the Other, phone and logos, the voice and the letter, zoe and bios. In all these cases it is always placed at the intersection of the two but belonging to neither; the two entities overlap in an element which doesn’t belong to either of them and which embodies a part of the void which holds them together. This location—the intersection, the void—turns the voice into something very precarious and elusive, an entity which cannot be met in person, as it were, not in the full sonority of an unambiguous presence. The moment this voice is taken as something commanding, compelling on its own, the voice supplanting the letter, we enter the realm where disastrous social and political consequences are quick to follow. It turns into the positive voice of pure command, His Master’s Voice.

We could also say that the voice finds itself in the position of intersection between the subject and the sovereign, the Master—one listens to the voice, and the moment one listens one also obeys, listening is the incipient subjection (there is an etymological basis to this—to obey stems from French obéir, which in turn stems from Latin ob-audire, to listen; similar gehorchen and hören in German, and the link in many other languages). And one emits the voice, one acclaims, one responds to the Master’s voice with acclamation. So that both the Master’s voice and the subject’s voice become indistinguishable in the intersection of domination. Yet, on the other hand, the silent voice that lies at the intersection of the letter and the voice can also be seen in a completely different light: as the voice of pure enunciation to which one has to supply the political statement in response—not by obeying, by merely listening, but by engaging in a political stance towards all forms of domination. There is a divide, a shifting difference always to be determined, between His Master’s Voice (which entails the posture of incipient obedience) and on the other hand the object voice, the formal voice without any positive content—something one would rather escape by obeying the sonorous voice and its commands, but nevertheless: this pure excess of the voice is compelling, it is the voice that cannot be silenced, although it never tells us what to do, and one has to respond to it as a political subject.


In Analysis Terminable and Interminable Freud speaks about three impossible professions in which one can be certain of an unsatisfactory outcome: government, education and psychoanalysis. It is obvious, if one looks at it in our biased perspective, that all the three crucially involve the voice at their core. They are the professions of the voice, and perhaps it is the cumbersome element of the voice which makes them impossible in the first place. The voice functions as the kernel of transference which they all contain, there is a transferential voice, voice as transference.

I have briefly considered only the first of those, government, with some of the paradoxes of the politics of the voice. I have entirely left out the second one, the voice in education—it is obvious that this is a book with many chapters, starting rather spectacularly with the mother’s voice which comes to replace the umbilical cord and to take over its function (hence one of the books on the voice is actually called L’ombilic et la voix, by Denis Vasse.) Then one should consider the voice of the teacher who testifies to his status of the bearer of Knowledge precisely by his/her voice, where again the body of knowledge to be transmitted, though stacked up in books, can only become enacted through the living voice. It’s all in the textbook, but the textbook becomes effective only by the voice—the voice as the lever of education, as it were, even if the teacher is only reading aloud from the textbook.

But I want to finish, rather abruptly and without further development, on the note of “the voice as the pivot of analysis.” Indeed, psychoanalysis is also one of those things which can only be carried out viva voce, in living voice, in the living presence of the analysand and the analyst. Their tie is the tie of the voice. But whose voice? The patient, the analysand, is the one who has to present his associations, anything that comes to his mind, in the presence of the analyst. So the patient is (in principle) the principal or in the limit the sole speaker, the dubious privilege of the emission of the voice belongs to him. The analyst has to keep silent, at least in principle, and the great majority of the time. But here a curious reversal takes place: it is the analyst, with his silence, which is the embodiment of the voice, the voice as the object. He is the personification, the incarnation of the voice, he is the voice incarnate, the aphonic silent voice. His is not his Master’s voice, not the voice of a command or of superego, but rather the impossible unbearable voice to which one has to respond. It is the voice which doesn’t say anything and the voice which cannot be said, the voice of radical silence and of an unbearable appeal, a call to respond, to assume one’s stance of the subject. One is called upon to speak, one would say anything that happens to fall into one’s mind to interrupt the silence, to silence this voice, to silence the silence, but perhaps the whole process of analysis is a way to learn how to assume this voice. It is the voice in which the linguistic, the ethical and the political voice join forces, coinciding in what was the dimension of pure enunciation in them, they are knotted together around that pivotal kernel of the object voice, of its void, and in response to it our fate of linguistic, ethical, political subjects has to be put to pieces and reassembled, traversed and assumed.

His Master’s Voice originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 22, 2003

[1] In one of his sermons, Augustine makes the following claim: John the Baptist is the voice and Christ is the word. Indeed, this seems to follow from the passages in the beginning of St. John’s Gospel: John the Baptist identifies himself as vox clamantis in deserto, while Christ is identified with the Word, logos, which was in the beginning with God. Augustine says: “The voice is being effaced as the Word grows. The voice gradually loses its function as the soul progresses to Christ. So Christ has to increase and John the Baptist has to be obliterated.” (Quoted by Poizat).
[2] Tout ce qui, du signifiant, ne concourt pas à l’effet de signification. (Jacques-Alain Miller)
[3] “Moreover, it is impossible that the sound, the material element, belongs by itself to language. It is secondary for it, a matter that it uses. The linguistic signifier is by its essence by no means phonic, it is disembodied, constituted not by its material substance, but exclusively by the differences that separate its acoustic image from all others.” What defines the phonemes is not “their proper and positive quality, but simply the fact that they do not get confounded among them. The phonemes are above all oppositive, relative and negative entities.” (Saussure).
[4] “If we make music and listen to it, it is in order to silence what deserves to be called the voice as the objet a.” (Miller).
[5] “There is music only for a speaking being.” (Baas).
[6] “An unbridgeable gap separates forever a human body from ‘its’ voice. The voice displays a spectral autonomy, it never quite belongs to the body we see, so that even when we see a living person talking, there is always a minimum of ventriloquism at work: it is as if the speaker’s own voice hollows him out and in a sense speaks ‘by itself’, through him. The true object voice is mute, ‘stuck in the throat’, and what effectively reverberates is the void: resonance always takes place in a vacuum—the tone as such is originally the lament for the lost object.” (Slavoj Zizek).
[7] Lacan uses the English distinction between the aim and the goal, indiscernible in the French le but. “Here we can clear up the mystery of the zielgehemmt, of that form that the drive may assume, in attaining its satisfaction without attaining its goal. When you entrust someone with a mission, the aim is not what he brings back, but the itinerary he must take. The aim is the way taken. The French word le but may be translated by another word in English, goal. If the drive may be satisfied without attaining what would be the satisfaction of its end, it is because its aim is simply this return into circuit. The objet petit a is not the origin of the drive.” “In the profound relation of the drive, what is essential is that the movement by which the arrow that sets out towards the target fulfils its function only by really re-emerging from it, and returning on to the subject.”
[8] “Conscience! Conscience! Divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice; firm guide of an ignorant and limited being, but which is also intelligent and free; the infallible judge of the good and the evil, it is you that make the man similar to God, it is you that make out the excellence of his nature and the morality of his actions; without you I do not sense anything in myself which would elevate me above the beasts, just the sad privilege to stray from error to error with the help of an intelligence without a rule and a reason without a principle.”
[9] Here I am leaving completely aside the intricate problem of “the voice of being” in Heidegger.
[10] This formula is taken from Alenka Zupancic and found also in Baas.
[11] From this angle one could tackle the status of the voice in psychosis, something I will not deal with here. If the superego functions as the shadow and the supplement of the law, if it operates in and through this division, this yields some variant of the “neurotic” mechanism. But if the voice actually supplants the Other and immediately “makes the law,” then it entails the dramatic consequences one can witness in psychosis. Lacan scrutinized psychosis under the heading “the foreclosure of the Name-of the-Father”—and one could say that the foreclosed Name-of-the-Father returns in the Real precisely as the voice.
[12] Hence the whole problem of the use of shofar in Jewish rituals, which Lacan has treated at great length in his Seminar on anxiety.
[13] For this example I am indebted to Alenka Zupancic, also Poizat.
[14] “In this society the king doesn’t address directly and loudly the listeners who are his subjects. His voice is always quiet, grave, low. Each time the sovereign makes a pause, an assistant in charge of repetition amplifies and transmits loudly the royal words to the public. But this human amplifier is not limited by mechanically reproducing the words of the sovereign. It happens that he completes them and modifies their style when reciting them for the audience.” (Kawada).
[15] “He is placed at the juncture of zoe and bios, of the biological and the political body. His person is the place where the one constantly passes into the other.” (Agamben).

Lacan, American
Pierre-Gilles Guéguen

Author’s Bio

Translated by Julien Marzouk

The three trips

Jacques Lacan traveled to the United States three times: the first time in February 1966, then in October/November of the same year and the third time in November/December 1975. These trips frame the most incredibly creative period in the work of Doctor Lacan, which began with the publishing of Écrits in 1966 and ended with Seminar 23, Joyce and the sinthome, in 1975. During this time, the United States, just as Europe, changed considerably.

The first trip lasts three weeks and leads Lacan to speak in six universities: first in New York at Columbia University, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], at Harvard University in Boston, at the University of Detroit, at the Dan Harbour University in Chicago and at the University of Chicago.[1] This trip is organized by Roman Jakobson and the lectures given by Lacan deal with demand and desire. In his argument, he puts together the unconscious content of demand and the splitting [2] of the subject.[3] Following this USA run, Lacan stays a week on the American continent to visit Mexico.

He takes the floor in October of the same year in Baltimore, at the symposium, “The Languages of Criticism and Sciences of Man” (Johns Hopkins University).

The third trip, the one of 1975, also involves an intense work plan: Lacan is invited to four universities. He gives two lectures at Yale in New Haven: one for the Kanzer Seminar, the other at the Law school, on the 24th and 25th of November. He then goes to New York at Columbia University’s invitation; he speaks in the auditorium of the School of International Affairs (December 1st), and then gives a lecture at MIT in Boston (December 2nd).

To this day, no transcript of the conferences of this first trip is available. Lacan’s lecture in Baltimore was edited and published in English.[4] Lacan himself, however, told the story of these trips on the March 23rd, 1966, in his Seminar.

As regards the conferences and conversations of the third trip, they were published in Scilicet n° 6/7, under the title: “Lacan’s Conferences and Conversations at North American Universities.” These texts are preceded by a disclaimer which informs that they were written with hindsight, based on notes, stenotypes and recordings, given that for every lecture Lacan only had frameworks from which he improvised. They constitute a precious and living contribution of Lacan and his way of addressing this non familiar audience.


What strikes one when reading this conference again, is the extreme delicacy with which Lacan addresses his audience. However, he points out that he does not wish to position his listeners in a safe place and that he will use both French and English for that purpose. This fact is surely something to be noted here as an enunciating position his analysands have always attested to.

Another shift introduced by Lacan: he reminds that he is addressing and has always addressed psychoanalysts. This point is particularly important as he speaks before an academic panel—mostly linguists and philosophers—and yet he puts them in an unsafe place: no “of course,” no dialogue (in French, “Pas De Dialogue”)—PDD, as Jacques-Alain Miller framed it a few years ago.

This is the juncture where the subject of the unconscious is located and Lacan wishes to give an idea of it to his listeners: “But the unconscious has nothing to do with the instinct or some archaic knowledge, nor with thoughts that would be prepared underground. It’s a thought with words, a thought that gets away from your vigilance, from your active monitoring state. […] It is as if a demon played with your vigilance.”[5]

At the same time, his lecture is very simple, thorough, and in this sense probably very far from the idea his audience may have had on this obscure and incomprehensible French theoretician, possibly dogmatic and held back by his own knowledge. He addresses each person as a potential analysand, while still constraining himself to find new words to translate concepts that were elsewhere expressed in a more formal way, and all this, without loss. Reading this text, one grasps why Lacan could qualify his teaching position as one of an analysand. One can also get a grasp on how fundamental the way of addressing is for an analyst: to trigger something in the Other that will not make knowledge an occasion for closing oneself to the unconscious. This is how, for example, this apparent digression that Lacan introduces in his own speech and which was noted several times, is supposed to be received: “The best image that summarizes what is the unconscious is Baltimore in early morning.”[6] From the idea that the contemporary city is like a living organism, like a pulsating brain, that can be switched on and off, that lives through thousands of thoughts, which have already been concretized into objects, he gets the meaning of a psychoanalytical discourse’s own position on intellectual matters across, which will provoke fierce struggles: “For a long time, thinkers, researchers, and even inventors who were interested in the question of the mind, have put forward the idea of unity as the most important feature, the most characteristic of the structure. […] The adult organism works as a unity. The question becomes more difficult when this idea of unity is being applied to the mind, because the mind is not a unity in itself.”

The USA: what struck Lacan

In March 1966, Lacan found it necessary to narrate his trips to the USA in his Seminar. He is concerned with the confusion that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur—who follows his teachings—spreads between psychoanalysis and some kind of hermeneutics improperly derived from the Lacanian concepts. What struck Lacan and what he develops at length goes against the generally accepted idea that America, and especially the USA of 1965, is a forward-looking country. On the contrary: “To me, it seemed like meeting a past time, he said, an absolute past, dense, a past that you could cut with a knife, a pure past, a past all the more essential as it never existed, neither at the place where it’s currently installed, nor at the one where it’s supposed to come from, which is from around here.”[7]

However, the judgement—despite the tribute paid to his hosts and listeners and a part from the exceptional place given to New York’s own culture—is both severe and somber. He points out that the inertia here is not of the order of repetition: “it’s a past with no underlying repetition whatsoever. It may be this peculiar, striking, impressive aspect, […] that gave me […] the feeling […] of the mass of dough, absolutely impossible to mold.”[8] This sentence suggests that Lacan had spotted a lack on the symbolic level that is peculiar to the American society. He praises, however, several academic works which he got his hands on. Despite that, the conclusion he draws is pessimistic: “One will not arrive at anything like a reversal of the current, at a reflux, […] at anything at all that may resemble a fundamental change,”[9] even though it is counterbalanced by the idea that “everything is left to be done” and that it could be something in the form of a publication. Lacan conceives it as a challenge to be taken up and, as often, in a paradoxical way: since it is impossible, everything is left to be done!


Third trip: Lacan is deeply absorbed by the Borromean knot theory and by the preparation of the part on Joyce in his Seminar, the first lesson of which he will give on November 18th, 1975. Accompanied by psychoanalyst Thérère Parisot, representing l’Ecole Freudienne de Paris [EFP], Lacan carries out an astonishing activity. One of his Cicerones, academic Paul B. Newman, who has an acute awareness of the exceptional character he is dealing with, highlights this in a beautiful narrative. Being unable to develop these accounts here, we refer to this precious document.[10]

The “Conferences and Conversations…” bring Lacan face to face with very different interlocutors: from simple students to leading experts of American thought—logician Quine, linguist Chomsky. Linguist Jakobson also attends the conference. Lacan tries to give them a hint of the use of the borromean knot theory and overall, to have them get a grasp on what is the real in psychoanalytic theory.[11] Some precious points can also be found in those conferences on what Lacan means by sinthome together with an unusual stress on the body dimension. From time to time, a few misunderstandings arise; Chomsky would have been offended when Lacan asserts that “he thinks with his feet.”[12] This assertion would not surprise anyone who read in Télévision Lacan’s considerations on the body and the thought.[13] Unfortunately, this exchange was not recorded.

These conferences and conversations as a whole enlighten us on the “last Lacan” with a relaxed yet very dense style, where he seems much more at ease than in his Seminar, which had become at that time, corseted due to a numerous and deferential audience, of which he often complained. Should this jibe that he would have said—“America mops me up”[14]—according to Paul B. Newman, be considered the alpha and omega of this trip? What is rather striking is the uncommon vivacity and stamina of this seventy-four year old man who turns out to be once again, first and foremost a man of desire: gay sçavoir.

The above appeared in French in Lacan Quotidien

[1]Reported by Lacan in his Seminar, the 23rd of March, 1966: cf. The Seminar, book XIII, “The object of psychoanalysis,” 1965-1966, unreleased.
[2]In english in the original text.
[3]Ibid. : “The so-called suspension of the non contradiction principle at the level of the unconscious, is simply this fundamental splitting of the subject.”
[4]Cf. Lacan J., “Of Structure as the Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever,” in The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. The Structuralist Controversy, s/dir. R. Macksey & E. Donato, Baltimore / London, Johns Hopkins, 1970.
[5]Lacan J., Communication and discussion at the international Symposium of the Johns Hopkins center in Baltimore, 21st of October, 1966, unreleased, translated by the author of this article.
[7]Lacan J., The Seminar, book XIII, “The object of psychoanalysis,” 1965-1966, session of the 23rd of March, 1966, unreleased.
[10]Newman P. B., “Lacan in America,” Ornicar?, n°7, June-July 1976, p. 103-108.
[11]The editorial format of this text does not make it possible to go over the content of these works. One could especially read the article of Anne Lysy: “Unconscious and Interpretation,” in Hurly Burly, n°1, p. 57-75.
[12]Lacan J., “Conferences and Conversations at North American Universities. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2nd of December 1975,” Scilicet, n° 6/7, 1976, p. 60.
[13]Cf. Lacan J., “Television,” Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 512: “The man does not think with his soul, as the Philosopher imagines it. He thinks from how a structure, that of language […] cuts up his body, and, which has nothing to do with anatomy.”
[14]Reported by Newman P.B., “Lacan in America,” in Ornicar?, n°7, p. 103.

Castellucci Forever
Marie-Hélène Brousse

Phylida Barlow

Author’s Bio

translated by Kate Lawrenson

I often question hatred these days—that of others, of course. Oh well, it fell on me under the implacable laws of the genitive in French. I’m hateful this week. It began triggered by fear as it should have. Muslim fundamentalists set fire to a newspaper that I don’t read; Catholic fundamentalists raged against the performance of a theatre actor which is not to say that I appreciate his creative activity. And voilà! I fear for the freedom of expression (that’s the phrase of Beaumarchais in the heading of Figaro that makes me respect this journal which I did not direct), and so I hate those who challenge it. This leads to the line of Saint-Just that gripped me when I first read it in adolescence: “Pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté” (No freedom for the enemies of freedom), an ethical version of Russell’s barber paradox. Is it the same freedom in both cases? The Lacanian method of the completed aphorism is useful here. If I complete the following: no freedom (of action) for the enemies of freedom (of thought), what happens? I separate thinking from action, rendering everyone powerless and given to the chimeras of sense. If I complete it in this way: no freedom of criminal action for the enemies of freedom of speech, it is a truism: crime, defined by Law, is prohibited and as such, bound to punishment. But speaking and writing are also acts. To set fire to the headquarters of a newspaper is a criminal offense which in a state of law has no extenuating circumstances. To prevent or to attempt to prevent a theatrical performance by force falls under the same section of law. And to prevent the publication and dissemination of Mein Kampf? And to prohibit the teaching of Darwinian evolution as is the law in certain states in the US? This question is a relevant aporia in the impossible meeting between logic and language, or, to put it another way, a result of the fact revealed by psychoanalysis that, in parlêtres, jouissance is internal to the symbolic. To take care of this impossible limit, which is in fact a gap, political powers have a number of tools: the Law or the Arbitrary or both; Punishment by force or not; Surveillance always.

Saint-Just twice experienced the arbitrary against freedom: when he was sent to reformatory school on a lettre de cachet at the request of his mother, and again when the father of the young woman he loved, refusing his request, quickly had her married to another, it did not prevent the young woman from escaping, leaving said husband to find the man she loved. The faces here—the mother’s, the father’s, and the king’s—were for him the enemies of freedom. The cause he was defending, that of individual freedom against the patriarchal order, has triumphed: no freedom for the enemies of individual freedom. Today, these powers find themselves faced with difficulty in the exercise of their tools: trouble in legislating which, having become universal (it is imperative for all legislation to limit the power of everyone as power has deserted the hierarchy to take refuge in the individual), is crazed by what it calls the “legal vacuum;” difficulty in punishment (even within the family, punishment is challenged because parents are no longer assimilated to power, but to duties); difficulty in surveillance, all the cameras of the world see nothing, as G. Wajcman has shown in his latest book.

The techno-sciences have indeed accomplished a revolution, or a leap forward, which has quantitatively and thus qualitatively transformed the social link. The internet, networks, and blogs have completely changed “inter-human trade” which, as developed by Jacques-Alain Miller, is passed on from the individuals of the Enlightenment—still defined as citizens, that is to say, still linked to a center which is the Republic—to the scattered ones, with no link other than sharing modalities of jouissance, which are ephemerally grouped under concurrent master-signifiers, in the more or less active “minorities.” The parlêtre of today is no longer the individual of the Enlightenment and the new democracy no longer has anything to do with the Republic—neither that of Saint-Just or that of the French Third Republic—which originates precisely from secularism. It was only the result of a negotiation between forces that no longer exist in a globalized world. Time is new and chaotic. Thus, it is taken with a desire to go back. Because it is a time of change, fearful, anxiety-producing change, it is a potentially reactionary time: fundamentalism—Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and cognitive-behavioral—is stoked. They are candidates for the possession of power, they have the sense with them, the good, the mortal. They want to close the question of truth that, like a wound, was reopened on the edges of ancient scars.

It is in these thoughts that I went on Sunday night to the theater, a little sad that the pleasure I had at the idea to see a major artist’s new show was overshadowed by my hatred and the need to comb over the analysis again and again. Castellucci, because this was the last show he was giving, was in Paris, and LQ was the echo and the defender, the target of fundamentalism, its slander and its violence outside of the laws of the Republic. He was surprised moreover, since his show has given rise to this sort of reaction in France. But France, don’t forget, was the eldest daughter of the Church and is today a land of conquest for Islam. Christian fundamentalists have retained, even condemned by Rome, a church, Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, near the Mutu, right in the fifth arrondissement. The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André XXIII, said apropos of the renegades on Radio Notre-Dame on October 29th: “We are faced with people who are organized for demonstrations of violence,” adding in reference to the “idiots” that follow on “good faith”: “it is not that because they act in good faith that what they are doing is right. Their membership in highly politicized, militant groups comprised on religious terms, does not favor their development, but rather their distortion.” The Archbishop does not mention that the current Pope is indulging them, but his remark on faith is no shortage of salt. There is faith and faith, and the good is not always the best.

At the Cent-quatre, where the demonstration took place, the impact of terrorism was palpable: abundance of CRS cars, bon-enfant distribution of PCF pamphlets: “for the freedom of creation and the defense of public service for the culture”—phrases not fading before the audacity and possibility of a contradiction in terms. And then the body-searches, the mandatory coat-check, the walk-through metal detector like at an airport. We want to stay alive, the fundamentalists rot us. I sat in a small room. An employee of the Cent-quatre reading the order of law said that it would be applied most rigorously and that if we wanted to leave the room during the show, we would be escorted by staff. Thus, spectators were to be protected among them so as to infiltrate the enemy. It’s true and It’s a consequence of the breakdown of the rule of law.

Many years ago now, Castellucci was a decisive encounter for me with his incredible show, Julius Caesar. There, the body as well as the voice occupied a unique space. A camera placed in one of the actor’s throat projected the movement of the glottis on a screen; another breathed helium to modify the sound of voice, the obese, old, or anorexic body showed the flesh and not the image, without altering the Shakespearean frame, for I have never seen in the theatre a mise en scéne more true to battle, rendered solely with sounds and lights. Therefore extreme realism and the emergence there of a puzzle where history tends toward meaning. Only technical skill and the virtuosity of theatrical art allow these performances. After this unforgettable encounter, I have, as far as possible, made every effort to watch the progress of his work. In Rome, a different representation, short as a Lacanian session, demonstrated to me the power in arranging the form of the human body and the sound of the voice through a subjective effect obtained in all the spectators—live verification of Lacanian theory of the dimension of the Imaginary. In short, it is the theatre of the object and the real, the meaning appears like a simple effect, moreover enigmatic and fragmentary, in any case given to the responsibility of the viewer. I’ve had in Rimini—a town very near the spot where there is installed the Compagnie Rafaelle Sanzio—the chance to participate in a debate with him organized by our colleagues from the SLP, Loretta Biondi and Maria Antonella Del Monaco, with the participation of Adele Succetti. We talked about Hamlet, which he had staged; he knew of Lacan. He was clear and quietly affirmed his conception of the theatre. We had spoke of the objects and the body and the Lacanian language was not foreign to him. This year we will find ourselves in Rimini in January 2012 for another conversation among psychoanalysis and the art of theatre, this time with his company.

I sat. The stage and set were visible: a white tray, a modern interior, sofa, TV stand, a rug, a table and two chairs, a bed and a nightstand, all as white as the floor of the room. In the background, a giant image of the face of Christ, of Antonello di Messina. The title of the piece, which lasts 50 minutes, is “On the Concept of the Face of the Son of God.” This face looks at us and overlooks the minimalist interior of a design magazine. A father, old from the oldness that medical science produces: ill, impotent, vegetating in a nameless world. He sits before a TV with his back to the audience members who detect the random flecks of light and words—inarticulate noise. They fit him with a helmet so he does not escape. This is the first interpretation. The old senile before his TV, it’s the viewer in general. He mumbles and his hands are rough waves of movements. A son, well dressed in a suit and tie. He puts a note in an envelope, checks his cell phone. Before leaving for work, he gives his father some drops—doubtlessly a useless remedy—and two tablets. Absorbed in what he’s doing, he says, “Dad. …Dad…How are you, dad? How are you this morning? What’s on TV?” He doesn’t really expect a response. He talks aloud more than he speaks to such a vegetative “he.” And then the old man begins to relieve himself. And the son goes to clean the father and the furniture… “I’ll change your diaper.” “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry,” mumbles the father. “You don’t have to apologize” repeats the son. A scene of unbearable realism, without characters taking to violence, a scene that all of us who have been in nursing homes for the elderly recognize. Between the father and son, nothing but humanity. The father continues to relieve himself, the shit is beyond the son’s control, from the paper towel to the latex gloves, the garbage bag to the diaper to the sponge; the water becomes dirty, the white decor is spoiled, the son is defeated. All shit away. Another possible interpretation: The human world and its waste, plastics, electronics, nuclears… The shit of our objects, the shit of lathouses, our new maser who will decide the fate of humanity… The Father, he ch… and asked for forgiveness: he is no longer an organism that apologizes for living. Twice, however, he responds to his son. Two signifiers arise which thus represent the subject: “the… the… animals”: he is a sick animal. Then to his son who told him, “Tonight we will see Tata,” he responds, “But I do not care for Tata”: An animal that does not care, that is out of the link.

And all this under the empty gaze of Christ. When the son gives up and disappears from the scene, the old man—the bed, the floor, and himself soiled—falls into shadow. The beautiful, harmonious image of Christ’s face begins to be attacked from within (behind the scenes) by an action with no visible author; the spectators watch it deform, then smear, then tear up into shreds and disappear revealing the following, printed clearly in huge black and white letters: “You are my shepherd” and appearing and disappearing less brightly: “not.” To be or not to be, the memorable echo of Hamlet, this time applied to the Other, “You are or you are not.” The subject no longer questions if he is, the lack in being is passed through there, he knows he is “his objects,” as Lacan says, there is no being but from this jouissance de vivant, the living body that fills and empties itself, and that medicine maintains in the state of putrified enchantment. The question here focuses on the being of the Other: it exists, it does not exist? The two, randomly, at the moment, once more art and psychoanalysis are found on the same track. A track not without risk for those who speak on their behalf, who want to know something of the real still, in these times of willed ignorance and looking back.

This article was originally published in french in N°82 of Lacan Quotidien

Femininity, the Sexual, Hysteria

Nathalie Djurgberg

Femininity, the sexual, hysteria…

I put on big shoes, too big, so big that my feet appear to be men’s feet; me standing in the hallway, him, no sign of showing me in. And he looks and looks at my shoes, he rolls his eyes, he sighs, I follow him.
— Shshsh… shoes… Oh! shsh… it certainly identifies you… Pasa un angel, An Angel Passes when all of a sudden the conversation stops… I didn’t know it had this meaning in English… I mean the title of your book… did you translate it from the French?
— (Silence, while the best of his stone faces; it could be that he was even impatient…
— Silence in the Other… a hole… a robe?… we know silence invests certain people…
(Why is he going to smoke and I can’t?)
Me — Do you have a light?
Him — No!
Him — What else? His elbow on the armchair, his head on his fist, his eyes half closed as if about to sleep. (Had I been left with nothing to say? I became impatient, time was so ephemeral, so expensive…)
— I have no words… I don’t know what to say.
Him — Invent…
— I can’t, I can’t, I can’t… (The session was going to be left at that? he was already clapping his hands!)
— OK! I said, as we proceeded to go through the retirement ritual: coat, gloves, scarf, hat, with an awkwardness that evidenced my hate. He had no pity.
— Ready? Already in the hall, already in front of the mirror between the elevator doors, what did I see? In a circle, spinning around my head, these last words drew themselves in front of my eyes — I can’t; I can’t, I can’t… the penmanship corresponded with that of a nine or ten year old girl. A girl I say? Of a girl that practiced penmanship and she did it in English…

— I dreamt of myself jumping into the void; I was standing on grass at the edge of the Earth; I hesitated… I was afraid but I jumped. I was falling and as I fell, between my hands a pillow… I leaned my head on the pillow… I continued to fall… the falling became pleasant… I woke up.
Him — Fall…
— Well, in English, you fall in love, also in French, but this time it seemed I was falling into myself.

(Such ado he makes when I put on men’s shoes, but the day I finally wear high heels he doesn’t even look at them…) I took off my coat, the gloves, the scarf, the hat… he was looking through the window; was it perchance that he wanted to comment that the fog had clouded over his East River. To talk about the weather with him, to bring him a piece of gossip, to talk!… I checked the back of his head, naive, even though immutable, somewhat curly.)
— Do you want to lie down? (Hmm, it was all I wanted, but… too much too soon?)
— Next time…

In dreams I was pulling out a fly’s wings and then sticking them on the window angled at various heights. I looked through the wings of the fly; they had the exact shape of your glasses…
Him — aha
His eyes, my eyes? my father’s eyes?
Only five years later I would realize my analyst’s eyes were not blue. It took weeks to tell him about it, and then weeks to believe myself.


The beginning of analysis should hysterize the subject. Hence, hysterical or not, the obliged path will set forth division: Supposed Knowledge incarnates an Other. The subject will appear in this Other. Intrinsically internal, hence doomed to fall, the analyst — the Other — objet a — will solely reveal itself in retroaction Why? because there isn’t The analyst.

Lacan puts it this way: il n’y a pas du psychoanalyste . Should we then conceive of this semblance, of this non-determined one, the way Lacan word-paints woman — non-existent — non-whole — divided to herself? Like the woman, the psychoanalyst will oppose himself — in order to be. Analysis begins with the Master discourse. Love will sign the change into the Analytic discourse:

The S1 — le parlêtre — a word represents the subject. In as much as the analysand speaks about whatever crosses his mind, that he speaks non-sense — words lose their meaning. So in analysis his speech goes in the place of truth. Where, what, is the place of truth? There are four places in the structure:

Four signs rotate clockwise, according to the discourse (master, hysteric, analyst, university):[1]

Written at the place of truth, S2 is a representation of the Supposed Knowledge of the analyst. In contrast to the analysand’s “sayings,” there are no “sayings” of the analyst. There is only the “saying” of interpretation.

S2 supports objet a. Embodied by a semblance of objet a, a fall-out from the concurrence of S1 —> S2, the analyst (again like the woman) is in fact introduced through the saying of truth. For in acting as if he understood, he rides full tilt against the unconscious.

The function of objet a — the analyst, is silence. Although extended into being there (être là), Lacan finished up writing it as être l’a: to be a.

S2 — What the analyst is supposed to know. Genuine supposition. Since the analyst speaks but words, “… what the analyst is supposed to know, may never be all said. It says, but in a mid-saying of truth.”[2]

Hence Lacan differentiates the uttered, from the mid-saying. “In as much as the analyst’s silence corresponds to a semblance of a leftover (objet a) he intervenes at the level of, that is of the conditioned, 1) because of what he utters, 2) because of what he does not say.”[3] This relation graphs as follows:

In Encore we have the story of the parrot and Picasso. Lacan says she was in love with him. Why does he say this? It seems that this parrot nibbled at Picasso’s shirt, and at the lapels of his jacket. In fact, the parrot was supposedly in love with what is essential in man, his attire. “Clothing loves the monk for together they make but one.”[4] Then the body under the clothing — a leftover of desire — is what defines object a.

So the image, and a substance — objet a — the leftover of the desire, is in turn its cause and its sustainer. Word for word, in remitting to the cause, the parrot — “what he utters” — is conditioned as the divided subject — $. And this makes for love’s unsatisfaction, for its “impossibility.”

However, uncertain forms on bodies identify sexual traits and grant the sexual being. But the being of it, which is none other than the enjoyment of it, jumps into another body. And the body of jouissance is a-sexuated. Why? because sexual jouissance is determined, marked by the impossibility of establishing the relationship of the two sexes in the utterable.

So for Lacan, “analytic discourse shows that… to the man — provided that he has the organ said phallic — woman’s sex means nothing, be it not through the mediation of the body of jouissance.”[5]

Then, for a woman? According to Schneiderman there is a conflict between signifiers and the female body: “…the relation in question does not concern men and women but signifiers and women… The signifier is a fallen angel. Its crime is to be the unmoved mover of a woman.”

The analyst’s attention floats, the patient free associates. Torn between the Real — the body, jouissance — and the Symbolic — language, desire — the speaking being will thus not say — S1, unless he utters. S1 leads to recognition in the matter of failure. “Dependent but of the essence of the signifier, there is a gap between this One and something which depends on the self, and in pursuit of the self, of jouissance.”[6]

The analyst gets distinguished from the Other. Objet a contains the Other, but it exceeds it. S1, identifies to truth, and S2, to knowledge. The speaking being knows more than what it speaks, . The Analytic discourse introduces a semblance of jouissance.
S1 — countable and actual, the One is in addition to…
S2 — the others, are infinite and virtual. Although the infinite set will only consist as such in virtue of a missing signifier which is external to it, S2 will consist only if S1 ex-sists.

Still, we may question the jouissance of Woman “supplementary… beyond the phallus… in excess.”[7]





[1] Lacan’s discourse of the University. back up
[2] Jacques Lacan, “Impromptu sur le discours analitique,” Silicet 6/7, Paris: Seuil, 1976, p. 62. back up
[3] Ibid.back up
[4] Lacan, Le Seminaire, livre XX: Encore, Paris, Seuil, 1975, p. 12. back up
[5] Ibid, p. 12. back up
[6] Lacan, Le Seminaire, livre XX: Encore, p. 12. back up
[7] Lacan, Le Seminaire, livre XX: Encore, p. 90. back up

Autism: An Ethical Stake for Our Time
Mario Goldenberg

Author’s Bio

Analytic training is never-ending. Every meeting is a training space. In the Lacanian orientation, there is no standard training: it is not a matter of so many hours of analysis or so many hours of supervision. What opens up a future for psychoanalysis is the possibility of facing the problem of doing justice to the subjectivity of our time.
What does doing justice to our time consist of? In some cases, preferring Internet to books, for instance.

What does doing justice to our time with regard to autism involve? The most recent trend, for the last 20 years, has been to regard autism as a neurological disorder with a genetic cause. The real of hard science that forecludes the subject. There are clinics and therapies based on this. This is something we are facing.

How can we face this conception of hypermodern science?
I would like to mention two references:
The first one is the case of the South Korean student Cho Seung-Hui at Virginia Tech:
a reference taken from a book by Spanish journalist Juan Gómez-Jurado called The Virginia Tech Massacre (El Anden, Barcelona, 2007), which is a sort of detailed timeline of what happened in the Blacksburg campus. This massacre caused a hole in hypermodernity, in the discourse that characterizes the current security system.

Cho was a disturbed twenty-three year old, and some of his relatives mentioned that he had been diagnosed as autistic in childhood. He would never greet anyone, not even his roommates. He had aggressively pestered some girls. One of them was one of the first to be murdered. Cho had a tutor, the teacher Lucinda Roy, who, taking into account his background, gave him normativizing advice.

It should be borne in mind that Cho had had a psychiatric episode a few years before. However, he had an arms license—the arms with which he committed the massacre were legally bought.

The tutor says that Cho would not greet anyone, and greeting people is something very important in the US normativizing discourse. The tutor would advise him to greet people, teaching him to say Hello, How are you? The student said that he would try to do so sometimes.

The massacre started around 7am with the murder of two students. Then Cho mailed to NBC a video with his photos and manifesto, which can be found on YouTube. At around 9am he received a university warning on his BlackBerry, saying that there had been murders in a building, and that the police was surrounding the campus. Five minutes later, he walked into the classrooms and killed the other thirty students. The very security device triggered the massacre. The tutor said, crying, that the first thing that you can see in the video when Cho walks into the classrooms to kill the others is that he greeted them saying: Hello, How are you? Her normativizing achievement.

It is interesting to find a similar modality in the case of Wellington Menezes de Rio and other cases. They generally make a statement, a sort of manifesto explaining why they did what they did, and they are all subjects for whom bonds are rather disturbed, they manage to establish bonds like this. What is worrying about Virginia Tech, I believe, is that it was the security device itself that pushed him. The episode was triggered by the idea that he had to greet people—which might seem to be nonsense—or by his receiving the alert.

As regards types of intervention, this is a good example of normativization in the clinic. I would like to contrast this recent case with a classic case described by Melanie Klein. In his first seminar, Lacan mentions Melanie Klein’s 1930 paper “The importance of symbol-formation in the development of the ego,” which describes a four-year old boy who was at the level of a 15 to 18 month old due to the poverty of his vocabulary and his intellectual development. There was absolutely no adaptation to reality and no emotional ties to his environment: the child received no affection and was indifferent to the absence of his mother or nurse. From the start, he had rarely displayed anxiety; he generally uttered unintelligible sounds and constantly repeated certain noises. When he talked, he used his scarce vocabulary incorrectly, but not only was he unable to make himself understood, he didn’t wish to do so. Moreover, the mother perceived in Dick a strongly negative attitude, which was expressed in that he frequently did precisely the opposite of what was expected of him: if the mother managed to make him repeat some words with her, Dick would often completely modify them, although at other times he could perfectly pronounce the same words.

Regarding his background, Melanie Klein says that his lactation period had been exceptionally unsatisfactory and disturbed, as his mother had insisted for several weeks in trying to breastfeed him with no success, and the child had almost starved to death. Then the child was artificially fed and was able to feed better thanks to a nurse: he had digestive disorders, anal prolapse, hemorrhoids, etc.

The mother’s attitude towards him had been one of excessive anxiety from the start.
Then came the meeting with Melanie Klein, which is something interesting in an analyst’s training. I remember that Elsa del Valle, an APA Kleinian analyst, would say that she had worked with autistic patients for many years, and she was very surprised by Dick’s response, which was quite unusual. As described by Melanie Klein and Lacan, Dick’s indifference towards Melanie Klein was similar to being with a piece of furniture. Melanie Klein points out that, unlike neurotic children, there is no anxiety in the presence of another. Melanie Klein operated through something which Dick knew—the train, the words “train,” “station.” She introduced what Lacan called the Oedipal veneer by means of the random fact that Dick was playing with his train and said “station.” As Lacan describes it, Melanie Klein plugged it in brutally: Dick is the train and enters the station which is Mommy (she had previously said that Daddy was the big train and Dick was the little train).

Going beyond Melanie Klein’s idea of the Oedipal

Melanie Klein talks about inhibition in the development of the ego. Something has been arrested. And this modality of Dick’s, an indifferent negativist, indicates that something has been arrested. What she brings about is the precise opposite of normativization: she causes Dick to become anxious to begin with—you will remember the dark place—and then she introduces the call. Beyond Elsa del Valle’s narration, the call appears almost immediately in treatment—it was something which did not exist in Dick’s universe: there were words but there was no calling the Other.

I would like to mention two references from “The Topic of the Imaginary” in Seminar I and articulate this with Eric Laurent’s two recent lectures on autism. The three orders—the Imaginary, the Real, and the Symbolic—already appear in early Lacan, but they are not linked. He uses a topological term, and when he tackles the question of the call, the fact that Dick doesn’t call for anyone initially, he says the following: “But this child already has a sufficient system of language. The proof lies in the fact that he plays with it. He even uses it to make an attempt at opposing adult attempts at intrusion.” I find the way in which Lacan locates this defensive system very interesting. What Melanie Klein calls an “inhibition” is an opposition to attempts at intrusion: for example, Dick behaves in a way which is described as “negativist” in the text.

You should remember that the word which Lacan uses when he talks about Melanie Klein and her intervention is “plugging in”—she “brutally grafts,” creates a symbolization veneer in something which is dislocated—and what is dislocated, according to Lacan, is the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary, just as the optical schema of the flower vase in Seminar I is dislocated. There is a relationship with the real and with reality which is interesting for us.

What I wanted to mention is that this rejection of intrusion leads Melanie Klein to perform an operation which, we might say, enlarges a border, for something happens—as Lacan says, something is triggered. Talking about Dick, he says “there is no unconscious of any kind in the subject: it is Melanie Klein’s discourse that brutally grafts the first symbolizations into the child’s initial egoic inertia.” Thus, Melanie Klein’s intervention—which, I insist, is neither normativizing nor pedagogical—grafts—as Lacan says, “brutally grafts”—something in place of the intrusion.

Finally, I would take up a couple of issues, one from a lecture by Miller which can be found on the AMP blog, entitled “Reading a Symptom,” which was the closing lecture for the New Lacanian School conference, and the call to the new conference, which will be held in Tel Aviv.

It is very interesting because Miller follows two aspects: the aspect of sense, the deciphering of the symptom, where interpretation and the analytic operation concern sense, on the one hand; and on the other hand, a different modality, I would say, a moment beyond Freud that is “knowing how to read.” And I believe that, beyond all that with which Melanie Klein deluded herself, her entire theory of objects, phantasy, and primary sadism, etc.—which are all debatable questions—beyond her belief that she is grafting the Oedipal myth, there is a reading effect in what she does. Because what is interesting about these cases is that it is not sense that is at stake: for there is no demand for sense, but rather these are beings who have a relationship with language but they are outside sense, and what Melanie Klein produced was fledgling access to sense.

Finally, I would like to mention a paper from a Catalan colleague, Neus Carbonell entitled: “Autism and Genetics: Belief-Based Medicine” which concludes: “However, the statement that autism has a genetic cause persists and insists, unruffled, and so I think that we can conclude that it is a ‘solid’ belief. A belief, however, with consequences, as it forecludes the subject. For psychoanalysis, considering autism as being in relation to an unfathomable decision of the being entails also thinking about a treatment for the subject. All that remains of the other treatment is the correction or reeducation of alleged anomalies.”

The above has been adapted from a Lecture in the Fundación Avenir Conference – Autism and Psychosis in Childhood – on August 6th 2011 in Córdoba, Argentina.

Mario Goldenberg: psychoanalyst, AME of EOL andAMP, lecturer at UBA and UB, teacher at ICDEBA and IOM. Editor of the digital journal Consecuencias. www.revconsecuencias.com.ar

The Costs of Foolish Immigration Restrictions
Richard Kostelanetz

Author’s Bio

So much American prosperity of the past forty years resulted from enterprise created by immigrants from Asia who would have been excluded prior to the de facto repeal in 1965 of the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924. Similarly, so much post-WWII prosperity was created by Jews who overcame anti-Semitic barriers to immigrate to the USA before and during the awful War.

That raises the question of how much American prosperity was lost in the early 20th century because the parents and grandparents of these Jews and Asians couldn’t immigrate here? Imagine as well the hypothesis that enterprises created by these immigrants could have reduced American unemployment during the 1930s.

By contrast, consider this simple measure of a failing country: As no one voluntarily wants to relocate there, it doesn’t have an immigration problem. Neither the Soviet Union nor Cuba ever worried about immigrants, though The Union of South Africa did, even during Apartheid times. People voting with their feet aren’t dumb.



Roger Wartel

Stanya Kahn

Author’s Bio


Let’s begin, if you like, with an everyday sentence: “I caught sight of a man who …” I’m making a statement, no doubt with evi­dence? You acquiesce, yet anatomy has yielded us nothing which may imply certainty. Shall we note, though, the haste and audacity which occur from the in­stant of sight to the moment of a conclusion, for everything de­pends not merely on the organ as proof, but on that which veils it. Thus, for a man, would the difference between the sexes be determined on tissue? And so we live, as if the silhouette would make the difference, as if the difference were a primary condition inscribed as much in morphology as in finality. Is that so certain?

— If all that went so well, we might stop feeling as­tonished, and take comfort in the idea of conformity in accordance with Nature’s order. “The development of the most modest herb obeys constant laws which escape human logic.” An­dré Gide, here in Corydon, proposes a malicious solution which in throwing back to back human logic and the laws of Na­ture, detaches sexuality from human logic, in order to make the blade of grass that one would like.

— If that doesn’t work, if the sexes are not congru­ent to morphology, what there would then be is frank anomalies, errors and ways of detour. What is left is to tolerate or correct, to sanction or exalt.
— But, this doesn’t work too well for the majority of so-called normal men who are encumbered with their sex, who do not know which means to devise in order to act as if they had none of it, or to draw the maxi­mum out of it.

In short, sexual difference is not in the least so evident and simple, nor is it even very natural. And we are therefore carried away from psychological harmonies at the same time as we are to discover that the harmony of appetite and sleep are also prone to ridicule and drowning, contortion and subversion. Thus appetites, as much as relations between the sexes, come about despite common sense: neither temporal nor spatial limita­tions are at stake, neither howling nor organ specificity. There are selec­tive incapacities, abilities awakened by inaccessibility. There is the attraction for the fellow creature that defies all natural finality . . . the natural finality that neither recognizes, imaginary anticipation, nor infantile desire, nei­ther precautions nor rashness. Let’s add the intervention of determining particularities not attributable to perceptions nor the instinct; rather they will be character­ized by a physical support. Just as in our love life, ad­miration as much as contempt may carry us equally into the possible as into the impossible: “one can” with the one whom we despise, then “one cannot” with the one whom we admire — that’s quizzical.

In short, we have come towards a curious version of human sexuality, a bit distorted, perverse. That which divides as well as that which draws closer the bodies, remains an enigma; Leda extricates herself thanks to a scenario where she reduces her partner to bestiality, unless Zeus himself had not guessed that she was beloved among animals.

Notice also that Cinderella’s Prince Charming runs all over the place with his little slipper to fit into the right place, as if he had an idea in the back of his head, a fan­tasy in his imagination where we could see him unprovided for at the same time pinned to the pertinent precious object.

Let’s look over the classic Krafft-Ebing, a Viennese who moved to Strasbourg to become Chair of Psychiatry at the local university. The fetish is there in all the chapters of his books: his work is almost infiltrated by fetish, but moreover, following him, we witness a sort of extension of the con­cept itself. (Shall we add that Freud himself read all this.) Thus the fetish—everyone knows, especially Krafft-Ebing who lengthens the list by including for in­stance the tone of the voice, the gaze, a smell, the feel of skin, moral qualities of authority or docility, behaviors combining attraction and repulsion, and as far as scenarios like in a strange case in which the subject manages to stage a setting where nothing will finally happen if it were not carried away by a “bear chase” fantasy. So here the fetish is carried up to scenic fantasies: what counts for Krafft-Ebing is the indispensable and the immutable which sig­nal the true fetish. Let’s notice that Krafft-Ebing presents himself as an aseptic clinician who initiates an an­thology of diverse facts whose tricky top is nosed by the style of ethnologic observation, the gloves of the human scientist. He adds to the propriety, and he guarantees it by the use of Latin—dead tongue, language of the sciences—as soon as the word slides into too raw equivocation. But on this occasion, let’s recall that the use of Latin deliber­ately acts as provocateur in the gallant texts of the 19th Century when the acrobatics defied modesty. Krafft-Ebing’s clinique is not altogether without merit since one can read there some rules that are definitely not made of rough the­ory, but which are pertinent: “substitution,” “transformation,” “law of association,” “the part for the whole,” “charm isolated when the person becomes so to speak, an accessory.”

Nevertheless Krafft-Ebing knows well upon what he buttresses: two points within his method. First of all, ac­cording to him “sexual instinct is a physiological law”: therefore it is a matter of sexual mechanism. He doesn’t question sex such as it happens, for bipartite sex would be given at the outset. Nevertheless Krafft-Ebing stumbles be­fore this physiological mechanism so well in place: “for in man sexual mechanism fails if certain non-physiological conditions are unfulfilled”—“man hides from or adds to his natural state”—“he takes a fragment of the body as object of an exclu­sive concentration.” Thus unnatural elements will appear as determining! The fetish, is certainly proposing itself as a phenomenon that compels one to think of human sexuality as outside physiology, as a subversion of mechanics.

Next comes this extension, this enlargement of the term “fetish” that would call for a reserve and even for a partition. Actually we would have on the one hand this fetishist for whom the presence of the fetish is constraint, constancy, absolute exi­gency, a necessity that does not cease, with its or­gasmic outcome which will allow for his being into non fear or reproach. But also someone for whom trait, contingency, preliminaries, insufficiency in itself constitute the particu­larities of the object-choice. These are discrete unifying traits which glide and run, relaying themselves. Their re­trieval, through lost time, gives them a roguish little turn establishing connivance. They engage in the prelude so far as this can insist. We read in Proust that the bouquet of cattleya orchids glided down the brassiere of Odette de Crécy is soon reduced to the trait “of doing cattleya,” “which became a simple vocable that they used without thinking when wishing to signify the act of physical possession.” But Odette, in spite of her name, was, according to Swann, a little vulgar; and this compelled him to resort to Boti­celli’s painting—“he looked at her: a fragment of the fresco was appearing on her face. . . The word “Florentine painting” rendered a great service to Swann. . . the kisses and the vulgar and mediocre possession were crowned by the adoration of a museum masterpiece.”

Thus the fetish is there, an anomaly to the eyes of “a nature which lacks nothing,” an artifact; such is its sense that comes from the Portuguese in the 17th Cen­tury. But in time we have forgotten that in its original tongue the fetish, this artifice, carried in turn value in spells, enchantment, and moreover the fides of a cult, which implies faith, comfort in the sense of being com­forted. It allows—and everyone practices it at least clandestinely—the diversion of ad-verse, mutilating and murderous forces, that an object, brandished or chased, whether glorious or repulsive, asserts the grumbler under his morion, fright­ens the demon affronted by the exorcist’s cross, assuring Athena behind her buckle whose decoration is no longer a fortunate ornament, as Freud proved to us.

A share, a sharing is thus necessary between he who always loyal to his object, without appeal, cut from the substitution which would rebound, would hold resolutely since that object alone may allow him to go all the way to the end; and he who, neurotic, tortured, embarrassed, cannot find the illusion and fixation that would appease the flesh in some isolated artifice. The fetishist does not fool himself: he knows, but what does he know? In contradistinction to this, we find the hard-working lover who would envy the fetishist his solidity; he should have, poor puppet, all these little markers that in the end… or at the end of the take-off…

Fetish or artifice, fabricated object, that is a cut-out object, removed from all that is natural, signals that something may be lacking. Its presence will illuminate us contrariwise on what it covers and what is not. Although still it must be that for “to lack” one can say the minimum, “a re­treat of presence,” as Heidegger says. If there had been no such “retreat,” we would be within the realm of adap­tation, which is without hole or edge. Nevertheless it is we who have invented adaptation, seated as we were at the edge of a hole, astonished by the fact that life be so well-adapted.

We do not acquiesce to the law of adaptation, although we gently blind ourselves to the belief of it—since we did in­vent it. The fetishist blinds himself to nothing; he is and proclaims to be a contestant—common law and adaptation of biologists, it has nothing to do with him!—“The eye of the Penal Code is not the same as mine,” prettily stated a voyeur condemned to probation!

“To contest,” we would say in German leugen (disavow). Verleu­gnung (disavowal) would be: to contest thoroughly, firmly. This is the word chosen by Freud to indicate this position of disavowal, of denial. Indeed he disavows the judge, the law. But furthermore he disavows castration as advanced by Freud. Disavowal: a dictionary of psychoanalysis says of it “process”—which is false because disavowal is a rationalization, be it by absurdity—that is, “let’s do this were it not like that.” Far from being a process it is a question on rupture, a crucial moment, on logic and deductions. Freud highlights here that the child, this logician, must solve a problem and that he conducts his proceedings toward certain impasses where he strides over the unbearable through some decision. In this case the forthcoming decision concerns castration. To decide to hallucinate? why not? and Freud calls on it. To go through substitutions? That leaves a margin for maneuvering. Another exit door; the disavowal, which leaves no place to doubt. The pervert neither doubts himself nor the law; left for him is to confirm that there is no doubt on the Other’s body lest he grafts the proof; there is no castration.

Do not believe that he would turn up his nose at the Other, not that he loves or wishes him well, since this would mean attributing him a fault or a lack. No, the Other has the plenitude of jouissance, of the very gesture dedicated by the precise emblem which says no to castra­tion. This brings the pervert to ravishment; whereas that particular access turns down all debate on justification, vain agitation of the guilty. Do not believe, therefore, in castration, a beautiful affair, although it implies as Lacan would say, “the absence of one of the terms of belief, namely the term which designates the division of the subject.” Disavowal, refu­tation set up the belief in the unbelievable and stops reve­lation at the very threshold where it is about to emerge. Refutation here takes up from the act, that is, rejection of the unconscious, separation from the signifying chain; it pro­duces a sort of exclusion inside this chain, interrupting all re-entry in a discourse, stopping the argument, or still cutting on the social link. Put in another way, by refuting one raves.

The Verleugnung, this contesting, this rebellion, neither process nor mechanism is confirmed of a great logical complexity insofar as it brings on a “there is not” with a harder negation—“there is no there isn’t.” Doubtless it is there, out of the fetish, that we could better specify what Freud invented as the concept of castration.

With castration Freud does not unravel a short story to create fear or laughter. He does not formulate castration through a descriptive anatomy and the preliminary bipartition. We should not take castration for what it is not—but as a myth that can give account and which manages to capture the fashion in which each being relates to the world and to his own property, which shouldn’t allow for any imagery.

Sexual dif­ference (1925) “says nothing to the child”: a single organ, a sin­gle libido.[1] Suddenly there comes a surprise, with the anxiety that the discovery of the Other’s absolute alterity imposes; and this shares both a disadvantage and a menace. The “quarrel of the phallus” in order to take up the term again, a quarrel from the years 1920-5, far from being ex­tinct, doesn’t take up from feminist protest which entertains slogans, egalitarian symmetry, reciprocity and paral­lel or counteracting developments.

Let’s hypothetically posit the “phallus” as a universal value; everybody has it, a universal affirmative. Thus all others have it. Castration can be written as the pas­sage from àto A. A crucial moment, the castration of the Other incarnated on the side of the woman, or better said, mother-side.

From the moment—Freud says—“the castration complex” gets installed, a shipwreck happens, a depre­ciation of this universal value and from this fall an empty place remains, implying the incapacity of the Other to fulfil it as much as a renunciation of the subject. Unless we find a solution. With the pervert the fetish becomes his convenience, insignificant no doubt, although it draws its power from that insignificance, because it is at hand. Still it is necessary that a circum­stance, a dart of the eye compels him to endorse its unique, irremovable, irreplaceable quality, almost hallucinatory in that which it disguises. At the movies this would be called “stop on image.” What does it disguise? The mother does have that which she doesn’t, that is to say the phallus; and here is the proof, denying forever more. Yet for the pervert there is more—startling—satisfaction bursts out even though he gives up, while he autographs this object on the Other, to the Other. Not content with his satisfaction, the pervert dedicates himself, devotes himself to the Other whom he could have believed amputated.

The solution of the true fetishist would consist then, in an elegant resolution of all the problems in a Er­satz. Thus he does not have to give up the pleasant appendix, since it is there, currently at hand. There is the proof by its authenti­c presence on the Other who carries it. And one sees immediately that it is the Other who is fulfilled by the at­tribute: everyone has won, such will be the politics of the fetishist. We may deduce that in spite of appearances and crim­inal sanctions, the fetish-object is not the subject of an as­siduous quest, but the same very cause of that quest, the cause of desire itself: it is what is pressuring. Thus the clinical model offered by the fetishist paves the way to the function of objet a such as it will be developed by Lacan, since the Other is precisely marked with incompleteness, with a bar.

Precursor of the objet a? we would have on one hand a fetish, an implacable materiality, an imper­turbable substance whose efficiency takes up from a logic that holds as necessary the materiality of this graft to the body. On the other hand we would have the logical consistency of this object called objet a, neither reabsorbable in the signi­fying chain, nor a palpable substance. It makes itself a rem­nant of the subject, subtracted, and it is written with a bar: $.

It is not, then, imagery which may confuse them, but the logic of their articulations deducing them one from the other—from the fetish to the object a. To further complicate things, would the subject not man­age to merge in this object that chooses? Curious conjec­ture of fetishism? But is it not so, ever since the instant of his arrival in the world, from that instant of the binding of the cord where, phallus of a fulfilled mother, he will be left to his own end with the restitution of her jouissance? “Mom,” last breath of the dying who utters his masochism in order to be re-found lastly, in her.

Fetishes—Fetish originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 3, 1991

[1] S. Freud, S.E. XIX, London: The Hogarth Press, 1986, “Anatomical Self-Distinction,” p. 252. (Editor’s note).

There is no sexual relation
Josefina Ayerza

Nathalie Djurberg

Author’s Bio

Psychoanalysis, according to Jacques Lacan, is founded in a principle announced as:
“There is no sexual relation.”
It’s corollary, or another way to phrase it is: “Jouissance is impossible.”

Are we saying there isn’t what there is…?
Already the enunciation brings up a certain provocation, and this provocation is based on a paradox: you announce that there isn’t what happens every day—at least every day there are sexual relations… Again, with regard to jouissance it may not be so easy to prove jouissance isn’t there every day… What are we announcing then, is it that there isn’t what there is…?

Lacan is already in pursuit of this idea in Seminar XI… and this is 1964.
He brings up the matter by saying that something that breaks apart is in turn splitting the being. The actual being will then accommodate itself to the certain bipartition, even in the natural world.

Call it mimicry, what it implies is that the being breaks up, be it in the sexual joining, or in the struggle to death. So the split comes about between “its being and its semblance, between itself and that paper tiger it shows to the other. In the case of display, usually on the part of the male animal, or in the case of grimacing swelling by which the animal enters the play of combat in the form of intimidation, the being gives of himself, or receives from the other, something that is like a mask, a double, an envelope, a thrown-off skin, thrown off in order to cover the frame of a shield.”

The being that comes into play: it is this separated form of himself that takes over against the effects of life and death. It is with the help of this doubling of the other, or of oneself, that the renovation of beings proceeds in reproduction.

The lure plays in reference to the attraction to the other pole:
you picture the lion, grimacing swelling… you know how the lion will go on and mark its territory… He’ll pee around it, make it into a circle. And can’t we picture the men, grimacing swelling, even marking their territory…?
Meanwhile woman devotes herself to the jouissance of her own body, as she realizes that even in solitude she is looked at by another…
Lacan adds a mysterious phrase “As conjoining masculine and feminine, we apprehend the prevalence of what is presented as travesty…”
“Through the mediation of masks, the masculine and the feminine meet in the most acute, most intense way.”

René Magritte – The Lovers I & II,

“Only the subject—the human subject, the subject of the desire that is the essence of man—is not, unlike the animal, entirely caught up in this imaginary capture.”
And Lacan will continue to say, “He isolates the function of the screen and plays with it. Man knows how to play with the mask, as that, beyond which, there is the gaze.” Here the locus of mediation is the screen.

All about an Other… too directly exposed to the obscure abyss of this Other, how are we to deal with the anxiety-provoking encounter of this Other’s desire?

The question is Qui voi??? What do you want of me?

René Magritte – Attempting the Impossible, 1928

Nobuyoshi Araki – Untitled, 2001 (from “Mythologie”)

The fantasm provides an answer to the enigma of the Other’s desire. Again, it teaches us how to desire. The fantasm does not mean that, when I desire a lemon crèpe and cannot get it, I fantasize about eating it; the problem is rather, how do I know that I desire a lemon crèpe in the first place? This is what the fantasy tells me. This role of the fantasm hinges on the deadlock of our sexuality designated by Lacan in his paradoxical statement “there is no sexual relationship.” That is, there is no universal guarantee of a harmonious sexual relationship with one’s partner.

Every subject has to invent a fantasm of his or her own, a “private” formula for the sexual relationship—the relationship with a woman is possible only inasmuch as the partner fits this formula. It’s never the same with woman, however they both, each one, have their private fantasy—their private fantasm.

Slavoj Zizek has the best example, on which we commented at the Seminar, some of you might have heard it: A couple of years ago, a charming publicity-spot for a beer was shown on the British TV. Its first part staged the well-known fairy-tale: a girl walks along a stream, jumps, sings, sees a frog, takes it gently into her hands, kisses it, and, of course, the repulsive frog miraculously turns into a handsome young cowboy prince.

But the story isn’t over yet: the handsome man casts a greedy glance at the girl, draws her towards himself, hugs her, kisses her—and she turns into a bottle of beer, which the man holds triumphantly in his hand.

From the side of the woman, the point is that her love and affection (signaled by the kiss) turns a frog into a beautiful man—a full phallic presence; from the side of the man, it is to reduce the woman to a partial object, the cause of his desire—an objet petit a.

On account of this asymmetry, there is no sexual relationship: we have either a woman with a frog or a man with a bottle of beer. What we cannot obtain is the natural couple of the beautiful woman and man: the fantasmatic support of this ideal couple would have been the figure of a frog embracing a bottle of beer.

2 fantasies, each of the two subjects is involved in his or her own subjective fantasm: the girl fantasizes about the frog that is a handsome man, the man about the girl who is a bottle of beer.

Love comes to compensate for the lack of sexual relation, says Lacan.
However love, as a supplement cannot exist in the same structure.
Love can only come to be as chance.
Love belongs to the order of the event.
Different from the desire, love as love goes directly to the complete individual, whole.

What modern art and writing oppose to this is not objective reality but the objectively subjective, that is the underlying fantasms which the two subjects are never able to take on, something alike a painting of a frog embracing a bottle of beer, with a title “A man and a woman” or “The ideal couple.”

In today’s art scene, the real does not return primarily in the guise of the shocking brutal intrusion of waste objects, sick bodies, mutilated corpses… The art issue with these objects is that they are out of place—still in order for them to be out of place, the empty place should be there in the first place. This place is rendered by minimalist art, starting with Malevich, and continuing with Donald Judd—this artist’s empty spaces so very empty… inside a box, alike the gallery.

Kazimir Malevich – White on White, 1918

Donald Judd – Untitled, 1991 (91-5 Donaldson)

Therein resides the complicity between opposed icons of high modernism,
Malevitch’s The White Square on the Black Surface, Donald Judd’s ……Frames, Boxes…
Duchamp’s, Warhol’s display of ready-made objects—works of art.

The underlying notion in Duchamp’s elevation of an everyday common object into a work of art, is well taken up by Warhol in that being a work-of-art is not an inherent property of the object. It is the artist himself who, by locating the object at a certain place, empties it—makes it a work-of-art. Being a work-of-art then is not a question of “why” but “where.” What Malevich’s minimalist disposition does is simply render—or isolate—this place as such, an empty place, a frame, with the magic property of transforming any object that finds itself within its scope into a work-of-art.

There is no Duchamp without Malevitch?
The Real in contemporary art has three dimensions, which somehow repeat the imaginary-symbolic-real triad within the real. The real is first there as the anamorphic stain, the anamorphic distortion of the direct image of reality—as a distorted image, a pure semblance that “subjectivizes” objective reality. Then the real is there as the empty place, as a structure, a construction that is never actual or experienced as such but can only be retroactively constructed and has to be presupposed as such—the real as symbolic construction.

Finally, the real is none other but the object out of place. Again the very real, if isolated, is a mere fetish whose fascinating/captivating presence masks the structural real. These three dimensions of the real result from the three modes by which one can distance oneself from ordinary reality: because you submit this reality to anamorphic distortion; you introduce an object that has no place in it; and you subtract or erase all content of reality, so that what remains is the very empty place that these objects were filling up.

The association with the famous surrealist dead donkey on a piano from Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel, with the Diary of a Chambermaid… Jeanne Moreau, is paragon. Surrealists also practiced such over-identification with inconsistent fantasies. In other words, they staged fantasies, which are radically de-subjectivized, which cannot ever be assumed by the subject…

Do we not encounter a clear case of masculine phallic-jouissance of the drive and feminine jouissance of the Other in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves? Confined to his hospital bed, Jan tells Bess that she must make love to other men and describe her experiences to him in detail—this way, she will keep awake his will to live. Although she will be physically involved with other men, the true sex will occur in their conversation. Jan’s jouissance is clearly phallic, as he uses Bess to provide him with the fantasmatic screen that he needs in order to be able to indulge in his jouissance, proper, while Bess finds jouissance at the level of the Other (symbolic order), that is, in her words. The ultimate source of satisfaction for her is not the sexual act itself (she engages in such acts in a purely mechanical way, as a necessary sacrifice) but the way she reports on it to the crippled Jan. Bess’ jouissance is a jouissance “of the Other” in more than one way: it is not only jouissance in words but also (and this is ultimately just another aspect of the same thing) in the sense of utter alienation—her enjoyment is totally alienated/externalized in Jan as her Other. That is, it resides entirely in her awareness that she is enabling the Other to enjoy.

With Jacques-Alain Miller, from the point of view of jouissance, the difference between perversion and hysteria is for the case not essential. In perversion, substitution is live, it is fully displayed and it is conscious: the subject knows what he is seeking, he knows what the action required is, the object he needs in order to enjoy. In hysteria, by contrast, this is unconscious. In order to find the sexual signification function, one must go through the detour of the interpretation of the symptom. But, aside from this difference regarding consciousness and unconsciousness, in both cases we are dealing with substitutive jouissance.

Thus the theory of jouissance entails that what jouissance is given to us does not fit the sexual relationship. This is how jouissance constitutes a sinthome. Lacan’s sinthome is simply the symptom, but generalized, the symptom inasmuch as there is no total sexual drive. It constitutes a symptom, but it’s a symptom that is unavoidable.

Love remains, concludes Miller. Love, which Lacan does not tear from its imaginary root when he says of the actual love, that it creates the illusion of a sexual relation. This is what properly distinguishes jouissance and love. There is a jouissance in talking about love, in experiencing love, in writing love letters—or emails, obviously. This jouissance is at the same time the most distant and the closest one, topologically, to the sexual relationship that does not exist.

“There is no sexual relation” was originally delivered as a speech at PULSE 2011

Who Comes After the Act
Kjell Soleim

Who comes after the Act?

The answer to this question could seem to be: “The Hypermodern Family,” since my paper comes beneath that heading in the PULSE program this morning. Now, it wasn’t my intention to talk about the family, although the hypermodern family certainly must come after an act insofar as it is located beyond the Oedipus.

In his seminar on the nature of semblances, Jacques-Alain Miller says that Lacan’s theory of the analytical act is beyond the Oedipus.[1]

The aim of this paper is to interrogate the dimension of the act with a view to finding out what being beyond the Oedipus would involve for the subject of the act and the logic that produces this subject. I will be approaching the act from several perspectives: its separating effect, the question of knowledge, including the Cartesian act, and the question of the change of subjective position, including suicide as a paradigmatic act.

My point of departure will be the separating effect produced by any act: the act as such separates the subject from the Other. From this vantage point of the act as a separating operation, we can easily distinguish acting out from the passage to the act: while the latter is an attempt at separation, the former can be read as an appeal that reaffirms the attachment to the Other. By the same token, any symptomatic act, like a bungled action or a slip of the tongue, can be seen to make the Other at home in the place of the master who knows: the subject will keep him there until she, by an act of separation, realizes that there is no such place as a guarantee of correct interpretation. Finally, I would add that if what in everyday language is called a sexual act is no act in the analytical sense, it is because the non-existence of the sexual rapport involves separate destinies for female and male jouissance. There is no act that unifies. The act separates.

Now, Lacan did not always perceive separation beyond the Oedipus. At one point,[2] the separation from Mother’s desire was seen as an operation to take effect by means of the Name-of the Father. Separation from Mother was operated by symbolic attachment to the Father: here, we see Oedipus at work. How does Lacan reconceive the separating operation beyond the Oedipus?

Beyond the Oedipus, separation from the Other as the aim of the act finds no support outside the subject, it has to be performed by the subject in its loneliness, without any guarantee. Thus, Lacan tells us (in Television) that suicide is the only act that can succeed without misfiring.[1] I take this to mean that suicide is the only act where separation from the Other can succeed.

The most obvious inference to be made from the proposition from Television would be that all other acts are bound to misfire: thus, even the analytical act, which Lacan named an acte manqué. Now, an acte manqué is of course successful in a certain manner, in fact, it succeeds in letting another intention shine through, an intention that the subject chose not to know about. However, this success is ambiguous. The hidden message may make a hit, it may reach its goal, but, as we know, the subject of the unconscious will fade away, the message will misfire as soon as the signifier representing the subject is about to represent it for another signifier. Only a subject committing suicide will not meet this destiny.

That is why I think we have to interrogate the exceptional status of this act that is said to succeed without misfiring, and the specific kind of success that can be attributed to it. What kind of logic does it follow? If it cannot be analyzed adequately by means of the Oedipal logic, how can it be dealt with by the logic of the not-all? And what can it tell us about the concept of the act as such?

Suicide succeeds, says Lacan, sans ratage, without misfiring. What kind of success is he talking about?

It seems obvious that success in this connection is not to be seen as something that is mediated by failure. It is not about a bad thing being turned into a good thing, for if it were so, both success and failure would be ambiguous terms. If we say that a bad thing is a good thing, we refer to something negative being turned dialectically into something positive by some process of Aufhebung. But suicide, succeeding without misfiring, seems to succeed without recourse to a dialectical Aufhebung. If all other acts depend for their success on this turning around, it’s perhaps because what is done can somehow be undone après coup, through the intervention of the signifier. In the aftermath of other acts, myths will be constructed, stories will be told that sell out the act. This is inevitable, given that an act as such is something that by definition is ahead of the symbolic setting into which it intervenes. The only way that a betrayal of the act can be avoided would be to operate a final separation from the Other who is in charge of the signifier. It is on this level that Jacques-Alain Miller, in a discussion after his intervention at a conference at Bonneval in 1986, places the difference between attempted suicide, which is an appeal to the Other, and suicide, which he calls “séparation avec l’Autre.”[4] What does that mean?

In “The Position of the Unconscious,”[5] Lacan introduces “separation” as an operation that compensates for the alienation that the subject experiences through the forced choice of being petrified by the signifier of the Other. It is a kind of recourse available for the subject against the desire of the Other, described by Lacan in the following terms: “His ‘can he lose me?’ is, no doubt, the recourse he has against the opacity of the desire he encounters in the Other’s locus, but it merely brings the subject back to the opacity of the being he receives through his advent as a subject, such as he was first produced by the Other’s summoning.”[6] The subject, operating with its loss, which here can be seen as an object of separation with the big Other, tries to constitute itself as a cause of the Other’s desire. But the situation is ambiguous: the Other’s desire remains an enigma, and the subject, appearing as a separating force in the moment of being represented by a new signifier, will be fading as soon as a new meaning is established.

Lacan gives the theme of the forced choice a new twist in the seminars on the logic of phantasm (1966-1967) and on the analytic act (1967-1968). In his course of 10 January 1968, he quotes from Rimbaud’s poem À une raison: “Ta tête se détourne, le nouvel amour. Ta tête se retourne, le nouvel amour.” (Your head turns away, the new love. Your head turns around, the new love.” And Lacan comments: “C’est la formule de l’acte”. (That’s the formula of the act.) Here, the subject’s alienation is compensated by the operation of transference, which is supported by the analytical act. Through this act (when your head turns away), the new desire is brought about, then, the analysand will turn her head around and find herself in the position of the object cause of desire, the object little a. In the moment of the act, when the head is turned away, the subject supposed to know will be left behind as a kind of waste, which is another destiny of the object: in the moment called the pass, says Lacan, the subject supposed to know, knows that here is the non-being by which the analysand has stricken the being of the analyst.[7] But the subject of the pass knows nothing about it. Her head is turned away.

I am asking myself why the head has to be turned away. Why must the act involve the fall of the subject supposed to know? I think Lacan gives an indication of where to find an answer in his course of 17 January 1968, when he points out the place of the Cartesian act. Here, he tells us that we find this act in a point where a suspension of all possible knowledge is achieved. This is an act that has to be renewed, he says, and he mentions how Hegel also started out by a suspension of the subject supposed to know. So Descartes and Hegel turned their heads away. And what for? We have Rimbaud’s answer from “To a raison”: A new love! Or let’s call it a new desire. Don’t we see, says Lacan, that the object little a comes to the same place where at the level of Descartes we find the rejection of all knowledge and at Hegel’s level, the knowledge of death. So, our head has to be turned away. It is the object cause of desire that makes us turn our head away. For how long? In the case of Descartes, right until, on the third day of his meditations, he started using scholastic arguments for proving the existence of a perfect being supposed to guarantee our knowledge. Obviously, Descartes, who had used hyperbolic doubt as a weapon of separation, betrays the act he had performed on the second day of his meditations: what was gained on the second day, was lost on the third day.

Where, then, do we have to look in order to detect a process of separation where this kind of reversal does not take place? Lacan seems to point in the direction of somebody who turns her head away and refuses to turn it around. Thus, the statement from Television claiming that suicide is the only act that can succeed without misfiring, is followed up by the argument: “If no one knows anything about it, that’s because it stems from the will not to know.”[8]

Jacques-Alain Miller sees this as an argument explaining why suicide is the only act that succeeds: its success comes at a certain price, the price of ignorance, and ignorance can only be obtained by a separation operated against the spoken word and the dialectics of recognition. In this respect, suicide is differentiated against the analytical act, although these two kinds of act have the same structure: “When he [Lacan] says that the analyst authorizes himself on his own, this has the same structure as suicide. This is why Lacan has been able to say that the only act that succeeds, that’s suicide, on condition of not wanting to know anything about anything, in other words, on condition of separating (…) from what I called the ambiguities of the spoken word and the dialectics of recognition; and in this respect it is opposed, I must say, to psychoanalysis, which is a failed passage to the act.”[9]

However, Miller does not linger with this failure. In his remarks on Lacan’s concept of the passage to the act, he says that the act takes its coordinates from language; the passage is described as stepping over a signifying threshold,[10] and any true act in the Lacanian sense of the word is said to be a “suicide of the subject,” inverted commas indicating that the subject can live again, but not as before: she will be different.[11] So, the one who comes after the act, is a different subject.

As have tried to argue here, the difference we talk about, depends on the separation, the distance taken from the big Other of knowledge. This distance is indicated in Lacan’s schema of the analytical discourse by the bar separating the object cause of desire above the bar and the S2 below the bar. But perhaps, above all, it is indicated by the double bar of incapacity written between the Master signifier (S1) and S2, the signifier of knowledge. It is here, in the incapacity of linking knowledge to mastery, the analyst may succeed where Descartes failed in the act of separation. And it is here, perhaps, that we can recognize a decisive step beyond the logic of the Oedipus. Descartes’ act was certainly a genuine act between day two and day three, as long as it was not supported by the big traditional Other; it remains a challenge for the analyst who authorizes herself to prove that her change of subjective position can be sustained without the guarantee of the father.

“Who comes after the Act” was originally delivered as a speech at PULSE 2011

[1]Jacques-Alain Miller, “De la nature des semblants,” cours no. 3, 04.12.91
[2]Jacques Lacan, “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis,” Écrits, New York: Norton, 2006, pp 464-465.
[3]“Suicide is the only act that can succeed without misfiring,” Jacques Lacan, Television. A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, New York: Norton, 1990, p. 43. (“Le suicide set le seul acts qui puisse réussier sans ratage,” Jacques Lacan, Télévision, Paris: Seuil, 1974, pp. 66-67.)
[4]Jacques-Alain Miller, “Jacques Lacan: remarques sur son concept de passage à l’acte,” Mental, Paris: NLS, 2006, vol. 17, p. 27.
[5]Jacques Lacan, Écrits, New York: Norton, 2006, pp. 703-721.
[6]Op. cit., p. 716.
[7]Jacques Lacan, “L’acte analytique,” cours du 10 janvier 1968: “Ce sujet supposé savoir, qu’il ne peut que reprendre comme condition de tout acte analytique, lui sait, à
[8]Op. cit., p.43.
[9]Jacques-Alain Miller, op. cit., p. 23. my own translation (K.S.)
[10]Ibid., p. 24.
[11]Ibid., p. 21.

The Albanian Object
Timothy Lachin

Isolation is a relative phenomenon. Elsewhere does not exist: it is a product of language. How easy or difficult somewhere is to reach is immaterial: once we are there, we are there and, seeing as we are there, there is nowhere easier or more natural to be.

Albania is a short boat ride from Italy and shares borders with Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro. It is a short plane ride from any of the major Western capitals. Direct flights link Tirana with London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Istanbul. Getting to Albania, like getting anywhere these days, is a simple matter of buying a ticket, stepping into an airplane, and then stepping back out a few hours later.

Isolation is not a question of absence but of presence: not an absence of connections but an immanent mode of connection, one that has nothing to do with geographical proximity.

Albania is the most isolated country in Europe, not because of its geographical situation, but because isolation is the dominant mode of social organization there. The Albanian language, derived from Thracian, is unique. The history of Albania is a history of occupation: Greeks, Romans, Illyrians, Turks, Serbs, Bulgarians. Albania did not become a sovereign state until 1912. In 1944, after brief occupations by Italy and Germany, the communist dictator Enver Hoxha came to power. Over the forty-plus years that he ruled, Hoxha outlawed beards, outlawed religion, outlawed comic books, broke ties with Yugoslavia, and broke ties with the USSR (for renouncing Stalinism). Albania’s last ally was China, and Hoxha broke ties with them too, in 1978. Hoxha also spent all the country’s money constructing over 700,000 concrete pillbox bunkers, one for every four Albanians. These bunkers are everywhere: outside of front doors, under walls, next to train tracks, in the middle of carrot fields: everywhere. The Albanian countryside is like a body covered in some form of herpetic infection: small, round, half-buried lesions have irrupted across the country following a logic that is viral and not symbolic and has no regard for the nature of the infected tissue, be it rural or urban.

These bunkers, which retroactively sweep the land clean, imply, by the illogic of their location, a virgin territory, a primordial Albania, one that had yearned to emerge for thousands of years. Rather than simply propagandizing the past, Hoxha attempted to grant his country nothing short of an ersatz fossil record, one that would conjure into existence a sublime, eternal Albania that had never really existed.

Hoxha, the obscene father of Albania, wrote, directed, and produced a ready-made fundamental fantasy for a country that until then had not existed as a sovereign subject but as an administered territory. Once this paranoid and masochistic fantasy of absolute isolation was installed, it began generating hysterical symptoms in the form of a concrete eczema that, like all hysterical symptoms, betrayed the facticity of its filiation story.

As Freud noted in Totem and Taboo, the primal father only becomes more powerful after his death. Today the bunkers serve two functions: as toilets and as fuck spots. Albanians refer to them as “cherry poppers.” Although no one explicitly believes in Hoxha’s invasion fantasy anymore, it is still fully functional, only in a disavowed form. Here the bunkers illustrate the mechanism by which the living primal father becomes the dead big Other, whose lack of consistency must be filled in with our jouissance for this Other to function as such. It is precisely by getting off from inside the Other’s empty gaze that this gaze is maintained.

What does it mean to be Albanian? In powerful lands, there is a ready-made tension between the unary trait (“American”) and the many predicates that fill it out. The S1-S2 machine turns like a gyroscope. In a small, poor, isolated country like Albania, where everything is Albanian, where alterity is minimal, the syllogism stands like a monolith: to be Albanian is to be Albanian, with no S2’s to insert between the two identical terms.

One of the small pleasures of travel is going to the grocery store and inspecting the local industrial products, which, through the idiosyncrasy of their sense of design, reveal something intimate about the local embedded epistemology. In Albania, the only local product I could find was coffee – Lori Caffe. There is a paradox here. On the one hand, the outside world does not exist for Albania. Everything in Albania is Albanian. On the other hand, none of the things that we generally think of as materially identifying a place can be found: there is nothing properly Albanian in Albania.

I asked a cab driver about Lori Caffe.
“Yes, Lori Caffe, Albanian coffee…in Blloku zona, Italian coffee, Illy, Lavazza, very good. Blloku, very good zona.”

Blloku is the name of the chic area in Tirana where Hoxha himself used to live. His modernist house is still there, and looks abandoned. Every Albanian I spoke to directed me to Blloku. Unlike the rest of Tirana, this small neighborhood was not full of men fishing through dumpsters, child beggars smoking cigarettes, stray dogs, itinerant turkey salesmen, children pulling carts, old women squatting in muddy lots, etc. Here was “luxury” store after “luxury” store selling cheap Chinese merchandise that was little better than what could be purchased at any dollar store in the United States. Some enterprising Albanian businessmen had erected fake McDonald’s and KFC restaurants along Blloku’s main artery (there being no American chains of any sort in Tirana). Other than the fact that the “K” in KFC had been replaced by an “A” (for “Albania Fried Chicken”), every visible detail had been ingeniously copied, from the fonts to the color scheme of the tables to the graphic layout of the menu which, on closer inspection, did not actually sell fried chicken but the same four miserable sandwiches sold at every other Albanian fast-food shop, alterity being such a rare resource in Albania that there is only enough of it for a limited number of sandwich iterations. (A fifth sandwich would require more negativity than can be generated by the meager symbolic machine that operates there.)

In Lacanian terms, there are no properly Albanian S2’s, just the S1 “Albania” and a handful of S2’s imported from other places. The S2’s on display in Blloku are materially present but are not integrated into the Albanian S1-S2 machine. These imported S2’s might be referred to as “non-S2’s” because, although they circulate like “real” S2’s, they are cut off from the S1 that might allow them organically to be articulated with each other. The result is that S1 and the chain of S2’s, rather than transforming smoothly back and forth into each other, haunt each other with ever meeting halfway.

Taken individually, a handful of the shops or cafes in Blloku might have passed Western standards. What was all wrong was the space between these islands of modernization: the broken sidewalks, the empty lots, the stray dogs, the snarls of power lines. It takes an act of will to see Blloku as the Albanians wish to see it. The technology of the gaze has changed with the passage from Hoxha and communism to modernity and consumerism. A reversal has taken place: whereas Hoxha attempted to constitute the country as a totality under one transcendent gaze emanating from 700,000 eyes planted from one end of Albania to another, today Albania is organized around a gaze that does not bring into being any sort of totality as such but rather fragments the country into micro-spaces that cannot be articulated with each other. If Hoxha was obliged to continue studding the country with analog avatars of CCTV cameras, it was because he remained stuck in the old “modern” paradigm of visible vs. invisible, seen vs. unseen, light vs. shadow. Hoxha wanted to constitute Albania as a totalized somewhere, and he went about it the way modernists must: by attempting to shunt nowhere into some constitutive elsewhere on the other side of the border.

As Gérard Wajcman has illustrated in L’Oeil Universel, times have changed. Unlike the totalizing modernist gaze, the hypermodern gaze that has begun to operate in Albania no longer attempts to constitute somewhere as such by voiding it of the nowhere which haunts it. The dialectical tension between somewhere and nowhere, which must be made material for us to experience a place as somewhere, is no longer recognized. The result is that for each micro-somewhere that is created (AFC), a complementary micro-nowhere is also created. This micro-nowhere is not “next to” the micro-somewhere, as it might seem, but “floats” on the surface of the micro-somewhere itself, in the same way that the fewer “Albanian” predicates there are, the more transcendentally and mysteriously “Albanian” everything seems in Albania.

This is the logic on display in ordinary psychosis: rather than existing as a discrete and consistent other scene, the unconscious in these cases hovers over the subject in an undifferentiated state. Without some recognized paternal agency to constitute an elsewhere as such, a place of exception, nowhere and somewhere begin to haunt each other.

This new gaze is the true fetish object on display in Blloku, not the fake gold watches and cell phones. In Blloku the Albanians can participate in this hypermodern gaze, one that, by framing some piece of the city, operates a cut between foreground and background, between the “officially” visible thing and the traces of interstitial abjection surrounding it. Blloku is not simply a neighborhood but rather a UFO, an epistemological space of rudimentary hypermodernity that has landed in the middle of Tirana.
In Lacan’s seminar on anxiety, he identifies the anal object and the object-gaze: the gaze effectively overwrites the anal object and “isolates” it, scotomizing it from its context and putting it at the greatest possible distance from the subject. Of all the libidinal objects, the gaze allows the subject the greatest freedom in abstracting himself from the extimate object that is the support of his being. The gaze is thus the capitalistic object par excellence: in one stroke it allows us to cut pieces of the world out of their embedded contexts in order to exchange them and conjures the existence of one transcendental object-gaze “behind” all of its stand-ins, in exactly the same way that capital begins eventually to appear as the last truth of the objects it is supposed to designate. “Capital” thus designates a certain tension inherent to the ontological status of the object itself. “Gaze” is nothing but another name designating the permanent tension between somewhere and nowhere inherent to somewhere itself.

The train station in Tirana is an utterly deconsecrated space. Hoxha was a great believer in railroad travel. Every Albanian I met told me to avoid the train and instead to take a “furgon”: a minivan full of smoking Albanians. The streets of Tirana are full of hard-faced men standing next to run-down minivans barking the names of various Albanian cities. I took the train. It was in a sorry state: every single window in every single 40-year-old car was shattered and the interior was wrecked. There were no assigned seats, no toilets, no electricity, and no passengers. The ticket window in the train station was very long and no more than 18 inches from top to bottom: exactly like the slit in a bunker through which machine gunners might peer.

What I saw from the window of the train was shocking and disgusting for someone used to first-world efficiency in waste disposal: the countryside from Tirana to Durres (35 km) was more or less covered in trash of all sorts but especially in plastic bags. The bags were everywhere… choking every stream… strewn across every field… everywhere. This too must have come since the end of communism, only twenty years ago. What do Albanians see when they look at these fields? Do they perform an act of visual repression similar to that required to “see” Blloku, and see a clean field? Or do they see an undifferentiated space in which trash and nature blend together? This question followed me everywhere in Albania: how could these people tolerate such unremitting ugliness? Did they even see it? The pollution visible everywhere in Albania seems to be a case of the material dialectic outstripping the libidinal dialectic. It took a society saturated by the hypermodern gaze, fully accustomed to its power of separating objects from their immediate context, to invent plastic, the unnatural “separating” substance par excellence, the non-substance that does not simply correspond to the gaze but materially brings it into existence as such. It would be impossible for a society not organized around such a gaze even to imagine plastic in the first place. What has happened in Albania in the last twenty years is what happens when a new technology arrives like a meteor before the libidinal ground has been prepared for it. Without the libidinal investments that would allow Albanians to understand plastic, to “become plastic” (to paraphrase Deleuze) and thus deal with plastic trash as we in the first world do, they are powerless to prevent plastic trash, the flipside of the “good” gaze-objects on display in Blloku, from multiplying everywhere, just as they are powerless to resist the cheap Chinese goods that choke every market.

The plastic non-substance magically multiplies everywhere in exactly the same way that non-space has begun magically coming into existence everywhere. Aristotle believed that rotting meat spontaneously generated maggots and flies; modern science negated Aristotle by demonstrating how flies “really” reproduced. The third step that needs to be taken here is that of Hegelian infinite judgment: Aristotle was not “wrong;” the scientific explanation of maggot reproduction is nothing but the mode of appearance of Aristotle’s spontaneous generation. In the same way, any material/economic explanation of why there is so much plastic trash in Albania misses the real insight, i.e. that these economic processes are nothing but the mode of appearance of a process that is essentially opaque and magical in nature: drive, and more specifically the scopic drive, about which all we can say is that it exists and that it is gaining ground everywhere.

In his paper on architectural parallax, Slavoj Zizek notes that the opposition between inside and outside is always based on a third, foreclosed fantasy space that makes this opposition possible. This fantasy space is the space “between the walls,” the space that, in psychoanalytic terms, is occupied by the objet petit a. By repressing the objet petit a we are able to dirempt it into two opposed avatars: shit and agalma, trash and treasure, that can only remain opposed as long as the objet petit a itself remains foreclosed. (This is what happens in psychosis: the objet petit a “comes back” and destroys any possibility for opposition and, with it, tension and circulation.)

Why not call this foreclosed space by its proper name: nowhere? Nowhere is a place we are all familiar with: it is and always has been the truth of somewhere. Nowhere is the pre-Symbolic space that must symbolically be transformed into “elsewhere” for “somewhere” to exist. Nowhere is not a place but an epistemological sphere, one that we have all passed through as children, and continue occasionally to return to.

Why did I go to Albania? I wanted to see what we all try to see by traveling: the inside of a black hole; the primal scene; nowhere, the site of jouissance. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen distinguishes the horrible (“terminal cases, blind people, cripples”) and the miserable (“everyone else”). There are plenty of countries more horrible than Albania, but I doubt there are many places more miserable.

On Christmas Eve, rather than walking towards the Blloku area, I walked away from it. Leaving my hotel I went towards the train station and then past it. Next to the train station was a road that sloped downwards. This narrow pedestrian alley was unpaved and weaved between shoddy, ad hoc concrete housing. It was a Saturday and the alley had been turned into a flea market. The houses, shops, and roads seemed to melt into one another in a jumble of concrete and dirt. The S1-S2 machine that constitutes society as such was exceedingly modest here: money for plastic, plastic for money. Qofte and Byrek goes in, shit comes out. No grand circuits in sight: nothing but identity, A=A. I looked in vain through the piles of used clothes and shoes for something that might have been worn before 1992 but could find nothing. There was no use looking through any of the other stalls: one glance revealed that it was nothing more than an avalanche of the same dollar store stuff. After walking for about five minutes the alleyway leveled off and opened onto a marketplace that had been set up in a wide-open semi-paved space. In addition to vegetables and cheese there were people selling live chickens and turkeys as well as an isolated sheep tethered to a trash can next to some trucks. Past this marketplace was a parking area where a lot of old buses were stationed. Finally, at the back end of this small parking area, a hole in the cinder-block wall gave onto a field.

It was as if I had climbed into a toilet and followed the plumbing all the way to the mythical foreclosed ontological space that forms our world’s constitutive exterior. I had effectively entered the “space in between the walls” of the city of Tirana. What I am calling a “field” was many things. Foremost, It was a garbage dump. It was also a place of passage: normal Albanians dressed in the same cheap, ugly tracksuits and acid-washed jeans that they wore in Blloku were crossing this dump as if this were the most normal thing in the world. Alongside the muddy path that wound between the larger piles of trash a few peddlers had set up their wares: vegetables and still more plastic products from China. Some of the very objects being sold could probably have been found trampled into the mud a few feet away. In the distance a man was grazing his sheep. On the far side of the field was an abandoned bunker. A man was walking a white horse. Another man rode a bicycle. Stray dogs nosed through the trash. On the far side of the field could be seen concrete slum housing with no glass in the windows.

The transition from Tirana proper to this non-space had been seamless. Extimacy, the structural principle of psychic and thus social reality, was here visible thanks to the barely functional S1-S2 machine, whose job is to function like plumbing: quietly and invisibly spiriting shit elsewhere. Unlike our prosperous societies, Tirana did not have the structure of a Klein bottle in which a certain textured path must be followed for treasure to turn into shit and then back again, but rather the structure of the hologram of a Klein bottle, in which the circuit is present in every cell of the city.

We have several ways of articulating nowhere and somewhere. The primordial nowhere is the nowhere of nature. It is the mythical nowhere that precedes the installation of the S1-S2 machine. Second, we have somewhere, which is a product of this machine. Finally, “nulle part retrouvé”: the new nowhere of disembodied S2’s and non-spaces that emerges on the other side of the Symbolic. Albania is not somewhere, it is a country caught between two post-Symbolic nowheres – the “good” nowhere of Blloku and the “bad” nowhere of fields of trash – with a very small wedge of somewhere in between to keep them apart.

As I squatted on a trash promontory to take pictures, I realized that not only had I found the true center of Tirana, I had found the center of the new world. The synchronicity of shit and agalma that characterizes hypermodern slums must always seem revelatory to a Westerner accustomed to their meandering diachronic movement. This was it: the degree zero of humanity. I felt strangely happy. All of the Albanian “products” that I had not been able to find in any stores were here, in the mud, in this garbage dump. This is what Albania produced: trash, the eternal product of humanity. Reaching down I fished out a broken teacup, a spoon, a domino, a playing card… although all of these objects had probably been made in China, they were Albanian now.

It might here be recalled that the object that Lacan chose to illustrate the functioning of the gaze, in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, was nothing other than a piece of trash floating against an undifferentiated background.

Hoxha’s bunkers testified to the totalitarian gaze’s failure finally to bring a sublime Albania into existence. Today, plastic garbage has literally and figuratively taken the place they have left empty.

What happens if we articulate the triad somewhere/elsewhere/nowhere with the triad universal/particular/singular? Nowhere is singular in that it is the irreducible existential space of solipsism, the epistemological space from whose center we never budge; Somewhere is universal in that it is fundamentally cultural, and can only come to be as such through a negation of the primordial nowhere of brute existence; Elsewhere is the vanishing negative moment that allows nowhere (temporarily) to become somewhere.

We might also articulate the triad somewhere/elsewhere/nowhere with the triad Imaginary/Symbolic/Real. Elsewhere corresponds to the Symbolic because the functioning of the Symbolic sphere depends on the existence of a (paternal) place of exception, an empty frame that grants consistency to everything else. Without the Symbolic “elsewhere” to frame somewhere, the concepts themselves blur together and become indistinct. Rather than a constant dialectical process through which nowhere universalizes itself by passing through the moment of negativity embodied by elsewhere, the process is now viral, “spuriously infinite,” a simple merging of the Real and the Imaginary without any sort of coherent Symbolic to orient the process.

The concept of somewhere depends for its consistency on the belief in an elsewhere. Today we are in the curious situation of living in a world where elsewhere proper is disappearing as quickly as the Amazonian rainforest. Scientists have no idea what the eventual ecological consequences of the liquidation of the last traces of nature proper will be, and philosophers find themselves in the same position with regards to our epistemological ecosystem: no one knows what the eventual consequences of the final liquidation of elsewhere as such and its transformation into an infinite series of putative somewheres will have on the collective unconscious.

“Elsewhere” allowed us to envision the prospect of abstract negativity, negativity that had no concrete content. With the objective death of elsewhere, abstract negativity begins to become impossible: the negation of one particular place can only take the form of some other particular place to which it would be opposed. This is the great crisis of hypermodernity, the source of hypermodern despair proper: the death of abstract negativity in every domain of our everyday life.

By giving us “elsewhere”, the Symbolic allowed us to put nowhere (the death drive) to work. The Symbolic sets a dialectical process in motion – by putting nowhere into circulation, it becomes elsewhere – in other words, through the intervention of the Symbolic, jouissance becomes the objet petit a.

By vouchsafing the place of exception, the paternal Symbolic becomes the medium of abstract negativity. Once we evacuate the place of exception from the Symbolic, however, we lose abstract negativity and are left with nothing but concrete negativity. What we call subjectivity (and it must be recalled that subjectivity is not the natural state of psychic life but a specific historical form) is nothing but a phenomenon of abstract negativity, and the loss of an epistemological space in which abstract negativity is privileged can only contribute to the waning of subjectivity proper in favor of some new avatar of collective unconscious life.

This passage from a world in which elsewhere still existed to a world composed of increasingly identical somewheres is the world of nowhere as opposed to everywhere. Everywhere is a totality, whereas nowhere is a non-all. The failure of “everywhere” in Albania, as represented by Hoxha’s failed totalizing project, eventually turned Albania into nowhere. It might be argued that Hoxha’s project failed precisely because it succeeded. The very continued existence of the world after its “totalization” must logically take the form of an immediate plunge from everywhere to nowhere: by realizing the all it can only become a non-all by virtue of the fact that it is still there, that it has not disappeared into the ether with its successful symbolization. The tension between the quiddity of existence and the vacuum of the signifier can never be exorcised and as such renders the totalizing process inherently totalitarian and suicidal. Once the totalizing project crosses a certain threshold, incompleteness, which until then had appeared over the horizon, jumps out of the tableau and infects completeness itself, transforming all into non-all. This generalized regression of somewhere to nowhere is symptomatic of our new world.
The process is not unique to Albania. In the United States, so-called “exurbs,” suburban tissue that is no longer organized around a central place of exception, are nothing but the “prosperous” version of this phenomenon: with the devaluation of the Symbolic, and with it the devaluation of desire and the possibility for abstract negation, everywhere can only become nowhere.

This nowhere has always been the fundamental American passion. The liberation of the consumer object was never the goal of the American system. As Kierkegaard scholar Louis Mackey has theorized, the true American passion has always been nowhere. Building on Gérard Wajcman’s analysis, the scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in which Cary Grant is attacked by a crop duster is a staging of the American Dream. The Cartesian plane in which Cary Grant finds himself after stepping out of the bus is, for all intents and purposes, nowhere incarnate: the place of abstract negativity, of naked subjectivity, of jouissance. Europe, after Hegel, is stuck in History, stuck in the concrete universal, which is its motor. Here is the difference between European History and American history: Europe continues to believe in the concrete universal, whereas America has always wanted to bypass the detour of the concrete universal in order to access the naked universal itself. By refusing to believe in the (necessary passage through the) concrete universal, America has condemned the concrete universal to the status of a ghost haunting the American Dream. This was already the case 160 years ago when Melville wrote Moby Dick, an early thesis on this phenomenon: Ahab’s (Enlightenment) abstract universalism produces a new species of whale, one which is both cause and objet of his monomania. The white whale is the American objet petit a which over time has become today’s consumer object. The scene from North by Northwest is an illustration of the final result of the gap separating the abstract American everywhere (the long, straight road, the empty fields) and the objet petit a (the airplane) which is condemned to circulate in the void. The subject caught in the middle necessarily finds that he is the target of the de-concretized, de-symbolized objet petit a, which suddenly becomes much more dangerous than it had been when it remained trapped in a (European) cultural prison. Without a symbolic Elsewhere to hold Somewhere and Nowhere together as Somewhere proper, the world is split into two asymmetrical halves: on the one hand, pure Nowhere; on the other hand, the pure objet petit a with nowhere to land. Cary Grant is a stand-in for the hypermodern subject caught between an increasingly flat non-world from which nothing can be hoped and the pure objet petit a, naked and terrifying.

Lacan’s floating can, Melville’s white whale, Hitchcock’s crop duster: in all three cases we have an isolated object against a blank background from which a malefic gaze emanates. The subject has never been anything but the index of the incompatibility of the Symbolic and the objet petit a, and today’s wandering “neo-subjects” are the illegitimate children of these two parents, who not only have divorced but have retroactively annulled their marriage. Today’s subjects are sinthomatic and not symptomatic: there is less and less ready-to-wear paternal/cultural unconscious on display with which to dress their sinthomes as symptoms, nothing but roads, fields, and wandering phantom objects. In this sense, the USA has invented the modern objet petit a, which is to say the materially isolated object that causes so many ravages around the world. The invention of this hypermodern object was never the American goal. It was by believing in El Dorado, the universal itself, Baudrillard’s “paradise achieved,” that the USA accidentally liberated the material objet petit a as we know it today. The coca leaf gives strength and functions as the keystone of a stable paternal culture; its isolate, cocaine, strands the subject and destroys tradition. Hegel was right that the universal is nothing but its seizing over time through the detour of the concrete universal, but America has never believed this. Indeed, it is precisely because the United States continues to ignore the Geist that America remains one of its privileged sites of expression (cunning of reason oblige). In addition, Americans are above all the first victims of this process rather than its agents. Capitalism has never been anything but an excrescence, and this is why “soft,” socialized European capitalism always appears a little naive to an American. If European consumer objects cannot keep pace with their American counterparts, if Europeans cannot manage to invest themselves body and soul in capitalism as Americans have, it is simply because Europe has never shared the American passion for the abstract universal. The essence of European incomprehension of the American Gestalt is this misrecognition of the status of the object in American life, which, contrary to appearances, is not the thing itself but the by-product of the native American belief in abstract universalism. This misrecognition is particularly evident in Albania. The mechanism does not function in Europe because, despite the best efforts of the European population, the European objet petit a remains trapped in a cultural system. It cannot wander freely in the desert as it would like to. A great labor of repression would have to be undertaken for Europe really to devote itself to consumerism, a labor of repression that is not necessary in the United States, where the objects are already naked in themselves. In Europe the objects only appear naked if one represses their cultural dressing, their intractable embeddedness in culture and tradition.
There are very few all-you-can-eat buffets in Europe, and none of them are very good.

Perhaps we have here an explanation for why Europeans are so ashamed of their capitalistic, consumeristic desires: they are founded on an act of repression, which always generates shame – an act of repression that is not necessary to be a capitalist in the United States.

After existing as an administered nowhere for literally thousands of years, Albania only attained the status of somewhere for 80 years (1912-1992). With almost no reserves of somewhere to serve as bulwarks against the encroachments of the hypermodern gaze (nothing but 700,000 concrete bunkers), Albania has gone back to being nowhere (albeit a different nowhere) without much fanfare.

Somewhere is not yet completely dead, of course. Entire countries, France for example, remain stuck there. This is even the crux of the French malaise. The essence of the old French grandeur was that it was the greatest somewhere ever created, the summum of all somewheres. Now that the One of nowhere, of everywhere, has entered its ascendancy, somewhere no longer convinces. Yet the French do not have the heart to throw away the glorious remnants of somewhere. It will happen sooner or later. Today’s object may be Albanian or it may be American, but it is certainly no longer French.

With time, the line between nowhere and everywhere will become more blurred. The first world and the third world are converging: everywhere and nowhere are essentially identical. The only difference is that the clothes are a little nicer… the sidewalks a little cleaner… but the day will come, probably sooner than we realize, when we will have to admit that everywhere and nowhere can no longer be distinguished by appealing to such details. The only difference between the interstitial abjection on display in the US (parking lots, trash space, exurbs, etc.) and the interstitial abjection on display in Albania is that the US version has been erected on a “good,” functioning version of modernity. From an ontological standpoint, however, this interstitial space has the same status as the more abject Albanian version.

A final thesis: in the United States, everywhere is quickly becoming nowhere. In Albania, nowhere is quickly becoming everywhere. Soon all that will remain is the old syllogism, A=A. The truth is that elsewhere has never “really” existed. The new model in which nowhere is immanent to somewhere, in which the object to be repressed is present in the tableau and not outside of it, is closer to the entropic structural truth of the world. Gigantism has been on the wane since the dinosaurs went extinct. When polytheism and monotheism come into contact with each other, monotheism always wins. Why? Because once you see the One, it can no longer be unseen. This is even the curse of humanity, its manifest destiny: the inability to unsee the One. Once we enter into this new, synchronic, purified Symbolic, we cannot leave it. The old world was never anything but a fiction, and it is quickly becoming a fiction that no one believes in anymore.

Workings of Love
Shahriar Vaghfipour

Author’s Bio

The definition: love is “giving” what “you do not have.”

Sub-Proposition 1: “The object of love can be the Master signifier.”

It results from the definition: One can only give that thing that does not belong to the Other. So love is not just a signifier but the Master signifier.

Sub-Proposition 2: “The object of love can be the objet petit a.

What is given is what you have. It follows that the love is not of the “sense.” And the love is not of knowledge.
One gives from where It is. One is where It does not think. It follows that the subject of love is not subject of the unconscious.
The one gives where the other is. It follows that the object is not of the objects but of the Other’s objet petite a.

The proposition: “The object of Love is the Master signifier or the other’s objet petit a.

It results that the one who is the subject of love must coincide with the Master signifier or the Other’s objet petite a. But being subject is not being object. Furthermore, for to give it is necessary that the subject of love be in the place of the Other. It follows that the love is the Master signifier (S1) or their shared objet petit a.

The proposition (corrected):The object of Love is the master signifier or their shared objet petit a.

Giving is to render, is to know how to use… Also it means to present or to fragment. As Lacan says the analyst is the one who knows how to use the symptom. Also he says of the woman as the man’s symptom.
It follows that:

The main proposition of love:
For there to be love the partners must be both in a revolution, or the man is an analyst and the woman is his sinthôme.

Oedipus Times Two
Kai Hammermeister

How to take revenge? Would it not be one of the cruelest retaliations thinkable to let the other live, but to destroy him as a subject? But how does one destroy the subject without destroying the biological existence? We can achieve this (so the speculation might go) by separating the subject from himself, not splitting it, for which we would always come too late, but reversing the very process of subject-formation. In the realm of this devious thought experiment this would entail the revocation of the paternal metaphor, it would entail the creation of a psychosis, it would entail the dissolution of the Oedipal conflict with its outcome of gendered identity and the movement of desire. Needless to say, the outbreak of every psychosis is precisely the return to the stage of infantile duality, but for the psychotic the phallus never took root.

It was Pedro Almodovar who carried out our thought experiment in his 2011 movie The Skin I Live In. Here, a plastic surgeon takes revenge on the young man who raped his daughter by abducting him and operatively turning him into a female with a vagina, breasts, and an altogether new skin. His name Vicente is removed and replaced with that of Vera Cruz. Together with his penis the signifier of conquest (and rape) is taken from him, and on his body is inscribed the true cross of suffering. But the literal castration is not the punishment, it is merely undertaken to undo the gendered identity that had emerged when the law of the father was installed. The removal of the phallus returns the subject to a state of pre-Oedipal desire and imaginary instability. Hence for a long time Vera Cruz is required to wear a skin-tight body suit, a flexible armor that props up her body from the outside, as no internal agency of self-structuring exists any longer. The surgeon’s ultimate aim is for Vera to completely revert to a position of infantile dependence and duality by making her his lover who identifies entirely with the desire of her tormentor. This is not Stockholm Syndrome; this is an artificial psychosis that leaves the subject no other choice than to take rescue in a crocodile relationship, as Lacan would have it, that forever prevents the construction of an identity. The assignment of the new gender and the new name are not to be confused with the (however forced) creation of a different identity. Instead, they merely serve to perpetually undermine the original gender position and identification with the name of the captor.

Yet in the end the experiment appears to fail. Vera shoots and kills her prison warden and returns to the shop where s/he used to work. Narrating her nightmarish tale from the physical position of a beautiful woman, s/he ends with the proclamation “I am Vicente.” And while we as viewers, still shocked by the possibility of the undoing of the Oedipal outcome, much want to read acknowledgement in the faces of the two listeners (a new chance for a triangulation), the film closes before a verbal answer can be given. But the gaze of the Other will never serve as foundation of an identity; rather it will split the subject once more. Without the spoken “Yes, you are Vicente,” Vera must remain in limbo. It is not enough to proclaim the signifier yourself. No one names himself, no one rescues himself. Out of the position of un-gendered non-identity leads only the signifier of the second Other. So in the end, the devious surgeon triumphs after all: A psychosis, even an artificial one, can never be undone.

An end is only an end if it entails loss. The end of any captivity is not experienced as an end, but rather as the beginning of freedom. So who then is the father? Messenger of the king who announces liberty to the bound not-yet subject? We see him in heraldic armor, inscripted with the family lineage, a lancet pointed against the devouring dragon, or, as Lacan will have it, the crocodile mother. Or is he the angel with the flaming sword, expelling from paradise whoever clings to their first desire? (He will emerge to be a sad liberator, his head hung in shame because of what he must do to his child.)

For a proper Greek tragedy, two actors in front of a chorus are sufficient, as Aischylos demonstrated. In the Oedipal drama, four actors take stage: child, phallus/desire, mother, and father. But here tragic loss and role of protagonist do not coincide. The loss is first and foremost that of the child; in the second instance that of the mother. The protagonist is not dead, but dad. Against Kleinians, object relation theorists, and Freudian child analysts all of which emphasize the role of the mother, Lacan props up the central relevance of the father (however pitiful he will turn out to be as the messenger of loss and renunciation). But even with dad at center stage, there are still the two ways sketched out above to describe his function, liberator or punisher. While we know that the answer to every either/or question must be “Both!,” we will still have to take sides to some degree (which is precisely the degree determined by our very own narrative of our Oedipal story). So, Freud or Lacan? (The neurotic in me issues a loud warning that I will lose my intellectual phallus over postulating this alternative.)

Here is (an ever so slightly Lacanian) Freudian retelling: Juan-David Nasio’s Oedipus. The Oedipus complex is not concerned with emotions, Nasio states, but with desiring bodies, to be more precise with the erotic and sexual fire experienced by the four year-old child for his or her parents. The essential outcome of this crisis is the channeling of excessive desire into socially acceptable pathways and the recognition that no desire can ever be completely satisfied. For Nasio, Oedipus is a childhood reality in form of a crisis brought on by desire; a fantasm created as a solution to this crisis; a theoretical concept in psychoanalytic thought; and finally a modern myth that takes the form of an allegory describing the battle between the individual and civilization. The Oedipal desire itself is threefold: the desire to posses (the body of the Other); the desire to be possessed (by the body of the Other); and the desire to suppress and destroy (the body of the father). Since none of these desires can be fulfilled, each of them is answered by a fantasm that replaces the real action of inhuman jouissance with an imagined pleasure accompanied by its own form of anxiety. Overwhelming jouissance is substituted by, as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra would say, ein kleines Lüstchen, a petite pleasure, and a bit of frustration. For the boy, a good amount of anxiety results from his confrontation with the father, and the fear for his penis will from now on color his life: anxiety is central in the life of man, Nasio claims. While the man is most concerned about losing his power, which makes him a coward for Nasio, woman’s anxiety is focused on the loss of the love of the one she loves. Their desire is different, but complimentary; a neurotic sexual relationship between man and woman is perfectly possible for Nasio. In clinical terms, he deduces phobias from (imaginary) abandonment, obsessions from mistreatment, and hysteria from the seduction of the father.

Nasio is a far cry from Lacan. The impossibility of a sexual relationship is replaced by complementary male and female versions of the unconscious; the Oedipal structure is neatly divided between genders once more with the girl having to undergo a complicated switch in imaginary objects; at least for the boy the phallus is equated with the penis; the resolution of the Oedipal conflict in Nasio’s version is never experienced as a moment of liberation for the child and thus no genuine accomplishment can be attributed to it other than an acquired tolerance for frustration; and the register of the symbolic does not even make a guest appearance in Nasio’s narrative nor does he account for the possibility of the failure of the implementation of the paternal signifier leading to psychosis. Orthodox Freudians might rejoice over this retelling of the Oedipal myth, Lacanians instead will turn to Paul Verhaeghe’s New Studies of Old Villains.

In Freud, the father of the clinical reality clashes with the father of the Oedipal theory. The former is frequently weak, ill, and impotent, and all threats to the child are not issued by him, but by the mother. Hence Freud constructs a theory to prop up an idealized potent father who can morph from a problem figure into a fantasmatic solution. This paternal figure (the primal father, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed) is installed to control the female; Freud’s theory itself enacts its hysterical assumptions by becoming a defense against the real (for Freud the drive, for Lacan jouissance). The Oedipal conflict is a rewriting of the impossibility of jouissance (because it leads to death) in terms of a prohibition of enjoyment. In the prohibition, however, is contained the imagined possibility of a supreme enjoyment. If it were not forbidden, we could have it. Hence we continue to want it. But ultimately we only have one possibility at our disposal to handle the impossibility of this jouissance, namely the formation of the symptom. Thus, one of the goals of the Oedipal constellation is the formation of the symptom as a signifier of the lack. It all begins when the infant encounters an overwhelming jouissance from its own body. To defend against it, the infant appeals to the Other for help. This help is offered in the form of a first identification established through mirroring which allows the threatening sensations to be experienced as external, i.e. resulting from the Other. In this identification the infants risks disappearing completely in the Other, but a second Other offers a signifier to the child that rescues it from being the phallus/desire of the (m)Other. Recognition of a lack, desire, and the formation of both an identity and a symptom all occur simultaneously. And while the goal of the analysis is the identification with one’s symptom, Verhaeghe warns that we must not believe in the symptom. A belief entails the assumption that our symptom can be rendered meaningful by the Other (a knowing analyst), thus positing an Other who is without lack. Instead, we should identify with our symptom that can then become the sinthôme, namely a signifier that knots together the three registers and allows the subject to function without a guaranteeing Other.

Every desire must also be the desire for the sinthôme. To lock it out opens the doors for the revenge of the symbolic that stages its psychotic scenarios in the real.

Juan-David Nasio: Oedipus. The Most Crucial Concept in Psychoanalysis. Albany: SUNY Press, 2010.

Paul Verhaeghe: New Studies of Old Villains. A Radical Reconsideration of the Oedipus Complex. New York: Other Press, 2009.

Testimony of the Pass in New York
Mauricio Tarrab

Nathalie Djurberg

One day as I was taking my daily walk near my house in Buenos Aires, I found glued to a wall a small advertising that offered literature courses, with an inscription of a beautiful verse by J.L.Borges. It read:

“The story goes that in that time past
Where so many things happened
Real, imaginary and uncertain”

I bring this to mind here to locate the perspective one should have when one has concluded an analysis and is looking back, especially if one has to give a testimony that may be conveyed to one’s colleagues. One rebuilds a story with“all those real, imaginary and uncertain things” with which one has built the mortar of life. But we should also say that doing analysis and finishing it implies not only reconstructing the past and making the experience of the unconscious; it also implies the contingency, the novelty, the surprise and the unforeseen event.

I have to say that in my case, the act of speaking here in New York, in front of you, is an unforeseen event in my life. I can assure you that nothing could have led me to foresee it. The fact itself that I have to speak through this translation shows how unprepared I was for this occasion, and how I will try to show you towards the end of my speech something of my relationship as a subject of the language.

To undergo analysis is in a certain way to find the footprints that have marked us, and along this path we hope to reduce the weight of the pathos that affects our body and mind. This pathos is what we call our symptoms. The person who takes and follows this path does it because she suffers intensely in the search for knowledge or truth. Or because too much knowledge has confronted her with an unbearable truth, or because hiding the truth gives knowledge a role as buffer that is the cause of the suffering.

The beginning of the road of analysis and the progress along is marked either by the certainty of anxiety, or by the invasion of a mortifying jouissance; or by the excess work required by the need to support the neurotic symptom, or by the unbearable modulation of the pain of being; or even by the weight of the moral law.

These footprints I am referring to are the footprints of the unconscious, the footprints followed by Freud and those he taught us to follow after him. When we try to have a subject follow the path of analysis, what we try to do is to make him see in principle the footprints that his senses place in front of his eyes. These are the traces of the sexual sense that we follow with Freud, as the surest clues to mitigate the suffering of the symptom. These are the footprints of the unconscious, which in the end lead us to the footprint of trauma and its consequences. These are the footprints that lead us to the edge of the unknown, to the navel of the Freudian dream, where all the answers that can give us sense and meaning end.

Many of these footprints are erased in one’s life, but there are also footprints that never fade away. There are indelible images, unforgettable words, long-lasting events, inerasable memories, eternal feelings. In them, fiction and reality are subtly intertwined. There are also the footprints of the symptom where that same limit, that same intertwining, that same edge, are played.

In this littoral, as J. Lacan liked to say, we find in the life of each one of us the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. These are the points where language and satisfaction; where words and bodies are uniquely intertwined for each of us. This leaves footprints. In the Lacanian-oriented psychoanalysis we follow these footprints, because we think that what each one of us does in our life, the thing that somehow directs that for which we suffer, love and experience jouissance, that which is the basis of what we are, has its foundations there.

For this reason, psychoanalysis is so antinomic with our times. And that justifies talking of the path of analysis and of the end of analysis. I will illustrate this antinomy with an example of the most common occurrences of everyday life: reading a newspaper as a weekend starts in Buenos Aires.

Every Saturday morning we receive in our home, together with the usual daily newspaper, a condensed edition of the New York Times. In last month’s issue (August 18, 2007) we found an example of the direction followed by the world in an area that interests us, that is, the survival of the subject and his dignity. It is an article signed by a Benedict Carey, which describes with enthusiasm a recent experiment made by psychologists at Yale University, who altered the mind of people participating in the experiment by giving them a simple cup of coffee. The subjects of this study had no idea how their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On their way to the laboratory they had crossed an assistant who was carrying several objects in his hands, as well as a cup of hot or frozen coffee, which he asked them to help him with. That was enough: the students who held the cup of frozen coffee rated a hypothetical person about whom they read later on during the experiment as colder, less social and more selfish than the students who had held the cup of hot coffee just for a moment. And he goes on… New studies reveal that people clean more thoroughly when they can perceive in the air a subtle aroma of cleansing liquid… and the scientific findings continue… This is not the time to discuss the ill-fated and broadly disseminated influence of behavioral scientificisms in modern explanations of the thing that guides the lives of people.

I just have to use this to put tension into the Freudian aspiration that we continue to uphold: to enforce the particularity of each subject against the crushing tendency of subjective differences derived from experimentations such as those with coffee cups or cleaning liquids. Naive but promising for marketing experts. Psychoanalysis, in this sense, is not hypermodern. Against the banalization and the anonymity of the modern day subject, it defends this singular dimension of each person, which makes each one incomparable, that is, this singularity that cannot be taken by any experimental situation. If undergoing analysis meant only following the footprints already laid, then it would be just a new way of repetition. This has been the lost way of psychoanalysis: the way of an analyst sleuth à la Sherlock Holmes and a patient that finally finds the moment of the trauma, which reproduces the current scene and liberates the patient… Hollywood has not overcome the conception of a pre-Freudian cathartic psychoanalysis. This is not what it’s all about, because analysis itself leaves footprints, it leaves new and fresh footprints. This means that we believe that undergoing psychoanalysis can change something, let’s not be excessively enthusiastic either, it can somewhat change the subjection each one has to their identifications. You know that Freud said, “Destiny is the parents.” This was his attempt at extracting the individual destiny from the firmament and placing it among family stars, the effect of which is the Oedipical identifications fixated in childhood. With Lacan we say that identification is not destiny; which also implies certain optimism, a rare thing in this day and age. It is to say that the weight of what Lacan calls the Other, of the mark of the Other, can be twisted during psychoanalysis.

There is then the determination of identifications, but also an unfathomable decision of the subject implied in them, that has consolidated them and based on which the whole existence has been plotted, and from which the subject draws sense and satisfaction. To say that identification is not destiny also implies a way of understanding the direction of the healing that advances at the rhythm of the fall of identifications. And it is for that reason that the end of analysis is defined by Lacan as crossing the plane of identifications. Each one of us has made during our lives an interpretation, a reading with which we have built a destiny, and psychoanalysis taken to the end must sift through these footprints that, written on the body and in the Other, have left our encounters with the real, as well as the reading of what we have done with those encounters.

This is what the testimony of the pass is all about. Of this reading that a subject has made, of its oftentimes unbearable effects and of the way in which someone has been able to twist, at least a little, that destiny. In a few days, on October 9 it will be forty years since J. Lacan proposed to the School, which then was the Freudian School of Paris, to create the Pass device. In spite of the blows and crisis we all know, it is still alive.

I will give brief points to situate the fundamental steps of the analytical path.


 Going through something of the Father

Analysis had revolved around the symptomatic suffering incarnated in a sensation of menace and of being exposed to fatality, as well as certain stoppings in professional life and immobility of the body. The origin of that symptom was located only during the last analysis: paralysis—signifier of childhood horror. Childhood neurosis explained this as an early and intense phobia that had led the subject to see a psychologist at the age of 5. There he would learn something that he would realize only many years later: that the signifier marks the body and is the cause of jouissance. This encounter took place in an institution where children victims of child paralysis were rehabilitated. The phobia left vestiges in an interminable series of obsessive symptoms and the menacing idea of catching a disabling disease; and he also kept a long lasting interpretation of the mother’s wish: she wants me sick. The love for the Father and the jouissance of the Father are connected to the symptom when menace and exposure to fatality become present in the transference. We can then situate the multiple ways in which the subject had taken charge both of the suffering of the Other and of the jouissance of the Other during his life. The love for the Father seemed to include this sacrifice. Taking care of the Other organized the position it had in the ideal, it gave new meaning to the story of the efforts made and it had been quite effective in giving me a place in professional life, which can be very useful but not recommended for a psychoanalyst.

When already near the end of the analysis the essential of the fantasy was revealed, what I called in the Pass “the altruistic tale,” it would reveal itself precisely as what it was: a tale, the tale of the love for the Other, which would find its reverse in the most real of drives. The name of the Father echoed the name of the analyst, but also the jouissance of the ripper: I recognize then in analysis that my father in his collapse was a fool who ruined his life with self-torture. He wasn’t Jack the ripper, but the ripped.

The analyst ends the session and says as I leave: “Bull’s eye!” I go out moved and stroll through the city for a long while, purposelessly, until I go for dinner at a restaurant right across from the Pantheon. The Pantheon of the great dead men. A sudden and brief episode of suffocation that anguishes and is accompanied by pain in my chest leaves me the evidence that I have crossed some of the Father.


The two blows: S1 + a

A very early childhood memory situates the encounter between the body and the word of the mother. The memory takes place in elementary school and has sharp edges: there was a hallway under the staircase, a dark tunnel through which the children had to pass. I am certain that something sexual happened there… something was seen, heard, touched? The memory does not go so far. The boy exits the tunnel all exited, climbs up the staircase at a run and when he reaches the top he collapses. The essential of the memory is that the mother would later say that it was a heart murmur (In Spanish soplo al corazon).

At the end of the tale during analysis I get an interpretation: the words of your mother penetrated!!!

Sexual arousal, the collapse of the subject and the death threat are combined with the traumatizing maternal words. The maternal words touch the body, marking a destiny for any excess, excitement, or effort. It also marks certain vulnerability of the body that will be confronted with all the resources of overcompensation that obsession could offer. It leaves the footprint of this saying and the signifier murmur [soplo][1]marking the body.

This first murmur is unequivocal in its effects of jouissance, although the child could never know that it was a heart murmur. It would then have a destiny of equivocation as a result of the interpretation made by the subject.

The interpretation of the analyst begins to draw from the body the pathos that the word of the mother had introduced. This is were the position of jouissance from which the subject did nothing but read the signs that announced its connection with fatality stumbles, of what his anxiety with respect to the desire Other was an unequivocal signal.

After murmur, a dream. In the dream: I show the analyst a written report of some
medical tests I have taken. The report contains a terrible announcement. The
analyst (in my dream) reads it and says: what’s written there is not correct.
of the dream.

When I recount it in the next session I say: “in my dream you tell me that what’s written there does not have the value I have given it. Or that what’s written there is not mine.”

The analyst goes into one of his silences, he stops talking and after a little while he whispers in such a small voice that I have to make an effort not to lose the thread of his speech: “It… is… not… yours.”

End of session

After that a decisive shift takes place concerning the symptom. The interpretation shows the reading that the subject continued attributing a mortifying desire to the Other. The conclusion is that if what’s written is not mine, however the reading is, and therefore I will have to take charge of this reading and of the jouissance drawn from it.

The interpretation separates the fatality, both of the name and of what’s written, in the Other and supposedly destined to the subject, and indicates the place of the jouissance included in the same reading. The consequences of this reading that fixated both the pathos of the identification as well as the symptomatic jouissance will remain entirely on my side.

The relief is striking. Something essential of the burden of the mortification has been lifted.


The logical moment of the pass: the second murmur [soplo]

Although I am immediately asked how to end the analysis, two more years would be necessary to allow me to move away from what I was holding on to and to cross the shocking evidence that the Other is a hole, before finding, as J. Lacan says: “the good hole through which to come out.”

At the end of the last session of a series and after telling my analyst that I couldn’t find a way out, and that he was going to have to listen to me a little bit more, I bought a beautiful book of Chinese calligraphy. I had always felt attracted by this aesthetics that shows how letters are divorced from the senses, and I was not indifferent to the fact that it was a book by Francois Cheng, for his relationship with Lacan. I bought the book, I put it in my suitcase and I went on a trip.

The title of the book contains a word whose translation I did not know, it was a word in French that for me had only a culinary sound, and which remained unknown until one day when, already in Buenos Aires, I looked it up in the dictionary, and then the translation hit me. The title of the book was: Et le souffle devient signe.

Souffle: breath.

Immediately a memory precipitates the construction of the fantasy. It is the memory of an episode in the life of my Father, who in his childhood almost died of a pulmonary disease and who, in order to recover the use of his lungs had to blow into the chamber of a football.

To be the breath that the Father lacked. The formula identifies the being of the subject and defines the object. This second breath shows how the logic of the Name of the Father retook that first breath, a footprint written in the body. To encourage the Other, to blow in the hole of the Other was the matrix of the fantasy that I could then build.

One memory almost showed it to the letter: when the father took a nap the child would lie next to him, attentive to his breathing, in a game where he tried to synchronize his breathing to that of his father, always vigilant that it did not stop. To be the breath of the father is the side name of the father, of that which penetrated in the body through the word of the mother. Illuminating the fantasy would then situate the “I am that” in a blunt manner. But it also showed that in addition to the determination of this identification, there had been an unfathomable decision of the subject that became evident then. A decision to be that breath had given consistency to this identification of which meaning—all the meaning possible—and satisfaction had been drawn. It became then completely evident how an entire existence had been plotted from this decision.

What I have just described is the logical moment of the pass. It is the moment when, in a flash you catch the fantasy framework that had until then sustained all the significations of one life. In that moment we perceive this construction of the fantasy and at the same time this fantasy solution is eclipsed, loses its value, falls. That where the subject, without knowing, affirmed his being falls and one is left in a bind similar to the one described by Lacan that has a fish with an apple; it does not know what to do with it.

To be the breath that the Other lacked… on the one hand we have situated the place where the being of the subject was sustained, but at the same time we can see the dimension of the object that is now situated: breath.

We see then how the neurotic solution of the subject was built around of the signifier breath that now is unfolded. The first breath, “footprint written in the body by the word of the mother,” corporization of the signifier that is the matrix of the symptom and the background of the enigma of the desire of the Other and the second breath articulated to the Father, which allowed the metaphorical replacement of the DM.

A breath, to put it this way, on the side of the symptom, the other breath on the side of the fantasy.

Breath 1 Breath 2

DM ←←← NP

Symptom fantasy

S1 + a

It’s a limit point in the analytical experience. It is the limit point where a field that is beyond the Oedipus begins. Breath 1 signifier enters the body through the word of the mother and breath 2 linked to the Name-of-the-Father are the source of the meaning and the signification. Now, after crossing this, the ties to the Other, to knowledge, to the Other sex, to the partner and to the analyst will be redefined. There, the subject is no longer represented and the Other is a hole where the path of the drive will be articulated.

This path would reveal a circuit between keeping quiet and being heard and certain proximity between the respiration (the breath) and the voice. The object then slips from the breath and the word supported by the respiration that goes through and on the other side the muting that closes the mouth in the jouissance of the drive around the vacuum of which the voice resounds. This is how I can situate today, very briefly, the statute of object a in my case, that is found in this limit between the body and the Other, between the sonority and the sense.

This logical moment of the pass ends with a pass symptom and a dream. The symptom was fleeting, but quite worrisome. It was an acute difficulty in understanding what I was hearing, a sort of sensitive or receptive aphasia. I could hear, but sometimes I could not understand. You can imagine the repercussions of such a deficit. The exaggerated worry caused at that moment by the fact that a small and very close child could not completely master the language, led me to decipher this symptom and contributed to its dilution much more than consultations with specialists. It wasn’t a loss of hearing but of the critical limit between the sense and the absence of sense, between the sonority and the sense, which presented itself symptomatically. It had its problematic and disquieting side, but it was also funny, when I perceived that I did not understand well especially when the person speaking was a woman.

In turn, the dream was a dream that alludes to logic, to language and to the job of reduction of the unconscious: “I have to take a Latin test. The words can be clearly seen written in a page, but I don’t know what they mean or what I am expected to do with them.”It is a disconcerting dream because I never learned Latin and however I am compelled to take this test.

It was only recently with the device of the pass that I could better understand the question. Indeed, the Latin test is the analysis, but the analysis insofar as it reduces the fundamental signifier of the subject to a senseless registry. And on the other hand it shows the position of disconcert in which I found myself, on the edge of the end, against those senseless signifiers already reduced by the work of the unconscious.

In another part of this dream, as the symptom I recently mentioned, shows the ultimate resistance, or in other words the primary and autoerotic rejection of the Other, the language of the Other, the heterogeneity which dissolves in the kingdom of object a. This also shows the limit of what can be drawn from the signifier. And what is drawn from there is the object: breath, voice which will no longer be left in the hands of the Other, that the subject will rather take with it without sacrificing the cause of its desire to the Other.

It is the limit of the Freudian unconscious, of the deciphering and of the history. During the stretch that goes from the end of the analysis to the Pass, a stretch that I will not mention today, we confirm the installation of a new regimen of satisfaction, already outside the fantasy where otherwise the object of the drive and the real that is isolated would become entwined, as well as the Other and the partner.

The final reduction of the symptom to a sign introduced there a certain displacement that implies not being left at the mercy of the hole that opens in front of the inexistence of the Other. This implies recovering and using the object and the symptom in another way and to keep a certain distance from the symptom reduced to a sign, which is left at the end. What is left is the writing of those fragments of real and another use of the blow. Which I could write as follows:  Blow = symptom



[1] 1 T.N.: the word soplo in Spanish can be translated, depending on the context as murmur, blow, breath


The Ethics of Hysteria & Psychoanalysis
Vicente Palomera
Nathalie Djurberg

Author’s Bio

It is well known that Freud inaugurated an entirely new mode of human relations from listening to hysterics. The birth of psychoanalysis depends on this encounter with hysteria, but we should actually ask ourselves—as Lacan did himself—where have the hysterics of yesterday gone? Those marvelous women, the Anna O’s, the Emmy von N’s, and so forth—do their lives belong to a lost world? Lacan related the birth of psychoanalysis to the Victorian times, since Victoria was she who knew how to impose her ideals in an era which bears her name. Lacan said in his Seminar “this kind of havoc was necessary to produce what I call a waking.” In the present, do hysterics play havoc with the social field? Has hysteria displaced itself into the social field? Let’s start with all these questions.

On the other hand, how do the present psychoanalysts of the IPA face the question of the existence or non-existence of hysteria? The word has disappeared as such from certain psychiatric manuals. In one of the last International Congresses of Psychoanalysis, there was a panel dedicated to hysteria, and there we find psychoanalysts of different persuasions discussing hysteria. Many of them held that hysteria is only a defensive technique to maintain at a distance and under control of anxieties which are defined as “primitive,” “psychotic,” “non-sexual.” As you know, to define hysteria as a defense is not new, it is something already thought of by the Kleinians, and for instance, Fairbairn. I’d like to show you how all these definitions were bound to lead to confusion. Generally speaking, psychoanalysts have shrunk from the challenge of hysteria.

This is what was said recently in a paper issued in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis on the subject of hysteria, where one already finds Lacan quoted alongside several authors of the so-called French School of Psychoanalysis, that is to say, diluted in the eclectic tradition that distinguishes the IPA. As you see, this is a proof that “Lacan is everywhere.”[1]

First of all, the hysteric is a particular subject, one who puts his division in the place of power. In the second place, there is an ethics of hysteria, an ethics which is not in the service of the goods industry. Psychoanalysis is not an ethics of goods either. The ethics of hysteria is an ethics of privation, which does not mean an ethics of generosity (of giving); on the contrary, it is an ethics of dispossession (giving up). It is true that this position, at the very heart of hysteria—the pure hysterical position—is not usually carried out till the end, but the hysteric very often affirms her dispossession with ferocity, sometimes arriving at sacrifice.

This dispossession is presented to us as a complaint. The most fundamental complaint of hysterics is one of lack of identity, lack that Lacan wrote with a symbol, the letter $, which means that the subject is separated from his being, and for this reason separated from identity, which is why you identified yourself easily with others. With the term, unconscious, Freud meant a level where something thinks, where you find articulated thoughts (Gedanken). Yet, at the unconscious level you cannot say: “I am,” in fact, you are dispossessed of being. Thus, the unconscious is a level where there is no “self-consciousness,” where the subject does not find a way of naming himself, the “I am.” By means of the $ Lacan transformed Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum,” a statement which meant a level where the subject would be able to think: “therefore I am,” a level where, according to Descartes, you would be able to obtain the certainty of being.

What the hysterical subject intensifies and overtly manifests is this lack of a certainty, the lack of an identifying signifier. Hysteria shows up through a void of identification $ which the subject transforms into a question presented to anyone who is in the place of master of knowledge S2:


Hysteria is a discourse, and like every discourse it implies two partners. In the hysterical discourse Lacan isolates one of the partners as the divided subject $, the other as the master signifier, or the master who embodies it S1. So you have first, occupying the place of agent the subject addressing a demand to the Other—the Master—commanding the Master. The agent is what we call a place of power. In the analytical discourse,


power is in the object commanding a certain task to the subject.

The first time Lacan writes about his four discourses, he defines hysteria as the divided subject, that is to say as the unconscious in exercise: L’inconscient en exercice qui met le maître au pied du mur de produire un savoir.[2] (The unconscious in action challenging the master to produce knowledge). What is important here is the identification of hysteria with the divided subject. But, on the other hand, Lacan says clearly enough that the hysteric is also a mastering subject, because he/she is in the place of the agent.

Although you may easily illustrate this with any case of hysteria, I’d rather choose one which is certainly well known to you. Everyone knows the popular conception of Florence Nightingale, the self-sacrificing woman, the maiden who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to help the afflicted, the “Lady of the Lamp,” as she was nicknamed, consecrating with her goodness the dying soldier’s couch. I have taken Lytton Strachey’s picture of Florence Nightingale, because one suddenly recognizes the portrait of a hysteric.[3] He describes a hysteric, in so far as Florence’s position before men consisted in putting them to work, right till her death. You know she wanted to satisfy her vocation: to be a nurse. This was her want (in the double meaning of the word), a want that not only remained fixed immovably in her heart, but grew in intensity day by day. To become a nurse implied dispossession. She had brushed aside with disdain and loathing the allurements of her aristocratic milieu. Her lovers had been nothing to her, and she refused marriage. In her thirty-first year she noted in her diary: “I see nothing desirable but death.” Florence made her choice and refused what was at least a certain happiness for a visionary good which might never come to her at all. The Crimean War broke out; she was thirty-four when she arrived at Scutari where the organization of hospitals was horrific. The conditions were indescribable: want, confusion, diseases, dysentery, misery, filth, that is to say, the very image of jouissance. Florence came into that inferno, transforming it into a militarily organized hospital. A passionate idolatry spread among men, and Strachey summarizes it with these words “they (the soldiers) kissed her shadow as it passed.” A soldier said: “Before she came there was cussing and swearing, but after that it was as holy as a church.” She succeeded in emptying that jouissance, not without a certain heroism.

Back in England, “the Lady of the Lamp” falls seriously ill. She suffers from fainting fits and terrible attacks, a mysterious illness which will accompany her till her death at the age of ninety-one. “Wherever she went… she was haunted by a ghost”—says Strachey—“It was the specter of Scutari.” I found this a nice way of saying that at last Scutari became the signifier that, in the end, represented Florence S1 /$. Nevertheless, L. Strachey wrote that “a Demon possessed her,” giving her a signifier, precisely when she had rejected every signifier and showing by this means that she was not subjected, not fixed to any master signifier, but possessed by something mortifying.

As I have told you, the hysteric puts the master’s back to the wall—au pied du mur—to produce knowledge, says Lacan. Florence also shows this very well. Let’s take, for instance, her relationship with Sydney Herbert, who later became War Minister, trying to be a man in accordance with Florence’s wishes, then with Arthur Clough—her secretary—and with Dr. Sutherland. None of them were men, only false copies in Florence’s eyes. Strachey summarizes it very well: “she worked like a slave in a mine. She began to believe, as she had begun to believe at Scutari, that none of her fellow workers had their hearts in the business; if they had, why did they not work as she did? She could only see slackness and stupidity around her. Dr. Sutherland, of course, was grotesquely muddle-headed and Arthur Clough incurably lazy. Even Sydney Herbert… oh yes, he had the simplicity and candor and quickness of perception, no doubt; but he was an eclectic, and what could one hope for from a man…” As the years passed, Florence sought consolation on the writings of the Mystics, and also in a correspondence with Mr. Jowett, who acted as her spiritual adviser. But… how could he succeed where the others had failed? Jowett was entirely devoted to her, but Florence felt that she gave more sympathy than she received. “Her tongue, one day, could not refrain from shooting out at him: He comes to me, and he talks to me,” she said, “as if I were someone else.” With a sentence like this we immediately realize the nature of the hysterical discourse: the subject $ in the position of agent addressing a demand to the Master S1, to produce knowledge S2 which is impotent to say the truth of the subject a:

The hysteric presents herself precisely as lacking knowledge: “Cure me—try to know what I have.” As a result, like Mr. Jowett, the analyst cannot do it. He is impotent in his knowledge of what will cure her. In this dimension hysteria is a challenge.

We do not know much more about Florence. She died leaving nothing but a veil, that very veil she used to wear when she strolled in the park twice a month. What did she hide behind that veil? Strachey sees the visible nothingness she had converted into omnipotence all through her life: “The thin, angular woman, with her haughty eye and her acrid mouth, had vanished; and in her place was the rounded, bulky form of a fat old lady, smiling all day long. Then something else became visible. The brain which had been steeled at Scutari was indeed, literally, growing soft. Senility descended. Towards the end, consciousness itself grew lost in a roseate haze, and melted into nothingness.”

Why had she sacrificed all her life? It is an enigma. What we do know is that she didn’t give up her sacrifice and also that she eluded herself as a question.

Now, thanks to Lytton Strachey and going back to Lacan’s teaching on hysterical discourse, we are able to re-read not only Florence Nightingale’s portrait, but also hysterical discourse as such: the hysterical subject is an agent; secondly, she is a subject who eludes herself as object (Florence died without giving her secret); and thirdly, she is a subject who sacrifices herself.

Let’s go now to Lacan’s teaching on hysteria.

The first two features I have just given you may seem contradictory: there you have hysteria defined as Subject $, in the place of agent, of power, and, I have also said that hysteria is defined in the place of the object. I shall try to show you that there is no such contradiction at all. We can organize Lacan’s teaching on hysteria in four periods:

1) 1936-1949: The Period of the Mirror Stage
With the Mirror Stage Lacan formalizes many clinical facts, with a great economy of concepts, after having isolated the imaginary relationship. In the English edition of the Écrits,[4] you find hysteria defined by means of the fragmented body: “This fragmented body usually manifests itself in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of aggressive disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or of those organs represented in exoscopy, growing wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions (…) But this form is even tangibly revealed at the organic level, in the lines of fragilization that define the anatomy of fantasy, as exhibited in the schizoid and spasmodic symptoms of hysteria.” The fragmentation in hysteria, referred to in the Mirror Stage, is an early reference to the absence of identification with The Woman.

2) 1957: The Hysterical Question
In La Psychanalyse et son enseignement,[5] Lacan defines hysteria as an “imaginary inversion.” Schema L inscribes the condition of the subject as dependent on what is being unfolded in the Other A. What is being unfolded there is articulated like a discourse. This Schema opposes the Imaginary and the Symbolic:

Schema L

In this Schema a — a’ is the relation to the partner, the relation to the body image and, also, to the partner’s body, as it is developed in the Mirror Stage.

With the dotted axis Lacan writes the symbolic relationship, from the subject to the Other, the Other as the locus of language which precedes the coming of the subject in the world. This axis implies a subject, a subject who is presented with the question of his existence, “What am I there?”—A question from the subject directed to the Other, since it depends on what is unfolded in the Other. Lacan says: Neurosis is a question which finds its strictures in this Other, and it is in the Other too that are posited the terms through which the subject, of hysteria or obsessional neurosis, cannot accede to the notion of his/her facticity, with respect to his/her sex in the case of the one, and with respect to his/her existence in the case of the Other.

The key to the understanding of this paragraph is the word facticity with its reference to ‘thingness,’ a word which designates that in the Other—the locus of all signifiers—there are signifiers which lack. That is, there, the signifiers with which to say one’s sex and one’s existence are lacking, and that is why Lacan writes facticity. Later in his teaching, Lacan is going to say the Real.

Hysteria accentuates the facticity of sex. This translates the lack of an identifying signifier for femininity. So, when the question is “What is a woman?” this describes the neurosis we call hysteria. It is from this question—“What is a woman?” and unconsciously, “Am I man or woman?,” and at the moment when there is an answer to this question—that the hysterical subject gives a privileged place to another woman, or to the other woman, the woman who would know what it means to be a woman. Nevertheless, there can be other responses. For instance, I am thinking of an analysand whose particularity is that she collects men, and that’s her way to try to learn how to be a woman who would be worthy of this name.

This is exactly what Lacan writes, that the hysterical position is the imaginary inversion, a certain kind of response to her question. Every structure has its question and gives its response. Thus the hysterical response to her question about sex, to her impossibility to say what a woman is, is creating a scene in which she identifies herself with the other sex. It is the inversion at the imaginary level: instead of identifying with her own sex, she identifies with men.

All this is due to a deficiency at the level of identification, as Freud teaches us, a lack of narcissistic identification. It is like having an anatomy she cannot inhabit. Let’s take, for instance, Dora: she cannot be at the place to which her anatomy calls her; she is fascinated by Frau K, although she identifies herself with Herr K.

But you can also follow this imaginary inversion in another text: the “Intervention of Transference,” presented in 1951. This article is a perfect example of a critical re-reading of Freud’s texts, where Lacan re-reads the question of Dora’s symptoms thanks to the Mirror Stage. There is, firstly, Dora’s identification with her father, favored by the latter’s sexual impotence. These identifications showed through all the symptoms of conversion presented by Dora, a large number of which were removed by this discovery. Secondly, Lacan wonders why Freud failed to see that Dora’s aphonia brought up during the absences of Herr K was an expression of the oral erotic drive when Dora was left face to face with Frau K, without there being any need for Freud to invoke her awareness of the fellatio undergone by the father. As you know, Lacan interprets Dora’s aphonia as an effect of the identification with her father, since “every one knows that cunnilingus is the artifice most commonly adopted by ‘men of means’ whose powers begin to abandon them.” Had Dora gained access to the recognition of her femininity, she wouldn’t have had to remain open to that functional fragmentation (here Lacan refers explicitly to the Mirror Stage) which constitutes a conversion symptom. Thirdly, in the same direction, Lacan interprets Dora’s pregnancy fantasy and the transitory neuralgia as a result of her identification with Herr K, that is to say, once more, as a function of her virile identification after the rupture which followed the declaration at the lakeside, the catastrophe following which Dora entered on her illness.

In short, Lacan interprets all her symptoms as the effect of virile identification. Her symptoms depended on the imaginary alienation, as it is seen in the Mirror Stage.

All this allowed Lacan in Seminar II, dedicated to the ego and its functions, to make a very precise variation, one which anticipated the discourse of the master, that is to say, how can a woman take the place of the master? Lacan re-reads a clinical case taken from a Kleinian, Fairbairn. It is a woman who suffered from what at this time they used to call depressive phases. It is a very nice case of narcissistic alienation which we call the woman with the tiny vagina. After all, in this case you find something real—the little vagina—which puts that woman in the position of having to deal with the Penisneid in a very peculiar way. This example is taken by Lacan only in order to criticize the notion of partial object commonly used at this time—because her symptom seemed to be the aggression and then the twisting of her own aggression—according to the Kleinian classical sequence aggression-guilt-depression. Lacan throws overboard all these references to the partial drives to say that all her difficulties with men, her dealings with men, were related to the fact that man was her own image, and that it was this that she encountered all the time in her life. Besides this, it is a very important case because we are able to see the distinction between the function of the phallus as a signifier, the penis and the imaginary genital: in the case of this woman this is marked by a feature of the anatomical reality.

3) 1960: The Hysterical Sacrifice
In “Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious”[6] there is an important shift in Lacan’s teaching. There we find a subtle transformation of the previous formulations. In fact, it is the consequence of having introduced the objet petit a and the matheme of fantasy: $ ◊ a.

There you have two things. First, you have the subject, divided as an effect of the signifying chain $; no longer the biological prematurity that is at stake, following the Mirror Stage, but a subject who has lost a part of himself, who has been wounded by language. As a result, the subject is not a whole but a half, a half subject. Lacan’s idea is that the subject who speaks is a subject who has lost a part. And fantasy depends on this. In the matheme, we have written, face to face, the subject S and the objet petit a, placed in opposition.

How does Lacan define hysteria now? He defines it : “Indeed the neurotic, whether hysteric, obsessional, or, more radically, phobic, is he who identifies the lack of the Other with his demand A with D. As a result, the demand of the Other assumes the function of an object in his fantasy, that is to say, his fantasy ( S ◊ a ) is reduced to the drive ( $ ◊ D ) . . . In the case of the hysteric, in as much as desire is maintained only through the lack of satisfaction that is introduced into it when she eludes herself as object.”[7]

Here Lacan defines the hysteric by putting her in the place of the object, where she operates by slipping away (eluding herself). Lacan also writes that by and large when she slips away she gets something: she maintains desire, she maintains the lack through a refusal of satisfaction. As a result, you have unsatisfaction. To keep desire unsatisfied would be, then, the hysterical motto. This means two things: to make the other desire and also to keep oneself in desire. This is very close to the phenomenology of the seduction’s phantasy discovered by Freud, because it is the other—the father—who is placed as the agent of desire, and the subject fantasizes herself as being in the place of that object which the other lacks.

On the other hand, to elude herself as object implies the presence of that other in front of whom she eludes herself. In fact, she first needs the presence of the partner, and sometimes she complains about this alienation, saying she is not autonomous. At the same time, besides this alienation there is also her triumph over the other, which gives us an idea of what a mastering subject is. Let us remember Fairbairn’s case cited by Lacan. The hysteric is a subject who tries to be the master of desire, as “the Lady of the Lamp” shows us, to make desire flame up, in the sense of the Freudian equation “phallus (the signifier of desire) = fire.” Sometimes, the hysteric—remember Rider Haggard’s book She—does not know for how much longer this position will hold her up (the end of the adventure in She is that the guide, instead of finding immortality for herself and the others, perishes in the mysterious subterranean fire). Thus, the hysterical position is to elude herself as object (to refuse jouissance and to cause desire).

The hysterical subject does not want to offer her division to the other’s jouissance. This is what is shown in the intrigue (Lacan talked of ‘hysterical intrigue’). Here also her sacrifice, that is to say, her intrigue, implies a renunciation of a share of jouissance: She refuses a part of jouissance to the other and at the same time, she deprives herself of jouissance. It is here where she finds her satisfaction, in her sacrifice. At this point Lacan gives us a very precise remark, in a reference to the dream of the butcher’s wife: “she did not know what Dora knew.” What does it mean? Both are hysterics, but Dora was nearer to knowing that what she wanted was privation, that she wanted to leave Frau K. to men. In La psychanalyse et son enseignement[8]—Lacan pointed out: The hysteric offers the woman in whom she adores her own mystery to the man whose role she takes without being able to enjoy. What the butcher’s wife did not know was that she would find her satisfaction in leaving her husband to the other woman.

What the hysterical subject intensifies and manifests is this raising of privation to an absolute level, which can eventually manifest itself by the rejection of every master signifier. She is a subject who says no to identifying the signifier One S1.

4) 1973: The Being of the Lack
In 1973 Lacan writes an introduction to the German edition of the Écrits. There he went back to the butcher’s wife dream and takes it as the hysterical paradigm: je ne prodigue pas les examples, mais quand je m’en mêle, je les porte au paradigme (“I am not lavish with examples, but when I proffer them, I elevate them to the status of paradigms”). Before this he wrote: Il n’y a pas de sens commun de l’hystérique, et ce dont joue chez eux ou elles l’identification, c’est la structure et non le sens, comme ça se lit bien au fait qu’elle porte sur le désir, c’est à dire sur le manque pris comme objet, pas sur la cause du manque.[9] (“There is no common denominator of hysteria, and what identification plays on in hysterics is structure, not sense, as is shown by the fact that it bears on desire, that is, on the lack taken as an object, not on the cause of lack”). That is to say, the hysterical subject demands being but not any being; she demands the being of lack. What characterizes hysteria is that the hysteric identifies herself with the lack of desire, not with the cause of desire. In saying this Lacan went back to his formulation in The Direction of The Treatment,[10] the butcher’s wife desire—the question in which the woman identifies herself with the man—is to be the phallus (in this text, Lacan defines the phallus as the signifier of the lack, the signifier of desire). To be the phallus is not a plus-de-jouir, but on the contrary it is the signifier which indicates the lack, always present, in the Other (the slice of smoked salmon takes in the dream the place of the lack of the Other). In short, what is at stake in hysteria is to be this lack of desire, to be the nothing of desire (the nothing here is an object). The hysteric puts this void in the place of the object, she shows up through this void, transforming it into an eternal question. So the hysterical unsatisfaction is correlated with her way of supporting herself in being as ‘nothing.’

Sometimes the hysterical subject carries this position very far, up to the point of sacrificing her own person. We saw this, for instance, with Florence Nightingale. She sacrificed everything to be a nurse, brushed aside the charms and allurements of her aristocratic environment, refused marriage and exiled herself from her country. She was ferocious with men, and her heroism was beyond any human consideration. Although her ideals were testimony to her discontent with any master signifier, she called for a new desire, allowing her to struggle against what Lacan called la dégradationcommunautaire de l’entreprise sociale, the blind-alleys of the Other.


The Ethics of Hysteria & Psychoanalysis was adapted for print in lacanian ink 3 from a lecture given at the CFAR, London, 1988.

[1] Jacques Alain Miller, unpublished Seminar, 1979.
[2] Lacan, “Radiophonie”, Silicet 2/3, Paris: Seuil, 1970.
[3] Strachey, Eminent Victorians, Penguin Modern Classics, 1980.
[4] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, New York: Norton & Co., 1977, p. 4.
[5] Lacan, Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 1966, p. 437-58.
[6] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, p. 292 – 324.
[7] Ibid, p. 321.
[8] Lacan, Écrits, p. 437-58.
[9] Lacan, Scilicet 5, Paris: Seuil, 1975, p. 15.
[10] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, p. 262.

Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio


0. The All. Outside of which, therefore, nothing. If I say the Nothing, it is necessary for me to posit the All that includes them both.

Within this framework, then, these variations:

1. And so the following. Each new All determines a Nothing and requires that one posit a superior All: A0, A1, A2,… That is the schema of stratification.

2. And the Nothing? Am I going to enumerate it? Why not? But I could also just as easily keep it always the same, especially since it always gives rise to the same operation. One could say that N is the cause of stratification, of the multiplication of A.

3. Why not say that it is also the same All that repeats itself, rewrites itself, always one more time? The unique operation that repeats itself is written: A—>N—>A. N causes the reduplication of A. Or rather, it is the interval between A and itself.

4. A and A are the same, with Nothing between them [avec un Rien de difference] One can say, an entity including N is split [clivée], that is to say, at a distance from itself, constrained to repeat itself. Its N unceasingly separates from it, and it unceasingly reabsorbs its N.

5. What is the key to this process? It is that, at the start, I integrated to the entity its negative, its lack (its own disappearance, its effacement). I considered its own absence as being a part of itself. “Its own absence?” What could this be except its place?

6. To inscribe a mark is to posit two things: the mark (its materiality, as a trace of ink, for example) and its place. If one effaces the mark, its trace remains, in the form of place. Thus, aren’t there always at least two series?—that of marks and that of lacks?

7. From this nucleus, one could create a cycle that would indefinitely lead from A to N, from the entity to its disappearance: flickering in eclipse, alteration—the equivalent of two alternating symbols, or rather, of the alteration of a symbol and its lack (that is to say, the repetition of a single symbol).

8. We will easily deduce that Nothing is not All, given that there is no integral All that doesn’t include its own lack. Either the All leaves N outside, and it is not complete, or it includes it, and the lack that it integrates perforates it.

9. Here one grasps the formal equivalence between repetition and splitting [clivage]. What appears in the former as process appears in the latter (condensed and contracted) as entity. Repetition is splitting expanded (explained).

10. There is another conceivable version of this phenomenon—A would neither include nor not include N. A would be a contradictory entity, or N an impossible element. Or, A and N are incompatible in the strong sense—for it is not only that are they mutually exclusive, or that they can’t be members of the same set, but rather that they provoke, as soon as they are put together, an unceasing disruption. They are connected and separated in an antinomy that can only be reduced to a process of alteration in which N is always in more or less a proportion with A.

11. Behold! I hold in the palm of my hand the juncture [connexion] of repetition, splitting, lack, place, alteration, contradiction, antinomy, impossibility.

12. And it is not even necessary to start with the All. Any entity will do just as well, on the condition that it is posited in disjunction, that is to say, as standing out against the All. But to accomplish this disjunction with the All itself assures you right away that nothing escapes from the law…

13 …except the Nothing—for the place is secondary to the mark (mutatis mutandis, the subject is the effect of the signifier).

14. We will begin again from the unary mark—from any entity (but this “any” already supposes the “unary”) of the All (isn’t this equivalent to the mark?).

15. I acknowledge that this assemblage [montage] rests on the confusion between the mark and its place (of the mark as designating itself and the mark as designating its place), or between entities of a different order (A1 and A2). Stratification makes these phenomena, and the aberrant beings that propel themselves by it, vanish. But it is precisely a matter of the origin of stratification—of stratification as infinite repetition.

16. One can also prove that the space that corresponds to the mark as such is, of necessity, unstratifiable. In fact, for stratification, it is necessary that the space of the places be already given. The originary signifier situates itself, and its series develops in a unique dimension, a space without levels. Numbers don’t yet exist at the unfolding of the series of (split, repeated) unary marks. It is only with the addition of the marks that number begins.

In the beginning is the place—or there is nothing. But no place without mark: a concept, an index, a point—a mark of the lack of mark. Yet the mark that lacks and the mark of lack are not of different types, they are not differentiated. There is the mark, that’s… All.

17. Related inference: it is only when the mark disappears that its place appears, and therefore the mark as such. Is this enough to justify our saying that it attains its being only in its disappearance—that it takes hold only on the side of its lack—in a flash? “Side” is only an approximation. One could say that this is the absolute “either/or,” the mark or the lack—and the being of the mark, just like that of lack, “exists” only in the in‑between, incorporeal, ungraspable, or in the difference between the one and the other, in the movement, in the passage, and it is always either too early or too late. Or rather, one could say that mark and lack are not separate, exterior to one another, but entangled, implicated in each other. Lack and mark are like being and signification: it is only by barring all that it is that the signifier could signify its being.

18. The split does not reduce itself. Repetition does not cease. Alteration does not stabilize. In other words, one can’t make an All of this entity, of this set, of these positions. This process—this entity—presents itself as untotalizable—or, as a contradictory totality, which is to say, a totality with its contradiction, or with its non­integrable element, multiplicity irreducible to a unity. The mark, unary unity, split entity, doesn’t remain stable, it multiplies, it diverges, it dispenses (with) itself, it disseminates. It doesn’t consist (it is inconsistent), it persists, it insists, it is a process. And one can say the same of the corresponding totality. Thus the mark as unity is only the totality concentrated. And the totality is the mark expanded, multiplied.

19. Whoever starts with the disjunction necessarily finds dispersion. In fact, what is a signifier—if not an element that only defines itself in a set of similar entities, and by disjunction (differentiation)? The limiting case is that of a set with one element: the element doesn’t just separate from the set as empty, which is only its own lack (or from its place as such, or from the mark of its place—which amounts to saying that it is split). The element must emerge for the set to exist, must exclude itself, must except itself, must show as a deficit, or a surplus. That is the principle of dispersion. It is only a version of the splitting, or of the antinomy, of mark and lack.

20. The argument is simpler concerning a number n >1 of signifiers. There is no All of signifiers, if it is true that each one defines itself in relation to (for) the set of the others. Each signifier has for its correlate a set n-1, and there are as many of these sets as there are signifiers—without ever reaching the whole set, n. This totality is unclosed, perforated, open, it doesn’t hold together, it is a unity (space, law, function) of dispersion. A proverb: structure isn’t everything [la structure n’est pas un tout].

21. Reflection: The different beings that I have produced—entities, totalities, processes, operations, sequences—are they not all equivalent? According to the account I choose, they are identical or different. The phenomena that I describe either condense or expand, are either concentrated or extended, either dwindle or proliferate. There is only one of them, and there is an infinity. To grasp one is only provisional. It can cancel itself out, make itself disappear, or swell, stretch itself, divide itself, distribute itself. One could completely sum up the existence of a split entity, concentrating in it an irreducible contradiction, but this contradiction would extend to the universe of discourse in its absolute totality, that is, contradictory and split. Are there one or more singular points in that universe? And what if this were “completely” all there were—”singular”? These phenomena are ungraspable by nature. And one grasps one of them only by taking its fluidity away from it for a moment, and placing it elsewhere. The ungraspable could be grasped, on the condition that the ungraspable is isolated as a function, to identify it and concentrate it—for instance, by embodying it in an entity. Example? The twisting of a Möbius strip is everywhere, in other words, it is indeterminate, and only a cut in the strip localizes it—precisely when it makes the Möbius strip disappear. Here we define an essentially indeterminate being, since it disappears in being determined (uncertainly).

22. Statement: There is no universe of discourse, which is to say, there is an essential (constitutive) lack, a hole in the universe of discourse, or better, the universe of discourse is a totality of dispersion [totalité dispersée]. It is a Möbius strip, non­orientable, with one face, without top or bottom, unstratifiable, except if cut at the point where its twist is fixed and effaced. Indivisible, this perhaps divided universe what it loses is not material, it is incorporeal, it is nothing—only its properties disappear, completely. With the fall of lack, the impossible element, the universal stratification of language becomes possible. Seen from the side of stratified language, it is nothing but an illusion, an illegitimate operation, a non‑entity [non‑être], an appearance, a mirage, a semblant of being, that disappears.

23. The categories of more‑than/less‑than, of the inconsistent totality, of the antinomic element give rise, if you will, to those of anticipation, of deferral [l’après-coup], of the lightning flash, of the instant. A theory of time before a theory of space—that is the aesthetic of the signifier.

24. Since the beginning, we are in the too early/too late. We speak, we write, we live in the too early/too late. Does this text come on time? Certainly not. It is untimely. Its production is indeterminate. Neither does it have an end, and when I stop, it will not conclude. Does it remain only to write indefinitely, until death, expanding each phenomenon, the phenomenon, naming it always anew, testing diverse orders, new metaphors? Or else, reduce the all to a unique point—a single description—a single name‑a cry—or silence.

* “Matrice,” Ornicar? 4, Paris, 1975.

The translator wishes to thank Kirsten Stolte and the Buffalo Lacan
Reading Group for reviewing the translation.

Matrix originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 12, 2000

The Lesbian Session
Slavoj Zizek

Author’s Bio

Can a Lacanian learn something from Ayn Rand?
Rand, who wrote the two absolute best-sellers of our century, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), was (deservedly) ignored and ridiculed as a philosopher: her fascination with male figures displaying absolute, unswayable determination of their Will, seems to offer the best imaginable confirmation of Sylvia Plath’s famous line, “…every woman adores a Fascist.” However, although it is easy to dismiss the very mention of Rand in a “serious” theoretical article as an obscene extravaganza—artistically, she is of course, worthless—the properly subversive dimension of her ideological procedure is not to be underestimated: Rand fits into the line of over-conformist authors who undermine the ruling ideological edifice by their very excessive identification with it.

Her over-orthodoxy was directed at capitalism itself, as the title of one of her books Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal tells us; according to her, the truly heretic thing today is to embrace the basic premise of capitalism without its communitarian, collectivist, welfare, etc., sugarcoating. So what Pascal and Racine were to Jansenism, what Kleist was to German nationalist militarism, what Brecht was to Communism, Rand is to American capitalism. It was perhaps her Russian origins and upbringing which enabled her to formulate directly the fantasmatic kernel of American capitalist ideology.

The elementary ideological axis of her work consists in the opposition between the prime movers, “men of mind,” and second handers, “mass men.” The Kantian opposition between ethical autonomy and heteronomy is here brought to extreme: the “mass man” is searching for recognition outside himself, his self-confidence and assurance depend on how he is perceived by others, while the prime mover is fully reconciled with himself, relying on his creativity, selfish in the sense that his satisfaction does not depend on getting recognition from others or on sacrificing himself, his innermost drives, for the benefit of others.

The prime mover is innocent, delivered from the fear of others, and for that reason without hatred even for his worst enemies (Roark, the “prime mover” in The Fountainhead, doesn’t actively hate Toohey, his great opponent, he simply doesn’t care about him.)
Here is the famous dialogue between the two:

—Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.
—But I don’t think of you.

On the basis of this opposition, Rand elaborates her radically atheist, life-assertive, “selfish” ethics: the “prime mover” is capable of the love for others, this love is even crucial for him since it does not express his contempt for himself, his self-denial, but on the contrary, the highest self-assertion-love for others is the highest form of the properly understood “selfishness,” i.e. of my capacity to realize through my relationship with others my own innermost drives. On the basis of this opposition, Atlas Shrugged constructs a purely fantasmatic scenario: John Galt, the novel’s mysterious hero, assembles all prime movers and organizes their strike—they withdraw from the collectivist oppression of the bureaucratized public life. As a result of their withdrawal, what social life loses is impetus, social services; from stores to railroads, no longer function, global disintegration sets in, and the desperate society calls the prime movers back—they accept it, but under their own terms…

John Currin

What we have here is the fantasy of a man finding the answer to the eternal question “What moves the world?”—the prime movers—and then being able to “stop the motor of the world” by organizing the prime movers’ retreat. John Galt succeeds in suspending the very circuit of the universe, the “run of things,” causing its symbolic death and the subsequent rebirth of the New World.

The ideological gain of this operation resides in the reversal of roles with regard to our everyday experience of strike: it is not workers but the capitalists who go on strike, thus proving that they are the truly productive members of society who do not need others to survive.[1] The hideout to which the prime movers retreat, a secret place in the midst of the Colorado mountains accessible only via a dangerous narrow passage, is a kind of negative version of Shangri-la, a “utopia of greed”: a small town in which unbridled market relations reign, in which the very word “help” is prohibited, in which every service has to be reimbursed by true (gold-covered) money, in which there is no need for pity and self-sacrifice for others.

The Fountainhead gives us a clue as to the matrix of intersubjective relations which sustain this myth of prime movers. Its four main male characters constitute a kind of Greimasian semiotic square: the architect Howard Roark is the autonomous creative hero; Wynand, the newspaper tycoon, is the failed hero, a man who could have been a “prime mover”—deeply akin to Roark, he got caught in the trap of crowd-manipulation (he was not aware of how his media manipulation of the crowd actually makes him a slave who follows the crowd’s whims); Keating is a simple conformist, a wholly externalized, “other-oriented” subject; Toohey, Roark’s true opponent, is the figure of diabolical Evil, a man who never could have been and who knows it—he turned his awareness of his worthlessness into the self-conscious hatred of prime movers, i.e. he becomes an Evil Master who feeds the crowd with this hatred.

Paradoxically, Toohey is the point of self-consciousness: he is the only one who knows it all, who, even more than Roark who simply follows his drive, is fully aware of the true state of things.

We have thus Roark as the being of pure drive in no need of symbolic recognition (and as such uncannily close to the Lacanian saint—only an invisible line of separation distinguishes them), and the three ways to compromise one’s drive: Wynand, Keating, Toohey. The underlying opposition is here that of desire and drive, as exemplified in the tense relationship between Roark and Dominique, his sexual partner. Roark displays the perfect indifference towards the Other characteristic of drive, while Dominique remains caught in the dialectic of desire which is the desire of the Other: she is gnawed by the Other’s gaze, i.e. by the fact that others, the common people totally insensitive to Roark’s achievement, are allowed to stare at it and thus spoil its sublime quality. The only way for her to break out of this deadlock of the Other’s desire is to destroy the sublime object in order to save it from becoming the object of the ignorant gaze of others:

You want a thing and it’s precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? You can’t know, it may be so involved and so far away, but someone is ready, and you’re afraid of them all… I never open again any great book I’ve read and loved. It hurts me to think of the other eyes that have read it and of what they were.[2]

These “other eyes” are the Evil Gaze at its purest which grounds the paradox of property: if, within a social field, I am to possess an object, this possession must be socially acknowledged, which means that the big Other who vouchsafes this possession of mine must in a way possess it in advance in order to let me have it. I thus never relate directly to the object of my desire: when I cast a desiring glance at the object, I am always—already gazed at by the Other (not only the imaginary other, the competitive-envious double, but primarily the big Other of the symbolic Institution which guarantees property), and this gaze of the Other which oversees me in my desiring capacity is in its very essence castrating, threatening.[3] Therein consists the elementary castrating matrix of the dialectics of possession: if I am truly to possess an object, I have first to lose it, i.e. to concede that its primordial owner is the big Other. In traditional monarchies, this place of the big Other is occupied by the King who in principle owns the entire land, so that whatever individual landowners possess was given, requested to them by the King; this castrative dialectic reaches its extreme in the case of the totalitarian Leader who, on the one hand, emphasizes again and again how he is nothing in himself, how he only embodies and expresses the will, creativity etc. of the people, but, on the other hand, he gives us everything we have, so we have to be grateful to him for everything we have, up to the meager daily bread and health.

At the level of drive, however, immediate possession is possible, one can dispose of the Other, in contrast to the everyday order of desire in which the only way to remain free is to sacrifice everything one cares for, to destroy it, to never have a job one wants and enjoys, to marry a man one absolutely despises… So, for Dominique, the greatest sacrilege is to throw pearls to swines: to create a precious object and then to expose it to the Other’s evil Gaze, i.e. to let it be shared with the crowd. And she treats herself in precisely the same way: she tries to resolve the deadlock of her position as a desired object by way of willingly embracing, even searching for, the utmost humiliation—she marries the person she most despises and tries to ruin the career of Roark, the true object of her love and admiration.[4] Roark, of course, is well aware of how her attempts to ruin him result from her desperate strategy to cope with her unconditional love for him, to inscribe this love in the field of the big Other; so, when she offers herself to him, he repeatedly rejects her and tells her that the time is not yet ripe for it: she will become his true partner only when her desire for him will no longer be bothered by the Other’s gaze—in short, when she will accomplish the shift from desire to drive. The (self-)destructive dialectics of Dominique, as well as of Wynand, bears witness to the fact that they are fully aware of the terrifying challenge of Roark’s position of pure drive: they want to break him down in order to deliver him from the clutches of his drive.

This dialectics provides the key to what is perhaps the crucial scene in The Fountainhead: Dominique, while riding a horse, encounters on a lone country road Roark, working as a simple stonecutter in her father’s mine; unable to endure the insolent way he looks back at her, the look which attests his awareness of her inability to resist being attracted to him, Dominique furiously whips him (in the film version, this violent encounter is rendered as the archetypal scene of the mighty landlord’s lady or daughter secretly observing the attractive slave: unable to admit to herself that she is irresistibly attracted to him, she acts out her embarrassment in a furious whipping of the slave). She whips him, she is his Master confronting a slave, but her whipping is an act of despair, an awareness of HIS hold over her, of her inability to resist him—as such, it’s already an invitation to brutal rape. So the first act of love between Dominique and Roark is a brutal rape done with no compassion:

He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him-and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted.[5]

This scorn is paralleled by Dominique’s unconditional willingness to destroy Roark—the willingness which is the strongest expression of her love for him; the following quote bears witness to the fact that Rand is effectively a kind of feminine version of Otto Weininger:

I’m going to fight you—and I’m going to destroy you—and I tell you this as calmly as I told you that I’m a begging animal. I’m going to pray that you can’t be destroyed—I tell you this, too—even though I believe in nothing and have nothing to pray to. But I will fight to block every step you take. I will fight to tear away every chance you want away from you. I will hurt you through the only thing that can hurt you—through your work. I will fight to starve you, to strangle you on the things you won’t be able to reach. I have done it to you today—and that is why I shall sleep with you tonight. /…/ I’ll come to you whenever I have beaten you—whenever I know that I have hurt you—and I’ll let you own me. I want to be owned, not by a lover, but by an adversary who will destroy my victory over him, not with honorable blows, but with the tough of his body on mine.[6]

The woman strives to destroy the precious agalma which is what she doesn’t possess in her beloved man, the spark of his excessive autonomous creativity: she is aware that only in this way, by destroying his agalma (or, rather, by making him renounce it), she will own him, only in this way will the two of them form an ordinary couple; yet she is also aware that in this way, he will become worthless—therein resides her tragic predicament. Is then, in ultima analysis, the scenario of The Fountainhead not that of Wagner’s Parsifal? Roark is Parsifal the saint, the being of pure drive; Dominique is Kundry in search of her delivery; Gail is Amfortas, the failed saint; Toohey is Klingsor, the impotent evil magician.

Like Dominique, Kundry wants to destroy Parsifal, since she has a foreboding of his purity; like Dominique, Kundry simultaneously wants Parsifal not to give way, to endure the ordeal, since she is aware that her only chance of redemption resides in Parsifal’s resistance to her seductive charms. The true conflict in the universe of Rand’s two novels is thus not between the prime movers and the crowd of second-handers who parasitize on the prime movers’ productive genius, with the tension between the prime mover and his feminine sexual partner being a mere secondary subplot of this principal conflict. The true conflict runs within the prime movers themselves: it resides in the (sexualized) tension between the prime mover, the being of pure drive, and his hysterical partner, the potential prime mover who remains caught in the deadly self-destructive dialectic (between Roark and Dominique in The Fountainhead, between John Galt and Dagny in Atlas Shrugged). When, in Atlas Shrugged, one of the prime mover figures tells Dagny, who unconditionally wants to pursue her work and keep the transcontinental railroad company running, that the prime movers’ true enemy is not the crowd of second-handers, but herself, this is to be taken literally. Dagny herself is aware of it: when prime movers start to disappear from public productive life, she suspects a dark conspiracy, a “destroyer” who forces them to withdraw and thus gradually brings the entire social life to a standstill; what she does not yet see is that the figure of “destroyer” that she identifies as the ultimate enemy, is the figure of her true Redeemer.

The solution occurs when the hysterical subject finally gets rid of her enslavement and recognizes in the figure of the “destroyer” her Savior—why? Second-handers possess no ontological consistency of their own, which is why the key to solution is not to break them, but to break the chain which forces the creative prime movers to work for them—when this chain is broken, the second handers’ power will dissolve by itself. The chain which links a prime mover to the perverted existing order is none other than her attachment to her productive genius: a prime mover is ready to pay any price, up to the utter humiliation of feeding on the very force which works against him, i.e. which parasitizes on the activity he officially endeavors to suppress, just to be able to continue to create.

What the hystericized prime mover must accept is thus the fundamental existential indifference: she must no longer be willing to remain the hostage of the second-handers’ blackmail “We will let you work and realize your creative potential, on condition that you accept our terms,” she must be ready to give up the very kernel of her being, that which means everything to her, and to accept the “end of the world,” the (temporary) suspension of the very flow of energy which keeps the world running. In order to gain everything, she must be ready to go through the zero-point of losing everything. And far from signalling the “end of subjectivity,” this act of assuming existential indifference is perhaps the very gesture of absolute negativity which gives birth to the subject.

What Lacan calls “subjective destitution” is thus, paradoxically, another name for the subject itself, i.e. for the void beyond the theatre of hysterical subjectivizations. Rand’s work thus contains two radically different narratives which are not to be confused: the standard masculine narrative of the struggle between the exceptional One (Master, Creator) and the “crowd” which follows the universal norm, as well as the feminine narrative of the shift from desire to drive, i.e. from the hysteric’s entanglement in the deadlocks of the Other’s desire to the fundamental indifference of the desubjectivized being of drive. For that reason, the Randian hero is not “phallocratic”—phallocratic is rather the figure of the failed Master (Wynand in The Fountainhead, Stadler in Atlas Shrugged): paradoxical as it may sound, with regard to the formulas of sexuation, the being of pure drive which emerges once the subject “goes through the fantasy” and assumes the attitude of indifference towards the enigma of the Other’s desire is a feminine figure.

What Rand was not aware of was that the upright, uncompromising masculine figures with a will of steel that she was so fascinated with, are, effectively, figures of the feminine subject liberated from the deadlocks of hysteria.[7] It is thus a thin, almost imperceptible line which separates Rand’s ideological and literary trash from the ultimate feminist insight.

Such a reading also enables us to draw a crucial theoretical conclusion about the limits of subjectivity: hysteria is not the limit of subjectivity—there is a subject beyond hysteria. What we get after “traversing the fantasy,” i.e. the pure being of drive which emerges after the subject undergoes “subjective destitution,” is not a kind of subjectless loop of the repetitive movement of drive, but, on the contrary, the subject at its purest; one is almost tempted to say: the subject “as such.” Saying “Yes!” to the drive, i.e. precisely to that which can never be subjectivized, freely assuming the inevitable (the drive’s radical closure), is the highest gesture of subjectivity. It is thus only after assuming a fundamental indifference towards the Other’s desire, getting rid of the hysterical game of subjectivization, after suspending the intersubjective game of mutual (mis)recognition, that the pure subject emerges…

One can see, now, in what precise sense, the struggle between the hysterical feminine heroine and the persistent male hero, which forms the center of Rand’s both great novels, can be conceived as a barely concealed presentation of a lesbian (psychoanalytic) session: of the painful process in the course of which the feminine analysand traverses her fantasy and thus overcomes her hysterical position.



The Lesbian Session appeared in print in lacanian ink 12, 2000.


[1] Rand’s ideological limitation is here clearly perceptible: in spite of the new impetus that the myth of the “prime movers” got from the digital industry (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates), individual capitalists are today, in our era of multinationals, definitely not its “prime movers.” In other words, what Rand “represses” is the fact that the rule of the crowd” is the inherent outcome of the dynamic of capitalism itself.
[2] Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, New York: Signet 1992, p.143-144.
[3] See Paul-Laurent Assoun, La voix et le regard, Paris: Anthropos, 1995, Vol. 2, p. 35-36.
[4] Atlas Shrugged contains a whole series of such hysterical inversions of desire—suffice it to quote from the blurb on the cover of the pocket edition: “Why does /John Galt/ fight his hardest battle against the woman he loves? … why a productive genius became a worthless playboy. Why a great steel industrialist was working for his own destruction… why a composer gave up his career on the night of his triumph … why a beautiful woman who ran a transcontinental railroad fell in love with the man she had sworn to kill.”
[5] Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, New York: Signet 1992, p. 217.
[6] ibid, p. 272-273.
[7] It is well known that a thwarted (disavowed) homosexual libidinal economy forms the basis of military community—it is for that very reason that the Army opposes so adamantly the admission of gays in its ranks. Mutatis mutandis, Rand’s ridiculously exaggerated adoration of strong male figures betrays the underlying disavowed lesbian economy, i.e. the fact that Dominique and Roark, or Dagny and Galt, are effectively lesbian couples.