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.
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, 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. 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.” What does that mean?
In “The Position of the Unconscious,” 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.” 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. 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.”
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.”
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, 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. 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
Jacques-Alain Miller, “De la nature des semblants,” cours no. 3, 04.12.91
Jacques Lacan, “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis,” Écrits, New York: Norton, 2006, pp 464-465.
“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.)
Jacques-Alain Miller, “Jacques Lacan: remarques sur son concept de passage à l’acte,” Mental, Paris: NLS, 2006, vol. 17, p. 27.
Jacques Lacan, Écrits, New York: Norton, 2006, pp. 703-721.
Op. cit., p. 716.
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
Op. cit., p.43.
Jacques-Alain Miller, op. cit., p. 23. my own translation (K.S.)
Ibid., p. 24.
Ibid., p. 21.