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Woman is One of the Names of the Father

By Slavoj Zizek

The usual way of misreading Lacan's formulas of sexuation is to reduce the difference of the masculine and the feminine side to the two formulas that define the masculine position, as if masculine is the universal phallic function and feminine the exception, the excess, the surplus that eludes the grasp of the phallic function. Such a reading completely misses Lacan's point, which is that this very position of the Woman as exception "say, in the guise of the Lady in courtly love" is a masculine fantasy par excellence. As the exemplary case of the exception constitutive of the phallic function, one usually mentions the fantasmatic, obscene figure of the primordial father-jouisseur who was not encumbered by any prohibition and was as such able fully to enjoy all women. Does, however, the figure of the Lady in courtly love not fully fit these determinations of the primordial father? Is she not also a capricious Master who wants it all, i.e. who, herself not bound by any Law, charges her knight-servant with arbitrary and outrageous ordeals?

In this precise sense, Woman is one of the names-of-the-father. The crucial details not to be missed here are the use of plural and the lack of capital letters: not Name-of-the-Father, but one of the names-of-the-father"one of the nominations of the excess called primordial father. In the case of Woman - the mythical She, the Queen from Rider Haggard's novel of the same name for example - as well as in the case of the primordial father, we are dealing with an agency of power which is pre-symbolic, unbridled by the Law of castration; in both cases, the role of this fantasmatic agency is to fill out the vicious cycle of the symbolic order, the void of its origins: what the notion of Woman (or of the primordial father) provides is the mythical starting point of unbridled fullness whose "primordial repression" constitutes the symbolic order.

A second misreading consists in rendering obtuse the sting of the formulas of sexuation by way of introducing a semantic distinction between the two meanings of the quantifier "all": according to this misreading, in the case of the universal function, "all" (or "non-all") refers to a singular subject (x), and signals whether "all of it" is caught in the phallic function; whereas the particular exception "there is one..." refers to the set of subjects and signals, whether within this set "there is one" who is (or is not) entirely exempted from the phallic function. The feminine side of the formulas of sexuation thus allegedly bears witness to a cut that splits each woman from within: no woman is entirely exempted from the phallic function, and for that very reason, no woman is entirely submitted to it, i.e. there is something in each woman that resists the phallic function. In a symmetric way, on the masculine side, the asserted universality refers to a singular subject (each male subject is entirely submitted to the phallic function) and the exemption to the set of male subjects ("there is one" who is entirely exempted from the phallic function). In short, since one man is entirely exempted from the phallic function, all others are wholly submitted to it, and since no woman is entirely exempted from the phallic function, none of them is also wholly submitted to it. In the one case, the splitting is externalized: it stands for the line of separation that, within the set of "all men," distinguishes those who are caught in the phallic function from the "one" who is exempted from it; in the other case, it is internalized: every singular woman is split from within, part of her is submitted to the phallic function and part of her exempted from it...

SEAN LANDERS", Joy of Sex, oil on linen, 84" x 122", 1995. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery.