...... Jacques Lacan's Four Discourses

...........Slavoj Zizek

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Although Lacan's notion of "university discourse" circulates widely today, it is seldom used in its precise meaning (designating a specific "discourse," social link). As a rule, it functions as a vague notion of some speech being part of the academic interpretive machinery. In contrast to this use, one should always bear in mind that, for Lacan, university discourse is not directly linked to the university as a social institution-for example, he states that the Soviet Union was the pure reign of university discourse. Consequently, not only does the fact of being turned into an object of the university interpretive machinery prove nothing about one's discursive status-names like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or Benjamin, all three great antiuniversitarians whose presence in the academy is today all-pervasive-demonstrate that the "excluded" or "damned" authors are the IDEAL feeding stuff for the academic machine. Can the upper level of Lacan's formula of the university discourse - S2 directed toward a - not also be read as standing for the university knowledge endeavoring to integrate, domesticate, and appropriate the excess that resists and rejects it?

Lurking behind the reproach of belonging to university discourse is, of course, the question of the relationship between psychoanalysis and cultural studies. The first fact to note here is that what is missing in cultural studies is precisely psychoanalysis as a social link, structured around the desire of the analyst. Today, one often mentions how the reference to psychoanalysis in cultural studies and the psychoanalytic clinic supplement each other: cultural studies lack the real of clinical experience, while the clinic lacks the broader critico-historical perspective (say, of the historic specificity of the categories of psychoanalysis, Oedipal complex, castration, or paternal authority). The answer to this should be that each of the approaches should work on its limitation from within its horizon-not by relying on the other to fill up its lack. If cultural studies cannot account for the real of the clinical experience, this signals the insufficiency of its theoretical framework itself; if the clinic cannot reflect its historical presuppositions, it is a bad clinic. One should add to this standard Hegelian dialectical paradox (in fighting the foreign or external opposite, one fights one's own essence) its inherent supplement: in impeding oneself, one truly impedes one's external opposite. When cultural studies ignore the real of clinical experience, the ultimate victim is not cultural studies itself but the clinic, which remains caught in pretheoretical empiricism. And, vice versa, when the clinic fails (to take into account its historical presuppositions), the ultimate victim is theory itself, which, cut off from clinical experience, remains an empty ideological exercise. The ultimate horizon is here not the reconciliation of theory and clinic: their very gap is the positive condition of psychoanalysis. Freud already wrote that, in the conditions in which it would finally be possible, psychoanalysis would no longer be needed. Psychoanalytic theory is ultimately the theory of why its clinical practice is doomed to fail.

One of the telltale signs of university discourse is that the opponent is accused of being "dogmatic" and "sectarian." University discourse cannot tolerate an engaged subjective stance. Should not our first gesture be, as Lacanians, to heroically assume this designation of being "sectarian" and engage in a "sectarian" polemic?

University discourse as the hegemonic discourse of modernity has two forms of existence in which its inner tension ("contradiction") is externalized: capitalism, its logic of the integrated excess, of the system reproducing itself through constant self-revolutionizing, and the bureaucratic "totalitarianism" conceptualized in different guises as the rule of technology, of instrumental reason, of biopolitics, as the "administered world." How, precisely, do these two aspects relate to each other? We should not succumb to the temptation of reducing capitalism to a mere form of appearance of the more fundamental ontological attitude of technological domination; we should rather insist, in the Marxian mode, that the capitalist logic of integrating the surplus into the functioning of the system is the fundamental fact. Stalinist "totalitarianism" was the capitalist logic of self-propelling productivity liberated from its capitalist form, which is why it failed: Stalinism was the symptom of capitalism. Stalinism involved the matrix of general intellect, of the planned transparency of social life, of total productive mobilization- and its violent purges and paranoia were a kind of a "return of the repressed," the "irrationality" inherent to the project of a totally organized "administered society." This means the two levels, precisely insofar as they are two sides of the same coin, are ultimately incompatible: there is no metalanguage enabling us to translate the logic of domination back into the capitalist reproduction-through-excess, or vice versa.

The key question here concerns the relationship between the two excesses: the economic excess/surplus integrated into the capitalist machine as the force that drives it into permanent self-revolutionizing and the political excess of power-exercise inherent to modern power (the constitutive excess of representation over the represented: the legitimate state power responsible to its subjects is supplemented by the obscene message of unconditional exercise of Power-laws do not really bind me, I can do to you whatever I want, I can treat you as guilty if I decide to, I can destroy you if I say so).

Perhaps the key to this problem is provided by the historicity inscribed in Lacan's matrix of the four discourses, the historicity of modern European development. The master's discourse stands not for the premodern master, but for the absolute monarchy, this first figure of modernity that effectively undermined the articulate network of feudal relations and interdependences, transforming fidelity to flattery: it is the "Sun-King" Louis XIV with his L'état, c'est moi who is the master par excellence. Hysterical discourse and university discourse then deploy two outcomes of the vacillation of the direct reign of the master: the expert-rule of bureaucracy that culminates in the biopolitics of reducing the population to a collection of homo sacer (what Heidegger called "enframing," Adorno "the administered world," Foucault the society of "discipline and punish"); the explosion of the hysterical capitalist subjectivity that reproduces itself through permanent self-revolutionizing, through the integration of the excess into the "normal" functioning of the social link (the true "permanent revolution" is already capitalism itself).

Lacan's formula of the four discourses thus enables us to deploy the two faces of modernity (total administration and capitalist-individualist dynamics) as two ways to undermine the master's discourse: doubt about the efficiency of the master-figure (what Eric Santner called the "crisis of investiture") can be supplemented by the direct rule of the experts legitimized by their knowledge, or the excess of doubt, of permanent questioning, can be directly integrated into social reproduction. Finally, the analyst's discourse stands for the emergence of revolution-ary-emancipatory subjectivity that resolves the split of university and hysteria. In it, the revolutionary agent - a - addresses the subject from the position of knowledge that occupies the place of truth (i.e., which intervenes at the "symptomal torsion" of the subject's constellation), and the goal is to isolate, get rid of, the master signifier that structured the subject's (ideologico-political) unconscious.

Or does it? Jacques-Alain Miller has recently proposed that today the master's discourse is no longer the "obverse" of the analyst's discourse. [1] Today, on the contrary, our "civilization" itself-its hegemonic symbolic matrix, as it were-fits the formula of the analyst's discourse. The agent of the social link is today a, surplus enjoyment, the superego injunction to enjoy that permeates our discourse; this injunction addresses $ (the divided subject) who is put to work in order to live up to this injunction. The truth of this social link is S2, scientific-expert knowledge in its different guises, and the goal is to generate S1, the self-mastery of the subject, that is, to enable the subject to cope with the stress of the call to enjoyment (through self-help manuals, etc.). Provocative as this notion is, it raises a series of questions. If it is true, in what, then, resides the difference between the discursive functioning of civilization as such and the psychoanalytic social link? Miller resorts here to a suspicious solution: in our civilization, the four terms are kept apart, isolated; each operates on its own, while only in psychoanalysis are they brought together into a coherent link: "in civilization, each of the four terms remains disjoined... it is only in psychoanalysis, in pure psychoanalysis, that these elements are arranged into a discourse."

However, is it not that the fundamental operation of the psychoanalytic treatment is not synthesis, bringing elements into a link, but, precisely, analysis, separating what in a social link appears to belong together? This path, opposed to that of Miller, is indicated by Giorgio Agamben, who, in the last pages of The State of Exception, imagines two Utopian options of how to break out of the vicious cycle of law and violence, of the rule of law sustained by violence. [2] One is the Benjaminian vision of "pure" revolutionary violence with no relationship to the law. The other is the relationship to the law without regard to its (violent) enforcement, such as Jewish scholars do in their endless (re)interpretation of the Law. Agamben starts from the right insight that the task today is not synthesis but separation, distinction: nor bringing law and violence together (so that right will have might and the exercise of might will be fully legitimized), but thoroughly separating them, untying their knot. Although Agamben confers on this formulation an anti-Hegelian twist, a more proper reading of Hegel makes it clear that such a gesture of separation is what the Hegelian "synthesis" is effectively about. In it, the opposites are nor reconciled in a "higher synthesis"; it is rather that their difference is posited "as such."

The example of Paul may help us to clarify this logic of Hegelian reconciliation: the radical gap that he posits between life and death, between life in Christ and life in sin, is in no need of a further synthesis; it is itself the resolution of the "absolute contradiction" of Law and sin, of the vicious cycle of their murual imphcarion. In other words, once the distinction is drawn, once the subject becomes aware of the very existence of this other dimension beyond the vicious cycle of law and its transgression, the battle is formally already won. So, with regard to the old question of the passage from Kant to Hegel, Hegel's move is not to overcome the Kantian division, but, rather, to assert it as such, to drop the need for its overcoming, for the additional reconciliation of the opposites, that is, to gain insight - through a purely formal parallax shift - into how positing the distinction as such already is the looked-for reconciliation. The limitation of Kant is not in his remaining within the confines of finite oppositions, in his inability to reach the Infinite, but, on the contrary, in his very search for a transcendent domain beyond the realm of finite oppositions. Kant is not unable to reach the Infinite - what he is unable to see is how he already has what he is looking for.

However, is this vision not again the case of our late capitalist reality going further than our dreams? Are we not already encountering in our social reality what Agamben envisages as a Utopian vision? Isn't the Hegelian lesson of the global reflexivization-mediatization of our lives that it generates its own brutal immediacy? This has best been captured by Etienne Balibar's notion of excessive, nonfunctional cruelty as a feature of contemporary life, a cruelty whose figures range from "fundamentalist" racist and/or religious slaughter to the "senseless" outbursts of violence performed by adolescents and the homeless in our megalopolises, a violence one is tempted to call Id-Evil, a violence grounded in no utilitarian or ideological reasons. All the talk about foreigners stealing work from us or about the threat they represent to our Western values should not deceive us: under closer examination, it soon becomes clear that this talk provides a rather superficial secondary rationalization. The answer we ultimately obtain from a skinhead is that it makes him feel good to beat foreigners, that their presence disturbs him. What we encounter here is indeed Id-Evil, that is, the Evil structured and motivated by the most elementary imbalance in the relationship between the ego and jouissance, by the tension between pleasure and the foreign body of jouissance in the very heart of it. Id-Evil thus stages the most elementary short circuit in the relationship of the subject to the primordially missing object cause of his desire. What bothers us in the other (Jew, Japanese, African, Turk) is that he appears to entertain a privileged relationship to the object-the other either possesses the object treasure, having snatched it away from us (which is why we don't have it), or he poses a threat to our possession of the object.

What one should propose here is the Hegelian "infinite judgment," asserting the speculative identity of these "useless" and "excessive" outbursts of violent immediacy, which display nothing but a pure and naked ("non-sublimated") hatred of the Otherness, with the global reflexiv-ization of society. Perhaps the ultimate example of this coincidence is the fate of psychoanalytic interpretation. Today, the formations of the unconscious (from dreams to hysterical symptoms) have definitely lost their innocence and are thoroughly reflexivized: the "free associations" of a typical educated analysand consist for the most part of attempts to provide a psychoanalytic explanation of their disturbances, so that one is quite justified in saying that we have not only Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian, and so on, interpretations of the symptoms, but symptoms themselves that are Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian, and so on, that is, whose reality involves implicit reference to some psychoanalytic theory. The unfortunate result of this global reflexivization of interpretation (everything becomes interpretation, the unconscious interprets itself) is that the analyst's interpretation itself loses its performative "symbolic efficiency" and leaves the symptom intact in the immediacy of its idiotic jouissance.

What happens in psychoanalytic treatment is strictly homologous to the response of the neo-Nazi skinhead who, when really pressed for the reasons for his violence, suddenly starts to talk like social workers, sociologists, and social psychologists, quoting diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood-the unity of practice and its inherent ideological legitimization disintegrates into raw violence and its impotent, inefficient interpretation. This impotence of interpretation is also one of the necessary obverses of the universalized reflexivity hailed by the risk-society-theorists: it is as if our reflexive power can flourish only insofar as it draws its strength and relies on some minimal "prereflex-ive" substantial support that eludes its grasp, so that its universaliza-tion comes at the price of its inefficiency, that is, by the paradoxical re-emergence of the brute real of "irrational" violence, impermeable and insensitive to reflexive interpretation. So the more today's social theory proclaims the end of nature or tradition and the rise of the "risk society," the more the implicit reference to "nature" pervades our daily discourse: even when we do not speak of the "end of history," do we not put forward the same message when we claim that we are entering a "postideological" pragmatic era, which is another way of claiming that we are entering a postpolitical order in which the only legitimate conflicts are ethnic/cultural conflicts? Typically, in today's critical and political discourse, the term worker has disappeared from the vocabulary, substituted or obliterated by immigrants or immigrant workers: Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Mexicans in the United States. In this way, the class problematic of workers' exploitation is transformed into the multiculturalist problematic of "intolerance of otherness," and the excessive investment of the multiculturalist liberals in protecting immigrants' ethnic rights clearly draws its energy from the "repressed class dimension. Although Francis Fukuyama's thesis on the "end of history" quickly fell into disrepute, we still silently presume that the liberal-democratic capitalist global order is somehow the finally found "natural" social regime, we still implicitly conceive conflicts in the Third World countries as a subspecies of natural catastrophes, as outbursts of quasi-natural violent passions, or as conflicts based on the fanatic identification to one's ethnic roots (and what is "the ethnic" here if not again a code word for "nature"?). And, again, the key point is that this all-pervasive renaturalization is strictly correlative to the global reflexiviza-tion of our daily lives.

What this means, with regard to Agamben's Utopian vision of untying the knot of the Law and violence is that, in our postpohtical societies, this knot is already untied: we encounter, on the one hand, the globalized interpretation whose globalization is paid for by its impotence, its failure to enforce itself, to generate effects in the real, and, on the other hand, explosions of the raw real of a violence that cannot be affected by its symbolic interpretation. Where, then, is the solution here, between the claim that, in today's hegemonic constellation, the elements of the social link are separated and as such to be brought together by psycho-analysis (Miller), and the knot between Law and violence to be untied, their separation to be enacted (Agamben)? What if these two separations are not symmetrical? What if the gap between the symbolic and the raw real epitomized by the figure of the skinhead is a false one, since this real of the outbursts of the "irrational" violence is generated by the globalization of the symbolic?

When, exactly, does the objet a function as the superego injunction to enjoy? When it occupies the place of the master signifier, that is, as Lacan formulated it in the last pages of his Seminar XI, when the short circuit between S1 and a occurs. The key move to be accomplished in order to break the vicious cycle of the superego injunction is thus to enact the separation between S1 and a. Consequently, would it not be more productive to follow a different path, that is, to start with the different modus operandi of l'objet a, which in psychoanalysis no longer functions as the agent of the superego injunction-as it does in the discourse of perversion? This is how Miller's claim of the identity of the analyst's discourse and the discourse of today's civilization should be read: as an indication that this latter discourse (social link) is that of perversion. That is to say, the fact that the upper level of Lacan's formula of the analyst's discourse is the same as his formula of perversion (a-$) opens up a possibility of reading the entire formula of the analyst's discourse also as a formula of the perverse social link: its agent, the masochist pervert (the pervert par excellence), occupies the position of the object instrument of the other's desire, and, in this way, through serving his (feminine) victim, he posits her as the hystericized/divided subject who "doesn't know what she wants." Rather, the pervert knows it for her, that is, he pretends to speak from the position of knowledge (about the other's desire) that enables him to serve the other; and, finally, the product of this social link is the master signifier, that is, the hysterical subject elevated into the role of the master (dominatrix) whom the pervert masochist serves.

In contrast to hysteria, the pervert knows perfectly what he is for the Other: a knowledge supports his position as the object of his Other's (divided subject's) jouissance. The difference between the social link of perversion and that of analysis is grounded in the radical ambiguity of objet a in Lacan, which stands simultaneously for the imaginary fantasmatic lure/screen and for that which this lure is obfuscating, for the void behind the lure. Consequently, when we pass from perversion to the analytic social link, the agent (analyst) reduces himself to the void, which provokes the subject into confronting the truth of his desire. Knowledge in the position of "truth" below the bar under the "agent," of course, refers to the supposed knowledge of the analyst, and, simultaneously, signals that the knowledge gained here will not be the neutral objective knowledge of scientific adequacy, but the knowledge that concerns the subject (analysand) in the truth of his subjective position.

Recall, again, Lacan's outrageous statements that, even if what a jealous husband claims about his wife (that she sleeps around with other men) is all true, his jealousy is still pathological. Along the same lines, one could say that, even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true (they exploit Germans, they seduce German girls), their anti-Semitism would still be (and was) pathological - because it represses the true reason the Nazis needed anti-Semitism in order to sustain their ideological position. So, in the case of anti-Semitism, knowledge about what the Jews "really are" is a fake, irrelevant, while the only knowledge at the place of truth is the knowledge about why a Nazi needs a figure of the Jew to sustain his ideological edifice. In this precise sense, the analyst's discourse produces the master signifier, the swerve of the patient's knowledge, the surplus element that situates the patient's knowledge at the level of truth: after the master signifier is produced, even if nothing changes at the level of knowledge, the same knowledge as before starts to function in a different mode. The master signifier is the unconscious sinthome, the cipher of enjoyment, to which the subject was unknowingly subjected.

The crucial point not to be missed here is how the late Lacan's identification of the subjective position of the analyst as that of objet petit a presents an act of radical self-criticism. Earlier, in the 1950's, Lacan conceived the analyst not as the small other (a), but, on the contrary, as a kind of stand-in for the big Other (A, the anonymous symbolic order). At this level, the function of the analyst was to frustrate the subject's imaginary misrecognitions and to make them accept their proper symbolic place within the circuit of symbolic exchange, the place that effectively (and unbeknownst to them) determines their symbolic identity. Later, however, the analyst stands precisely for the ultimate inconsistency and failure of the big Other, that is, for the symbolic order's inability to guarantee the subject's symbolic identity.

One should thus always bear in mind the thoroughly ambiguous status of objet a in Lacan. Miller recently proposed a Benjaminian distinction between "constituted anxiety" and "constituent anxiety": while the first designates the standard notion of the terrifying and fascinating abyss of anxiety that haunts us, its infernal circle that threatens to draws us in, the second stands for the "pure" confrontation with objet a as constituted in its very loss. [3] Miller is right to emphasize here two features: the difference that separates constituted from constituent anxiety concerns the status of the object with regard to fantasy. In a case of constituted anxiety, the object dwells within the confines of a fantasy, while we get the constituent fantasy only when the subject "traverses the fantasy" and confronts the void, the gap, filled up by the fantasmatic object. Clear and convincing as it is. Miller's formula misses the true paradox or, rather, ambiguity of objet a: when he defines objet a as the object that overlaps with its loss, that emerges at the very moment of its loss (so that all its fantasmatic incarnations, from breasts to voice and gaze, are metonymic figurations of the void of nothing), he remains within the horizon of de- sire- the true object cause of desire is the void filled in by its fantasmatic incarnations. While, as Lacan emphasizes, objet a is also the object of the drive, the relationship is here thoroughly different. Although in both cases, the link between object and loss is crucial, in the case of objet a as the object cause of desire, we have an object which is originally lost, which coincides with its own loss, which emerges as lost, while, in the case of objet a as the object of the drive, the "object" is directly the loss itself. In the shift from desire to drive, we pass from the lost object to loss itself as an object. That is to say, the weird movement called "drive" is not driven by the "impossible" quest for the lost object, bur by a push to directly enact the "loss" - the gap, cut, distance - itself. There is thus a double distinction to be drawn here: not only between objet a in its fantasmaric and posrfantasmatic status, but also, within this postfantas-matic domain itself, between the lost object cause of desire and the object loss of the drive. Far from concerning an abstract scholastic debate, this distinction has crucial ideologico-political consequences: it enables us to articulate the libidinal dynamics of capitalism.

Following Miller himself, a distinction has to be introduced here between lack and hole. Lack is spatial, designating a void within a space, while the hole is more radical-it designates the point at which this spatial order itself breaks down (as in the "black hole" in physics). Therein resides the difference between desire and drive: desire is grounded in its constitutive lack, while drive circulates around a hole, a gap in the order of being. In other words, the circular movement of drive obeys the weird logic of the curved space in which the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, but a curve: the drive "knows" that the shortest way to attain its aim is to circulate around its goal-object. At the immediate level of addressing individuals, capitalism of course interpellates them as consumers, as subjects of desires, soliciting in them ever new perverse and excessive desires (for which it offers products to satisfy them); furthermore, it obviously also manipulates the "desire to desire," celebrating the very desire to desire ever new objects and modes of pleasure. However, even if if already manipulates desire in a way that takes into account the fact that the most elementary desire is the desire to reproduce itself as desire (and not to find satisfaction), at this level, we do not yet reach the drive. The drive inheres to capitalism at a more fundamental, systemic level: drive propels the entire capitalist machinery; it is the impersonal compulsion to engage in the endless circular movement of expanded self-reproduction. The capitalist drive thus belongs to no definite individual - it is rather that those individuals who act as direct "agents" of capital (capitalists themselves, top managers) have to practice it. We enter the mode of the drive when (as Marx put it) the circulation of money as capital becomes "an end in itself, for the expansion of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The circulation of capital has therefore no limits." One should bear in mind here Lacan's well-known distinction between the aim and the goal of drive: while the goal is the object around which drive circulates, its (true) aim is the endless continuation of this circulation as such.


[1] Miller, Jacques-Alain, "La passe: Conférence de Jacques-Alain Miller." paper presented at the fourth Congrès de l'AMP, Comandatuba - Bahia, Brazil, August 9-12, 2004.

[2] Agamben, Giorgio, The State of Exception, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

[3] Miller, J.-A., "Le nom-du-père, s'en passer, s'en servir," available at www.lacan.com. It is interesting to note how, in his very polemics against the Hegelian Aufhebug, Miller repeats its operation. That is to say, when Miller deploys the concept of anxiety as the effect which signals the proximity of the Real, he opposes it to the central role of the Name-of-the-Father, of the paternal Law, in Lacan's previous thought: the paternal Law functions as the operator of Aufhebung, of the "significantization," symbolic mediation/integration, of the real, while anxiety enters as a remainder of the Real that resists its symbolic Aufhebung. However, when Miller asks the question of what happens with the paternal Law after this introduction of anxiety as the signal of the Real, he strangely reproduces the very terms of Aufhebung. Of course, the Name-of-the-Father continues to play a function, but a subordinate one within a new theoretical context. In short, the Name-of-the-Father is maintained, negated and elevated to a higher level - the very three features of the Hegelian Aufhebung.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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